Career Choices as a Woman and Mother

March 8, 2018


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)

Join the conversation!

  1. Balancing all of this is so hard. I had a career I loved that was at a fork in the road, when I had my first child – I had taken a professional exam that qualified me for a rare position that would set me up nicely for decades of plausible success (only 40 people qualify each time the test is given, every four years; only 300 applicants every four years are permitted to take the exam in the first place) and I was waiting on my position to open up. It is a long wait, but more than long, it’s an indeterminate length of time – you find out that the position has become vacant again about a month in advance. But as the wait dragged on past , I knew I didn’t want to wait too long to start my family, especially because once the two-year job position was over, I would want to hit the ground running to maximize my use of the network I’d built – not immediately go on maternity leave. So I decided I would have the kid now, while I was waiting, and take the position when it came up later.

    Of course the position came open when I was six months pregnant! At first I thought maybe I would defer for a few months and re-enter the workforce in that position, but it was just too much. The job has extremely erratic hours and, once the baby was born, I could not imagine being gone overnight, early in the morning, late some nights, totally random hours but always long ones. It was just the wrong time. I reminded myself that the right job at the wrong time is the wrong job, and wondered what to do next.

    Fortunately I was able to create a pretty ideal position for myself in the end, by relying on my contacts. I work in theatrical scenic construction, and for most of my career I worked in Broadway theatres themselves. But those hours are very long and very unpredictable, and just not possible with a newborn or a young infant. So instead, I segued into a job a bit upstate at one of the shops that builds the scenery that eventually goes into the theatres. I didn’t want to be a project manager, since the stress is high and the hours are also long – but I approached the company and sold the idea of a hybrid job – me, with the skills and knowledge and industry contacts to be a project manager, but a slightly lower job responsibility (and easier schedule) so that I could be a catch-all assistant instead. This way I can manage small projects or oversee my colleagues’ projects when they go on vacation, but it’s also not disrespectful for them to ask me to, say, print out tons of drawings for them, or fetch coffee for their clients, or whatever. It’s a flexible job in exchange for a flexible schedule. I created a schedule that felt right for me – three days in the shop, four days home with my kid(s), additional hours billed from home when I bring paperwork with me.

    I feel really lucky. I get the best of all worlds – lots of time home with my kids, enough time away from them that I feel human, regular contact with my industry network that allows me to maintain my professional contacts. Truth be told, I prefer working in the theatres – it’s just more my style. Maybe someday I will go back to that. The great thing about the job I am in now is it leaves that option open – I didn’t just vanish from the industry when I had kids. I’m still here, still seeing people and talking to them, still being helpful. So if I ever am in a life situation where it makes sense to go back to the theatre side of things, it’s just a phone call away.

    And yet, even with all that, it’s still SO HARD. I feel guilty for not working more, not being able to stay until 9pm when something goes wrong. I feel guilty for leaving my kids. I feel like every day only happens by the skin of my teeth, whether it’s a work day or a home day.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really enjoyed this post Lindsey!

    I'm not a mother yet but as a midwife, I work full time shift work and often hear from women how hard juggling motherhood and work is. I really don't know how women do it (or, how I'll do it)! It seems as though most women are driven out of their professions due to lack of flexibility and not only suffer short term, but also long term in terms of superannuation. Despite all the progress women have made to gain equality, there is still plenty of room for improvement. It's not just the physical work either! It's the 'mental load' (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/gender-wars-household-chores-comic). If you haven't read it already, it's a great read.

    I think what i've learnt from the women I work with and my colleagues is that you have to have a good work life balance. Making the moments you're not at work count is important. Going for a walk together, a picnic, a movie, cooking with your kids etc. I also think it it's important to get out of the house even though it's tempting to stay at home over the weekend because we're tired. It's also important to take time for ourselves.

    Amongst all the chaos, I really think everything we do gets us where we need to be. I guess we all need to trust the timing of our lives more. I love that despite all the difficulties you have endured over the past four or so years, you never give up. Your determination will lead you to where you want to be :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Happy International Women's Day! You're a great person, wonderful writer and lovely and caring mother! May God bless you!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Okay, I just read your "spoilered" part since I finally watched the pilot of this show. Boy, do I ever understand you! I went through a period like this when I first moved out of the city, to the suburbs. I was still working in the city and commuting via train, and one of the 'perks' of this new commute (versus the subway) was that it's totally acceptable to have a beer on the train - little stands even sell drinks right on the platform! So I'd have a beer on my ride home, and to be honest, it was lovely - decompressing after a stressful day with a book and a beer.

    Then I'd get home, and the whole evening would stretch ahead of me. I'd cook dinner and we'd eat together, and then we'd watch TV, and my hand would feel so empty. So I'd have another beer.

    I'm not a big person. I'm only 5' tall! Two beers a night, most nights a week - it was too much. But even worse was the way I began to feel depressed if I COULDN'T have either of those beers - if I didn't have enough cash to buy my "train beer;" if we were out of beer at home. I knew that my feelings about the drinking were a warning sign.

    A big help for me was buying a Soda Stream. I LOVE seltzer but I rarely buy it because I have a hard time forking out money for what feels like "just water." (I don't like the flavored kind - just plain.) I really hate drinking water but I find a glass of seltzer SO delicious and relaxing somehow.

    I also started drinking barley tea again. For several years, I worked as the only American in a Korean company that had traveled here for a long-term project. They drink barley tea at seemingly every meal and the taste grew on me - cold in the summer, warm in the winter. In that period of my life I got into the habit of keeping a pitcher of barley tea in my fridge at all times, and so I started doing that again. It's wonderful - maybe an acquired taste, but now the subtle, nutty warmth of it feels so nostalgic and comforting to me that it's a really nice way to end a day.

    I do still have a beer, maybe five nights a week. But I keep it to one a night, no matter what! If anything else, I just tell myself that the money that goes into more than that is just not worth what it buys me.

    I really admire you for mindfully evaluating your potential jobs and their impact on your family. It's such a minefield and I know that at times it can feel almost impossible to make the right choice. You write so eloquently about balancing your passions and your strengths versus your home roles, and balancing all your conflicting desires against each other.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alexandra, your comments are always so wonderful! I love to read them with a cup of coffee and stop and think about the things you point out. THANK YOU! xoxoxo

      Delete
  6. Girl, I am barely surviving. My hours are 8:30-4:30, but I usually stay until 5. I feel lucky that I get to bring my kids to work with me and blow them kisses when we pass each other in the hall, but we get home and we're all tired and I have to make dinner and pack lunches and fold laundry and my husband does the dishes and baths, pjs, teeth and bed. It's just too much sometimes. I keep wondering when I am going to catch my breath!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. P.S. I really like that show. We have watched 4 episodes, I think, but have been too tired lately to watch more!

      Delete
    2. Oh I'm so relieved to hear all of this! Did you finish Mrs. Maisel? Wasn't it just the best?! xx

      Delete
  7. I need to to thank you for this great read!! I definitely loved every bit of it.
    I have got you book marked to check out new things you
    post…

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a long wait, but there is a new, really long post up! ;) Might be your kind of thing if you liked this one. xx

      Delete
  8. It seems to me that choosing a matriarch's career and a mistress is very complicated because this incredibly difficult work is almost invisible.

    ReplyDelete

Post Signature

Latest Instagrams

© SWISS LARK. Design by FCD.