I had a hard time becoming a working mom. Mostly because I had a hard time becoming a mom, and then realized I’d never really worked, so figuring out how to do both at the same time was pretty overwhelming. I was 19 when my son was born, a year of college under my belt and experience in absolutely nothing. In one particularly sad moment, I remember looking up “beauty schools” in the yellow pages thinking maybe I could have a career in hair. I think that was a move inspired by the movie Grease. Fortunately, I never dropped in, so never became a dropout.
I finally summoned the guts to go job hunting when the boy was eight months old. We needed the money and I needed a life outside of our apartment. I was more lonely and depressed than I’ve ever been that first year — my friends had all gone back to college, I’d moved to a city where I knew no one, and I was at home with a baby while my husband worked long hours and made new friends. The boy was my sole focus; my entertainment, my job, my friend. I needed to get out for his sake as much as mine.
I found someone to watch the boy while I found a job and then, when I actually had a job. That was mystifying — do I find the job first, or the childcare provider or the other way around? Connie watched the boy, and then the girl in a relationship that ended up lasting many years and many different jobs.
I remember the day I found that first job — at a touristy store in Old Town St. Charles — making just a dollar more than I was paying per hour for childcare. The day I applied I was hired on the spot, wearing a floral skirt and sweater I’d had since I was sixteen years old. “I like the way you look,” said the store’s owner, a woman who within two months had a breakdown, abruptly closing the store without notice. It became apparent during my short time there that she had a buying addiction. She was in way over her head and kept acquiring more merchandise to sell.
It was OK, and probably a good thing that job ended, although it was jarring to show up for work one day and find that I had no job. I called my sitter from a pay phone to tell her what happened and that I was heading to the mall, that bastion of employment for the underexperienced, to find another job immediately.
Friends of mine, or more accurately, my husband’s, encouraged me to apply at the new Sears store in town. Two of them were working there, making OK money and combining flexible hours with college. The day my job disappeared in Old Town St. Charles, I went to Sears and applied, getting a job in the appliances/electronics department right away, as a merchandise assistant. I worked about 25 hours a week and made barely enough to make it worth it. It was important to me, though because I finally had some friends in town — some people to talk to everyday and something to do with my time besides obsessing over my 10 month-old son.
I remember my boss, Stef, allowing me to set my own hours — 10am-2pm five days a week. I wanted to make sure I was home in time for Oprah. I watched more TV the first two years I was married than I ever will again. (See symptoms of depression: excessive TV watching.) The schedule worked for me as I eased into what I still found difficult — getting myself and a child out the door and still managing everything I needed to do at home. The first whole year I worked was like a practice run — the job was not demanding, but life was.
I worked at Sears for seven long years. I moved into a sales position and worked from 30-40 hours a week depending on the season. By the time I’d been there for six months or so, I re-enrolled in college, taking one course at a time at the community college. I’d missed school so much my heart ached. I was insanely jealous of my friends, cruising along with their educations, set to graduate in a couple of years. Lifetime movies or TV commercials about moms graduating from college made me sob with envy. I had to get back to school, no matter what it took.
By 1992, a friend, another young mom that worked at Sears, convinced me to apply to Lindenwood — a local four-year college with an accelerated night program. I decided to look into it and in a very quick move, ended up enrolling full time in regular day program with a scholarship and grants that paid for all but a few hundred dollars. I was shocked at myself — and unsure how all this would work — but I plotted it out all so carefully, registering for classes only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays or Tuesdays and Thursdays so I could work the remaining days and still be home for my husband and son in the evenings. I managed to pull this off for six semesters (taking one or two summer courses to make sure I graduated within the three year goal I’d set for myself to finish). My advisor had so many visits from me that we bonded — she invited me back a few years ago to do a reading for the school and I was somewhat unsurprised she remembered me, from all the afternoons I camped out in the English department.
It was exhausting. I worked or was at school every day for three years. I needed to get done, though — to get the piece of paper that would allow me to get on with life — to get out of my sales job into what I really wanted to do, and to make the money we needed to move out of our apartment and not worry endlessly about money.
The day I graduated from college my whole family was there — but my fondest memory is that of my five-year-old son, in dress pants, oxford shirt and clip-on tie, witnessing his mother in a moment of sheer pride. All he remembers, he says of that day is that it was hot.
I waited till I was old enough to have my first child to have my second child. That’s been my line ever since the girl was born when I was 25 years old. I was ready, finally, and embraced pregnancy and childbirth without fear and in fact, with a degree of confidence the second time around. I knew so much more about myself and what was happening that I decided — and stuck to — the decision to give birth naturally.
The drug-free birth of my daughter was a vast improvement over the epidural experience I had with my son. Being a teenager, (I was 19 when the boy was born) I simply took the advice of others in my childbirth class the first time around. What did I know? Childbirth sounded pretty awful. Fortunately, I’m good at it — no problems with either child’s birth and if we’d had another, he or she could easily have been born at home. Not that I’d want that — too messy and I happen to really enjoy hospital food. Why not? Someone else makes it and it’s pretty darn healthy.
A year and change after I graduated from college, the girl was born. I was still working at Sears up until a week or so before she was due, standing for eight-hour days on my swollen feet in maternity clothes I darn near outgrew. Sears had great benefits — a five-month paid maternity leave and excellent health coverage. When we started talking about child #2 we decided I should stay in my sales job — that and I wasn’t finding anything in my chosen profession right away.
Having two children and working is, so I’ve heard, like having seven children and working. The transition from one kid to two is incredible. (Are you listening Sean and Amy?) You might as well have seven with the increase in everything — food, laundry, bills, appointments, running around. I liked the space between my kids; 6.5 years was just about right for us and the boy was a good helper. Unfortunately, having kids this far apart was a bit like starting all over again. I had to set a new schedule, find my new groove.
And then, I found an internship at a public relations firm.
Sure, it seemed like starting at the bottom but I realized, when you work in PR, this is where you start. The internship is critical to entering the communications profession. I took the internship when the girl was six months old. It was hard, after five months of being home with her to suddenly dive back into two jobs — I felt like I was in college and working again. I continued to work at Sears about 20 hours a week while working at the firm 20 hours — I had to — the internship paid $5 an hour. It was a crazy schedule I worked out — working until 2pm at the firm, driving to the store in St. Peters, Mo. from Brentwood to work until close two nights a week and working on the weekends as well. It was really hard at times but I was determined and had to believe that this was the right step — a necessary step to get where I wanted to be, not just for me, but for my family, as well.
Fortunately, the experience was positive and at the end of four months, they offered me a full time job. It paid less than I made selling appliances but it was the foot in the door I needed to get on the path I desired. I was able to kiss Sears goodbye at last. I remember telling one of my fellow sales associates that I was leaving to go work in public relations. She said, “What’s more relating to the public than this?”