Monday, August 07, 2006

What I have NOT bitched and moaned about a zillion times before

So it's time to focus on something other than the sad state of my children. So how about the sad state of my career? As I typed this and reached the end, I realized it's really not sad at all. huh. Go figure. Anyway...

A few years ago, I think I was in college at the time, my mom went to see a psychic. The psychic told mom that my career would have to wait for my family. Ha! That's rich! I mean, you'd think that if THIS is what she meant, she should have mentioned it. But I digress...

When I graduated law school I was working as a law clerk at the Juvenile Court in Cleveland. This was the job that saw me through two unsuccessful attempts at the Ohio bar exam. It was flexible in it's hours and allowed me time off to study and take the test again and again.

Now if you know anything about Juvenile Courts in this country, you will know that Cleveland's does not have a...ummm...great reputation. The court is large and it is overtaxed by juveniles and families who often have problems much bigger than any court system can handle. Because of this, they have a great need for people willing to work a demanding caseload and I was therefore able to get a lot of valuable learning experience while working there. But at $9 an hour, and law school loans coming due to the tune of $83,000 (take a moment and gasp, most people do), I needed to find a more promising employment option. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, who can tell anymore?), this all came to a head about the same time we bought our first house out in the boonies and I found out I was pregnant with Sam.

So, in an effort to streamline and focus my energies on finding that elusive "perfect job," I quit my job at the court and went to work for a local social services agency...still for $9 an hour but minus the forty-five minute drive into Cleveland (said local social services agency shall remain nameless to protect the innocent).

Let's just say that despite how good is sounded (community assistance specialist) it was not an ideal situation. I believe they expected legal services for the measly $9 an hour they were paying. And when such legal service were not forthcoming...and they found out I was employment was "separated." I LOVE that term...separated...when the truth is they fired my ass. Three days before my probationary period expired.

So there I was, January 2005, pregnant and unemployed in a new old house that needed repairs and required mortgage payments. We limped along financially for a couple months until I finally decided to apply for unemployment so as to avail myself of the magical financial hardship deferrment (available to those of us who find ourselves buried in educational debt and unceremoniously "separated" from our employment).

Unfortunately, in order to maintain unemployment benefits and the resulting deferrment status, I had to send out resumes, and go on interviews anywhere that responded favorably. Now let me set the stage for you, because here is where it gets comical.

Multiple phone calls, letters, and emails are exchanged. Everyone seems quite pleased and, "can't wait to meet you." Then you walk in with a blazer that barely buttons to disguise your growing belly and their jaws hit the floor. I'm not kidding you. I swear I should have taken a camera with me on some of those interviews. I knew there wasn't a chance in hell I was going to get hired even as I drove to each one, so I should have at least captured some of those moments for photo contests and such...I could have made millions recording the faces. Oh the faces were priceless! But I digress again...

I remember this one interview where the hiring attorney said to me, "I shouldn't say this, and you can probably sue me for it, but I can't hire you because I need someone immediately, not someone who is going to be taking six weeks maternity leave in the near future." When I mentioned I might not take a full six weeks maternity leave, or could work some from home, I was TOLD that six weeks is "what's best for you and the baby." You can imagine my outrage. I still remember the rant I let loose to my mom about the whole thing that afternoon...many f*** him's and god damn's were let fly.

You can also imagine my outrage when, sixteen months later, that same employer called to offer me a job and I, having spent fifteen months at home with a newborn and little to no adult interaction, jumped at the opportunity. Yes...I jumped at the opportunity. So much for my moral and ethical standards.

I had spent a total of twenty months unemployed. Fifteen of those months were with newborn Samuel. And I look back on those fifteen months and smile and miss my little baby boy. Partly because I fear I will never again have newborn baby experiences again, and partly because I am so far removed from those newborn experiences that I can dress them up and make them pretty...when they were really anything but.

For the most part I enjoyed my time at home. Except for the mind-numbing boredom, it was fine. I got a lot of crafting and reading and cleaning done. OK...I lie about the cleaning. I've never been one to do much cleaning. But I was more on top of the mountain of laundry during that time. Washing baby clothes constantly was actually fun for me. I love all those little outfits.

But I felt like a complete and utter failure as far as my career was concerned. I mean, here I was with a law degree...I FINALLY passed the bar exam after three tries...and I was a stay at home mommy with $83,000 in school loan debt. As if the pregnant interviews weren't enough of a blow to my ego, I was no longer pregnant and still couldn't find a job. And I was BORED.

I wish I could tell people I loved staying home and that I found the experience of being a stay at home mommy a rewarding experience. But I didn't. I was bored to tears...literally. Many many many tears. I wanted to be happy, but I wasn't. And I felt guilty that I wasn't happy. I had friends who would have given anything to be able to stay home with their kids. And I personally thought they were freaks. Not that their desire was weird...but I didn't have that same desire. Maybe I was the freak?

I'm not sure exactly when it happened. But after months and months of much teeth-gnashing and self-doubt, I realized that it really makes no difference what I long as I am happy.

That's right. My big revelation was this...I'm happy when I'm doing what makes me happy. Duh huh? But even doesn't matter what anybody else thinks about what makes me happy because they don't have to live my life. Can I have another duh please?

Yeah, stay at home moms have a great gig...if they think it's a great gig. I, however, did not think it was so great. Call me selfish...but if I had to listen to one more minute of baby talk I was going to stick pacifiers in my ears and run naked into the street singing "The Friendly Pirate Ship." It was insane. I was insane. And I felt GUILTY for feeling insane. I was supposed to love this shit. Everybody said so. What was wrong with me?

But you know what? Nothing was wrong with me. Some people are made to be lawyers and some are made to be stay at home mommies. I wouldn't want a stay at home mommy type person trying to represent me in court. So who the hell did I think I was trying to do their job? I was clearly delusional and not able to recognize my own limits.

I believed my mom when, while I was growing up, she said I could be anything I wanted to be. But I focused on the "be anything" part and didn't HEAR the anything "I want to be" part. I was trying to force myself into a role that I didn't want because I kept thinking, "I can be anything." No...I can be anything I WANT TO BE. That's the key. It took me decades to figure it out...that simple little thing. I have to want it in order to love it. It can't be forced on me by some societal pressure to conform to what is "right," or by my friends who would trade places with me in a heartbeat, or by my own feeling that my child can't be happy with anyone else but me.

My kid...he loves me no matter what. My husband...he just wants me to be happy. It's really not any more complicated than that.

All of us just spend so much of our time worrying about what everyone else will think. Who cares? Do they live in your house? So you get the silent (or sometimes not-so-silent) judgment from other mothers. So what? Will the world stop turning if Jane down the street doesn't think you should go to work?

Oh, how did I get on my feminist soapbox?

So here I am. In a job with a boss I initially had nothing but contempt for. Turns out, he's a pretty nice guy and a pretty good boss. The job doesn't pay as well as some legal jobs I could probably hunt and kill for. But I have chosen to make trade offs in my career so that I could have evenings and weekends with my family. A very wise friend said to me, "They're only little once and I'm sure you don't want to look back and feel like you missed it all." And she's right. So I work here at the prosecutor's office in Podunk, USA. I like my work, so that definitely helps. And the people are mostly nice. Generally, the ones I don't like are the lawyer types I have chosen not to be. So how's that for positive reinforcement of my decision making?


kate said...

83K in loans? Plus the home renovation? Sheesh, girl, you make me feel better about my own financial nightmare!!

Truly, i don't even understand the 'mommy wars'. Being a SAHM is not for everybody. I love my days at home but i love working too, so i am very lucky that i have the ability to send Chloe part-time. (I don't think i make a very good 100% SAHM either -- i get a little loony.) But everybody loves their kids and does the best they can for them, so why do we have to judge and point at other people's choices? We all know that what works for one family doesn't work for another...

Sherry (Hallesmom) said...

Sounds like your career is where you want it to be right now - a place to use that lawyer side of your brain, but with time left for your family and yourself :) Nothing at all wrong with that. You are so right that not everyone is meant to be at home with their children (or anyone's children). But that's what makes the world go round :)

Lisa P. said...

I love this post, Catherine. I think that I am coming to the realization that, despite years of trying to push myself into a "career woman" mode, I am not one. Perhaps I may take some simpler jobs over the next few years just to keep my people skills up, but I don't think I want a career (clearly, the way I've skipped and jumped between jobs and industries says that most about me) and wish that people understood that about me.
I admire you for being in what I consider to be one of the most challenging careers and knowing it's good for you! This world allows for so many choices, and everyone should be able to make the one that's right for them without getting hassled.

Hedda said...

YOu and I sound a lot alike. I know I am not a SAHM type. That's Why I am home now and Connor is in daycare. I miss working more than I ever thought I would. I hope school keeps me busy. Just don't know what I will do after I finish school.

R said...

"You know your child needs the socialization of being with other kids during the day."

"Oh, your poor child! Someone else is raising him!"

Either way, you can't win. The mommy wars are lame. If I posted on my blog I had 1/4 of a glass of wine last night I don't know what would happen.

Kudos to you.

Sarah said...

Sounds like you made good decisions. I think trusting your instincts is hard sometimes, but it sounds like you finally got to a place where you could meld the things that were important to you. I don't think it's crazy at all!

Penultimatina said...

Kate, I can relate to this post so much, especially with all the bs remarks I've been getting about returning to work full time in two weeks. Being at home makes me numb. I really have to force myself to get off the couch and go outside on the days I'm on kiddo duty.

I think of it this way: most folks who are good at playing with little kids for 10 hours straight would really hate having to lecture for six hours about alliteration and allusions. Thus, it really does take a village.

Aurelia said...

I've worked outside and inside the home with kids, and went crazy both ways for very different reasons. In ten years of mommy wars, I've only met one woman who truly loved staying home with her kids, and never once found it boring. Everyone else worked at home doing SOMETHING, or had a FT nanny and didn't actually take care of her own kids. If you can be a lawyer and see your kid, you're very lucky. Every lawyer I know has 2 nannies and works round the clock, in billing hell. Your job is a true exception....