I’ve been working a lot of hours lately. That’s relative, since I’m not a physician or splitting the atom, but it has been a lot. I’m rounding into month five at my new job and I love it. Love, love, love it. I feel very fortunate to have found a place I will happily hang my hat. Thank you, Universe.
But part of my new job is occasionally, those occasions being now, traveling around our fair state. I’ve been putting serious miles on our car, drinking Diet Dr. Pepper and listening to the various Wisconsin Public Radio stations. This has meant more than a few nights away from my family. My husband has graciously taken on the added duties of solo-parenting, a task he never grumbles about.
In fact, let me take a moment to thank him over the internet for being such a great dad and partner. He doesn’t mind taking on more parenting because he sees that I’m happier, which makes our whole family happier and he’s happy for me and our family. But thanks nonetheless, because doing double duty even with our lovely toddler is well, doing double duty while I’m driving hundreds of miles every week and arriving for 6 a.m. production calls. And he’s really cute, too!
How has this changed our lives? Thankfully, our toddler hasn’t noticed a difference. She started going to daycare full-time, but it’s so awesome and fun I think she’s happier going five days a week.
But I’m starting to feel the difference. I’m more frazzled. Fridays at home with her meant a lot of activities, but those activities often included meeting friends for coffee or lunch at a child-friendly location, versus trying to schedule lunches or coffee a month in advance, or as I embarrassingly did this weekend, miss a coffee date with dear RBVH because I fell asleep on the couch. Ouch.
I’m happier, but the new job has also meant a few cancelled vacations and missed parties. There was a square dance I missed, a few planned getaways and other events as they’ve emerged.
I even missed an annual trip to northern Wisconsin, but was able to attend a great clothing swap last night, filled with lovely women, hosted by a fantastic woman. We laughed and ate her homemade ricotta on pumpkin muffins and chocolate-drizzled biscotti. We sorted through clothing and offered suggestions to others of new outfits. I got to see EKR in person versus via Twitter. We had a really nice time.
One exchange stuck with me for the rest of the night and today. One woman, showing me a dress shirt, asked how I needed to dress for work. “I need to dress nicely,” I replied. [Side note: dressing “nicely” in the Midwest comes in various forms, but overall, I need to look professional. Even if I’m in jeans, it needs to be classy.] She handed me a shirt that didn’t fit, and then asked “who else here works in an office?” and looking around, we realized that only one other woman worked at an office. The other women in attendance all worked – some as full-time moms, childcare providers, at the local food coop and a variety of other locations – but I was possibly the only person there who worked in an office, full time, and needed to dress in a traditional office way.
It made me melancholy for the rest of the night.
Over dinner my husband asked about the swap and I shared my feelings with him. Again, as if I almost had to convince myself, I said “I don’t want to be a stay-at-home-mom, right?” And I don’t. I didn’t want to before I had a baby, while I was pregnant or even after I had Lil’ Miss Red. I love working. I’m good at it, too. I love meeting people and working with situations and words and creating. I absolutely know that this is part of parenting, but maybe I’m just not wired that way.
But I used to have extra time with my daughter, where she recently started to call it a “mama day.” And while I loved the time with her, I can look back and say how exhausting it was. By the time my husband came home on Friday nights I felt zapped. Done. Over. I usually left the house to run a few errands (what becomes “free time” once you have children) to re-set. I honestly don’t know how full-time parents manage to engage their children so creatively. I think our childcare provider was crafted by Greek Gods, she with her imagination, patience and resourcefulness. I had to plan each fun activity with my daughter. My creativity tends to emerge in my work. My time with her was focused and while I didn’t develop fun art projects for her to explore, I did, and still do, give her (mostly) undivided attention as much as possible, in the form of reading books, playing cars, or dancing.
I often think of something LHW said to me three winters ago when she was hosting a swap. I was pregnant and looking for post-baby wear. We were talking about my (now previous) job and my question as to whether or not I’d ever want to stay home.
“M, it’s different for you, you have a career,” she said. “And whatever you decide, it’s the best decision for your family. Even if you change your mind.”
So while I’m happier at work, I am frazzled and sometimes tears are involved. Tears for no more Fridays at home, tears for long work days, tears for the new and exciting demands placed on me, tears when I think about the state of the laundry, tears that I now forget things, like minor to-dos, notes and coffee dates.
It is what it is and it’s wonderful. Even if I change my mind.