I've just finished reading the new eBook anthology Welcome to My World, a collection of 13 essays written by mothers about work/life balance. I contributed a piece called "Robot Moms in the Closet," whereby I imagined a science fiction world where a mother could call upon various robot clones of herself to meet various needs at any given time. A few recurring themes weave themselves into the fabric of this book. They're themes of complications that the march of progress can't seem to erase, and their constancy speaks to the prevalence of these parenting issues. In short order:
After becoming a parent, kids take center stage, and if you don't work to retain a bit of yourself, there's nothing left to give them.
Also, sometimes it's impossible to put everything aside for your kids, and that needs to be OK, as Amy Reiter writes in her essay "Momming in the Middle." Reiter, a freelance work-from-home mother, adroitly paints a picture of how the boundaries between her work and family life become blurred. For example, at the very moment that she has to conduct an interview with a closely guarded celebrity, her young daughter comes barreling through the front door with a homemade art project/card thingy in tow to show her. Mom yells, daughter cries, and somehow, through the miracle of self-determination, one can presume that feelings are soothed and her deadline is met. Multiply this scene across a day and you might understand better the mother who's tapping away on her BlackBerry on the playground, or the mother who wants to make parent association meetings more efficient (mine recently had a 20-minute conversation about whether or not there should be soda allowed at a Halloween party that adults are paying to attend with their children). Reiter's piece is the one that most resonates with my own experience: trying to fit a working writer life around the edges of my kid's often abbreviated academic calendar. I wanted to pick up the phone and commiserate with her when I read and then reread this line from her essay: "Reality: That flexible schedule means I need to make every moment of the school day (free childcare!) count so I can get my work done in my woefully abbreviated day."
The different experiences that the moms lay out in Welcome to My World are surely groundwork for an atlas of modern motherhood. I feel privileged to have my own experience run alongside their truths. Whether working in an office or out of the home, whether work is defined by a paycheck or child-rearing domestic duties, each role has its ups and downs. Peeking into the (dirty) windows of other lives is an eye-opening reminder of the challenges that come with every stage of parenting, and with every personal work choice that seems to in some way define people.
It couldn't hurt to illustrate the constraints of being a working-from-home mom by admitting that on the morning of the day that I write this, I woke up at 4:30 and decided to stay awake to get some writing done before my 8-year-old woke up. It's Monday, and that would usually bring with it the relief of a quiet apartment and some hours to bang out some work. Today, however, there is no school because of a teacher in-service day. I'm glad his teachers are spending the day talking about how to improve their pedagogy around mathematics, but they also have a half-day on Friday and then next Monday is Columbus Day, which means I will have had three and a half days to work across a ten-day span, and it's not even Thanksgiving or Winter Break. The upside of being self-employed: I woke up at 4:30 a.m. at my parents' place in upstate New York and will take my kid apple picking today before heading back to the Big Apple. The drumming of my work pile will have to wait: the copywriting, the story pitching, that revision, and grading and class prepping from my adjunct post will have to happen after 9 p.m. tonight, unless Kid gets deeply involved in another Goosebumps book, which would buy me a few hours scattered throughout the day. (Postscript: he did not.)
I cherish these fleeting days, as every one of these mothers clearly do. Some of us have had to struggle with depression or financial woes or the stress of running one's own business, but all believe that children coming into our lives in one way or another has been our biggest blessing, a blessing that is most appreciated by women who also work toward self-care and personal preservation. Ultimately, this collection of essays reconfirms my suspicion that the Mommy Wars are a culturally fabricated hate frame upon which women hang themselves. In truth, if this is an accurate cross-section of mothers around the country, we are most often generous-spirited and non-judgmental, and in fact reverential to our peers on "the other side," where the grass is always greener. And for many of us there is no "other side," but only Momming in the Middle. We're in between worlds, beating ourselves up too much.