I vividly remember going in for my first interview at a popular sandwich shop. I had on my best white loafers, cuffed powder blue shorts and a pastel splashed cotton shirt. I wore my best shoes because I remembered hearing something once about how employers judge you based on the condition of your shoes. Someone should have told me not to wear the shorts, but it didn't seem to matter. As I asked for an application the manager came out, gave me an impromptu interview and hired me on the spot. My career has pretty much gone like that ever since. I apply, I interview, I get the job. I've got a perfect record. I've never even been fired. Oh, they tried once at the sandwich shop, but I cried. I explained that I thought 'requesting' time off meant that I'd get the time off and I didn't mean to miss two days of work. And then I cried some more... until they said never mind. So, technically, I've never been fired.
Since that first job throwing together meat, veggies and bread, I've been employed. No lapses at all. As soon as I could get a workers permit, at the age of 15, I've been working. It's never crossed my mind not to. It's something we do in my family. We work.
Eventually I found teaching and knew this fulfilling job would be my life-long career. When I worked, I never prided myself on the paycheck, but on my accomplishments. As a teacher in the classroom I had goals, measures and outcomes. I worked with groups, sat in on meetings and formed an education plan that would turn each individual student into an outstanding little citizen. I felt good at what I did and was confident in my success. Then I had my first child and I had a choice. I had the choice to continue working or stay at home. I chose the latter.
I assumed a few months off would satiate my mother-bone and I'd return to my job shortly thereafter. Then motherhood took hold like a newborn grasp on a hoop-earring and wouldn't let my conscience go. I didn't need the income. I certainly didn't want someone else raising my child. It seemed a logical solution to take more time off of 'work' to stay home. It was the most difficult thing I have ever chosen to do, after giving birth. Leaving the workforce felt like I'd been on the ocean my entire life, and suddenly jumped off the boat, wobbling in my attempt to walk with land legs. I was accustomed to working, producing and earning. Now, I felt my production was finished, evidenced in two beautiful little girls. The only working I did, felt more like chores and I earned nothing but spit-up down my back, and awesome looking neon poops. There was no fulfillment other than getting through the day and any earned confidence would be shot down by an innocent comment directed at me at any given time, and what seemed like all the time, such as; "You're not trying the cry it out method are you?"
There were many benefits of staying home. I liked being there for smiles, sickness, firsts and hugs. But I was used to 'doing' and earning. I had trouble sitting still. I felt guilty playing on the floor or resting. Shouldn't I be evaluated, be working to improve on something or have some email to send regarding the days' action? I couldn't shake the itch that I needed to be doing more, to justify my choice of staying home. So I went back to school at night and got a master's degree. That felt like something. But I missed my girls at night, and had to use my squeaky breast-pump in the college bathroom where skinny girls, who still cared enough to dress trendy, would ask what that weird sound was.
Even though I felt I was squishing my needs into a little corner, bartering for time to shower and exhausted with my problem solving abilities on a daily basis, I still felt that I needed to get back into the outside workforce. I tried a part-time position within the school district and left my girls with daycare for only a couple hours a week. I sat in my car outside that center and balled like I'd just been fired from a sandwich shop. So I stopped doing that job and realized that I have to resign myself to being a full time mom. I carried my case of the 'guilties' with me as I trudged through the day of laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, feeding, changing, burping, and mothering.
That was almost seven years ago. When I first took off work to be a full time stay at home mom, a friend who had no children of their own commented, "Enjoy your vacation." Those of us with children know that staying home with young one's is anything but a vacation. Still, the comment hit a nerve and left a rather large imprint in my mind. Family, friends and even strangers in the grocery store continually ask me, "So, when are you going back to work?" It's this time bomb ticking in the background as I walk the dog outside or push my daughter on the swing. When is it all going to end? It's the most stressful predicament.
The social culture has turned. It used to be that mothers were expected to stay home and we had to fight for equal acceptance into the workforce. Now, not only is it expected of me to return to the workforce, but also to return within a timely manner. Why? Why is it so important to the world that I give up being a full time mother to work when I don't have to? I feel the fight now, is for my right to stay at home and raise my children.
The cycle of motherhood is the fastest hamster wheel ever built. You have to run fast and when you stop, gravity takes over and you fall flat on your face. It's exhausting. If work is defined as something on which exertion is expended, well, definitely mothering is work. But they also say, if you love what you do, you never really have to work a day in your life.
After the practice of many years, I've learned to hush the voice that keeps telling me to fill out an application and leave my children in the care of others. I'm comfortable staying at home and don't sense the need to justify that to anyone. I feel value from my daily experiences and have learned to slow down enough to play well with my children. It took time, confidence and spousal support in order to achieve. The women's rights movement doesn't mean we have to pop out a baby and then pop back into the office. It doesn't mean we have to stay home either. It means we have a choice. The fact that we can exercise that choice is what feminism is all about.
My girls are older now and entering school themselves. And every day I get to look into their eyes and see what I've accomplished. I've worked hard at building our relationship, producing fine little citizens, setting them goals for chores and homework, measuring their growth on the inside of the doorframe, and earning their respect. The result has been a stronger family, confident children and a place where I've earned my right for life-time employment, the place of 'mom'. It will now, always, be my first job. I start my second job at the school on Monday, with a brand new pair of shoes.