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A Working Mother's Lament

It’s 3pm and the house, at last, is quiet.

The dishwasher buzzes from across the room as I sit with my laptop at the breakfast table. The click clicking of the keyboard punctuates the silence at 60 words per minute.

I am lulled into thinking that I’ll have a chunk of time —a solid hour, or two if I’m really lucky— in which to write.

I’m wrong.

Upstairs I hear a door open hard and fast, slamming itself into the wall. Mama? she calls. I’m done lying down!

The three-year-old with dirty blond hair announces her entry into every room. She’d been having Quiet Time, that maternal code phrase for I Hope She Accidentally Falls Asleep. At three she knows the drill: she’s to play quietly in her bed with the toys of her choosing, typically ponies with wings and plastic cats with droopy eyes and heads that bobble. A dirty pink blanket trails behind her like a Linus brought to life, the singular vestige of her baby days.

I sigh.

I welcome the occasional pint-sized interruption. I love the idea of breaking up my workday with puzzles and tea parties, blanket forts and races of Matchbox cars. I love having a job that allows me the freedom to make my own schedule and be home with my kids. But the summer is long and I’ve gotten behind and I hear myself crying uncle as I fear I’m doing neither job well.

Is it possible to work at home with a toddler? And, if I’m being brutally honest, Is it fair to expect this of her?

When I was her age my mother worked as a middle school teacher. During the school year I went to day care at a Baptist church, slept on a little blue cot and stared at the ceiling tiles. In the summertime, though, my mother was all mine, with no siblings, even, to divide the attention.

Women of her generation, as I recall, did not work as I do: part-time from home, simultaneously tending to the spreadsheets and the bed sheets. Mothers worked, or they didn’t. There was no in between.

Perhaps that’s why so many young mothers in my generation struggle to find balance. Are we forging new territory? Breaking new ground?

I hardly feel like a pioneer.

I’m lucky to have childcare when I need it, a husband who’s supportive, and the options I have. Most of the time we manage it well. I’m privileged that the majority of my family’s financial burden does not rest on my shoulders. But I can’t help feeling torn in two each time I have to choose.

I can’t help feeling the sting of guilt when the silence of my quiet house is broken with my own exasperated sigh.

I scoop up my pint-size love and we sway back and forth across the kitchen floor, dancing to an imaginary song.

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

More by Mary Lauren:

Why Putting Yourself First is Impossible

The Measure of a Mom

Giving My Daughter the Gift of Time

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