If you were to apply for a job, as say, an English teacher, you would be given a list (as long as your arm, from my experience,) of requirements to fulfil the role effectively. You would need to be willing to work over time, every teacher knows this. You would need to coach one sport per season, or supervise computer time; either way, not part of the English curriculum but part of the job description nonetheless.
Higher up the economical chain, you would be told by your boss that you would need to do X, Y and Z in order to qualify for A (a Promotion), B (a Partnership) and C (a Raise). Your work hours would be pretty reliant on how badly you want A, B and C or how diligently you perform X, Y and Z.
So motherhood isn’t that different.
Except that it is totally different.
Applying for a job in the real world entails a CV that qualifies you for the job, a personality that suits the job and a good match between the potential employee and ultimate employer. Motherhood is not like that in so many ways, starting with the fact that the only qualification you need in order to become a mother, (sadly,) is working body parts and a willing sperm donor. Hence the fact that so many under-qualified young girls end up spawning and so many desperate, reproductively challenged women pine for a babe in arms.
Then, the employer is an unknown entity. You have no idea of knowing what you’re going to get come the day you meet the baby you’ve allowed to develop in your warm bits for the last thirty-eight weeks or so. You may wind up with a sickly baby, which makes your job more difficult from the onset. You may wind up with a girl when you planned for a boy, or vice versa, which also could prove to be as enjoyable as working in marketing when really you want to work with numbers. But you’ll make do. If you are one of the lucky ones who deliver a healthy, normal baby of a gender that has no real bearing on your child-loving ability, you will, without doubt, still end up with difficult days that make you wish you have delivered a different baby.
And unlike a ‘real job,’ there’s no applying to move to a different department.
So let’s just say you make it: you keep your child alive and manage to get to year two or three without putting a pillow over their heads or drowning yourself in a pool of wine. You have a healthy-ish, normal-ish kid and all the relatively expectable perks that come with it. You may even find that going for walks in the park, watching Disney movies, eating healthy meals and not-so-healthy-snacks, and keeping them clean and breathing really becomes all encompassing. But something happens on a cognitive level when they reach toddlerdom which, like a corporate restructure, suddenly involves a whole new list of requirements and really - some hugely challenging skills development on the trot.
For instance, you need to develop a musical talent. It is not enough that you play the radio in the car. It is not even enough that your chosen play list is a nursery rhyme CD with all the best tracks for three-year-olds. You need to be able to identify and sing along with that random little ditty your baba is humming (even though it is completely wrong and off key!) because they will ask, “You know that song?” and goodness help you if you don’t. So musicality is imperative. Perhaps your original job placement involved lullabies and the ability to act out those same nursery rhymes with great skill and aplomb, in which case, you can skip this class.
Then you need some artistic skill. The more the better. Your child will suddenly want to paint and draw and create and if you don’t have that creative gene, you better find one somewhere. Even if it is finger painting and stick figures, your child will want to do something and if they're not doing it with you, then who? WARNING: don’t look to Pinterest for ideas and inspiration, if you’re one of the ones who don’t find creativity comes naturally. It will only make you feel bad about yourself. In fact, I think Pinterest can be the newest form of Peer-pressure, (Pin-pressure?) because even though this mom has warned you, you will go and search for ‘Crafts for Toddlers’ and come up with a whole pinboard of brilliant things to do at home only to discover that what starts off as a cute Easter bunny, ends up out of something that could be used as a prop on Fatal Attraction.
If you don’t have it, you need to find and develop some ball skills and sporting prowess. My girls aren’t what I would call the most athletic in the whole world. BUT they are seriously keen on playing outside and if you can't play with balls and bats and clubs you need to tap deeper into that creativity gene, which may already be challenged to the max. Fortunately, like me with a bicycle, this is something you can learn together. And just by the time you get good enough to actually teach them a thing or two, their sports coaches at school will take over, allowing you to return to your piano lessons.
Catering magicianary, is important. While most meals may go well, or fairly well, there will come a time when your child who formerly loved noodles in all shapes and forms, suddenly decides that she doesn’t like noodles. Or a child who loved broccoli becomes as anti the stuff as a vampire to garlic. No one understands the skill required in changing a menu in a minute and substituting almost any food group without blinking an eye. It takes serious skill.
The activities only intensify when you include rainy weather, sick days and bad-mood days into the equation. These little tykes only grow needier when they are needy. Being stuck indoors will require more musical skill, more creativity, art supplies you simply wont have thought of and finally, some culinary genius.
No one warns you that you need patience by the bucketload, a nose that can be blocked handsfree, the intelligence to answer any question and the stamina of ultra-marathon runners. In an average day, you may end up cleaning poop, pee, vomit, snot, spilled juice, spilled milk and discarded food; you will be awake and child minding for an about fourteen hours and even when you and the blessed darlings are asleep, your subconscious will be on the ready in case they need you; like a doctor with a pager or a policeman in civilian clothing.
Your cuddling skills need to be on-the-ready at a moment’s notice, as does your heart for the unexpected moments that will leave you emotionally utterly spent. You will wish you had the memory of an elephant, (or even that you simply had one left at all!) when your little boss comes up with the most precious phrases and stories. And yes, I may be making it sound like all rainbows and sunshine.
It’s not like a real job in so many ways. Even when you do X after they have specified that they would like X, you will find that your boss may well actually have wanted Y and be slightly stroppy when presented with X. I’ve heard moms say that this is the toughest job they’ve ever had. I've heard mothers say that if they hadn’t returned to work when they did, they would have gone bonkers. There is no guaranteed A, B or Cs; X, Y and Z keep shifting the parameters and playing ‘hide-and-go-seek’. The HR department, (AKA, Mr Hubby,) isn’t always as understanding as they should be, especially because they often feel that they have the real job and you’re living the easy life.
Your contract of employment here is permanent. Your boss, please God, will only retire long after you’re gone. The unmentioned perks are often in moments you least expect and so tender you wish you could hold them in time forever. Sadly, the promotion prospects are almost nil. But fortunately, even though they may want to fire you from time to time, they can't. Your job is secure. There is only one real task and the only realistic ambition in this work place is to make each day as happy as possible: given the shifting parameters and countless unknown variables, it’s probably best to take it one day at a time.