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Monday, February 1, 2010

Thoughts from a Sometimes Working Mother and Having it All

My eyes are bleary from a day of working at a computer screen and from the commute home on darkened Los Angeles streets jammed with red lights. I left the office where I'm working on Hollywood Blvd., smack dab in the bustle of helpless, hopeful, searching, desperate souls, and 30 minutes later, I'm driving down our quiet tree-lined street in West Los Angeles where the three most important souls in my life anxiously await my return. It's only like 10 miles at best but my worlds exist on diametrically opposite ends of the life spectrum.

When I pull up at our home, the front porch light is on, the shade in the kitchen is down, and light spills out from our upstairs windows telling me life is moving right along without me. I park the van, gather my work bag stuffed with my computer, my mug still stained from the perfect cappuccino brewed by my man this morning that I sipped on as I drove to work, and files and notebooks filled with new projects that are all a part of my master escape plan from my current work life.

I close the driver's door behind me, cell phone and keys clutched in my hand, and I round the back of the van and step up on the sidewalk. Our street is cozy quiet, families inside relaxing after dinner, it's almost 7 pm, and I feel a little shame wondering if any of my neighbors see me pull up so late from work quietly thinking to themselves, "Oh those poor kids, without their mama, all day long."

I stop for a minute on the sidewalk and take a deep breath looking up at the full moon gracing our Southern California skies shining a hazy glow through the coastal mist that hangs in the air. My breath brings me to the present helping me erase the work thoughts of the day and the million other thoughts that race through my brain.

I've been breathing more lately - or at least
consciously breathing. Inhaling deep and long, centering me for a moment, reminding me that my life is right then and there. In my breath. Not in the corners of my brain where my thoughts live weighing me down and transporting me to everywhere but now.

I've known for so long that my life is a series of nows. That life only exists in the moment. Not in the thoughts of what was or what it is to be. But habits are hard to break. But I keep working on it. And when now comes to me loud and clear, I take it and I live it.

After a moment with the moon and my breath, I look towards the house and see two bouncing heads in our front office/den. My girls, already dressed in their jammies, coloring and gesturing and talking and wiggling. I've been meaning to get some window coverings for that front room since we moved in almost two years ago and still tonight, there are none. Just an illuminated room. A clear, perfect glimpse into the day that was lived without me.

I want to get in our home as fast as I can and hug them all up. All three of my babies. Smell their perfect skin and tickle their squishy bodies and listen to their sweet voices . And through my precious, limited time with them, I hope they will forgive me for my absence. That somehow, a hour and a half at the end of the day will make up for the thousand things that I missed.

And it has been a thousand things. That I know for certain.

I know because before I took this job I was with them. For almost two years. Home with them, knowing them inside and out. And everytime I have to take a project, for a variety of reasons, I know what I will be missing.

I watch my girls through the window, peering in trying to get clues as to how their day went. Who did they play with, what did they learn in class, what was the drive home like in my neighbor's van, what did they talk about, laugh about, how were they greeted when they walked through the door throwing their backpacks down and running to their room to get changed, what snacks did our babysitter give them, did they ask about me, did they cry for me, did they fight, how were they talked to when they misbehaved, did they listen, did they scrape a knee, did they cry, how were they comforted, what questions did they ask, what art project occupied them, did they beg to play more Nintendo DS, were they content to play Barbies in their room, did they run outside, swing in the backyard, ride their razors up and down the sidewalk, and for how long, did they eat their dinner, what did they eat, did they complain about taking a bath, did they decide on a shower, did they help take care of their brother, did they play with him, did they help clean up their room, did they have trouble finding their favorite pajamas, did they wonder when I would be home, or are they getting used to the long days without me?

The questions are never-ending, the list splinters off into a million directions. My kids are growing and learning and stretching and being. And standing there on the sidewalk staring at them through our window, there is only one thought running through my brain -

I am not there.

I can crunch on it in my head and justify it and validate it and explain it and believe it at times, but the truth is always there waiting to pounce in a moment of clarity.

I am a working mother. And I am not there.

I have been seeking balance since the moment I gave birth to my first baby, 7 1/2 years ago, and I'm not sure I'm any closer to it than when I first began. When I'm home full-time, the days often go by too slow, and when I'm working, they slip away too quickly leaving me grasping at the sun's sinking rays desperate to pull it back into the sky for a second chance. A chance to live that day again but this time as a mama.

I am caught in the middle it seems. A soul who craves both kinds of days. And who will never ever settle for one kind of life or the other. I want both.

But I know I can't have both. And when I think I can, I'm fooling myself.

Because life is only now. I know that in my heart.

Standing on the sidewalk, I take another deep breath, and I forgive myself for wanting it all. And then I walk towards our home letting the work day melt off of me, I open the front door, drop my stuff in the foyer, and I jump into the squeals.

Three squealing, smiling, souls running into my arms. And as I collapse onto the couch with them on top of me, I listen to their jabbering recollections of their day and I soak it all in. Because this is my now. And this is my life.

On a January evening 2010


At 6:01 PM last Friday, my job ended. Two months early. It was a surprise and not a surprise all at the same time. But more than anything it signaled to me, that my life has changed since I started working in television almost 20 years ago. I am a mother. And it just may be time for me and television to break up, once and for all. Hmmmm.......

More later....


  1. What a stunning post. As a mother who works full time outside the home and often brings it home with her, and who for 6 months got to be at home (and work part-time in the evenings once my child was asleep) I hear you. Caught.

    Sorry to hear of the job ending earlier than expected if it was not what you had hoped for.

  2. Your writing is beautiful Lee!!!! We may live on opposite sides of the country but I get this. I live this. I struggle with this.

  3. Your post brought me to tears my friend. Loved it and can feel your struggle through your so beautifully written words. A job well done on all fronts.

  4. Shocked and happy for you all at once.

    Are you OK?

  5. This is beautiful Lee. I loved reading these thoughts and can feel the struggle you've been doing just by reading your words. You are a good mama, when you're home, when you're working, anytime, just because you're you.

  6. Oh my! Sorry about the job! But something better awaits you at home. :)

  7. Lovely thoughts -the truth coming out in every painful word. I cried - outloud - when I read the paragraph with all of your questions of what you missed during the day...crap - I felt it all again and again through your eyes and your words. Working parents know it like no one else ever can I think. Only reaffirms that finding the balance is essential. I truly don't think a perfect balance exists, but I'm willing to keep striving for something close. Something that nourishes the creative soul, the driven soul, the family soul and also helps pay the bills! :)
    Love you lady, love this post and am looking at the end of the job as a good sign toward everything coming together in a better, healthier way...
    Keep us posted!

  8. Tears in my eyes, Dude.

    What a great reminder. Gratitude. Gratitude.

    Maybe this is a gift...


  9. What a beautiful post about a seminal moment. A moment that could have been taken for granted so easily. But you have a gift for noticing the little things-especially those that add up to the bigger things.

    And, as I tell my children:
    You gotta do what you gotta do.


  10. First, I just have to say that this was so beautiful and it was very timely for me. Last week, I had a taste of what it would be like to work full time and be a mother of 4. Let's just say it was not pretty but on the other hand, I loved it. I too would like to have it all.

    And on the other hand, I think that I do.

    Great Post, Lee.

    Thank you.

  11. It's been a long time since I left FT employment, but I totally remember those feelings. It took me a while to recover from being a working mom, but I'm good with it now. Now that I work PT while kiddos are at school, it does seem like the best of both worlds.

  12. Absolutely beautiful post - As someone who struggles mightily with this issue, I find that reading about others who are dealing with this makes it somehow easier..thank you for sharing.

  13. I haven't worked full time since I had my daughter, but I find myself daydreaming about having it all often. This is a good eye opener for me. Balance. Is balance really attainable? Hmmm.

  14. Thoughts become things so each thought goes out into the world to bring us back what we want.

    We are in charge. We always get what we want, whether we actively realize it at the time or not.

    So as the saying goes, Choose Wisely!

  15. Such a beautiful and thoughtful post. You really capture the essence of the struggle so well and without judgment.

    It is what it is.

  16. Wanted to say here that your writing is just beautiful and so authentic and moving. And you hit it all, right on the head, really.

    The rest, I will save for a phone call. Soon. (really soon.)

  17. wow friend. i mean i knew i liked you when we met - but i had no idea of your gift of words. you painted a beautiful, heart wrenching picture. thank you for sharing.

    ps - sorry about the job coming to an end a little earlier than expected, but i think you are right, it's a gift.

  18. Here is what I thought of when I was reading your post:
    Your children sounded happy.
    Your children were excited to see you.
    They are well cared for.
    You and husband provide a beautiful home.

    Remember those things as you have hard days. I have only been home during maternity leaves and during periods of being laid off (which are a gift, but also very, very stressful).
    There will always be days like this for us moms who bring home a paycheck. Fortunately I have some days where I have an epiphany: my kids are smart, happy and healthy and they know if anything should ever happen that their mom can take good care of them.
    I hope all goes well with the recent change.

  19. Aww, sorry about your job, but something else better always comes along!! Just another step in our path!! Enjoy the time home with your family. I'm sure we all have been there at one time or another.


  20. Sorry I just read this now. You doing ok? You are such a wonderful friend mother and inspiration to all.

    Sending a big hug your way...

  21. okay, so i thought it was this coming friday. why haven't you called me, you lady of leisure??

    here's what i have to say about this post... it is beautiful and heart-wrenching. but the one thing i think we need to let go of is our feeling like we are failing our kids somehow by being away from them. i think we miss them more than they miss us IF they are cared for and loved and stimulated... which yours clearly are. so, it shouldn't be,"oh those poor kids, away from their mom all day"... it is more "oh that poor mom." and when we reflect on why we would say "oh that poor mom" we should see that there are inherent dangers in that statement. maybe i am too far out of the early years, but your kids, my kids, all kids just need to be loved. and there are a million ways to make that happen. it sounds selfish, i know, but you should do what works for YOU and your financial/emotional/social needs and the kids will blissfully follow suit. i don't know if the working mom guilt is something that will evolve OUT of women, as more women work, or if it will always be there and it is up to us to reject it. i don't know.

  22. So I've poked around here and there. I've read your mission and what you're all about--or not about, as the case may be--and I'm charmed and delighted...

    So I keep reading and I hit this post and I stop. I swear I took every breath with you as you stood outside the house gazing in. As you said, and then repeated, "I am not there." Because this? This is my life. And just the fact that you ended the entire post with that line is irony in itself. Because it's what my sister and I are saying all the time...about the little things, about the joy over a new mophead, and the simple pleasure of a dozen donuts. It's the little things in life. And this? This is my life. Messy. Imperfect. Tolerated.


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