Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Not Now, Mommy's Working

Back in 2006, when I first decided it was time to get serious about starting a family, I reevaluated my work situation. Up until then, I had always worked outside of the home, mostly in food service and child care. While there were certain things I liked about these jobs, there was one thing I absolutely hated: actually leaving my house. Maybe it's agoraphobia, or just a deep-seated love of home, but I cannot stand to leave knowing I'll be gone for more than a few hours. It seriously affected my motivation to work, since I would take any opportunity to leave work early, regardless of how badly I needed the money. I worried about how much harder that would get after I became a mother. Could I drive away and leave my child for up to ten hours at a time, probably in the company of another woman who I didn't even know? Although I know plenty of mothers who manage that difficult duty, I think that, for me, it would be devastating. Especially if I was driving off to go watch other people's kids, stepping in for their mothers while they went to work.

So, along comes 2006. My then-boyfriend and I finally, after nine years, accepted that yes, our relationship was very serious, and we should take the plunge and get married. After years of looking after others' little ones, I was ready for one of my own. The only real issue was: how would I get to stay home with my baby and still earn enough money to maintain our modestly comfortable lifestyle?

Enter my good friend the internet. Surely, I thought, there has to be some way, other than pornography, to earn a living online. As it turns out, merely having a college degree qualifies you to tutor students online and to score their standardized test responses. I did both of those for a while, then quit the tutoring to focus on the scoring. I didn't bring in much; never more than ten grand a year, but it was a nice supplement to Bill's income, and good god, do I love being at home. I got my house clean and organized, read obsessively, played Sims 2 whenever I felt like it, and actually finished writing a novel. All that was missing was the baby.

Three years later I finally had a baby, and the whole plan clicked neatly into plac. For about six months. Then, without warning and for a bullshit reason, my husband lost his job. No salary, no benefits. No insurance. Income uncertain. My mind reeled with well-baby visits, illness and injuries, unfilled cavities that had been awaiting the new year's flexible spending account. Until he found a new job, we could not afford to fix anything,get sick or hurt, or buy things that weren't absolutely necessary. I responded to this careening-out-of-control feeling by scheduling as many hours as I possibly could for the upcoming spring scoring sessions. At least I could cover the mortgage for a month or two, I thought. Bill could watch the baby and I could score, score, score.

But staying home with the baby was my dream, not Bill's, and our new schedule started to take its toll. I missed my son's company, even getting a little jealous hearing his giggles from the other room. Bill missed playing video games and going out for a cigarette whenever he felt like it. Plus, Harrison's top front teeth are coming in, making him much needier and fussier than usual. So instead of scoring happily away, blissfully unaware of my family, I was pulled in several directions at once, trying to keep on top of a busy scoring session and trying to help manage the baby's schedule without stepping on Bill's toes.

Somehow we all survived, and now I've got a better handle on things. My panic has subsided (or at least receded - it can come roaring back in an instant), Bill has found a part time job/apprenticeship that he enjoys and makes a little money doing, his unemployment benefits are coming in, and he has a good lead on a new job in a better company. All this lets me feel better about scoring less and spending more time as a wife and mother. From now on my family comes first and my job comes second. And any time I wonder if staying home is worth it, I can step away from my desk mid-shift to peek at my sleeping boy. The sight of him makes everything all right.

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