So I was going to write about wanting a wig today, but I changed my mind.
I was sitting in a meeting this week, which for me are still kind of fun being new to the office and all. One of the gals there, a senior manager, asked where “Whatsherface, you know, the new girl” was. At first I thought it was me she was describing. Jesus, am I really that invisible? Turns out she was talking about the other Whatsherface. Sigh. As we waited we made chit chat. One gal chitted while the other gal chatted. I listened. I’ve tried to jump in at other meetings, but after getting met with too many blank stares anytime I spoke, I just listen now. I’ve learned that it’s more comfortable for all involved when I only speak when spoken to. And, yes, it’s lonely.
So imagine my excitement when said senior manager turned to me and asked, “So are you part-time?” Before I could even answer, said senior manager went on, “You’ve got it made. I would love to work part-time, but I like to work too much.” Huh? She went on to add, “Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. I do.” Of course she does. Did she think I questioned the veracity of her love for her kids? Kind of like the way she questions how much I like to work? Then Whatsherface walked in and we got to work. I was distracted the rest of the meeting because I wanted to Mary Tyler Mom it right then and there.
The politics of the work place for mothers have nothing to do with red and blue. They’re all about the FT, PT and SAHM. I don’t want to overanalyze (HA! Those who know me know this is untrue.), but don’t you think it was telling what said senior manager was saying? If I were to infer from her comments that FT moms like to work more than PT moms and are afraid that others will perceive they love their kids less, would I be wrong? Do SAHMs love their kids even more than I love mine?
Working mothers have to deal with a lot of baggage that working father’s don’t. No one gives a second thought to my husband working full-time. It’s just understood and accepted. (Stay-at-home-fathers have it hard, too. Just think of the crap they have to put up with - - and I mean the figurative crap outside their kids’ diapers.) But mothers? They get judged for everything: working full-time, working part-time and staying at home. I’ve done all those things, so I consider myself uniquely qualified to state that, but then again, I consider myself uniquely qualified to state a lot of things.
Who knows? And what’s my point? I don’t know. I’m sad and cranky today. Working part-time is a mish-mash. Statistics report that it is the ideal situation for most mothers, something like 60% of mothers would prefer to work part-time rather than work full-time or parent full-time. But then why am I so sad and cranky? In the office I’m kind of a non-entity. I’m there, but because I’m not there every day, people are not quick to friend me. I’ll maintain that Whatsherface status a lot longer than if I worked full-time. I believe there is the sense that I do not take the work as seriously as a full-time worker, or are not as reliable. It’s certainly not the career-path for ambitious people.
And I haven’t even mentioned the economics at play. Some moms work because they have to, some because they want to - - that’s a hard thing to talk about over the water cooler. So, for the most part, we don’t. But, yes, I get annoyed when a SAHM assumes I have to work for the money. And, yes, I feel like a heel when I think about not needing my income in this economy, about taking this job (a part-time gig with full benefits is a hard gig to find) from someone, perhaps another mother, who would actually use the health insurance I didn’t bother with. You see what I mean? Brutal.
My husband and I have a division of labor that has worked extremely well in our just shy of ten year marriage. Style and substance. He does substance, I do style. Surprisingly, it works out to be pretty equitable. Substance consists of food, style consists of everything else: cleaning, decor, laundry, the comforts of home. We are like a fine oiled machine when hosting a party. I am a gal who likes a nice table and I arrange a nice flower. I am not a gal who has much confidence in the kitchen. So this arrangement we stumbled upon has worked out for us. Until the last year or so.
When I left my career to care for our daughter, not cooking was not an issue. We were blessed with faithful and talented houseguests who kept our fridge and bellys full. After Donna died a group of parents from her pre-school organized six weeks of cooked meals that somehow lasted longer. The winter set in and our houseguests got back to their own lives. I was home with a then one year old boy and would spend my days grieving for Donna and caring for Jay. They were full days. My man would get home from the office and cook dinner for us, just as he had before we moved to Cancerville. As spring neared and some of the initial fog of grief lifted, I came to realize that I was officially a stay at home mom. Circumstance had brought me there, not choice, but there was no denying it. And from my POV, the gig of a stay at home parent involves kids, home and food. I was solid on kid and home, but was coming up very short with the food. So, I taught myself how to cook. Nothing too ambitious, but generally delicious. I deemed May as “Make My Husband Dinner Month” and worked to have five cooked meals for him each week.
The food came to be a revelation for me. I was expressing love through food and I liked it. (Isn’t that a Katy Perry song?) I didn’t recognize myself, but that’s okay. My man loved it. Loved it. I mean, who wouldn’t? We were eating well and I got a bit more ambitious. I started to have opinions about cookware. My mother-in-law, a card carrying foodie, bought us a fancy pan and baking sheet. Cards on the table, I was resentful for a moment (or a week), but then I used first one, then the other. She had converted me. All apologies, dear mother-in-law.
But what does all this have to do with Mary Tyler Mom? Six weeks into my new gig I realized that I was still doing all the cooking. Last week I served two slices of deli roast beef on a low-fat wheat tortilla smeared with no-fat cream cheese and called it dinner. The lettuce inside the wrap counted as the salad. Yeah. Not good. Honestly, folks, we don’t have a new division of labor yet, the husband and I. We’ll get there, but for now I’m planning the menus and executing the meals five nights a week. So I stepped it up this week. Enter the Crock Pot (another purchase from my mother-in-law, herself a gal who raised two kids while working full-time). I think I’m in love.
Just after I got Jay to sleep Tuesday night I pulled out my cranberry hued crock and we had our first fling together. It was a little akward, as most new relationships are, but something about it just felt right. In ten minutes I had it locked and loaded, wrastled it into the fridge, and felt superior for the rest of the evening - - my dinner was done roughly 22 hours ahead of schedule. I never finish anything in advance, so you’ll forgive me the self-righteousness that lulled me to sleep that night.
There was a bit of a panic at work the next day, which revolved around intense fear that I burned our home down to the ground for the sake of a delicious and nutritious with minimal effort expended meal. But it was short lived. I got home with Jay and smelled the warm scent of tomatoes and cilantro before I had even turned the light on. Dinner was served. Yum.
So what about you, dear reader? If you work, how are dinners handled? Who cooks? Who cleans? What is your division of labor and more importantly, does it work?
My son, Jay, just turned two. He is a peach. Cute as a button, smart as a whip. No, really. He knows about twenty different species of dinosaurs. Like Lilliansternus, which to me sounds like the name of a 1930s stage actress. For some reason I dress him like a little accountant, probably because he’s always struck me as kind of a middle aged man. I don’t know why. My point is I love the kid. Truly. And I’ve been with him full time since he was born. With my oldest, Donna, I chose to be a working mom. At twelve weeks she went to a babysitter. I didn’t cry my first day back to the office. I always felt a little guilty about that. My friends cried. I didn’t. I worked part-time and loved the balance. My Dad said it best, “You’re away from her just enough to appreciate her more when you’re with her.” Wise words from a 72 year old white guy.
When Jay came I couldn’t work. We had moved to Cancerville where Donna was relocated. There are very few working mothers in Cancerville. It’s too busy what with the chemo and vomiting and scans and doctor appointments and terror. After Donna died we still live in Cancerville, but moved to a new subdivision called Grieving Heights. When Jay was nearing two a job opportunity presented itself. Part-time. In my field. Good money. Good opportunity. Hard to pass up, so I didn’t. But choosing to work this time felt a bit more fraught: having lost one child I am reluctant to miss much with Jay. I know just how fragile childhood is, how fleeting it can be. But still, I wanted to work. My rationale is that it is part-time. I can work and be with Jay. I can do it all!
I lived with that illusion for a few weeks. Then one day this week I picked Jay up from his babysitter. As I was putting on his snowsuit I noticed a wet spot on his pants, but didn’t think too much of it. We got home, unbundled, and in disbelief stared at the soaking wet spots on the back of my son’s jeans. Two of them. What? We went to the changing station and off with the pants. The onesie beneath was worse. Really soaked. Off with the onesie to expose a diaper that clearly weighed more than a young infant. Jay hadn’t been changed in who knows how long. Here he is, happy as a clam, babbling away about the other kids at the babysitters and he smells like pee. A lot of pee. Old pee. Middle aged accountant wearing a diaper far too long pee.
Insert guilt here.
So I can’t have it all. And I can’t do it all. I can’t be in the office and change Jay’s diapers. I can’t fulfill my personal/professional needs and change all of Jay’s diapers. Working pays an income, but comes at a price. The babysitter apologized. To her credit, she didn’t defend or try to find an excuse. She apologized. Profusely. What can you do? She gets one overflowing diaper. And is now on my list.
A good question. She’s always been an icon for me. I grew up watching her on Dick Van Dyke, then her own show. It was the 70s, I was just a kid, but here was this woman whose hair got smaller as she aged. She was on her own, in control, independent, motivated, ambitious, self-effacing. All good things. As a somewhat stodgy 41 year old woman, I think that’s a pretty amazing role model for the young girl I was. As a somewhat cranky 41 year old woman, I wonder and worry who out there in the land of Us Magazine tabloid culture could match her for today’s young girls? Crankiness aside, there was something eternally optimistic about Mary Tyler Moore. She was good, smart, quirky, sexy, hopeful. All things I would like to be, possibly am on some of my better days. This was a gal with moxie and substance. Who doesn’t like moxie and substance?
And for where I’m at right now, returning to work and a professional self after four years away living in Cancerville, she is my patron saint of hope. That shot of her throwing her beret up, up in the air on a snowy day in the big city? That’s me, except I’m substituting this blog, my words, for the beret. And, yeah, sure, her legs are better than mine, but damn it, my kid is a lot cuter.
Donna’s Good Things is committed to providing joyful opportunities for kids facing adversity, be it economic, familial, social or health related. We fund a dance scholarship, purchase cool electronic gadgets for kids in cancer treatment, and host an annual New Year’s Eve party for the oncology unit at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. It is how we honor and now parent our beautiful Donna, who died of an aggressive brain tumor in 2009 at the age of four. We also provide a clearinghouse of goodness - - working to inspire others to do their own good things inspired by Donna.
That’s me: Mary Tyler Mom. A forty-one year old working mom with a sweet child, loving and handsome husband, artsy and unpretentious home, living in the big midwestern metropolis of Chicago, who thinks she just might make it after all. Or hopes so.
I’ve been writing an online journal since March 2007 through www.caringbridge.org/visit/donnaquirkehornik. Initially it was with Jeremy, the aforementioned loving and handsome husband, then it was alone. We chronicled the cancer treatment and death of our beautiful, dear daughter, Donna. The journal acted as a lifeline with hundreds (thousands?) of readers and supporters who cheered our girl on and mopped us parents up off the proverbial floor on a fairly regular basis. Donna died over a year ago. And Jeremy stopped writing. It became my journal and now I write about grief and life after Donna. I don’t write there nearly as often anymore. It’s hard to focus on grief all the time. And I worry about those hundreds of readers who might just get tired, bored, hungry if I wrote more often. Sigh.
It’s a new year now. 2011, my friends, 2011. That’s a fantastic science-fictioney kind of number. That’s a number that is going places. And I am, too, she typed optimistically. Yessiree, this grieving mom is going places! Are you with me? I said, Are you with me?
I just rejoined the workforce after almost four years away. That’s what I want to write about now. I work, I’m a mom, I’m a working mom, I’m freakin’ Mary Tyler Mom. I like it. So my pledge to you, dear readers, is to chronicle the trials and triumphs of working and mothering at the same time. It’s an oft’ told story, but it’s my story. And it may be yours, too. I’ll publish on Fridays, the traditional end of the work week, and it just so happens, one of my days at home. I can fit this in during nap time cause that’s just the type of multi-tasker I am. Baby Jay’s nap time, not mine — I’m good, but I’m not that good.
Okay, it’s a date. I’ll bring the keyboard if you bring the interest. Hilarity will certainly ensue. With a side of bitter and a dash of earnestness.