by Regan McMahon
During my entire career as a working-mother, I have been torn, pushed and pulled between my job as a mom and the one that earned me a paycheck. For so long I wished I could afford to be a stay-at-home mom, longing to be with my babies when they were tiny, disappointed at how many events I had to miss because they occurred during the school day, resentful at having to cram everything in—homework, dinner, baths, play, reading—between the 6 p.m. pickup at daycare and bedtime just a couple of hours later.
Be careful what you wish for.
Now that I took a buyout  and am working at a desk in our guest room rather than in an office 30 minutes away across a bay, I finally get to be a stay-at-home mom—at least until l I find a new job. My son, Kyle, is already in his first year of college, living 400 miles away in a dorm, but when he was home for winter break for three weeks, I got to spend time with him on weekdays in the daylight, which would never have happened if I were still commuting into the city every day.
My daughter, Hayley, is in her first year of high school, and theoretically needs me less. But in fact, she still needs me. Maybe not in the same ways she did before she was a teenager, but she still does.
Her high school doesn’t need me. It’s not like her K-8 school, which always needed volunteer parents to come in and serve as teacher’s aides, cutting construction paper, stapling sheets of test questions together, or pouring punch at an in-class holiday party. The parent committees may put out a call for help at the silent auction or fundraising dinner, but no one needs me in the classroom now. I was a speaker on career day when Kyle went there. But that’s the only time I’ve contributed in the classroom on a school day.
Today I did run Hayley’s forgotten lunch box up to school. I thought those days were over. But it was a minimum day and she was staying after school for play rehearsal, and I knew she’d have no option to get food, so I hopped in the car and took it up to her. If circumstances were different, I might have been annoyed. But since I had the time, I didn’t mind, and I secretly enjoyed coming to the rescue—something I never could have done had I been at work.
Between freelancing and job-hunting, I still feel like I’m working all the time. I’m glued to the computer all day and many nights, but I am trying to be more responsive when Hayley asks me to help her with her homework, watch a TV show with her, or sit and talk while we have a snack. I know how lucky I am to have a teenager who still wants to hang out with me, and I realize this window of opportunity could slam shut in an instant. I could get a new job that makes me less available, or Hayley could become so friend-centric (as is appropriate at her age) that she no longer has time for us.
So when she gets home from school, grabs something from the fridge, pulls up a seat at the kitchen counter and asks, “So, do you want to hear about the drama that went down at lunch today?” I try to put out of my mind the email I was in the middle of writing, the deadline looming, the economic crisis hovering at the door, and be present for what she has to tell me. I may not be able to keep straight the names of all the players in her story, but I feel privileged to be on the receiving end of news that is earthshaking to her right then.
I wished I could spend more time with her when she was little, and now, years later, during this strange and scary time of self-inflicted unemployment and transition, I got my wish. I know it has been good for our relationship. In this time of scarcity, I’ve found abundance at my own kitchen table, with a not-so-little girl who still needs her mommy.
Read the previous installment: Doing the Limbo Rock .
Read the next installment: Job Search: It's a Jungle Out There .
Regan McMahon is the author of Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy over Youth Sports .