A Day in the Life of a Working Mom
By Deborah Rycus
"Mommmmmmmmy! It's the daytime!" My three-year-old son throws open the bedroom door dressed and ready for "school," the name we've given his daycare since he started as a twelve-week-old infant.
A whirlwind of thoughts fly through my already jumbled brain: "Daytime? What's today? Am I doing pick-up or drop-off? Why am I still in bed?" It hits me when I open my eyes and spot my packed gym bag on the floor. Once again, I've succumbed to the allure of the snooze button and missed my chance for a pre-work workout. My husband is taking Max in today, which means I'm on pick-up duty. I groan because I know I've wasted my only "alone time" opportunity today on a few extra minutes of sleep.
During the commute, I'm bothered by the thought that if I'd gotten up on time today, not only would I have had one more workout under my belt, I'd also have missed all the rush hour traffic. The feeling's kind of a regret-mixed-with-guilt, and one I quickly got used to as a working mom. The regret part comes from the knowledge that most of my mom friends are at home right now, getting ready for a day of togetherness with their kids. The guilt's for the fact that even if we could afford it, I'd never choose to stay home full-time.
There, I've said it. From what I understand, there are lots of working moms who feel the same way--we all just feel too bad to say it out loud. I console myself with the thought that the traffic gives me time to put on my make-up, and there's always a chance I can sneak out for a workout at lunchtime.
I hit my desk and crash into gear. Before I know it, I'm swept up into the familiar sea of phone, email, meetings, and deadlines that will continue until I "pull the cord" and dash out to pick up my son at daycare. And here's where the mental component of working and being a mom comes into play. I noticed the day I returned from my maternity leave that being a working mom is a little like having one of those soap opera roles where you're actually playing two characters. Playing the part of the employee is me: nicely dressed, competent, and professional. The one who makes things happen and never, ever lets you think she's any less focused than before she stepped into Labor and Delivery.
Pre-mom, I was a die-hard office late-nighter, often bragging that I got my best work done after most people went home. Now, the close of the workday is tough, since there always seem to be a few more things I could accomplish to get myself into position for a better morning the next day. I could swear the clock moves twice as fast between the hours of 4 and 5 p.m. as I do the wrap-up, the desk clean, and sprint out the door.
Walking into Max's classroom at day's end is always a lift--today they're playing the animal matching game and he's covered with the remnants of lunch, an art project, or both. He's usually patient for the car-ride home, a 40-minute trip that goes something like this:
Me: "Max, what did you do today?"
Me: "What did you play?"
Max: "I don't know."
I know he's had a long day too, so I usually try to take it easy on the line of questioning, even though learning tidbits about his day is one way I get to feel closer to him while I'm at work.
Which brings me to the second working mother role, that employee's alter ego, Supermom. She's always armed with a holster full of playdate appointments (for weekends and the occasional vacation day), the latest research on immunizations and, of course, advice on everything from starting table food to designing a potty chart. She takes the occasional half-day for some afternoon zoo time with her child (cell phone on and emails mounting) and spends the whole time wondering if the stay-at-home moms there can tell she's not really one of them.
The reality of this double life is that I'm neither of those people I pretend to be. I love being a mom and I love having a career with an outlet for adult interaction, so why all the pretending? It comes down to pressure: mostly the kind we put on ourselves. Tell me you can't have a successful career and be a good mom, and I'll go to whatever lengths it takes to prove you wrong. Every time a mom friend decides to stop working, I spiral into the familiar guilty place that inevitably leaves me asking myself the question: "Am I selfish to want to work?"
Several hundred Matchbox car crashes and one sudsy bath later, we come to my favorite part of the day: bedtime stories. I'm intoxicated by the smell of Max's Baby Magic curls and filled with pride over his love of literature (okay, I realize he's mostly just stalling for bedtime). I tuck him under his cloud sheets and helicopter comforter, then play the "one more kiss" game until I get serious and turn off the light. I leave him with a reminder that tomorrow is Mommy's day to take him to school, and laugh because our exchange keeps going as I walk down the stairs:
Who I am, in reality, falls somewhere between the two roles I play each day. The real me actually straddles both worlds; coming late to important meetings because the pediatrician finally called about Max's rash. Or calling every store in the phonebook (on company time) to find the last Buzz Lightyear costume in the city. This combo-character is the one I try to keep hidden.
The price of this crazy ruse is the quarterly "breakdown," as my husband and I have come to call it. That's where I question everything, starting with my hairstyle and working down the list. There are usually tears and lots of reminders that what makes me truly happy is having the love of my family along with the gratification I get from career successes. The breakdown feels good, and is almost refreshingly necessary for me. I take a deep breath, re-pack the gym-bag and prepare to jump back into my double-agent life the next day.
About the Author
Deborah Rycus is a wife and mother of a toddler in Ohio. She is also a marketing copywriter and freelance journalist.