TOKYO, June 27, 2012 - When Maia was born a little more than two decades ago, I did not return to my job at a major advertising agency. I was an ambitious account executive traveling business class, and entertaining at five-star restaurants, but I had an epiphany, the kind the Don Drapers of Madison Avenue create. A huge, brightly-lit neon sign in
And just like that, I traded in my power suits and high heels for sweatpants and trainers. No agonizing soul-searching. No weighing of the pros and cons. I succumbed to the power of the neon sign. I became a stay-at-home mom to Maia who unlike my previous employer, did not ask to see my resume, check my qualifications, or schedule an interview.
My first few days on the job were rocky to say the least. After all, I was doing everything for the very first time without the benefit of how-to-be-a-mother classes or training. The hospital did make me sit through a fifteen-minute film on breastfeeding, attend a short session on changing diapers, and even arranged a step-by-step how-to-bathe-Maia private lesson the day after she was born.
Still, I was hardly ready to go it alone when I went home with my new career in my arms. Without a mother, or mother-in-law living nearby, or today’s know-it-all Google, and I’ll-teach-teach-you-everything You Tube, all I had to rely on for advice were two heavily dog-eared parenting books I bought on the day I learned I was pregnant.
The Japanese book described in detail what Maia would be doing when, and the English book explained why Maia was not doing, what she had to be doing. Between the two books, I was alternately congratulating myself for a baby who did everything on schedule, and worrying about the day when Maia would be unsteadily taking her first baby steps while all the other babies were running the Baby Olympics in the nearby park.
Back in our little apartment, instructions from my new employer came in the form of crying. When Maia was hungry, she cried. When her diaper was wet, she cried. When she woke, she cried. When she was sleepy, she cried. And as soon as her needs were met, she stopped crying. Evaluation of my performance was amazingly simple. I knew I was doing an excellent job when Maia was not crying. And compensation came in the form of a newborn who slept well, and let me sleep through the night.
As my little employer grew, her needs became increasing varied and complicated. A diet of breast milk quickly changed into specialty meals such as carrots that did not look like carrots, and spinach that did not taste like spinach. From mixing powdered milk and water, I went on to learn how to bake birthday cakes that looked like Disney’s Parade on Ice with origami penguins gliding on pristine frosting.
My expertise with keeping the cloth diapers in place with safety pins qualified me for designing Halloween costumes that were prominently featured in the society pages of school newspapers and yearbooks. Who can forget the walking Giving Tree inspired by Shel Silverstein’s book, with a huge umbrella covered with rustling green crepe paper leaves, and deliciously red tiny apples dangling just out of reach of the tiny tots. Or the frightening Phantom of the Opera with a magnificent black velvet cape hemmed with staples.
I continued to acquire new skills as my employer engaged in new activities. The daily ritual of reading a picture book such as Margaret Wise Brown’s Good Night Moon turned into mock debates on the merits of the benevolent dictator. What began as a ‘how-was-school-today’’ chat over afternoon snacks became detailed reports of resolutions passed during Model United Nations sessions.
I was never allowed to be a passive listener merely nodding my head every once in a while. I was required to be an active participant able to articulate my own views on the subject at hand, and that meant reading whatever Maia was reading at the moment, all while dinner simmered in the kitchen.
When I could no longer provide the services that my employer needed, I turned to outsourcing, and found the most qualified experts.
The piano teacher who kept Maia’s interest in the keyboards by allowing her to play The Carpenters instead of Bach. The French and German tutors who ensured she spoke Parisian French and Hoch Deutsch.
The art teachers who failed to teach her how to draw, but who implanted that life-long appreciation for art in various forms, from the subtle colors of the Impressionists to the mobiles of Alexander Calder.
The math tutor who trained Maia to overcome her weakness in numbers.
And the various Japanese tutors to whom I delegated the duty of nagging Maia to learn her Kanji characters.
When Maia graduated from high school, I was feted by one and all as a very successful mother. Not only did she graduate with a slew of honors and medals, she was accepted by the Trinity of Ivy League colleges: Harvard,
And with all three colleges offering to waive tuition, it could be said that I had earned my employer a tidy sum of money.
At Maia’s graduation from college, I was warmly congratulated for having done a fine job of raising a wonderful young woman who again earned high honors, and garnered various awards. She was on her way to working for one of the biggest corporations in the world, the ultimate winner of a fierce bidding war for her talents.
All in all, it is safe to say that I did well as a stay-at-home mom. As Maia said to a friend disappointed to hear that her mom was neither a lawyer nor a diplomat, “If stay-at-home moms were corporate warriors, my mom would be the highest-paid CEO. Definitely seven figures. And with stock options.”
And yet, after Maia left for college, I struggled to find a job when I tried to rejoin the work force. I was a graduate of two very prestigious learning institutions, and fluent in several languages, but I had a resume that was deemed lacking in work experiences. I was unable to include my stellar seventeen-year career as a stay-at-home mom, and my most important achievement, Maia.
None of my experiences as a mom were legitimate work experiences. Not my years as president of Parent-Teacher Associations in various international schools where I organized multicultural shows the local media never failed to report.
Not the school fundraising charity galas and bazaars which had me successfully selling tickets to parties parents would rather avoid, and white elephants to shoppers who had just donated stuff to rid themselves of clutter.
Not the hours I spent advising teenagers on planning and marketing the most successful and profitable school events.
No, not one of the many achievements I had as a stay-at-home mom counted as work experience worthy of a line in the resume of a job applicant.
After being turned down for countless jobs that ranged from a personal assistant to a bakery sales attendant, I learned that despite the resourcefulness and the creativity I honed, and the skills I acquired as a stay-at-home mom, the seventeen years I spent making Maia my career were perceived as a disadvantage in the work place, a handicap that did not benefit from affirmative action.
I had a huge gaping seventeen-year hole in my resume, and I was unqualified to earn a paycheck.
So, can anyone tell me why I cannot put my daughter on my resume?
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