Next week, my youngest starts full-day kindergarten. I am completely overwhelmed with the realization that my shadow for the past six years, my little guy at the back of my knee, the baby boy who still follows me from room to room will be leaving me for eight hours per day. I am just about prepared for the craziness of getting two kids plus a husband out the door at the same time every morning. My calendar is already filled with afternoon activities and dinner crock pot recipes are already being gathered. School supplies and uniforms have been bought. I am as ready as I am going to be for everything but one small, inconsequential item of business. The question.
You know the question. If you are a woman, without children of your own, you probably asked it, innocently and in an off-hand manner, as if the answer was simple and already decided. If you are a guy, you asked it automatically, expecting one and only one answer. If you are another SAHM who has been in the exact same position, you know not to ask at all.
What is the question? What has me so riled up already that I am ready to punch the next person who asks me in the face?
"So, what are you going to do once the kids are in school?"
A lot of different responses have popped into my head. Should I go with "eating Bon-Bon's and watching soaps"? It is fairly unoriginal, plus I've clearly eaten my share of desserts and I'm not into daytime TV. "Hookers and coke" is my husband's line whenever I ask him what he is up to when I'm not around, but I don't like to steal someone else's material. "Porn" is succinct, but I shudder to think of the TMI that may lead to from an over-sharer.
What I want to reply is, "What do you expect me to do after being out of the work force for eight years?"
(As always, I have nothing but respect for those moms who choose to continue their career. I made my choice and I have to live with it. This is just me complaining about the ramifications.)
Think hard. How many careers can take an eight-year hiatus? Post 9/11, post the dot-com bubble bursting, post Author Anderson, post the collapse of the stock market, the housing marketing, and in the middle of a recession - what jobs exactly do you think are available? What industry will take you with open arms, flexible hours, and pay enough to afford aftercare during the school year and daycare during breaks and summer vacation. Not everyone can teach, wants to teach, or can get a teaching position. Technology has practically somersaulted over itself in terms of change. Health care is in a state of flux. Companies in every industry are "right-sizing", "down-sizing" or just plain laying off. Lots of industries don't have part time, freelance, or work-from-home options. Even in those that do, many companies don't offer them. Hell, even Yahoo! is making everyone come into the office these days. So many industries have changed so dramatically that women with experience, with savvy, with ambition, who started work in a lush economy with myriad possibilities now find themselves facing a scorched earth and closed door. Going back to school for a new degree is a great option - if the one income for two adults and X number of kids can stretch that far. Plus, many of these women have spent the intervening years joining a few committees, offering to volunteer at school, at church, in the community and don't necessarily want to give up giving back.
So, what exactly do you want us to do? What answer do you think we are going to give you?
I'm actually lucky. Though my children refuse to believe it and interrupt me constantly, I am a freelance editor and have been doing business writing all this time. Excluding a three-month maternity leave when I had my first born, my résumé doesn't have a gap. While the freelance market is glutted right now and many of my "opportunities" seem to include writing term papers for foreign nationals for less than I would have charged in college for beer money, as least I have one steady employer. It isn't perfect, it doesn't pay many bills, and it leaves me far too much time to read, but it is what is it.
Right now, I still want to be the person called when the preschool needs a sub, when the PTA needs a hand setting up a breakfast, when the teacher needs a parent helper in the classroom. I still want to be as involved in my kids lives a possible because pretty soon, instead of getting a big hug and kiss when they see me in the halls, I'm going to get the cold shoulder and a wicked side eye.
So next time you see me, and I mention my son going to kindergarten, think before you speak. Don't ask the question. Just pat the little guy on the head, tell him he is going to love it, and go about your day. I am about to be fired from a job I have loved and held for eight long years. I honestly don't know what I am going to do next. But when I figure it out, you'll be the first one to know.