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.