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May 9 2011

Write at Home

By at 3:47 pm

Sarah and her mom.

Before I was born, my mom spent two years in the Peace Corps. She volunteered in Robert Kennedy’s campaign. She worked for the Western Center of Law and Poverty, and served as Chief of Staff for a California Congressman. She was an activist, and an intellectual, and in July of 1981, she became a mother. So, she decided to make a monumental job-change and exchange her high heels for sneakers.

My mom’s work-shift started at daybreak — long before I woke up to the moan of the foghorns, and the smell of coffee brewing in our teeny-tiny house in Venice, California. While my dad showered and shaved, I’d stumble to our dining room table, where she’d bring me a cup of mint tea, and a bowl of Quaker Oats Maple Brown Sugar oatmeal. While I ate, she’d sit next to the open window, sipping her coffee and smoking her third cigarette. The laundry was done, and folded neatly. Lunch — usually a salami sandwich with extra mustard, a Capri Sun, a baggie of sliced carrots and cucumbers, a hard-boiled egg, and sometimes a brownie — was already tucked away in my neon pink backpack. While we waited for whoever was driving carpool to BEEP BEEP BEEP the horn, my mom would quiz me on my multiplication tables and ask me who I was the most excited about seeing at school.

When I’d come home from school, the house was redolent with the fragrance of dinner. Sometimes, she’d make her famous spaghetti and meat sauce, other times, chicken kebabs, or salmon croquettes. When I had soccer practice, or art class, or Hebrew School, my mom drove, and we’d listen to classical music in the car while she’d fill me in on the latest murder mystery she was reading each night before bed. On evenings when my dad had late-meetings, she would prepare finger sandwiches, and we’d dine daintily like royalty. And sometimes, in the still of the night, when even our cat, Nebbie, was snoring gently, she’d wake me up, and we’d sit by candlelight on the front deck, drink chamomile tea, and eat squares of dark chocolate. We would whisper ghost stories while surrounded by the powerful stillness of midnight.
Still, when asked what she did for a living, my mom would never describe herself as a Stay At Home Mom. Instead, she would tell people that she “worked from home.” You see, during the day while I was gone, she would take her coffee and her cigarettes out to the little shed behind our house, and write childrens’ books at a well-worn library table from the 1920‘s. Along with managing the house, cooking, cleaning, and just being home in case I got sick or hurt at school and needed her, this was how she financially contributed to the family. And more importantly, this was how she nourished her creativity and kept her sense of self happy and alive.

When I started to think about having a family — even before I met B. — I knew that I wanted to follow my mom’s example and (if, financially feasible) “work from home.” And so, B and I have tried to make it happen: He waltzes off to his office on the kibbutz every day, and I take care of the kids. But still, as I may have said before, you can only sing “The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round” so many times before going absolutely bat-shit crazy. Between power-struggles over bath time, scrubbing splattered sweet potato from the floor and walls and — how did this happen?– the ceiling, and spending more time with my iRabbit vibrator than I do with my husband, I wonder how my mom made it all look so effortless. As much as I love my family, some days I feel like I stumbled into somebody else’s life. A life of sneakers and sandwiches, of early mornings and sleepless nights. And it was in one of these moments after while listening to Little Homie go all Ike Turner on his toy xylophone (and wishing – Oh God if only — I had a screwdriver to jam in my ears), that I began to fully appreciate how important it must have been for my mom to have her creative identity. Certainly, I don’t know how I would survive without it, which is why I’m writing through to the other side of midnight. Again.

Good Enough is the New Perfect

By at 1:39 pm

One of the best parts about being part of the Kveller community is that my fellow writers are so real. They share their stories of pregnancy and having babies and raising toddlers and all of the train wrecks that make up daily life with little ones. I have little time for mothers who write (and talk) as if they do it all, perfectly, every time. Because I know I sure don’t.

And that is why I was so pleased to come across Good Enough is the New Perfect, by Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple (and yes, Hollee is an MOT, in case her name didn’t tip you off). The authors are both mothers of young children, and both women struggled mightily with their career choices when their children were born. They share their own stories in this book, as well as the conclusions they reached after surveying approximately 900 women, and interviewing nearly 100 of them in depth. Based on all of this data, Becky and Hollee came to an important conclusion—that mothers today can have the lives and careers we want, as long as we make decisions based on our own priorities and goals, as opposed to the pressures and expectations that so often influence and even dictate the choices we make.

There were several aspects of this book that resonated with me. I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who can appreciate what they have, even in the face of life’s many challenges. Becky and Hollee begin the book by acknowledging the mixed blessings of the many choices life has given them. They recognize the benefits of having opportunities, and they aren’t whining about them. But they are noting that crafting a life that is fulfilling both personally and professionally isn’t easy.

Good Enough touches on so many different aspects of my experience as a new mother struggling to find my way, at home, at school, and at work—the desire to give up at work, the hope of getting back in, the challenges of maintaining my relationship with my husband through all of it, and the ways in which technology represents both opportunities and limitations to finding balance. At one point in the book, the authors compare the balancing act of managing our work, our relationships, and our children, with solving a Rubik’s Cube: “In order to complete one side, we end up throwing the other five out of whack.” I haven’t heard a more apt description in a long time.

The stories in this book remind us that we can’t have it all, but we can have all of what we really want—what is truly important to us. Balancing work and family isn’t easy no matter what you do, but it’s not possible if you expect to be perfect at any of it. Sounds simple, but it’s not easy.

So, if you’re like me, and so many of my Mama friends, who are struggling to figure out the right balance, check out this book. It’s not going to give you specific answers, nor should it. But this book will inspire you to take action to create the life you want, and realize that Good Enough really is the New Perfect.

When Work Was the Great Divide

By at 11:00 am

Let's talk about moms and work

It’s been interesting for me to note that the Great Debate and Great Divide among young mothers of this generation is about nursing. And you gals can sure get excited….(and nasty!)

In my day, it was working (outside the home) moms vs. (working) at home moms. (Not to be confused with a whole new category: working-from-home moms.)

What was often forgotten was that we were all full-time moms, and that we all worked.

I remember going to annual dinners for the employees of the firm at which my husband worked when we were young parents. It was a large prestigious business in New York and I was frequently asked, “And what do you do?” When I responded that I was at home taking care of my young children, I always sensed a slight disdain and an immediate loss of interest in anything I might have had to say. The good thing was that each year, as my husband climbed the corporate ladder, I seemed to get a little more interesting. Also, more people had to be nice to me.

There was real tension and divide between working-outside-the-home moms and working-at-home moms. A minefield was driving carpool. Many of the working-outside-the-home (w.o.t.h.) moms apparently thought that the working-at-home (w.a.h.) moms were brainlessly enjoying mahjong, bridge, and TV soap operas at home all day. So we were regularly imposed upon to pick up extra shifts of carpool duty and to be “understanding” if the w.o.t.h. moms were late or delinquent. I finally just had it with a w.o.t.h. mom who was consistently late having her child ready for pick-up or picking up my child on her driving day, excusing herself because she “worked.” When I finally protested, she said, “Well, carpool’s not the most important thing.” I spat out, “Well your kid should be the most important thing. And your commitments should be the most important thing. And that means that our kids have to get to school ON TIME.” She literally did not speak to me for years after that. And I honestly don’t remember if she shaped up.

During those years I and my w.a.h. friends spent much of our time involved in volunteer community work, shlepping our kids along as we worked and they played together. We made good use of our fine educations, skills and talents as we raised money, ran programs and generally kept the local community organizations going. We did fundraising and development, ran dinners and conferences, created educational programs, supervised paid staff and did everything necessary to keep the shuls (synagogues), schools and mikvah running.  We made “friendly visits” and shopped for the homebound and drove cancer patients to their treatments as volunteers for the bikur cholim (organization for the sick.) The work was inherently valuable but, because we were not paid to do it, this work, as well as our full-time on-site parenting and, most distressingly, we ourselves, were often devalued by others, particularly w.o.t.h. moms.

These days, having the choice to be a full-time w.a.h. mom is a distinct luxury and, understandably, it is hard for many community organizations to find volunteers. That’s too bad on many levels.  I learned things and gained skills that I would not have otherwise, if, immediately after graduate school, I had entered the profession for which I was trained. But I also learned other lessons that I could teach my children: that the best work is not necessarily the one for which you get a paycheck; it is the one that lets you learn and stretch, stimulates your imagination, takes advantage of your talents and teaches you skills. The best kind of work contributes positively to the community in which you live, and makes you feel productive and good about what you are doing. And all work which fits that bill, paid or unpaid, should be respected.

But the most essential  lesson  is that, for all of us moms, the most important work we will ever do, no matter what our style or our schedule, is raising our children to be good, decent, self-actualized people who will be as proud of us, what we do and who we are, as we are of them.

Back To Work

By at 9:39 am

Let's talk about moms and work.

Now that Mother’s Day is behind us and along with it all that hoo-ha about celebrating moms, we here at Kveller are moving on to another topic: work.

Last week, we all went head to head about sleep–to sleep train or not to sleep train. Things got heated. Things got worked out. This morning a sleep professional chimed in to offer her expertise.

So now we’re turning to another polarizing topic.

Breastfeeding! Circumcision! Sleep training! Veganism! Work! Bring it…

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