Being a working Mom presents it’s own set of pre-configured challenges. Our lives revolve around a meticulous schedule of business meetings, deadlines, social functions and our children’s activities. Yet there are still those occasions when the slightest interruption in the schedule can cause two events to come crashing into each other
It was September 30 and my son’s eighth birthday. Whether by guilt or obligation, it was my Mommy duty to take cupcakes to school by the eleven a.m. snack time. I would spend twenty quality minutes making my son feel special then proceed to a 1 p.m. meeting forty-five minutes from the school. Sounds like your child’s math homework, doesn’t it? Remember those word problems we did in school? If a train leaves New York traveling 70mph and another leaves Chicago… They seemed so ridiculous at the time. Well, turns out they really did have a practical application.
The last of my three children leaves for school at 8:40 a.m. Most days I would already be dressed, but I didn’t want to run the risk of spilling anything on my suit. I’m not exactly Betty Crocker in the kitchen. I grabbed a quick bite of breakfast before cleaning up all the family dishes left from the morning meal. Now I was ready to make the cupcakes. Most women would have made them the night before, but working late and utter exhaustion always seemed to overtake me. Just as I ripped open the Pillsbury box the phone rang. It was a sales rep, one of the forty I supported in my region. He had a rush print job and needed my assistance to put it into production.
Several minutes into the conversation, I couldn’t wait any longer, I propped the phone between my shoulder and chin and set the oven to 325. He was still explaining the job specifications while I poured the mix into a bowl, added two eggs and a quarter cup of oil and water. The noise of the electric mixer was out of the question, so I quietly hand stirred the batter listening intently to every painstaking detail as he continued to talk. I glanced at the clock, it was 9:35 a.m. The cupcakes would need to bake for thirty-five minutes and cool for another twenty before icing and getting them up to school. It was going to be close, but the school was a short two-minute drive up the street and disappointing my son was not an option.
Suddenly, the rep asked a question I couldn’t answer. “Hold on”, I said, “I’m going to have to call the vendor and conference him in.” It was imperative for the job to be sent to the vendor by that afternoon in order to meet the customers’ deadline. I put the rep on hold, dialed the vendor, found the cupcake wrappers, and began to spoon the mixture into the cups. Just then, the phone slipped off my shoulder nearly landing in the batter. Fortunately, the call didn’t get dropped with the phone. But it was a narrow escape from disaster and my heart required several deep breaths before returning to a normal rhythm. We all arrived at a mutual course of action for the print job. I hung up the phone and popped the cupcakes into the oven, it was now 9:52. I had just enough time to throw on some business casual, paint on a face and accessorize before the oven buzzer went off.
Almost done with my primping, and I swear I’m not making this up, the oven buzzer and the doorbell went off simultaneously. The dog was barking his head off even though the doorbell was just a friendly alert from the UPS man that my package had arrived for my 1pm meeting. “Hush up!” I hollered. The cupcakes came out of the oven looking fabulous at 10:19. Cooling time would have to be cut short if I was going to make it. I responded to a few emails while waiting for the cupcakes to cool. At 10:35 they were still a little warm, but time was running out quickly. I iced each one and carefully placed them into my cupcake transporters. I don’t know what else to call them. They are two rectangle cake pans with snap on lids and handles I purchased in the mall last year. It was one of those impulse buys that give our husbands ammunition to complain about our spending habits, but end up becoming a pure stoke of genius.
10:46 and the cupcakes are done. I loaded them, my briefcase, and the UPS package in the car and I was off. A few hundred yards from the house it hits me, no napkins. Showing up at school with a messy snack and no napkins would be a major faux pas. I turned the car around and charged back to the house to grab the yellow napkins I had saved in a ziplock baggy left over from my daughter’s birthday party. I felt something hard in the bag, and there I discovered the number eight candle. A little forethought had kept that from being totally forgotten. “Matches!” I said aloud. Fumbling around in two kitchen drawers, I finally found some, and I was off for the second time. Walking swiftly across the parking lot to the school I checked my watch, it was 10:59. If you think I made it with a minute to spare, guess again. Things have changed since we were in school. There are security procedures to be followed, forms to sign in and out and a mandatory self-adhesive visitors pass.
From the main office I broke into a jog to the classroom. Arriving at the door, a cupcake transporter in each hand and bright yellow napkins under my arm, I saw my son’s face light up. I also saw the teacher trying to force a smile after looking at the clock on the wall. It was 11:06. To make matters worse Nancy Randall, the Diva of all room mothers was volunteering in the classroom that day. She and the teacher exchanged a “She’s finally here” look. Nancy falls into a category of women I call “June Cleavers”. These are women who by their choice of husband or circumstance have the luxury of being a stay at home Mom, a luxury I couldn’t afford. I chose to ignore the look and focus on my birthday boy still beaming from my arrival. Despite my tardiness, we sang Happy Birthday, ate our cupcakes, and had all messes cleaned up by the end of snack time, 11:25. But I still couldn’t help feeling a little remorseful. Having twenty-four second graders wait in their seats for six minutes must have felt like a punishment especially for the teacher. Even though I promised my son that I would make his favorite flavor, perhaps store bought cupcakes would have been the better choice. Oh well, it’s a lesson learned for next time I suppose.
A week or so later I was on my way to another client meeting and stopped into Starbucks for a much needed cup of coffee. Desperate for a caffeine fix, I didn’t notice Nancy Randall come up behind me in line. She and a group of other June Cleavers meet regularly each week occupying the same table to discuss their various volunteer activities. Usually I just give a friendly wave, but today Nancy decided to probe into the mysteries of life as a working Mom. “So do you like working?” If that question had been any more loaded, dynamite would’ve been hanging out of her butt. I know there are some women who choose to work, but I wasn’t one of them. My income was an absolute necessity for our family. My husband, Brian, is a self-employed contractor, he works long hours and he works alone.
The honest truth is that we are only one broken bone away from serious financial difficulty. Nancy continued her questions like she was speaking to someone from a foreign land. “So what do you do?” she asked. “I’m in contract sales.” I replied. “Oh you’re in sales!” I had come to recognize that familiar tone of voice. Over the years I learned that sales jobs were considered by many to be a means of getting paid to doing nothing. Although tempted to defend my employment, engaging her in a conversation about performance based company’s verses the nine to five face time requirements of others, seemed like a big waste of time. So I elected to just smile.
“It must be hard to keep up with three kids, a house and a job?” She went on. “Who takes care of your children in the summer?” “My oldest son is 15, he watches my younger two.” I told her. “Fifteen! I can’t get my son out of bed before noon in the summer!” She exclaimed “My son is very responsible, he takes good care of his younger siblings, and they are all good about getting their chores done before we get home.” I said proudly. “Chores!” she repeated, “What kind of chores do they do?” “Well”, I said, “I leave a list on the counter everyday. Like today, when my son gets home from school, he has to empty the dishwasher and vacuum…”
“Vacuum! Your 15-year-old vacuums?” Judging from the look on her face, it was apparent that I had just graduated from Foreigner to Extra Terrestrial. I had absolutely no idea how to answer her. Was I breaking some child labor law or was vacuuming a new form of child abuse I hadn’t heard about? In all fairness, I never saw an episode where June Cleaver made Wally and the Beave vacuum. I mulled over a few response options. Should I resort to being catty and chastise her for enabling her children to be lazy or should I take this opportunity to make a statement for working Moms everywhere? Well, of course, I chose the latter.
“Both my husband and I have to work to support our family and it’s necessary for our children to pitch in and help with the household duties.” Impressed with my level of diplomacy, I found my answer to be very straight forward and fitting for this situation. “Oh I see” Nancy replied. You could hear the pity in her voice from a mile away, not that I was looking for any. My objective was to make Nancy understand that not all working Moms are career minded go-getters. In fact, much of the time it’s just the opposite. Most of the working Moms I know don’t strive to be the best at what they do, they simply try to do the best they can. Nancy was right about one thing though. It is a lot to keep up with a job, a home, and children, which is exactly why we don’t need any added guilt.
I left Starbucks hoping the next time Nancy sees a Mom running a little late to the classroom she’ll cut her some slack. Then it occurred to me that Nancy’s opinion wasn’t important nor was anybody else’s for that matter. It was the smile on my little boy’s face just happy to have his Mom come to school on his birthday. And I was proud of myself for resisting the temptation of store bought bake goods, but instead, taking the time to make his favorite. The entire episode gave me a valuable life lesson I want to share. For every working Mother out there who’s encountered her own June Cleaver along the way. When you get home from work put down the guilt and pick up your child, because at the end of the day it’s all about the cupcakes.
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