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.
You’re a new mom. You stay at home with your little munchkin. You’re trying to fill those long, empty days. 6 am comes and there’s a little person ready to go so you’d better be too. Up with your coffee, sitting on the floor. Kids songs on the tape player, reading board books over and over, playing Little People. Got to get out of the house, where everything with an 18 month old is an adventure. Taking countless walks around the neighborhood. Always at the park, talking to the other parents, your girl afraid of new kids but loves the swings. Remember when you let her jump in that mud puddle? Go to the mall, wander through the Disney store, spend hours climbing on those rides that take quarters but no one needs the quarters because they’re just fun to climb in. Pretend to order burgers and fries from the one that’s a hot dog cart, her favorite. Home you play with play doh, even though you’re the one making everything, molding the dough into people, snowmen, snakes, that she smashes in her tiny fist. Fingerpainting. Crafts. More books to read. Watch a Baby Einstein video or Dragon Tales or Sagwa on PBS. Maybe a shower in there for you somewhere…go to Music Together and Mommy and Me gymnastics where you sing and dance and beat on drums and shake maracas and learn new songs to sing at bedtime. Go on playdates where the real draw is for mom to have another adult to talk to because the kids are too shy to play together and if they have a dog forget it, she won’t leave your side. Days are full. Even with a good nap and an early bedtime, the hours are full of teaching, learning–everything is fun when you are 1 1/2. Mom can’t wait for you to be more independent, to do more things, to have some more time to herself, to not have to be planning something to fill such a long day.
Then suddenly…off at school, gone for hours. Time is spent playing with brother and sister, friends, at dance class. Doing homework. Your time is occupied and now mom has time. Time to make dinner without having to cover the floor with Tupperware for you to play with. Time to run on the treadmill and not worry that someone is getting hurt. Time to have some sort of job, some sort of life. To go for coffee with a friend and not have to bring something to entertain a small person. To go grocery shopping by yourself. To carry a small purse. Don’t have to watch anyone in the tub, sing and play and splash. Everyone showers now, brushes their own teeth. Sure…there are things you’re needed for. You still make lunches. Make dinner. Clean the house. Laundry. Chauffeur. But…not much longer, right?
It feels like I’m still trying to find ways to fill the day but they’re not nearly as much fun as they were with that 18 month old. Those hours sometimes feel longer and emptier than ever.