My daughter, Alina, certainly knows my pre-dawn whereabouts. She’s 2. Well, two and a half, as she’d say. And, obviously, she’s asleep right now, just like most Americans (excepting, of course, public service staff and mothers of newborns).But if my daughter were awake, and, more importantly, not in the midst of a two-year-old tantrum, she’d peer at you sweetly from under fringed doe eyes and point delicately up to the ceiling.“Sshhh,” she’d say. “Mama’s at work.” Then she’d roll right over and go back to sleep, thank you very much.It’s 3:00 a.m. And as usual, I am upstairs, whiling away the wee hours before a computer in a makeshift guest room/ home office adorned with construction paper and crayon scribbles, partner, daughter, dog, and cat snoozing peacefully away. I don’t know why, but I have always been a graveyard shift type. It’s when I perform at my optimal level. Back in college (way, way back, like, late 1990’s), I worked the third shift from 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. for a 24-hour answering service. Then I’d slog to my dorm room and sling back a few Diet Cokes while I cobbled together a last-minute paper due in hours. Now, years later, I’ve come full circle, though a little has changed; my drink of choice is now flavored coffee, and I’m a 30-year-old mom, not a 19-year-old coed. But, otherwise, here I am, still plugging away while the rest of my house sleeps.It wasn’t always like this, though. Ten years ago– heck, four months ago–, I, too, would have been asleep, albeit restlessly, dreaming of spreadsheets and monthly quotas. In a few hours, I would have risen and listlessly, rotely, gone through the motions of donning a suit and dropping off my daughter at day care before logging in ten hours at a job turned career I dreaded. Then, like millions of women, I would have commuted over an hour to my cluttered suburban home, mashed together a marginally healthy, probably microwaved, vegetarian meal, and then whisked my toddler to bed, all in two to three hours. Then repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. But what choice did I have? I was the breadwinner, the family moneymaker stuck in a booming industry, scared of never, ever having enough.
Then came the crisis of consciousness, the crushing realization that my daughter was already almost two-and-a-half, and that things would likely be the same when she hit ten if I didn’t change something fast. Basically, all tedious details aside, I had a mini (midlife?) breakdown. But a good one. A few (major) changes and a few (thousand) talks with my sometimes still skeptical partner, and here I am, typing at 3:00 a.m., bringing home the (soy) bacon in a setting that couldn’t be further from the conservative corporate climate I coped with for ten long years. Admittedly far from lucrative (yet), writing is now my family’s bread and (non-dairy) butter. Sure, I work late and unpredictable hours. Sure, there’s tons of (unpaid) overtime, and, yeah, I double as the office cook, maid, and chauffer. And, yes, I’m constantly hitting the (virtual) pavement, and constantly drafting late-night proposals and pitches, and constantly facing rejection. And at the end of my shift, I’ll sign off and sleep for a couple of hours before beginning my second job: heading down to the kitchen, brewing more coffee, and slapping some hotcakes on the griddle.
But I’ll do all this in slippers, not heels. And in a few hours, my daughter and partner will pounce out of bed, smiling and savoring the smells of Mama’s frugal but hearty breakfast, the fruits of my labor. And then it won’t matter that I’m tired or that my current freelance earnings are less than a quarter of my prior cushy salary. Or that we eat out once a week, not four. Or that we sip Sanka, not Starbucks. Or that [insert sacrifice here]. How many other moms no longer have to worry about negotiating an impromptu sick day with an unsympathetic boss? How many other moms are blessed enough to find their personal niche, support their family from home, and enjoy the freedom of taking their child(ren) to the park on a midmorning Monday?
Thank heaven I’ve found my calling.