17
May
  

And What Have YOU Done Lately?

I know at least six women right now who were once on the fast professional track, back “in their heyday” – business, advertising, producing, media relations – but they “gave it all up” to raise their kids. Regrets? (oh, pa-lease, who doesn’t have those profound moments of “I was once ‘somebody’ and now look at me, a nobody, who drives and slaves for a family who half the time doesn’t appreciate all that I do”). That said, now, in their 40s, the kids are fine, and for these women ready to get back in the game, it’s Mommy’s Time.

Exciting, but oh, so scary. It almost feels like Rumpelstiltskin waking up from years of slumber. Everything’s gone digital. Everything’s all Web-related. You look great, but feel like a dinosaur. And worse, a dumb dinosaur.

Somebody had stolen your brain cells during pregnancy — you used to be so smart, so with it, so on top of your game. (By the way, it’s the same thief who’s got mine …)

Gearing up for that first job interview or starting your own business can be a hard sell, both externally and internally. Not to mention your very dated resume — which stops in the ’90s. What do you do when a potential employer looks at You-On-Paper, and says, Wow … nice work … BUT (drum roll, please) … What Have You done Lately?

“Lately” you think in a panic, does not even cut it on a resume. Lately, as in the last decade. Hmm, let’s see, you think, diapers, gymboree, dance, travel sports, doctors’ appointments, groceries, carpool shlepper extraordinaire … oh I could go on. And I’m sure so could you.

My “moment” of first addressing “Lately” was forced upon me. My ex-husband had disappeared, and I was left with two young children and 67 cents in my bank account (I still have the bank receipt). I know, mine was an Extreme Situation, but the feelings are the same: Oh My God, who would possibly hire me?

 I wouldn’t hire me.

***

So there I was getting ready for my first job interview in nearly 10 years. I was a former editor/reporter for The Jerusalem Post, took off for a six-year hiatus (from Full-Time-Crazy-Working-Reporter to Full-Time-CRAZIER-Stay-At-Home-Mommy.) I had moved with my family from Jerusalem to Washington D.C., for my (ex) husband’s work. At the time I had two little girls, then five and three, and then, he left … disappeared … leaving me alone with two babies, and an empty bank account.

When I finally was ready to pick up the pieces, I looked in the mirror, and said:  You were once a good journalist. Get a fucking job.

But I was admittedly terrified. What if I forgot how to write a good story? I am an idiot when it comes to anything tech-y — what if they ask me to do something fancy on the computer? What if I forget how to edit? The what ifs began to paralyze me, as the tears welled: What if I no longer have the chops, and I simply can’t cut it?

My best girlfriend Isabel had called and said, “There’s a job I think you should interview for. They’re looking for a new managing editor at this magazine.” She paused. “Don’t be mad, but I already called, pretended I was you, and scheduled an appointment.”

“Are you crazy?” I shouted. “What about the girls? Who’s going to watch them after preschool? Who is going to pick them up? I can’t afford help right now. Not to mention that when I leave them for even five minutes, they freak out.”

“You have to think future,” Isabel argued. “Face it. You’ve got bills piled high. Not to mention legal fees, and everything else ahead of you,” she added gently, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want. I just thought this job might be right for you until you get everything figured out.”

“I haven’t worked in an office in years. I’m a train wreck, Isabel. I can barely breathe.”

“Look, it’s politics. It’s investigative. It’s literary. It’s an intelligent magazine. It’s every damn thing you know how to do, Lisa. And it’s managing editor, hello! This kind of job doesn’t come around every day. So get into a skirt and pantyhose. Get your portfolio and resume in shape. Pull. It. Together.” She paused, and added lightly. “Besides from what I hear, the editor who is doing the interviews is pretty cute. Charm him.”

I laughed despite myself. “Oh, please. Cute is not even on my Top Ten List right now. And if you could see me, you would know my charm skills are on vacation. The circles under my eyes are like Rocky Raccoon.”

“So give him hell, Rocky. I love you, you know. Starbucks on Saturday?’

(That I could do.)

***

As I started getting dressed for the interview I froze as I put on my good black bra. I don’t know how to do this anymore, I thought. And I used to know. Back in the day, in my twenties, I was cocky and fearless, and seemed to know how to do everything: what to wear, how to interview, how to get the job. But back then, there was always another interview waiting in the wings. I was young, carefree, blissfully naïve, and happily ambitious. I seemed to have it all: drive, initiative, creativity, and most of all, the ability to schmooze, anyone, anywhere. I viewed obstacles as something fun to divide and conquer. But I had nothing to lose back then. My whole world was all about me. No kids, no real responsibilities.

But now? What could I possibly say to the interviewer? That I have been a full-time Mommy for years? That I just may be the fastest diaper-changer this side of Lake Michigan? Or even better, that I single-handedly mastered the fine art of cooking, doing the laundry, AND paying bills WHILE breastfeeding.

And how, can I possibly answer the inevitable question: So Lisa, I see you’ve taken a long break. What have you done lately?

Lately? I’d repeat, meeting the interviewer’s gaze head on. I would mention that there was a time not too long ago that I had interviewed world leaders and celebrities. And despite taking “time out” to raise my kids (THE most important job, thank you) – I could get my groove back.

But could I get my groove back? 

As I got dressed, I told myself:  Face it, you’re going to have to fake it. Fake the Old Lisa, because she doesn’t exist anymore.

I fell to the carpet and stared up at my ceiling. Are you there, God? It’s me, Lisa. I need you. Like Right Now.

I waited, but there was only silence. God must be busy putting out other fires.

I stood, swiping my hands against my bare thighs. Stop the Pity Party and lamenting about a road less traveled. FORGET ABOUT WHAT WAS, WHO YOU ONCE WERE, AND EMBRACE WHAT IS.

That is all you’ve got, Girlfriend.

I slowly slipped on my panties, hose, and heels, and reluctantly looked in the mirror. Okay, hair, check. I had successfully detangled, defrizzed, and deactivated its natural wildness into a loose curl, which seemed to softly frame my face.

Make-up – surprisingly, check.

I hadn’t worn make-up in over month. Who had time? But earlier, while cartoons absorbed the girls, I had carefully applied enough eyeliner and mascara to bring out the golden flecks of my brown eyes. I leaned in closer to the mirror because I wasn’t wearing my glasses. The black eye circles were definitely a problem. Too much cover-up would only accentuate the faint crow’s feet and owlish overcast that had recently surfaced.

Forget the eyes, I told myself. Move on to something better. I glanced down at my new dress. It was a designer wraparound burgundy knit jersey, drastically (thankfully) reduced to a quarter of the original price. The sensuous material generously embraced my curves. It was youthful and sexy; a dress that said, “I’m in control.”  It was a dress that did the lying for me.

I needed the dress to sell myself, to convince the editor that I was the right person for the job of managing editor, a job I could do with my eyes closed. Actually, I could do it while I was sleeping, but I needed this dress to prove that I still had my mojo.

As if.

Reality was that all of the other applicants were most likely not a day older than thirty. So by those stats, I was basically Barbara Bush. Oh, and did I mention the tiny fact that I could only work while the girls were in school? Yes, mark that: I was only available from 9:20 until 2 p.m. Not a minute before or a minute after. Try selling that one.

Who am I kidding? I plopped down on my bed.  I definitely would never hire me.

I glanced down at my hands. My fingernails were painted the exact shade of my dress. A deep, rich Cabernet called Thigh High.  I polished my nails at about three in the morning, as I simultaneously polished off a bottle of Cabernet — thinking misery needed company, and why not match while I was at it.

Could the editor who was interviewing me in one hour possibly understand any of this?  Would he get what I’ve been doing lately? One word, I would say to him, one fucking word:

Surviving.

I shoved lipstick into my purse and closed it.  If I survive, then the girls will survive. There was no Plan B. There was no lately.

There was only right now.

PS.  The editor must have gotten majorly laid the night before (my theory), because his mood was good, and he looked past all my weaknesses and fell for my strengths.

I got the job.

***

So where does this window into my past leave YOU? Hiring Moms is the greatest gift a company could give itself. We know how to make things happen. Chop. Chop. Move it, or you’re going to be late for the bus. Oh, and the things we can do while the kids watch a half-hour TV show: clean an entire house, throw in laundry, shower, dress, get dinner organized, and be ready to rock ‘n’ roll. Mom Training is code for Marine Boot Camp: Give us a job, any job, and it will be done with the adventure.

Here’s what needs to be your “new” frame of mind: Hire me, you say inside your head, and you are getting TWO twentysomethings. I’m efficient, I understand people, and I always get the job done. Always.

These days being a Mom has an unique advantage. Companies are looking for “out of the box” scenarios. Perhaps, working from home, perhaps part-time hours, perhaps working as a consultant to come in per project. Find what you love to do, and tackle everything in that field, until you get what you want.

It is not called “settling” — it is called letting go of your past, and reinventing your future.

When a potential employer asks: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Weaknesses? Hell no. You’ve just turned boys into men. You’ve just turned your daughters into young women. Lean forward and say, what weaknesses? I can deal with a difficult client (piece of cake after a decade of Girl Drama), handle something due on deadline (You eat deadlines for lunch – carpools, juggling a house full of schedules 24/7). As a Mom, you have had that invisible advantage of leading a team, teaching life skills like make the damn bed, or else.

You, Girlfriend, have so much more than you give yourself credit for. Figure out what you want and then:

Use all of the advice that you’ve told (nagged) your kids for years on YOU: Wear a jacket, clean your room, do your homework, be nice to everyone ‘cuz you never know, be a good sport, what goes around comes around.

You have served as CEO of a family. Own it and sell it. If you play your cards right, I promise you, that job is yours. Like those lines around your eyes — you’ve earned it.

 – LB

 

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