If the pandemic did anything for us, I think it helped to make each one of us humans recognize that everyone else is human also. Radical, I know. We saw people in their homes working with everything from kids to cats to dirty laundry in the background and finally we decided it was OK.
Working from home the past 6 years, I’d always felt that things had to be perfect. I’d tidy up my humanity into a professional front and hope and pray that Leto wouldn’t decide he needed to serenade us or that my background didn’t look too much like a cabin (it is a cabin because I live in a cabin), or that no one would notice when I’d slip and say “I just have to run outside to use the restroom”, failing to cover up the fact that we use an outhouse.
In my current job, which started in April 2020, that veneer became less important. People there seemed more interested and less appalled by my lifestyle as living a simpler life and getting back to basics (hello sourdough super fans!) gained popularity. Plus, everyone loved dogs, thankfully, as that was the summer that Leto fell in love with neighbor dog and howled 24/7 for two months. It felt a little less essential to hide my life and little more appropriate to share it yet still I spent a lot of effort tidying it to look a certain way (even if that way isn’t really my way).
What have we decided that looks like again? And…who decided this?
As I came back on screen for my first day after Parental Leave, despite being on the grid with an indoor toilet and all, I worried that again I would look unprofessional. In 87 degree weather my options were thin strapped clothing or heat stroke so I chose the straps. I also didn’t have my desk setup yet so I sat outside, Bougainvillea blooming behind me. Was that ok?
Yet locale and skimpy clothes were the least of my worries, because now I had a whole human to hide. How was I going to pull that off? I mean, I couldn’t simultaneously don my professional hat and my Mom hat, right?!
The funny thing is, I don’t believe any of this inner speak I was shouting at myself but somehow it crept in anyways. Sure, my attention might be divided if I’m holding my babe during a meeting but it will also be divided if I hear him crying during a meeting and still if I can’t hear him crying at all because I’m working away from him. Why? Because, as one of my coworkers pointed out to me when I asked how she dealt with working as a mom: I’m a mom. Part of me will always be thinking of my babes. That’s ok. That’s human.
Whether he’s in my sights or out, he will always be on my mind but that doesn’t make me less of a professional or less valuable of an employee. Perhaps it’s even a strength. Wild idea, I know! It’s amazing what I’ve seen multi-tasking minds do. I can’t count the number of times my parent friends have held a meaningful conversation all while clothing/feeding/calming/teaching another smaller human. Nor can I express how absolutely fluent these people have become in all things baby in no time flat. The learning curve is steep but up that hill we all climb, slowly, steadily learning along the way. Parents aren’t dummies but I sure was being one. All it took was a three hour kickoff meeting to shake me sense-full.
Three hours is a chonka chonka sized meeting for anyone but for a new mom? Extra chonk. Even if Ollie wasn’t home with The Chief and I, I still would have had to stop to pump at some point. Yet, him being home meant I could stop and simply feed him and then go back and…that was A-OK. There were three quick pauses in the three hours and one was just for me to refill my water. The week followed suit, going surprisingly well most hours of most days.
Truth be told, no matter how well the days go it’s still hard for me to be at work. It’s hard to not be the one who knows Ollie best or has all the tricks up my sleeve but once my ego started to let that go, I could see the beauty in The Chief stepping into the spotlight as I stepped out.
Watching him rock our little love to sleep when my classic moves weren’t working slowly felt less like defeat and more like freedom. Freedom to see myself as as a workin’ mom. Freedom to start taking longer than a bathroom break moment to myself. Freedom to share in the hard. And while the baton handoff has been shaky at times (I’m not crying, you’re crying) I know deep down I needed it.
So, I’m letting myself take the gift of the pandemic and allow myself to be human, a human working mom. May you all have coworkers as wise as mine to help set you straight, if need be. Let’s all just be humans together, shall we?