If I Can't Hold Down a Job, How Can I Be a Good Parent?
Last week, I texted my husband that our 7-month-old daughter was now mobile. I included a video, less than 40 seconds long, of her blowing raspberries, lying on her belly, now and then pushing herself backward with her arms, until she lay her head against the floor. She probably moved a centimeter.
“Did you watch the video?” I messaged my husband. “I was sitting back by the basket and she was in the middle of the playmat. And it was gradual but I noticed suddenly that she was back by me by the basket!”
I wasn’t sure that she’d moved at first. But she crossed the carpet, over into the hardwood. Her belly was dragging dust since we hadn’t vacuumed recently, since she’d never moved before. She scooted until her feet bumped into the basket I was sitting next to. And I looked from here to there, where she came from. Nothing will be the same.
I didn’t empty out my desk at my last job, three years ago. Staring in bed, I calculated the desk’s contents. A pink crucifix, fancy Post-it notes. A dinosaur mug my sister gave me for Christmas. The only thing I’d miss was a red bumper sticker: “If you want peace, work for justice.” I used to hang the sticker over my desk in college. Then I taped the sticker next to all the computer screens where I’d worked, the two-month stints, the dizzy stretches in my cubicle. It made sense that I would lose the sticker then, my planned comeback after a year of hospitalizations. I emailed my supervisor that I couldn’t come in to clean my desk.
A year later, my psychiatrist prescribed me a new pill. I couldn’t sleep thinking of the desk I never cleaned out. I imagined my supervisor lifting the files in the bottom drawer and finding my diary. Reading about the tearful mornings on the El. The deadweight in my guts while talking to clients. I never had a diary. One night, I imagined giving myself a lobotomy.
Each time I applied, everybody said leaving out jobs wasn’t lying. I wasn’t making anything up. I wasn’t squeezing in new bullet points with Communications Officer II. They told me a gap in your CV is better than seven jobs in seven years. Nobody questions “Freelance Work,” descriptions with “projects” and “in progress.” Never mention health problems. Never ask for accommodations. Be likable. Wash your hair.
“Mainly I’m taking care of the baby,” I tell friends at dinners, parties. Sometimes I say the writing is good, and sometimes I say the writing is bad, and both are lies because I’m hardly writing anymore.
People nod, smile. I’m not sure what they think. Most people probably assume I’m a good mom.
If motherhood was a job posting, I wouldn’t get hired. I was always terrible at spinning negatives in job interviews. If I was interviewed to be my baby’s mom, I’d have to say I didn’t get much out of my matching strings of failed jobs and psych ward stays.
“It was all just bad,” I’d tell my interviewer.
I didn’t learn anything. Six hospitalizations, seven. I sunk lower and lower, drilling down the depth that I had to claw out from. There is no lesson, no uplifting adjective. Those years almost broke my life. I’d trade my reality for a better one.
But give me a baby to shape and bring into the world. I’m up for it. I can suspend my anxiety, clock in for the 3 a.m. shift. I’ve never been able to hold down a job, but I’m dependable in ways I haven’t shown.
“I help my friends when I can,” I’d tell my interviewer. “I don’t love many people, but I care about my family. I’ll be selfless. I’ll go above and beyond. Give me a chance. You won’t regret it.”
After being fired from one job, the manager told me I would be escorted outside by a security guard. Security guards also watch me in the ER while I’m waiting to get into the psych ward. The ER security guard is supposed to make sure I don’t kill myself. I get bashful around security guards.
This office security guard and I take the elevator down together. He’s not saying much, and I’m trying to convince him nonverbally that I’m a normal person. I don’t know if it’s protocol that fired employees have to be escorted by a security guard, or if I’ve been flagged for misbehavior. I try to stand still and appear harmless, descending the floors.
I want security guards to think I’m a good person. I don’t want to be in trouble. I’ve used up more than my share of sick days, and I’ve thought about killing myself, but I want to be forgiven. So I smile and crack a joke if I can think of one. Act like, “I don’t even need you here, because I am so good. What a waste of your time, but let’s make the best of it.”
The day our daughter learns to scoot, I message my husband: “I’ve seen the most amazing stuff.”
A toy appears in my daughter’s opposite hand. She topples onto her back, staring at the ceiling. I lift her from the floor and wipe her lips–she smiles at me for the first time. I flip through her calendar of milestones: going out in the rain, meeting her great-grandfather. Learning to pass objects, roll, smile.
Sometimes I see a look in my daughter’s eyes and I think, she’s remembering this. I’m wiggling my arms to make her laugh; she’s falling asleep in her crib.
I didn’t know parenting would be this way. So much happens, but everything starts out with one time. She goes from no expression to smiling. She lies still where I set her down, then she scoots backward to the basket. On her calendar, I can point to the day she first went to the beach. I didn’t realize we would have so much to celebrate.
I have a bad memory. I try to maintain old friendships because losing a friend means losing all those memories. That’s the reason I keep records of my daughter’s life. I’m the only one who will remember our days together, but I don’t feel alone. When my daughter asks what I did, I’ll show her the milestone calendar, months of 30-second videos. Recite her baby nicknames, sing her original lullabies. I’ll tell her, “My life was so exciting. I got to be with you.”
Getty photo by PeopleImages.