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I Used to Judge Working Moms Hard—Until I Became One

Photograph by Jill Simonian

My eyes searched up and down the table at all the store-bought food and goodies and birthday cake. Nothing homemade ... nothing. Everything was in plastic containers (as opposed to platters). It was like the plastic and foil was ripped off of the take-out cartons in a flash and slammed on the buffet without a single care for all of us at the party to swarm around and enjoy. I looked. I judged.

As someone freakishly obsessed with entertaining, using fancy flatware, baking cakes and home-cooked food with guests in my home, a part of me was annoyed. "Typical working mom," I thought. I judged some more as I grabbed a grocery store cupcake.

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At the time of this 2011 judging I was working part-time, from home, with one 9-month-old to contend with. As someone who now works close to full-time hours each week (some of them from home, some of them on site) with two small kids, I know better. Man, I get it now. To hell with the home-cooked food.

I'm sorry I judged you and your plastic take-out, working mom of 2011. I'm so sorry. I was stupid and ignorant.

Thanks to that 24-hour day thing, we can only do so much. I never understood this until this year.

My change of heart hit me this last month with my oldest daughter's birthday. What did I do? I found every validating opportunity to not throw a party this year (we went to Disneyland instead). Past birthdays have included princess paloozas with surprise appearances by Elsa, tea parties with decorate-your-own-placemat activities and family celebrations that showcased homemade ice cream cakes by moi.

Do I enjoy making ice cream cakes? Do I remember that princess palooza party with the utmost pride and joy? Do I plan on throwing future birthday parties instead of bagging out like I did this year? Yes, yes and yes! But this year, I was pooped. Scoring a new (dream) job, writing a (very first) book, keeping up my existing content and writing jobs and maintaining the usual happenings of children's schools, commitments and schedules on top of cooking dinners at night, tackling that damn dishwasher again and folding all that relentless laundry ... I. Was. Pooped. Too pooped to party, even for one of my favorite little persons.

Because I now work—a lot.

I never truly grasped the notorious concept of "the second shift" until this year. You know what I'm talking about—putting in a full day (of work), then coming home and working another full day (finishing household duties and feeding and bathing kids). In previous years, I'd see posts on Facebook from working moms about being too dead-tired to pick up the living room before hitting the sack and think, "Get it together, woman. Just because you're working, it doesn't mean that everything goes to hell. Suck it up!"

Guess who now leaves a sink full of dishes overnight more than she did a year ago? (Guilty.) Guess who flakes out and doesn't even open most of the emails from the PTA kindly asking to donate this or that for the upcoming fundraiser? (Hello.) This past year I even stopped making my husband sandwiches on account of needing to draw my lines in the sand somewhere. (Shameful?)

All of this happens because I'm a working mom. Thanks to that 24-hour day thing, we can only do so much. I never understood this until this year.

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To get personal, my brain is now filled and stressed more than it was years ago (thanks to that recent study that confirms I'm not crazy). I think about work all the time. I think about my kids all the time. I remember things I forgot (but should've remembered to do) all the time. I wouldn't trade this for the world (I LOVE the stage of my career right now! whee!) but I don't have the luxury of extra time or additional endeavors that go beyond what I can handle. Career, kids, relationships and downtime are the only items I have room for in my lifestyle rotation at this time. (Oh, and sleep. Because none of this can happen if sleep isn't obtained one way or another.) I mean, sneaking in quality time with my kids takes most of my energy (rightfully so). I now cut corners when corner-cutting makes most sense. It's OK. It's a must. It's sometimes the only way.

Because I'm a working mom—not a "kinda working here and there" mom ... an 'all-the-time now' real working mom.

Yes, I get it now. Bring on the take-out and rip that plastic wrap off.

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