Seven years ago I left my full-time corporate marketing career. I didn’t know it was the end at the time. I was too addle-brained to take in any long-term trends, the result of running a weekly magazine, editing Mommy Wars, and frantically caring for my kids, ages 8, 6 and 3. The boss said “Go on a sabbatical,” and I did.
This morning I was cleaning out a closet. On a dusty top shelf, I found my big black briefcase/purse/diaper bag from that last day at work. As I fished through what seemed like three trillion pockets, I flashed back 35 years to my teenage discovery of my father’s Navy service duffel in our attic. Emptying both bags was pure archaeology, exploration of battles fought long ago.
Here’s what I found in the purse:
- Two gorgeous buttons from corporate outfits – that I meant to sew back on but never had time to. (I no longer know where either outfit is.)
- An eggshell blue suede Tiffany pouch – empty.
- Several (clean) tissues.
- A notebook full of random numbers and important ideas.
- A squashed-in cell phone pouch, still securely stitched to the outside of the bag. That cell phone holder was the reason I bought that carry-all. I swear my muscle memory can still swing my right arm around and unleash that ringing phone from its velcro holder in a nanosecond, while holding a heavy baby in the crook of my left arm.
- A laminated card with my name, phone and mailing address (in case the purse got left somewhere, angels forbid).
- A crumpled greeting card from our nanny with pictures of my three kids taped inside. For nearly a decade, she was the most important person in my life outside of my kids. I could not have survived a single day without her.
- Six pens whose labels doubled as secret weapons — Wharton Business School, Johnson & Johnson, Booz Allen Hamilton. All were dried out and unusable.
- A business card holder stuffed with cards proudly proclaiming I had an identity outside of “Mom.” These I threw away.
But the most precious relic was my Washington Post ID card sheathed in thick plastic. I smiled at it, feeling like I’d discovered an old love letter from a third grade sweetheart. Although the ID no longer beeps me into those hallowed Post hallways, I’m keeping the thing. The photo cracks me up – I look like a college freshman although the date was 2001 and I had just turned 36. The hope in my face! That of course I could do it all. I love that girl, although I’m still not sure where she disappeared to.
I look very different today. So does my life. The first several weeks, I hyperventilated every morning after dropping my kids off at school, terrified of not having enough to do. Now two of my kids are teenagers. That baby is a wannabe. In the years since leaving my hard-won corporate career to be there for my family and cobble together my writing dreams, I’ve become older, wiser, simultaneously better rested and more worn out.
Perhaps not by chance, I recently finished re-reading Mommy Wars for the first time in five years. My favorite advice from the 26 writers still rings true: It’s okay – great in fact – to focus on being a “good enough” mother. No one has the work-kids balancing act figured out, no matter how good her life looks from the outside. Being a mom is a joyous, exhilarating, unpredictable and at times painful roller coaster ride. Other moms, whether they work or not, are my salvation. One of my favorites says the key is to Write Your Dreams in Pencil. And I do.
The bag brought that crazy time rushing back in Technicolor. I remember the breathlessness of juggling fulltime office demands and three clamoring kids like plates in the air. I relished every minute. And I would not go back there even if that purse were stuffed full of Google stock options.