Posted by: canthold | March 11, 2008

A Matter Of Time

Did anyone watch TLC’s Secret Life of a Soccer Mom last night? You just know that it’s on my radar. It’s about a regular stay-at-home mom who secretly goes back to work to follow her dream – or something to that effect. The one last night was a woman who had two children aged 3.5 and 4.5 who went to work as a chef.

It was her dream.

(Here’s the plot spoiler. Stop reading if you want to stay in suspense.)

And when they offered her the job at the end, I was vicariously taking the job for her. But she decided that the timing was wrong and turned the offer down. I was shocked and sympathetic at the same time. One one hand, it was the kind of opportunity that wouldn’t be coming around again – or so they have you believe. It was at a fancy restaurant named Chocolat. So fancy, in fact, that even I have heard of it and I don’t live in the area and I don’t dine out very often.

I hated that she turned it down because clearly she wanted to take the job. It offered her excitement and satisfaction that was missing in her daily life. She was motivated enough to go on the show so she must have been feeling a void. You could tell that her decision was based on the big picture – like she didn’t think it could work with her family dynamic. To the end, she put herself last.

On the other-hand, I was very empathetic about how she must have felt. For all the times I search the Internet for my dream job and find it, I know that timing is everything. I have had a job listing on the screen in front of my eyes knowing that I couldn’t make it work right then and there. The reasons we have for staying home with our kids are powerfully strong. My kids are a bit older now and I can relate to where they were at the same ages. (Mine are two-years apart, though, rather than just one.)

My oldest daughter does not want me to go back to work. I tell her that it’s a matter of time and she will need to be getting used to the idea. But I also have to lie to her when I interview or network. Something recently started the conversation again about my inevitable return to work and she left me a note on my night stand:

“Please don’t leve.”

I realized that she probably associates my husband’s long (long) hours as what I’ll be doing too. I’m sure she thinks that she’ll never see her parents if we both work. That is not my intention, though I fear that my ambition will be difficult to reign in. Will I be able to work only 9 to 5? At the beginning of this school year when I set up daycare to substitute teach, they both did just fine. Next year, when the planned re-launch takes place (maybe?) both of my kids will be at the same school. If I work late, they’ll both be together, just like at home. I think it’s all do-able. Kids are highly adaptable and moms work all the time.

After feeling so crappy for this last month, I wonder how that would play out if I worked. I worry that I’m not able to handle the extra chainsaws in the juggle. But no matter the doubts I have, I know that things will work out. I know that women have been doing this since I was a kid (and before) because I’m the child of a working mom.

This book that I keep mentioning is called Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives, by Anna Fels. It talks about how we need recognition and how staying at home with the kids doesn’t give us enough sources of recognition. I think this is probably the explanation as to why I talk too much when I get around other adults. I need them to notice me. I need to feel important to someone other than as just a cook, chauffeur and cleaner.

And get this – I think this is why I’ve had such a hard time turning 40. One of the sources of recognition that I’ve had most of my life was as an attractive woman to men seeking a mate. That sounds so crass, but really, isn’t it true? Men noticed me as a woman and now I’m an invisible mom to the rest of the world. I’m afraid of losing my youthfulness because that form of recognition will disappear too. It’s not that I’m looking for anything like that kind of attention, but after so many years of marriage and working long hours, perhaps I don’t like feeling I might become invisible to my own husband. It happens.

The book really helped me see what is so unsatisfying about staying home with the kids. I mean, I have always known that the low level of control and recognition that comes from being a housewife doesn’t compare to the constant feedback and monetary rewards of going to work. But somehow seeing it in print was that “aha” moment that tells me I’m not insane after all. Because for the last six-and-a-half years I’ve been wondering what’s wrong with me.

Don’t get me wrong, the joys of motherhood far outweigh anything I’ve ever done in my entire life – bar none. Seeing my kids laugh or learn something takes my measure of happiness off the charts. It’s just the roller coaster is challenging day in and day out. For every fit of giggles, there are ten spills, loads of laundry, toilets to clean, tantrums and arguments about getting to school on time. The scales are not exactly tipped to the fun side.

I fantasize that working will fulfill me on an intellectual level so that when I come home I will give my kids the undivided attention that they need and want. In my perfect scenario, all the time is quality time. (And I’m paying someone to clean my house, by the way.) I don’t know for a fact that my fantasy is a possible reality. I know that working moms get tired and take on the brunt of the household chores as their second shift. I know that the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence.

I want staying home to be enough for me. I love that I’m more patient and less stressed than I was when feeding my Type-A personality. I love being a participant in my children’s lives and seeing all the things they experience as they grow up. I cannot put words to holding my daughters when they need to be held – right then and there.

I have not wasted my time in these work-less years. I have written a novel, a screenplay and started my own website. I’ve spent countless hours volunteering in classrooms and read so much in the form of books, newspapers and magazines that I think I may have an addiction to the printed word. By pursuing my interests, dreams and desires, I hope to be setting an example for my kids. Timing is everything and so is time. These precious years are flying by at the speed of light – especially in hindsight.

I have not and will not stop dreaming. I will not stop learning about myself or the world around me. And you know what? It’s important to put it into context. From the perspective of my readiness and timing, I would have taken the job as a chef, if that was what I desired (I’m not that great in the kitchen). But when looking through the eyes of the woman making the choice, with the perspective of how I felt when my kids were just a little bit younger, I can understand and relate to why she chose not to. I believe she will find her way when the time comes and so will I.

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