Which brings me to the second working mother role, that employee's alter ego, Supermom. She's always armed with a holster full of playdate appointments (for weekends and the occasional vacation day), the latest research on immunizations and, of course, advice on everything from starting table food to designing a potty chart. She takes the occasional half-day for some afternoon zoo time with her child (cell phone on and emails mounting) and spends the whole time wondering if the stay-at-home moms there can tell she's not really one of them.
The reality of this double life is that I'm neither of those people I pretend to be. I love being a mom and I love having a career with an outlet for adult interaction, so why all the pretending? It comes down to pressure: mostly the kind we put on ourselves. Tell me you can't have a successful career and be a good mom, and I'll go to whatever lengths it takes to prove you wrong. Every time a mom friend decides to stop working, I spiral into the familiar guilty place that inevitably leaves me asking myself the question: "Am I selfish to want to work?"
Several hundred Matchbox car crashes and one sudsy bath later, we come to my favorite part of the day: bedtime stories. I'm intoxicated by the smell of Max's Baby Magic curls and filled with pride over his love of literature (okay, I realize he's mostly just stalling for bedtime). I tuck him under his cloud sheets and helicopter comforter, then play the "one more kiss" game until I get serious and turn off the light. I leave him with a reminder that tomorrow is Mommy's day to take him to school, and laugh because our exchange keeps going as I walk down the stairs:
Who I am, in reality, falls somewhere between the two roles I play each day. The real me actually straddles both worlds; coming late to important meetings because the pediatrician finally called about Max's rash. Or calling every store in the phonebook (on company time) to find the last Buzz Lightyear costume in the city. This combo-character is the one I try to keep hidden.
The price of this crazy ruse is the quarterly "breakdown," as my husband and I have come to call it. That's where I question everything, starting with my hairstyle and working down the list. There are usually tears and lots of reminders that what makes me truly happy is having the love of my family along with the gratification I get from career successes. The breakdown feels good, and is almost refreshingly necessary for me. I take a deep breath, re-pack the gym-bag and prepare to jump back into my double-agent life the next day.