“Just one more minute, sweetheart,” I say to my two-and-a-half-year-old. Atticus hangs off my arm as I toggle in for just one last edit on a video project for graduate school.
“Come,” he says. “Come, Mommy.”
All he really wants is for me to grab a pillow and start whacking him with it while he giggles uncontrollably. Or hop up on the bed singing, “Two little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped her head….” Or, take him outside to play imaginary football—which always ends with me on ground, grass stains on my knees, and him running into the end zone for a touchdown and requisite victory dance.
“Okay, okay, one sec.”
I feel like I am constantly putting him off, telling him to wait, or rushing him to school so I can work.
Meanwhile, at graduate school I find myself composing emails to teachers and editors: “I have to leave class early to pick up my son from daycare,” or, “Atticus has a cold. I can’t cover—” (fill-in-the-blank breaking news event).
Now, before this piece starts sounding too much like a pity-party, let me say I am a good mother, I am a good student, and I enjoy both immensely. However, as a mom, I know my kid would prefer to have my attention 100 percent of the time. And as a graduate student, I feel the pressure—both academic and financial—to push myself to work as hard as possible. It is difficult not to feel inadequate at least some of the time.
Work-life balance—that mythical condition always just out of reach—is especially out of reach for working mothers, or, as in my case, mothers who are in school full time. According to the United States Department of Labor, about 70 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 participate in the workforce.
This is not to say stay-at-home moms have it easy. I stayed home for the first year of my son’s life, and let me say it was harder than graduate school—by a lot. There is this idealistic notion that stay-at-home moms are just natural maternal figures who are happy to sit for hours gazing into the face of their newborns.
In fact, I was happy to stare and gaze into my son’s face for hours—but, like, two hours at the most. Then it was time to get to work, do the laundry, and dab ineffectually at the mounting chaos that surrounded me.
I was fortunate to have the flexibility (I work from home) to spend this time with my son. However, many moms stay home with their kids, not because it is a choice, but because it is a financial necessity. The annual cost of childcare in the Bay Area is more than $9,000 per year for a preschooler, according to data from the California Childcare Resource and Referral Network. For an infant, it is even more expensive.
Disinvestment in high-quality childcare and preschool in the past five years has left many families struggling both financially and emotionally. The United States also has one of the least supportive workplace policies in the world around maternal leave and benefits according to Pew Research Center.
As someone who has reliable subsidized childcare (through U.C. Berkeley), a stable relationship with my husband, and the support of friends and family, I am extremely lucky—and I am still going crazy!
So, on this Mother’s Day, I would like to share my respect and awe for those many, many women who survive without these, and also my opinion that much more could and should be done support families in the Bay Area and beyond.
But now, it’s time for me to stop writing and get my son into bed.
I’ll put on his pajamas, and we’ll snuggle together, his warm musky breath on my face. He’ll want to read Curious George Goes to the Aquarium—more than once—and then we’ll turn off the lights and whisper in the dark.
He’ll trace my face with his small thick fingers, and I’ll sing him, “Hush, little baby.”
Meanwhile, my fingers will be itching to write another story.
Sukey Lewis, a reporter at Richmond Confidential, is a First Year Graduate Student at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California a Berkeley.