10/08/2013 03:20 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Mother of All Realities

I've been downgraded. I'm not talking about the fact that my second child moved on to college, reducing my title to When-I-Need-You mom. I'm talking about being let go from two part-time jobs in the past five years and not because of down-sizing. That's right, at 53, selling knickknacks and sweeping hair might be skills beyond me.

I had a career before kids. I was a creative design manager and a vice president of a small shopping guide from the mid eighties to late nineties. If I remember correctly, I washed my hair every day, wore heels and strutted down corporate street. Then kids came along. My true calling dialed my number. I answered. My nine to five went back around to nine again. My job description: diapers, preschool parties, PTA. My title: self-appointed CEO of all mothers (I was an over-achiever). This career goes by fast.

You there, young mom smelling of regurgitated applesauce, it will happen to you, too. Those little schmucks will grow up despite your best effort to stunt their growth. They will go off and become incredible young adults flourishing in life because you were once a mother like no other. And then what?

My what came in the form of finding a part-time assistant managerial job in a gift shop selling tea towels, scented candles and tin signs about girlfriends and their drinking habits. Retail management is all about dotting the i and crossing that t. Your performance is measured every evening in the form of a spread sheet. I couldn't even count the quarters correctly. For many years prior to selling knickknacks I had been kissing a sleepy, but breathing kid goodnight to let me know I'd done a good job.

After nine months, this learning curve, like gestation, ended when the owner said I could move to occasional weekend help because I kept forgetting to enter merchandise into the system and I used green moss instead of the Spanish kind for orchid arrangements. No thanks, I said. I can do better. So I left with the owner gladly holding the door open for me.

This naturally meant the next stop would be a hair salon. I replaced my daughter's friend who worked there over the summer. I greeted customers. I swept hair. I answered the phone. I swept hair. I lugged out the trash. I swept hair.

I swept hair better than I sold knickknacks, but I still made errors learning the computer system. A year later the owner asked if I wanted more hours. I politely told her I'd prefer to keep my schedule as-is. She said that she'd work around me. Finding a skilled hair sweeper isn't as easy as it looks, you know. I came back from vacation to find an email that read, "Congratulations, you have the summer (and beyond) off. I have found someone who wants more hours. But, I can still cut your hair."

Was that a demotion? Was I fired? I'll never know. We're still friends on Facebook, sending smiley faces to each other when we post pictures.

Am I having a self-pity party because I chose to spend time creeping upstairs to put a tired toddler to bed rather than clambering up a corporate ladder? Absolutely not. Hindsight is nothing but information handed to you through time. At the time, staying home with my kids was what worked for me. My advice to my daughter? Don't expect any decision to be easy and don't be afraid of that.

But, getting back into the work force in midlife is humbling. Because now just as you're leaving your mom brain behind, your mid-life brain sneaks in. It's half the size of mom brain. Now you can't remember where you parked your car. You wet your pants when you sneeze. Who can sell garden gnomes or sweep hair with wet pants?

I know I'll find my niche. I found another hair stylist. I amassed some killer knickknacks at wholesale. Those two ingrates who dared to grow up? They come back all the time to remind their former boss that the biggest job I've held is the one I excelled at, and still love, the most.