Heat Wave

For any reader in the middle of a heat wave, like we are here in the Northeast, I offer this cool image.

In my fourth week of working full-time.  Something about saying that, “working full-time”, and hearing the responses to my news (“Oh, you’ve gone back to work?”) have made me want to write somewhere a list of a few of the things that I accomplished while I was “not working”.  It is disorienting to have crossed the divide between Stay-at-home-mom and Working-mother, and my guess is that the list is one of the ways I am trying to integrate the experience.

So, while not working, I:

  • Designed almost a dozen gardens and installed all but two of them;
  • Participated in Newton Open Studios four times (hosting three of those times) and partook in at least 15 craft shows — organizing PR for one of them;
  • Had a solo show at the Arsenal Center for the Arts;
  • Showed in the Quilter’s Connection show for 3 or 4 years, and helped hang the show two of those years and co-chaired PR the year before last;
  • Helped beautify the grounds at my local elementary school, including: planting a butterfly garden with second graders; soliciting a landscape contractor to donate three raised beds; advocating that the city make-good on a contractual obligation to replace plantings destroyed during a renovation;  soliciting donations from two nurseries and Home Depot; organizing four NewtonServes; recruiting parents to build a tool shed; forming a committee to totally renovate the side yard where drainage was a severe problem & to that end — raised almost $300,000, acted as project coordinator working with six departments across the city over a period of two and half years; weeding with first graders; making salad and basil with first graders and kindergartners with greens and herbs that we planted together; helping to create several Earth Day celebrations; propagating plants on the grounds with fourth graders; and, and, and…
  • Made quilts for four elementary school teachers, incorporating art work of the students, and in one case, using fabric butterflies that second graders created in a workshop that I ran;
  • Served on Bowen School Council;
  • Served as Ass’t Treasurer for the kids’  preschool;
  • Virtually single-handedly advocated for our two boys during elementary and middle school to obtain proper testing and services for their learning disabilities, including obtaining private testing; getting the city to pay for one (pricey) intervention; hiring tutors; reviewing IEPs; attending meetings; following up with teachers; etc.
  • Taken the kids to virtually every doctor appointment (K. just learned where the pediatrician’s office is) — including two years when both boys were in braces;
  • Made paper with four year olds; made paper with 6 year olds;
  • Taught religious ed at the UU in West Newton for 5 months, made paper with them;
  • advocated for my sister, obtaining MaHealth, COBRA, SSI and SSDI and EAEDC — all this past winter and spring;
  • Edited over two dozen food articles for a Cooks Illustrated freelance contributor;
  • Settled two estates.

And then there were a couple of more official part-time jobs in there. And there was a lot more volunteering at the school  — like staffing a table at the Harvest Fair or serving as room parent or helping on the day the kids made Wampanoag crafts.

So, am I “going back to work”?  I don’t think so.  It’s more like I’m working regular hours for a regular pay check now.

As for how that’s going?  Hmmmmmmmmm.  The paycheck part is pretty great.  The people are super nice.  But, if I had tried to come up with an arrangement for letting go of ego, I couldn’t have done much better.  Doing all those peon jobs (e.g., standing at a copier, filling out forms, typing, scanning documents) when I have a law degree is humbling.  And then fucking up at doing the peon jobs as I learn, is even more so.  It’s one thing, I’ve discovered, to have ‘given up’ any feelings of pride or accomplishment about having gotten a JD when I’m making quilts.  It’s quite ANOTHER thing when I am in an office working as a paralegal.

Part of me is feeling out and out punished for having taken the time to raise my family.  Part of me is inclined to bow down and kiss the ground, grateful to have gotten a job —  (yes, I’ll use these tired words) —  in this economy. And the truth is, I wouldn’t be able to hack the substantive part yet, anyway — so I’m experimenting with the idea that this is a good thing that came along at just the right time.

I have not been in the studio ONCE in the last three and a half weeks, however, and THAT cannot continue, or I certainly will not be able to believe that this is a good thing that came along at just the right time.

12 thoughts on “Heat Wave

  1. Victoria

    As a woman, mother and artist who has spent most of the last 21 years at home, with a few peon jobs sprinkled in here and there for good measure, I applaud you for writing this. Staying at home means you are on call 24 hours a day as mother, cook, maid, nurse, chauffeur, entertainer, mediator, counselor, arts and crafts coordinator, physical trainer, accountant, landscaper/gardener… just to name a few. And in your free time you volunteer at school and scouts and anywhere else that needs you. Somewhere in the midst of all of that you try to keep your identity alive with artwork.

    And then come those peon jobs… I’ve served up coffee, hulled bags of mulch, delivered auto parts, and answered phones and made lots of copies as a temp secretary. The sad thing is staying at home as a mother, and running a household never got the same respect as serving coffee did, even though I am pretty sure anyone can serve coffee. Regardless, it is all hard work, and we need to support each other no matter where we work, or what we do.

    I hope that you are soon able to carve out some creative time. I know that for me, finding time to be creative was very difficult when I worked outside the home. (Probably why I kept going back to home.) Good luck and best wishes, (and kudos to you for having a law degree… you should always feel proud of that accomplishment!)

  2. deemallon

    thanks for your thoughtful comment, Victoria… You’re right about needing to support each other no matter what we do — I have wondered about this seeming sharp divide between SAHMs and working mothers over the years and not been able to make much sense of it — but also having many moments where I felt the polarization pretty starkly…

  3. Robin

    Once again Dee, I feel like you could have written a post for me. I have a PhD, but left teaching at a University to stay home with my kids and NOT work–what a joke. I have wrestled with so many of the things you talk about here. You’ve accomplished SO much, and I’m sure will accomplish much, much more. Go easy on yourself and give yourself time to adjust to your new life–I’ll be eagerly awaiting your return to the studio!

  4. chris gray

    Enjoy the pay cheque, and don’t feel “downgraded” – you’re doing a necessary job….for you and for someone else somewhere too.

    Maybe, when things have settled a bit more, you’ll find that you can have more “creative” time without the pressure of having to “make it pay” ….. and that’s well worth the “peon job” 🙂

  5. deemallon

    Chris — I am sooooo hoping for that relief of ‘not having to make a quilt pay’ when I get back in the studio… so, thanks for pointing that out. For years I’ve been wondering how things might shift if I could move my avocation into a hobby status — at least in terms of marketing/selling, etc. So, we’ll see. And, I realize that once things settle down at the job, my time/energy balance will feel very different. Hope you are well….

    And Robin, thanks for checking in and for your echoed thoughts about degrees/life station, etc. In my neck of the woods (suburbs of Boston) it is a very common experience to discover that someone you’ve been talking kids with for years has a PhD or speaks four languages or used to run a company… it’s one of the things I like about life here, and it still amazes me at how many incredible women have given up what they studied to take on the business of raising children… Not that they chose child-rearing, but what has been given up…. On another note (and I’ll type more over at your blog) — I can’t help but notice (as I often do with the advice that I dole out) — that you probably ALSO need to “go easy on yourself” as you negotiate a dry spot and as you work with fiber-master Jude Hill, in figuring out your own style…

  6. Mary Ann

    Dear Dee,
    Beautiful, powerful, and poignant — just like you! I’m confident you will get back to the studio soon. Be patient with yourself. I’ve heard from friends that it can take a while to get back into the creative rhythm — not unlike returning to regular physical activity after a break.
    Sending a hug your way!

  7. ancientcloth

    As a mom who recently went back to a “paying job”~ full time…I so understand how you feel. Being a stay at home mom is a demanding career and now you have two “careers”. I am grateful to have a full time job and what I do is rewarding but I will confess, it is hard to carve time for my “passion”, which is being creative. I wish you the best and as another comment says…you will eventually find that “little space” of creative time when things settle, i.e the routine.
    : )

  8. ginny

    You will soon find out that dealing with a corporate job is WAY easier than dealing with PTAs, school boards and soccer moms. Enjoy the paycheck and carve out time for fun…in any form family, art, r’n’r. It does get easier and once you stop worrying about it the peon stuff turns into a nobrainer and isn’t nearly as draining as running a business or making partner. Ignoring affronts to the ego can be tough but that too passes. Just think European vacation and that will help 🙂

    I hope you are enjoying your weekends to the fullest. There will always be more laundry to do and dishes to clean but that’s why god invented paper plates and Target.

  9. deemallon

    It is wonderful to receive support and thoughtful feedback here…. thank you ancient cloth, ginny and Mary Ann! Thankfully, this weekend included a nice chunk of time quilting, and another afternoon gardening… I know that the balance can’t really be evaluated until the work becomes routine, as you point out, ginny… and yes, weekends take on a whole new meaning!

  10. Maggie

    Dear Dee and Friends of this her wonderful Blog –
    I know this will sound downtrodden and sad but I feel like this may be a good place to share my thoughts on this matter. I always wanted to have children and could not – for various and fucked up reasons that I won’t go into in depth. There were times when I denied my desire because I felt making money was more important; times when I demanded sperm from men (whom I thought I could stomach) and promised not to ask for any obligation or responsibility on their part; and my eggs were dead before doctors even knew how to freeze eggs. I even considered going to the sperm bank, and finally adoption but in the end it was all just plain too expensive. Angry girl was I… and yet, and still sometimes, deeply sad.

    So, please know – PLEASE – that you’ve followed your generous and loving hearts and you’ve succeeded right where it counts already: you have your babes. Your mother-lives fill my now “barren” teacher-life with vicarious happiness and true happiness. And of course, my dear husband and extended family fill my life with great happiness too.
    I do want you to know that when I get to spend time with Moms (at work or at the mall), I am filled with awe.

    Your children are becoming all of our futures and let us all be proud. I thank you, and let’s thank the higher forms of being in the universe! To hell with peon and various degrees of peon work and non-peon work. It is temporary work and you WILL get back to what you love in the moments that you can afford… and Dee, I know you will seek those moments like an addiction to cigarettes, only (obviously) your “addictions” are your beautiful beautiful gifts as an artist and writer and great analyst of humanity. An artist of tremendous skill, and keen intellect. A JD I wish I could have hired to fix my life 20 years ago 🙂

    And Dee, I thank you for blogging about all of it!! Probably you didn’t mean to spark this deadly serious response but there you have it 🙂 Please keep posting these thoughts, visions and adventures.


  11. Janice

    Hello all,

    I just came upon this blog and was moved to write.

    I too recently got a part time job to be able to have some kind of regular paycheck. The paycheck barely covers our expenses (commuting alone is $300 a month) and the time lost for creating is frustrating. I too keep hoping to find the balance and the energy to get back to my “real” work.
    I spent 30 years as an illustrator not realizing the world I once knew was fading away to technology. I suddenly found myself without work and without the desire to learn the required software to maintain my career.

    Yet, as artists we are bound to create while being bound to life.

    As women we are called upon for so much more and amazingly we manage to handle it with grace most of the time.

    Your work is beautiful Dee and I’m sure in between the cracks of the have to do’s you’ll find the time for the need to do’s.
    Sometimes, you don’t even realize that you are doing it.

  12. deemallon

    I’ve been away and come back to MORE thoughtful and wonderful comments. Maggie, I know you’ve rec’d my email some time back, but let me say here again, that you make a powerful point about how not having had children would have felt like a bigger punishment…. thank you for your bravery in commenting here about that.

    Janice your supportive comment means a lot to me, thanks for coming by. I particularly like your words: “as artists we are bound to create while being bound to life”. I’ve always and still have trouble calling myself an artist, but I will admit even on my worst days that the impulse to create is very, very strong…. so now it’s about patience and optimism (I think!).


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