When my daughter was in first grade, I lost my job. I had been working at CNBC for nine years when they closed the Creative Services department and outsourced to Burbank. I wasn’t too upset – after all, I was a writer. I could work from home.
I may have been the envy of many a mother, but my ever-loving spouse wasn’t quite so sure this was a good thing. He wasn’t necessarily opposed to me staying at home with the children; he just understood my limitations and what it would mean to our lifestyle.
“I’ll work from home!” I promised. “I’ll make just as much money freelancing, I know I will!”
And I did. Maybe two of the 15 years I’ve been home.
I tried. I really did. I would plop those kids in front of the TV and let them watch Toy Story over and over and over again. They’d curl up on the couch, letting Woody and Buzz lull them into a semi-conscious state while I pounded out headlines and marketing brochures. But, if I got a phone call from work they’d be off that couch in a second, rallying around me like savage dogs after a bone, barking, biting, jumping, growling. I locked myself in the bedroom, the basement, the bathroom. I ran water to drown out their cries.
“Call me back when your kids calm down,” one potential client said sympathetically.
I never called back, because they never calmed down.
When their father came home from a long day at work and asked how much I had gotten done and how much television the kids had watched, I would lie by a good three hours. On both accounts.
I was freelancing part-time, parenting part-time and fretting full-time. I felt guilty about work, guiltier about my family and guiltiest about our finances. A year or so later, my spouse landed a new job, working the same hours but making more money. We weren’t out of the woods yet, but things weren’t quite so tight.
It was about then that I started volunteering.
It all began because I needed to get out of the house. I couldn’t justify going out drinking with the girls (that came many years later) or running off to the mall. So I discovered the world of meetings. I started with the PTA and moved on to the Board of Ed. Then came sports leagues and board positions and before I knew it, I was out more nights than I was in. Forget the fact that I was spending more money than I was making on babysitters; I was now an involved parent and felt like I was doing something to benefit my kids.
And in doing so, I found I was a much better hands-off, than hands-on mother.
I really had no business going so long without a real job. I was just waiting for the right time. But, I kept creating reasons not to go back.
After all, how could I possibly work and be a class parent? A PTA president, a reading buddy? How could I work and get my kids to swim lessons, baseball practice, cheerleading tryouts? I had housework to do, homework to check, heartbreaks to heal.
I know for certain I could have been a better mother, but I also know I couldn’t have done more. I was there all the time. For every pick up, every drop off, every Martin Luther King assembly. And when my kids ran out of things for me to support, I supported the other kids in town. No lunch money? I’d bring a bagel. Upset stomach? The nurse knew my number. No one to watch your basketball game? I’d be in the stands.
Fifteen years have flown by in a frenzy. My youngest is a senior in high school. I don’t have to deliver forgotten cleats or drive him to the dentist. He gets himself back and forth to school and sports and hasn’t set foot in the mini-van in a good long time. I’m as good as invisible these days.
I know that the gig is up. We’ve got colleges to pay for and senior citizen cruises to go on. I skim the want ads, finding excuses at every turn. I’m too old to commute into New York. I’m too square for the advertising world. I’m too financially irresponsible to be a bank teller. I sleep too late to be a crossing guard.
And so, I write my words and hope a flood of freelance work will save my sorry soul. Maybe I’ll get discovered and be offered a book deal. A movie deal. I pray that I don’t have to give up my messy desk in the corner of the living room for a cubicle in the corporate world.
Being a stay-at-home working mom may be the hardest job in the world. But, the greatest job in the world has got to be that of a stay-at-home working mom, when the kids are all gone.
Now, that’s a job worth looking into.