When meeting a fellow mom for the first time, there is always a moment in the conversation where there is hesitation…there is a flash of fear of offense…and then there is the question: Do you work? Or do you stay at home? The inflection of the question goes up, just to the right pitch so as to indicate that the asker is okay with whatever answer you throw out there. It’s cool, the asker implies. I am so totally good with whatever you are about to answer and I respect your choices and please don’t think I’m asking to judge and oh my goodness, my heart is beating faster, why is my heart beating faster, I really don’t care what the answer is, will she believe me? And then you answer, and then you ask the other person what they do in the same way and then you get on with your conversation.

I don’t know why all this drama is associated with this question—probably all the mom blogs and magazines and TV news magazines that talk of Mommy Wars. Maybe sometimes the drama of the question comes from the guilt (self-induced) associated with either decision—either on the “I am away from my kids” side of the equation, or the “I went to school and was really good at my job and now people think that I sit around all day but I don’t” side of it. Either way, when we ask we are all like, “It’s cool, it’s cool, see how cool it is?”  Can we all just agree that we don’t care? And stop asking it in such a weird way?

My answer to the question is the easiest one to give any asker. I work, part-time and from home only. People hear that answer, and regardless of their own answer, they are like, “Okay! You feel me! You get what I do and why I do it!” And also, “That must be nice!” I can see them imagining shedding the things they don’t like about their own choice, and glomming onto the things they do. A paycheck and playdates? Sign me up! Of course there are always the confident few who love and own their answer, without any grass is greener feelings. They are the ones who have found the recipe for happiness and are cooking it daily. They are aspirational, with their contentment with their current station. They want not. We should try to be more like them.

When I was pregnant with Wally V, I was working full time as an Account Manager at an advertising agency. I was challenged, and good at my job. Although I do remember some Mondays where I would be walking to work and thinking, Only 5 more days until the weekend. I lived for the weekends. To be fair, my husband and I played a lot of Rock Band on the weekends, did a lot of shopping, went to a lot of restaurants, and watched a lot of movies. About right now in my life, that is sounding pretty awesome and worth looking forward to. Maybe we can do that again the next time we have 10 hours on a Saturday of uninterrupted time. 12-15 years from now.

But, I did enjoy most aspects of my job, and I loved the company. At the time, my forward thinking boss had taken the company in a new direction, and we were managing a lot of social media for clients. So we were always looking for writers to keep up with all of the content that blogs, websites, and social sites require. My background was writing—I went to school for English with a Writing Emphasis. (Yes, I’m one of those idiots who chose to read and write my way through college. Nerd! Useless! In what job do you have to read and write?) Luckily my boss valued elbow grease, and I had always had a little of that. (If childhood had majors, “Elbow Grease” was one of mine, with my Dad as our family’s tenured professor of it.) So in the first place my boss let me-the-English-major be an Account Manager, and in the second, years later when I was pregnant and came to him to ask if I could switch to being a Writer, reduce to part time, and work from home only, his answer was an immediate yes.

Thus began my answer of “I work from home, part time.” And I actually do kind of love my opportunity. I get to spend time with my kids, I get to be there at drop off and pick up, and I get to hang out with other moms during the day. I get to be the one who yells at my kids and disciplines them, and even that is a kind of a gift—shaping them into decent human beings using my own moral compass as a foundation. I also get the satisfaction of working on something challenging that I care about and am good at, and that is separate from my kids, that doesn’t involve policing or wiping snotty noses or picking Cheerios out of the carpet. I do have the best of both worlds.

And of course, it is not all roses. My house is a constant mess, because something’s got to give. I get tired of playing host to the kids—hosting, both as in throwing water and snacks at them when they are hungry, and also sometimes because of the lack of personal space it feels like hosting an alien or a tick or a leech. I was so ready for school to start recently because of all the touching. My daughter is a snuggler, and by the end of the summer with her pets and her leans and her loving me by putting her feet on me at every opportunity on the couch, I wanted to scream, Stop touching me! Stop touching me! Why are you always touching me! I wanted to scream it like a crazy person, shaking my head, arms in the air, tangled hair out to here. And my biggest struggle—I am able to work in the morning with an early wake-up and my husband’s help, and then during naptime/quiet time, but occasionally I have to ignore my children to work. I feel like they are constantly seeing me on the computer, and they may not understand what I am doing (what’s the difference between Mommy working and Mommy on Facebook? Sometimes because I work in Marketing, the answer is nothing). I worry that the image at the top of this post is what they will remember about me from childhood. I wonder if they think I am choosing this device over them instead of for them. I sometimes look around and feel like I’m bad at everything.

Despite these struggles, though, I never dread the week ahead in the ways I used to those Mondays walking to work. I love and look forward to the strange mix of work and play and freedom and hosting that is my life.

But there is one thing I do know that I have done right that makes this work-at-home thing possible—I chose the right husband. He’s of the rare 50/50 variety, where we each put in equal effort for every at-home task. I get hours of work out of his help getting the kids ready every morning. And often we come home late from playing in the afternoon, and we walk in the door and say, “Hi Wally/Daddy—so what’s for dinner?” And my independently playing kids don’t hurt the cause either. Wally Ben loves his quiet time play in his room—in fact, this week he started morning kindergarten, and the moment he gets home he runs to his room, desperate to play with his Legos, which he has so clearly missed for the 3 hours he was at school. And Vivvi is a known content wanderer, rarely needing us or our attention, even as a baby. When Wally was 3 and required my eagle eye attention at the playground to stay out of trouble, I always knew Vivvi was in the sandbox happy, taking care of herself. Most of the time I feel pretty lucky that these are my people. I think I’ll keep them.

And I also have my other VIP helpers, who step in when I need it—my sister, my mom, my mother-in-law, my niece and nephew. I mention the latter because my sister and I actually have a good thing going, where our kids require nothing of us when their cousins are present. So we’ll get together, or drop a kid with the other occasionally just so we can get some stuff done. This works so well, and we take advantage of it so often that it’s to the point where every time we get in the car, Vivvi asks, “Are we going to Aunt Liz’s house?” And to demonstrate how much the kids truly love it, I’ll add that if my answer to the question is no, she cries. Now that’s some cousin love.

So this was my choice. This is my answer. And I guess what I am trying to say is, I love my answer. And you should, too. We are all happy sometimes, and struggling others. But I am sure that if you made a list of what you love and what you struggle with in your choice, you would come out on the content side also. We all made the choice we did for a reason. In all of my conversations with stay-at-home and working moms alike, I have yet to meet a stay-at-home who says, “How could she be away from her children all day?” and I have yet to meet a working mom who says, “How can she stand to be with her children all day?” Because the truth is—no one cares. The total number of people I’ve met who are involved in these so-called mommy wars is zero. (Who are these people who care? Do we want to be friends with them anyway?) So can we all stop feeling weird about asking? Can we assume all parties withhold judgement? Can we all just own and be content with our answer?

I am so happy with my answer. My husband, my kids, my boss, my family, my mom friends—they all make it so I have to be happy with my answer. And that is a great place to be. It’s what I hope for every mom. It’s what I hope for you.

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