Recently, I was scheduled to be the mystery reader in my daughter's classroom. Her teacher asked me to send a few clues about myself, which she would read to the class beforehand so they could guess who was coming. I sent my childhood dog's name, three big cities I lived in before settling in the Chicago area, and my job. "I'm a writer," said clue number three.
I walked into the class, and my daughter ran to greet me. "Mom," she said. "Why didn't you ever tell me you were a writer?" I was taken aback. Surely, she knew what I did professionally. She had certainly seen me typing away on my computer or heard me discussing articles I'd written with her dad and grandma, right? Apparently not. She had only guessed who I was because she knew my first golden retriever's name. My job: that was the real mystery.
I read a cute book to the class (If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!, which I had carefully chosen . . . because I love books so much that I'm a writer!!), after which her teacher asked the students if they had any questions for me. They had a lot. Half of them were about my favorite kinds of ice cream, cookies, cakes, and pies. The other half were about my job. What did I write? Did I like writing? Did I make up stories or tell real ones? The whole time I was answering them, I could see my daughter's face, slightly amazed, slightly confused.
I was the person who made her between two and 20 postschool snacks every day, who packed her lunches while yelling at her to eat breakfast because the bus was coming in seven minutes, who took her to movies and read her bedtime books; not a writer, not someone who had a "real" job at all. Had I been deliberately hiding something from her?
Had I been deliberately hiding something from her?
In truth, I think I had, even if it wasn't a conscious choice. After she was born, I stopped working full time, cutting my hours to part time. After her brother arrived almost three years later, I started working even less, transitioning from a part-time employee to a freelance contributor. I did those things because I wanted to be with my kids more and was lucky enough to have a spouse who agreed with that choice and was able to make up for my lost income with his career.
I wanted my children to always know they were my first priority, so I worked only when they were at preschool or after they went to bed. Sometimes I'd take them to our gym's childcare program and work from the lobby. And I didn't really talk about my work with her because I figured she wouldn't be interested.
But, here she was, surrounded by her classmates, telling me she was. After school that day, I sat her down. "Honey, did you really not know mommy worked at all?" I asked. "No, Mom, but I think it's really cool you're a writer." Cue my heart exploding. But then, I just felt sad.
Why had I, a woman with a Master's degree from a prestigious university, a woman who picked a career she was passionate about and had excelled in before having kids, a woman who still had big dreams for her future career, not shown that side of myself to my daughter? I wanted nothing more for her to have the same opportunities I had, to have a fruitful academic life followed by a professional one, to be able to choose what her work-family life looked like after she had her own kids, to know that motherhood and work are not mutually exclusive categories.
From that minute on, I knew that hiding my own professional life from her was doing a disservice to both of us. So now, she occasionally has to wait for that 15th snack while I finish an article. I sometimes ask her about story ideas to get her always-entertaining opinion. I tell her a babysitter is coming for a few hours so I can work. Because being her mom will always be my first priority, but letting her know that I am more than that has to be one, too.