Its no shocker and hardly news to report that having children changes you. The topic of life after children could be tackled from a thousand different angles – the changes we experience emotionally, or physically, the extreme limits we are pushed to and the kind of immeasureable joy they bring us. That stuff alters us – permanently. But I need to talk about another type of change I am expereincing since becoming a mother and it has left me at quite a loss. Staying home with my children over the past five years has morphed me from a fairly confident capable working woman into a quivering girly-mom completely clueless as to how I would ever make it in the big, bad, working world again. Yeah, not good at all. This is a 35 year old identity crisis of epic proportions.
I’ve mentioned it before. I am a proud graduate of a very cool women’s institution called Mount Holyoke College. It is undeniably unique – it loads up college aged women with confidence, strength, smarts, and ability and then pushes them out into the world scrappy, ready and willing to take anything on. That was me in 1997. For the following 8 years, I worked in undergraduate college admissions. And I was pretty good at what I did. I think.
But then I had T. I pushed my suits to the back of my closet and adopted breast feeding t-shirts and draw string pants. I think my backbone got tucked at the back of that closet too.
So my job title became: Mother. My office was my home. No co-workers chatting about their weekends (Weekend? Monday, Saturday, whatever… it’s really just groundhog day again). No boss telling me they are lucky to have me. A three month old baby awake all night was hardly a positive indicator that I was succeeding at my job. Now 5 years later, my boys and I are in a routine, I am the captain of this ship and I think I have it under control.
By the way, please note: this is not a bitch-fest post about being a stay at home mother either. I love being with my kids. I feel like I pulled some sort of golden ticket that has baaaarely allowed us to finagle a way so that I can stay home with my boys. Thousands of women would give anything to do the same. This is not about that. This about LEAVING that.
So back to my point. As T. starts kindergarten in the fall, the economy goes further into the crapper, and the shoe-string budget that we depend on has unraveled to more of a thread, I can’t help but start to plan on going back to work at some point soon.
Ugh though. I mean, do I HONESTLY think I have a clue as to how to function in the work force again? I feel completely out of touch with that sort of environment. Sure, I am the master at putting my child in the “cobra clutch” while changing a poopie diaper. I can smoothly talk through a time out and have the boys back to playing nicely in 5 minutes flat. I know what gets crayons off the walls (magic eraser), pencil off my frig (magic eraser) and marker off my table (magic eraser). I think I am doing ok as a mom.
But a job? That I commute to? With ONLY grown ups and in grown up clothes? Smart people who expect you to think fast and use a big girl, I mean, ADULT vocabulary? They would expect me to be witty, up to date and relevant when I might still have a sippy cup of rotting milk in my purse? They would expect me NOT to have brains for mush… I mean, mush for brains? For real, my friends, I am in big poopies. (Oh, that’s right. Grown-up words…) I mean I am in big bowel movements.
It has been a looooong time since I have felt like a confident, smart, able contributor to a working environment. 5 years! And hardly a whipper snapper any longer, I am on the verge of 35! My resume is sound asleep at the back of my computer in some dusty old file last used in 2004. I don’t know what I am doing. Ooooh and just you watch. I know office politics would take fast advantage of naive little me, they would chew me up and spit me out only to be cackled about over the water cooler. “Did you see that Caroline woman? What is SHE about? She doesn’t even own a blackberry! Yeah, she used a pen and paper to take notes at the meeting. Ew. And if she thinks she’s better than me because she’s ten years older than me, she can go back to mommy-land. Did you see what she was wearing? I SWEAR there were shoulder pads in that dress. Is that a purse or a diaper bag, by the way”. I am in way waaaaay big trouble.
And you know what’s even worse than not knowing how to work in the real world? I don’t even know WHAT it is that I want to do in the real world. A position in undergraduate college admissions is usually three jobs rolled into one: traveling saleswoman, around the clock resume reader and events planner. This sort of job doesn’t fly for any mom needing to work regular-ish hours so that she can pick up her kids from school or daycare. Plus they like fresh faced, smart looking, recent college grad types to represent an undergraduate college. Go get me my Geritol, I don’t fit that category any longer.
And what, pray tell me, is parent-friendly out there these days and actually pays well. WHAT? Because if I start over with a new career, does that mean I begin at the bottom? Will my starting salary match what I made in 1997 (which, at 23 years old, seemed like a million dollars at the time – snort – when gas was 99c a gallon). And during my first week of shuffling papers in my office cubicle, will some condescendingly brilliant corporate type tell me I have to work late because he is meeting his buddies to celebrate a friend’s 21st birthday? I’ll take a Diaper Genie full of poopie diapers ANY day over that sort of back to work crap.
But, really, what has motherhood reduced me to? Where is that cool, confident Mount Holyoke grad? She seems far far gone. Parenting has morphed me into something quite different. My confidence seems at an all time low. I adore being a mother but – I admit it – I am afraid of the working world. On top of my daily mommy tasks, how could I possibly handle deadlines and pressure and asking myself “is it good for the company”? You might as well move me to Bali because the working world seems just about as foreign a concept to me.
Actually, do you know what it is? Do you know what I am really truly afraid of?
How will I even care?
How will I not pine away my work day, counting down the hours, wishing I was with my kids again? How will I bring the same sort of work ethic I prided myself in – before I was a mother – to my current job when I know this silly work stuff means nothing – NOTHING – compared to playing Candyland with my child and watching him grow right before my eyes. Deadlines can bite it, get me home to my children.
So thats it. I just don’t think I will care. I just don’t think I can live with doing anything half-assed. I don’t want to try to look the part for some corporate gig when I am really a MOTHER, proudly toting her big, practical diaper bag, just doing what she loves best.
But there may not be a choice here. I need to buck up and figure out how to be both. Women do this alllll the time. They jump back in there, apply the multi-tasking skills they have since adopted as moms, get it done and get back home. Working moms probably DON’T care about “whats good for the company” as much as they care about whats good for their kids. As they should. Balance happens – somehow. Maybe not perfectly. Maybe not easily. But it does because it has to.
So where does this leave me? My always sought after “bottom-line” is needed right about now. Well. I think this simply boils down to a petulant identity crisis. I think I should hush up and give myself more credit. I think I will be good at whatever I do and still have the skillz to dodge office politics like a trained Olympiad. I think when it is time to start back to work, it’s simply a matter of jumping in and doing it. Wish me luck. Tell me I’m right and that I can do it. Tell me how you did it. Tell me you know the lyrics to “Let the River Run” from the movie Working Girl because that song is absolutely stuck in my head right now. ….”Come! The new Jerusalem!!!”