Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I used to be a Superhero

For the better part of my adult life, I was "that woman"...the one who earned a pretty nice salary while juggling a demanding career, a marriage, a house and two kids.

It's hard to remember how I managed that. Sure, I have an abundance of energy, I always have. My sister and I were instilled with a strong work ethic by our hard-working, successful parents, particularly our mother. And I am fortunate enough to have a husband who was always willing to chip in with cooking, cleaning and kid duty, particularly when my job called me out of town--which was often.

In addition to my full-time job, I also taught fitness classes a few days a week, and with my daily commute to/from home/work/gym, my schedule was pretty packed. It was sort of a point of pride for me...the ability to juggle all this stuff. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Supermom! Watch me bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan...then throw a Martha Stewart-worthy dinner party for 10 friends on the weekend with not so much as a hair out of place. I sewed my daughter's first holiday outfit because the ones in the store weren't elegant enough, and my kids rooms had curtains and dust ruffles that I made myself.

I remember my mother-in-law calling me Supermom. I'm pretty sure she didn't intend it to be a compliment, but I chose to take it that way. It would have been a compliment coming from my own mother.

Some days I felt like I should don a cape over my trendy "I'm a cool advertising chick" clothes before I climbed into my car for my morning commute to my kick-ass office. I'd imagine it flapping behind me as I strode confidently into my office, heels clicking. Other days I'd come home, exhausted from a long day of dealing with clients and deadlines, and wonder who was going to make dinner if I couldn't muster the strength. My house was always a mess and I was usually weeks behind on laundry. But I put those short-comings in the "don't sweat the small stuff" category and focused on being as good a mom as I could manage and always feeding my family home-cooked meals.

And although I loved my cape, I secretly envied my friends who had managed to migrate to "work at home" or part-time careers so they could have more time for themselves and their families. And I looked down my nose at the moms who stayed home every day; the trim MILFs who stood at the bus stop in their tennis dresses or gym togs, then spent the rest of the day at the health club, shopping and lunching with their friends. I could never be "one of those women". Indeed, I reveled in the challenges of my demanding life and took great pride in my juggling skills. It made me a Superhero. Those other women were mere mortals in cute yoga pants with their husband's gold cards.

But now I'm almost an empty nester; one is off at college and the other is a 16 year old who probably still needs his mommy but does a really good job of acting the independent teenaged chick magnet. The kids are still demanding, but now they're depleting the dollars in the bank account not the hours in the day.

I'm struggling to start my own business after a heart-breaking layoff last year from a job I loved. So I now have that "flexible schedule" I always wanted when the kids were young...and more time on my hands than I know what to do with. My crazy schedule and lack of free time had forced me to abandon a lot of my hobbies out of necessity, and so I find my "free time" is spent...well, I'm not really sure what I do with it, other than spend too much of it on Facebook.

And my house is really clean.

When I imagined this stage of my life, I always hoped I'd be doing exactly what I'm doing right now; running my own qualitative research consultancy. When business is good, I travel a lot; not something I could do when the kids were little. But I always assumed I'd ease into it; have time to build my client base before being forced to try to get the business off the ground because I had lost my primary income. In a perfect world, I would have planned for this with a little more operating cash to weather the inevitable dry spells that all small businesses experience.

I took over our fourth bedroom and turned it into a beautiful home office. The allure of "working from home" can be powerful. But the reality is I have lost the stimulation of an uber-cool office with pool tables, impromptu Friday afternoon happy hours in Cubeville and daily interaction with 1,000 interesting, young, creative people every day, and replaced it with the quiet companionship of a furry feline and 750 Facebook friends who think I'm swell. That wasn't something I anticipated, and I don't feel all that "super" sitting in my home office in a pair of flats.

My business is going to take off...I can feel it. I'm good at what I do and more importantly, I love what I do. But there's nothing more ego-crushing than a job loss, even when you know it was a purely economic decision. A year later, I'm (mostly) over that part.

But I miss my cool clothes. I miss my heels. I miss all those ridiculously young, painfully cool people I worked with.

Most of all, I miss my cape.

Stop by, bring wine.

Preferably good wine. Food would be good, too.