It’s my first job interview after a two year lull (because in the corporate world, birthing two children in 20 months, moving continents twice, and pursuing a law degree in a foreign language is considered a lull).
But first, some serious sprucing is in order, if only to help mask the “I breastfeed for a living” I imagine emblazoned across my forehead. I have only one chance to convince them I can make it in this ruthless, three-inch heel environment. One new suit from Ann Taylor and visit to a salon for a new hairdo later, I’m not quite a corporate superwoman, but close enough.
Before approaching the 5th Avenue building, I stuff my Medela breast-pump deep into my purse before remembering that I’ve forgotten to pump. I hope the interviewer will take my engorged breasts for naturally abundant as I pray no milk will leak through my new blouse.
When I get to the interview, I nervously smile and take out my hand to do the shake with the woman who greets me. You know the one: the definitive corporate shake that weeds out the timid from the determined.. I hope she’s sizing up my shake, because I’ve practiced it beforehand on my husband, about 20 times. But she seems unfazed.
Then I meet Carol, the prototypical interviewer with a phony, plastered smile who keeps responding “uh” (a less genuine, twitch-like, unnerving variation of “uh-huh”) to all of my points as she obviously ignores them. And I can’t blame her: my spiel is so rehearsed, a cacophony of memorized, cliché lines that a career service agent had suggested.
First, Carol tries selling her office to me, prepping me for the rigorous work environment. “We work hard and play hard,” she says. Oh, and her and her hotsy-totsy colleagues are from the private sector, accustomed to pulling 20-hour workdays. I nod and muster a “wow,” trying with every fiber of my calloused being to seem impressed.
Because I have a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old. I’ve spent the last five months rotating between both of them 24 hours a day. My newborn daughter is up at night at least every three hours, sometimes every hour, finding refuge only in the sweaty confines of my exhausted breasts. And my toddler son, who would be any Freudian psychologist’s field day, is so attached to me that he will only sleep calmly if he is in my bed, straddling me. In fact, you can think of my night job as a rotisserie chicken, breast to baby–flip–hug toddler, breast to baby—flip–hug toddler. And again. All night.
“So, how are your multitasking skills?” she asks, peering at my resume disdainfully. “I see you lack… experience.”
At this point in the interview, I start praying for singling and mingling Carol to get pregnant real fast. Because jotting down a donor’s number while analyzing a spreadsheet is much less tasking than breastfeeding a colic newborn while dropping a deuce and simultaneously redirecting my toddler who’s shredding tissues into the bathtub to a downloaded episode of Barney on my iPhone.
“So you’ve been home with your kids,” she continues. “Are you excited to get back into the workforce?”
I know what she wants to hear. But in this moment, I can’t help but envision my 2-year old son waddling into the room in a saggy diaper along with my fur pompom hair band, marker-stained cheeks and a yogurt mustache, enunciating newly learned words, “mummy… you’re boo-ful,” all the while my infant daughter is giggling admiringly at him.
It’s like those nightmares where you open your mouth to speak but no sound comes out–but this time, I don’t want to speak.
“Oh, it’s bittersweet,” I respond. Pause. “But… um, mostly sweet. Yeah.”
I couldn’t tell if my real feelings were revealed in my interview with Carol. And I hated feeling like I had to lie about the things that matter most to me. I wish I could sit down with Carol again without being apologetic about or concealing my role as a mother, a role I deeply value. More than that, I want to fill her on the unparalleled skills I gained in the blank spaces of my less than impressive resume. Skills that no job—not even a 20-hour private sector one—could have taught me. To explain to her how splitting up toddler park fights has sharpened my conflict resolution skills. That keeping both babies intact while transferring them and their endless equipment from an SUV to a three-piece stroller requires serious multitasking, and that having airplane passengers tolerate my two cranky kids throughout international flights has made me a real people’s person. That there is no greater team playing than a bedtime routine successfully completed by husband and wife.
I don’t expect Carole to understand this, though, until she is a mother. And when she re-enters the workforce, I hope her interviewer cuts her dark circles, French shower, and engorged breasts some plastered-smile-free slack.