Work and One-Percent Moms

A girlfriend texted me the other day.  “Can we meet for coffee?” She asked.  We arranged to meet a few days later at Maison Kayser, home to the best French baguette in town.  I ordered a dry cappuccino, which means less milk and more foam than a regular cappuccino, and we launched into an introspective conversation.   This friend, I will call her Rachel, is very thoughtful. She grew up Midwest and middle class and now she lives upper west and upper class.  She reached out to me because she wanted to discuss a friend having a hard time financially and emotionally.  Rachel is a clergyperson and helping patients in a hospital for the terminally ill is her career.
 What she was doing for spring break never came up.
I spent the rest of the day ruminating on the role of work in my life and feeling spoiled.  I needed to know what motivated Rachel to spend much of her week focused on helping sick people.
“Tell me why you work,” I texted.
“I find work to be empowering, frustrating, rewarding and boring,” She texted back.
“How do you manage your time?” I asked
“Working has brought a structure that I was missing and very much needed.  I have had to make certain sacrifices of convenience that one-percenters really like to have, but what I have gained is by far more meaningful to me,” she responded.

Sacrifice jumped out at me.  I am not so good at sacrifice.  Does that mean missing out on coffees and lunches, spin classes and art lectures?

“You are a role model to all of us,” I texted back.  She never joins our social group at the popular vegan restaurant for lunch, or for early and late spin and barre exercise classes because she is too busy working.

That night at dinner, I asked my husband his opinion about Rachel and work.

“I think I need to go back to work,” I said, as he began to chew the largely vegan meal my housekeeper made to my instructions.  “Rachel loves her work and she doesn’t need to work at all,” I added.

“So go back to work,” he said while scrolling through the digital Huffington Post News headlines.

“No really.  What do you think I should do?” I asked him, wishing he would stop chewing so loudly.

“Every few months we go through this.  If you want to work, then work.  If you don’t want to work, then don’t work.  Is this all we have for dinner?” He asked waving his arm at the bowl of steamed broccoli, the well-baked sweet potato and the kasha remnants that my 16 year-old son had left behind.

“Yup.  Order Chinese if you are still hungry.” I responded.

“Don’t work,” said my 18 year-old, college-bound daughter.  “I need you home,” she added as she pulled the last of the broccoli from the bowl while my husband was rummaging in the refrigerator for a beer.

I left the kitchen as my husband and daughter order Chinese food on the Seamless website.

Finding satisfying and fulfilling work has become the Holy Grail for me.  Whether we grew up as one-percenters, or were raised more modestly, by the time our kids reach middle school, we all seem to be casting around for some activity beyond soul cycle that will add meaning and self-esteem to our lives.  Spending our husbands’ or families’ money while fun is by definition a shallow and unrewarding experience.  I, like many of my friends, graduated from an excellent law school.  I haven’t used my knowledge or seen my paper degree in decades.  Recently, someone suggested that I went to law school to earn an Mrs. Degree.  She could be right.

“I think we need to work,” I said to my friend the next morning as we walked our dogs together.

“If I had a passion I could follow, 10 to 20 hours a week would be perfect,” she responded.

“That’s what Rachel said.  She followed her dream.” We sighed and walked in silence for a block. “So what’s your passion?” I asked.  “I wish I knew,” she answered.

Later I wrote to Rachel again.
“How did you launch yourself,” I asked her.
She responded.  “I took it slow.  My kids were resentful, difficult, did not consider my work ‘work’ but ‘volunteering.’  The most challenging piece was shedding the wife-mother identity.  I had to find my own authority as a chaplain/rabbi again. I had to see myself as the professional I wanted to be.  This identity or psychological shift took time, but it happened.”
Her words hit a note.  My kids were leaving for College soon and my husband worked in a family business.  I needed my own gig.
It’s not that I haven’t tried a bunch of careers.  I have:
Baked and sold desserts
Practiced Law
Worked on Wall Street
Interned for a Divorce Lawyer
Dabbled in Divorce Mediation
Co-run a women’ designer clothing store
Invested in Real Estate
And,
Last year, I took up matchmaking.

I can’t help most of the single people I meet.

I thought about my friend’s wise words only I changed the order.

Frustrating and boring seem to come before rewarding and empowering.

Work isn’t always going to soothe me and entrepreneurial work, in particular, requires stick-to-itiveness, which is something I have for my marriage and kids but not for work.

It is time for me to take my own advice and dump my bucket list of demands that work can’t possibly meet.  Like I tell my singles, you are allowed one, or at most two, deal breakers, and that’s it.

But before I focus on work, maybe I will go bake something.

Aphorism:  If you want to know what people really want in their lives, look at what they have.

Takeway:  The only way to be successful, is to carve out time and stick your butt to the chair.

Recipe:

LAZY BREAD

This recipe appeared in the NY Times under the name No-Knead bread.  I call it lazy bread for obvious reasons.

Ingredients:

3 cups bread flour (this is high gluten four which makes the dough more chewy and resilient.)

1/2 teaspoon granulated instant yeast

1 and 1/4 teaspoons table salt, not kosher salt.

1 and1/2 cups water

Kosher salt to sprinkle on top

Directions:

You will need a Dutch over pot with a top that fits.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast and salt together and slowly add the water.  Combine together.  I use my well-washed hand to combine because this dough creates a sticky mess.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place on the counter and forget about it for 12 to 18 hours.

Heat oven to 450 degrees for 30 minutes.

While the oven is preheating, flour your hands and roll the dough into a ball.  Let rest on a small bed of flour until the over is hot.  Don’t burn yourself while putting the dough into the very hot pot.  Put the top on (this is critical because it creates steam.)

Bake 30 minutes with top on and 15 with it off.

EAT NOW OR SOMEONE ELSE WILL.

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