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Dani Klein Modisett Headshot

My Kids Stole My Ambition!

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OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR MAY APPEAR MORE AMBITIOUS THAN THEY ARE.

I was voted most likely to succeed in ninth grade. Hold your applause. Now, I don't want to be excessively self-deprecating and assert that it's been all down hill since, but I think it's fair to say that a jury of 14-year-old peers may not have anticipated the curve ball that motherhood would throw me.

I remember sitting in a meeting about a TV show the week before I was due with my first child. I was wearing a knee-length maternity skirt, black, and the closest cut to "pencil" a 9-months pregnant woman can get into. And heels. I drove to the interview in sneakers, but damn if I didn't reach over my belly and slip in to some heels to go get that job. There is no doubt I looked like one of those teetering hippos drawn by Sandra Boynton that I would soon be seeing nightly at bedtime.

"Come in," the executive said tentatively as I stood in the threshold of her door.

"Wow," she added, gesturing for me to sit in the chair across from her desk. She had a half-smile on her face that said both "congratulations" and "why the f*%k are you wasting my time?"

"Thanks!" I said, exclamation point! I was at my perkiest pregnant. I spent most of the time in shock that all I did was have sex and eat a lot and this is what happened to me. Crazy! That is when I wasn't terrified, and staring at the wall crying about how I'd ruined my life.

"Your agent didn't mention the... good news," my interviewer said.

"Oh. Sure, because it's not going to affect my work," I responded without missing a beat.

"Certainly not a talk show, I mean unless there's an extreme sports component. HA!"

"Nope, no sports." she said. "When are you due, if I may ask?"

"Next week."

"Uh huh," she said, again with the half smile.

"But I mean, I'll be totally ready to work in like two weeks," I blurted.

Just writing these words today embarrasses me, let alone recalling that I said them out loud. But working is a reflex for me. It's how I justify my existence. When I was growing up, there was no new age focus on "being." What got you noticed by my two full-time working parents was "doing." Dinner conversation prompts were, "What did you do today?" followed by "What did you learn today?". It is the person raised in this household who went off to college in the 1980s, a time when it was your responsibility as an American woman to reap the benefits of the women's movement. With great debt to feminist leaders from Virginia Wolf and her "Room of One's Own" to Betty Friedan and on to Gloria Steinem and her bra burning, I had no sense that as a young woman, I would not have the opportunities in my career that men were given.

In my entire four-year education at Dartmouth College, no one ever discussed marriage and/or family. In fact, the only lecture I ever attended on family life was a panel of women gathered together to discuss the "child-free" position. I left the building that typically freezing night, pulled my not-chic down jacket tightly around myself, and felt about as much connection to those women as I might have had if Jane Goodall had come to talk about her life with the chimps. It was definitely interesting to me that these women and the college felt compelled to organize a panel to defend the position not to have children, but I didn't relate to it on a personal level. It was honestly like I didn't know I was a member of the same gender, that I was also a woman, that they were discussing something I myself would have to face. I was, first and foremost, a worker, a "doer". But good for those ladies that they gave all that family stuff so much consideration.

"I think you're going to want to be with your baby," the woman in charge said from behind her desk.

"Well, sure, I mean, of course... but... this is such a great show and... and..." And I'd been playing comedy clubs in New York and Los Angelos making $35 a set. This was a job to co-anchor a talk show on television. I would have said just about anything to get that job. Plus, I really did believe that I would push the baby out, feed it, and step right back on the conveyer belt.

My prospective employer called another producer in to meet me and we talked a bit more about what they were expecting and the scope of the show. Although I made it a point to mention that I'd done stand-up in Guam, to illustrate my adventurous spirit, I pretty much knew we were treading water in that room.

"That was totally sexist," I told my husband later. "How does she know how I'm going to feel?

"They would never say that to a man who's wife was having a baby in a week." (And yes, I spoke in italics.)

"She may actually have a point," he said, "maybe she has a child."

"Women in business are the worst," I said, cutting him off, characteristically running with my latest paranoid thought, "it's all this 'I really understand you' stuff but really, it's just, I don't know, they never really want you to do better than..."

CUT TO THE DELIVERY ROOM.

After 20 hours of unsuccessful labor where my cervix opened zero centimeters, I am lying on a thin metal table with a curtain over my stomach. There's some squishing going on behind the fabric and sounds of gurgling and then a feeling like something is being pulled out of what I can only assume is my stomach. And then I hear it. The most ferocious cry I have ever heard live. In a flash I am sobbing, I must feel that tiny creature in my arms, on my skin, immediately.
"GIVE HIM TO ME!" I scream, in a voice I had been unsuccessfully trying to uncover in a decade of acting classes playing various heroines of Greek tragedy.

"HE IS CRYING BECAUSE HE NEEDS HIS MOTHER!!" I shriek, my voice emanating from my vagina, the only part of my lower half still in tact. I do not consider that the baby is crying because all babies cry when they are slapped in to consciousness. This baby is crying because he is my baby and he needs to be held by me and only me. My husband places him on my chest and with a terrifying lack of irony I confess here that I have never, ever been so moved in my whole life. Holding his entire body in my two hands, I then launch in to a highly bizarre stream of consciousness monologue, using another voice previously unfamiliar to me, a small, breathless, almost Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday Mr. President" voice.

"It's you... it's you," I say, desperately to communicate through my tears, "You came, you're really here, you didn't want to come out, but you came and you're here, let me give you a kiss..." and then I put my boy in the crook of my neck where I decide he will stay.
For the rest of his life.

Needless to say, this would not have been a very telegenic look for a co-anchor behind a desk. Opinionated me, even after my husband suggested it I still never considered that my female interviewer knew what she was talking about.

That boy is now eight years old and I am (mostly) pleased to report that he does not live on my neck. I did eventually start working again, but in the beginning I found I was much more interested in a vocation I could pursue while he was napping. Creating a life around the sleeping habits of a tiny male? Oh no, I found myself obsessing in the wee hours on those rare nights when I didn't pass out, how am I going to live up to my ninth grade potential living like this? And by "like this" I mean being a mother in the trenches day in and day out. I had no idea.

I still don't.

On some days, despite the giggles, and hugs and crazy amount of love my (now) two boys hurl at me, this fear feels beyond awful. Like I've squandered something "important," the word potential hanging over my head, mocking me as I plead with my son to eat something green other than a holiday M&M. But thank God these moments pass, often when someone else is playing with my children and I see them from a slight distance and realize, given all my "potential" how very lucky I was to be invited to the motherhood party at all.