Maybe it’s because I’m a curious soul, or because I like a good challenge. Or maybe it’s because I have a teeny, tiny chip on my shoulder about being a working mom, and feel like I have something to prove. Maybe it’s because I can’t say no, or because I am so stubborn that I won’t.
It could be some combination of them all, but today I tried a reckless experiment, bringing together two highly combustible elements: (a) my daughters and (b) my job.
Usually I keep my family life completely separate from my work life. I am so stringent about it that I won’t even schedule a client conference call while I’m at home watching the girls. That’s because I don’t want to be the source of any disruption to the adults on the call (disruption here meaning a girl yelling in the background, “Mommy, I’m hungry!!” or “Mommy, she hit me!!” or “Mommy, I need to poop!!” or simply “MAMA!!”). I’ve brought my girls to my office a couple of times to show them around, but never while anything too important is going on.
But around Mother’s Day, I read a very eloquent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, penned by a working mom named Athelia Woolley LeSueur, called “For My Daughter.”LeSueur is the founder of Shabby Apple, a vintage/retro clothing designer (and she’s a Mormon, too!). In her op-ed, LeSueur writes a moving note to her (apparently infant) daughter with such forward-looking assurances as:
“I will do my best as an entrepreneur. I will do my best as your mother.”
“I won’t apologize for being a mother. I won’t apologize for you. When I go to meetings with international buyers, I will carry you on my belly. When you cry, I will politely excuse myself to calm you. The fabric man from Shanghai will be surprised, but he will take me seriously because I take myself seriously. I will take you to trade shows. I will ignore the scowls of many and welcome the smiles of some. I will hold my head high and be proud to be there, proud to be there with you. I will choose not to work with people who sneer at us when I hold you during my company meeting.”
When I read this, I felt oddly empowered. Granted, I realized that she’s in a special category of elite working moms — those who found their own successful companies and get their op-eds published in the Wall Street Journal. At this moment in our lives, she and I do not have much in common.
But still I felt empowered. Her words took flight in my imagination. Could I bring my daughters to a client meeting? Could I better integrate the “work” half of me with the “mom” half? Is it necessary that I so rigidly separate them? Could I loosen up a little, tolerate a little discomfort from embarrassing five-year-old behavior and changing dirty diapers, and allow my daughters into my work life a little more?
While I considered these questions, an opportunity presented itself for me to experiment and try to find my own answers. One of our clients — a group of real estate developers — wanted to give me and a colleague a walking tour of the properties they just purchased. Hey, I thought — what if we scheduled it for a time that the girls could come along too?
Once it was scheduled, I didn’t give it too much thought — until yesterday, when I have to admit that I started panicking a little. What had I been thinking?? N could easily have a temper tantrum in the middle of the tour, lay down on the sidewalk and refuse to get up. She could start bothering S in the stroller and they could start fighting. What if N was trying to get my attention the whole time and I couldn’t hear a word the clients were saying? What kind of impression would I make — would they even want to continue working with me??
Boy, my sense of empowerment was beginning to seem deluded and irrational.
This morning I even explored the option of dropping N with a friend for a play-date in the park, but the drop-off would take too much time and I didn’t want to be late to meet the client. Besides, I actually like hanging out with my daughters (most of the time). So I decided to forge ahead with my Grand Experiment, and see whether it’s possible for me to mix my business and personal lives a little more.
When I picked up N from school, I realized that I was going to have to keep my stress level to an absolute minimum, and treat this outing as 100% FUN! I promised a quick walking-tour, followed by macaroni & cheese at a nearby kid restaurant with toys and games, capped off by a container of Italian ice on the way home. I gave N a map of the area where we’d be walking and she brought along writing utensils, to keep track of whatever came into her head.
When we got to the car, N started counting. “1, 2, 3,” she said — and continued counting aloud during the entire drive, up to 500. We got out of the car and walked up to greet the clients and my colleague. Instead of saying hello to anyone, she covered her ears and kept counting. We walked that way for a few blocks. I simply laughed and said, “We’re still working on social skills.”
The four other people in the meeting were very nice and polite about me bringing my kids along. But I noticed a similarity among them: they were all men. (This is real estate, after all — not the fashion industry, like in LeSueur’s world.) Apart from my colleague, who has grandchildren and is a natural with kids, I don’t know whether any of the gentlemen in the meeting have kids. But they treated my girls as if they did not really know what to do or say to them — mostly, they ignored them.
I am not complaining about their reaction at all. In fact, it was better than I expected. The gentlemen were very patient when N had to stop and take a break, or started talking to me in the middle of a discussion. But it’s interesting to note that there is a HUGE difference in how me and my girls were received at this particular meeting, and how we would likely have been treated if all the attendees were female.
Thankfully, N was pretty well-behaved. She didn’t throw a tantrum and we didn’t have any major meltdowns. N did have a bit of an attitude — she continued covering her ears with her hands until she counted to 700 — but I guess social skills will come, eventually. And amazingly, I was able to focus on what the client was saying most of the time.
Bringing the girls with me today induced a fair amount of agita on my part. But maybe it was worth it. Maybe, just maybe, more working moms of my generation will begin to bring their daughters (and sons) to work with them more often, not just one day in April. It sure helps when you have a flexible job, of course. But for those of us who can do it, perhaps we’ll make it just a little easier for everyone else, now and down the road.
I do like how Le Sueur ends her op-ed letter to her daughter:
“My life will be in a blender. I will be overwhelmed and frazzled and a little crazy. Sometimes, I will be so tired from mixing you and work that I will put keys in the freezer and show up for a conference on the wrong day. But I will love my work. I will love you. We will surprise each other.”
I think my girls and I all pleasantly surprised each other today.
(And the mac-and-cheese and Italian ices were the perfect reward to a busy workday!!)