Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing moms reading this!
Motherhood has been my biggest joy/headache/money pit/anxiety source/love well/hug ‘n kiss machine/happy place ever! Yep. It’s all those things. And sometimes it can feel thankless. But if you listen in the small moments…it’s truly not.
In June 2002, I was a newly single mother of an 18 month old. My son’s father and I had recently split, and I was finding my way through the endless do-it-all lists I made, just to ensure I didn’t miss a “we” task that was now a “just me” task. Here’s a sample…
- 7:00: din = chicken nuggets + broccoli, Blue’s Clues
- 7:30: Dino book – “How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight” + 1 other
- 8:00: shower – wash his hair!!
- 8:30: bed – check nightlight battery
- 9:30: make mac ‘n cheese for tomorrow, pack lunch bag, lay out clothes, sort laundry & leave for drop tomorrow AM, milk: am I out? make shopping list to take in AM, rinse silk blouse – ask mommy abt vinegar on underarm stains – wtf now, juice boxes into freezer, pack cheerios
That 9:30 slot is a little heavy, right? But after my toddler was in bed, that’s when my night really began. Dog tired or not, those juice boxes weren’t going to freeze themselves for my son’s lunch the next day.
Adding to the pressure, I was working on Wall Street at Citibank. I had joined the sea of suits and cut my teeth in finance at a top international bank, with a hard-nosed boss and no short supply of backstabbers. I’d been there only a little over a year. Can’t slip.
One amazing thing about being part of such a huge organization was the employee support. I was fortunate to have an annual allotment of company provided daycare, free of charge, on site at a Citibank location just 3 blocks from my Wall Street office. It was quality care that my son enjoyed, and I never felt worried about leaving him. What a relief to have that off my plate for a little bit!
But that meant having him ready to leave the house with me at 7am, stroller in hand, with his day bag, plus my work bag, IN my business suit, and on Wall Street by 8am so we could make it those three blocks and back. I had to be at my desk by 8:30 with not a hair out of place. When I tell you my hands were full…it’s an understatement. That Hindu god with 6 arms? Yeahhhhh, she’s got nothing on me.
Every morning we joined the ton of suit-clad commuters swarming from the train station on Broadway and Wall, walking across the entire length of Wall Street, towards the river. It was a human ocean of blue/black pinstripes (it’s New York…it’s just what we do in finance), some armed with newspapers, others with cell phones as they shouted planned buys/sells, red Ferragamo power ties flipping in the wind…as my single mama self speed walked her Nikes in and out of the crowd, weaving closely on the packed sidewalks as I hurried the hell up. No one expected a stroller on Wall Street, and the business men resented stepping over or aside for me at corners (I needed that sidewalk cut-out to cross!), or slowing down when I cut in front of them artfully. Dude…I’m late! And I need my job! There’s no golden parachute over here!
These days, there’s tons of residential buildings on Wall, and you’ll see moms and nannies and dogs all the time. But back then, I was out of place. Despite working shoulder to shoulder with those same powerful men in their offices, I was now a nuisance to them on the street, and had more in common with their wives and house staff. I felt the glare and saw the frowns. There’s a powerful stigma attached to being a single working mother, especially around the boy’s club on Wall Street, and double especially if she’s a brown mama. Fuck them, but I was still making less commuter eye contact as I settled into our new routines. I have to admit – it affected me.
One morning, as I speed-walked and weaved, I glanced down to see a smiling and giggling toddler boy…and heard him say “Go, Mama, GO!” My son had two fists up like a winning athlete, smiling so hard his eyes were crinkled, and he was ecstatic. His hands clapped an awkward toddler clap as we reached the corner. He was winning the Stroller 500!
Actually…we were winning it together.
He was so proud of his mama, and all these slower moving rich men could eat his dust and hers too! I needed his perspective and joy in that moment as we schlepped through our new life together. I laughed with him and smiled the rest of the way to daycare and my office. We were a unit, a team, and we were going to win. Just like we won that day.
“Fuck those stares and frowns. Team Us, bitch!” <– loose grown-up translation of my son’s toddler message
To this day, I can see his giggling, crinkle eyed face, with cheeks drawn into a tight-apple smile. I can hear his joy and pleasure in literally overtaking the ruling class foot by foot. And when I need a boost and a reminder on a tough day, I play the audio in my head: “Go, Mama, GO!”
This Mother’s Day, it’s my word to you. Whatever your life is, whatever your struggle is comprised of, don’t stop. Grab a hug from your child and use it as fuel. Don’t give up. You can win.
GO, MAMA, GOOOOOOOOOOOO!