I am writing this blog post on the 5:55 a.m. train from Manhattan heading to Stamford, CT (after having taken two subways to get to Grand Central Station, first). Because, for the first time since before my daughter was born, I have a job that requires reporting to an office.
Seven years ago, pregnant with my third child and too sick and tired to keep making what, in retrospect, was a ridiculously short, five subways stops commute, I gave up my office gig for the freelancer’s life. I was, however, remarkably fortunate in that my then employer, Procter & Gamble Productions, producers of the soap operas “As the World Turns” and “Guiding Light,” promptly hired me to keep on doing more or less what I’d been doing up to that point, only from home and at a lower salary–which I deemed infinitely fair.
Alas, the bad economy struck a number of industries, and my area of expertise, television soap operas, proved among them. First “Guiding Light” was cancelled, then “As the World Turns,” and then even ABC’s “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” So there I was, with a fantastic 15 years worth of experience to my resume… and no shows to work on. (The remaining soaps taped in Los Angeles, and I have a husband who believes that if you leave the island of Manhattan, you fall off the edge of the Earth, “There Be Monsters” style.)
So for five years, I hustled in other fields, writing and producing enhanced mystery novels and romance ebooks, and taking freelance assignments for a variety of parenting and education publications.
And then, something that I thought would never, ever happen… happened. A production company picked up the rights to “All My Children” and “One Life to Live,” intending to broadcast them over the Internet (they premiere today, make sure to watch!). I knew I had to get in on this (one of the benefits to being so narrowly specialized is that when an opportunity presents itself, there’s no mistaking it). I worked for almost 18 months, sending unremitting emails to everyone I knew–and people I didn’t know, either; I’m very shy and retiring that way–to get my foot in the door. And then I got my foot in the door. Except that my foot, along with the rest of me, needed to report to Stamford, CT the following week.
I assured them it would be no problem. After all, I was an old pro at this. Once upon a time, I moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the space of a weekend to take my very first job out of college, working for E! Entertainment. And then, almost exactly a year later, I relocated again, this time cross-country from LA to NYC in one week to take a position with ABC Daytime. It wasn’t easy, but I’d managed.
Except that, as I observed to a friend, what didn’t I have on either of those occasions? Oh, yeah….three kids. Three kids who needed to be taken to school and picked up from school. Who needed help with their homework and for their lunchboxes to be packed and dinners to be made and play-dates to be arranged and baths to be supervised and bedtimes to be enforced. Tough to do from Stamford.
When I’d made those original career moves, it’s true that there were things I didn’t have. But, there were also ones I did, that made the whole process infinitely easier. When I first went to Los Angeles as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 24-year-old, I’d stayed with my cousin and his wife until I found a place of my own, while my mom went shopping for furniture to fill my new place. Later, when it came time to relocate east, I simply left my LA apartment behind. My dad and my brother came after I was already gone, loaded up my stuff in a U-haul and drove it to San Francisco. My father also came with me to New York City, canvassing the streets, looking for an apartment to rent while I was at work (and getting his car towed for his trouble).
Twenty years later, it was the rest of my family who stepped up. Even though my husband’s initial response to “I’m taking the kids to school?” was “Well, kids don’t really need to go to school…” take them to school he nonetheless did (and he got our daughter dressed, brushed her hair, and packed her lunch, too–not the way I would have done it, but this is a good exercise in not being a control freak for me). He also arranged for his parents to pick up our son on the East Side while my brother met our daughter’s school bus on the West (usually, I make a daily, mad dash to grab both). He cooked dinner and he got all three to bed at a reasonable hour. Though, when my daughter ran out in her pajamas to grab hold of my leg and sob, “I don’t like it when you go away, Mommy,” my husband did suggest, “If you’re going to come home late, come home after they’re already asleep, okay?”
Once upon a time, Hillary Clinton opined that it takes a village to raise a child. I would counter that it takes a village to facilitate a working mother. Without getting into never-ending arguments about staying at home vs. working outside of it, or the definition of feminism or which parent’s career should be considered more important, I would like to say that I know it would have been impossible for me to accept my dream job in the year 2013 if I didn’t have my entire family’s support. When he saw me starting to freak out, my husband talked me down with, “It’s okay, we’ve got this.” (He did the same in 2006, when we still had only two kids and I was working fulltime while writing what would eventually become my New York Times best-selling novel. When it won the SCRIBE Award, my acceptance speech was all about him and how this was our achievement, not merely mine.)
I will never be able to thoroughly express my gratitude to my husband, to my brother, to my in-laws and to my own parents, even to my go-with-the-flow kids (intermittent tears aside) for making it possible for me to pursue a career I love, one that makes me very, very happy. A friend once told my mother, “Alina is the only person I know who is doing exactly what she said she was going to when she was 10 years old.”
That’s because I had a lot of help. I know I don’t deserve it. But, I’m going to take it, anyway.