Thursday, March 8, 2018

Career Choices as a Woman and Mother

Happy International Women's Day! I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a woman, and a mother, and to work and juggle everything, and to still have wild and crazy dreams I'd love to chase if only I weren't so tired. ;)

Are you watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? We were a little late to the party, mainly because I assumed that it was a total chick show and that J would despise it, but I was wrong. It wasn't until we were once again in that weekly slog between Homeland episodes and had fully exhausted Shetland that I finally said to J, "Turn on that Mrs. Maisel show on Amazon. The pink one with all the little sparkles around the title." We were skeptical.

But wow! That pilot is one of the best pilots I've ever seen. It's funny and sharp and quick and I was also very curious to watch it because a bunch of the women I worked with at Nordstrom (past tense, we'll loop back around to that, I promise;) told me I was just like Mrs. Maisel. "You basically are her," one of my co-workers professed. "She is you." Got it.

So there I am watching the pilot and Mrs. Maisel is adorable. She has very fair skin and dark hair. She's chatty and quirky and clearly doesn't mind being the center of attention, but the similarities seem to end there. She's also completely on top of things, and hopping out of bed to wash her face after her husband has fallen asleep, and her outfits are chic and very well put together and she is not at all a hot mess like me. So I'm puzzled. I really am. Was that the impression I had given my coworkers? Surely not!

HA! Then the real point of the show is revealed and Mrs. Maisel is swigging wine straight from the bottle and I looked at J and said, "Okay, I'm seeing it now."

**SPOILER ALERT** Stop reading if you don't want anything from the show given away. Go and watch the first three episodes (because that's as far as we've gotten) and come right back!

So, I may not have been left by my husband on the eve of Yom Kippur when we were hosting the Rabbi, or even be Jewish for that matter, but Mrs. Maisel and I share something. I suffered and plummeted into hot-mess-despair-dom just like Midge after we left Zurich. Of course, I was pregnant the first six weeks back in the US, so I wasn't drinking wine straight from the bottle, or at all. But once Theo was born and our breastfeeding was established, I became the cliche wine-o mom. In Minnesota all booze - beer, wine, spirits - is sold in the liquor store. Initially J would stop into the liquor store and buy a bottle, then a couple. Then we started buying the supersize double bottles. And finally, we just said screw it and started buying wine by the box. I mean, we didn't want to go in there more than once every week or ten days, you know? Sigh. That was such a very dark time. Thankfully I'm able to joke about it now.

So there I am watching Midge do stand-up and it's just making my heart explode and ache at the same time because it has always been my dream-that-I don't-talk-about to do stand up; ever since I was in 8th grade. It is something I think about quite a bit, but don't talk about or take any concrete actions toward doing. I'm not really sure why. Maybe because I have two kids, and a marriage and work and the last time I was in a play or did acting classes or anything on stage was in 2009, before we moved to Zurich? Maybe I - no, definitely - I didn't realize how having children and becoming a mother would change everything. So here I am nine years later, feeling quite amazed.

One interesting aspect of Mrs. Maisel is that it's very anachronistic. It's almost like a modern show, peppered with phrases circa 2018 like, "You got this" and "Who does that?" but stylized to the year 1958. It seems that this is done in order to emphasize the commentary on women's places in society then and now, and to highlight how far we've come. But it also serves to highlight how far we've gotten off track. When Midge complains about the parenting book and feels like a failed mother, that is completely modern. Parenting as a verb and the pressure to parent well are some of the ways we've screwed ourselves as we have progressed. But I'm loving the show. It really makes me think.

When I realized that the actress who plays Mrs. Maisel is the same actress that played the train wreck Rachel in House of Cards, I was blown away. Note that I do not have striking similarities to the train wreck character. Hot messes can be charming. Train wrecks typically are not! She is literally unrecognizable between the two roles. Glad we cleared that up.

Ah, so back to the whole job as a woman and mother thing. This one has been a long, interesting, confusing and illuminating saga. When our plans to go back to Europe fell through last summer, J and I both went into scramble mode, naturally. Almost immediately - the same day! J was offered a fabulous job. Phew! But I also felt like I should have a job. We were also scrambling to find a house and to figure out where Coco would go to kindergarten. It was a really chaotic time. So in the midst of all that, two things came up. A part-time long-term French sub at a local high school. And a friend asked me to apply to work with her full-time at the Chanel counter at Nordstrom. The pay was similar, but the benefits and schedules were much different. Of course, then we found ourselves in the whole conundrum of pay vs childcare costs and schedule and drop-off and pick-up times. Everything was happening so fast. We were making big decisions at the drop of a hat. The Nordstrom job made mornings easy and meant I could have breakfast with the kids and drop them off at school. J had more flexibility in the afternoons, so all in all it wasn't asking too much extra help of my mom. I decided to go for it.

I was working for Chanel, a brand I love, and working with friends who I really enjoyed, so there were a lot of fun things about it. I got to go on a few fun trips to LA and Seattle for training! But the irregular schedule and different schedule every week and the evenings and weekends were miserable. It was not a good fit for our family. After Thanksgiving, I asked to go part-time and my request was granted. But much to my surprise, with evenings and weekends still looming large, being part-time didn't make a bit of difference. It also meant losing all the potential benefits. Nothing felt right.

So I kept looking for other things and then all of a sudden, I got a maternity cover through the end of the school year as a Student Support Specialist with the local school district. And here I am! I work with high school students helping them recover credits needed for graduation and with virtual learning through online classes. While the majority of my job is done at a desk (a very cool desk that can be sitting or standing, I might add!) I do make trips out to the three schools on my caseload each week and meet with students, counselors and teachers. Overall, I'm pleasantly surprised. It's pretty fulfilling and interesting.

When I first started training about a month ago, I was swimming in Excel madness and doing Pivot Tables and really intricate formulas I'd never worked in before. The email inbox seemed to never stop accumulating new emails and I was exhausted from all of the learning. But now the woman I'm filling in for is on her leave and I'm in the role 100% and feeling super confident. It feels so good to get praise and compliments from my Assistant Principal and Department Lead. I love being in a workplace where I'm valued and my talents are recognized and where I have weekends and evenings off. My schedule is 7:30-4 and I work with some very smart, capable people. It's really working out for now!

But I do feel like I see my kids less. I miss our breakfasts together and when I get home at 4:15, they're tired from their days. As the days get longer, we'll be able to go to the park, but with snow and ice still on the ground and cold weather, it's kind of drab time of the day to be with them. We have dinner all together and I'm there for their bath and bed, which I'm very grateful for. And the job I'm in is a ten month contract, which means any day there's no school, I don't work either. (I'm looking at you, spring break!) Still, full-time does feel like a lot. The blog has gone on the very, very, very back burner and I worry we'll overburden my mom, who has the kids every morning starting at 7:15.

If there is one thing I can say for sure, it's that life a woman and mother is tricky! It's hard to find work that fits in with our families, and yet through my time as a mother, I have come to realize that staying at home isn't the easiest thing for me either. I like the routine and structure of working. I like getting ready and putting on outfits and presenting my best self to the world. I enjoy interacting with co-workers and other adults. For some reason, those pieces didn't always come together when I was at home. In Zurich, where it is completely unacceptable to wear yoga pants outside of a yoga studio or the privacy your own home, it was better. The pressure to wear outfits and makeup was there. But here, where all the moms go to drop off in yoga pants, it has been a lot harder.

So that's where I'm at on International Women's Day this year. Nothing is set in stone. I have a new job, but it's a temporary position. Maybe something else will come up. Maybe the woman I'm filling-in for will find herself in the same mother's conundrum with her baby and infant daycare costs and placements and decide to stay home longer. Anything could happen! But regardless, it all feels like progress. I'm happy to be moving onward and upward, wherever that may be. Maybe one of these days, I might even get to an audition or two. I'm telling you, chasing wild and crazy dreams is possible. It could happen. I refuse to stop believing that.

Are you a working woman and mother? How do you juggle these different aspects of your life? What makes you feel empowered and supported as a woman, or mother, or both? I hope you're having a wonderful day for International Women's Day today! And if you made it this far, thank you for reading my novella. ;) xoxo

(Photo via Amazon)
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