Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Knowing motherhood

Maybe it's just being a Navy wife, but maintaining a career and being a mother is difficult- you move a lot, you are far away from family, you lose established networks both professionally and personally. The Navy is about different opportunities- living abroad, living on different coasts, being a single parent for various periods of time, and navigating new towns, schools, and cultures. Motherhood adds new responsibilities and demands on your time.

In DC, I was happy working, but I was juggling a lot. I shuffled kids to and from child care, worked, and generally felt a fair amount of stress. Nothing ever seemed routine with kids- sudden meltdowns at drop offs, wrenching ear pain, virulent viruses that discombobulated the entire household, etc. I felt like I was never fully there for either my job or my kids. I felt pulled in both directions with no downtime- I was on at home, I was on at work. I grumped to my husband that at least he had quiet time on his commute. He replied, "that's pretty sad if you feel that way." I didn't bring it up again.

I tried talking about working or not working to a few other mothers. One friend echoing my frustration of juggling plus a long commute said it led her to quit her job. Another talked about how unfair the American system was compared to the French which supported working mothers with longer breaks and childcare. Another changed jobs to find one with less demanding hours. It motivated me to change my job- I went from the night shift to a day job.

I still felt pulled and like I had more potential than my rote cookie cutter job. The job was great because I could jump in at any time and fill in a few hours of work, but it lacked the satisfaction of a more demanding job. Another friend commented, "in this town (DC), you (mothers) have to work." I took this to mean in DC you are your job. It's not a town for stay at home mommies. I knew what she meant. DC is a power town- I lived on Capitol Hill where Congress and Staffers are busy making things happen at work, after work, and on weekends- it's all about connections- connecting people, connecting ideas. I went to a new mother's get together, and the new mother conversation in DC- my new indie film, my new grant, my new job where I work from home, etc. It seemed like I was the only one confused.

When I arrived in Japan I was quite sure I wanted a break, to just be a mom. I also moved 45 minutes away from the only place I could have a full-time job (the base), enrolled my children into Japanese "yochien" preschool and generally found that negotiating the Japanese language and culture were enough to keep me stimulated and satisfied. Three years later I haven't missed working. I like the balance in my life better now.

Motherhood is a never ending job with a lot of scut work and little positive feedback. Frankly, working was easier- people actually listened to me. My children do not do this on any reliable level except maybe under threat of no TV or no ice cream. At work, people turned to me for suggestions or ideas, at home it's more about working around me- "mom said no so let's ask dad." At work, I could drink a whole cup of coffee at Starbucks (there was one in the hospital lobby); every cup of tea I have at home goes cold due to numerous interruptions- kids, chores, the phone, etc. Some how though I like the flow of life better.

Motherhood's draw for me are the clearer priorities- my family, dinner. The lure of power & prestige in DC has settled out- that was there, not me. "If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them they know not me" so sings Cat Stevens in "Father & Son." The scut work, well, there is plenty of that in any job.

We trade up or at least trade away opportunities without considering them fully. We pay for the cleaning service, the yard service, the day care, the restaurant meals, the take out, the toaster waffles to the point we no longer have any real connection to our home. All this debt keep me working, but it was a treadmill of dissatisfaction.

I was trained to go to school and work as a nurse. I never thought I would need to cook- I can live off cereal & cookies, can't children? Sewing? Well, that's what retail therapy is for. Influencing people- isn't that all about what you wear? Children could care less if I have on a $100 shirt or a $10 shirt- it's still a napkin to them. I had not considered what I might do if I stayed at home.

"Your children grow up and leave you; your retirement and your career do not," so said a friend's mother when discussing her Navy career. I know what the mother means, but it also made me realize that motherhood is about more than children for me. Maybe it's my lack of interest in the stress bowl of working again- more deadlines, more demands, etc. It goes back to "it's them they know, not me."

For me, staying home is also about having time. Time to have friends, time to read, time to try new things, time to sleep, time to cook, time to clean, time to take pictures, and time to be there for my family. Life is simpler. I don't fear not having enough money in my old age, but it could happen. My priorities are more aligned with me and that may mean no retirement and maybe no career, but it is my priority, and I know it now.

You can always work, but your children are only young once.