Life After Work

Sandra Duncan

I've been throwing dirty dishes into the sink, a little too hard, not quite hard enough to break them but almost wishing for the release of shattering glass. Of course I don't want to break my dishes, I'm just tired of washing them all the time. Somehow my transition to stay-at-home mom is missing a June Cleaver component that would keep me cheerful through the end of the day. Maybe pearls would help.

It's been a year since I quit a 20-year run as a member of the high-tech, high-pressure, Bay Area workforce. It wasn't much fun anymore and it was a good time to go. But without an annual performance review to score my worthiness, I find myself trying to articulate major accomplishments (few and far between) and minor ones (lots if you count getting dressed whether I have to leave the house or not.) While not every day is filled with capital "L" Living, nearly any day beats commuting on the freeway.

In the absence of "real" work, I've found the time to read the paper in the morning, the opportunity to shop for groceries on a weekday, the ability to stay awake past 9:00 p.m., and the curse of always being home first to start dinner. My presence in the household has had an impact on all of its members. My dog thinks I quit my job to spend more time with her. My son thinks I quit my job to spend more time learning 6th grade math. My daughter thinks I quit my job to spend more time cooking things she won't eat. My husband thinks I'm a lot nicer to be around these days.

Here are some things I've learned from getting reacquainted with my home, my family, and myself:

I way underestimated the efforts of my babysitter/housekeeper. (Bring yours some flowers today.)

Time may be money, but having time is not the same as having money.

"I'm sorry, I'm not working," effectively deters phone solicitors.

The rewards of being a stay-at-home mom are directly proportional to the joy derived from chaperoning field trips. If you ever have the opportunity to be one of only two adults supervising 35 mostly male 12-year-olds at a full-length production of the opera Madame Butterfly, just say no. Like trading in high-tech stocks, this is not a task for the faint of heart.

The irony of having time to spend with your teenaged children is that you often can't stand to be around them. The blessing is hearing them come through the door and knowing that another day has been safely navigated.

My inner self is more like Roseanne than Martha Stewart.

My outer self gets to wear jeans and tennis shoes every day.

My other self still has dreams about being at work but they no longer register as nightmares.

It's possible to read a whole book in less than a month.

It's possible to clean the whole house in a day, but no one will care.

Those nagging little things you never seem to have time to do? They still don't get done. It turns out that time has nothing to do with it.

But time is still on my side and I'm feeling for the first time that there is enough of it to deal with life's necessities and still squander bits of it here and there. Imagine being able to spend a weekday afternoon watching "Harold and Maude" on TV with your 14-year-old daughter and hear her laugh at all the right parts.

There's no question that I was more efficient when I was working and singularly proud of this skill, but I am slowly coming to understand the difference between "spending" time and "wasting" it, and to realize that I have a choice between the two. I can experience priceless moments I didn't have the time or energy or opportunity to seek out before. Now that I'm unemployed my time is worth literally nothing, I am finally free to take advantage of its value.

© Sandra Duncan

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