Dear Working Momma, I see You.
My husband and I have an arrangement where he drops my son off at daycare in the mornings so that I can start my workday early, and I pick him up so he can work late. When either of us travels for work, the other double duties on drop-offs and pick-ups. One Thursday morning, as he was away on business, I dropped Lucas off, not quite enjoying the feeling of saying good-bye to my baby. Guess I’m used to pick-up smiles, and not drop-off good-byes.
As I packed up his stroller, I noticed a mom in hardcore tears in the corner of the lobby. She held an even more hysterical 1 year old in one arm, a wiggling leg refusing its shoe in the other, and a cellphone ready to plummet at any given moment between her shoulder and ear as she spoke to, what I imagined to be, a pediatrician’s office.
“But she HAS to see him TODAY before lunchtime. I can’t take him in the afternoon, and I can’t wait till next tuesday.”
“Well, can’t she fit him in for 15 minutes? We just need the prescription.”
“No, YOU calm down! I have a sick baby, a deadline, a husband on the other side of the world, and YOU have the attitude!”
SLAM. I’m not even sure if she hung up the call as she threw her phone in her purse.
“F^%#^. I’m going to be late again. My boss is going to kill me”.
The daycare’s assistant handed her a tissue and a solitary pat on her shoulder. As she looked up, meeting my gaze, she embarrassingly wiped away her tears, shrugging in full defeat. She mumbled something under her breath, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to run over to her, and just…hold her. Not her sick baby. Her.
Yep. I wanted to cuddle a grown-ass woman I have never met in my life.
Actually, that’s not quite true, because I HAVE met her before.
In fact, I know her very well. I have 34 versions of her in 3 Whatsapp groups, I speak to her every time I run into her on the street, always rushing. I see her every single day, in the mirror, as she faces tired skin, baggy eyes from no sleep, unwashed hair, and usually, deep dissatisfaction at her reflection.
She’s the working mom. The “mom who works”, as some call her. The woman who has at least 2 full time jobs, and probably doesn’t even get properly paid for one.
She’s the woman who battles deep inner conflict every time her child coughs, or threatens a fever. Because she worries if it’s just the flu or something serious, and if it is, she starts doing the math on how she is going to handle her boss when she misses another day of work. She mentally goes through the list of all the people she could call in for help, but none of those people know how to take care of her baby exactly as she needs them to. She mentalizes her boss’s voice as she imagines having to ask for an extension on that deadline, knowing they will always sigh in disapproval and lack of understanding. And finally, she always hates herself for even thinking about work as the fever rises, and the child in front of her starts begging for her healing embrace.
She’s the woman who humbly buries her annoyance when yet another 20-something who got a full 8-hour rest asks her if she is sick when she’s had no time to put make-up on an unslept face.
She’s the woman who cuts her lunch hour by half, so she can get everything done in double, so she can leave on time to pick up her child. And people. People always say “She had so much potential before the baby, hey?”, not knowing she just handed in twice as much work in half as much time as they did. And yet she always gets passed over for any promotion….because she’s a mom. “We need someone with full commitment and attention for this position”, is how they justify their choice to her with.
She’s the woman who gets told to hang in there because “the nights are long, but the years are short”. But listen, what if those years are HER best years? Her prime years?
She’s the woman who pulls all nighters to breastfeed while simultaneously finishing presentations and reports she didn’t have time to finish during the day. And still makes sure everyone is fed, dressed, and ready to go early in the morning.
She’s the woman who knows where absolutely everything is in the house, what time each child has soccer practice, how many doses of medication the toddler has taken that day, how many loads of laundry she has to do so that everyone has enough clothes for the rest of the week; while simultaneously knowing exactly how to run that software so that the numbers come out accurately, which client her boss needs to network with better so they can close in on a deal, exactly how the goals are being met that quarter, and who needs to receive feedback to improve performance.
She’s the woman whose family calls selfish because she won’t give up on her dream job to dedicate herself 100% to her children. She’s the woman the previous generation calls modern and narcissistic. She’s the woman who gets told she is ruining her kids’ emotional health by putting them in daycare. She’s the one they say doesn’t know what true love is because she held on to her career.
She’s the woman who has no time to exercise and lose that extra weight because her appearance is no longer a priority in her life. Yet she is daily bombarded with advertising, comments, and even demands from close ones that she pull, tweak, squeeze, tone, and mold herself into an image physically impossible to attain. “Why did you let yourself go?” they ask.
Hey! I guess she did.
She let herself go beyond what she was capable of ever doing before motherhood combined with career.
She let herself move mountains, in completing above and beyond her corporate obligations, and mothering her child in the best way possible.
She let herself give up on a few dreams so as to handle the challenge of leading teams, while leading a household of people into love and community.
She let herself focus on creating light to see all she needs to in the backstage of family matters, where no credit is ever fully given.
She let herself step off the pedestal so that she could give herself fully to keeping another human being alive, healthy, and happy.
She let herself go hard as she protects herself from countless critiques, unsolicited advice, and unreachable standards pressed upon her.
So, yeah, I know her, pretty well. I cry her tears, I feel her urge to give it all up and run away. I know the effort it takes to hold back tears when yet another person says something that demeans the noble and fierce work she does, both in the office, and on the rocking chair.
But mostly, I knew that as she sat there in the lobby, desperate for a solution, she needed to be held.
So I did what my daddy raised me to do. I went over, without a word, picked her son up in my arms, hugged his feverish body as tightly as I could, and handed him over to the daycare’s assistant. And then I sat, and I held this woman whose name I didn’t even know. She cried. I cried. Her son cried. The assistant cried. We all cried.
Her phone rang a few minutes later, and she let go of my embrace to pick it up.
“Hi…yes… Ok. Sure. We’ll be there in 20 minutes. Thank you so much.”
There it was: her beautiful life-changing, people-influencing, miracle-making smile peeking out of a red blotchy face most would have called messy. She gathered her things, picked up her son, and waved us all good-bye as she probably got the appointment she needed.
I never saw her again, I never asked for her name, I never really needed to.
Working mothers are superheroes. No matter what line of work we are in, we do the freaking impossible. We love and raise our children in a very confusing age to be raised in, and we yearn for excellency in the craft we have chosen.
When no one else acknowledges this, my dear, I just want to say PEEK-A-BOO! I see YOU.
A special thank-you to my “working momma” tribe which consists of a total of 46 different women, spread out in 4 different countries, 2 different languages, many different lines of work, and a lot of carrying each other through the hardest of work and baby days. This article is a reflection of what I’ve journeyed with them over a period of 1 year and 2 months. I have never met a more resilient, unwavering group of people in my life. I have never seen diversity in action as I have in motherhood tribes. Thank you to these superwomen, the ones who see me when I can’t see myself.