I am lucky to have an office with a door and a window with shades so that I can easily pump at my workplace. But when returning to work after having a baby, I wanted to find a way to let my colleagues know that I simply wasn’t turning down the shades and locking the door to be antisocial.
I looked online to order a sign to hang on the door. I came across all kinds of formal signs from “Lactation Room,” “Nursing Mother,” or “Pumping in Progress.” And then there were the not-so-funny ones like “Beware of Boob” or signs that include photos of a cow. None of these signs seemed right for a Lower School setting.
I finally landed upon the English phrase, “Mother at work.” And since my office is centrally located in a Jewish day school, I decided to make a sign that included Hebrew as well. I asked my Israeli colleagues about the phrase “Ima Ovedet,” which would be a literal translation of “mother working.” Instead of that phrase, one colleague suggested that I write “Ima Asukah,” “mother who is busy,” which has the double meaning of a) mother is busy working at her place of work and b) mother is busy working at being a mother. Not only did I like it, but the Hebrew phrase rhymed as well!
The other side of my office wall is a hub of major hallway activity. Students hang up their coats on this wall before lunch and the wall is also home to the “Kippah Line,” an adorable laundry line of clothespins holding kippot who have lost their owners. Suffice it to say, once I hang up my “Mother at Work” sign and close the door, even through the pumping noise, I hear the hustle and bustle of everything happening outside of my office.
Yet among that noise there is also a familiar tune I hear every day. First, there are the kindergarten students sounding out the phrase “mo-ther at work.” And then I hear their teachers quickly shuffling them along. Enter first graders, who recite the sign out loud in Hebrew, in a proud and declarative tone. And when the third or fourth-grade students come by who need something from me, I hear “Mother at work?!,” followed by a knock at the door or a doorknob jiggle. They’re clearly not thrilled with the prospect of having to come back another time. And finally, from the fifth graders, I hear: “Is Rabbi Buechler actually there or is she feeding the baby?” “What if she’s breastfeeding the baby?” “What if we open the door…hehe!”
I realize now how far I have come since making this sign and how much deeper an appreciation I have for the complexities that arise with being a mother at work. In a sense, this sign enabled me to visibly publicize the juggling that forever occurs with being a parent and the responsibilities I take on to nourish another person.
As I’m entering the days when my milk supply is decreasing—my son is almost a year—and readying for this thrice daily phase of my work routine to taper off, I will miss hanging this sign, and of course, the curious comments that go with it. In the meantime, sign or no sign, I’ll always be an “Ima Asukah.”