Tag Archives: Housewife

The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Back At Work

Old School

The microphone felt heavy and cool in my hand, a natural extension that was immediately recognized by my muscle memory.  I had, after all, eighteen years of practice speaking into one.  The crowd was animated, ready to begin the live event.  Sonorous and quiver-free, my newscasters VOG (Voice Of God, in industry lingo) lifted over the hum of the audience, amplified by a small speaker slung over my shoulder like a purse.

A Backpack Rainbow

“Henry?” I called out, and a little boy with a crew cut darted from the mass of energy that is Benjamin Franklin Elementary School’s student body.  “Your mom is here!”  Henry slipped through the opening in the chain link fence and I turned back to the black top.  Franklin, being a foreign language academy, produced an Enzo from the Italian class, a Sebastian from Spanish, and a Chelsea from the German class (not a German name at all but the girl could star in remake of The Sound Of Music).  This school is an international melting pot of tiny humans who chatter in four languages.  And my new job of School Dismissal Monitor, despite being unpaid with no opportunity for advancement, might actually teach me something.

Under Lock And Key

When I anchored the morning show at CBS, I never had the time or energy to be a school volunteer.  Now that I’m unemployed, I’m determined to get involved.  Once a week, I read in Spanish to Griff’s class, enthusiasm making up for a bad accent.  I also volunteered to commandeer goods for Franklin’s annual silent auction fundraiser, so if anyone has an unopened set of Star Wars DVD’s, tickets to Disneyland, or a beach house in Hawaii they’d like to donate, don’t be shy.

Volunteers Must Be On Time!

But the switch from full-time career woman to full-time mom has a steep learning curve.  I’ve tried to summon my inner housewife for help, but she’s either sleeping or dead, so I blunder often.  The first day I was scheduled to help in the classroom, I forgot.  The two room moms graciously forgave me, but they must have wondered if I was ditzy, disorganized, or both.  And on my maiden voyage as Dismissal Monitor, one of the Spanish teachers showed up to ensure I didn’t wreak havoc or start Karaoke-ing for the captive kids.  The maestra (teacher) had her own microphone, and in the time it took me to connect ten kids with their parents, she cleared the rest of the line, locked the gate and strode off towards the office.  I couldn’t blame her for stealing my volunteer thunder–she’d been cooped up with twenty-five six-year olds for seven hours and probably needed a drink.

So, why does being a school volunteer feel more rewarding than the night my newscast won an Emmy Award?  Perhaps because it is novel for me.  Perhaps because my kids wiggle with pride when they spot me on campus.  Or perhaps it’s the instant gratification that comes from helping others.

“Are you kidding?” said my friend Lisa when I told her how much I enjoyed my new job.  “Being a crossing guard in school was one of my proudest moments.  More than being elected student body president.”

“Really?” I asked, certain she was joking.  “Why?”

My Volunteer Badge

“It gave me a sense of accomplishment and made me feel like a leader,” she answered without thinking.  “In fact, I still have my Crossing Guard badge,” she added.  “That badge, and the flag from my father’s grave—those are two of my most treasured possessions.”

With all the kids safely released, Griffin helped me put away the metal barriers that keep parents from crowding the gate, the afternoon sun highlighting the gold in his hair so that he glowed like the littlest angel.  Then we went to return the old microphone and loudspeaker to the office, crossing hot asphalt to enter a cool, shadowy hallway that felt achingly familiar, though my own elementary school days are more than three decades in the past.

Griffin And Friend

“Mom?” Griff said, looking up at me as if I were a Super Hero.  “You did a really good job today.”  And I nearly wriggled with pride myself, not needing any other reason to volunteer than that.

Oprah And Me

Courtesy: Photoshop

Dear Oprah,

How’s life since you shut down your show?  I’ve been doing pretty well since my show shut me down last year, traveling with my family and trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I’m still unemployed, but saw that you are searching for “America’s Hottest New Homemaker!”  I’ve learned to make an apple pie and Kimchee from scratch lately, so keep me in mind!

I Can Bake (Sort Of)!

After spending the last six months in South America and Africa, it was a rough return to the U.S.  Two of my friends died in the last week, Oprah—young, wonderful people who should still be here—and I’m still in shock.  Plus, an hour after our plane landed on the East Coast, three-year old Ado tumbled into Boston Harbor, splashing down into 45-degree water amid oil slicks and floating trash.  We fished him out immediately but the little guy’s been sick ever since.  Right now, I feel totally overwhelmed, swigging wine in between getting barfed on and lecturing myself about being both a careless mom and a powerless friend.

Ado, Post Dunk In The Dirty Drink

Do you have days like this, Oprah?  Days when that negative voice inside your head throws insults the way a pitcher hurls fastballs?   I wonder where this detrimental dialogue comes from—and whether all women struggle with it—even super successful women like you.  Could it be an artifact of my childhood?  I mean, in hindsight, my mom could have lightened up on the whole women’s lib thing and stayed home more.  And Dad could have lightened up on the double Manhattans.  But I always got unconditional love and only the occasional spank, so the whole bad parenting thing seems like a red herring.

It makes more sense to blame my ex-husband, don’t you think?  He was that charming, serial cheater guy I met when you and I both worked for ABC in Chicago (you should have warned me then!).  I remember popping a couple of Valium after I finally kicked him out and climbing a shaky ladder to paint the high ceiling of my bedroom.  What else do you do when you find out your husband has the Playboy Mansion’s roster on speed dial?  I slapped on a moody grey color called “Jackrabbit”, feeling foggily ambivalent about whether it would be good or bad if I fell.  Splatters of paint and tears hit the floor while I listed the reasons why everything was my fault.

1.)    Not skinny enough.

2.)    Not cute enough.

3.)    Not funny enough.

4.)    Not smart enough.

How lame is that, O?  If you’d been there, I’m sure you would have talked me down off my ladder and told me that being skinnier, cuter or funnier wouldn’t have saved my marriage.  And that even if I’d been smarter, I might still have picked a dog with fleas.  It only took me about four years to realize that I wasn’t responsible for my ex’s bad behavior—only my own.

The Post TV Me

Lately, I’ve been thinking it’s possible a career in television also contributed to my self-esteem issues.  I can’t imagine how hard fighting your weight loss battle in public must have been, but I do know it hurts when people take random pot shots.  My first week as weekend news anchor at NBC San Diego (a job I took when my marriage imploded), a hand addressed letter arrived at the station.  Joe Lizura, the station’s main weatherman, watched me open it.

“Your first piece of fan mail!” Joe said.  “That didn’t take long.”  Semi trucks must deliver your mail each day, Ms. Winfrey, but I bet a nice letter always makes you feel good and I needed a boost.

“Dear Suzanne,” I read aloud, the handwriting slanted and spidery, the way a witch might write.  “Here are three pieces of advice if you want to make it in the San Diego news market.”  Uh oh! I thought, but kept reading.

“1.) Make an appointment at the beauty parlor.

2.) Hire a make-up artist.

3.) Buy a new wardrobe.”

This was not nice!  Joe seemed distressed that the new gal was getting her ass kicked, but the ass kicking hadn’t come yet, the anonymous writer saving the best for last.

“As they say,” I finished reading the stranger’s opinion of me, “you have the perfect face for radio!” I laughed it off (hahahaha?), but I can still feel the venom stuck between those lines.

Love Is The Answer

So here’s my question, my fantasy friend; how do you unwarp a warped sense of self?  Even I’m smart enough to know that blaming your parents, your ex, or your ex-career isn’t the answer!  But, in the spirit of my departed friends Tracey and James (two of the most positive, kind people I’ve ever known), perhaps the first step is simply to stop going negative on myself.  If I can replace “I’m a lousy mom” with “I give my kids so much love” or “I look old and haggard” with “I can still run four, 8-minute miles”, maybe I can honor my friends’ lesson that life is too short—and too unpredictable– to waste it feeling down or inadequate.  Being a little nicer to myself might not be the entire answer, but since the alternative is climbing into a wine bottle to feel better, why not give it a try?

The Happy Housewife

Let me know what you think of my plan, Oprah. And good luck with the whole owning-your-own-OWN-network thing.  It’s a big job and I’m glad I don’t have it!  But I am trying to think positive about becoming “America’s Hottest Homemaker”.  Maybe I will even learn to knit!

Your friend,