Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Changing of the Shoes

My husband looked up from his computer. “When are you going back to work?”

“I’m not.” I answered, finishing my email. I am not. The words came out of my mouth before I had a chance to catch them. They hovered in the air, waiting for a reply. I finally had the nerve to meet his eyes. He looked at me and nodded. It was agreed. His eyes went back to the screen. I paused and looked the ceiling, watching the words I just uttered dance across the lights.

My gaze turned back to my computer. I typed to the tune of my daughter’s heart monitor as we sat and waited in the ICU of Children’s Hospital.

What did I just commit to? The fact that my 6 month old was so sick and we were both answering work emails was ridiculous. Someone needed to bite the bullet. Someone needed to be at home with her. I knew that someone was me.

I had always entertained the idea of being a stay-at-home-mom but once those words…I’m am not going back to work ,  vomited from my mouth I felt like I had lost myself. I had lost ten years of ladder climbing, schmoozing, selling, getting on the managerial fast track…I had just committed career suicide…identity suicide.

Who am I if I am not working???

Truth was I didn’t even like my job. I wasn’t saving lives or changing the world. I worked in marketing….trying to convince people to buy things. My daughter was very, very sick and I was negotiating with clients who were trying to convince people to buy thingsImportant things….garden gnomes, aprons with cute sayings, fart machines…life changing items.

But it was what I did. What do you do Heather? Well, if you must know, I am a marketing consultant. I work closely with companies who specialize in creative outdoor curios.  

Curios….that’s a code word of outdoor crap. Even though I didn’t really like what I did, there were parts of my job that I loved.  I loved lunches, pricey coffees, office gossip and those outrageously expensive business trips. Not those in-the-middle-of-Kansas trips but those to fabulous places, with fabulous results.

When Samantha was four months old, before she got sick, I had to go on a business trip to New York. I coordinated her care with my mom and husband. I cried as I said goodbye. I felt guilty and called myself a bad mom…..

And then I got on the plane and took a four hour nap. I then took a taxi to the Waldorf in Manhattan, checked in, changed into my pajamas. I ordered room service; a lovely shrimp scampi paired with an oakey Chardonnay and watched four hours of back to back episodes of Sex and the City.

I woke up the next morning after having the best sleep since my pregnancy. Room service brought me an omelet, fresh orange juice and coffee. I ate, uninterrupted, still in my pajamas and watching the Today Show

My shower lasted twenty minutes. I shaved parts that never needed to be shaved; because I could. I cleansed exfoliated, moisturized, and doused myself in Aveda products. No baby shampoo here. I sang, loudly. I did not have to listen for my daughter. I did not have to keep checking on her through the shower door.

I called my husband and pretended to feel guilty about a 2 am feeding. This was difficult because the Waldorf in Manhattan does not recognize 2 am feedings or poopie diapers or projectile vomiting. They only recognize things of the fabulous and sexy sense.

Dressed in a black silk suit and kitten heels, I marveled in the fact that my jacket showed no signs…what so ever….of baby slime.

I was fabulous in the meeting; witty and charming. I closed the garden gnome deal. Our team celebrated at a restaurant off  5th Avenue. Everything was racked up on my American Express corporate card which I whipped out with authority. No, really I got this one….

Two months later, I sat in two-day underwear in the ICU at Children’s, watching over my daughter. I was feeling very un-fabulous, sad, beaten down. I did not care about my garden gnomes.

I must stay. My clients love me, they need me.

My daughter needed me more. I knew I was doing the right thing. Samantha needed someone to scour the internet, interrogate the doctors, ask questions, write down answers and ask questions again.

But I couldn’t help but be sad about a decision that was not mine, a decision that came out of necessity. I missed my kitten heels.

I protested for a while. I wore only sweat suits and refused to shave my legs. I traded my United Airlines Visa card for a Grocery rewards card. I watched a lot of Oprah.

I also focused on my daughter, her care and realized the job I was now doing was life-saving, life-changing, life-altering. I wrote, I advocated. I discovered the sweet, sweet world of the afternoon nap.

Perhaps there is life beyond the creative outdoor curios. My new feet no longer fit my fabulous kitten heals. They were traded for a pair of sensible Merrells. I no longer buy any outfit that requires dry cleaning. The silk suit however still has a special place in the closet…hoping for another Manhattan date.

Heather is mom to Samantha, parent advocate and free-lance writer. You can follow her at www.samsmom-heathers.blogspot.com


  1. Well, ok, except for the kitten heels and garden gnomes, I could've written this. When my son was born at 27 weeks, I knew my work life was over. There are days, six years later, that I do miss it. More, I think, I miss the sense of a separate identity and a sense of being needed for something besides being Nik's mama and the researcher, record-keeper, therapy giver, advicate I've become. I do miss me a lot.
    Here's to all of us SN mamas finding our own selves in a new pair of shoes which may have nothing to do with motherhood. Whenever it happens. :-)

  2. Wow. What an amazing post. So honest.
    Your business trip sounded like pure heaven to me, here where the grass is always greener.

  3. I really identify with the shift you describe, not so much the demarcation from an established career, but certainly the flow of my life has been very altered by the severity of my daughter's needs, heading through now the third decade of this unexpected journey. It's been deeply transformative. Not that I'd want to regress to the person I once was, still, as Niksmom puts it, I miss me. This work does gobble up an inordinate amount of one's being.

  4. I'm just curious as to why more men do not give up their "career" to be a stay-at-home dad. Of course I realize there are financial concerns, insurance, and other factors that enter the decision but I can honestly say that being a SAHD is the most rewarding thing I've ever done.