Tag Archives: working-moms

So, About This Mother’s Day..

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My kids are busy making mother’s day cards. There’s a surreptitious air to their transparent activities (yes,mommy knows everything – besides they’ve been bent over quilling strips trying to make paper flowers and asking me random questions about my preference in colour of ear rings!) I know, awww..

So, it’s nice, to see them excited. And I am playing my part – looking deliberately obtuse as they make cards under my nose, hiding them with books and sundry things while getting taken in by my apparent aloofness (no doubt I will have to express amazement tomorrow on how I had absolutely no idea they were up to this).
But, that’s really about it. I don’t much believe in mother’s day. I think it’s being thrust upon us – it’s a bit like what De Beers did with diamonds – made it synonymous with love and weddings. I don’t buy it.

So, a few days ago, I told my kids that I didn’t want any gifts, I wanted good behaviour and obedience. They seemed crestfallen – much easier to make cards and go to the mall with dad (and way more fun too). Now I had gone and ruined it, and asked for what clearly could not be bought and was no fun, to put it mildly. Plus, my demand seemed unfair – because for that we’d need a Mother’s Year, since it would extend beyond Sunday. For them, mother’s day is about gifts and cards which tell mommy how much she is loved and appreciated. It’s not, however, about a behavioral change, which falls clearly in the, now-that’s-asking-for-a-bit-much domain.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt about the fact that my kids love me. My objection is about telling the kids world over that’s here’s a day you must make special for your mom and tell her you love her. What’s wrong with that, you could ask? Read on..

First, why a day? Who decided this? Why not a week, a month, a year? Also, to me the whole idea is a bit skewed – because a mom does not need a day, even if we were to assume that’s really going to make her feel loved – she needs to be understood and helped along the way – everyday! Lovely as it is, she does not need special treatment one day and return to being monster mom the next. She has her birthday for that.

Second, it leads to pressure on children – to find ways of expressing love on a particular preset day – it’s clinical if you ask me. And forced. Like this weekend, there’s a lot of homework and this is adding to it. So guess what’s going to happen on Sunday night, when the reality of Monday morning will be looming large on the household? Mommy will have to step in to firefight! (counterproductive Mother’s day if you ask me!)

So, here’s what I really want.

I want cards from my kids (I save all of them – even scraps they write sorry on). But I want them on days when I least expect them – when I am feeling the strains of life, when I am feeling overwhelmed with all that I need to do, when I am missing my dad I lost recently, when I am feeling premenstrual, when I want to sit and cry – for reasons I cannot fathom, when I want to turn back time and take that job I refused, when I wake up and want to go back to sleep again..those are the times when a card will cheer me up and make me feel loved.

Tomorrow I expect the cards and the show of love – but I need those for rainy days.

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What Changed When I Started Working

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For one thing, going for gatherings became easier. I had a ready answer to, “so what do you do?”. Yes, I know I being at home with the kids is “commendable” and one of the “toughest jobs in the world”, and that I should never have felt bashful about being, well, just a mom. Except, that I was – bashful, as well as just a mom. I hated the question, no matter how innocuously it was asked. And I never felt fulfilled (whatever that means) doing a seemingly noble job that was supposed to satisfy my motherly instincts. I was happy, yes, spending time with my kids, but always felt a sense of restlessness that took away from the contentment that motherhood is said to bring.

But, that was then. Now things have changed. And not. I still hold the portfolio of the home and cabinet minister combined. I won that uncontested, of course, and my having returned to work did not mean that the posts had fallen vacant. All it meant was that I had, willingly, taken on more responsibility. The previous ones still stood (and shall continue to do so as long as I live). That was the truth.

Why? Because I am the mom, and that’s the way it is. Mommies fix things, as everyone else pretends that they can’t. That, and also because I earn so little that it has no bearing on the husband’s life. He still has to bring home the bacon – so his life has not changed, while mine has turned on its head. And that’s why yours truly still does the stay-at-home-mommy things – ferrying the kids to classes, remembering the vaccinations, getting berated by the doctors when she forgets, rushing home to tend to a sick child, getting the house cleaned, things fixed, dry-cleaned, darned, repaired, cooked – you name it. And of course, added to this is the unenviable task of making a dash to the stationary shop on a Sunday evening, when mommy is most kindly informed about a project due on Monday morning. Yes, that is fun and brings me to the conclusion that real estate prices should not be driven  by hospitals or schools in the vicinity, but by the number of stationary shops near the house – try getting into one on a Sunday evening. I can tell you, from experience, that entry into sold-out Broadway shows are easier, as opposed to getting into a shop to buy Blu Tack. Try elbowing out harassed moms being trailed by sulking kids. I do it with more regularity than I comb my hair.

My bag, much like the rest of my life, is also bearing the brunt of the additional responsibility. Because it’s still a mommy bag (I am just not the sort to change bags, and when I have tried to be the sort, I have ended up returning home to pick up my wallet I forgot in the old one). So I carry one bag that lets me switch from the calm, working-mom at the office to the, never-know-what-you’ll-need mommy once I am back home. Which means that in office, when I reach for a pen, my hand returns smeared with ink from a leaking felt pen or a half-eaten melted chocolate (which I had refused to mop up and shoved into my bag a month ago). Or both. I also find broken crayons, smiley stickers, biscuit crumbs, spoons, flattened candies, paracetamol syrup, headache medicines, tampons, tissues and often, an expired credit note I had declared lost. Underneath all this is where I usually find the notepad on which I scribble notes while my boss rambles on about strategies we ought to be impressing our clients with.

So I would say that working has not changed so much as it has added things in my life. And on that note, of adding, guess what else has been added on me? Yup, the weight. I haven’t been able to run that much in the past year and bulges have started to appear, much to my consternation.

But, having said all of that, I will take the working mom, any day, over the stay at home one. No question about it. Sure, I am tired and my plate is spilling over, but I will not trade places with my old self at all. I love the fact that I leave the house and get into my own space, even if that space belongs to my boss and even though it’s not exactly the corner office (to put it mildly). But, just being out of the house and leaving the chaos behind me is liberating. Of course, the chaos tends to follow me – with the maid, the kids and the mother in law calling to ask inane questions. But still, I am physically away and don’t have to deal with it all the time.

“I was in a meeting” is a wonderful phrase I have re-discovered and use it quite liberally.

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Homework and the Monster Mommy

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Homework is usually my domain, though the husband does chip in a fair amount too. However, every once in a while it does lead to a you-do-this situation.

Like one Saturday, a few weeks ago, there was some Hindi homework that my ten-year-old daughter needed to get done. Now I am quite aware of the fact that homework is for the child to do and all that, but the truth is that when it’s Sunday night and the blank sheet stares you in the face as your lachrymose daughter informs you, amid bursts of tears, that the work most definitely needs to be given in the next day, somehow the bigger picture that she-must-learn-to-be-more-responsible blurs and all you want to do is fight the fire at hand.  Having been in a few of these situations, I try and not let homework linger on till Sunday evening – the afternoon being the absolute cut-off.

This particular Saturday presented a somewhat tedious Hindi homework and since I was busy with the younger twins’ respective work-sheets, I asked my husband to help the older one’s work. Or, to tell the truth, after an aborted attempt at starting the homework with her and my husband wondering aloud about why mother and daughter were fighting again, there was a slight change in plan on who would tackle this behemoth.  Little did he realize that his question would land him the unenviable job of supervising the Hindi homework. After a few exchanges between us about the merits of patience and of letting her figure it out, I handed him the sheet and said “all yours”. He looked at me helplessly at first and then, in a show of bravado, said that he would “make her do it without a problem”. I smiled and left the room with the alacrity of a cat that had licked the cream. I knew just where this was heading.

I returned twenty minutes later to find my daughter staring out of the window and my husband reading something about start-up ventures on the web. It seemed to be a serene and happy kind of coexistence. There was such calmness in the air that I, for a moment, contemplated leaving them in this idyllic state and returning to the twins’ homework. That noble thought, needless to say, passed quite quickly, and the peace was soon shattered. Father and daughter, lost in their own worlds, didn’t quite realize that monster mommy had made her dreaded entry, so I had to announce it myself. When I asked for a progress report, my husband jumped out of his chair and said “she’s almost done”. I looked at my daughter’s desk and saw the worksheet, clean as a slate. She looked at me with her large, eloquent eyes and said “I am thinking mama”. My husband sensed my mood, looked at my daughter in suppressed panic and asked her what happened to the useful inputs he’d given her. She looked most alarmed and said “dad, you didn’t tell me to write anything!” Ah! this was just the Claire-in-Modern-family-moment that I’d been waiting for– the time when my husband would face the same aggravation as I do with the kids (now you know why mommy yells?) But, there was no yelling, no stamping of feet, no, you-better-look-at-me-when-I-talk-to you exchanges. The air was tense and there was some fraction in the ranks, and while that briefly put into question the enduring unity against the common enemy, which would be the bad-cop, aka mommy, it didn’t last long enough for me to celebrate the sweet reversal of fortunes. The situation was quickly stabilized as my husband clarified that they had mentally gone over what was to be written and all that remained was to pour it out on paper. My daughter was quick to pick up the cue and wholeheartedly endorsed this fact. I rolled my eyes, sighed and gave them an ultimatum. I was to return in twenty more minutes and the pouring-out on paper better have happened till then.

Fifteen minutes later, as I was telling the twins to put back their pencils in their drawers, father and daughter entered the room holding the finished sheet, save for one last question. They said that they’d done it all but needed my expert guidance on one question. It was evident that this had been planned in an effort to make the home/cabinet secretary feel that any task was incomplete without her astute leadership. They both looked at me helplessly, and I played my part with such skill that it would have put Michelle Pfeiffer to shame. I heaved a sigh, took the paper and reluctantly agreed to complete the task.

“Thank you mama”, said the father-daughter-duo, “we were a bit lost without you”.  The battle won, I agreed to put the matter to rest, but not before I’d given my husband the look. The score stood at the usual – Mommy one, daddy Zero, as Salman Rushdie would say.

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A Race Against Myself – It’s Marathon Time Again

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After I ran the marathon last year, I was on a high. For me, it wasn’t a tick-off-your-bucket-list kind of thing. I enjoyed running and despite finding the 21 K quite challenging, I wanted to do it again. I really did.

Except, I didn’t expect that time of the year to come rolling by so soon. Because no matter how much you run otherwise, training for a marathon requires dedicated focus for at least 10 weeks (if not more). The fact that I ran last year has no real bearing on this year, because I have to build up my stamina again.

So here I am, almost a year later, wondering if I can do it again. I mean, I know I can do it again, but this time, it’s not that simple.

Why? Because, as they say, I have a rep to protect. And it’s all about the timing. Last year, I was baggage-free. I was a novice, a mum who’d decided to run because she needed to do something that made her feel a little better about herself (let’s face it, that’s always a part of it) – I needed to get away and do something for myself and do that whole stereotypical thing about feeling a sense of accomplishment and getting the high of having pushed your body to the limits. All that good stuff that runners love to say. Yes, it’s all true and I felt all of it.

That, however, was then – a year ago. This year, it’s a whole different ballgame. Now I am racing against myself.

If you are a runner, or if even if you vaguely know one, you will know that there is one thing that is of supreme importance – and that is the timing. Anybody who tells who that it does not matter is basically fooling himself or herself. It matters big time. I cannot possibly take longer to finish than I did last year. I mean I can, but I am not going to be thrilled about it, especially when all and sundry ask me what my timing was.

And it’s really not about other people either – I have a benchmark, and most people don’t like to fall short of it.

So I have little choice but to train hard again. And it’s not that I don’t want to, but this year has brought a big change in my life – I have started working, which leaves me little time to run. Yet, I will try, because running changed me in many, many ways. Not physically (though toned legs are always welcome) but mentally. I feel it made me stronger mentally – I learnt to push my mind to believe that I could do it. And that’s half the battle won.

I am not sure I can repeat last year’s magic. I want to, but it’ll take work – more than last year in a way – because, as I said before, now it’s a matter of reputation 🙂

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From Kids to KPIs

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The past few months have been interesting. I’ve been working full-time, sometimes more than that. And all that I feared would happen, has happened. Kids have fallen sick, maids have gone on leave, weekends have been awash with work. Yes, I am quite the working mom now and it’s amazing how I have slipped into that role like I was always doing this. The truth is five months ago I was your typical stay-at-home-mom, quite reconciled (if grudgingly) to the idea of never setting foot in an office again.

And how dramatically that’s changed.

I know I’ve said this before, but I am already facing a lot of pressure – mostly from myself. So on the back foot am I that I feel I have to constantly prove something – that I am serious about my work; that women who return to work after a hiatus may not be able to ace power point presentations, but they do add a lot of value to a company. And in my blind wish to prove this I have gone and done something that I now find impossible to get out of – I have poured cold water all over the negotiations that I made when I joined work – that I would leave at 4 and work flexi.  Not only do I not leave at 4, I also had a washed-out weekend where I worked flat out for a deadline, while my younger twin lay next to me with high fever. On Sunday night at 11:30 when she finally looked at me with watery eyes and asked me if I had the time to lay next to her, something in me snapped. I know there are good days and bad days and I was determined to not let anything get in the way of me proving myself – but when I saw her tiny face, all I could think of was the fact that she needed me. I sent off one last slide to my boss and shut my computer down. I was tired. And I thought about how much my life had changed.

I guess this was a test, of sorts. To try and work when you have a sick child tugging at your clothes. I did it, but with a lot of guilt. But, guess what, when I shut my computer, the guilt did not vanish – it merely shifted base – to work. I wondered if my boss would think I was shirking work – the fact that I worked the whole weekend with a sick child was not enough I guess. And I didn’t even want to tell my boss that my daughter was sick – because, in this flu season, my kids have been falling sick one after another and I didn’t him to think that it would affect my performance.

Anyway, long story short – the basic point I am trying to make is that a working mother has to constantly shift gears – from work to home and back to work, and to home again. It’s a constant cycle and I am still getting used to it. I am trying my best to do both, but there’s always guilt – of leaving the kids, of leaving work – that I haven’t been able to escape. And I doubt I ever will. It’s a woman thing.

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From a Stay-At-Home-Mom to a Working One

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I can tell you this – that I never thought it would happen. I never thought I would get back to real work. Yes, I was pretty sure that after ten years of being at home and looking after kids, I was good for nothing else. That no one in their right minds would hire me, which was quite alright, because, in my opinion, I was quite un-hireable. That’s what being at home does to you – you start to believe in the stereotype.

Well, I could not have been more wrong. Neither was I un-hireable nor had my being at home taken away from the person I was. Yes, I had been sucked into the demands of my home (and that was a choice I made, for whatever reason) and for a while I was that mother in the park who befriended others like her and thought that she would never be able to escape from the unending cycles of birthday parties, piano classes and fixing the mixie. But that was a period in time when I could not think beyond that. And while it may have temporarily lulled my grey cells into talking about maids, mothers-in-law and electricians, it really did not really make me into the person I thought I had become.  When I went back to work, the real me (ya, I know, it’s a cliché, but it’s true) just wriggled out of that home-mommy skin and rose to the occasion – something I never thought I could do.

And this is not about me being some super star who could rise from the ashes and go back to work because I was some genius who’s been rescued from the interminable demands of domesticity.  No, I am like every other mother who makes a choice to be at home, but that so-called choice is not really one. Because a choice gives you options and let’s you pick what you like. When someone like me chooses to be home, she’s doing to because she has nowhere to leave her child – really not a matter of choice. I’ve heard so many people say to stay-at-home moms that they made a choice, and I always find it interesting – the use of that word. Given a real choice, where the woman can get back to work and be allowed to be flexible as long as she delivers the work, many women I know would have opted to be back at work.

But what I do want to say to women is this – stay mentally active, that’s key. You will find something to do once things at home settle a bit. No, it’ll never be fully settled, but that’s ok, you’ll learn to deal with it. This last week my daughter had been ill, so I left work early and came home. Then I worked at night and on Saturday from home and completed some tasks. And yes, I still have to do the birthday stuff, the homework, the classes and all that comes with being a mum – work has to be managed with all that. But you know what, you learn to do it. Sure there are days when you feel overwhelmed, but nothing in life is easy. I’ve wanted to get back to work for so long and now that I have done it, the other things will have to be fitted in. The people around you learn too – your husband, your kids, your help – they all start to do their bit to help you. That’s what I learnt – they see that you are happy and they want it to stay that way.

I underestimated the people around me. I always thought that things would fall apart if I plugged out. But they don’t – somehow it all happens. And yes, I’ve learnt to let-go of a few things – the dust behind the cabinet for one. I don’t care if it gets swept once in a few days. It’s just not important anymore. Working on a presentation for a client beats that any day.

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When You Short Sell Yourself And You Know It

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So now I’ve been working for about three months, which might explain my absence from this blog (you can only do so much.)

It’s been great so far. I am enjoying getting out of the house, wearing work clothes and talking to adults. I do miss the lazy mornings, though, when I could read the papers with leisurely cups of tea and whine to my husband as he got ready for work. But, not complaining – you get some, you lose some. This is what I’ve wanted all this time, this is what my angst was all about – that I was not being able to get out of the house and take on the world. So here I am, happy that I finally got on the bus I’d been waiting for.

But (yes, there is a but, and you’ll soon see why) there is something that irks me – the fact that I get paid pittance. I know, I know – I’ve got my foot in the door and that’s key. But the thing that irritates me is the fact that my hiatus from work is being used as a negotiation tool and my abilities and skills are secondary. I am being paid based on my so-called absence from full-time work and not on what I actually bring to the table. Because the fact of the matter is (and here’s where I am going to be a bit, well, not so humble, so pardon me) that I am as good as the person who has been physically present in the workforce all these years. I may not be able to write the corporate jargon like the rest (give me another month and I will) but the clarity of thought and seriousness I bring can’t count for nothing (or just a wee bit more than nothing).

I didn’t expect to feel this way and frankly I did not even think about the money when I took the job. And that was because all I wanted was to get back in. But after being here for a few months I realized something – that the people who work around me are, pretty much, like me. When we are in a meeting, for instance, I have as many ideas (which usually get incorporated) as the Joe sitting next to me (who is, by the way, almost young enough to be my kid – had I married at 20 that is – and earning the same). But because I am this rebooting-her-career mom, my fear is that I am seen as someone who needs this more than she is needed at the job. It may or may not be true, but the fact that I am adding a lot of value but not being paid for it, bothers me.

Now to make this even more complicated I’ll add here that it bothers me that it bothers me (yup, am quite the stereotypical woman). And that’s because I don’t want to think about the money, but about working, about the foot-in-the-door, about the fact that I have managed to flee my domesticity and all that stuff I’d told myself about when I joined. It makes me uncomfortable to think this way.

Yet, the truth is that I do. And, after doing some analyzing, here’s probably why.

It’s because the compensation I’ve been offered factors in the assumption that I will need frequent flexibility, that because I am a back-to-work-mom, I’ll leave the office even if a bee were to enter my house, because mothers are control freaks who will drop everything to tend to their sacred hearths (never mind that I sit there till way past the time I “negotiated” I would).

Sure there would be days when I would have to run back to the house, but that could happen to anyone. What strikes me as unfair is that this what-if scenario holds true of any mother who works, irrespective of her career track. But returning-to-work mothers like me pay a price for a flexibility that we may or may not use, while working moms (the ones who somehow stayed on the road) don’t, even though they would be as prone to tending to a sick child as someone like me. And the truth is that I’ve been at work even when my daughter has been ill. You know why? Because I am trying to prove myself. I am trying to say – see I have a sick child at home, but I am here, doing my thing because I am like the rest, in every possible way.

So I am not sure what I am going to do about this feeling, apart from rant and rave about it on my blog. If it gets too much, I’ll bring it up with my boss when it’s time for a review (soon). The one great learning I’ve had in the past three months is that people who work well are always in demand and there is a short supply of such people. My husband always told me this, but who listens to husbands when you are at home, neck deep into mom-in-law, kids, birthday parties and homework. All you want to say then is “ya right, that’s easy for you to say when you are on the inside”.

Well, now I am on the inside and I could not agree with him more. So yes, I am happy to be out of the house but  wish I had not been so much on the back foot when I negotiated terms for my job. I know now (easy to say in hindsight) that I was going to get it anyway, but I didn’t know how to play the game.

One learns, I guess. The next time I’ll play it too.

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