Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sugar and Cream With Your Coffee?

I'm working for peanuts. I'm the low-man on the totem pole. I'm starting from scratch and following my dreams. I'm the intern.

No, I'm not reminiscing about my college years or even my graduate school years when I worked my ass off for sweatshop wages that barely covered my rent. I'm talking about the here and now. Former journalist, former retail business owner, current freelance writer, blogger, wife, and mother of two is the latest intern at the local paper.

I'm not kidding. I am the coffee-fetching, copy-making, ass-kissing intern. And, no, not even at the Washington Post, but at a local paper...for old people. (Cue ass-slappin, booty-bumpin', fist-pumpin' shake.)

What the hell am I doing interning, you ask? Well, shit, it pays. And it's only 15 hours a week, which is what I can handle right now as the primary caregiver for our two children. And it's easy and familiar.

Since I left the boutique about a year ago, I've been freelance writing and editing. It's not easy. In fact, it's hard. Hard as shit, particularly when the bulk of your time is spent attending to two extremely small and needy people clawing at you for...everything. Pitching, persisting, interviewing, pestering takes time and motivation. I've been finding that I am lacking in both areas as of late. I want to continue to freelance, but I also want somewhere to go a couple days a week, be told exactly what to do, and get paid.

I'm tired of dreaming up story ideas, crafting the perfect pitch, and then getting shot down. I'm tired of the fact that the most attainable freelance work is Web-based...which pays jack shit. I'm getting paid per hit? Per page view? Are you kidding me? Do people actually make a living this way? Fuck this. I'm tired of having a "regular" freelance gig that can skip a month. It takes a special breed of person to keep at it. I'm beginning to find that I am NOT that special breed of person...not right now. And maybe not anymore.

I'm amazed that I'm living this life, writing these words, and making decisions that run, smack, head-first into the face of my well-cultivated, spit-shined and ever-expanding hubris. Welcome to motherhood -- The Hubris Killer.

First, let me put out there that I am not a mother who has to work full-time to support my family. My husband's income has afforded us the flexibility to look at a variety of options for me, our children, our family. I choose to be at home with them...most of the time. That is, in more ways that I can describe, a gift.

I have many friends who work full-time out of financial necessity and ache to be more available for their children. And, I have friends that choose to have flourishing full-time careers and raise a family -- all in the same breath. And, I have stay-at-home mom friends who embrace the joys and challenges of being with kids day in and day out. In the great mommy debate that rages on year after year after year, from working moms vs. stay-at-home moms to working moms vs. childless professionals to work-at-home moms to work-outside-the-home moms, we're pitted against each other in an all-out race to see Who Does It Best.

I have no clue who does it best. I think any way you slice it, motherhood is challenging and not like a difficult crossword puzzle or a mini-triathlon. I'm talking challenging in the most extreme sense of the word. The sort of soul-searching challenge where you ask all those questions about yourself that you never even considered before those little people entered your life. Who am I? What am I? Where am I? What do I have to give? What have I given? Have I given enough? Am I good enough? What happens next? Seriously, what in the hell is going on here? And you're trying to do it all without the sanity and clarity that a decent night's sleep brings.

In a nutshell..we all have our proud moments and our not-so-proud moments. We do the best we can with what we got.

For me, as the primary caregiver to our children, my career does come second. But, I'd be lying if I said I'm not doing everything in my power to keep my professional life from flatlining under the weight of dirty diapers, snotty noses, hugs, reassurances, table manners, pleases, thank yous, never-ending laundry, and bowls upon bowls of macaroni and cheese. I keep my career afloat for a variety of unselfish reasons, namely, "What if something were to happen to my husband's job or, God forbid, my husband? Shouldn't I have the ability to financially support my family at a moment's notice, much in the same way my husband does?" Makes sense. Sounds good. But, let's be honest -- I do it mostly for me. To maintain a sense of self and a connection to who I was before children. This is what works for me. Makes me feel whole. Makes me feel complete.

By the same token, I know a huge part of who I am now is defined by the fact that I got pregnant, gave birth, and fell in love with two of the most amazing people under five feet that you'll ever meet. I am devoted. Not just to their school events and illnesses, but to reading books, going to the park, making cupcakes, sitting on the porch tickling feet, blowing bubbles, and giving kisses before bed.

Which brings me back to my internship...and my ego.

Six months ago, I interviewed for one full-time position on a whim. I got pretty far, and actually thought if I got it, I'd go back...all the way. I didn't get the job and felt both disappointed (no surprise) and relieved (surprise). I thought long and hard about the "relieved" part. Why did I suddenly feel thankful that I didn't get a job that I had wanted? Am I nuts? What is wrong with me? The truth of the matter is that I knew I could not do it all. At least not in the way that I wanted. And that scared me. Hello, I've always thought I could do it all -- have kids, grow the career of my dreams, and still be the same girl my husband married. I'm not the first to find out, quickly and harshly, that things don't always work out the way you think they will.I'm not Supermom although I do like to front like I am...a lot.

At that point, I stopped my full-time job search and focused on the part-time, joining the growing fleet of moms with one foot in the workplace and one foot at home. I continued to freelance and look for steady, part-time editorial work with pretty straightforward criteria: fits into my my life as a mother of young children, makes enough to cover childcare and some of our smaller bills, keeps the career doors open for when I am ready to go back full-time.

Not lots of part-time editorial work out there, period, much less the kind that is family-friendly. Then I stumbled upon a Craig's List ad for an editorial intern. Correction. A PAID editorial intern. It was for a local paper with offices near my house and offered surprisingly generous pay for 15 hours a week. I'd write features for the paper, help edit, assist with layout, and more. All the things I've done a million times before. And most perfect of all? I could make my own hours.

Not so perfect? The whole "intern" thing. Ugh. Could I really do a job that relegated me to the same category as the awkward, bespectacled college junior sitting next to me at the interview? And that's when it dawned on me. I had to get over myself. I had to accept the fact that despite popular belief (popular belief being the the massive ball of pride living inside me) that tells me my shit doesn't stink -- it does. At least sometimes. My career, much like motherhood, is not always going to come in a perfect pink bow for me to unwrap when I feel ready for it. And, like motherhood, my career would experience peaks and valleys. And even the valleys count for something.

I have to set aside those notions of where I should be, and do what works today -- in this life with this house, this husband and these children. It doesn't have to be the crowned jewel of career moves. It just has to be a step, even a small one, that works for all of us. And, get ready for this one, I can be happy...with less. At least that's how I feel at this very moment.

And, so, I start in two weeks as The World's Oldest Intern. I'm bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to take on the world...with my pride intact. Ok, maybe not entirely intact. I'm still sort of hoping they'll call me "part-time reporter" instead.


SARAH said...

I think what you touched on in this post is pride and ego. We have this ideal in our heads of how to manage it all. It's so false though. We are the ones who set unrealistic expectations of ourselves and then let ourselves down; constantly. If we really think about it we'll see that no one else is keeping track! So, I love the fact that you're doing a job (internship) that fits into the life you have and want-now. Not the idealized life you want the world to think you have. It's a more real, honest way of living. One that's less keeping up with the Jones' and more authentic. Sounds like you're finding your balance :)

Rosana V. said...

thanks, sarah! i can't say i have a complete handle on le ego...i've been polishing it and keeping it in a safe, special untouchable place for years. but, i will say that i am starting to appreciate these moments of humility...more. ;-)

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing, that was a good read..

Momisodes said...

This post was so awesome. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I can relate (but I haven't snagged an intern gig, and would love to find ways to freelance). But I think you've touched upon many things many of us mothers feel and struggle with. I love, the way you said, "...any way you slice it, motherhood is challenging... We do the best we can with what we got."

It is so true. Don't sell yourself short. Your honesty and what you've done takes more courage and strength than you know.

Rosana V. said...

@momisodes thank you!! xoxo

Anonymous said...

I'm speechless... as your life is so like mine & I applaud you for taking on this new position, regardless of the damn title. Yeahhh, you go girl! Congrats, Denise