Tuesday, April 24, 2012

working girls

when my daughter was in middle school, i read an article about Take Your Daughter To Work Day. it had begun a few years earlier as a way to encourage girls to think about careers outside the home. i was a stay-at-home mom who had only recently found a way to be both mom and writer, staying at home and working mornings — a dream job, though not very well paid.

the idea intrigued me, showing her that what i did while she was gone was more than put order to my laundry closet. but my daughter had been witness to my work since she was four and she and her brother tangled themselves in the phone cord while i was conducting an interview on one of my first real freelance jobs. (i lost the call and had to call back, apologetic to my interview subject, who i was sure had never worked with toddlers in the house.) i thought scheduling the interview during Sesame Street meant i was safe for an hour. but i hadn't factored in a mid-episode need for peanut butter nabs.

as my daughter grew, i worked many freelance days, and when she came in from school, she found me sitting in front of the computer, typing away. or on the phone. though i tried to complete my work day before my children's school day ended, scheduling interviews while they worked away at math or language arts, fitting in volunteer times at their school.

when i read the story about taking her to work, i felt pulled to actually prove to her that i was a working writer. every day. what did that mean anyway? it's something i have long tried to prove whenever anyone says: are you still writing? of course i am. would you ask a doctor if she's still doctoring or an attorney if she's still lawyering, even if they don't make the news?

i didn't think so. but how to get my child to see what i do, and why?

well, i had a story i wanted to write. (which i always seem to) a story worth publication,(aren't they all?) but i had to have a place to put it. (and therin lies the problem for the freelancer)... and i needed an editor who would bite.

this was 1997. if we had internet and email, it was infantile. so i actually picked up the phone.. i know, can you imagine it?..  and called the editor who had published my first freelance essay — my heart bracing for rejection — asking if i could set up an appointment with him to talk about a story i wanted to write. be kind to me, i said. my daughter will be coming along.

he said sure, and as i remember it, he was kind. with my child at my side, i spoke to him about my father, a soon-to-be retiring family physician who was the last of his kind. it was the story i'd wanted to write all my life. if i were successful, i would weave the family story into the universal one about his being the last of a generation. i had, as a college student, worked with my father, every day during one summer. my sister worked with him to. my brother had become a doctor because of him. so it would be a good story.

i remember my throat closing around my voice, so scared i was that i would miss this moment — not just to 'sell' the story to the editor (oh, how i still hate to sell a story), but to prove to this child who sat beside me that her mother could do more than bake a pretty good yeast roll, keep a fairly clean bathroom and read a good bedtime story. all that was part of raising her, yes, but i wanted her to know she could do this, and more.

two months later, the story ran. (under a different editor, but still.)

it was my first real story in print in years, in a newspaper i where i had longed to find my byline. and though getting it there is another post, i think my daughter got something good from the work day with her mom.

that story led to another one, which led to a book, which led to an however brief personal essay column in that very same newspaper, where i was able to tell a few stories about my children, find a few readers. and another book.

though there hasn't been another book in quite some time, i'm still at it. working at writing. trying to get it right.

this week is take your child to work week. now it includes sons and fathers and grandparents and foster parents and my, what a good thing this is.

the real day is thursday, but my daughter happened to be home today from far away. so together, this morning, we got our coffee (and our diet coke) and i drove us to work.

and i set her up in a quiet room so she could pitch her own stories. and sit in on conference calls. while i did my own work just down the hall. and just because she was there i worked a little harder, a little bit better. i'm sure of it.

we took a lunch break and met her brother, who used to join me in my home office after school and spill his day. who when i taught writing at his high school some years ago, had to endure his mom not only work with him but with all of his friends. so i guess i took both of them to work with me, one way or another.

my son tweeted our 'family luncheon' at one of his favorite downtown eat spots. together we talked politics and family and work and life, and as i sat with these two now very professional and of course to me remarkable young people, i could not help but think that despite the many times i failed them as their mother, thanks be to God i did something right.

when i asked today, my daughter admitted that she doesn't remember the day i took her down to the newspaper, and though that day matters to me, still, it really doesn't matter that she doesn't remember. she saw me work. and she knows how she and her brother were entangled in my work as they were my life, and in so many ways, i can't tell the difference between the two. though they are grown, my children still are entangled in all that i do, as we all move into this new stage — they my adult children, me as mom, remembering — and prodding  — them onto their own first and future stories.

take a child to work. your own child. a grandchild if he or she is near. or somebody else's child. it really doesn't matter. show them who you are. what you do. why your work in the world matters. it will be good for you both.

and have some peanut butter nabs handy, if for a moment they get all tangled up in it.

writemuch.blogspot is the original work of author susan byrum rountree. all written work and photography is copyright protected and can only be used with written permission of the author.