There’s no shortage of blogs/posts/discussions these days about the pressure we are under as adult women. Career women, not-so-career women, moms…its almost redundant to talk about the question of “having it all” and how that’s pretty much impossible. That being the case, I won’t delve into that a whole lot only to say that it is definitely a real thing. I suppose there are women out there who don’t put pressure on themselves, don’t feel it from the inside or the outside, are really that secure. I have never met any of those women. Any of the women in my life who I care about, who care about me, even women I know only a little bit, through bus stop and parent pick up chat…we all suffer from the “I’m Not Good Enough” virus. Do we stay at home? Work full time? Part time? Are we ruining our children? Sacrificing too much of ourselves? Not enough of ourselves? Are we betraying our gender? Letting our talents rot away? I know that men have their own issues…issues of self-worth and comparison, of adequacy in any number of arenas. But not being a man I can’t speak to those…I only know my own story, and the stories I have read and shared with friends and acquaintances. And those are REAL stories of the pressures we put on ourselves, that we feel from other women, other moms, our husbands, our parents. The pressure to be good enough and to kill ourselves trying to do it all.
Recently I wrote about how I had been feeling the urge to get back in the classroom, to do more with my brain, to have more of a career than just my $9 an hour part time job. So I’d applied to grad school and was starting a class this semester. I wrote about how it felt good to be “heading in a direction” and, even though I wasn’t sure what the final destination would be, I was excited to start on this new journey. I felt like maybe I was finally going to get my womanly mojo back. I think my husband was psyched that perhaps I’d have a better paying job someday, which would take some pressure off him. My dad, I know, was very proud of me, impressed that I was making this step. I got lots of “good for you!’s” and pats on the back and “you’re an inspiration!” comments.
Sometimes in life as an adult though, you have to make decisions. Decisions that are hard and you deliberate over. And over and over. Decisions that might make you look weak. That might leave people, even people who love you, shaking their heads. Decisions that you know are better for your overall mental health even though it might actually make other people think you’re crazy. I’ve certainly had my share of these times.
Starting grad school wasn’t an easy process. I don’t believe in signs but if I did I would’ve given up several months ago. Nothing about the process went smoothly, it seemed like I really had to push and push to just get information and make things happen. But by hook or by crook last Monday night I headed up to my first class. It went well, I felt pretty good. I was rather overwhelmed by the syllabus, minimal as it was, simply because it’s been 20 years since I’ve written a paper, used a college library, done any sort of research. I felt like the academic part of my brain had been wrapped in a heavy wool blanket and stuffed in a trunk for 20 years. It felt fuzzy and kind of numb, like a limb waking up after being sat on in a funny way. Pins and needles. But I thought I could do it, I knew I could do it, I was capable of doing the work. It was one class. I work part time. I’m a relatively smart individual (or at least good at faking it.).
And then this morning I dropped the class. And put my graduate school career on hold for the moment.
See, the more I thought about it the less sure I was that it was really something I wanted to do. That going back to teaching was what I really wanted to do. And sure, perhaps getting my master’s degree would’ve led me to some other career but…maybe it wouldn’t. And well, that’s a lot of money to spend on a maybe. It’s a lot of money to spend period.
My issues with money and our family’s handling of our finances are subjects for other posts. But oh yes, I have issues with money. Growing up stuff, can’t seem to shake it, kind of obsessive issues with money. And $1500 for this one class was freaking me out. I was splitting the payments up over 3 months and we managed to get the first month’s payment off, but I was panicking over every penny, every expense, every “what if x happens??” It’s why I stayed up most of the night when it was insanely cold, listening to the heater run and run and run and thinking solely about how much that electric bill is going to be next month. It’s why I have been waking up with bags under my eyes because I’m just not sleeping because I lay there itemizing every expense, trying to make it all fit, trying to figure out what can be sacrificed, what is essential.
All so I could pay for this one class that I wasn’t even sure I really wanted to take for a future that was hazy at best.
So I decided at somewhere between 3 and 7 am this morning to drop the class. And just wait. And see if I can get any more clarity before dropping that much money. And perhaps actually saving that much money and being prepared to pay it if that’s where I decide I want to end up.
I’m lucky because we’re in a position where I can work part time and we’re ok. We are blessed with some “safety nets” that not a lot of people have. I’m also lucky because I mostly love my life. I love being there for my kids. I love having days off to read, to get coffee with a friend, to not have to get up at 5 am to run, to go to the doctor and get errands done. I know that is a luxury. I read some of my friend’s Facebook posts as they document their full time, working mom lives. I have a flexible part time job, and can pick up more hours if I want/need to. There are times that yes, it’s a drag. It’s boring. It feels like I could be doing so much more. But what would I be feeling if I were working full time, what struggles would I be having then? There is no perfect situation in this life.
I feel kind of pathetic. I know my dad will be disappointed. I know a lot of people will not get it, maybe think less of me. Think I’m just wimping out. I probably am. Maybe I should’ve just sucked it up, toughed it out. But for what? To look strong? To prove something to someone else? To make myself look like something I’m not? Because I’m not. I’m not strong. I’m a total wuss. I like things easy and comfortable. And honestly…I’m happy with my life. And life is too short for me to be worrying like I have been the past several weeks. Too short for me to be trying to be something I’m not. Too short to try and satisfy someone else’s definition of what a good mom/wife/woman is. Because honestly what I felt after I submitted that drop form was sheer relief. Like this pressure had been lifted off of me.
Like I’m going to actually sleep tonight.
I’ve written before about how challenging finding a job can be when you’re 40 and have been out of work for 12 years while raising your kids, so I won’t belabor that point. But my job status has evolved from where it was a year ago and it continues to shape me and how my life looks on a day to day basis, so it seemed important to evaluate, at least to me.
I started the year waiting tables with my cousin as my boss. It was an interesting job and, at the time, all I could get. It was fun a lot of the time, I liked being around all the people I worked with. I genuinely enjoyed serving people…I think I was good at it. I was certainly personable and polite and tried to be friendly. I only encountered one jerk who was pissed that his burger came with a bun when he’d asked for it without. When I made a mistake (which was oddly much less often than I’d have expected) most people were incredibly kind and gracious. I definitely found that your tone and demeanor goes a long way to pave the way for a pleasant experience for someone. It was strangely easy for me to be nice to the people I waited on. Maybe because I knew it might affect the size of their tip. Maybe because they were only on my radar as a tiny blip…unlike my family, perhaps, who I have to deal with all day, every day…I knew my customers would be gone in less than an hour and I wouldn’t have to deal with their issues forever. Oh, sure I complained about the old folks who split their lunch specials and left loose change for tips, but I was always super polite and deferent to them. It wasn’t hard.
What got to be hard were a few things. Many days it felt like a let down to be 40, college-educated and waiting tables. That is probably elitist and snobby of me. But the bottom line was that I didn’t want to be waiting tables when I am 50, which was a major push for me to find something else. A lot of times I was the only female in the whole restaurant. Which was sometimes flattering because most of those boys were incredibly good to me, helpful and kind and even flirty which I’d be lying if I told you didn’t make an old lady like myself feel good. But good god. Somedays it felt like I was in a frat house. I heard way more illegal drug-alcohol-sex escapades than I need to for probably the rest of my life. It wasn’t that I was offended…just some days I wanted to shake them and say GROW THE HELL UP PLEASE! While other days their antics were charming. Restaurants are such funny places to work. There’s a total camaraderie in there but at my age and stage in life sometimes it was more than I could tolerate. Everyone there is smart and talented but god do they make some bad decisions. Just like I did when I was 24, so I get it. But somedays I just couldn’t take it. It was great to feel like just myself again, to just be Jen and not mom or wife or sister or daughter, someone that no one really knew much about but of course you can’t live unknown. It might be a nice break but it’s not a good permanent situation. And I wasn’t going to be hanging out with these kids outside of work, at best that would just be ridiculous and at worst totally pathetic.
So in late spring, I stumbled across my current job on Craigslist of all places and I headed to the Maryland Science Center (because I’m so…sciency???) to do Pop Up Science! with kids and their families visiting the museum. It’s another interesting place. Like any job there are days I love it and days I hate it. Everyone I work with is nice but you’re pretty independent during your work day so I don’t interact a ton with my co-workers…we’re supposed to be interacting with the guests anyway. You get in ruts where you take out the same old explainers and you’ve been talking about Sharks and Minerals and Geobubbles until your eyes pop out. Some of the people I work with are young kids much like the guys in the restaurant, and then there’s the old folks who come in because they like to have something to do now that they’re retired. Again I’m kind of alone in my age group. I’ve found that the type of day I have is largely dependent on the kids I encounter. I’ve seen the best and the worst of kids at MSC…kids who are polite, respectful, patient and kids who seem to have been raised by Neanderthals. I’m convinced as well that the worst kids are totally the result of the adults in their lives who may or may not be doing their jobs. Seriously the other day a chaperone FELL ASLEEP while her kids were doing a project. Totally conked out. Really? Then there are the hours where all the school kids have left and you’ve still got an hour to go and you’re sitting there on the floor with a pile of Dixie Cups you’ve built into a tower checking your watch every 2 minutes because it is a ghost town in there.
But on the good days…those are the days that have inspired me to start pursuing getting my teaching certificate back on track. Those kids who are engaged, and interested and curious and ask great questions and are funny…god I love those days. I love those kids. I still remember this one girl, she had this sparkle in her eye and I just thought “Damn I want to be that girls’ teacher.” I haven’t felt like I wanted to teach in a long time. In fact, just probably a year ago (when I had subbed a couple of times) I was still thinking Hell. NO. with regard to being in the classroom. But this job…if I get nothing else out of my time in this museum, it has been the desire to work with kids again that I am most thankful for. To get me pointed in a direction that actually feels like a direction, that actually feels like it’s going somewhere. I have no idea where I will be a year from now…still at the Science Center? Teaching part time somewhere? Doing something completely different??? But if nothing else I am moving forward now, where a year ago I felt kind of like I was standing still at a crossroads with no idea which direction to head. Well-I’m heading out now, starting my first college class in 20 years next month. It may be the wrong direction but I’m walking. I’m going. I’m moving. And that’s gotta be worth something.
Oh, and the bills got paid mostly this year so…I’d say success all around.
I spent most of the last 12 years as a stay at home mom. I feel very lucky to have had that opportunity. But the life of a stay at home mom is a topic for another post. Today I want to talk about the working mom…and yes, duh I know moms who stay home work. Didn’t I just say I stayed home for 12 years???
When Xavier started preschool a few years ago, I picked up a job in the athletic ticket office at UW. It was easy, flexible, and not entirely necessary. I didn’t really need to work, but I certainly didn’t need to be home all the time either. Bill had been the ticket manager at one point…I knew most of the people in there, so it was kind of a nice, easy fit. When I could work, I did, when I couldn’t–I didn’t. But it was really good to get out of the house and use the “non-mom” part of my brain. It was far from strenuous, but it was a good fit for my life and our needs at the time.
Fast forward to now…we’ve moved to Maryland and our house in Wyoming still hasn’t sold (don’t even get me started on that one…). Life is a little more stressful financially, so me working is more of a have-to thing right now. Which is fine, because its also a want-to thing–now Xavier is in kindergarten and so all the kids are in school and I certainly don’t need to be home all day. But this new situation has gotten me thinking a lot about working moms and the difficult situations they find themselves in.
I must say I’m not really talking about like say, CEO moms. Moms who have well-paying, kind of high-powered professional jobs. I’m sure they have their own challenges. I have absolutely no way to relate to those people. I’m talking about the blue-collar, minimum wage working moms. Moms who have to work long, hard hours to help their families make ends meet. I can’t say I can 100% relate to those moms either but its a lot closer to my situation.
We’ve had already one snow day, 2 delayed openings and 1 early dismissal because of weather. What is a working parent to do on those days??? I already have come to dread getting that phone call, and the threat of snow makes me tense and anxious. Because I have to find somewhere for the kids to go or else call out. Thankfully I have always had people who I could count on to help thus far. But what about if you don’t have those people in your life? How do you deal with that? Same thing with sick days. Thankfully my kids have been healthy so far this year, but there are 3 of them–someone’s bound to get sick. I find myself worrying about what I will do if they get sick and how I will deal with that.
I have very understanding boss. I’m sure that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I called in. But the thing is…I don’t want to call in. That’s money I’m not making. That’s someone who has to pick up the slack for me. How does a parent of a chronically ill child handle this? What do you do? I’m sure if it’s something I worry about, it must be a constant concern for some other parents who are even more dependent on their jobs than I am. Would you get fired if you called in too many times? Of course you would.
It gets to the point where your job almost feels more important in your mind than your kids. Because money is a worry. And your family needs to be taken care of. But you just want your kids to get out of the house and go to school so you can make money so you can take care of your family. It seems like a really vicious circle and I feel like I’m only getting a small taste of what millions of families must go through every day.
But all that aside…I really, really like working. I think part of it is the job–honestly, what better job for a mom than being a server??? Hell, that’s all I’ve done for the last 12 years! And now you’re going to pay me to take someone’s order, feed them, and then clean up after them? I’m like perfect for this! I also think multi-tasking is one of my “gifts”–is that a gift??– and so I feel like my brain is working at its highest level when its busy and I’m running around doing like 5 things at once. (That has got to be some sort of record for pathetic…that my brain is functioning at its highest level as a waitress. Not a brain surgeon or cancer researcher. A waitress. Geesh.)
But I like it for other reasons too…I like it because there I’m not someone’s mom or someone’s wife…I’m just Jen. Just me. I don’t feel like I have to be or do anything other than what I am doing right at that very moment…honestly when its busy I’m not thinking about anyone or anything other than the task at hand. And that is so very good for me. I like working because its just mine. It’s just for me. It’s hard to explain. But I feel some sort of freedom that I haven’t felt in a long time. (Note to those who think women should only stay home and not work–this will make most women crazy.) I like the people, I like the atmosphere. I worked 10 hours today and I was honestly kind of sad to get cut. I feel a weird sense of purpose even if that purpose is only taking orders, serving food, and cleaning up. I think that is probably really sad. But it is really true. And I just feel so good at the end of a day when I’ve been working. Most people would probably just shake their heads at me. Who knows. But who says you can’t find purpose and meaning even in kind of drudgerous (is that a word?? I don’t think so.) jobs?? Why would that be bad that I should feel good about what I’m doing, even if I’m not saving the world doing it?
I just know that getting back to work, even on a small level, after so many years at home is, well, it’s kind of awesome. And stressful. But I get it. I get why some moms don’t want to stay home at all. I get it that it is hard to juggle kids and work. I don’t know if there’ll ever be a way to rectify that entirely. But I’m awfully thankful for this season in my life, for the fact that our financial situation has kind of forced me to get out there and jump back into “work life”. It’s kind of making me want more…but in the meantime I’ve still got those three nutty kids who rely on me, so I’ll keep working to balance things between the two, because they both are highly enriching to my life. And not just financially either.