by Vicki Larson
When I was younger, I wanted to be many things — a ballerina, until I suffered the humiliation of being the only one in the pre-performance picture who’d forgotten to spray-paint her black ballet slippers silver; an artist, until my parents refused to let me travel the subways to get to the prestigious art high school in Manhattan where I’d been accepted (and I have held it against them ever since); an ecologist, until a year and a half into the environmental science program I realized I’d never be able to save the world and, because I had recently experienced a breakup, it might not even deserve to be saved; and a writer, or so I convinced my parents as I insisted that traveling with friends cross-country one summer instead of working would be a better use of my time, fodder for the Great American Novel I was destined to write.
One thing I never dreamed of as a “career” was motherhood, but having kids was one of those understood things; I would have a great job and then I’d undoubtedly get married and we’d most likely have kids.
Life in a nutshell.
As it turned out, I did become a writer and a mom (and, in my own ways, an artist, an eco-minded woman and even a dancer, if you consider my disco diva days). And I never regretted becoming a journalist, a career I’ve loved for 25 years.
But if I love my job so much, then why do I dream of being discovered overnight — whether by that novel I haven’t quite finished, or the blog I haven’t posted anything on in months, or that shot on the TV reality cooking show that might have been my ticket to reinventing myself at midlife? Why do I buy raffle tickets to win that multimillion-dollar Dream House or the cash prize? Why do I semi-joke with my parents that if only they’d played their cards right years ago, I’d be a happy trust fund baby today?
Why do I fantasize about a quick, easy and lucrative way “out”?
Because here’s my dirty little secret: I’m tired of working even though I love what I do. I’m exhausted by managing two teenagers; a neurotic dog; a house that’s falling apart but I can’t afford to fix; never-ending errands and food shopping and laundry and weed-pulling and toilet scrubbing; a job in a career that is in a painful death spiral, and freelancing gigs just so I can afford to keep all of that going. Exhausted because my company, like so many others, has laid off so many that the few of us who are still employed — thankful, but still living in fear that the next time the ax falls, it will be on us — are doing the work of two or three or, in my case, four.
Am I the only working mother who feels this way?
Is there no other woman who thinks, yes, thank you feminists for paving the way for us to have it all — careers and motherhood — and I am ever so grateful that I have the choice (and I am!). But, honestly, knowing how most working moms, no matter what our profession, have become frenzied “jugglers,” is it all that bad hanging at home, baking snickerdoodles and pushing around the Swifter every now and then?
I feel terribly guilty just thinking like that because there are so many people out of work right now who would happily take anything — even my stupid-long-hours-for-ridicoulously-little-pay-soon-to-disappear-job — just to be working again. But it often feels like more than one person can bear.
And that’s because it used to be two people bearing it.
I was a stay-at-home mom for the first years of my first-born’s life, except for some freelance work I frantically tried to squeeze in between naps and then, when that proved impossible, a small hand-painted children’s furniture business I’d started. There were no power struggles over who does what or who does more; he did the blue jobs and I did the pink ones. But when son No. 2 came along, I went back to newspapers part time, and it felt like a vacation from diapers and temper tantrums and Mommy and Me classes. And when asked, “What do you do?” I could say with pride, “Why, I’m a journalist. And a mom.”
Then I got divorced and the decision to work or not was no longer an option — no work, no food, no home.
In the beginning, it felt so great to be back in the newsroom full time doing what I love that I was giddy. And then the kids got sick and they needed to go to the dentist and the dishwasher broke and the repairman would be over “sometime between noon and 4 p.m.” and the car needed servicing and it had to be picked up before 5 when the shop closed, and I thought — how do people do this? How do you have a career and take care of the stuff of life? It was easy when I was married and my then-husband and I divvied that up (meaning I did all that stuff of life stuff and he made the money).
But one thing that was never divvied up was the guilt. I don’t think my former husband ever once felt that he was failing as a father by going to work. I didn’t feel guilty, either — after all, I had stayed home while my boys were young — until I was stuck in an office from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. (plus commute time) and I wasn’t around to help with homework or watch the baseball games or drive on the field trips like I used to do.
Someone needs to be there for that, but whom?
Still, we moms aren’t trying to shirk our responsibilities. Most working moms really do want to work — part time.
And I’m right there with them.
So, it’s not exactly true that I’m tired of working. Even if I did become an overnight success as a novelist or blogger, or won the multimillion-dollar Dream House or was a trust fund baby, I wouldn’t stop working completely. I love what I do.
I’d just do it on my terms.