Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Working full-time. What a concept.

If you count babysitting, I started working for money at age 11. Beginning with when I dropped out of Johns Hopkins after one semester, I worked full-time, either at Farm and Wilderness, or cobbling together several part-time jobs in Baltimore. I took a year off to study scenic design at BU, but went right to work in Boston after I dropped out (I can't draw). Third time's a charm: I worked part-time all through Wellesley and full-time summers and Christmas vacations.

And then grad school in New York City, followed by Time Inc. And then Lily. November 10, 1998. I was always planning on going back, and that might have happened if I had still been working at LIFE magazine. I didn't feel the same way about This Old House magazine, so after my six-month maternity leave was up I resigned. Just after Lily turned one I started working part-time at the Fifth Avenue Committee. I freelanced for several places--I particularly recommend the Gotham Gazette, a superb, thorough web magazine about New York City news and policy, edited by one of my former professors from journalism school.

I also volunteered, of course. Partly inspired by the Fifth Avenue Committee, I tried some community organizing, including helping get the Warren St. Marks Community Garden on our block off the ground (sorry) and co-founding the Park Slope CSA. Mostly I put out newsletters for whatever school Lily was in.

And of course I was the primary caretaker for Lily, a responsibility I almost totally discount, while Dave, a very active father, brought home the bacon every week. I have wonderful memories of taking 7- or 8-month Lily to Prospect Park with the big stationwagon stroller my father and step-mother generously got us. Those hot summer mornings I'd pack that thing with a blanket, food, diapers, reading materials, and a couple of toys, and we'd hike up the hill a mile to the Meadow, where I'd set us up under a tree. All afternoon we'd play and nurse and eat and doze, just me and her.

Eventually Lily went to preschool. During the day I went to every event and many field trips (you never can go to enough of those), and picked her up afterwards. We'd go to a playground, or a cafe, or a mother's, for a nosh and adult conversation. I'd go home and make some sort of dinner, or at least think about it. Those were wonderful, in some way terrible times.

More information than you wanted to know, I've no doubt. At any rate, while I worked hard hard hard during Lily's first eight years, no job was full-time and most of what I did fell into the category of unpaid. Just look at my tax returns. True labors of love.

So today, nearly six weeks into it, breaking in a new job, buying work clothes, getting up and dressed and out the door at the same time (8:30am) every day and leaving the office at the same time (5:30pm, more or less; later than I should be) has been an adjustment. But it's not as big a one as I might have feared. I fit into those stereotypical traces pretty easily. I remember how to answer phones; occasionally I pack lunch--I'm trying to pack more; I get outside during the day; I stay off the personal phone calls and email (that's new behavior from when I was in my late twenties).

It's a strange transition, partly because it's all so familiar. It's still hard for me to do the transitions: leaving for work or leaving for home. I'm clear my time is Lily's when I am home, and weekends are for the family as exclusively as possible. But I wonder what I should do with myself when Lily is in bed. I feel anxious during the commute and search for something positive thing to do with the time--I have never in my life commuted regularly in car to work, so this at least is very new. NPR? iPod? Blue Tooth? I don't have that many minutes.

Dave is a far better housewife than I was, especially when it comes to cooking dinner, which is always delicious and healthy. He does the laundry and pays the bills. He's on top of every detail about the new house: the lawyers, the brokers, the inspectors, the contractors, the movers. By definition he handles all the childcare, picking Lily up after school, talking with her teacher, taking her to afterschool events, arranging playdates, helping her with homework if I'm not home.

The hardest adjustment is Lily's, of course. We've been in Amherst now nearly six months(!) and while she's more settled, it's still hard. She doesn't complain. She doesn't have a Friend yet. Several friends, but no Friend. And now her mom is working. We are moving again, and we'll be across the river and 10 miles from her new friends. She is watching her mom go from primary caretaker to primary breadwinner, and her dad do the reverse. Her world has changed immeasurably--will she ever forgive us?--and if the ground feels like it's shifting under me I can't imagine what it feels like for her.

She ran a half mile in 6:40 in gym today, I bet the farthest she's ever run in her life. Last Saturday's events at Bement, her new school, included a book fair and she asked me to buy her teacher a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. It seems her teacher was borrowing someone else's. Of course I did and the teacher sent a delighted thank you email yesterday. How easy to be kind!

On Sunday we threw the bikes onto the new rack that Dave got. It fits on the new hitch he had installed on our new car. It was a gorgeous but surprisingly chilly day. We drove to the bike path and rode down to Pete's Drive-in for an ice cream. The woods were lovely, dark and deep, but we also rode past sweeping fields--what would have been our backyard if we had rented that farmhouse on South Pleasant--and Amherst College tennis courts.

When we came out of the woods we were in Hadley farm land--source of the famous Hadley asparagus--and the back of the route 9 malls, source of the famous Hadley low taxes. The sun was cold and the air smelled like manure and flowers. We heard birds and saw many more people biking, walking, and rollerblading. At Pete's the ice cream made us chilly and the enormous hawk skimming the air about six inches above us gave us the shivers.

Back on the path Lily collapsed, as I had anticipated but had decided to ignore until it actually happened. It was a long three and a half miles back to the Mill Lane parking lot. But I have to say it was worth every agonizing moan, tear, and sigh from her. She had never biked more than a mile in her life and here she was on a two-wheeler, working the gears and handbrakes, riding perfectly to the right of the yellow line, all thought of the tagalong fading into distance memory. I praised her profusely and can't wait to ride again.

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.