I haven’t worn a pantsuit in 18 months. My pumps are collecting dust, and the clothes that I actually do wear these days are collecting all kinds of stay-at-home mom battle scars: paint, spit-up, other bodily fluids—you name it.
After 18 months of unpaid leave, though, it’s time for me to trade out the diaper bag and bring back the messenger bag. It’s time for me to go back to work. The kind of work that comes with a paycheck.
I’m insanely lucky. My career as a Foreign Service Officer allows me to work at a different Embassy around the world every few years. Our “bid list” of possible postings abroad is usually checkered with names of exotic cities like Windhoek, Tashkent, and Mbabane (go on, Google them) along with the usual Paris, Rome, and London. Anything seems possible.
The catch? We don’t just get handed our next assignments. We have to apply. Which means interviews, recommendations, and yes, what every parent that has ever taken time off from work dreads the most: resumés.
And mine now has a BIG. FAT. GAP. My resumé makes it look like I dropped off the face of the planet 18 months ago.
As all moms know, it’s not like I’ve been sitting around doing nothing. Recently, a video featuring interviews for a mystery job advertised as the “World’s Toughest Job” went viral. The applicants raise their eyebrows when they hear the draconian requirements: constantly on your feet, 135 hours per week, excellent negotiation and interpersonal skills, no breaks. The job title, of course, is “Mom.”
Sure, it’s heartwarming, but try actually putting that under “Job History.” The best solution I can come up with is to leave the awkward gap and hope that potential bosses will be too polite to actually voice their concerns about my stale work experience out loud. If I’m extra lucky, maybe they won’t even notice.
As I prepare to be Googled and Facebook searched, I’ve tried to scrub all traces of my young son to avoid coming off as anything less than a fully devoted professional. Down came my out-of-office message informing contacts that I am on long-term maternity leave. Down came the Facebook profile photo of my baby and I laughing with our mouths wide open. Up came a generic e-mail signature along with the most boring, nondescript photo I could find.
The Facebook researching—OK, stalking—works both ways. I found out that one potential boss also has a newborn.
“That’s great!” came my husband’s rallying cry. “She’ll understand.”
Will she? If she has a newborn and is already back at work, clearly she made a different decision than I did. Will she think that I’m not as committed as she was? Will she be right?
Doubt, apparently, is a skill that I’ve really seemed to hone since becoming a mother.
In fact, it seems to be one of the necessary staples to making Mom Friends: doubt, self-deprecation, and competing for the title of who has the most difficult child in order to convince our friends that they’re not alone: “You think your kid is badly behaved? My kid screams bloody murder when I don’t let him eat the dog food!” We mean well and only want to reassure each other, but sometimes we end up feeding into a cycle of negativity.
In the meantime, I’m trying to stay positive and remember that I do have plenty to offer, and that having a child truly has enhanced my intuition, my analysis, my ability to think quickly on my feet, and my empathy, which are all skills that are essential in any workforce.
Feeling better about future possibilities, I take one more look at my resumé and realize that even my list of hobbies could use refreshing. Distance running? The most exercise I’ve gotten in the past two years is from Zumba class, and somehow that doesn’t seem as impressive.
After some hesitation, I take down running and add “Playgroup Organizer Extraordinaire.” Because you never know. Maybe my future boss could use a new Mom Friend.