The Problem of Work

After seven years as a stay-at-home mom, I can’t get the idea of going back to work as a microbiologist out of my head. I worked nearly nineteen years in labs in various capacities before I became a mom and loved it. Most of the time. I loved my colleagues over the years. Most of them. It devastated me to stop working but the imbalance between my home life and my work life threatened to destroy my marriage and my sanity. Something had to give.  The adjustment took months. Even with a young child, I felt the need to constantly be moving to justify the “luxury” of not bringing home a paycheck.

Before Jelly Bean arrived, weekends were for mountain biking, hiking and catching up on chores not done during the week. We paid someone to walk the dog on weekdays because we rarely got home before eight or nine at night. Our energetic sheltie often needed two walks, the second done in the late evening by flashlight after dinner. Dinner itself consisted of takeout or cereal. No time to cook. No skill to cook. Just a little baking here and there. The yard and gardens looked like bombardier testing grounds.

This weekend I pulled the Community page out from the paper and we went all over north Puget Sound to find quaint little church bazaars after we ate breakfast and walked the dog.  I finished prepping my lecture and lab for Jelly Bean’s class for the week. I am their science teacher this year. Last week we learned about molecules. This week we’re going to talk about structural engineering. Before this we tackled leaf chromatography and gravity. My goal is to nerdify them. To get them to understand that science is around them everyday and that it’s fun and deeply interesting. Couldn’t do this if I worked, at least not well.

Last night I made roasted butternut squash soup with rosemary chicken sausage and lots of veggies. On a Wednesday. That would have been a holiday feast ten years ago, complete with days of fretting over ingredients and technique. I can make soup in my sleep now. I can make quite a few meals without preamble. Cooking not only fulfills my need to feed my family healthy deliciousness but I enjoy it as well. I still don’t want to cook for six or seven hours at a time but it’s very little to invite people over for dinner at the last minute. It would have been weeks of planning before JB. Now I make sure the bathroom is clean and has a fresh towel. About five minutes of work. The ingredients for many meals await in the pantry until they can fulfill their delicious destiny. I wouldn’t have known the first thing about filling a pantry before.

Steve walks the dog with me when he works from home, which he does frequently now. We take breaks to do a little yoga or he lifts weights in the garage. We’ve both lost more than twenty pounds and are probably healthier than we’ve been since we became parents. Our marriage is no longer teetering on the brink of oblivion. Sometimes we joke about days where he needs to work from the library. I will call them Super Fun Time Mommy Needs Some Time Alone days.

Today, all before noon, I’ve done an hour of everyday chores (make breakfast, lunch for the kiddo, made the bed, feed the animals), two loads of laundry, went grocery shopping, started the dishes, walked the dog, broke the clock, tried to fix the clock (not yet) and started this post. This afternoon will be filled with more errands, cleaning the bathrooms, finishing my task for the food bank, finding a contractor to build a new fence (ours came down with the recent wind storm), schlepping my kid to her piano lesson and helping with her homework, if needed. And more laundry.  Our family will spend the evening together, most likely watching an episode of Mythbusters or talking about Minecraft (gah!) or even reading together.

So which of these gets pushed aside? What do I give up to be back in the lab in some capacity? I’m sure that this sounds whiny – because Steve makes a decent salary, I “get” to stay at home. But I loved to work. I am built emotionally to go out into the world to solve problems and bring order to chaos and, of course, to get my nerd on. I was good at it, or at least I think I was good at it. Every year my performance review glowed and I received an above-average raise. Surely someone out there would appreciate a hyper-organized multi-tasker with a couple of degrees and who has mellowed with age?

When my daughter’s class visited a local hospital for a field trip last year, I physically ached to go into the lab and don a white coat, safety glasses and latex gloves. It surprised me how profound that pull felt, how much it affected me. I can’t imagine never, ever going back. But my life now is a good one. Great, even. I’ve brought order to the chaos that used to exist here at home. My current job is both important and worthwhile, but it’s not microbiology. Working would bring us more financial freedom but likely more disarray and less time together.

It’s unlikely that this struggle – similar to countless others, both moms and dads – will soon resolve. At some point, though, I suppose that one should choose a path and commit to it. And be OK with it.

I’m standing at a crossroad. What to do…


8 thoughts on “The Problem of Work

  1. So good to see you back at the Blogging, Amy. Big Question: do you have to use the black page with white type? My eyes have some difficulty sorting the pixels. (Same problem I always had in the good old days with antique MACs.) In this format I can see the pixels, and while I understand that others cannot, HELP! Would love to read more!!!

    • Thanks for reading it, Margaret! I will see if I can fiddle with the color. I like the drama of it. But perhaps there is a way to accommodate your eyes. 🙂

  2. You have transformed and found meaning in the stay at home stage. Just a little longer, and you’ll be in the white coats again -I perceive. You are creating memories of life times for JB, Steve, and you. And you even found a way to nerd out and nerdify others! Doing all kinds of good, but I do know, that you need the work and fulfillment. For you. Perhaps the internal planning has begun <3. Best wishes!

    • Sue – I trust your intuition. I have a few irons in the fire that might do. Nerdifying kids is a fabulous distraction. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *