Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Mommy Track

Work and Motherhood should be synonymous, but for some odd reason they are not.  When talking about outside paid employment, motherhood is viewed as sort of a detour on the road to career advancement - a maternity leave during which you bond with your baby then promptly enroll them in daycare and mother them on nights and weekends.  Well that is the way it used to be thought of anyway.

It's so rare to find a stay at home mom these days.  They are going extinct at a rapid rate.  Society tells us that we simply cannot afford to care for our children "full-time" and besides women are independent and career oriented and should want to reach for the brass ring with the same zeal as our husbands.  But what happens when you trade in the brass ring, for dare I say it, a teething ring?

When I was pregnant with my daughter I expected to return to work full-time and enroll her in daycare, as most moms now do.  I was totally fine as long as I operated under the assumption that I simply had no other choice in the matter.  I was fine with my assumption oh until about three days after my daughter was born.  I called my grandmother to tell her the good news and she asked me if I was going to return to work. When I said yes, she asked me, "but why you wanted that baby so much?"  That is one of the few moments I can point to in my life and say see this is where it all changed.  She wasn't saying it to be mean or criticize my choice, she simply saw choices that I did not.

She was an immigrant to this country from war-torn Germany.  She raised three kids alone for the better part of their childhood.  She worked damn hard on farms, in factories, and for wages that may have made my first job after college look like I had made it to "the good life."  Work was life for my grandmother.  Motherhood was life too and the two things were not in fact separate ideas.  I did a paper for college about her work history and in every answer to my questions about work, she infused paid work with family work.  Without knowing it, she was saying that for women, the realm of work is not one thing, paid employment or work in the home, it's both simultaneously.

So after crying for weeks about a question I hadn't expected to shake me to my core, I started thinking about what would really make me happy.  I talked with my husband, then my mom, then finally my boss.  I did something up until this very moment in my life I found so very daunting, I asked for what I needed to make me happy.  I wanted to work part-time so I could spend time with my child and still contribute financially to my household.  I arranged with my boss to turn my full-time job into a job-share so that I could work part-time.  My mom agreed to watch my child (and later my two children) while I was at work.  And as a happy consequence I made a great friend in the co-worker and mother who was able to work the other part of my job. 

I was lucky that it worked out.  I have been happy and now all my stitching of my ideal life is starting to slowly unravel one stitch at a time.  All the knots that hold together my work/motherhood life are coming undone. 

My job is undergoing a major transition and there is a possibility I could be laid off.  My mother broke her foot and is in the hospital and afterwards will need months of rehabilitation and help herself.  It's like I'm back to that very moment when my grandmother questioned what I was going to do about work and motherhood.  The difference is, she recently passed away and she can not ask, so I guess I have to ask myself again - What's it going to take to make me happy?

I look for jobs online that require me to work full-time.  I think of how much more we would struggle if I stayed at home.  I look at my children and think of what it took to bring them into this world.  I know now, thanks to my grandmother, that I do in fact have choices, but she never said they would be easy ones to make.  I can think of just one thing that would make me happy.  Just one.  Again it hinges on the cooperation of others, it hinges on timing, it hinges on a future that I can not see or touch in this moment in time and like anyone else would be, I'm scared.  So I cling to today.  I take help when it is offered and say thank you instead of struggling in silence.  I try to think of getting through today and tomorrow and try not to assume anything more about the future than that. 

There is an old saying that if you have a job or a career and choose any other path besides full-time employment or choose to leave at the end of the day instead of living for your job, you are in fact on the "mommy track."  It's a term that was meant to put down women who choose to stand up and say that my family is just as important as my job.  I even had a professor in college who tried to discourage me when I told him I didn't plan to go on to grad school by saying, "What are you going to do then, stay home and have babies?" 

I was in my early twenties and didn't have a voice then.  But I do now.  I'm proud to be on the "mommy track."  Not everyone gets the privilege to be a mother.  But I will be blessed the rest of my life.  So while others are pushing their career up the track of success one piece of paper and project at a time, I take the track that meanders, that takes the short hill instead of the mountain.  I enjoy the view of my life as it sprawls out before me.  I know how this goes; this track is just a different segment of the same roller coaster. The difference is, I fill my car with my family and my hopes for them, not just myself.  It goes slower because there is more to pull.  It takes the hill over the mountain because what is an exhilarating rush of adrenaline to some, to others is just a rush of fear.  I don't know what's going to happen next any more than the next person, but I know one thing that perhaps others may not.  I choose to define success on my terms and I know I have more power than even I realize.  I can only hope that other women know that too.

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