When I was a kid, I used imagine two versions of my future life. There was The Professional Version, in which I was working happily as a farmer/artist/vet. (Yes, all at the same time, because what is time anyway when you are nine?) On my picturesque acreage, I tended my chickens, sheep, horses, and cattle. Oh, and Wilbur and Charlotte, too. I didn’t eat any them because they were all my pets. I’d take appointments at my clinic down the road with Fluffy the cat and Pookie the rabbit, and it always made me so happy every day knowing that none of my patients were ever really sick. I’d wind down the days with some leisurely landscape painting, which, of course, would adorn my clinic after it dried. Ah, Professional Life was good.
And then there was The Family Version, where I lived happily with a husband (I didn’t care enough to imagine a face or personality or anything else about him) in some house somewhere. Oh, and somewhere had to be Glen Ellyn because where else can a kid imagine living when they are nine but where they were living right then? Of course there were children. Three of them at times and five at others. I had boys and girls. There was a Ben, there was a Shelly, there was a Susan. There were some more whose names I’ve forgotten. There were two dogs – a beagle named Nelly and a yellow lab named Addy. Wow, Family Life was good.
Okay, isn’t that just adorable?
But I share this not brag about what a darling I was as a child, but to reflect on the ideas and expectations I had about family and professional life. Of course, I never thought about this back then, but these were two completely separate lives I was imagining. If I was living in one fantasy, I was removed from the other. When I was a farmer/artist/vet, there wasn’t a family. And when I was mother with three or five children, there wasn’t a farm, vet clinic, and painting studio. But in my daydreams, I wasn’t giving up anything. There was no sacrifice. I was simply choosing one ideal over another, knowing that I could choose the other version the next time I wanted to play grown-up. It seems like I knew from very young, that even though you can’t do it all, you can still have it all.
There are days when I feel the pressure to do everything as well as it deserves. For instance, teaching is a job I could throw all of myself into. I could do so much in terms of lesson planning, professional development, working with kids before and after school, etc., etc. that could easily take up more than twelve hours every single day. And then there is parenting. Parenting is a job I could throw all of myself into. I could so much in terms of snuggling, reading, teaching, creating an enriching environment, etc., etc. that could easily take up more than twelve hours every single day. And we can’t forget housekeeping. Housekeeping is a job I could throw all of myself into. I could do so much in terms of cooking, dusting, painting, gardening, etc., etc. that could easily take up more than twelve hours every single day. Oh, and then there is marriage. Marriage is a job I could….Okay, you get the point.
There are other days (after deep breaths) when I remember how smart I was at seven, eight, nine. I can’t do it all, but I can have it all. I do have it all. I am lucky to be a working mom, married to a man that did end up having a face and living on a nice little farm (er, corner lot). I even got a Charlotte out of it all.
And even though on Sunday nights I might feel differently, being a working mom is actually what I always wanted.
Here are my top 10 reasons why being a working mom works for me:
1. I went to school for a long time. Eighteen years. I better be working. Seriously. (Also, I’ll be in debt for the rest of my life because of this. I better be working.)
2. More important than number one, I worked really hard in school. I studied, I did my homework, I participated in activities, and I volunteered. I learned a lot in college and was very well prepared by high school. I aced grad school. I loved being a student.
3. Even though I miss Charlotte when I’m at work, I really cherish the time I have with her at home after school and on the weekends. I looooove coming home to her at 3:45 and hearing her little voice squeal, “Mamaaaa!” And my favorite part of Friday nights are when I tuck her in and tell her that Mama gets to spend the whole day with her tomorrow.
4. The days are long when you are trapped in your house with a toddler. I’ve decided that some people are just better suited for staying home with their kids than I am because I can get antsy and frustrated. I’m less selfish when I don’t get to see her all day.
5. I have a great job that leaves me feeling fulfilled in ways that parenting and marriage (and housekeeping, duh) do not. We all feel fulfillment from different things in different ways for different reasons. Parenting and marriage are obvious, but I don’t think work is for everyone. As a teacher, I get to go to work knowing that I’m making a positive contribution to our society in some small way. In a junior high classroom, some days really suck. But overall, how cool it to think about the potential for what all of these kids can accomplish in their lives?
6. I get paid.
(haha. yeah right.)
7. For the last few years, particularly since this started, I’ve become rather antisocial and kind of a hermit. If I didn’t work, I’d probably never leave my house. I wouldn’t know anyone, and I’d probably turn into a cat woman minus the cats and plus a kid. Working gets me going every morning, out of the house (and sometimes my own misery), and has even scored me coffee dates, ladies nights, and happy hours. Working is good for my well-being.
8. One day, when I’m old and social security has long run out, I will get a pension. It won’t be much, but it will be something to keep us going, and I’ll be happy with it. And even if the pension has disappeared, I’ll hopefully have been able to save some of the money I’ve made teaching, which we’ll use to rent a room in Charlotte’s future house.
9. Early on, I worried about leaving Charlotte during the day with anyone who wasn’t me. I worried that she’d think I was abandoning her, or that she would feel closer to her sitter than to Chris and I, or that she’d grow up wishing I didn’t leave her every morning, August through May. Most of that was just first-time parent I have a newborn stuff. Once my maternity leave was over and I realized that everything was just fine without me at home, those worries mostly slipped away. I’ll still have twinges of guilt while saying goodbye, but not on most days. As Charlotte gets older, I’ve really come to appreciate the time she spends with her babysitters. They’ve given her new relationships, each one unique in its ways, and certainly different than her relationship with Chris and I. With her current babysitter she just runs and runs and plays and plays until she crashes. Her last babysitter enjoyed spending quieter, more controlled time together. Charlotte is learning how to be adaptable and independent. She loves us, but she loves other people, too. And her heart doesn’t break when we leave for work every morning.
10. Some day, Charlotte may be a mother. Maybe she’ll want to work, or maybe she’ll prefer to stay home. I hope that she makes the best decision for her knowing that I made the best decision for me.