Category Archives: work

When A Stay-At-Home Mom Goes To Work: Lessons From The Trenches

After eight years of stay-at-home motherhood, I took the plunge into the part-time-paid-work-outside-the-home realm. Yes, stay-at-home motherhood is a job and a demanding one to boot, and yes, I’ve been paid over the years as a freelance writer, but for the first time since Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration speech (the good old days), I clock in and out of a workplace at a location outside of my home on specific days and at specific times…and not in my pajamas.

It’s a small step—a dip of the toes in the water, if you will—but it’s a big deal because eight years ago, when I stood unshowered and sleep-deprived in my kitchen breastfeeding a newborn baby in one arm and flipping a grilled cheese sandwich for a toddler in the other, I couldn’t imagine having the time, energy, or desire to be accountable to anyone but my precious snowflakes ever again.

Yet, here I am. One day a week, I teach creative movement, tap, and ballet at my local YMCA. It’s fun, exhausting, demanding, inspiring, and always unpredictable. In fact, it’s a lot like stay-at-home motherhood but with other people’s kids wearing pink tights.

Rediscovering my true calling after a decade entrenched in motherhood has been a gift. I feel like I’m exactly where I am supposed to be, but my new endeavor has come with a steep learning curve. Going to work has triggered a delightful dose of mayhem at home and has taught me some important lessons about the intersection of stay-at-home motherhood and work.

Murphy’s Law is no joke. When your kid wakes up before dawn, you’ll be late for school, when you go to the trouble of cooking dinner, everyone will hate it, and on the morning of your first day of work outside the home after almost a decade, your kids will get the stomach bug. If you’re lucky (I was), your angel of a babysitter will show up anyway and be rewarded with a big fat tip and good karma for the rest of her blessed life.

Saying yes is as hard and worthwhile as saying no. When I was encouraged to apply for my job, I said yes even though I hadn’t updated my resume in a decade. When I was offered the chance to teach in the afternoon after my kids got out of school, I said yes even though I had no plan for childcare. When a friend offered to take my son to his drum lesson while I worked because she took her kids at the same time, I said yes. Those yeses were scary, but once they spilled out, things fell into place.

Small change = big chaos. The average newborn baby in the United States weighs just 7.5 pounds, and we all know those tiny humans are flipping tsunamis! Whether you work 40 or four hours per week, your routine will come unhinged. The easy breezy flexibility of stay-at-home motherhood and the entire family’s expectation of said flexibility—to spontaneously invite friends over to play after school, to wait at home for a delivery, or to run to the craft store today for a project due tomorrow—will need some adjusting. Not to worry, like with infants, it gets better.

You have (earned) permission to reframe the cost. I was flummoxed by Sheryl Sandberg’s plea in her book, “Lean In,” for working women to stay the course during the early years of motherhood, especially when the cost of childcare consumed most of their paycheck. It made sense in theory, but in execution…not so much. When I quit my job to stay home full time, I did it for a lot of reasons, but the cost of childcare was a major factor. Today, it’s still a factor—I hand a significant portion of my weekly paycheck to a babysitter—but I’m leaning in this time around because my babies have morphed into moody adolescents on the cusp of middle school, Instagram accounts, and curfews. Now, I’m investing my next chapter…me.

Your self-esteem will skyrocket. I’m grateful to have a supportive circle of family and friends who could care less if I’m a stay-at-home mom, working mom, helicopter mom, lawnmower mom, free-range mom, Dutch mom, or hot mess mom. They just want me to clean the toilet seats when they come over, and I do all most some of the time. But, I don’t live in a vacuum. I’ve been on the receiving end of “What do you do all day?” many times, and it takes its toll. I relish my new responsibility. It’s given me a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to learn, and it’s introduced me to many interesting adults and some fascinating kids. It feels good to be a part of something outside of my household, and getting paid for my time and skill is swell, too.

Your kids will miss you (and…psst…you’ll miss them, too). You know how the kids go bonkers when Daddy gets home from work or emerges from the bathroom after disappearing for an hour?Oh, Daddy, we missed you! We love you! You’re the best Daddy in the world!” For stay-at-home moms who reappear after going to the DMV or getting a root canal, it’s more like, “Oh, Mommy, why didn’t you cut the crusts off my sandwich before you left? There’s no ice in my water! You didn’t come when I called for you!” When I get home from work, my kids’ eyes light up. It might be because they’re hungry or can’t find the iPad charger, but I’ll take it. Also, it feels good to prep for and teach my classes and then put my work away for the night. It even makes me appreciate a sink full of dishes. That’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Independence, baby! (Not yours, although it’s nice to interact with people who don’t ask you to hold their trash.) Since I started working, my kids do their homework right after school, pack their backpacks in the morning, and bring their plates to sink occasionally (i.e. when there’s a full moon during months that start with “M”). They’re learning in big and small ways to do things for themselves. I don’t know if it has anything to do with my job, but I like to think my newfound autonomy (and my commitment to flushing the toilet) is rubbing off on them.

Your kids will surprise you. They might give you the side-eye when you arrive home after several hours with a babysitter, and they might not ask many questions about what you do, but one day one of them will bring home a picture he drew at school and you’ll realize they have been paying attention, they are curious about what their Mommy does at her job, and despite their surface discontent, they just might be a little bit proud.

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How Big is Your Fear?

boxfeara

It was a big day. It was Dylan’s first day of early morning band practice at school, and it was my first day of work.

Did I mention I got a job? After a brief twenty-year hiatus, I’m putting my M.F.A. in Modern Dance and Choreography to good use as a part-time creative movement and beginning ballet teacher at my local YMCA. I’ve kept a low profile about it because I’m so freaking excited and happy to have the opportunity to do what I love (and get paid!), and I don’t want anything to jinx it.

“My stomach hurts.” Dylan’s first words upon waking up were ominous, but they didn’t scare me. When you have a kid with anxiety, unexplained stomachaches are a common occurrence. I know because I get them, too.

My gut told me he was worried about the band. Truth be told, I was a bit on edge, too. After eight years as a stay-at-home mom, it was scary to be accountable to anyone other than my kids. I had deadlines and responsibilities as a writer, but for the most part, I worked when, where, and how I wanted. Now, I’d be clocking in and out on a weekly basis.

I made breakfast and sent Dylan upstairs to get dressed. He slogged through all of it. He barely touched his food. “Are you afraid of going to band practice?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “A little bit.”

“I know you’re nervous, but I want you to go because you’re a talented drum player and I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a great time. If you’re tummy still hurts after the practice, go to the nurse and I’ll come get you, but I have a feeling you’ll feel much better once you get there and get settled. Trying new things is scary. I get it. I really do.”

He agreed but continued to trudge.

I went to my bedroom and into my closet to fetch a small, round, hand-painted wooden box that I used to hold hair pins. It was a gift from a choreographer back when I was in college. She gave a different box to each dancer backstage before our first performance. Mine was red with raised streaks and waves of black, white, and gray across the top. My name was painted on the inside of the lid.

It was the first time I performed at a venue that wasn’t on campus. Instead of the audience being filled with teachers, friends, and family, it was filled with teachers, friends, family, and complete strangers who paid actual money to see the show. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once, and receiving that precious gift eased my nerves.

I told Dylan about the performance and the box and how scared I was to perform that night. Then I asked him, “How big is your fear?”

“Big,” he said.

“Show me with your hands.” He spread his hands wide like he held a beach ball in front of his chest.

“Put it in the box. Squish it so it will fit.” He looked at me like I was nuts, but he followed my directions.

Once his fear was safely in the box, I closed the lid. “It’s mine now. I’ll hold your fear so you can let it go. Go get your socks and shoes on.”

Still, he lumbered. We were going to be late if we didn’t get in the car in the next two minutes. I bent down to help him with his socks and that’s when he projectile vomited all over himself, the kitchen counter, the bar stools, the floor, and me. It even landed on the lenses of my glasses.

He was definitely nervous about band practice…and he also had the dreaded stomach bug. My big fear of vomit and even bigger fear of my kids getting sick on my first day of work came true. It was a good thing I unearthed that special little box. Hopefully there was enough room in it to hold my fear, too.

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The Time We Talked About Going To Work

TimeTalkedWork

A flyer came home from school about this year’s Take Your Sons And Daughters To Work Day. When Dylan saw me looking at it, he asked if he could go to work with Daddy that day.

“I’m sorry, Love,” I said. “Daddy will still be in London.” Mike is back in London for the next few weeks building a cutting edge product development team to create cutting edge global online financial media products for cutting edge people in the global financial industry that want cutting edge global financial news, data, and analysis.  You know, whatevs.

“Can I go to work with you?” he asked me.

Yes! I thought in a moment of utter righteousness as I posed in a strong, open stance with my fists on my hips (#poselikeasuperhero). Damn right you should see ME at MY job doing dishes, folding laundry, making doctor’s appointments, taking you to and surviving your doctor’s appointments, paying bills, getting bids on house repairs, watching the “Good Wife” on my lunch break, going to the grocery store, buying supplies for school projects and gifts for birthday parties, designing PTO newsletters, chaperoning 2nd grade fieldtrips (dear God), driving you to and from school and a million other destinations, helping you with homework, feeding you, bathing you, brushing your teeth, and taking care of every aspect of your life all the while writing smart blog posts and maintaining a relevant and humorous social media presence!   Because – dang it – stay at home mother/blog-hood is the hardest job there is, I’m the glue that keeps this family together, and you should appreciate and idolize my job as much as you admire Daddy’s!

And then I remembered that he sees me in my workplace doing that all that stuff all the freakin’ time. He knows that I write stories about being a Mommy and that I “play” on my laptop at the kitchen table a lot. If he stayed home from school to observe and learn about it, he’d end up playing Plants vs. Zombies all day while I served him icy water and snacks in ten-minute intervals, and I wouldn’t get to watch the “Good Wife” on my lunch break.

“Dylan,” I said, “You’ve seen me do my job. You see me do it every day and night. You can have a make-up day at Daddy’s office once he’s home, okay?

“Okay,” he said.

“What part of Daddy’s job do you want to learn about?” I asked out of curiosity, because Mike is generally in an anxious, stressed, and impenetrable trance in front of three computer screens for several hours at a time when he’s at the office. I’m not saying that what he does isn’t intriguing, innovative, and incredibly relevant as we embark on a 21st century information technology revolution, and I do think it would awesome for Dylan to develop an interest in STEM beyond playing video games, but for an eight-year-old kid who has a hard time sitting still for more than six to seven minutes at a time, it would be a pretty boring day.

“Daddy plays ping pong at work,” Dylan said, “and he has a pool table, a Nerf gun, a dart board, and a remote control helicopter. I want to do those things.”

Yeah, that sounds like a pretty awesome job.

Do your kids participate in Take Our Sons And Daughters To Work Day?

 

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