Before having kids, I loved my career. I was a Recruiter, and enjoyed my small company and colleagues, the feeling of satisfaction in finding someone the perfect job and the great commissions! I worked alongside one of my best friends and seldom dreaded Monday mornings. When I was pregnant, I couldn’t fathom being a stay at home mom. My career was part of my identity.
I envisioned endless days of nursery rhymes and dirty diapers and I knew it wouldn’t be right for me, full-time. I was lucky to negotiate a part-time schedule and felt like I had the best of both worlds. I still had to get showered and dressed three times per week and feel like my old self. The other two days, I was able to devote to the new little love of my life. I doted and spoiled her (while staying in my ‘lounge wear’). We had an elaborate child care system in place – a part-time nanny, my parents and in-laws – yet somehow it all worked.
When #2 came along, I was again able to negotiate a little less time in the office and more at home. I quickly learned that ‘working from home’ was impossible with an infant and a toddler. I faked it for a while, but most of the time I felt like I wasn’t doing either job well. When at work, I’d be half-focused on recruiting and half-focused on my Fresh Direct order, my Snapfish albums, and catching up on personal emails. At home, I tried my best to be ‘present and engaged’ at all times, but when a client wanted to close a deal, I relied on Sesame Street as my babysitter.
It got harder as the kids got older. Even though at this point our nanny felt more like a family member, that ‘Mommy Guilt’ kept rearing its head and it got more difficult to kiss them good-bye each morning. I felt like I was missing too many milestones and simply missed everything about them, a little more each day. The girls were more interactive, had developed such interesting personalities and my heart was less into recruiting and more into being at home with them. In my case, the recession forced my hand. Given my commission-based position and the fact that there were hardly any jobs to recruit for, working stopped making financial sense.
So three years ago, I became a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I was ready (and even excited) for it. My girls were four and two, one in preschool and one at that adorably funny (and terrifying) stage. I adjusted quickly to my new routine and threw myself into playdates and mommy-and me-classes. I tried to keep my closets organized, my laundry done and tried my hand at a number of new recipes. I still had time to get my fix of reality shows while the kids napped. Three years really did fly by.
Preschool in NYC is funny: the exorbitant half-day schedule is really a little more than two hours, which gives you just enough time to do ONE errand completely and maybe get a shower in. But, alas, when you finally have the 2.5 hours of ‘freedom’ for the first time in years, it feels pretty good. I remember sometimes my to-do list would get thrown to the side and I’d indulge in a manicure/pedicure or a bubble bath. Most days, I ran around like a chicken without a head.
Last year was the first year that both of my kids were in school five days per week from 8:30-2:30. It was a great year for them – and a fantastic one for me. I remember dropping them off and having six solid hours ahead of me… every day. I was able to volunteer at recess, go on almost every class trip while still picking and choosing classes from my gym schedule. I did my errands on my time, I met friends for lunch, made it to a few museums and found time to volunteer on a regular basis. I was happy, felt balanced and when the kids came home from school, I was able to fully focus on them (most days, anyway).
Last spring, an old colleague reached out to me – we had worked together a decade ago and had sporadically kept in touch via FaceBook. She was a mom who had recently re-entered the work force. She asked if I had any interest in hearing about a part-time job. My immediate response was, ‘Thanks so much, but the timing’s not right.’ With summer around the corner and my kids not going to camp, this was not the time to even entertain the notion of a job.
She encouraged me to meet her for coffee, where she described a flexible, laid back, lucrative freelance position, with a fun group of people, that would start… in September. I wasn’t looking for a job. In fact, I was very much looking forward to repeating my ‘me-time’ when school started again. But the more my husband and I thought about it, the more it became a no-brainer. A chance to get back in the game (part-time), with flexibility to work from home, a predictable-yet-malleable schedule, no pressure to climb any sort of ladder and a chance to actually save a decent amount of money.
I couldn’t say no, so I had to say yes.
If you ask my husband to describe the weeks leading up to my first day, he would describe me as an impertinent child who didn’t want to go to school. I came up with every excuse why this was going to be a terrible idea for the whole family. All he kept saying to me was, ‘Just work one full day. And then, let’s talk.’ I had to do at least that.
So last week, that first day arrived and I actually had to dress in a ‘professional outfit’ and commute with the masses and use my new ID card to get through security and head to my cube. It was surreal from the moment I swiped my metro card to the moment I logged off of my computer. I was the ‘new girl’ in the office. My new group hosted a lunch and I quickly realized that they were a smart, witty group, with whom I knew I would like working.
So many changes! For the past few years, I’ve been happily working on my Mac at home – and now I had to re-familiarize myself with a PC and Outlook. I was embarrassed when I had no idea where the Print button was or how to attach a file in an email. The learning curve is steep, there are parts of my brain that have been ‘under-utilized’ for quite some time and there is a slow rebooting process currently taking place.
Some of the perks include the unlimited cappuccinos and soft drinks. The cafeteria is great and the varied selection beats the PB&J sandwiches I’ve been eating for three years! While the commute is crowded, I have time to devote to (uninterrupted) reading more than one page at a time.
My kids are clueless. I still drop them off at school, and am there at pick-up and for all the after-school craziness. Their world has remained constant. I, on the other hand, am trying to figure it all out. While I desperately miss my Pilates class and watching The View each day, I do have to admit that there’s something strangely satisfying about accomplishing something professional. It’s fun meeting new people and it has been interesting to learn new things. I’m still a long way from feeling balanced, but I’m optimistic that with time, it might happen.
In the meantime, I fully realize how lucky I am to continue to have work options, and know that many women don’t. I have found yet another level of respect for all working moms, stay-at-home moms and all those in-between who are trying to figure out their own balancing acts.
Prior to becoming a stay at home mom, Mina was an HR Recruiter for years. Now her time is spent happily juggling the demands of two young daughters while trying to expose them to the endless adventures the city has to offer.
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