The ‘mom’ in work­ing mom

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

After my son was born, it sur­prised me how of­ten I was asked — by friends, co­work­ers, strangers — if I would re­turn to work.

And with my daugh­ter? The ex­pec­ta­tion that I would leave my ca­reer was even greater, the com­ments lobbed at me much bolder.

I love work­ing. I dearly love my chil­dren. Both truths can and do ex­ist. Fathers aren’t gen­er­ally asked if they will re­turn to work after wel­com­ing a child, so it’s hard not to take that as a gen­dered ex­pec­ta­tion. But I grew up with a dad who did pause his ca­reer to stay home with his kids — plus a mother who has al­ways em­pha­sized the “mom” in work­ing mom.

Be­fore I con­tinue, I know this sub­ject is a very per­sonal one. I firmly be­lieve any choice is a valid choice. Work­ing, not work­ing, any com­bi­na­tion thereof — we all do what is best for our fam­i­lies, and only we know what that is. This is not a judg­ment on any­one’s de­ci­sions. There are a mil­lion dif­fer­ent recipes for hap­pi­ness, and some­times we must sam­ple many to find the per­fect one. Okay? Okay.

So. My mom. She is hard-work­ing, dili­gent and put-to­gether in ways I have never been. I’m def­i­nitely not cam­era-ready at 8 a.m. on a Tues­day, red lip­stick per­fectly ap­plied and nails with nary a chip. In seven years, my hus­band has never seen me with straight­ened hair; I tame my locks into a bun most days, wear only lip balm and com­bat the chipped-nail dilemma by just . . . never paint­ing them. I watched that ship sail long ago.

Do I ad­mire women who are pol­ished in all cir­cum­stances, ready to tackle any­thing? For sure. My mother is one of them.

Mom has spent 37 years com­mut­ing to her gov­ern­ment job, leav­ing be­fore 5:30 a.m. to turn on the lights at her Vir­ginia of­fice each day. Now a work­ing mom my­self, to say I have an en­tirely new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what she has had to jug­gle — par­ent­hood, fi­nances, ex­tended fam­ily, friends, the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a house­hold — is an un­der­state­ment.

As a kid, I had no con­cept of how stressed both she and my dad must have been try­ing to keep so many plates spin­ning. They made sure we didn’t see that worry. Mom and Dad were of­ten strug­gling to be in two, three or even four places at once: years when my dad was trav­el­ing as a sports­writer while Mom held down the fort with two young daugh­ters; years when my mother would rush to pick us up from our grand­par­ents’ house, mak­ing sure we had veg­eta­bles with din­ner and fin­ished our math home­work be­fore ris­ing early to do it all over again.

There was no tele­work­ing then. Heck: there was no in­ter­net. My dad has al­ways kept odd hours and worked week­ends, but Mom was ex­pected to put in the stan­dard eight- or nine-hour day. Un­like many of to­day’s wired-in par­ents, they couldn’t an­swer work emails while si­mul­ta­ne­ously pulling a lasagna out of the oven or at­tend­ing a play re­hearsal. It was ei­ther/or. Here or there.

The abil­ity to stay in con­stant con­tact with col­leagues to­day is both a bless­ing and a strug­gle. For those who don’t keep strict hours, a wifi-en­abled life­style means you rarely get the sat­is­fac­tion of “clocking out.” The pres­sures of email, client phone calls, loom­ing dead­lines . . . we’re wired in all the time.

And there are chil­dren to bathe. Bills to pay. An oil change for the car and an over­due hair­cut and grass that needs to be mowed for the sec­ond time this week . . .

I guess what I’m try­ing to say is: adult­hood re­quires your brain to be plugged into 50 tasks si­mul­ta­ne­ously. The re­spon­si­bil­ity can be over­whelm­ing, and some­times I won­der when the “real” adults are go­ing to step in and help make a din­ner even my 2-year-old will eat. You know?

My par­ents made it look eas­ier than I know it was.

Katie and I grew up watch­ing Dad and Mom bring home the ba­con and fry it up, too, and I ad­mire them both so much. But as a woman, hav­ing my mother as a role model — a strong work­ing woman; one who has al­ways strived to “have it all” and make sure we did, too — is a priv­i­lege.

(Must tip my hat, also, to stayat-home moms and dads. Just eight weeks at home with my tod­dler and new­born and I was a tired shell of my for­mer self: one who uniron­i­cally an­swered ques­tions by quot­ing “De­spi­ca­ble Me.” Min­ion-speak has re­placed ac­tual English words in my vo­cab­u­lary — maybe per­ma­nently. In the words of au­thor Glen­non Doyle Mel­ton: carry on, war­riors.)

We’re dif fer­ent, Mom and me. I’ve never held an iron in my life. My idea of elim­i­nat­ing wrin­kles is to throw a dry-clean-only top in the dryer for a few min­utes. I wear the same sil­ver stud ear­rings ev­ery day. Mom fa­vors color and tex­ture, so­phis­ti­cated hand­bags and matte lip­stick, while I wear black slacks and scuffed flats daily. I re­cently re­tired a clear­ance purse only be­cause the han­dles were ac­tu­ally fall­ing off.

But none of that mat­ters. Thirty-plus years after Mom be­gan mod­el­ing what it is to be a lov­ing, pa­tient, de­voted par­ent who works, I think about the lessons she taught my sis­ter and me by show­ing us what mat­tered — not telling us. Dad took us to her of­fice a few times over the years, and I re­mem­ber see­ing her desk with framed fam­ily pho­tos along­side metic­u­lously-or­ga­nized file fold­ers: a place where Mom ex­isted as some­one named . . . Lisa.

We per­form many roles for many peo­ple. The plates are, in­deed, tough to keep spin­ning. But I hope my own kids grow up view­ing me as the strong, ca­pa­ble woman I aspire to be — some­one just like my own mother.

I’ll try.

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