I got my first job when I was fourteen, working a few hours a week as an assistant to a city planner to earn money for a trip to Europe that never actually happened. The whole job thing was a surprisingly casual arrangement considering I was essentially employed by the gov’ment: I showed up after school, made copies, filed business licenses, ran waste paper through the industrial shredder, and went home two or three hours later. I once spent an entire shift coloring toothpicks with a brown marker so they could be used as tree trunks in a scale model of a building project; after I got my drivers license, sometimes I got to run errands in the mayor’s Crown Victoria. The job was a piece of cake. At the end of every week I printed out a time sheet, penciled in the hours I’d worked, and then handed it to my boss (who incidentally eventually married my cousin and now sits across the dinner table from me every Christmas Eve). It was just the right amount of responsibility for a young teenager entering the workforce.
My next job wasn’t so laid-back…At Major Bookstore Chain, I had to punch in and out on an ancient industrial timeclock not only at the start and end of each eight-hour shift but also for my thirty-minutes-no-more-no-less lunchtime and my two fifteen-minutes-on-the-dot breaks. I was actually chastised once for starting lunch at 4:02 and ending it at 4:59, as if those one hundred and eighty seconds would throw off the accounting system of the whole multibillion-dollar corporation. After that, who knows how much time I wasted during each shift hovering by the timeclock so I could punch in or out at just the right second.
Although that store eventually upgraded to an electronic code box for keeping track of employee hours, for the first year I was there we used an old army-metal-green wall-mounted timeclock, like what you’d see in a documentary film about factory workers during the Depression. Each move I made into and out of the break room was bookended by the ker-chunk of that time stamp. Because that job was my first experience as a slave to the minute hand, I remember how weird it was to suddenly feel the shadow of the clock loom not just over my working hours but also over my time spent at home and school and even hanging out with my friends; everywhere I went, I needed to know what time it was. I even spent a portion of my wages on a new wristwatch.
Ten years later, I’m now employed at another casual office; we come and go as we please and estimate our hours using the honor system on emailed time sheets at the end of the month. My forty-hour week can be thirty-six or forty-three, and sometimes I spend some of that time working from home or on the commuter train or in the pizza parlor down the block. That flexibility is a big part of why I love my job, and also a big part of why becoming a mother is really going to shake me up.
I’m due to have my first baby this winter, and the Mom Job, as I understand it, is the job with no time card, no ker-chunk at the close of a shift to signal the end of my responsibility, no point at which with a smile and a sigh I know that my time belongs to me again. Like my current job, the Mom Job is flexible too, but in this case I’m the one who has to bend and stretch, not my employer.
The start date of the Mom Job, I’m discovering, was well before the due date of my baby (December 14! mark your calendars!). It started the moment I had to plan and pack snacks for the day lest I be the starving, fainting pregnant lady on public transportation to and from the office. It started the day I realized that just because a pair of pants fits me in the morning doesn’t mean I’ll be able to sit down in them after lunch. For many women, it started the day they had to excuse themselves from a business meeting to go throw up in a trash can because the smell of the boss’s coffee was just too much to handle. We become mothers long before our children are born. We’re already on the clock.
This column, “Working (on) Motherhood,” starts as a record of all the things I’m doing as I prepare for and transition into the Mom Job while continuing to work forty(ish) hours a week in an office. Soon enough I’ll be juggling maternity leave and freelance projects and maybe an identity crisis or two, and then eventually I’ll be returning to work, entrusting my child to part-time daycare, and trying to find a balance between my old life and my new one. It’s a working motherhood, it’s working on motherhood, and I hope to eventually say that I’m “workin’ motherhood,” in the “work it”/”you go, girl” sense of the term.
I hope this will be a place for prospective moms, expectant moms, new moms, and moms who’ve been here, done this, bought the onesie to share, learn, commiserate, celebrate, and support every aspect of what it means to be a working mother just starting out. Thanks for joining me, and I look forward to getting to know you!