A couple weeks ago I heard a news segment on the salary disparities between men and women. Apparently, women make as much or a little more than men until their childbearing years. At that point, many businesses refuse to hire or promote, often shamelessly, women with children or with the potential for children.
Since that news segment, I have been thinking about the reasons why I make a better employee as a mother than I did as an unencumbered twenty-five year old.
1. The Truth about Multi-Tasking
Everyone knows mothers change the laundry while filling sippy cups with milk while scooping up the one-year-old clamoring at their calves while yelling “Don’t forget to wipe!”. But this isn’t the multi-tasking that truly characterizes the mothering experience. Mothers are constantly multi-tasking and compartmentalizing strong, emotional pulls on their time. I want to be an assistant principal one day. I want to be a giving, loving wife who says things like “Absolutely!” I want to laugh with my kids. I want to exercise just enough so my legs won’t chaff when I go to the beach. I want to go the beach. And, in the process of holding on to all these wants, I’ve learned how to almost physically take one want, lift it up, set it aside for awhile so I can concentrate on another one. Mothers know how to clear their minds and concentrate.
2. When You’re a Mother, Everyone Looks Like a Baby
Yesterday a bedraggled older man was walking through the rain and pushing a cart of groceries through the grass on the side of the road. He seemed to be arguing out loud with himself. He looked hostile and determined, and all I could think was, how do babies become adults? This unhappy man was a baby once; likely, someone blew raspberries on his baby belly and kissed the tops of his ears. He was rocked and held and loved. Now, he is a man who has to push a grocery cart of soaking wet food through an unkempt ditch on the side of the road.
As a mother, I look for tenderness everywhere. I am ready to forgive anyone. I am ready to feel and cry at any time. In the work place, I see a lot of people who like to pick fights. They like to exaggerate differences. They like to capitalize on others’ weaknesses. Where others might want to dissect and destroy, a mother will want to understand.
In a way, this reminds me of Aaron’s truck. Sometimes, it is a messy place to be. There are coffee cups, punctured Ziploc bags of cheerios, junk mail, saxophone reeds strewn about. In the past, if I were get into the truck in such a state, which didn’t happen very often, I might feel a strong compulsion to wipe my mouth with a napkin and leave the napkin in a crumpled mess on the passenger seat. A mess tends to be a magnet for more mess. People can be messy, too, and sometimes I think cleaner people take satisfaction in dirtying what is already dirty. We step on people who look stepped on.
But, as a mom, you are not so much solving problems all the time as you are always cleaning up messes. You look at a dirty truck or a troubled life or a difficult situation and it is instinctual to help. Mothers rarely knowingly make a bad situation worse.
3. Mothers Know How to Party
A mother can be bogged down and worried about this month’s credit card balance, but she will bake a cake for her one-year-old and pull out the camera to capture the sticky, frosted smile he makes when he eats cake for the first (okay, fifth) time. Before I was a mother, I underestimated the power of the party. Still, I don’t throw, and will never throw, large thematic enterprises that involve trains and Spanish-speaking cartoon characters. But, sometimes, it’s time to stop, click “Shut Down,” and eat cake. Mothers not only know how to change gears faster than anyone I know, but they know when the metaphorical car of life needs to be pushed into overdrive or down-shifted. I’ve worked in a place or two where the only thing missing was morale. The one and only thing that would do was a party. Mothers can sense when, in order to keep things going, it’s time to slow them down.
4. Mothers Still Think About Newtown, Connecticut
Confession: I used to sway Republican and didn’t believe in things like poverty and PTSD. Then I became a teacher and had close encounters of the third kind with both. The day after the shooting, I held my three-month-old William and swayed to the song “One Day” by Matisyahu. When I hear this song, I am returned to the greatest tragedy of the decade. I believe, after all the coverage of the shooting, it became a kind of trauma for me. In my dreams, I sometimes see faces of terrified children and they all have Clara’s brown eyes and they are all screaming, “Mommy.”
After the shooting, the Wakulla County police department thought it would be a good idea if they placed all of us teachers between the library and cafeteria and blew off a few rounds so we could hear the difference between an angry teenager shooting a gun and an angry teenager slamming a locker.
I stood there with my fellow English teachers, waiting for the fireworks. The guns sounded, and I immediately understood why some military veterans run for cover when they hear a car door close too loudly. As the shots rang over our heads, I saw and felt the ghosts of children running all around me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw tiny arms flailing in fear. I was absolutely transported by sound. I didn’t even realize I was crying until a too-glib Math teacher said, “Well, it looks like you’ve never been hunting.”
As a mother, I seem to hold onto our history’s darkest moments in the pit of my belly, right around where I grew a baby. This does not make me afraid; it makes me a fighter. In the work place, I see people fight for things they believe in, but what often distinguishes a mother is her ability to fight in such a way that she does not get lost in the adrenaline of the fight itself.
5. Mothers Want to Laugh
Eventually, you will find your child funny, and at that moment, you live a ridiculous life that absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett could only dream about. Today at the grocery story, Clara asked me if we need jelly. I said no, we didn’t need jelly. She said, “You’re a jelly!” I said, “What kind of jelly?” She said, “Strawberry!.” I said, “Well, you’re grape jelly.” She said she was peach jelly, not grape jelly. I said I was raspberry jelly. This, I recognize, is not funny, but we were bowled over in laughter next to the frozen pizzas.
It is not that mothers have a particularly keen sense of humor; it’s that we need humor more than most people. I have to find Clara funny because often I find her exasperating. The “No, Daddy do it! No, I don’t want Daddy do it! No, Mommy do it! No, I don’t like Mommy do it!” moments are tempered by real, head-tossing moments of hilarity.
Work is serious. For a lot of people, it is high stakes. I know when a mother applies for a job, she can look like a walking distraction and a lot of days off. But, mothers are accustomed to not taking things personally. We are building a family, and most of us live in a communal, collaborative mindset. We innately want to play well with others. We work hard because our family depends on us and because we want to be an example for our children. These are powerful compulsions. If you hire a mother, you hire someone capable of fierce commitment and tremendous empathy.