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I'm Always Trying To Choose Between Work and Motherhood

Photograph by Twenty20

I was at my desk the other week, working on a draft of the book I had been working on for years, when my phone rang. I glanced over and recognized the name on the caller ID, though this person had never called before. My chest tightened.

When I picked up the phone,The executive director of my company, where I've been working for the last two years, told me they made the decision to fold the newsletter I was in charge of. I had been forewarned this might happen. But still, I felt anxiety over the sudden loss of income, and disappointment that such a fulfilling job was coming to an end. What would be my next move?

For the past 17 months, as I've fallen into the ever-shifting rhythm of being a work-at-home mom, I've struggled constantly with the push and pull between work and motherhood.

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There is the frustration of trying to write an article while my daughter begs me to read her a book. There is the anxiety I feel when I have a huge work load but have to take the time out of my day to bring her to activities. There is the all-consuming guilt I feel when I am working instead of giving her my full attention. Sometimes, I wonder: should I stop the hustle and be a full-time mom?

I've talked it out with my husband, too, and our conversations have gone in circles. "Maybe we can pay for child care," he says. Or: "Maybe I can support us on our salary."

And part of me wants to sink back into the soft support of his salaried position, bolstered by the freelance work he does on top of it all. Part of me wants to spend my days reading Em's books to her over and over. Walking her in circles around the house. Driving her around to play dates.

I think of how glorious it would be to have my entire focus on every single load of laundry I run up and down the basement stairs because I no longer have to sprint to my computer to see if edit notes have popped up in my inbox or if a story source has sent me possible interview times or if my latest essay submission has been accepted or rejected.

I think of how glorious it would be to have my entire focus on her.

And then we had the same old conversation. Walked the same old circles around the same old issue. Should I be a full-time mom? This was my chance.

Sometimes, when she is sitting on my lap as I type up my latest blog post, she leans into my vision, stares me in the eyes, pulls my face toward her with her tiny hands. And when she succeeds in getting my attention, she cracks up, and we laugh and laugh and laugh together.

And then I feel guilty all over again because, inevitably, I must turn back to my work.

How glorious would it be if I didn't have to?

But then there are other things to consider:

How nice it is not worrying about having enough money for my monthly bills.

How fascinating it is every time I interview someone about the brilliant work they do.

The charge I get seeing my byline appear in a new publication for the very first time.

The way this work fills me up. Makes me who I am.

After saying goodbye to my Executive Director, wishing him well, I walked upstairs to my husband's home office. I leaned against his door jamb and took a sip from the glass of wine I had poured for myself. He looked up.

"It's over," I said. "The newsletter is folding. They're not renewing my contract."

His eyes widened and he slumped back in his chair. Then he got to his feet, walked over to me, and pulled me to him. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I know how much you liked working with them."

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And then we had the same old conversation. Walked the same old circles around the same old issue. Should I be a full-time mom? This was my chance.

Then I walked back downstairs, sucked down the last of my wine, and sat down in front of my computer. I sent a farewell/thank you email to my former colleagues.

And after that?

I reached out to editors. I sent out new query letters. I did the hustle I had always done when the situation called for it. And within the next two weeks, I had landed new, regular work. I had broken into four new publications. I had made headway on my book.

And now I'm wrapping up this blog post because my daughter is tugging on my jeans, holding up yet another book for me to read. I am pulling her into my lap, pulling her socks back up, placing "Guess Who, Elmo!" before us. I am doing the back and forth I have always done.

This is our rhythm. It's been our rhythm for 17 months.

And for the moment, I'd rather stick to the song I know and love.

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