Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Work it: April 15, 2007

After I had kids, I never exactly left my work; I mostly just rearranged it. By rearranging it, though, I did cut my income and lose my benefits. And then, when I needed those things back, I rearranged it all again.

Have I ever mentioned how good my bosses at the newspaper were to me through those years? So very, astoundingly good to me. 

Stepping back through a door that never closed
    It’s probably a symptom of my over-stuffed schedule that I spend more time reading reviews of books than the books themselves. But a review came across my desk last week (via another mom in the office) that prompted me to fire up Amazon and order the book right away.

    “The Feminine Mistake,” by Leslie Bennetts, is based on the premise that women who take themselves out of the work force for years at a time hurt their earning power and put the economic security of their families at risk.

    Now, before you start sending me angry e-mails — I know nothing agitates us like someone dissecting the way we raise our families — bear in mind that the author asks questions in the book that resonate particularly with me right now.

    What if your husband got hurt? What if he couldn’t work? Could you support your family? 

    It happens. We’ve answered those questions at my house in recent months. And the answer is yes, I can support our family. But only because I spent the last six years working part time. It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to keep my foot in the door professionally; it was just a way of balancing work I love and never really wanted to leave with the needs of two little boys.

    But when my husband was no longer able to do his physically demanding job, I was able to return to my work on a full-time basis, picking up last month more or less where I left off six years ago.

    Granted, we had to sell our house and buy a cheaper one (though it turned out to be a better house than the expensive one, anyway). And we’re thankful every day that our cars are old and paid off, and that my mother is happy to accompany me to the grocery store every once in a while with her credit card. That’s just the difference between living on what an engineer makes and what a newspaper reporter makes.

    But we can absolutely do it. And I feel a little sick to my stomach every time I wonder what would have happened if I had simply disappeared from the office for six years — if my husband had gotten hurt, left his job, and I had no way of stepping back into reporting, the only work I’ve ever done or wanted to do.

    In some ways, the transition has been difficult. The first week I was back at work full time, my oldest son came home from first grade three days in a row without having earned the sticker that shows he completed all his work. This was totally out of character. So I asked him, in a spare moment between getting home from work and putting him to bed, if something was wrong.

    “You’re gone a lot now,” he said flatly.


    “Yeah,” I said, pulling him into my lap, “I’m gone a lot now. But your dad is here with you a lot, and I see you every morning and every night. And you know what else?”


    “I’m doing fun work, just like you get to do at school. So while you’re doing your work, just remember that I’m doing my work, too. And we’re both getting our stickers.”

    “You get stickers, too?”

    “Yep,” I said. “Every time mommy’s name is in the paper, that’s my sticker.”

    He got that. The stickers started appearing in his workbook again.

    In the last month we’ve all adjusted to rising a little earlier and piling into the car so I can drop off the boys at school before I head to the office. My husband is slowly unpacking boxes in our new house, learning the exasperating realities of late afternoons spent with two energetic little boys and job hunting in his scarce free time.

    And I’m working. Because I can, because I want to and because I really have to.

    I’m just so glad I had the option.


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