It was my dream job, the one I imagined while I sat in meetings sipping tepid coffee out of a styrofoam cup: I want to be a stay-at-home mom and writer.
“It will be great!” I mused to my husband. “Don’t you want all your laundry done, a hot meal, and clean house?”
He rolled his eyes.
“I’ll work too!” I told him. “I’ll need something else to do anyway. I’ll write and edit from home,” I said, picturing myself sipping a cup of coffee and flexing my creative muscle while my child played quietly at my feet.
The driven, perfectionist side of me believed I could be at home all day, cook a hot meal, keep a clean house, find time for hobbies, laundry and meet deadlines.
Those were the lies I told myself pre-children.
But I am a “Yes” person, finding it hard to turn down freelance jobs … mainly to prove to myself that I can do it all and do it all well.
Then I began working from home. My son was 4 months old, and I had a phone interview. In addition to my research preparation and list of questions, I had a spread-out blanket on the floor beside me, a myriad of chewed-on toys that jingled and made music, a bottle and three pacifiers for good measure. I was leaving nothing to chance.
Once on the phone I was confident that, put to the test, my child would be great.
I asked the first question in my list and the person on the phone launched into an explanation which I furiously scribbled down on a pad while keeping one eye on my child.
And my baby, well, he projectile vomited all over me, the floor, himself. On the first question.
One tiny, helpless human being was difficult, yes, but then when I found out a second helpless human was on the way—the first only 7 months old—I panicked. But the second was born, and I was even more determined to do it all, be it all. Maybe even while wearing a dress and makeup?
“Wouldn’t it be even more impressive if I took on more work and responsibilities while raising two children under the age of 2?” These were questions I asked my subconscious, as I told clients “Yes” in the same breath.
“Yes, I’d love to edit monthly copy for you.”
“Sure, I can fill in this month.”
“Next month? Well, yes. That’d be fine.”
“Oh, that story sounds like it’d be fun. Yes, I’ll accept the assignment.”
“Yes, writing product copy would be great!”
I was Rosie the Riveter! I could be it all! The consummate professional, maternal goddess, Martha Stewart, made-up wife.
But my life is far from Pinterest-worthy. It’s 11:30 a.m. as I type this. I am wearing Christmas pajama pants with a T-shirt—my husband’s undershirt he wore yesterday, because it smells good. Forget the bra; I haven’t gotten that far yet. And likely won’t, if I’m being honest. But here I am, pounding out the words on my keyboard for a story well before its deadline.
My third cup of coffee was consumed by 9 a.m. It coincided with my son’s third timeout. I’ve wiped more runny noses so far than typed words. Both children are currently wearing diapers and little else—it’s easier to change them that way—and vestiges of their breakfast yogurt remain in the corners of their mouths and the crevices of their hands.
Last night’s dishes litter the counter. A host of half-empty water glasses and coffee cups surrounds my computer desk. Graham cracker crumbs litter the floor around me from the children “quietly playing” at my feet. And when I get up, I trip over a singing teapot.
Some days—hell, most days—I let my children watch too much television—the same “Daniel Tiger” and “Sesame Street” episodes on Netflix. It is the only way I get actual paying work done sometimes.
Then it’s finally nap time—time for me to get a good chunk of work done! But I’m exhausted. So I choose sleep for an hour … until a child cries out. I’ll work later. You know, when I’m supposed to be cooking dinner.
And when I’m particularly busy, dinner turns into a handful of out-of-the-can almonds and often the discarded food on my children’s plates. Maybe a stray grape or half a sandwich if I’m lucky. All this as I sit with a pen in my hand and a stack of copy on my lap.
I am not a total loss: minus the dirty faces in the morning, my children are well-loved, well-fed, well-tended, well-disciplined. I religiously take them to the zoo, story time, the park. We read books, sing songs.
I may not know how to turn down work, and I may not have it all—but my deadlines are met. Screw the mopping; I’ll peel the dinosaur stickers off the floor tomorrow!
Will I accept another story assignment or editing job if I’m offered one? …Yes. Probably. A deadline met gives me a fleeting sense of “I did it!” that doesn’t nearly as often come from raising children.
And, maybe tomorrow I’ll find the time to put on a bra?
No. Probably not.
… See? Maybe I can get the hang of this saying-no thing.