Working Girl

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of work lately. From several angles.

First, I’ve been on a strange nostalgic bent lately, due in large part to the untimely passing of my beloved Oxy mentor, who had championed me in many ways  . . . . and I'll leave it at that, because I'm starting to cry again. It has forced me to take stock of what I’ve accomplished so far and make peace with nagging little feelings of inadequacy and coming up short that wriggle their way into my mind. The fact that her death occurred while I was hanging about my old stomping grounds and remembering my youthful optimism shoved together a past-meets-present that has been unwinding in my head slowly, slowly as I process.

Then the career center at my alma mater wanted me to do a questionnaire, along with probably every other alum. It had generic questions about my working life and employment, along with more tricky questions, like “Do you find your work meaningful?”

I can’t remember what I selected as my answer. But I bristled a bit at the idea that this lame-o survey presumed to capture accurate data on my life in the paid workforce. Gah.

There’s the constant day-to-day churn of balancing work and mommyhood. Always a treat.

And I’ve watched my daughters quite carefully lately, observing how they approach challenges and tasks, wondering how to cultivate in them a dogged stick-to-it-ness that embraces challenge and the openness to learn from mistakes. How will I prepare them for (a) finding their right path and (b) developing a good work ethic, especially because they’re growing up rather privileged? And how do I do it without being overbearing? I mean it: I would rather die than derail one of my children from the path that will give her the greatest possible happiness, and especially have her figure out it was my fault for effing her up. Still, I find myself guessing their future professions. (If I had to guess right now, I’d say Charlotte = schoolteacher; Lorelei = military commander or dictator of an oppressed nation).

Next, there’s the “facelift” my office building is getting, which is requiring myself and many others to forfeit window offices for the greater good of egalitarian “collaboration”—translation: cubicles. In the past weeks, I’ve dissected my feelings on the matter and have accepted it. I don’t mind greater interaction with my coworkers, since I like them a lot, and I enjoy the hubbub on “office” days as a good contrast to my telecommute days. Besides, I don’t spend EVERY day at my “real” office. My office at home is freaking gorgeous. It’s the first room in our 4-year-old house to be RE-decorated. And while I’d prefer to be able to book an appointment to wax my eyebrows without an audience overhearing, or see out my window whether it has started to snow so I can predict my evening commute, I realized my biggest gripe was EGO. I felt like I had EARNED that office. I toiled and waited and toiled and waited. I saw it as a validation of effort, when really, it was mostly a matter of an office becoming vacant when I was next in line. Ego is a dumb reason to fight change, so I am going to, in the immortal words of Queen Elsa, let it go.

Finally, there's the entire arc of my past professional year, in which my Ashley Pendulum of Happiness swung from one extreme (sobbing: JUST LET ME BE A STAY-AT-HOME MOM! I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!) to the other (skipping: HELLO, WORLD! WHAT FABULOUS BOOKS WE’RE GOING TO PUBLISH TODAY!). Flux in the midst of routine, if you will. It’s a strange existence.

On Monday, I got the news I been waiting for about a job shift. The news was better than I expected. At home, getting into bed, I heaved an enormous sigh of relief and totally failed to keep a smirk off my face. Chris and I had high-fived in our typical super cool fashion many times since I got home. “I’m a bad person. I feel so SMUG!” I moaned. “I mean, would my work have been LESS important, if I hadn’t received a nice dose of validation?”

Chris gave his holy-shit-you-overanalyze-things-too-much sigh. “It’s been 7 hours since the letter from HR came. You’re allowed to be totally full of yourself until midnight."

I’ve often viewed my job as the “extra” job, the supplemental one. The add-on. The daycare tuition funder. It’s not terribly feminist, and Chris never backed that view. In fact, he has, rather pissed off, argued against that rationale.  The thing is, I feel like I’ve been treading water for so long, even going under a few times. Because I have. To see a career I’ve worked so hard for, and sacrificed so much time with my kids for, spent several college degrees worth of daycare tuition dollars on . . .  expand open with a fun, new trajectory that I'm really excited about----I'm not sure if I'm elated or relieved. 

There are those working moms who never think twice: OF COURSE they were going to keep working post-babies. And there are those moms who never thought twice: OF COURSE they were going to stay home with their little one(s). I was a gray-area mama. I could see both sides, and both options seemed like a hell of a gamble.

Which is why it makes perfect sense that this past week was so crucial for my sanity. "It will be okay," I told my non-comprehending girl-children. "You can major in the most non-lucrative subjects ever in college AND bring forth the babies AND, after much strife, get a really cool letter from HR."

Then Charlotte asked me what we were having for dinner, and Lorelei blew a raspberry in my face, grinning. 

Yep. Still smug.


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