I've never been sent to anger management classes, but I am about to confess to one episode of "cubby rage."
It happened after I had logged nine years of stay-at-home motherhood. Asked to fill in as a publications editor at a large company while a permanent editor was found, I eagerly pawed through my wardrobe, looking for suitable office clothes that still fit. I couldn't wait to reclaim the feeling of being a "professional" who went to a real office, instead of hunkering down at a desk in the corner of my dining room.
I couldn't wait to reclaim the feeling of being a "professional."
I slid right back into the corporate mentality so quickly that I forgot to leave the office in time to pick up my kids from school. This was a one-time event. Much worse was discovering how quickly I felt territorial about this temporary job.
I realized this one morning as I entered my office, steaming coffee in hand, and was startled by the sight of a woman about 10 years my junior, dressed every inch the Goth, fanning out a display of edgy, hipster magazines on the credenza. Just who was this upstart, and what was she doing in my office?
When she introduced herself as the new editor (i.e. my boss!), I saw that my days requiring fresh lipstick, dressing for success, and having an excuse to forget to pick up my kids from school were coming to a screeching halt. I knew it was very un-Jewish of me to feel as jealous as I did over this young replacement, but everything about her set my teeth on edge. Her black nail polish and creepy brown lipstick contrasted starkly with my tame Revlon plum, as did her tight leather miniskirt with my below-the-knee skirt and long-sleeved blouse. Let's face it: I could have been a greeter at a Republican convention. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)
Then I felt guilty over being jealous, but at least guilt feels like a more Jewish emotion. What grated most was that she represented the life I left behind when my first child was born and I turned in my company Amex card: the unencumbered career woman, rising in the ranks to ever greater professional advancement. I never consciously regretted leaving this behind, but could I help it if I had the occasional pang of professional jealousy? I comforted myself that in any case, her job might get cut or outsourced one day, but my job as a mother of four, chief cook-and-bottle washer, soother of boo-boos, and mastermind of Shabbat meals for guests every week, was completely, utterly safe.
But before I could go through all these emotional healing stages, the young upstart had the temerity to say, "This job must really have been a feather in your cap!" at which point I desperately wanted to punch her lights out. I wanted to shout, "Listen, you mini-skirted malignancy, I was charging executive lunches on the company when you were still playing house. I used to hire and fire entire editorial production staffs back when you were bumming cigarettes in high school, hoping not to get suspended by the principal. Meanwhile, I'm raising children, and teaching them about gerunds, too!" (I realized that the part about gerunds would have been a little overwrought, but as long as I'm confessing, I may as well come completely clean.)
I'm raising children, and teaching them about gerunds, too!
Fortunately, a good upbringing kept me from speaking so hotly to this saucy scullion, but I couldn't resist a withering glare at her condescension. Unfortunately, when I turned away to excuse myself, I saw to my acute embarrassment that the hem of my skirt had come undone, paralleling my emotional state.
As I taped my hem back in place with a roll I borrowed from a secretary, I reassured myself that except for the title of Executive Editor of a Major, Incredibly Influential Magazine, I had the most important things I had ever wanted in life. And who knows? Maybe that Goth persona was just camouflage for the new editor's secret desire to have what I had: a husband, children, a hamster who only occasionally escaped from his cage, enough Legos to construct a model of the Pentagon, and a collection of DVDs starring talking animals large enough to keep kids quiet for five years straight.
My "normal" life, including all its occupational hazards, resumed the following week. On Monday, one young "secretary" answered the phone and told a client that I was "making" and couldn't talk, then hung up. I never knew to whom I owed an apology. On Wednesday, a client came to the house who my little boys stared at in wonder. His gender-neutral looks, including slim build, long hair and earrings, prompted one of them to ask, "Are you a boy or a girl?" On Friday, I shopped, cooked and baked for Shabbat, while tending to the kids and only occasionally sharing a new lesson on gerunds.
I concluded that working at home beats working at an office any day. For one thing, I don't need to keep up with what's happening on "Lost," "Desperate Housewives," or "American Idol." My commute to and from work is only a few feet, with only occasional gridlock by the laundry room. I don't have to deal with office politics or gossip. Best of all, at home I have no fear of young, churlish editorial trespassers wearing black nail polish, announcing that they have arrived to replace me.
And you know what? While I've written three books since this episode of cubby rage and hundreds of other articles and columns, my kids remain the most impressive thing I have on my resume.