When All You’ve Got Are a Bunch of Lemons…
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” –Hebrews 4:16
By: Katie Brown, pbandjparenting.com
Hello. My name is Katie, and it has been 921 days since my last paycheck.
The feelings of shame and hopelessness associated with involuntary unemployment are real and complex. I quit my job at the direction of my doctor during my debilitating pregnancy with Simon and have not held a full-time, paid position since. I include the word “involuntary” with gravity and respect, and to illustrate how closely our identities are tied to our everyday. I fixate on my unemployment because I did not choose it–not because I disparage the role of a stay-at-home parent. Indeed, if I’ve learned anything during the past two years, it is that successfully entertaining a child for twelve straight hours should be the most exploited bullet point on any resume: “I see your, ‘Boosted sales by $2.6 million,’ and I raise you a, ‘Negotiated 2.5 hour nap in his crib with hangry toddler.’”
But I decided that I wanted to be a working parent, and I pursued a job outside the home, and here I sit: obsessively clicking “refresh” on idealist.org, stalking professionally accomplished strangers on LinkedIn, and treating a spreadsheet full of Washingtonians to coffee while I try to contain the stench of my desperation. I love my son, and I’m also proud of the years I put in to earn my (expensive) degrees. I want to invent fine motor games involving pipe cleaners and muffin tins, and I also want to advocate for children disadvantaged simply by their zip code.
Maybe I only believe, even as I type this, that I want it bad enough. Perhaps, if I truly wanted to return to lawyer life, I would take a tip from wide receiver Joe Anderson and park myself and my humility outside of the Children’s Law Center holding a cardboard sign: #whateverittakes. Maybe, if I really wanted it, I would have accepted the $40k salary where my would-be colleagues had to work from home because they could not afford child care. Real drive would mean more resume revisions, less sleep, “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat, right? These are the questions I ask myself as I lie in bed at night or absentmindedly shade in mandalas with colored pencils, my symphony choir of inner demons deriding my failure in minor key.
Well-intentioned friends and colleagues assuage my anxiety: You’re doing everything right–give it time. The vectors will align when the time is right. I’m surprised it’s taking so much time–I’d hire you immediately! “TIME,” I want to scream, “is precisely what I lack!” I can feel my professional relevance atrophy by the day. The housing market is steadily liquidating its inventory of affordable 3/2s. And my aging ovarian follicles, conveniently anthropomorphizing into belligerent telemarketers, have my number on speed dial. Life is passing me by while TIME gleefully moons me from a retreating rear window.
…truthfully, however, I know they’re all right. If life kept pace with our desires, we might’ve married that wet blanket from freshman Physics or snagged the aisle seat or missed hearing her last breath. Yeats said, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” I remind myself that it is so easy to retreat into myopic complacence, but that it takes strength and, well, time to look for the magic in the mundane. And so very many magical things have happened along this slowly unfolding journey. I am routinely surprised by the kindness and generosity of the aforementioned professionally accomplished strangers. I have cultivated a gregariousness I didn’t know I possessed (pint-sized wingman not required, but helpful). I’ve met nearby family members I never knew existed–wonderfully warm and inclusive people–and one of them, God bless America, makes his own cheese. I learned how to bake Panettone over Skype with my Argentinian Spanish tutor. And, most importantly, I’ve painted more dinosaurs and witnessed more developmental milestones than even the most progressive maternity leave policy would’ve permitted.
Second only to this time with Simon are the intimate stories revealed to me in passing: the military mom who once diapered her daughter in an airline blanket on a 14-hour flight from Nepal; the new divorcé who all but skips to his car on Fridays en route to pick up his eight-year-old twins; the woman who lost her baby in the ninth month and returned to work a week later. I have nothing and everything in common with their experience; I have nothing and everything to learn from their pain and their joy.
(Originally published on pbandjparenting.com)
Katie Brown, Editor-in-Chief of pbandjparenting.com, is a non-practicing attorney-social worker trolling LinkedIn profiles in metro D.C. Her wolf pack includes her curly-haired economist husband, curly-haired heavyweight toddler, and–for good measure–a curly-haired poodle named Atticus. She likes to write and eat kimchi out of the jar.
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