I found a really shallow reason to go back to the workplace in my fourth year of stay-at-home mommyhood. I wanted to dress up and go to work. I wanted to change footwear, earrings, wear hair-product, lipstick, nail-polish, perfume, cotton sarees and silver jewellery.
Fact is, I was tired of mommy dates. And pushing swings. And being told that I cannot take a nap when I thought I had earned it. I was tired of the husband always whining that he had the most stressful job in the whole world.
On most days, I can see the humour in motherhood. I also think children are deep and there’s a lot to learn just by listening to them. I found myself laughing and crying in equal measure as I spent hour after hour with my son, just the two of us, and the ‘casulls’ we constructed, the mess we reveled in. I made plenty of “I quit my awesome job because I really wanted to be a stay-at-home-mother” mommy friends. I believed them. I began to say the same thing. I believed it. It felt good. There is the power of the collective. Blogger mommies. Twitter mommies. Working-from-home mommies. School gate mommies. Facebook mommies. Desperately-social-networking mommies. It was important.
But here’s a simple truth: no one leaves a job that is perfect, that truly makes them happy. The same holds for SAHMhood
Just like no one gives up on a relationship when the sex is really good.
Here’s another confession: When I first quit my good-on-paper job to pursue motherhood four years ago, I had reached the point where I was sapped by the job, by its sameness, by its autopilotness, its rinse-repeatness. Motherhood at that time was like a sizzling affair; it was a start-up; I felt like an entrepreneur, I liked the fact that I could do it by trial and error, that there were no style-guides or briefs, that my baby was a brand I could totally make my own, that it didn’t come with excess baggage, that I had no boss! Plus Re was curly-haired, dimple-chinned and drop-dead-gorgeous.
When I was asked “When are you going back to work?”, it made me mad. I wrote angsty blogposts. I got hate-mail and love-mail in equal measure. I smiled and waved.
I had what many women dream of having. Unlimited credit. The husband said it was my reward for doing what I was doing. He was lavish with praise, gratitude, money; he fixed me the best drinks after particularly dreary mommy days, he massaged my calves, he always fed the cats, threw the garbage and made me tea. I flung and he picked up after me. Sometimes there was a voucher for a dress, sometimes I had a cash-bonus thrown in, sometimes a ticket to Goa; he did his best to keep me incentivised. I had three years in which I could sit around, paint my nails, outsource babyness, buy clothes, go to spas and do pretty much anything for self indulgence, as long as HE was off baby duty.
I wasted it; I outsourced nothing. I took my job seriously. I treated SAHM-hood like I would a new job. I was always trying to think out of the box, do things differently, wake up every morning and plan meals and things for the day, find ways of making every minute I spent with the boy fun and inspiring. I planned outings, library visits, beach dates, cookie dates, activities, park dates, pot-lucks with much gusto. When things got really intense between Re and me, I started the saga of play-dates and mommy dates. It was the beginning of the end. I met mommy after mommy, each time hoping that she would be THE ONE.
And one day, I got bored. Really bored. And tired. Really tired. I had decided though that the day I felt it was a drudgery, I would stop and try to get back to the work space. I didn’t want Re to be at the receiving end of this energy.
The problem with women like me who are awesome with domesticity is that you can begin to think it’s a career. I am great with food, baking, décor, lighting, furniture, clothes, PTA meetings, play-dates, money, you name it. I know places, I drive, I can create adventure out of nothing and I have lost count of the number of brunches I have hosted. Three years later, I hated being a SAHM for the same reasons that I loved it in the first place. That it sucked me out. That it consumed me. That I was so emotionally invested in it that I thought it was me.
I am shallow enough to think motherhood is about logistics, after a point. I was done with plan Bs and Cs. Sometimes I wished I had half a dozen kids, so I could have said “fuck-you” to no-shows.The straw that broke the camel’s back was being dumped by a mommy on a play-date I had planned for our boys. A mommy I didn’t really give a rat’s ass about.
Meanwhile every Sandberg , Slaughter, Mayer and Bhagat were holding forth on women in the workplace, constantly making a case for or against SAHMs. It was like there was a conspiracy to shake women out of their complacency and get them back into the race. Mommies on twitter were constantly up in arms or really gushy about their words, depending on which side of the fence they sat on. Twitter was full of mommy angst, very cleverly camouflaged to fit a 140 character breeziness. Mommies instagrammed photos, they wrote micropoetry, they posted link after link (I still don’t how whether they actually read all that content). The ones who spoke about the motions and the mundane were termed whine-bags and dismissed. If you had to be cool on twitter, you had to rise above mommyness. You had to be with-it.
But it still didn’t bother me. I was as happy as can be, I reasoned. I had a book deal, a blog, a column, I wrote for various newspapers and magazines, and I ran a well-oiled home. What more could I possibly do? On the face of it, I had it all. But it wasn’t enough. It was all too deep. I needed the shallow, the frivolous to feel real. And no, working in PJs is not as much fun as it’s made out to be.
I realised one thing: It’s okay to call your job a drag, but it was not okay to call motherhood a drag. And then I read something which truly explained the intensity of what I was feeling, and it’s the best thing I have read about the work-life balance. In the language of economics, the marginal utility of time with your kids—the happiness you get from the last hour you spend with them—declines as you spend more hours.
It motivated me enough to send out my resume, line up meetings, and announce that I was ‘ready’. In less than a month, I had a job.
I am liking it. I like swiping my card and hanging out with my team in the canteen. I like the quality time over the quantity time with my son. I like that I have outsourced the dreary bits. And I am no longer afraid to call them dreary. I like me more. I know there should be deeper reasons for going back to the workplace, but for now, this will do.
There have been good days and bad days. I have been late for pickups, I have snapped at the husband on the phone, I have run out of meetings like Cinderella, I have got on the wrong train and got so immersed in my book that I didn’t notice, I have started dreaming about work.
But it’s not bothering me. For now, I want to wake up every morning and GO TO WORK. For now I can pretend to be Rapunzel who has been rescued by the Prince from the tower.
P.S: Here’s a tip: If you do decide to be a SAHM, pretend you know nothing about food. Or pest-control. Or rent-agreements. Or what does a driver cost. You’ll do just fine. And don’t go anywhere near the oven.