The Post Every Working Parent Needs To Read

I relate to this post utterly and completely, and thought that many of you would as well. So I asked Erin if I could publish it here. It’s a piece that every working parent should read. -Jordan

Bless This Mess

There’s something wrong with me. Lungs on fire, acid stomach, twelve hours of sharp, jutting pains through my midsection that came and went. I went to the doctor after a quarter of a yogurt made my esophagus light up like a Duraflame. He called for a nurse to be present while he dug his fingers into my midsection: Where does it hurt you, baby?

Maybe an ulcer. I bought $80 worth of prescription drugs at Walgreens on 23rd street and went back to work.

My colleagues asked me how it went. Their eyes clapped shut and opened wide in disbelief when I told them what it might be. How old are you? None of them have children.

The days are so long now. I used to have time to breathe. I remember when weekends were for recovery, when rest was possible, when sleep was more than the gulp of air needed to dive back underwater for another 15 hours. When I find little pockets of space now, a few minutes on the train where I’m not answering emails, half an hour after my daughter finally falls asleep before my face hits the side of the pillow with a splat, I am numb. I play Candy Crush. I have nothing left.

Feeling Things is not my forte. Feelings are messy, uncooked. I’m a planner, an organizer, a doer. I will acknowledge them only when they press me, or are not my fault. They get hurt and I will ask for your repentance. There now, it’s been handled. Keep swallowing.

Feelings have a way of rising up. They do not appreciate being ignored. I drank them down. When that stopped working, I spent hundreds of hours stroking and fondling them in recovery. I opened the door and let them in. I decided we could all live in this body. They settled in, despite hating the furniture.

Now, I’m a mother. There isn’t time.


6AM working mom selfie

I leave for work at the crack of dawn, before the sun or my daughter is awake. I walk the dog in the pitch dark freezing night. I pick his steaming shit up with a black plastic bag and feel it warm my hand. I sit on the commuter train with business men in suits with mouths like parentheses who skim quickly through the Wall Street Journal so they can watch Family Guy on their iPads. They wear wedding rings and don’t smell like anything.

At work, I think about cancer. One guy has six kinds of cancer and half an arm. He is not old. My heart breaks open. My brain says, “You are going to die, too.”

There is nothing I want to do more than this work. To keep the anxiety at bay, I walk to the water machine and push the button. Cucumber seltzer. It’s a good prize.

I leave a meeting early and hustle to daycare to pick up Lucy. She doesn’t want to leave. I bribe her into the car with a two-pack of Saltines. At home, she throws a tantrum when I put her down, pick her up, give her milk in the wrong plastic cup. I offer TV and she is happy. She doesn’t want dinner. I microwave something. I eat it out of the plastic tub on the couch while Lucy sits engrossed in cartoon mermen. I love her so much in this moment, where she is happy and my attention is not required.

I try to read her books but she’s impatient. We look for everything in her room that’s yellow. She wants banana, a yogurt, sweet things. She refuses pajamas. She smells like pee. I bribe her to change her diaper. Once the lights are out, she clings to me with force, won’t let me put her down. I sing Baby Beluga over and over again in the dark. When she’s almost asleep, she shoots up, realizing how I’ve tricked her eyelids into heaviness. She shouts for Dada, who is more fun. I leave, and they throw all the monsters out of the bed.

My bedtime routine is 5 things, and I hate them. I do them anyway, and crawl into bed. I play more Candy Crush. I look at Instagram. Women are wearing bikinis and cooking beef short ribs from scratch. I compare myself to them. I click the lamp to black and let a podcast lull me to sleep, filling my brain with someone else’s story.

I take it back. I feel constantly. I feel guilt and shame about not spending time with my kid, and then guilt and shame about being so tired that when I do see her, I want to check out. I am sleepwalking through a room full of people shouting, “Wake up! You asked for this!”

I did. I want all of these things. I love Lucy, how she puts all of the monkey things together in one pile, how she grits her teeth for the camera, thinking that’s what a smile is. I love my job more than any work I’ve ever done before. I love the man with 6 types of cancer and half an arm and I want his suffering to mean something in the larger context of research and fighting and fixing and curing.

Here it is, everything you asked for. Job, daughter, husband, house. Meaning.

I love it. Please don’t take it away. Just tell me: how do I not self-destruct?

I took the day off today, my first day off. I didn’t need to. I feel okay. I am not shitting blood.

I’m reading. I’m lying in bed in a sweatsuit listening to Arvo Part with my dumb cats, feeling stuff. I’m moisturizing. I’m waiting for this aromatherapy diffuser I ordered to be delivered from Amazon. I haven’t decided yet which smell to experience first.

I think they call this a mental health day.

Tomorrow I’ll commute into the city for an endoscopy. An invasive medical cherry on the proverbial cupcake. As a former drunk, I am not not looking forward to the procedure’s required black-out. Sounds like rest, to me.

Bless this mess. Good things are rarely easy.

Erin Williams is a writer, illustrator, and semiprofessional ugly-crafter living in New York with her husband and child. She moonlights (works full time) as an Oncology Data Specialist at Flatiron Health while co-writing and illustrating funny pregnancy books with Reid (The Big Fat Activity Book For Pregnant People is available for preorder). If she had free time, she would use it to watch crime shows and guess who the killer was before the reveal with stunning accuracy.

Top image via Tumblr; lower image via @goosecamper Instagram.

  • Manda

    I too now have the high-intensity job I love and the kid I love. I’ve never been more busy, but I’ve also never felt so fulfilled and happy. Love it all, as ugly as it can be (literally and otherwise).

    Here’s the thing, and I know this will be an unpopular and unreasonable suggestion for most people — the main difference between me and my friends who have remained in the New York area is the fact that I can afford to live 10 minutes from my downtown office (and daughter’s daycare). I think it makes all the difference in my work/life balance and gives me about 2-3 hours per day with my daughter that my New York commuting friends don’t have. That’s huge.

    But it’s true, I don’t live in or near the greatest city in the world anymore. And I miss it and my friends a ton. Sigh.

  • This post was hard to read, as it took me back to a particularly dark place when the pressures of work and home stretched me so thin I almost cracked. I thank god almost every day that I don’t feel that way–depleted, a zombie with nothing to give–anymore.

    What helped?

    Mostly time. My daughter is a bit older now (3.5) and my spouse and I have finally settled into routines that work for our family and let us feel like we have time our kid and ourselves. It took until she was almost three (at which point I had been back at work for 2.5 years) to get to this point. If we have another, I am afraid we will go back even further than square 1 but that’s not a bridge we’ve had (gotten) to cross yet. All of this is a long-winded way of saying, “it gets better.”

    The other thing that helped is liking and being good at my job. That is a gift. It sounds like you already have that. In too of that, I had to come to view my work as a choice. Not the fact that I work–that is not a choice I have–but the place that I work. Realizing that I can find different work if it ever becomes truly incompatible with my values (esp my ability to be the kind of parent I want to be) helps me not resent the times that I am busy.

    Another thing that helped (me) was therapy. I needed to seriously reconsider my ideas about what it means to be a good mom and also to learn how to take care of myself. I won’t presume that anybody else needs professional help to do those things, but I sure did.

    Finally, I feel lucky (and this is the first time I’ve ever felt this way) that I got sober after I had my kid. The pressures described so well in this post forced a reckoning around substance issues and recovery has helped me build a life that felt impossible before. I always thought that happiness was something I would find only after I found the perfect job (or didn’t have to work at all) that let me be the perfect mom. Now I am happy (for the most part) even with a crazy job and a crazy commute and a crazy kid. It must be a struggle to rebuild your life sober and then have to rebuild it again as a mom and then rebuild it AGAIN as a working mom. I got to do it all at once.

    • Also, even though I don’t totally relate to this post anymore (again, thank god), I LOVE the writing.

    • jordanreid

      This is all really helpful to read, Sandy. On a personal level, I’m a couple of months away from starting a journey similar to the one Erin’s on now, and that you were on awhile back, where I’ll be traveling a ton for work and away from my kids for days or weeks at a time. I got a taste of this last summer and it was crippling, missing my kids that much. So I’m fully aware of what’s coming, and…I don’t know. I’m scared. It helps to hear from other women who are going through the same thing, or have gone through it and come out the other side.

  • i relate to this post so much. So sad it does, really. I am trying to figure out how to make this all work, but my health and marriage have suffered by me trying to be a great mom and great career woman. I miss blogging so much, but I just don’t have any free time for myself. Thank you for sharing. It’s important to know our struggles are not just our own but there are others in our tribe that face what we go through daily.

  • Mackie

    Oh my goodness this is like reading my personal journal. I’m not one for commenting, but I want to thank you for posting this. My daughter is 13 months old and I commute to NYC daily. Each day I feel like a part of my soul dies. Dramatic, I know! But I live in a commuter town, and this is what people do. And they are ok!…are all the things I keep telling myself. Ugh. It’s hard. But it’s really comforting to know I’m not alone.

  • This is so gut wrenching my beautiful and really relates to motherhood, hell life, for many of us women, in general. It reminded me of me, of my mom, of my friends as we banter self-deprecatingly of our shitty parenting moments. As we drink to much and try to forget. And feel it all 10-fold anyway. Thanks for sharing this Jordan.

  • KgIsMe

    It is such a hard stage but it does get better. Our daughters need to know they can choose their own paths and be anything they want to be – a mother, a CEO and everything in between. This is our generation’s duty. I work and LOVE my job and my daughter’s see that. It is essential and vital. Excellent post Erin!