Thursday, December 11, 2008

Work it, Baby

Happy Work-a-versary to me.

Exactly one year ago today, I pushed past the jeans and yoga pants in my closet for the first time in almost five years—and instead zipped myself up into something tailored and peppy; went for the hair dryer instead of the ponytail holder; chose kitten-heel mary janes instead of flip flops. Then I tearfully bid goodbye to my small, bewildered children, tossed my cap into the air and began singing the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song, “You're gonna make it after all…”

Okay, the last part was in jest, but the rest of it is all true, especially the part about the tearful goodbyes. I was the one crying, by the way. They were fine. While I was weeping as I careened southward down I-75, the first of my many daily laps to Doral, they went off to preschool as usual.

Now, at 3 p.m., when a pretty 20 year-old babysitter pulled up into carpool line to collect them instead of their mommy, tears did ensue—which many mothers at the school and teachers were sure to report to me (just dig that knife in a little deeper, thank you very much). And in an office twenty-five miles away, exactly as the clock struck three, I had to wobble into the ladies room (after years of being in flat shoes all day, the kitten-heels were giving me blisters) and have another good cry myself.

The blisters, of course, weren’t what caused this second bout of tears…I was crying because I was worried that by returning to the working world, I was ruining their lives forever.

My own mother worked for much of my childhood and I turned out fine (mmm…okay, a little neurotic, but overall fine), so it is a little surprising that I had this concern. If anything, I should have known firsthand that a happy mom equals a happy family—we were all much happier when she was working, while her unhappiness seemed to correspond in direct proportion to her yield of home baked, burned cookies. (My ineptitude in the kitchen is genetic.)

But while my mother’s choices somewhat influenced my own choices as an adult, there was a woman whose opinions had a much more dramatic impact during my formative years: Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

It might be surprising to see Dr. Laura’s name in my blog. She’s of the uber-conservative, anti-abortion, if-the-husband-cheats-it’s-the-wife’s-fault-for-not-putting-out-when-she’s-exhausted ilk. And I am, well, the opposite of that.

Whatever Dr. Laura’s offenses might be, however, listening to her is still a lot more interesting than the FM channels on the radio—and during my early 20s, when I was a graduate student in Washington, D.C., the Traffic Capital of the U.S. as much as it is the Capitol—I spent a lot of time, bored, in the car, waiting twenty minutes to move twenty inches on Connecticut Avenue.

The first time I flipped the channel to Dr. Laura, she was verbally beating the crap out of some woman who had “shacked up” with a “stud” and ten years later was a bit concerned that he hadn’t popped the question yet. Juicy stuff. The calls that followed were equally brimming with drama. Messy divorces, dysfunctional families, unplanned pregnancies, extramarital affairs—it was better than a soap opera! I was hooked.

An hour with Dr. Laura became my new guilty pleasure, not to mention a method for surviving rush-hour commute without swearing or honking at a single Beltway motorist.

I saved my swearing for when Dr. Laura said something I disagreed with—which was about 95% of the time—but that didn’t mean I didn’t look forward to my time with the Church Lady of Talk Radio. What I didn’t realize during these drives, though, was that even though consciously I disagreed with her, subconsciously Dr. Laura’s line of thinking was creeping into my own world view and would eventually impact the choices I made.

On the issue of working mothers, Dr. Laura had no shades of gray. Women shouldn’t work. They should learn to live happily on their husband’s paychecks, even if that meant tremendous financial hardship. Women who worked for reasons of fulfillment, satisfaction, etc. were scum of the earth selfish beings who were scarring their children forever. (Not an exaggeration but as close to a direct quote as I can get ten years after the fact; Dr. Laura doesn’t mince words.)

It’s beyond ironic that the years I spent getting a master’s degree—which increased my job prospects—were the same years I spent learning I should spend my childbearing years jobless.

About four years after I became a Dr. Laura groupie, I was married, employed, and pregnant with my first child. The inevitable question at last arose: whether I'd be returning after my maternity leave. While my job had become increasingly frustrating during my pregnancy—a combination of hormones and a boss who told me at one point I needed “writing lessons”—I am pretty sure it was the shrill voice in the back of my head insisting that working was wrong that ultimately motivated me to become a stay-at-home-mom.

Now, I know many women love staying at home with their children, and view it as a tremendous honor and privilege to spend every hour of every day with their offspring. But I am not one of those women.

The problem with staying at home for me was that after about six months of enjoying not having anywhere to be but playgroup or the pediatrician’s, I was bored. Bored out of my skull. When I worked, I was used to being paged over the intercom when I was needed; among the nonworking, the only “paging” I responded to was, “wahhh!” It's not that I didn't love those special months with's just that I needed more than that. And, I was concerned that the consistency of my brain was turning into the consistency of the stuff in Jacob's Gerber jars.

That being said, something just didn’t feel right about putting my kids in daycare—probably all those years of Dr. Laura berating women who had “strangers raise their children.” So over the next four years, I straddled the fence by freelancing—at first one project at a time, then two…eventually, close to 40 hours a week. By the time Jacob was four and my baby, Rebecca, was two, I was staying up till midnight to get projects done. And yet, I was a “stay at home mom” (or as the doctor would put it, "I am my kid's mom") because I did literally stay home.

I think this is when I realized that with no benefits, job security or adult interaction beyond teleconferencing calls with my kids clamoring for my attention in the background, staying home wasn’t such a great deal. Barry, who had never listened to Dr. Laura before and knew I'd be happier in a full-time gig, forcefully agreed. And so I began the interview process…and voila! Within a few months, I was back in the game. And aside for the tearful first weeks, I haven’t looked back since.

So how did my kids fare over the last 365 days? Would you be surprised to learn that they are absolutely fine?? Jacob is as bonded to me as he was before and likes the little freebies I occasionally bring home from work (he has a growing collection of Met Life Snoopy dolls our HR department is regularly handing out). I can’t really see any difference in Rebecca’s behavior at all—and I am glad that she two working parents as role models. I’ve got two happy, well-adjusted kids, a resume resumed, more income and a better wardrobe. Aside from the seven pounds I’ve gained from replacing my 10 a.m. spin classes with 10 a.m. marketing meetings, it’s been pretty much a win-win situation.

One new unpleasant thing I do have to deal with now that I am a working mother is the commute. It's about 25-30 minutes each way. But thanks to the advent of Air America, I no longer spend my down time in the car being brainwashed by Dr. Laura.

Thank goodness for the Stephanie Miller Show. These days, I’m “Walking on Sunshine” indeed.


Sarah said...

I have heard of this Dr. Laura - but I've never listened to her.

I'm with you on the happy mom being direct correlation with happy kids/family.

Now my sister - pretty darn close to Martha Stewart and Betty Crocker all rolled into one - only with Denise Austin's body. It's not suprising that she love and adored staying at home.

Me - I'm still deciding what to do. I love my job (most of the time). But I think I'd love staying at home, too.

But I do want to say that I love your writing style, and that boss who said such a crappy comment to you - OBVIOUSLY didn't know what he was talking about. ;)

mercedez santangelo said...

I love your bloggles!