Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Thursday, December 8, 2016

Working Moms graph How many times a year do I do this? I’ve lost count.

Bright and early, I march to the second-floor closet and vow that this is the day I will cull the boxes of family memories piled to the ceiling. I yank the door open and sigh with disgust: What a mess. I pull out a box, sit on the bed and push up my sleeves.

A half-hour later, I’m up to my elbows in my kids’ childhoods. Resolve evaporated. Tears guaranteed by noon.

“Next month,” I say, and I shut the door.

Earlier this week, I tried yet again. This time, I got as far as the bottom of the pretty cloth-covered box, where a pile of yellow and white sticky notes were holding on to one another as if for survival. Slowly, I peeled and started reading the two dozen notes my 7-year-old daughter left for me around the house in 1994.

Most of them read, “I love you.” But there were occasional attempts at humor, too. “Your hair looks fine,” read one that was stuck to the bathroom mirror. On her note wrapped around my deodorant: “Excusisme, but your arm pits spell good.”

At the very bottom, I found the note she’d pressed on my computer screen one night before going to bed: “You write to much.”
Translation: You work too much.

I was a single mother at the time, and a newspaper reporter. If I don’t work, we don’t eat. That’s what I told myself every time I felt guilty, which was pretty much every day. It took years for me to understand that it was OK to love what I do for a living — and to communicate that to my daughter, too.

On that night, her note was my heartache. Now I look back and feel sorry for both of us, the daughter who deserved more and the mother who was afraid of losing everything.

Voltaire said God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. I’d add, if you don’t laugh at the first joke, God tries again. The morning after I unearthed that pile of my daughter’s notes, I woke up to an NPR report about the latest Pew Research Center study on working women. Something about how more mothers are primary providers and the public is “conflicted” about this.

Real knee-slapper, that one. Few things get my adrenaline pumping faster than this notion of working mothers and their disapproving public.