Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

My Job

7 a.m.: Time to wake up and get ready for my job.

I roll out of bed and into the shower. Ron feeds 6-month-old Ben while I wrestle with the curling iron. I’d laid out my clothes the night before and set out cereal bowls and boxes. By 8:30, Ron, Benny and I are washed, dressed, fed and out the door.

After dropping Ron off at the office, I head for my job -- grocery shopping today. Then I’ll do laundry (Benny’s wearing a torn shirt and a pink bib) and wash the car..

Yup, I’m a stay-at-home mom, living a life filled with sloppy hugs and suspicious odors (“Ewwww ... is that the cat? The kid? Or me?”). No schedules, no deadlines, no meetings. Personal chores like eating, showering and trashy-novel-reading could be accomplished at a mother’s convenience.

A mother’s what? There is no mother’s convenience. My baby’s paranormal Spidey sense can detect a book opening three rooms away. Tooth barely meets chocolate donut before an outraged wail resounds from the bedroom.

Oh sure, there’s plenty of flexibility. Which is why I used to find myself cowering in a darkened living room on a sunny afternoon, wearing day-old sweats and picking dust off Benny’s feet. A bottle ... baby’s bath ... a quick laundry load ... and it’s 4 p.m. and I haven’t gone to the store or even opened the drapes. Guess it’s takeout pizza for dinner again.

I was baffled. After all, I was once a newspaper editor juggling multiple deadlines. Now I couldn’t crawl two feet from my front door for the daily paper. What was wrong with me? Why could I handle a job, but not motherhood?

Ouch! Yes, I heard you. I know I’m doing The Most Important Job in the World. This is undeniable. Then I realized: Of course motherhood is a job, but I wasn’t treating it like one.

I understood how to function in the work world. I knew that unless I consistently washed clothes, bought hair products and ate breakfast, I’d show up to work looking like a blonde Woody Allen on speed. So I picked up my dry cleaning, sliced bagels, polished shoes, cleaned out purses. I kept the house marginally clean so I could find my car keys and leave on time.

But how was I showing up for motherhood each morning? Was I prepared to raise America’s Future? Well, the answer wasn’t pretty. A quick check of five pre-requisites to a professional performance yielded the following:

Grooming: Missmatched hairclips hold up my scraggly locks until I can shower during Ben’s morning nap. If he takes one. If it lasts more than 10 minutes. If I’m not derailed by a thousand another necessary chores. At 3 p.m. I give up and slap on a baseball cap. Must hunt and forage for food. I brush my teeth while packing Ben’s diaper bag. I file my nails at red lights on the way to the grocery store.

Clothing: Start the day in ragged sweats and spitup-stinky shirt.. Plan to change after shower (see above.). Upgrade to wrinkled khakis and faded t-shirt for my supermarket audience.

Meals: Breakfast is a cold dinner roll and leftover Gerber’s squash. Lunch is a bag of Oreos (gobbled while driving home from the grocery store) and a bottle of iced tea.

Organizational skills: Can’t find the paper towels. Can’t find the TV remote. Can’t find the cat. Buy giant bale of name-brand Ultra-Trim Leak Guard Moisture System, size 3. Go home and trip over unopened megapack of identical diapers in baby’s room.

Professional development: Log onto baby web sites while Ben chews my mouse pad. Read parenting magazines at bedtime. (“Recent studies indicate that the educational value of fig-filled cookies is greatly .... “ Zzzzzzz.)

True, Ben looks healthy, happy and sort of clean, so I’m succeeding at my job, right? Well, sure, but at what unnecessary cost? I’ve worked at jobs with inadequate resources and impossible deadlines. You can’t keep it up. You gotta quit the job or change your work habits, or one day your coworkers will find you huddled beneath your desk, gnawing on computer cords for a cheap thrill.

Many stay-at-home mothers claim, justfiably, that their work is undervalued. But sometimes that’s because we ourselves undervalue it. We never ask: What do I need to do my best work? The answer is simple. We need the same things our partners need so they can haul that lumber or type those HR memos without going crackers. We need adequate food and rest as well as appropriate clothing, grooming, professional development and -- of course -- a little stress relief.

So here I am at my job, writing this while Ben naps. The house is marginally clean, my cat is sunning on the windowsill and my shirt matches my pants. It’s after 5 p.m., but I’m not punching a time clock. Tonight Ron and I will dine on my patented Hamburger Excitement, made from the ground beef I bought today.

And Ron will feed the baby while I pursue some professional development: a pedicure. My kicky new sandals oughta be a real hit at baby music class. Although last week Benny cried during the opening song, then gnawed on a banjo for thirty minutes. So, maybe we’ll go, maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll go to the park instead. It all depends on a mother’s convenience.

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