I didn’t miss my kids’ childhoods. I don’t regret my choice to raise them myself and be available to them. But it’s got me pondering the definition of success. I did turn down a career offer when my son was three. Entry level position with this agency with opportunity for growth. My kid’s growth was just more interesting to me at the time.
I worked through my pregnancy with him and Jason (his dad) collected unemployment. When the unemployment ran out, J got a job driving the shuttle van for the hospital which he complained about constantly. That and a bit more got him fired. And I don’t think he could continue collecting unemployment. I was offered a full-time job washing dishes at the time (only female of about 100 or so male applicants — unemployment was high during that part of the Reagan era), but I was nursing my baby and I really did not want to be away from him.
Since we had a child, we qualified for welfare so that was the route we took. Jason would grumble and carry on regularly because of the job contacts and whatever else he used to have to do to stay in the program. I considered another job when A. was a year old — retail — but still I just could not leave my boy. By the time he was two though, with Jason not really looking for work and me feeling we can’t live this way forever, I took a job in a dry cleaners pressing shirts. (I pressed some of the most famous shirts in the city of Burlington I might add). But every morning at 6:55am when I walked around the corner to work, I used to hate leaving my little boy standing on a stool at the front door, looking out the window at me as we waved bye-bye until we could no longer see each other. There were pluses to the job — walking to work, finishing at 2pm every day, having my lunch break at home, weekends off, a decent wage, boss and co-workers. I stayed for 5 months before I accepted a position with the Girl Scout Council. That felt like more than a job. 8 to 4, Monday through Friday and no going home for lunch. It was a grind. I took the bus to work because we only had one car, Jason wouldn’t let me drive it, and he wanted to sleep in. So I would leave in the morning, with my boy crying in the window when I left, because this was a different kind of work that took me further away, and for longer. He and his dad would pick me up at 4pm though and it was always a joy to look out the picture window from my office and see them waiting in the Dart for me. Sometimes, they’d come in. Anthony impressed everyone, he was so sweet and so “articulate” for such a wee guy. J. would tell me what they did that day, who they hung out with, sometimes they went fishing or just hanging.
I’d try to tell myself how progressive we were with the role reversal. Househusband (who left the housework for the wife). Stay-at-home dad who took his boy fishing sometimes and bought him “jolly” doughnuts from the Freihoffer’s outlet. (Anthony loved jelly doughnuts and he also loved Cheez-lits, as he used to call them).
J. loved smoking weed, and don’t ask me why, I didn’t get an “allowance” for working, but J. did for “babysitting.” We always called it “the allowance” and it was a huge bone of contention with us. I tried to feel “modern” but career woman just wasn’t my thing. Neither was the allowance.
Some mornings I would feel so trapped going off to this daily grind, missing my son terribly, heart breaking every morning as he cried in the window. Sometimes, when it was just Joyce and me in the office before anyone else arrived I would cry. She was so good. She was 63 at the time and we both started working around the same time. She was going through a divorce so was back to work. She’d had two children, but her daughter died in a single car crash at the age of 19. As Joyce put it (and I’ve always loved this expression relating to loss), she “healed well.” She loved her pb & j sandwiches. Every day for lunch. And nature and Twin Hills, the girl scout camp she took the boys and me to once. She soothed my sorrow after I returned from a trip burying my best friend, she soothed my sadness over my marriage and leaving my son every day.
After about a year and a half of this, I’d finally told Jason I was sick of it, I wanted him to get a job, I wanted to be home with our son. I’d been after him to get into UVM, and sure enough he did; he got a printing job that he enjoyed — good pay, benefits and hours. And I could finally stay home with the boy. But I’d also been applying for jobs in case J. didn’t get one — jobs with more opportunity. So when J. accepted his UVM job, I’d also been offered the job with what was then called Resolution. It was basically an upstart PR agency and I knew what I was turning down when I turned it down. Because I was already successful. I got to stay home and grow with my child.