We meet the Universe halfway, and then we wait. I love the notion that whatever we’re moving towards is also moving towards us. We don’t have to be perfect or push things along, we just have to show up. – Jena Strong, Bullseye, Baby!
I am about to be unemployed. I am about to be part of the Great American Collapse. Or so it feels. As a lifetime freelancer who has never worked in one place for more than two years and who is accustomed to buying her own insurance, I feel psychologically better suited for this situation than many. But as a newly single mom, I’m also keenly aware of my obligation to provide.
I am pickier these days about work. Not in terms of income, but in terms of Right Livliehood – of wanting to be doing work that is contributing rather than harming; of working with people who are awake. As I talk to people about their organizations and businesses – trying to find the job that no one has yet thought of, the job that is secretly hiding in plain sight just for me – I am also realizing just what I will and won’t do in terms of time away from my children. I’m realizing just how sacred my work as Mama is to me. Writing can be put on hold. Writing can happen between the cracks. But not my kids.
During these “informational interviews” people ask questions. It’s sort of their turn to be nosy. I’m trying to use their questions as tools for narrowing my path, for better understanding what I want. One woman in a high position in my community who was kind enough to sit down with me and talk about work possibilities, asked: “What do you most love doing? What would your parents look at you now – remembering you as a little girl – and think, ‘Of course, this is what she does!'”
The answer was easy: I talked about telling stories. My stories, sure, but other people’s, too, stories that shouldn’t even interest me. I told her of writing academic white papers about gifted kids in rural schools – the whiz kid from a reservation in South Dakota who went to Yale and who I occasionally Google, now, years later, to see what’s become of him. About being the lead editor for Microsoft Complete Baseball without ever having been to a major league baseball game – and how interesting the player bios were for the guys who just made it to the Big Show for a season or even a single game. I enjoy every annual report I write, every newsletter. Really.
I knew the “right” answer: A LOT! I should have blurted out, “Forty-plus!” I should have been thinking: money, money, money. But I hesitated.
Then she asked a harder question. “How much do you want to work?” I knew the “right” answer: A LOT! I should have blurted out, “Forty-plus!” I should have been thinking: money, money, money. But I hesitated. I sat and watched my mind whir. I had never had to answer this aloud to someone who was in a position to truly help me get work. Suddenly, I could not lie to this woman of two grown boys; “I cannot be away from my kids for the kind of time that a full-time job with traditional hours entails.” I went on to explain – and to my amazement, she agreed – that this should not rule out full time positions. There’s plenty that I can do from home as a writer, and my kids are both school-aged; computers have far reach; I’m well-disciplined. This is possible. But putting my kids in before- and after-school care, five days a week? Can’t do it. Won’t do it.
I remember my old neighbor – a single mom of two who told me of working a hodgepodge of odd jobs when her girls were in school in order to be there when they got home every afternoon. She worked in a lab and as an office clerk on different weekdays, then sang with a band a night or two a week after they were asleep. Her example has been a beacon to me, especially now when as a single mom it seems that finding a full-time, 8-to-5 job is de rigueur. And especially since she’s raised two amazing young women and been awarded every feminist award our university has to offer.
Connecting with another friend, a highly creative entrepreneur, got me thinking outside the box: Sell a booklet via pdf online, she suggested. Take in kids for after-school care. Get a renter. (Check – did that one last fall. Oops – renter just moved out unexpectedly. Know anyone?)
Then today, as I cleaned up my office at my current job, a woman who has worked there for two decades came in to get something. “What are you going to do next?” she asked. I shrugged and told her my conundrum.
“Be with your kids,” she said. “Even if you’re poor. You’ll never regret it. Never.” And then, much to my surprise, she welled up with tears.
“I do this work because it allows me to be the kind of mother I want to be.”
They were similar to the tears that a friend shed yesterday while sitting at my table sharing a cup of coffee. She’s a massage therapist and a recent injury has made it difficult to work. Another single mom, she lives very close to the bone. “I do this work because it allows me to be the kind of mother I want to be,” she said, and suddenly, she started crying.
“Wow, I didn’t know that was so close to the surface,” she said after she’d composed herself, referring to the tears. That is very near the surface for many of us, I think – that constant sense of obligation to provide and provide. To be breadwinner and mom. To love in the best and most important way. That is at the heart of our madness and could drive us politically (if we had more time!). That is what keeps us poor but makes us rich at the same time.