I met you today. I wish I could say this to you when we were talking about mundane stuff about schools and shopping and relatives and friends. I wish we had a deeper conversation that didn’t skirt around our identities. I wish we could show that we connected to each other instead of acting like we both had a lot to do and so must leave. I wish I could give you a hug.
Don’t think I didn’t notice how many times you asked if I find it manageable to work and run a household. Don’t think I don’t get the underlying meaning. It’s not a casual observation. I know that what you really wanted to know was whether work was manageable enough with a family for you to consider it someday. Someday soon. Someday while you could still make a financial contribution that would count and could relieve your spouse of some of it. I noticed it and I wanted to answer it. But then I hesitated, because I’m always afraid that that’s a delusion of mine. Why would you want to know about my life? Yours is so much bette than mine.
Don’t think I didn’t see the bags under your eyes or the constantly darting eyes to see if your kids were safe. I know I don’t have to do it. Usually my nanny keeps an eye on the kids. She is very reliable. When I saw you worrying about your kids and having a distracted conversation, I wondered if you had enough help?
Don’t feel that I paid for coffee because “I got the tab”. I wouldn’t have let you pay for it. I saw you trying on that sweater that made you look like a fashion model and put it back on the rack. I saw the cogwheels turning in your head. “This money could be used on back-to-school shopping”, you thought. “Why do I need something so expensive? I don’t have to go anywhere” , you reasoned.
Don’t think I don’t remember that you were once a financially independent woman. Someone who went out and made her own money. And spent as she liked. I remember you because I looked up to you.
Don’t think that I value you for the sex you aren’t able to give to your husband at the end of the day, the home that is never clean enough, the meals that are never cooked enough. I value you because you went to school with my brother and you were reportedly one of the biggest nerds at school. I know that. My brother still talks about your academic achievements. Even though you’re not working, people know you and talk about you.
I see you are slightly in awe of me for my autonomy and independence. You can’t help asking me how I make it all happen. You ask me enough times if this is what I wanted. You ask me if I don’t miss a more domestic life. You wonder how a woman could stay away from her kids during the day. You then answer your own questions by telling me that even though you love your kids, sometimes you need a mental break too . You joke about the break being in the bathroom, on the toilet.
In those seemingly light talk moments, I wanted to reach out and say that we are both idolizing each other’s lives without knowing the lowlights. We both think the other has it too easy. I won’t lie! I have thought that about your work. I’ve been jealous of limited financial responsibility, more family time and more hair on your head.
I know you like the way I have the luxury to dress up nicely, be with adults of similar backgrounds, have stimulating conversations and exotic vacations with my family. I know you feel that I am more in control because I make money. I know you think that the balance is in my favor because I have been blessed with an employed, salaried position.
What you don’t know or perhaps don’t get to see is the stress that sometimes my work is. The insane stress that comes with making decisions for an institution and other people. The incredible stress of how I can’t make mistakes in a brutal, unforgiving work environment. Sometimes the lights have been out for hours at my house but I’m awake, fretting over a decision I made at work which may or may not be right.
Sometimes I’m down with a cold. My husband gets the kids their breakfast and lets me sleep in. But that’s all I’m getting. By 8 I have to be at work because I can’t miss work today. I don’t have a colleague who could cover for me. I know the same could be said for you.
Sometimes my heart aches when I drop my children at daycare. They look at me wistfully and try to put up a brave face. They’re better than me. I sometimes cry in the car.
And sometimes, I’m so preoccupied with work that I forget to kiss them. They have to tug at my pants to kiss my legs because I don’t even have time for a full hug and kiss. Their daycare teacher scoops them up as they start to get misty-eyed. I cry on the way to work.
There are days when I come back home to no food in the fridge. I have to quickly fix something. While my husband is amazing, you know how men are with food! He can’t be hungry and he can’t just eat anything. Dinner is prepared by us both but by the time I’ve had a day full of work and then intense kitchen with kids’ homework looking at me, I’ve lost my appetite. The baby needs to be fed too. I feed the baby while my oldest brings up her complicated homework to me.
I haven’t talked to my mom in a month. We have texted and I know she’s okay. Sometimes I wonder about how she comes at the bottom of my priority list. I shrug the thought of it. “She understands”, I comfort myself. “She gets it”, I try to be easy about it.
When I see you, I know I’m seeing just the highlights of your life which are making me jealous of you. I know how exciting your life could be if your sanctuary is the bathroom. Trust me, that’s my sanctuary too. That’s where I take a breather too. That’s where my me-time usually is, casually sitting on the toilet, going through a magazine, thinking about that nice sweater that I left on the rack yesterday, believing that money could be used somewhere else, yearning to go back and checking it every so often and determined to buy it this time, and then again reasoning with myself that I don’t need it. That the money could be used in a better way.
Trust me, when it comes to the raw bones of our womanhood, we are the same. We have the same lives with different purposes. If truth be told, none of us have a perfect life. And none of us have a life better than the other. They’re different in their appearance but similar in their expectations. None of us chose every good and bad of our lives. Yes we live gracefully with what has been given to us and make the best of it, but both of us want a little of what we have with a little of what the other has. Unfortunately, the world isn’t woman-centric enough to afford us that just now. Someday it will. For our daughters and may be our younger sisters. Until then, we both will strengthen each other, read the signs of depression in each other, arrange for play dates with our kids where we can grab a quick cup of coffee together, try on that sweater together and put it back on the rack together and openly talk about how my money is just as tight as yours and how your moments of rest and relaxation are just as scarce as mine.
Hope to connect with you soon,
Your working mom friend.