Whenever I describe work, I now say, at “work” or “my work”. Always in quotes. Because I’m a mom. I’m always working. Even when I’m not working, I’m working.
It was a dual identify and dream. I want to be a mom to do things differently than my mom did. I want to be a mom to share the culture I learned, the experiences I have, and the joy I see with another burgeoning being. Once I became a mom it was seeing joy through another’s eyes. Spiders, for example, really are cool. And, tonight, I learned that you can be popcorn by crawling off a share, crouching down to heat up, then jumping up and down.
But, I always wanted a career. Figuring out my purpose in life has been central to my existence. I have not done things because I couldn’t figure out how they coincided with my belief system. What does it mean to be Catholic? Why should I get confirmed? Why do I want this Political Theory & Constitutional Democracy Degree or later, this Social Science major with a minor in Sustainable Urban Development? What will this learning provide? What skills should I get to do what I want? What do I want?
The idea of becoming a mother flowered for a small while during my twenties, but it passed onto other things. The thought was consumed with school, my ideas for a career, and simply me. Add those years onto my growing up years, and most of my life has been centered around … well: me. My self. Self. What I want, and how I am going to make it work.
During my final year at Portland State, while I was beginning to learn how to be a wife and figuring out what it means to be a mother, I started looking for career type jobs. I knew what I wanted to focus on, but I didn’t know what that would look like. I applied for jobs both of which I was over and under-skilled. While I was enjoying a summer of gardening, reading for pleasure, and starting some volunteer opportunities, the housing market crashed.
I took the path I took not because it was the most efficient for a career, but rather having a career I can believe in is the most important thing when thinking of this concept of paid work. With the market crash, I couldn’t find paid work. So, I learned how to work at home. I started a play group, remembered how to make bread, figured out for a time how to feed my family on $3 per person per day (we should get back to that margin but haven’t). We visited the library, we read, we sorted legos, we played. We went on bike rides as a family, played on the slides at the park, and went for long walks around the block with our then 18 month old. We took pictures and videos and knit them together for family across the continent.
The work really comes in though in the staying up, tending to the moods, figuring out the owies, deciphering the language, constantly explaining, framing, repeating. The work is in thinking how to start the day to accomplish what you need to accomplish, again navigating the moods, the particularities, the unexpected.
With my career goals in mind, I’m always reluctant to say not to a project that can further that goal. So, the multitude of hat wearing is magnified. I was a volunteer for a hot-line. I volunteer for the church. I volunteered to write, edit, and design a book. This on top of the volunteering I did as a housekeeper, laundress, chef, and child care provider. Bouncing between play dates, volunteering, and making bread and dinner. And, as if I wasn’t busy enough: I helped start a food buying club, an organization that has flourished into a business of sorts with aspirations of community organizing.
So, I’ve always been a working mom. Now, I just go someplace else for a while and get paid for my time there. I have linear responsibilities that offer a reprieve from the sometimes chaos of home life with unpredictable preschool needs. (Some days blueberries are yummy but don’t count on them 3 days in a row. Day 3 might result in a meltdown with their suggestion.) My Midwest work ethic encourages me to stay longer at work and try to minimize the projects in the in box, but familial demands call out too.
What is it really? It’s “work.”