“Mom, but it’s the holidays! Why do you have to work?” Sophie whined as we drove to the salon to have her curls trimmed. I had just announced that I’d need to put in a few hours of writing every morning between Christmas and New Year’s.
“And you’re not allowed to go to that stupid Pamarama place!” she added for good measure. Translated into adult English, she meant Panera, which serves as my office away from home. “If not at Pamarama, where am I supposed to work?” I asked her, trying to hide my smile. “I can’t work at home while you and Chloe and Papa are around. Too distracting and you’ll all drive me crazy.”
“But it isn’t fair,” she lamented. I quit my job a little less than two years ago. Sophie quickly acclimated to my stay-at-home status. In fact, she’s acclimated so much that she’s now spoiled by my near-constant presence. Some would say she takes me for granted. But that’s another story for another time. Hearing me say the words ‘I need to work’ tends to provoke a mild post-traumatic stress reaction in her. I get it. I’ve been there myself.
“I have one big project and one small project I’m juggling right now and I know it stinks that I’m going to be busier than usual while you’re on break from school, but the money I make will help pay for vacation next year,” I started to explain. She’s certainly old enough to understand that money must be earned and that we adults aren’t simply given cash allowances for good behavior.
“How much money are you getting?” she harumphed, a challenging tone to her voice. Curiosity mixed with a hint of how-could-it-possibly-be-enough-to-make-it-worthwhile-for-you-to-abandon-me attitude.
I gave her the ballpark figure – just enough of a tease for her to envision the appropriate place values. “Wow!” she said, her scowl transforming into a grin. I am sure that any amount exceeding $50 would have elicited the same response, because she’s nine, but my answer had the desired effect. Suddenly, my working was no longer such a travesty. There was potentially something in it for her.
“So now do you understand why I need to work during break?” I asked her.
“Yeah. I guess,” Sophie replied, visions of Disney World surely dancing in her head, as she cuddled herself tightly in the cold car.
Although our brief conversation seemed to quell Sophie’s initial displeasure, I was still thinking about it later that evening. It’s all well and good for my girls to understand that I need to engage in some form of part-time work to help compensate for the sacrifice – a happy sacrifice, mind you – of my full-time salary. But I realized that I also need to convey to Sophie the message that I want to work. That work isn’t always a nasty burden, that it’s often a good thing. That a job can be empowering and intellectually stimulating and socially enriching. That work can take many forms – it doesn’t necessarily mean toiling away 60 hours a week in a job that makes you unhappy. It could also mean having a job you truly like, one that is all the more meaningful to you for its substance than for the money it generates.
Sophie’s only point of reference for my career – at least until recently – was a mom who came home every evening stressed out and unable to extinguish the background noise of the office. That’s obviously not a great reference for my little girl to have. What I need demonstrate to her – by words and by deed – as I continue to transform my writing into a part-time living, is that I am finally enjoying my job. That the money, while important, is not the only aspect of my new writing life that’s important.
I need to make a concerted effort to recalibrate my words the next time I announce to Sophie that I need to work. Instead of Disney World, maybe the vision she’ll have in her head will be of her future self as an artist or a teacher or a doctor or a musician or a scientist. And instead of a pout, maybe she’ll give me a smile when I leave for my office at Pamarama.