I had a really rough day at work yesterday. The day was mostly spent trying to contain the wildfire that spread with a mistake that I had made, as well as cleaning up the mess made by others. On top of that, the unpredictable weather caused my allergic rhinitis to flare up and I was having problems breathing.
Hah. So much for taking a deep breath and calming down when you can’t even breathe. *snort*
Anyway, by the time I picked up my littles, I was in a terrible mood. I was ready to be a Monster Mum and yell terrible things at them if they hadn’t cooperated. When Zac refused to leave the school because he wanted to watch his friends dance (!!!), I was all ready to blow my top. I grabbed him, swiped his bag and shoes from the floor (while holding on to that little bugger, yes!) and was all ready to Y.E.L.L.
But, I didn’t. Because I was too exhausted and also because I thought, I have missed them so much and is this how I want to start my evening with them?
Instead, I talked. I am very good at talking. So I did. I said, look guys, I had a really bad day at work and I am very tired. Mummy has been working very hard today because I made a mistake, can you please help me?
Immediately, Aidan hugged me and said he would go home and draw a present for me. Zac leaned his head on my shoulder and said, “Sorry mummy. Don’t be sad, okay? I kiss you!” And then he proceeded to give me a huge kiss on my lips. And then he did it again.
When we got home, I had to make several phone calls for work. As I was talking, Aidan ran in and gestured to a piece of paper in his hand. The boy had really drawn me a picture! He produced it with a flourish, wordlessly, and ran out when I smiled. And when Zac came into the room, he shushed his little brother and told him to be quiet because mummy was on the phone.
And that’s when I knew that being honest with my boys, as little as they are, is a good thing. I have always wanted to shield them from my weary adult world, wanted them to steer clear from the problems that I face. I don’t usually talk about work to them.
In reality, I have been doing it all wrong. I should be sharing more about my day with them, telling them about my joys and my lows. They may not necessarily understand the context but it helps to build their sense of empathy. It also helps them to see that life isn’t pretty all the time, and that we face problems all the time. Hopefully, if I involve them in the process, I am showing them that the most important thing about problems is in how we approach and solve them (this is honestly a WIP for me even at 36! I react so quickly and so emotionally, it takes a while before I start seeing the logical steps to reaching a (re)solution).
Thank you, my littles. Thank you for teaching mama a lesson and for making me feel so much better about myself.
I have a little confession to make: there are moments when I look at how far my peers have progressed and I wonder where I would have ended up, had I not opted to skip out of the rat race to enter the parenthood maze.
Five years ago, we were in the midst of trying – very, very, very hard – to have a baby. I was working in a large advertising agency and having a life that many young women would aspire towards. You know, where I had a decent-sized income, the financial means to buy pretty frocks and shiny shoes, click-clacking my way in pretty heels every morning down Shenton Way, drinks with friends and colleagues on a very regular basis, going to the gym every other day. My boss liked me, I loved her.
And then I decided to leave it all. I took a bloody huge pay cut to teach at an institution near our home. (Sidenote: Please show all teachers some appreciation – the pay is really nowhere in line with the private sector and many of us do it because we want to.)
I suppose there are many reasons but one of them was that I felt hollow inside, doing what I was doing. There did not seem to be any purpose, any meaning to my work. And more importantly, I realised that my lifestyle there did not sit well with the kind of parent that I wanted to be.
And since then, I have watched as my peers ascend the corporate ladder, holding on to fancy titles like vice-president and director. And all I was doing for the past five years was exactly the same thing: teach.
I don’t feel like I am missing out in terms of having a career, I love what I do and it feels me with a sense of fulfilment. More importantly, it gives me time to spend with my littles, especially since the man is in a job that has predictably long hours. For the past two weeks, he has not been home in time to put the kids to bed and he rushes off for 8am meetings in the mornings. One of us needs to be the constant in the littles’ lives – and that constant is me. My job allows it.
But I would not be honest if I say that I did not occasionally feel wistful about what might have been – the promotions, the bigger pay checks, the carefree life, the martinis that I have not drunk for the past five years (Morton’s, only Morton’s and with a mountain of their famous steak sandwiches that I shamelessly wave the waiter over for). This feeling comes on strongest when I have had a horribly long day, only to be faced with two children hell-bent on behaving in an alternative manner!
In the long run, though, I know that I have made the right decision. I still have a job that I (mostly) enjoy, which gives me the mental acuity and independence that I crave, and which I am apparently quite good at. And those moments that I have bagged simply by being there with my littles – when I pick them up from school, when I see them slurp up their yogurt, when I hear their giggles from the bath tub, when I smell their noggins after they have gone to bed – far outweigh the advancement that I might have had I stayed on the other path.
That’s just me and the choice that I have made based on my personal parenting philosophy though. Wherever you are, whatever you do, I hope that you feel the same rightness in the decision that you have made when it comes to your job and your role as a parent.
I am a full-time working mum.
What does this phrase mean? Simply that I work for my employer in the day and that I am a 24/7 mum.
Now, before we go any further, this is NOT a debate about who is worth more, a stay at home mum or a full-time working mum. This is about my experience as a working mother. Period.
Truth is, when you are working full-time, your mum duties do not lessen. Sure, there is someone else to feed the kid and bathe him and entertain him and put him down to a nap during the day but it doesn’t make you any less a mother. When I am at work, I think about my boys all the time – and it’s doubly hard when they are ill. I worry about them and wonder if they are still running a fever. I worry about them and hope that they have eaten more than a morsel of their lunch. I worry about them and wish the clock could move faster so that I can bring them home and smother them with love, hugs and kisses. And I worry about them as I plough through my work and the mountain of tasks that need my urgent attention.
Believe me, it’s tough to put my sick kid into the arms of their caregivers, put on my work face and go on to educate other people’s children.
At night, I have to wake up for night feeds and soothe little men who wake up crying because of nightmares. Some nights are better than others, but no matter how many times I wake up, the end result is still the same: the alarm rings and I have to get up to prepare for work. And because I am an educator, I cannot put in anything less than my 100% because, come on, these kids’ learning is in my hands.
And still we get through it, day by day. It’s been three years since I have had a full night’s uninterrupted sleep.
Earlier this week, Aidan came down with a nasty bout of hives. It was awful, simply awful. The hives were red and angry and nasty and itchy and they covered every inch of his body. We were prescribed a steroid cream to ease the itch and when I applied it on his body, I was literally slathering it all over. There was no inch of flesh that was not affected. He was running a temperature too.
It broke my heart to see him like this, and to have to hand him over to my mother. But I had to be at work because this is the period when we process results and I need to attend these meetings and churn out these reports. And then I need to start preparing for the next semester.
Thankfully, he is a happy patient and mostly a darling. He takes his medicines willingly, allows me to apply the cream and burrows into my side as I nurse Zac for a cuddle. He is happy to have my undivided attention for that short period of time in the evening and it lessens my sadness at not being there to comfort him.
There are many reasons why I work (read this and this) and I don’t regret being out in the workforce. But at the same time, I think I need to stop feeling guilty and torn apart trying to be both a super mother and an invaluable employee. I am doing the best that I can and hopefully my best is good enough.
So if you are a fellow full-time working mother reading this, here’s me tipping a hat off to you and me. Enough with the guilt. Enough with the dilemma. Enough with beating ourselves up. Enough with everyone standing up for the stay at home mothers and what they do to help their kids grow, and not giving us working mums some credit. Enough with judgy people telling us that it’s better for the kids if we stay at home.
We. Kick. Butts.
We are awesome.
We may be exhausted with fraying patience.
We may yell a little more than we should.
But hey, we get on with the programme and work.
And damn, we are the best mothers for our children.
So I have been back at work for four months. This means that I have been pumping at work for four months now. Everybody say HURRAH.
I actually heaved a great sigh of relief when we crossed the six-month mark and my little man embarked on solids. It meant that I could relax a little and not feel so stressed about pumping enough milk to feed Zac, now that he has other sources of food to fill that Buddha belly of his.
As most working mums who express at work will tell you, their relationship with the pump is a complex, bittersweet one. I am glad that the pump exists to allow me to feed breast milk to my kid and yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel chained to it. Carving out the time to pump at work two, three times a day is a feat, especially when my schedule is erratic.
But at the same time, there are many things that I am grateful for: a cubicle with relative privacy that allows me to pump in peace, colleagues who are understanding. I am able to install a makeshift curtain, draw it and pump at my desk while working at the same time, which makes me feel less guilty about needing to pump three times a day. I can also sit and let the pump run for as long as I want, while getting stuff done.
I was able to pump milk for Aidan all the way till he was a year old, before transitioning him slowly to fresh milk and I am hoping to do the same for Zac. Fingers crossed!
If you are someone who is planning to express at work, here are some tips that may be helpful to you.
Now that I have been back at work for more than a month – and school has started – I feel less like a super mum and more like a headless chook.
It’s really crazy how each and every single day flies by just like that. Every morning is a mad rush to go go go, especially on the days when we have to drop off the two boys at two different locations. I’m ever so grateful to my mother, then, for offering to come over to my place on the days that she watches Zac! Being able to leave home with just one kid and dropping him at the school located on campus has helped to cut down so much of the commuting time. Plus, I no longer have to battle maddening peak hour traffic to get us home safely! (You don’t want to be in my car when I am pissed off with traffic after a hard day’s work.)
At work, additional responsibilities mean that I’m stretched in every other way. I’m also pumping and it’s been tough trying to keep up to the schedule. Between lessons and preparation and meetings, I sometimes hardly have time to eat. BOO.
Once 6 o’clock hits, it’s another round of crazy rushing to pick up the boys. By this time, Aidan is usually STARVING and if we don’t get food into his system quickly enough, everything turns into a minefield. This means that I will have to spend additional time coaxing him out of his school uniform and getting him to eat his dinner, leaving Zac to entertain himself in the bouncer. When both boys are finally asleep, it’s 930pm and I finally get to drag my exhausted self into the shower.