Tag Archives: stay-at-home-mom

The report from day one

The report will be short.  Or short-ish.

Yesterday, I arrived like a school girl on her first day of school.  New sweater, old pants, old shoes, a small bag full of a few small things that make a desk feel like mine.  Y. who is my boss in one sense– greeted me, took me into her office, walked me around a little bit and gave me some instructions, some words of welcome and a sense of a start.  She is a black woman, younger than I am by a lot, a veteran by legislative staff standards (5 years) and someone about whom, after listening to her in my first interview I thought, ‘this is a smart woman, a principled woman.  I’d follow her leadership.  For real.’  The elected legislator who chairs the committee I was hired to staff is actually my boss– and I saw him later in the day.

One of the first things I learned yesterday is that the other lawyer in the office has resigned.  Don’t know when he is leaving.  I had all those feelings, interesting feelings of excitement–putting my mind to something new, trying something new, learning a whole universe (as legislatures of any kind are– even more so than your average workplace)– full of people and their layers of relationships, strengths, worries and compromises, rules, ways of doing things, of getting things done and of relating to one another.  The office is in a beautiful, old but refurbished, government building.  I love the building.

I’ve had a year and a half of being a stay-at-home mom.  I’ve juggled, driven, organized impossible schedules, gone, helped, observed and been present with my daughter in so many settings; I’ve changed plans on a dime, and made things work.  I’ve spent a lot of time healing about the many feelings about loss of my former job– and the many more feelings about what that job and workplace had been (not so good) for me.

I’ve built a couple of rock solid relationships– one with my mom-friend with whom I’ve shared a weekly meeting to listen to one another, laugh and cry together, strategize and keep ourselves on track– one of the most satisfying, effective and efficient relationships ever.  I built a small community of others who are free during the daytime and I tried a number of things.  I’ve worked hard on the many hopes and worries and struggles I have as a parent– on strengthening my relationship with my daughter, other mothers, fathers, teachers, administrators and many others.

I am a different woman in certain ways.  It is interesting to feel.  I’ve felt at times, increasingly fragile but I think I may have been developing secret strengths.  Secret, first and foremost to me.

What I hated about the first day was the dispiriting feeling that went with  9:00 6:30– which is how long I worked yesterday.  It is simply too long to be away from home, my daughter and the goings on at which I belong and want to be.  This week I will miss a school play in Spanish, where my daughter has her teacher blown away by how she aced her lines.  And I will miss the first (and possibly the only) basketball tournament game in which my daughter will play.  And she missed me too which is another story.

Here is what I loved.  After years of having and worrying about having my own office in various workplaces, we work in a space that is configured like this;  Two inner offices at the back.  The resigning lawyer and Y., the committee staff director, have those offices.   Then there is a big gangly L-shaped room with four other desks/ cubicles and a large table for meetings and assembling documents, a sofa-waiting-area and files and two closets, one of which serves as a small kitchen.  And in the midst of all this, in a big modular work station, is where I work.  As a woman who knows that the all-over-each-other-never-alone— is one of the biggest gifts of mothering, I loved working in a big room where people call out to each other, see each other come and go, bustle around each other and have a sense– if only because of the design of the workspace, that we are in this together.

More soon.

 

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May, 2011.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been having a hard time.  I have some guesses about why, but really– I don’t know why.  I have the writerly problem of deciding whether it is just too personal to write about here.  Or too boring for a reader, which is a different writerly problem.

I’m in the midst of my April-May-June cycle.  April and Passover– are about spring, liberation.  Passover eight years ago was the last time I ever saw my father.  May and Mother’s day– the commercial holiday that was, for a number of years, oddly meaningful as I worked through feelings of wanting to be and worrying I wouldn’t be, a mother.  May 20th– my daughter’s birthday.  May 20th has been a very special day every year since she was born– but for a mother of a daughter whose birth was announced to us after the fact, it has been a very special day every year– except the year of her actual birth when we didn’t know she was being born nor did we know that there was a very small girl who would be our daughter.  I think often about her first 48 hours in the world– untethered to anyone who had a plan to love and care for her.  I believe it was a very hard way to come into the world.

So yes, with all of that as backdrop, I’ve been feeling down for weeks now.  Discouraged.  Some days it is up in my face, all day.  Other days it is just a quiet hum in the background.  I know I’ve been down this road before; I think I have written these exact words before on this blog.  Those of you who read this blog have been down this road with me (as well as yourselves, I assume, but that’s a different story, isn’t it?)  I’ve not posted here in a while, but I’m not exactly having a hard time writing; I have several drafts of several posts in various states of finished standing by.  But I am having a hard time fully deciding and fully articulating just what I want to say and pushing the “Publish” button.

I have been worried about going back to work– worried about whether I will find work again that is as meaningful, as consuming as the work I did many years ago running the HIV/AIDS legal program here and about what that work might be.    For many reasons my world has shifted in certain ways and some things that were very meaningful and held great interest for me fifteen or even ten years ago, do not feel the same anymore.  The ground has shifted imperceptibly and here I am on a new landscape– trying to find my way.  It feels scary some days, it feels terribly discouraging some days.

I do know someone who says that all discouragement and worries are old feelings.  That we can heal from earlier disappointments and losses, and that it makes no logical sense at all to be discouraged about the future — like what does it mean to be discouraged or worried about something that hasn’t even happened yet?  And I must admit I follow the logic and agree with him though I definitely don’t feel that way.

But today in particular and for the last several days in general, I’ve gotten glimpses that there might, maybe possibly be something really wonderful ahead.  And my mind has wandered again, more and more often, to a few of the extraordinary interesting things in this world to write about other than this internal discouragement.  A good perspective is returning and a good perspective is a good thing.  Stay tuned.

Stay-at-home-mom redux. or What? Sexism?

Last year, after my first posts to this blog– I got a bad case of eczema– something I had in babyhood but hadn’t had for a long, long time.  My dermatologist said “who knows why these things surface?”  I think it had to do with fear that rose as I put myself out there.  You are a small and supportive group of readers, but nonetheless, I think i got scared and eczema was what showed.  I want to speak my mind out here in the world; and at the same time there is some terror about being truly visible in any way.

One of the next most terrifying things I have done, other than to begin writing this at all, was to write, a couple of weeks ago, that for now what I am is a stay-at-home-mom.   The feelings that clambered up in me after that post were– well stunning, on the internalized sexism meter.  I felt as though I had written– “Hello world, I am a failure.  I don’t know how to do anything.  I am a trivial, insignificant woman and I don’t earn a paycheck.”  Even though I am exactly the same woman who has done many, many things and is very competent.  I have often known I am very competent at many important things– including paid work and unpaid work and including mother’s work.

But after that post was up, I thought seriously, for the first time, about pulling a post off the blog after it went up.  Hmmm.

Related topic, different setting.  I have a great, close friend, D.– who has been one of my closest friends since our early 20’s.  I have started whole pieces about her, because she figures so prominently in my life and in my heart too.  But for now I will leave it at this.  She is a fiercely competitive, very successful, tough, feminist litigator.  She also loves me deeply and enthusiastically and is deeply loyal to me– and I always know that she loves me.  She loves me for qualities of mine, entirely unrelated to the interests, skills and focus that have made her an excellent litigator.  I’m a heart person for her; a poet, an unwavering safe harbor.

Nonetheless D. and I do lawyerly things together once in a while and she asked me to go with her yesterday to hear oral argument in the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case which was being argued at the United States Supreme Court. (Yes, you can figure out from which city I am writing.)  I’m a lawyer.  I am actually admitted to the Supreme Court Bar though I never have and never will argue before the Supreme Court.  I decided to go–not at all for any networking or future job-finding purpose, but because I am still stunned/outraged by the depth and breadth of sexism and I thought this a pivotal moment, at least in one arena, in our national history on the sexism front.  I thought it would be a good thing to witness.  Also I love an adventure early in the morning with D. and we had to get there and line up early.

As it worked out D. and I stood in line a long time and had long, separate conversations with different people.  A woman who is also (besides D.) a long-time feminist litigator– and a long-time acquaintance of mine– showed up.  I was deep in another conversation– but she slipped in next to us and started talking and eventually she asked me where I’m working these days.  I said “I’m not working right now”.

On a bad day I might have felt embarrassed or depressed, but yesterday the cherry blossoms were out, I’d had an amazing conversation with a Somali cab driver on my way to the Court, and I was feeling good– very good, about my life, my past career as a lawyer, and hopeful about whatever I will do next.  I was happy to be going to the Supreme Court and happy to be coming home again to do writing and mothering things.  Just happy.  I answered enthusiastically that I was doing well, had left a job that had never been good and was not working now while I decide what next.

She said “Oh”.  I can’t capture the tone in a blog.  But it was that kind of “Oh” that revealed that she felt startled, glad she wasn’t me and like she needed to quickly summon some way to act positive, polite.  It was an “Oh” that couldn’t have carried more unspoken meaning than if I had said, “Actually I was recently convicted of a crime of moral turpitude and am leaving directly from this very Court to spend the rest of my days in prison– that’s what I’m up to”.

There was a sad irony getting this “Oh” right there in line to hear a sex discrimination case argued at the Supreme Court, from this woman who has been a fierce and successful fighter for women’s rights.  A woman who, somewhere in her heart of hearts, apparently doesn’t think much of women who do anything other than litigation.  (And, to state the obvious, women who do things other than litigation are– well– almost all women throughout the world.)

was annoyed, but I don’t write this to be snarky to that woman. My point is that internalized oppression sits there– like the unseen roots of some huge tree– just like the sexism that sits there unseen by either Wal-Mart or the Supreme Court, and yet is so obvious.  Stark.

Unfortunately the day got only sadder on the ending-sexism front once I had listened to most of the Justices’ questions (some hostile, some so oblivious I wondered what world they inhabit) of the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case.  But that is a blog post for another more lawyerly day which may or may not ever arrive on this writing, thinking, reading, activist, organizing and mothering blog.

What I do during the day now that I am not working.

Grace Paley came into my mind this morning as I sat down to write.  I sat for a while and read from two of my favorites of her books.  She was like no one else I have ever known in that she was a great, true, feet-on-the-ground-flyer-making-organizing feminist.  She did big, big things in her life.  Like writing important books and traveling with a Peace Brigade to Hanoi in 1969– to try to change the course of a US war.

She participated with many other women in the anti-nuclear civil disobedience protests the success of which I am always, but at this particular moment in history, terribly, terribly grateful for.  Watching in fear and somewhat numb to the devastation I believe is really happening in Japan, and which I do not believe is really being fully reported yet–  I am only sorry that more of us didn’t join in and make that movement even more successful than it was.

One thing that I think distinguished Grace from many of her feminist peers and from many of us of my generation and younger generations is that she both believed in women taking charge of everything and she believed and lived in many ways, that there was no work that was any more important (not that it was the only important work) than the work of raising children “righteously up” as she says in one of my favorite stories of hers.  A Midrash on Happiness is the story.  You really need to read the title story if you haven’t.  And if you have, you should read it again.  I keep her in my mind and my back pocket often these days.

A poem written later in her life called, “Stanzas: Old Age and the Conventions of Retirement Have Driven My Friends from the Work They Love”  contains the following, the third stanza:

No metaphor reinvents the job of the nurture of children                                                  except to muddy or mock.

which is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with although not descriptive of all that I am doing.  Certainly in this period of time, I have expanded my own job description as a mother to include things I didn’t have time for before.  I walk my daughter to school almost every day, rain or shine, whether I am sick or well, whether I overslept and go in the tee-shirt I slept in or not and almost never take my partner up on the offer to take her to school.  It is something I do right now.  We talk, we laugh we fight once in a while– but I get to be with her and she gets to have me and I keep figuring things out.  I do not make her lunch every day, my partner often does.  I pick her up three days a week and sometimes more.  If there is something to be done at the school during the day, I go.  And then there are the constant days off for teacher training, for holidays, for parent teacher meetings and these days she is with me for all of the aforementioned.  One thing I’ve known all along but I am developing discipline– is that it’s a lot about making yourself available and logging in the hours with your child.   As in not on the phone or the computer  or even thinking about too much else.

I go to the Read 180 (a special catch-up reading class at her school)– once or twice a week to help out.  She is in Read 180 and they meet every day for one hour and fifteen minutes.  But she asked me to go to the 5th graders and not her 4th grade class, which I do.  I go because I want to have that depth of knowledge about her world and I think that teacher who interacts with her every day can use a hand.

But here are a few other things.  I meet every single Wednesday morning for about an hour and half with another mom I am close to.  We are different ages– she has two children and I have one, she is heterosexual and married, I am lesbian and partnered–  she isn’t Jewish and I am but we have very similar sensibilities about mothering and we meet and take turns talking and listening to each other every single week.  We laugh, we cry and we talk a lot.  Then we say goodbye and go back to the job at hand.  We really love each other, but it’s a very efficient operation and it works.  After that there were two grocery stops, one for food the other for tall pussywillow branches, mailing a package and getting my daughter to Hebrew school.

There is more– more.  We live in a small self-managed coop apartment building.  I sit on the coop board this year.  Early this morning I wrote emails about the bizarre thefts that have been occurring in the building– where several people’s boxes with stuff they ordered were stolen– but to be precise, the contents were stolen and the boxes placed, by a very tidy thief, neatly in our cardboard recycling– all broken down and everything.

I wrote the neighbor downstairs that he has to clean up his dog’s poop from the side yard and managed to do it in such a way that the guy didn’t get pissed at all.

I cooked black beans and did laundry and wrote about a dozen emails to schedule and reschedule different meetings.  And I had extensive dental surgery yesterday so there was morning ice and ibuprofen and saltwater rinse.  Before all that I sat and started this piece, read Grace Paley, wondered if you get tired of hearing about her, which you shouldn’t.  And now with respect to this blog writing–  I finish, just 15 hours later.