Thursday, January 19, 2006

If Work was Fun, They’d Call it “Play”

I have been doing a lot of thinking about work lately. I’ve been thinking about what kind of work I can do, what kind of work I want to do, how to find a part-time job that utilizes my skills and pays enough to make it worth it, whether I should take a full-time job despite my desire not to have my daughter in preschool for 9 hours a day, how do other women manage the work-life balance, why haven’t I been hired yet, why is the sky blue, do these jeans make my butt look big, and, most importantly, should I cut my hair or grow it out?

This is what occupies a lot of my waking time when I’m not at the post office, the gas station, or the grocery store. I confess I do think about it sometimes when I’m doing laundry or doing yoga.

I will admit right here and now, right up front, that while I thought I’d be raring to get back to work after Viva got settled in school, the reality is, um, not so much.

I was talking with my friend CC this weekend about it while our 2-year-olds were chasing each other around the playground. We are both in our mid-30s, and in our youths, both thought that by this point in our lives, we’d have major big jobs – serious careers – lovely husbands, and a couple of kids a piece, in daycare from the age of 2 months on*.

“I thought I’d be, I don’t know, Secretary of State or something,” CC said. We laughed.

“And I thought, ‘Hey, it’s no big deal to put your kid in daycare,’” I said. “Easy to say when you’re childless and in your early 20s.”

“I know,” CC said. “Once you have a kid, it’s like, ‘Oh, no way am I putting her in daycare.”

We have both made financial sacrifices to be able to care for our kids ourselves. CC, for example, took a job teaching adult ed part-time, so she and her writer husband could split childcare. This is despite her training and work experience as an attorney – clearly a more financially rewarding alternative.

* At least we got the lovely husbands, and one kid each.

Sweet William and I decided five years ago, before we were even married, that I should quit my full-time job and try to make a go of consulting, so I’d be able to work part-time from home once we started our family. This worked for a couple of years, until I was pregnant, in my second trimester, and my fibroids started degenerating to such a painful degree that I couldn’t get out of the house to see clients. I stopped working.

When Viva was six months old, I went through the motions of getting back into the groove, but it was difficult to schedule things around naps and babysitters and the like. Inevitably, someone would call just after she’d woken up, and I wasn’t feeling terribly professional about having to say, "I’ll have to call you back, my baby just woke up.”

At any rate, when Viva was eight months old, Sweet William got recruited away from his job to a bigger, better job that paid substantially more. Substantially, as in we jumped up and down when they messengered the job offer letter to our apartment and we saw the compensation package. We then talked it over and agreed I wouldn’t worry about working until Viva started preschool at age 2, at which point I would have to work to pay for her to go to school. (I know, the logic of this sounds bizarre, but at 2, she was really ready to go to school – she loved being around other kids, and she loved all the different activities scheduled there. I admit to being at the end of my rope in terms of trying to come up with a variety of things to do every day when it was just the two of us at home, and I was thinking it wouldn’t be so bad to be around grownups myself.)

Blah blah blah, so here we are. Viva started preschool full-time in August, and I started looking for a job, without much clear direction of what I was looking for. This has caused some delays in the process. And I was sick for much of the fall and early winter, leading me to abandon my job search in December until after the holidays.

Now I am back in the special purgatory reserved for the professional job seeker, and it is only made worse by my reading books like Bait and Switch and articles like “Everybody Hates Linda.” In Bait and Switch, Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover in the world of the white-collar unemployed. She does everything possible to get a job – she consults career coaches, takes personality tests, networks, networks, networks, gets an image makeover – and at the end of seven months, she is still unemployed.

I’ll wait while that sinks in. Now, let me share some quotes from the book with you:
“…the cost of health insurance has become a major disincentive to job creation; companies would rather outsource or hire benefit-less “contract workers” than take on the burden of providing insurance for new hires.” (Bait and Switch, page 236)

“On many fronts, the American middle class is under attack as never before. …the 2005 federal bankruptcy bill, which eliminates the possibility of a fresh start for debt-ridden individuals, will condemn more of the unemployed and underemployed to a life of debt peonage. Meanwhile, escalating college costs threaten to bar their own children from white-collar careers. And as company pensions disappear, the president is campaigning vigorously to eviscerate Social Security.” (ibid, same page)
If that doesn’t depress you, how about this: of eleven fellow white-collar job seekers she met along the way, by the end of her experiment, none had yet found a “real” job. Some had taken on survival jobs (waiting tables, moving furniture, cleaning toilets), and some had moved in with family members to get by.

I am certainly not saying that things are that bad for me. But it does give me pause.

Sweet William recently had lunch with a friend of his from law school. His friend spends 6 days a week at work and sees his daughter for only about 25 minutes in the evenings after he gets home from work and before she goes to bed. I guess there’s always Sundays. In the meantime, his wife, who is a writer for a sitcom, has been offered to opportunity to script a pilot for an influential producer. It is a HUGE break, but comes just at the time when they are discussing whether or not to have a second child (their daughter is also 2, just a few months younger than Viva).

His wife is torn. She barely sees the baby she has, and getting a pilot off the ground while keeping her existing job is going to take all her time. Her husband’s response: “Well at least you’d be giving her someone to play with.”

“You’re kind of at opposite ends of the spectrum,” Sweet William said. “She wants more time to stay home, and you want more time out of the house, to go back to work.”

We’re not so different, though. We are both trying to find that perfect work-life balance. The question for both of us is how to work and yet have enough time for our families. I am still working this out. (Clearly!)
Detractors of "workplace feminism" say it failed to factor in the realities of caregiving, but its fatal weakness was optimism. It's actually a little embarrassing to think how easily we were persuaded that once qualified women had a chance to prove their mettle in the professional and skilled labor force, the bastions of male privilege would come tumbling down. (“Everybody Hates Linda,” Judith Stadtman Tucker.)
Okay, so workplace feminism somehow forgot about the kids. And now I have to deal with The Gap.

No, I’m not breaking down and deciding to get a retail job (yet). Barbara Ehrenreich found that a Gap in your resume (and yes, she capitalized it, because her career consultants made such a big deal over it) pretty much shuts you out of consideration for a job. This is true even when The Gap is covered by a period of time you did consulting work. Yes, like me. And explaining that The Gap is the result of staying home to raise your kid? Oh, it's just not done.

So, I’m not exactly having a pity party over here, but I’m not all that gung-ho about the job search thing, either. Maybe I need a dose of Tony Robbins. Hey, it worked for Jack Black!


Anonymous said...


I'm looking for a content writer right now. Check the details here:

Lisa Blah Blah said...

Thanks for the tip - I'll look into it!