Apparently Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, and Deepak Chopra were all in Harvard Square on February 29th for the launch of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way foundation. I was in Harvard Square, too, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of them. I was there just for the fifteen minutes it took me to FedEx a book back to a client. Then I got home and discovered that a chunk of the proofread I had just mailed was still sitting on my desk. My desk isn’t even very crowded (for me, anyway), but I had cleverly separated out the last section of the book to cross-check against the earlier sections, and that turned out to be a bad plan because no one wants their proofread back with the last 20 pages missing. I couldn’t believe it. I had never done anything like this before. How could it have happened?
In a nutshell, this feeling — the bottom-dropping-out-of-your-stomach uh-oh moment — sums up what it’s felt like to work from home since having a kid. Before the blessed event, I naively thought I’d have the best of both worlds. I could be home with him and just squeeze my work time into nap time, right? Babies sleep a lot. And when he got older, he’d play by himself sometimes too, so there would be some more work time then.
At this point, you’re probably asking if I even knew what a baby was, and the answer is that of course I did not. Babies and kids were just an abstract concept to me then. I did not know that a baby might want to spend all of his time napping right on you, making it possible to get trapped in one uncomfortably contorted position for a couple of hours, with nothing to do but discover that there really is an episode of “Law and Order” on at every hour of the day.
I did not know that a toddler might not like playing alone and furthermore might take great offense to you being on the phone for even five minutes, leading to conference calls in which your clients politely assure you that your child sounds adorable, and you somehow manage to keep from saying, “I’m sending him to you for our next meeting, then.” I did not know that, even when you do get work time in, it is likely to be in ten-minute bursts that leave you with about five minutes to figure out what you were working on that first needs attention and five minutes to actually work.
Right now, this is my freelance life because Boston — and the entire state of Massachusetts — is the most expensive place for childcare in the United States. The cost of daycare here is seriously ridiculous, especially for someone who doesn’t know what her income will be from month to month. I feel at times like I shouldn’t complain; at least there are two incomes in our house, I’m not in danger of getting evicted or having no health insurance, and I’ve found a way to cover a small amount of childcare each week.
I need to feel like I’ve accomplished something with my day, and it needs to be something other than successfully getting my son to eat carrots instead of cookies as a snack (not that this is any small feat).
But the fact is, I like to work. I need to feel like I’ve accomplished something with my day, and it needs to be something other than successfully getting my son to eat carrots instead of cookies as a snack (not that this is any small feat). I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. I have friends who are and who are happy with that choice, and I have wished sometimes I could be happy with it, too. But I’ve tried that route, and it makes me seriously crazy. I feel impatient when I hear or read anything about the guilt of working mothers — I don’t feel guilty about working at all.
I just feel frustrated that there isn’t any affordable way to do it. Either I spend all my money before I get it by putting my son in full-time daycare and hope to make up the difference, or I take on projects, scramble for extra daycare coverage, and end up working at night and worrying that I’m forgetting something vital. My husband does a lot, but he can only do so much — he has a full-time job too.
What we’ve recently come up with in my house is our own attempt at equally shared parenting. We divide the chores, cooking, and free time in half so that, despite the fact that all of my work happens at home, I’m not also doing all the housework. Obviously this doesn’t help with daycare coverage, but it allows me to hold on to my career while we wait for school age to hit. Here’s hoping this plan works… as a fourth body is about to drop into our little equation!