Friday, May 9, 2014

Mama's got a job to do

Ah, yes. Work. The job we do. At the moment, my job is a domestic engineer and grower of a small human.

But I have a not so well kept secret. I miss my job. I miss getting dressed up and being a working woman. I miss coworkers, I miss my awesome boss Sarah, I miss the sense of a job well done and getting to complete tasks, not like the laundry pile or the dishes, jobs which are only noticed when they are not done.  I miss a disposable income, I miss contributing, I miss being able to drop a casual twenty or fifty bucks on something cute in Sportsgirl.

It's always been a bit of a struggle getting me to work. Since Alex was born, and Richard went back to work, he's been my responsibility. Richard has a full time job that he can earn lots more than I ever could.  Plus, we have a conservative type of relationship, where the woman stays at home and the man goes to work.   Early on, I was so consumed by my Post Natal Depression and the challenges of being a mother, that I didn't try to work.  I left my job as a hotel receptionist in Barooga, and by the time I looked around and thought I might want to work, we were living in Shepparton.

So I dipped my toe back into the workforce.  I started doing temp work for two of the agencies around town, but there was always a problem.  Alex gets asthma when it's cold, he gets sick easily and has always seemed to pick up whatever's going in the daycare room.  Plus, he had terrible, terrible separation anxiety.  I hated the way that the carers had to peel him off me with him yelling "NO MUM, I WANT YOU!!"  I hated driving to a job, crying, imagining him sad and lonely, wanting his mum.  I was the mum who rang up to find out if he was ok, and was always assured with "yes, he settled down right away, he's playing happily now.".  I wanted to work, but most of the part time jobs were taken, and so I had two choices....temp work, or full time work.  Temp work was fantastic, and I really enjoyed going into different organisations, meeting new people and completing the tasks that they'd set.  But, Alex kept getting sick, and he never wanted to go to daycare.   I hated the constant guilt surrounding dropping him off for care.  I hated seeing kids during the day and thinking about him and missing him.  But I wanted to work, I wanted to be in the workforce.  So I pressed on.

I had a couple of terrible goes at working full time.  Either Alex got sick, or I did.  I ended up with pneumonia and Alex kept getting colds, chest infections, ear infections, school sores, conjunctivitis, scarlet fever, you name it, he got it.  Plus, the never ending fight to get him to daycare or over to a friend's place whilst I worked.  He never wanted to go, and as I'm a sensitive soul, I found that difficult.  It stressed me out, and I brought a lot of that stress into workplaces.  I felt constantly fearful that I'd get in trouble for having a child and wanting to look after him, even though most of the workplaces were child friendly and I'm sure they understood.  I remember a crazy, crazy, Saturday morning at Weight Watchers when Richard had to work and I took Alex along.  I brought enough entertainment paraphernalia to sink a battleship, but he was three and didn't like Mum paying attention to strange ladies and not listening to him.  He coloured briefly, he looked at his movie a bit, but mostly he made farty noises, whined and distracted me from my job.  I was almost apoplectic with rage afterwards and looking back, I see that I expected way too much from him and myself.  I wanted to work though, I wanted to show up and do a perfect job, but I also wanted to be the perfect mother. That's a lot of perfection, and of course, as often happens in my life, the resentment and fear combined until I had a spectacular meltdown and lost not only my job, but two very dear friends as well.

I did bits and pieces in Alex's first year of school, a friend put in a good word for me in a servo fast food place, and that went well until Alex got sick again and I became unable to balance the demands of working and his first year of school.  He went on the waiting list for a tonsillectomy and grommets, when it became clear that his illnesses were slightly beyond regular kids.  He missed 51 days of school that first year due to coughs, colds and infection.  I had a long break from work, until I thought I'd found the answer.....catalogue delivery! I only lasted a month, the process of folding and delivering was long and arduous, and it became easier to quit when I totaled my time spent, divided it by my paycheque, and realised that I was making about 50 cents an hour.

At the end of that year, a friend of a friend recommended me for a part time admin job.  The boss was awesome, the work challenging and varied, and the only fly in the ointment was that Alex had to go to after school care three days a week.  I didn't really see a problem, he'd been asking to go along and it was only three days a week.  The other two, I was free to pick him up.  I didn't start til midday, so I could do a little bit of housework and then go to work. I could do it all.  And it worked for a little while, until he started to get coughs and colds again.  He was having some attentional and learning problems that had started in Prep, so I was investigating those with the help of his amazing teacher, Rita S, and our paediatrician.  He was having sleep problems and was generally a bit of worrier.  Can't think where he gets it from!

My boss was amazing, and we arranged to each work a week of the school holidays.  That seemed like a good idea, but in reality, sucked hard, as Alex just wanted to chill out, relax and spend time at home. He'd had enough of other kids during the 9-5.30pm days he was doing, three days a week during school time.  He didn't want to go along and colour in, have a BBQ at Emerald Bank, dress up as a footy player.  We had a lot of tantrums in the carpark, and I had a lot of tears.  I was resentful and angry that I couldn't go to work as I wanted to.  I wished that I could just fly away, I wished that we had family closer, I wished that I could just leave the house like Richard did in the mornings.

Alex has a bit of a delicate constitution, and eventually became so run down by the long days in after school care, that he started getting sick every school holidays, for at least a week.  He hated after school care in the end and used to beg me not to have to go there, even though he had fun when he went.  My boss told me that they really needed someone full time and that the job was being retitled as full time.  I knew I couldn't do it, part time was enough of a struggle, and Richard had come to the party by taking a day off here and there to look after Alex...but his job was a full time job and it really wasn't feasible long term.

So, grudgingly, I made my decision to resign.  I just couldn't do full time and Alex needed me more than part time hours, so I didn't want to look for another job.  I resigned myself to my fate of housewife-hood, and started to plan some volunteer work or being the world's best stay at home mum.  And then, in December last year, I discovered that I was pregnant, and most of my plans went out the window.  This was so not part of my plan.  I started to see my career slipping further and further away from me, and most days, I'm ok with that.  I don't miss the guilt and the struggle and having five million things to do... I don't miss being torn in two different directions and being unable to be there for my son, or have to let my workplace down.  But I miss my working life.  I miss my profession.  It did feel strange when I went to work and left Richard at home with Alex.  I kept wanting to ring them up and make sure that he was ok.  I wondered if Richard felt the guilt and the struggle the way I did, but he didn't seem to.  He just did his thing with Alex, and then went to work the next day.

So, this is my fate.  A domestic engineer.  And most of me wants it that way, I love my boy so so so so much, and I want to be with him and be there for him.... but I miss having an identity outside of Alex's mum and Richard's wife.  Yes, I know that I am Deborah Hay, that I don't have to be defined by external means, and that I'm lucky to have the option to stay at home, when there are many many women and men struggling with the role of being sole providers, or having no choice but to work to meet financial demands.  I know I'm lucky, and most days I feel it.  But some days, I miss my job.  I grieve over being a stay at home mum.  I miss my cute outfits.  But happiness is about acceptance and just for today, I try to accept, and find the joy in the job I have now. I get to go to all of Alex's school things, I get to hear about his day and help him with his schooling journey.  I am lucky.  I am blessed. Mama's got a job to do.