My Mommy-Track Adventure: Part 1

My parents are both successful college graduates.  My father was a rocket scientist before he retired and my amazing mom got her Master’s from UCLA when I was 2.  She commuted at least 90 minutes and then dodged lots of parking tickets for her degree.  I have no memories of her studying or writing papers, but I do remember the microwave she received as a graduation present.  They used that thing up until 2008.

When I graduated from my small high school (37 kids in the class of 199*cough, cough*) the announcer read some interesting facts about me.  I was planning on going to college at Chico State (about 7 ½ hours north from my hometown) and my mother was the person who inspired me because she was able to be successful at work as well as an awesome mom.

Seriously, my mom kicks some serious butt in the working-mom category.  Growing up, she juggled a carpool and a 90+ minute commute to the Sepulveda Veteran’s hospital, where she flexed her early programmer / query specialist / library science degree muscles. 

When I was 8, she had my little sister and took her 3 month maternity leave.  It was a blast to get to go to school at the regular time and get to come home earlier than 5:30.  I was not a fan of daycare - a fact that both my parents are well aware of since I haven’t stopped complaining about it since I was 6.

When my sister turned 3 months old, she became one of the first students at a new KinderKids daycare that opened up just around the corner from our neighborhood.  My mama was heading back to work.  I doubt that staying home was ever an option my folks considered.  When your mom is a work super-hero, you can’t rob the world of her skills, plus I’m sure I was an expensive child.

Fast forward almost twenty years, and my husband and I became new parents of a very silly little boy.  Staying home was not an option for me, as my husband was still striving to claim his Fine Arts degree at the university and our bills simply could not be paid with paintings.  Darn it!

So on the day my son turned 3 months old, I hopped in my car and drove 45 minutes to my marketing job at casino.  I think I only cried once in the employee stairwell.  My mom had bought me some new clothes (since none of my old work clothes fit my new girthy-size) and that seemed to help give me a little false confidence.

My husband stayed home with the boy and then we had friends fill the role of ‘nanny’ when he had to go to class or work on his paintings.  That made it easier to be away from him and helped me continue to avoid daycare, which I still wasn’t going anywhere near.

I’m going to be honest: Back then, I figured if you stayed home with your kids, you were not as awesome as a working mom.  Before my son was born, I figured the ‘Get married-have kids- stop working and be at home’ path was for quitters. 

Keep reading before you assault me in the comment section!  There’s more, I promise!

Back then I thought:

Why can’t women work and be a mommy at the same time?

Won’t the outside influence of a workplace make me a more well-rounded person for my child? 

Isn’t staying at home with them forcing the husband to carry the heavy load of financial responsibility?

I think I’d go crazy if I had to immerse myself in Cheerios and Caillou 24 hours a day! 

But after my son became such a powerful force within our household, it was as if a part of me was missing when I was away from him. 

The knowledge that I could give him comfort and nurturing unlike any creature on Earth was both humbling and, a somewhat, suffocating realization.

My work quickly became tedious and unfulfilling and I cried most nights after I got home.  We were in no position for me to stop working and I felt forced to be somewhere I didn’t enjoy and forced to be away from my son.  It was not a good time in my life and I was pretty fussy about the whole thing.

My marriage was getting taxed by my growing resentment that it was my darn husband’s fault that I had to be doing something I disliked, far away from my baby who just wanted me to hold him and snuggle with him.  I missed his first roll, and many more firsts.  I was growing more and more bitter.

Around the time my son was about to turn one, an opportunity came that would allow me to work from home.  I borrowed some money and bought a small restaurant advertising business and quickly got to work organizing my home office. 

I was sure I would be successful and that my husband would have time to do all the advertising sales at the same time he finished his degree.  I was looking forward to the extra money and being my own boss!  My son and I were going to have a great time together and I would get to be happy again!

Wow, was I wrong.  It turns out that having a toddler in the background of phone calls and computer work, was very distracting.  I still had to have in-home childcare during the week, but I assured myself that at least I was nearby.  It was hard to hear him laughing and playing without me and for some reason, the money seemed only to be pouring out of my bank account instead of in.

My husband also told me that he didn’t have time to help out with the business and he really disliked the idea of being an ad salesman.  I detested that role as well, so I focused on maintaining the advertising clients that we had while juggling temperamental restaurant owners who allowed us to place the ads along the bottom of their menus.  Good times.

Six weeks after we paid for the business, I got pregnant.

Oh crap…I don’t have health insurance and am already juggling way too much stuff.  How in the world will this work out?

We were ecstatic with our baby-news.  Especially since this time we didn’t have to go through all the infertility hoops that we had been going through when we got pregnant the first time.  But I had no idea how in the world things would work out.  I didn’t particularly like my husband at the moment, and I was sick of feeling like I was the only one having to carry the financial pressures of or household. 

Even though my husband was making some amazing art at the time, all I could do was look at it and think about how his talents and dreams were crushing me with the expectation of being ‘the responsible one’.  Dreading your husband’s gifts and dreams is a dark place to be.

While our baby girl baked away in the oven, we lost restaurant after restaurant to a new competitor from Sacramento.  One day we had 20-something menu locations, the next day we had 5 and couldn’t pay our bills. 

We offered the business back to the previous owners and told them they could keep the 25% we had already paid them, but they didn’t want it.   They told me just to get the rest of the money from my family and pay them off, or else they’d sue.  We were forced to declare bankruptcy and earned a new badge of shame.

Is this what I get for leaving the workforce and trying to be a good mother? 

Now I can barely provide for my family.  What kind of mom is that for my kids?

So I sucked up all my wounded pride and decided to go back to casino marketing.  What choice did I have? It was what I knew and it was where I could go to earn money for my family. 

My second casino was farther from home, and my first day was also the day my daughter turned 3 months old.  I was a little more callused from the whole failed-business thing, so I don’t remember crying that day.  I was just trying to scrounge up some of my dignity and was thankful for a job.

I decided to nurse my daughter and got to go through many ‘pump-at-work’ follies, but we made it 6 months.  She was such a champ and took a bottle like a pro.  She never even seemed to notice when my milk slowly started turning into formula because I hadn’t been able to get away from a meeting and missed a pumping session. 

I adopted a new badge of shame because I felt I couldn’t adequately provide the basic nourishment for my child (nursing hadn’t worked out with baby #1 either) but I was secretly delighted no to lug around my big black pump anymore.  As with many working mom feelings, I felt caught in the middle between my mommy-ness and myself.

This post was a long one, but if you'd like to read more, please visit my blog.  Thanks!

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