My (No Longer) Working Mom

Obviously, OBVIOUSLY, with my parents closing on the sale of my childhood home, we may as well just have my mom FREAKING RETIRE on the same damn day.

I actually was going to combine blog posts about the two events because, you know, Mums combined them too. But no, couldn't do it.

Retirement. RETIREMENT.

My mother has worked since she was 17 years old, with the exception of  a year when I was in kindergarten  and the Great Lay-Off in the mid-90s. You know what's worse that the angst of middle school? (Oh, how I loathed middle school.) Having your non-self-employed parent out of a job. Trust me on this.

As a working mum myself now, I am in awe of my own working mother. See, I have the modern convenience of a grand little thing called TELECOMMUTING to get me off the hook from having to be publicly presentable several days per week. My mom? Oh, especially in the 80s? That lady was all about high heels, shoulder pads, and carefully styled permed hair. And make up. AND NYLONS. I thought she was so fancy. I loved her clicking high-heels in those bold 80s primary colors, her office letterhead she'd bring home so Liesl and I could play office (I was always "Janet"--I thought it sounded so CEO), her downtown Seattle office with its fancy-pants lobby and conveniently located Nordstrom across the street.

That's what I saw.

My mom told me how she cringed with guilt when my brother and I were the last kids at day care pick-up. I have zero memory of this, so it didn't seem to screw me up. The jury is still out on Tyler.

She told me how she'd tackle Safeway on the way home from a long day at work through sheer force of will, utterly lacking any oompf to grocery shop. She told me of Tyler throwing a fit one too many times before going to daycare and her calling my dad to say, "THAT'S IT! I'm taking a year off work!" And she did. 

Later on, post-daycare (that is, third grade for me--possibly not legal nowadays), we were on our own in the mornings and afternoons. I believe my dad sees his greatest parenting achievement as the fact that Tyler and I never missed the bus a single time during our entire school careers (up until we drove to school). My mom would wake me before she left for work, and that was that. I'd get Tyler up. If we ran out of time for breakfast, we'd grab fruit snacks or dry toast as we ran for the bus. If we had forgotten to get a parent to sign some form or permission slip the night before, I'd forge the signature (always Dad's, because he had the crappier handwriting). We were self-sufficient by necessity, something that has served us well and was an accidental offshoot of Mums making a living.

Which is possibly why I get so frustrated with my dilly-dallying Charlotte in the mornings. Tyler and I just couldn't get away with that. Where's her sense of personal responsibility?! I want to yell. But that's a post for another day. Also? She's five.

At one point, during a phone call to Mums in early 2013, I tearfully told Mums I just couldn't do it any more, not a particularly hellish season at work and with two young children, one of whom still nursed. She told me, "Honey, I don't know how you do it."

"Well, YOU did it," I pointed out, sniffling and gearing up for the full-fledged panic attack that would take place in a few hours. (No, seriously.)

"Yeah," Mums said. "I don't know how I did it either." Not exactly stellar advice, but empathetic nonetheless.

My mother embodied the classic "second shift," starting her household family-running after getting home from a full day of work. We were such jerks, the three of us, pouncing as soon as she walked through the door. "What's for dinner?" we'd ask.

I remember being SO ANNOYED when she'd call before leaving work, asking me to defrost chicken. Hello? I was busy watching Hey, Dude on Nickelodeon.

At any rate, my mom always felt pulled between work and family, fearing she was half-assing both. I knew she was spectacular at her job, so I doubted the job half-assing, and she was my beloved mommy whose love I felt daily, so I didn't detect a half-assing there either. But now that I do the work/life balance thing, I understand that tug-of-war much more.

People act like mothers work so they can have martini lunches (please, tell me where I can work to partake of such perks) and drive a Mercedes and take lavish vacations.

My mom worked so I could have piano lessons, go to the best college I could get into, and . . . oh, yeah . . . RETIRE and NOT WORK.

Yes, age 60 is a smidge early, but she pretty much worked her way out her current job and knew she'd be let go with a sweet severance package. In her sixties. Which translates to: I'm just gonna retire. The big evil San Francisco-based bank my dad once fearfully called "ruthless" as it took over her failing bank during the recession has been oh so very good to her.

It's incredible, really. How many banks went under after the financial apocalypse of 2008? My mom was convinced she was on the brink of losing her job for years. Practically everyone around her actually did. With some luck, a brain, and a Protestant work ethic, that lady kicked ass, becoming the highest performer in her division. Well, rounds and rounds of layoffs came and went. Banking was in shambles and she hit her career stride, which is . . . amazing. Competence. Oh, the underrated virtue of COMPETENCE. Yes, she was at the right place at the right time to a large degree, but she was the very last person to go. They kept her as long as possible and let her know she was a banking goddess. 

Both of my parents have worked very, very hard their entire lives. Retirement is a strange idea when applied to them. My dad, at age 68, is single-handedly building the South Dakota house, so he's not exactly taking it easy. (When he built our deck, I think our neighbors feared he'd keel over. "Don't fret," I told them. "This is just what he does.") My mom has toiled for decades, balancing career and family while stretching pennies and sewing Halloween costumes during lunch hours. Martini lunches? Please.

Anyway, Mums has closed out her division, the last to leave. Her work is done.


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