• The Return

    After Fifteen Years, A Stay-At-Home Mom Goes Back To Work With The Help Of Some Key Supporters—Her Family

    By Mary DiPalermo

    After having three kids and a sporadic (but mostly quiet) freelance existence at home for fifteen years, I went back to work last fall. Back to the grind. Up and at it. Forty hours a week.

    I didn’t plan to return to office life but we really needed the health insurance. And like most of my major life decisions, I stumbled into this one. It was a three-week writing gig that kept up. I’m reviewing children’s books—a nice fit for a mom who’s been buying them for nearly seventeen years—and the job is now considered semi-permanent (just like my hair color).

    My most frequently used phrase these days is: the balls are dropping. Curiously, all the work balls seem to be airborne—it’s the home balls that are crashing down. Maybe crashing is too strong of a word. Perhaps plopping is better.

    Permission slips aren’t getting signed. Backpacks aren’t getting checked. My youngest son had a record number of tardys on his latest report card. And the house looks worn—dust bunnies are gathering at a rapid pace and the clutter is multiplying. And those little things that need to be done? Read: laundry, laundry and laundry—aren’t getting done either.

    My kids greet me at the door every night like a pack of crazed wolf pups—each one more hungry than the last for fresh bits of undivided attention. And with my eyes crossed from hours of computer gazing and wordsmith-ing, I’m not always undivided.

    I have a recurring wakeful nightmare where Dr. Phil or Oprah steps out of my disastrous front hall closet and urges me to live my best life. “Pay attention!” “When you know better, you do better!” “Your child is speaking to you, stop thinking about your dang Fresh Direct order!”

    Having three kids is like having three pans of risotto cooking on the stove simultaneously. You’ve got to keep your eye on each one—stirring and tending—while watching them as a whole. Returning to work at this stage of the game has turned up the heat on every burner.

    And yet, if you were to ask me how the transition is going from home-mom to office-mom, for the most part I’d say smoothly. It helps that I really love what I do. I love writing, I love books, I love dressing for work and oh, how I love meetings. I’m proud of myself, this Mother’s Day, to have made the leap (as I thought I would, as I hoped I would) back to a career I really enjoy.

    But I’m most proud of the family that makes me a mom. My kids have become so independent. They do homework (usually) and chores (most of the time) before I get home. They’re more self-reliant and show more initiative now that I’m not always around to hound them. My work-from-home husband—already a great dad—has really stepped up as a caretaker. He’s the one picking them up from school, making lunches and cooking dinner. And when we sit down to dinner, we really talk. (And, I have to say, it feels nice when they ask about my day!)

    In many ways, despite the plopping balls and near-constant state of exhaustion, this has been a really good time for me to go back to the office. I feel balanced. My kids are growing up, and I’m growing, too. Now, parenting has moved from the physical to the emotional. I’m no longer pushing strollers or hauling car seats, but I do need to be insightful enough to see when a snarky attitude isn’t just snark. Often I find that listening—rather than fixing—is my best course of action. And to think, it’s taken me years and a new job to learn that one!

    The entire transition has been a family effort. It reminds me of the infamous Sesame Street sign-off: This working mother has been brought to you by a flexible dad and three amazing kids.

    Mary DiPalermo, mom to an elementary-, a middle-, and a high-schooler, writes and shares her special parenting perspective on New York Family’s blog “Parenting In Progress.” She lives on the Upper West Side.