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May 23, 2006

No Mom Left Behind

Two months ago, I went from being a drive-around-all-day, part-time consulting, full-time volunteer, traveling-around-the world-conference-spouse, alleged "stay-at-home" mom to re-entering the working world.  You know, the one where people actually pay you on a regular basis.  I went back to work full-time work cold turkey--no gradual re-entry through a part-time job for me, no sir.  My son entered Kindergarten in the Fall, so it seemed like a natural progression for me to start thinking about going back to work.

Four years ago, when I decided to quit my job as a lawyer and stay home, my mom said to me, "You have $100,000 worth of education inside your head...and you want to stay home and change poopy diapers?  Are you kidding?"  Thanks for your support, Mom.  $100,000 worth of education or not, the tipping point for me was going to pick up my 6 month old baby at daycare and seeing him sit up for the first time, only to be told, "oh yeah, he's been doing that for weeks" by the babysitter.  That, plus the time that I was so consumed by thoughts of the argument I'd just had with a faculty member at the university I worked for that I drove right past the babysitter's house and was halfway home before I hysterically realized that I forgot to pick up the baby. 

I admit, the first few months at home, I was bored out of my skull and contemplated going back to work.  Not that my baby wasn't the most precious, most adorable, most well-behaved child on earth (mostly).  Not that I didn't love just looking at him and noticing every detail of his growth (usually).  Not that housekeeping and going to the parks to hang out with the Chinese nannies in my neighborhood wasn't a blast (sometimes).  I missed the whole routine of having to be somewhere, of wearing clean clothes, and mostly, adult conversation.  I started going to classes and signing us up for all kinds of activities that he was way too young to understand, but I just needed to be out of the house and doing something.  We happened on a mom-baby class that led us to PreSchool Family, which was full of wonderful moms who were in the same boat as I was.   I found my niche and made some great friends there and the next few years flew by.  I also got involved in the Parents' Club of Palo Alto & Menlo Park (PAMP) where I met the esteemed founders of this blog.

Going back to work after four years away from the workforce has been an adjustment.  The first two weeks were kind of like the first two weeks after giving birth.  I literally came home one day and retreated to the bedroom with a cold compress on my head murmuring, "what have I done?  what have I done?"  over and over until my husband threatened to call the paramedics.  Then, one night, a miraculous thing happened.  A friend, let's just call her SuperMom, called and said, "I made dinner for you.  When can I bring it over?"  Not, "Can I make dinner for you?"  which I would have declined out of the guilt of being too lame to cook or order take-out for my own family.  SuperMom came by with her magic pan of lasagna, which we ate for 3 days in a row, salad, bread, and a hug.  I nearly wept with joy.

My parents came for a visit during week two, and they did what they did after my son was born--they cooked, they cleaned, they gardened, they entertained my child, they were Super Granny and Super Grampy.  They had a great time, while I fretted that I would not remember anything I learned in law school or during my 15 year career as an attorney, and would be fired in a couple of days.  When they left, I wept.  I realized I needed my mommy.

After they left, I started to hit my stride at work and realize that I am still good at my job.  Coming home to a messy house and the inevitable question my husband and son ask me every night, "What are your thoughts about supper?" is another matter altogether.  Work is calm and soothing in comparison to the second shift, where the real chaos begins.  I have faith that we will work out the kinks in time, because we're a family and we always do. 

So for all of you stay-at-home moms who are feeling separation anxiety as your friend goes back to work, just let her know that you are there for her.  Offer--no insist--on bringing her dinner.  You don't have to cook it, just show up with a roasted chicken in a bag from Safeway and she will be eternally grateful.  Working moms, sneak out for coffee with your stay-at-home friends.  E-mail them lame jokes you get from your coworkers. Let them know that they are valued.   I'd like to call this the "No Mom Left Behind" movement.  Having been on both sides, I can attest that no one has it easy.  We all love our families and do the best that we can.  Stay-at-home Moms, rise up and support your sisters in the workforce!  Working moms, rise up and support your sisters on the homefront!  Let's call a cease fire in the Mommy Wars!  We're all too busy and too tired to fight anyway.