Tuesday, March 31, 2009


On Palm Sunday, April 5, our minister will be away from church, caring for her husband who has just gone through knee surgery. I will co-lead the church service with my friend Cindy.

Julie, our minister, gave us the suggestion of the themes of expectation and identity for the reflection (or sermon) part of the service. Cindy and I agreed to focus on the expectations of the people, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and to tie the scripture story in with our own stories of changing roles, identity and expectation. Cindy will describe leaving her work as a trial lawyer to become a full-time mom (she has Emma, 3, and baby Xander). I will describe the experience of returning to work after staying home with the children for a few years. This is my story:

After Fiona was born, I quit my outside-the-home job and stayed at home. To help support the family financially, I opened a licensed family day care in our home. For five years, my world was our house, the family, the neighbourhood and my client families.

As Fiona neared the age to start school, Andrew and I decided together that it was time for me to transition back to work outside of the home. I put out feelers at my old place of employment, and was stunned to receive an offer of full time work within weeks of my inquiry. Within a couple of months, I closed my daycare, found out-of-school care for Alex and Fiona and returned to the same workplace that I had left 5 years earlier. It was almost like I had never left. But in some ways it seemed overwhelmingly different.

Every morning, I rode the bus and the skytrain to work. Getting off the skytrain at Metrotown was a shock. I was faced with a sea of people. Waves of strangers moved in every direction all around me. I felt insignificant and vulnerable.

At the office I enjoyed some of the things that go with work: wearing nice clothes, having a coffee break, getting a paycheque and paid vacation… but I quickly realized that my confidence wasn’t the same as when I left 5 years before. I told my boss I felt like Rip Van Winkle, awakening to a world that looked somewhat the same, but was really more different than I could have imagined. I had lost touch with many of my co-workers. Like mine, their lives had changed. Some parts of my job were exactly the same, others perplexingly different. The simplest things had me flummoxed – How does the new telephone system work? What’s with this new photocopier machine? Who moved the front door to the admin office around to what was once the back? Can I speak in a meeting or over coffee without slipping into mommy-talk?

I realized that more than anything, I had changed. My cares and concerns, my wisdom, strengths and weaknesses had rearranged themselves during the time I had been away. As out of touch as I felt, I realised that my co-workers must be going through the same experience with me. Who is this mompoet, who has come back after being away for so long?

It wasn’t as simple as changing jobs, from stay at home mom and daycare-giver to professional office person. Suddenly, I was both. I had to be a whole new configuration of someone. I had to figure out who that would be.

With the loving support of family and friends, and the kindness of co-workers (some of who also spoke mommy-talk from time to time), I found my feet and discovered ways to be a new someone but still the same me. I got used to interacting with one hundred people each day (instead of a dozen - max) and being part of a crowd of 1000 when on the bus and skytrain. I figured out how to change gears and be the mom, wife and neighbor when I came home every afternoon. It all happened so fast, it’s hard to even know what I expected, but I do know that the experience was intense and profound.

A year later, I looked back on it as a major accomplishment. Eleven years later, I wonder at my energy and the faith I found within myself to make it through the change. Today, when I see a young mom getting off the skytrain, heading to work, I make sure to smile a special smile for her. Just me, remembering, and saying, “Hey, whoever you want yourself to be, you’re on your way. It’s going to be all right.”

question: what are your big changes? how did they affect your identity and expectations?

mompoet - changing and growing, all the time

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