Sentenced to 9 to 5–On the Occasion that You Find Yourself a Working (Poor) Mother

Dear Lily June,

Conversations tend to acknowledge two kinds of acceptable–even noble–modern mothers.

There are the endlessly creative, tirelessly crafty SAH moms who make fully functional butterfly wings out of papier-mâché and use them to fly their LO/DD/DS to the land where acronyms are always spelled out in macaroni noodles and glitter and are captured on picture perfect ornaments, baubles and trinkets ready to display on the competitive contact sport that is Pinterest.

OR there are the endlessly professional, jack-hammer-to-the-glass-ceiling working mothers who coordinate wedding-style catering for their toddlers’ first teething parties in between legal briefs, all while “leaning in” to demonstrate for their daughters (and sons, mind you!) the inexhaustible power and energy of the feminist female in the corporate workplace.

And amen to both fantasies.

But I have to believe, in order to survive without sinking into an emotional quicksand each grain of which is built of shame and doubt, that both of these “types” are largely stereo-, that they’re as crafted as the seven tier tooth fairy cakes these “supposed” mothers home-bake or order out, that they’re as actually really real-real as Mama Unicorns nuzzling their darling toddlercorns with the tips of their bedazzled horns.

I have to believe that I’m not alone as the third, untalked-about type. The mother who is working not because she has some political agenda to disassemble the patriarchy brick by phallic brick (though, amen, sister friend!) but because her child (you, Lily!) has gotten strangely used to sustenance in her belly.

I have to believe that, especially in my Millennial Generation, there are other mothers who could fill whole bassinets with student loan debt–whose first children were their educations and who, not through lack of hard work but a collapsing economic situation, weren’t able to find positions that reflected their talent and abilities.

In other words, I have to believe there are mothers like me who put in crappy 9-5’s (or, in my case, 7-4’s) and whose children won’t suffer from the glitterless, glamourlessness of it.

I hate nothing worse than when I hear (again) that my generation represents the pinnacle (or pit?) of entitlement. Lily June, you have to know that your family’s tenuous financial situation is not a result of your mother’s lack of effort. You have to know that I earned a 3.95+ GPA from my undergraduate institution and was its department’s graduation speaker, even while commuting an hour + each way on a city bus so that I could afford to live at home, all while taking 15-21 credits per semester while working 2-3 jobs, taking internships, and co-teaching in my field as an undergrad.

You have to know that in grad school, I walked (no exaggeration! srsly!), sometimes in 100+ degree heat, to school a mile each way because I couldn’t afford to live on the “right side” of campus (or the tracks), the side where you didn’t get shootings and rapes and peeping tom’s and not-for-fun dumpster divers and panhandlers walking door-to-door in each apartment of your complex. You have to know that, to afford our wedding, your dad and I each took on second (and third and fourth and fifth) jobs one summer, covering each stitch of my dress and his cufflinks on our own dime. And I still ended up with a 4.0 from my graduate institution.

I have a work ethic like a pack mule, and today, it’s earned me another failure: a “promotion” in my job to a position that requires three times the effort FOR THE EXACT SAME PAY. The woman in that position now will move to where I’m at (a lower-stress, more flexible job) because she’s essentially proven herself about as incompetent as butter in NOT melting down. I will enter a position driven by high stakes and stress–in an office that controls degree progress and where mistakes can cost students not just time and money but sometimes, in worst case scenarios, their future employment or even their visas.

If I mess up there, I could get someone deported, Lily, an anxiety your already anxious mother is looking forward to about as much as donning the fashionable thumbscrews and laying out for a refreshing stretch on the rack.

My hard work is being recognized, in other words, with more work, work that may take me away from your letters, this blog, the routine I’ve settled into in my office after spending the first couple of years panting like a dog from rebuilding my part of the department from scratch. If this position were a tree, Lily, the last person in it had reduced it to kindling, and it was up to me to keep it from catching on fire.

And I dutifully did my job. I only have the time to write to you at work now because I made it so this office runs efficiently.

I am bitter to learn I’ll now be displaced from it. I am bitter that I have to work this hard for so little because working as a student didn’t get me further than a non-tenured position as a non-professor who taught twice the amount of students as the higher-ups for less than half the pay. I am bitter because I followed my dreams, and they led me astray.

I am crestfallen because, in deciding I didn’t have any fight left in me to keep competing against those who were better socially-connected even when they were less academically-invested, I thought, settling into my 7-4, that I was going into a job that would have a clearly defined border between my work and my home life, and that I could devote the energy I reserved from not sending emails all night or conferencing with students all week or grading all weekend, into first writing (which didn’t really happen) and then motherhood (which really did).

Now, I’m being thrust by the universe again into a position where the borders disintegrate, where the worries will come home with me like the tupperware full of lunch I’ll bring home, that I was too stressed during my unpaid lunch hour to eat. And I am so bitter that there’s a possibility, to keep my job, I’ll lose my ability to give you the best of me.

Someday, Lily June, you may ask where I was for school plays, doctor’s visits, birthday breakfasts, etc. etc., and I want to be able to not have to say, I was “with you in spirit.” I want you to get more from me than my words, and maybe not even those if my time is eaten up with meaningless memos and bureaucratic email messages. I want you to get that I did all this for you, not paving some great new way, but because I loved you, and sucked it up, and did what I had to do.

I’m not the mom who is inspiring. I’m not the mom who’s reinventing parenting, nor am I the mom who has broken down barriers to earn women equal work for equal pay. I am not a mom in an occupational position of respectability. I’m a secretary, an old-fashioned female cliché, the kind who took a hard-earned vacation day yesterday just so I could get a bath and shave my legs and bake cookies, ironically for the birthday of the very secretary who’s going to be displacing me. I am Woman. (Please don’t fire me.)

Eat your heart out, Pinteresters. These were from a pre-made Walmart mix and they’re still lumpy and misshapen.

All I want is to be able to buy you braces when and if your mouth doesn’t close quite right (even while my teeth are practically rotting out of mine). All I want is to be able to take you on a vacation without having to sell a major organ. All I want is for you to see that you’re worth more than what you do for a “living.” And all I want is to not be punished for the hard work I do, banished to the place where effort is rewarded with more responsibility without additional recognition.

All I want, Lily June, is for you to look back and not be ashamed of the woman who was your mother. All I want, Lily June, is for you to never read, let alone live, this letter.


Picture Credits:

18 thoughts on “Sentenced to 9 to 5–On the Occasion that You Find Yourself a Working (Poor) Mother

  1. bjaybrooks says:

    You are such a talented writer…one of the best I have read! I, as did my wife, experienced work place disappointments. It is so hard to see lack of innitative rewarded as well as political connectedness elevated.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      Thank you for the encouragement/sympathy. It’s been a hard day, and kind words like yours make all the difference.

      I guess workplace disappointments are just a part of life, and I know I’ll adjust. I just wish we lived in a word where success/pay was more directly linked with what you do than with who you know!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. lindalanger6 says:

    Oh Alyssa, I am so sorry. Your best efforts have earned you only more responsibility and recognition, and not the more pay to go with it! You grieve for your little girl. Listen, sister. Lily June has the best mom in the world, Pinterest be damned! Have you thought about publishing your beautiful letters so that others who wear your shoes ( and there are too many to count) could not feel isolated and frightened and alone? You give your precious daughter an extravange of love and warmth and tenderness. You provide her more security than decorated cupcakes and themed birthday parties ever could.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      Linda, thank you for your kind suggestion. I wish I could imagine a world where people might pay to read my ridiculous ramblings, but I don’t have that much faith in myself! But just the fact that you suggested it makes me feel a little better. (And for what it’s worth, if you can’t spell, I can’t read, because I read extravagance first, too!)

      It’s just been a rough day, and I fear I’m doing my kid wrong on all fronts. Why didn’t I plan more when I was in college? Choose a major that had a definite path to a position? Hobknob more; schmooze until it hurt not for my future, but for hers?

      At least I hope she’ll know, whatever we can’t afford for her, she’ll have love in spades.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jesska says:

    *huge hugs*
    What would happen if you objected to being given the position? Or requested a payrise to match the extra work and responsibility?
    (I have the feeling most people land in various shades of the third group)

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Patricia says:

    My congrats and my sympathy. I so wish you would tell them: Respectfully, I need to know how much my salary will increase with the increased responsibility. While I appreciate your confidence in me, this position change is going to negatively affect my family. We are already struggling financially. But those were my thoughts as I read your post, not you. I’ve said it before and I am repeating it again because I love you: my wish for you is that you knew just how full of awesomeness you are. What do you have to lose in submitting LJ’s letters. Confidence? I believe it’s a risk worth taking. Has it occurred to you how many of your followers have encouraged you? Just sayin. 😍

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Lonna Hill says:

    I agree with every word Patricia said above. (And thank you, Patricia for saying it all so eloquently.)

    Sometimes people don’t know you are struggling because you haven’t really told them. Sometimes people don’t know what you want because you haven’t bothered to say so. There must be someone you can talk to and a way for you to voice your thoughts….who understands it’s not that you don’t want to be a team player….but that you need some support before you lose your footing. I don’t know the whole situation, so I don’t know what would be appropriate…but does the woman who you are switching roles with…does she know this is causing you so much anguish. Would it help to talk to her directly?

    I’m sorry that you are going through this. It’s so sad…especially since your last post seemed so hopeful.

    And Lily will never be ashamed of you. When she grows up, she really will recognize all the sacrifices and work you did for her. I think of my own family . . . I remember sacrifices my parents made for me that I’m not even sure they remember making. And it means so much that I still don’t know how to express my gratitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. babyyesno says:

    I’m sure it’s going to work out in the end, most of the time I see the workers that are willing to work hard and create efficiencies go further than those who know how to schmooze. I agree the Pinterest Mum’s and Sheryl Sandbergs of this world are a fantasy! Go the funny coloured cookies!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Allie P. says:

    You do not have to accept the additional responsibilies, especially without compensation. You don’t. I get it. Lily likes to eat and likes such other luxuries like a roof over her head. But you can and should push back. They might cite a salary cap or other such issue, which is their right, but at least then you and management can have a conversation about expectations and better yet, boundaries.

    And honest to goodness woman, if you don’t start sending out some of your writing to paid journals, agents, or other publishing channels I cam going to start doing it for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      The academic world is not the corporate one; I actually cannot lobby for a higher salary as the university sets it by “community standard of living” (they set rates comparable to what administrative assistants make in the surrounding community), so I do not have a choice. My job is tenuous, my skills a dime a dozen. I am nothing more than an at-will employee who can be let go at any time. I cannot afford to make waves, Allie! It’s not a reality for my working environment. I already turned down this “offer”once; now I’m essentially being told it’s what we’re doing. And I live in a town where the university is the lifeblood; there’s literally nothing else around here for me. And we can’t afford to move. I’m thoroughly and utterly trapped. And I’m terrified by it.

      As to sending my work out, I do regularly submit my poetry. On my best year, I made $65. We have too much debt for me to pursue writing as a career. It’s not feasible, and I’m just not talented enough to sell myself. I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I’m in a well, and it’s hard to hear encouragement from down here. Thank you for trying; I’ll try harder not to give up on myself.


      1. Allie P. says:

        Two of my closest friends are in the world of academia, though they are considered state employees, and they’ve reported similar difficulties. Then again they get to retire at 50 with a pension so I’m not always the most sympathetic.

        If the local market is a deadend, have you looked into becoming a virtual assistant? A freelance writer?

        Have you looked into teaching online?

        You are talented enough. Believe me. What you have to work on now is your confidence.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. dearlilyjune says:

        Your friends must be far higher up the food chain than I am.

        Thanks for the options, Allie. I don’t know that I can afford to take the gamble, but it’s nice to see they exist. I’ll think more about all of this.

        In the meantime, I’m grateful people like you exist, too. Thanks for your kindness.

        Liked by 1 person

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