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The Road Back to Me: Becoming a Working Mom

10 May


It started as an experiment. When I was pregnant, I decided to try out being a stay at home mother, citing my job’s lack of maternity leave and my lack of passion for my job as the main reasons. I never pictured myself staying home with a baby, but I also never pictured myself as a working mom. Secretly I hoped that I would be one of those women who always self-identified as “not a kid person,” then had a baby and found her true calling, her life’s greatest joy.

That’s not the way it happened for me.

Instead, I battled what I see now was probably postpartum depression and anxiety. I was lonely, crazed, scared, and bored out of my mind. I was simultaneously in love with my new baby and wishing I could let the stroller just keep going down the hill and walk off in the other direction, picking up my old life where I left off.

Once the baby got older, smiled, crawled, laughed, played, things were more interesting, more fun, but still the mind-numbing boredom and crippling isolation were the dominant feelings of my day. Once she started to become a toddler, more active and more mischievous, anger came alongside those feelings, “mom rage” that welled up when my patience had grown thin and my Type A personality couldn’t deal with one more curveball, or how executing a trip to the post office felt like a military mission.

My spiritual director, who’s known me longer than my own husband has, pointed out that I was not receiving what basically amounts to vital nourishment for my self–time to be quiet, to think, to read, to stare out at nature. “You’re starving,” she said. I felt like a shell of myself, and remember one time, when my daughter was about six months old, trying to explain it to my husband: “Joy is gone,” I said. “She’s just not here anymore.”

But motherhood is a mixed bag, complex if nothing else. My attachment to my baby was strong, and even though I longed to go “back” to work (though this would mean finding a new job), I literally could not imagine what it would look like to be her mother but not be with her 95 percent of the time.

An ideal job floated my way around my daughter’s first birthday, and even while I hoped so much that I’d get the position, not believing how well suited I was for it, it was for me, I still half-hoped I wouldn’t get it, too. It would be such a massive shifting of gears I feared I (or my daughter) would be crushed in the process.

Cut to three months in at my new job. As I walked to (a quiet, solo) lunch today, I felt overwhelmed with what a gift it’s been to be working again, to be writing and editing for a living, to have my words and ideas and very self matter again, completely outside of the context of motherhood.

Our sweet nanny suddenly resigned two weeks ago, due to an injury, and I found myself scrambling to cover child care, stuck without any usable sick days since I’m still in the probationary period at work. This was one of my fears, when I considered shifting to a two-working-parent household, that there would be frantic scrambling, jimmy-rigged care for my daughter, a chaotic environment for her and near-constant work for me. The constant work part is true; these days I’m adulting about 99 percent of the time, and the days feel so long it’s mind boggling, but still, I wouldn’t have it any other way. My daughter is still happy and thriving, and now I’m on my way to being happy and thriving as well. I’m on my way back to Joy.


When Becoming a Quitter Became Good for My Soul

15 Dec


You must know this about me: I’m not a quitter. If I start something, I finish it. Some people love starting things: projects, chapters in life, new tubes of toothpaste. I like finishing them (let’s not get into how often I feel paralyzed about starting something and so never do). When I was in college, I took a temperament analysis that ranked my level of self-discipline off the charts. I liked this about myself.

But, time, age, marriage, and motherhood have changed me. I’m no longer off-the-charts disciplined (maybe that’s a good thing!), and now, I guess I’m a quitter, too.

It all started at the end of October, when my husband, my roommate, and I decided–impulsively–to do Whole30 together. Whole30 means for 30 days you only eat whole foods, and you avoid sugar, grains, beans, peanuts, dairy, and alcohol. So, in other words, you’re eating a bunch of meat and vegetables for thirty days. It was awful. I almost immediately entered a crazed state where all I could think about was food! I was in a terrible mood. I didn’t see the weight loss, or any of the “non-scale victories” the program touts, like better sleep, more energy, better mood, better skin, etc. Two weeks in, I was still hungry all the time, and I was super stressed out constantly thinking about what I could eat and planning meals/shopping lists.

It was dumb. I thought about it and realized it was not a good program for me. I’m much better at moderating my intake of something rather than abstaining all together. Also, I’d had a pretty dysfunctional relationship with food for several years in my twenties and this just seemed to trigger that. And, as much as I hated to admit it, even though Zadie was 10 months old at the time, I still felt like I was getting used to all that’s involved in being a mom. Adding a strict diet program on top of that felt like so much pressure.

So I quit. I didn’t finish Whole30. I didn’t even finish Whole15. On the 13th day, I quit. And I kept eating within the program for a few days–I didn’t just go out and eat a pizza or something. I just needed that weight lifted off of me, and the feeling of freedom I had was amazing. I also felt proud, because I realized that I had honored my story, my temperament and my needs in this situation. Before I quit, I dreaded having to tell people I didn’t finish the program; I couldn’t do it, I was too weak. But the freedom that came from honoring myself in my decision extended to the freedom to tell people I had quit, without shame.

It felt so great, I’m thinking of quitting something else: stay at home motherhood. I’ve written about it here before, but I just don’t know if it’s for me. To be honest, I’ve been agonizing over this decision for a couple of months now. Partly because the only kind of motherhood I’ve experienced so far is the stay-at-home variety, and it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to mother Zadie if I weren’t with her all the time. But it partly feels like I’m giving up. Like I couldn’t handle something that lots of women handle beautifully every single day, with many more kids, or kids with special needs.

I wanted to give staying at home a try; I tried and it sometimes feels like I failed. I enjoy being with Zadie immensely, and have moments of heart-exploding joy and love with her every single day. But I also have many times throughout the day when I just don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to be a full-time caregiver. I don’t want to continue to lose other parts of myself in order to be the one who changes Zadie’s diaper and feeds her and reads to her all day. It’s difficult to not feel selfish, or weak, or to worry that I’ll regret my decision to go back to work.

But after my experience quitting Whole30, I’m curious: what if instead of giving in to guilt and social pressure, I take a good look at myself, my strengths and weaknesses, my skill set and my dreams, the needs of my family as a whole, and make the decision from there? And if that decision is to “quit” being a stay at home mother, what if it leads to the same feeling of freedom and release from pressure that I had when I quit Whole30?

So I guess sometimes it’s good to be a quitter. Maybe it’s more about knowing when to quit?


Work It: Thoughts on Stay at Home Motherhood and Why I’m Not Sure I Can Do It Anymore

2 Nov

If only I were this stylish as a mom!

When I turned 16, my parents basically said, “You’re old enough to get a job, so now, if you want to buy something, you’ll need to pay for it.” I half-heartedly searched for jobs until I landed a gig at the movie theater where a few of my friends worked. I wore a collared white shirt and a black bow tie and took people’s tickets or made batches of popcorn with extra oil while downing Coke-flavored icees in water cups. I’ve worked ever since, at an ice skating rink, at Starbucks, at a counseling center, a charter high school, a seminary, and a magazine. I enjoyed many of these jobs, whether for the work, the colleagues, or just the paycheck. But even in my favorite jobs, I think I would have stopped working in an instant if I suddenly had all the money I needed.

So when I became pregnant and started thinking about whether I would work or stay at home or figure out some combination of the two, I thought maybe staying at home was the right decision for me. I didn’t have a job I absolutely loved, and taking care of a baby was going to be enough work as it is. I never really found my identity in my work; I always found it in my relationships. Even when I did a workshop where I reflected on the high points and low points of my life, work almost never entered the picture—even big moments like the first time my writing was published.

I assumed the thing I liked most about work was the intellectual stimulation, and the camaraderie. It seemed possible I could find intellectual stimulation and camaraderie outside of the workplace, if I could just find the right book club and moms group.

And yet, here I am, almost 10 months into this stay at home mom gig (and in a book club and a moms group!), and I’m longing to work.

Part of it is a longing for escape. Taking care of a baby sometimes feels like backbreaking work (how do people have more than one?!). I’m pretty soft, so maybe it’s just me. But really, what’s backbreaking is the constancy of the physical work required in caring for an infant. I mean, said infant pretty much must be carried everywhere; that alone is a huge amount of work that was not in my pre-baby life. (Especially now that Zadie is over 20 pounds and we live on the third floor!!) The baby’s feeding needs and bodily functions all must be managed and cared for by me. It’s kind of insane. And after 9-plus months, I am bone tired. Every night I get into bed and feel like I’m 80 years old. Everything aches. And the idea of going to work, and going to the bathroom without having to do it in less time than it takes my baby to crawl down the hallway to me/the bathroom trash can, sounds like a vacation.

Work would also give me some much-needed space from my baby. You know that feeling when you meet a new friend you really click with (for most of us, this was probably in high school or college), and you hang out more and more until you’re hanging out all the time? And it’s the best, until it isn’t. And you need space so you can remember why you liked this person in the first place, why they became your best friend. It’s like getting so close to something you can’t see it anymore. That’s what I’m afraid is happening to Zadie and me. My sister Rachel said it so well, that for moms, the question of to work or to stay at home is answered with a simple “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.” She said if you work you feel guilty when you’re away from your kids (or even if you don’t feel guilty, you just miss them terribly) and if you stay at home you’re with your kids so much you stop appreciating them. I need a break from Zadie. I need a chance to miss her and to feel like I can’t wait to see her. Sure, sometimes I have those moments when I can’t wait till she wakes up from a nap so I can see her cute face, or where I spend an hour after she goes to bed looking at pictures of her. But mostly, lately, I think, “I can’t spend another minute with you.” It’s like we’ve been stuck in a car together on a 10-month-long road trip (and I’m not even counting the 9 months she took up residence inside my body). I need to be me again for a while, not me-and-Zadie. Work is starting to look like the way to that.

Something else I’ve realized is that even though I’m not a worker bee, everyone likes being acknowledged for hard work and a job well done. It’s been said a million times: mothers do an insane amount of work for an even more insane lack of appreciation. We don’t get paid, and we hardly get a “good job.” It would feel good to go to work, do the work, and take home a paycheck. Also, the paycheck itself would be nice, because we live in Los Angeles now and one income in Los Angeles is a fool’s game.

Here’s what it comes down to. Last week, my attention was turned toward a Facebook post by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a “feminist manifesto” written as a letter to her friend who recently became a mother. The manifesto is a response to the friend’s question, outlining 15 suggestions on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. The first suggestion stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. The pioneering American journalist Marlene Sanders once said to a younger journalist, ‘Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.’

You don’t even have to love your job; you can merely love what your job does for you – the confidence and self-fulfillment that come with doing and earning. Reject the idea of motherhood and work as mutually exclusive.”

That paragraph makes me want to shout, “YES!” from the rooftops. It makes me want to run up a mountain, or skydive out of a plane. It feels like freedom. I’m guessing the extreme reaction stems from 1) I have not felt like a full person since I had Zadie almost a year ago, and 2) I have somehow, for some reason, bought into the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive, and I have felt both bound to my duty as a mother and also restricted by my lack of a job I love and can’t bear to quit, like my sister the physician’s assistant or my sister the teacher. I’ve felt that, if I were to be away from my baby, it would need to be for a noble reason, for a job that was changing the world. But perhaps there is no more noble a reason than a job might make me feel like a full person again, and only a mother who is a full person can fully offer her love to her child.

So I guess what I’m saying is, do you know anyone who’s hiring? 😉

Dr. Joy

29 Jul


Today I taught my first class ever.  It kind of snuck up on me.  I was told weeks ago I would sub for an English Small Group Instructor (SGI) with my company, at a center in Baldwin Park.  It wasn’t until yesterday when that teacher called me with instructions that I realized I would actually be teaching a class.  Granted, it was only two classes of like 10 students.  But you know what?  I really liked it.  And I think I can do this.  I think I can teach.  Somehow when I’m communicating in front of a group, I open my mouth and all these ideas come out and they surprise me, and even more surprising is that it looks like these teenagers are actually interested in what I’m saying.  I think it’s part of my being an external processor.  I can’t micro-plan for the lesson, because I won’t be able to stick to it.  I just have to know what topic I’m supposed so speak on, grasp the vision or the concept for the lesson, and go with it.  I don’t think I’ll be in the next Dangerous Minds/Freedom Writers type of movie…I’m leaning more toward being a college professor.  Today I was launched into a mini-dream of what life would be like if I was teaching at a university.  In an office with floor to ceiling bookshelves, interesting objects from my world travels, a vintage globe, and a skylight.  I would spend time reading and writing, discussing and debating, taking students under my wing and watching their potential unfurl like little wings, ready to lift them off into the future.  So, maybe not Dangerous Minds, but what about Dead Poets’ Society?  Or I would be cool with being like Julia Roberts in  Mona Lisa Smile.  It’s scary to think of how much schooling I still have to do to get there, but how cool would it be if I was a Doctor?

Quotable Friday, Vol. 23

16 May

“But thank goodness almost every office worker in America has virtually untethered access to the internet. Imagine what would happen to our economy if employers started taking away internet privileges and people were forced to actually work.  The entire American economy is balanced precariously on the fact that the average American white collar worker spends only about 20 percent of his or her time actually working.

How did the cubicle kids waste time before the internet? Daydreams? Productivity seminars? Interoffice romances? Midday martinis?”


Sweet Juniper

I will not confirm or deny whether this has been my experience as an American office worker, because this blog is a public site.  But.  Dutch does have a point. 

I’m Such a Liar

15 Apr

I was about to title this, “Fib” or “I’m such a fibber” but then I realized that “fib” is totally one of my least favorite words.  I pause here to add it to my ever-growing words-I-hate list in the memo section of my cell phone.

All right, I’m back.  I totally thought I would have oodles of time to blog now that I’m working again.  But instead of being a warm body at a desk (aka substitute teaching), they have me auditing files.  I will spare you the details, but it’s pretty much going through a student file with a check list and making sure every jot and tittle (insert adolescent snicker) is correct.  Yawn, right?  Well, for what they’re paying me, it’s totally worth it.  I have zero complaints.

…ex-cept that I can’t really blog.  Because come on, like I’m really going to use my precious free time to do this?  (Ahem, besides tonight…)

And in case you were wondering…yeah, oodles leans toward the words-I-love side of the spectrum; with spectrum being a loose term to describe the crazy, over-opinionated, over-stimulated, over-articulated place that is my brain.

Haiku Tuesday

17 Dec

It all started with this poetic ode to sweet chilli sauce (inspired by the sweet chilli chicken quesadilla I had for lunch).

sweet chilli sauce love
brings magic to any day
so glad I found you

Then I started writing them for everyone sitting near me in the Youthstreet office today: Continue reading

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