Putting the WAH! in WAHM
So I just got this fantastic new full-time job. It's my dream come true: I spend the day in great company, with smart, funny women who are creative, talented and bracingly honest. I get to use both sides of my brain: strategy and business brain and well as emo/writing/community/build-a-better-world brain. (Woot!) And I get a paycheck every two weeks. (I know, I'm pinching myself.)
The other amazing benefit? I get to work from home. Let me tell you how totally amazing this is!
::insert crickets chirping::
Believe me, I want working at home to be amazing, fulfilling, problem-solving, and satisfying, as it is often purported to be. (Though let's take a moment to acknowledge that, in general, there's not much agreement on the endless debate about what suits moms and work most, though people certainly can't stop talking about it, especially for ratings: I'm looking at YOU Anderson Cooper and Dr. Drew! I must digress to point out that the study they are referencing was about PART-TIME MOMS ONLY—thank you, A.N.N. from My Life As Prose for your completely awesome just-the-facts-ma'am post explaining how the study was misused for media drama. Quelle surprise, right?
I do love working at home because I can
- Walk my son to school every day
- See him when he comes home from school
- Go the post office to pick up or drop off a package without giving myself a brain embolism from trying to figure out which day I can go to work late/leave work early
- Be here whenever the plumber/cable guy/washer repairman shows up, usually 15 minutes past the end of the supposed "window" in which they were supposed to appear
So yes, the life conveniences do matter. And taking my son to school is more than a convenience. It's a daily pleasure I used to have to hand off to the sitter two, three times a week when I had a full-time job with a very variable schedule. (Turns out the Today Show didn't want me on the air after my son went to school.) The irony, of course, is for a lot of my public appearances when I was the editor in chief of Redbook were to talk about the challenges American women, and mothers in particular, face in making their lives work. But for me, at that time, it was easy, actually. Not to say it wasn't stressful, and didn't have its moments where I had to make hard choices. But the day-to-day in general? Remarkably clear.
Either I was at work (or I was at an event working, or I was on a business trip, working). Or I was at home. Easy-peasy. I worked at work, and at home, I was focused on my son, my home, my bills, laundry, and so forth. And when my son went to bed, I had a bit more time to work. The boundaries were clear, and I had deeply internalized the simple truth that I could really only truly be one place at a time. Which is a tremendous relief, when you let that truth in.
And now? I'm always at work at home, especially because I'm working for an internet company, and the combination of work/home has been a stunningly difficult adjustment for me. When my son comes home from school, he stops down the hall to my office (which is, ahem, his playroom, actually) for a hug, which is nice, yes. But I am still HERE. So I am asked to adjudicate all kinds of issues that the babysitter is fully equipped to handle. But if Zack gets an answer he doesn't like, well, he thinks it's time to bring it to me. Then, right around 6pm—30 minutes before my official End of Day, which still feels two hours too early since many of my workmates are on the West Coast—he starts coming into my office with ransom notes of a sort. Seriously. Check them out:
He's much more sensitive than he used to be to the fact that I always have one eye on the Blackberry (well, it's an iPhone now, but I miss my Blackberry). Not just because he's older, I think, but now that I'm at home, ferreted away in the back of the apartment, he feels more directly that my work is "taking time away from him."
And funny the things you miss when you start WAH-ing at home: I did not always love that it took me 50 minutes or so to get home at the end of the day, but now I realize I was doing a lot of important decompressing on that commute. And planning dinner. And making lists of errands. I never know how much I accomplished in those so-called "wasted hours" until they were gone. And guess what I do with those two hours now? Yes, I work. Menu planning is now a Sunday task, but I haven't mastered planning more than two days at a time and find myself with nothing to eat a couple times a week. Errands? They get remembered and forgotten and remembered and forgotten every day, but I haven't yet managed to stick a pad of paper somewhere handy to capture them.
Also? I miss getting dressed. Granted, I sometimes felt like a little bit of a show pony when I was editor in chief of Redbook (and I'll tell you, standing on a red carpet next to a celebrity? A completely humbling experience. I'll show you the photo of Cindy Crawford and me someday), but all in all, I loved the excuse to go all out and dress in whatever way pleased me. Bright colored dresses. Four- or five-inch heels. Outrageous accessories like a fringed goat-fur scarf or sequined pumps were all fair game. And now? I have a wardrobe deep in sweaters and the highly functional (but not-so-exciting) garment called "pants."
And don't brush off the clothing stuff as mere vanity. It all added to the strong sense of separation between the two pieces of myself: My work was for me, my home self was for my son. (And for me for just a few wonderful moments after he went to bed).
When I was working in an office and Zack would be particularly sad that I was going away on a business trip or leaving early in the morning and not able to attend a school event, I could say to him with clear eyes, "Zack, I absolutely love the work that I do, and it makes me very happy. I consider myself very lucky in this way, and I hope you can be as lucky as I am someday." I know he might not have understood every aspect of that message, but I do know it comforted him in some way.
And I guess, more importantly, it comforted me, too.
Now my son and I have to re-learn how to be separate when my work—or at least, WHERE I work—is actually throwing us together. Until he and I get used to this new and delicate balancing act, I suppose I'll just have to console myself with my son's ransom notes—and be grateful that his sense of humor is actually quite funny.
Humor is what gets us through the hard times, right? So when I feel like crying because of the confusion & the WAH! in WAHM—I'll instead look at my little pile of inverted love letters from my son, and share a giggle with him, before I close the door to his playroom-slash-my office one more time.