I wasn’t always a sixty-something soccer mom. Back in the 1980’s, I was a thirty-something mom — much like the characters on that old TV show, “Thirty-Something.” In other words, I was one of those moms who tried to do it all — a career plus babies, and, oh yeah, a husband. I was NOT a soccer mom; they had not yet been invented.
All my friends were trying to pull off the same work + family miracle; nowadays the accepted wisdom seems to be that you cannot do it all. That had not been invented yet either; in fact, it was discovered by us Boomers. We tried hard, let me tell you. In fact, if you find a woman who pulled it off, she’s probably a Boomer.
When my working mommy friends and I got together, we compared notes on the whole career and children conundrum, but we could never figure out how to spread ourselves far enough to be both good mothers and good employees. After years of discussing it, my closest friend brought our never-ending conversation to a halt with this: “I don’t think we’re ever going to solve it — the kids are just going to grow up.” And guess what? She was right. Our kids grew up — and rather nicely I might add — and the problem just disappeared. Correction: it disappeared for my friends. For me, not so much.
Here’s why — one of my kids, my daughter, has Down Syndrome, so she has not really grown up — not in the up-and-out sort of way that my son did. But by the time she finished her post-high vocational program, she had landed a part-time job working at a college dining hall. Her days were full and satisfying. She got herself ready for work, hopped on our community’s “handicapped” bus, and arrived on time, eager to work and to interact with her co-workers.
And then, in an extreme case of piling on by the universe, she developed obsessive-compulsive disorder at the age of 24. Her neatly-laid out world was hijacked by mental illness. In a matter of months, she went from being a highly-regarded employee who sped through her tasks to a lost-in-space shuffler who was almost unrecognizable to her supervisors. Because they loved her, they stuck by her for a while, but eventually it became clear to everybody — except Kate — that she simply could not do the job anymore.
Her supervisors were kind; they explained that she just needed to take a leave of absence until she could get back to normal. As we drove home from her last day of work, she said “My whole world has fallen apart.” She cried. She needed a lot of help picking up the pieces.
Fortunately I had just retired after a career as a lawyer (17 years), then a teacher (10 years). I soon had a new vocation: helping Kate rebuild her world. This new vocation of mine involved lots of driving: driving to the psychiatrist, driving to the therapist, and driving to any place that might cheer Kate up. And there were lots of meetings — meetings with DRS (Department of Rehabilitation), job coaches, potential job coaches, potential volunteer employers, etc. And how does one get to all these meetings? One drives.
It’s been seven years now, and Kate has made a lot of progress. With the help of pharmaceuticals and therapy and lots of heart-to-hearts with Mom, she has come to terms with OCD and has made progress in her functioning. She has worked as a volunteer at our neighborhood school library and at an assisted living center. Eventually, she tried re-entering the paid work force. Even with a wonderful private job coach, that was a no-go. Kate simply could not keep up the pace. Perfection takes time apparently.
Then in 2012, Kate started working at a life-sharing community for the intellectually disabled, and that’s going pretty well. The lovely folks at Innisfree are willing to work with her ritualized and slow-paced habits. Innisfree is a bit of a hike — nestled near the Blue Ridge Mountains and over ten miles down winding country roads. More driving! Luckily, a few of my daughter’s friends also work at Innisfree, and so we joined a carpool. Yes, at the age of sixty-one, I joined a carpool! My transformation into a soccer mom was complete.