We’re Working, Right?
“Reeve better not bother us because we are so, so, so busy, right Mommy? We’re working.”
It’s 7pm on a Thursday night. I’m sitting on the floor in my bedroom, writing copy that’s due before my client opens his email tomorrow morning, before I miss bath time tonight, or worse, bathtime misses us entirely.
I need an hour to work, I had told my husband twenty minutes earlier as we cleared dinner from the table. I headed for the stairs with two sets of tiny but loud footsteps behind me.
My one-year-old, Reeve, whiny and panicked that I might escape her sightline, grabbed at my legs, frantically motioning for me to pick her up.
Easton, four, ran over with a different tactic: “Wait, I have work, too. Let me just get my stuff and we’ll go upstairs together,” she yelled, running into the living room. “Not you, though Reeve, you’re too little to work.“
Now, here we are, me at the computer channeling my quickest, wittiest copywriting self, Easton right next to me. Her tools? A purple plastic beach bucket, a Victoria’s Secret planner that they handed me in February when I bought a pair of pajama pants, and training scissors that rarely leave her side these days. She is cutting tiny squares, over and over, littering our floor with oversized homemade confetti, sometimes placing them in the bucket. I’m letting it go, because–survival.
Those tiny pink and white squares, her belief that we’re in it together, both of us seriously focused at our tasks at hand–that’s how we’re getting by, that’s how this is working, how I am working, how my family is working.
I returned to my full time job when Easton was four months old. After a rocky maternity leave, I had just started to feel like myself and just started to really, truly enjoy having a baby. I was fortunate to return to a place that I had worked for five years, to people who were welcoming, to a job that I knew very well at that point. While my return itself was much easier than expected, I was still heading back to a job that I was on the fence about, a fact that became clearer when I left my newborn to go to work.
One day in the hall, a co-worker asked how I was doing. I gave a version of that stock-new-mom answer, “It’s good…getting easier…hard to leave her…nice to put on real clothes again…“
I was expecting commiseration with my unspoken admissions. Because, inside, I wasn’t sure how much was true. In those first few months back, I worried I was too transparent, that people could hear my inner voice through my my partial PC BS. I worried they knew what I was really thinking: Working is good, but I really wish that if I was leaving my daughter, it was for a job that I love, a job that feels right, a job that doesn’t take me out of the house quite so much. And, what I was just starting to realize, now more than ever: I missed food writing, my original career path. Having a child made me think harder about my future, decisions, my time away. It made me question my ambition.
“Good. This will be incredibly important for Easton,” my coworker said. Clearly, I was not that transparent. “She needs to know that women can work, women have a purpose outside the home, that she is going to college someday to be someone, but also, because you worked hard to make the money to help her go to college.”
That is everything I wanted: for her to be anyone she wants to be, for her to be proud of her mom, for us to be able to send her to college. If I leave this job, how will any of those things happen? I am her mom, her first examination of female behavior. I need to show her what a stable career looks like, not what it looks like to be impractical.
So, for the next three years, every time I thought about leaving, taking a chance at a random opportunity, those words and the reminder came back to me. I needed to be her guidepost.
While on maternity leave with Reeve, I spent my nights caring for a newborn and considering my future. My job, which I had held onto for eight years, was changing, and I was given the option to walk away. It took until almost the very end of my maternity leave to decide. I was leaving.
This was the sign I needed to take that leap, not to stay home full time, but to start freelancing, to hopefully succeed and show my girls that they can have a good career, take chances, and be who they want to be. And, really, they were the ones who made me take the chance. They were the ones who I wanted to be around for more — to eat dinner with, to be with on the weekends, to just be there for — and they were the ones who I wanted to set an example for, early in their lives.
But, with freelancing — from home — comes different worries. Do they see me on my computer too much? Am I working too much? Do they think they’re second best to my assignments? Do they wish, as I admittedly do, that on a snow day, I’m cuddled up with them on the couch watching a movie, instead of upstairs, on deadline?
Or, are they learning that work is important? Do they see that their mom has goals and responsibilities outside of them, and that they have to work hard to succeed? Do they know that I believe they can be whoever they want to be, because they are both (admittedly, biasedly) amazing, and somewhere inside, I still think that I can be, too? Does Easton get it when at night we read Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and She Persisted, and when I tell her that I love that she’s smart, but that I really love that she tries so hard? Does she get that, if she plays her cards right, that will always be her future: to try so hard? Does Easton see, even as a child so little, that a year later after leaving my job and working for myself, I’m still scared, but personally, so much more content?
On the hardest days in this new phase of my career, I worry that I’m too often absent, physically there, but focused on a screen. But, then other days, I really believe they will remember these moments: their mom figuring it out, believing that it’s not too late to finally be what she’s always imagined she should be, giving them space to find their future, passion, and work ethic somewhere within a beach bucket and a pair of training scissors.
And, so I look at her, wiping a piece of confetti off my screen. Yes, I think, tonight, we’re working.
Brooke Herman is a freelance writer, living in central New Jersey with her husband and two young daughters. Her blog, Life as we Cook it, focuses on food, family and trying to maintain sanity.