By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Looking back, that briefcase episode should have been the first sign of trouble.
It was October 1995, and I was slated to return to my job at the Dallas Observer after a 10-week maternity leave. I wasn't anywhere near ready.
As only the Secret Society of New Mothers knows, the presumed Bahamian vacation that is maternity leave is anything but restful. In my case, it consisted of the usual sleepless nights and constant nursing, plus an obsessive post-natal exercise routine, a complete roof replacement on my house, an exhaustive search for a new full-time housekeeper, and the usual 24-hour-a-day pandemonium that comes with keeping a lid on three children who are all under the age of six and each committed to a life of spewing fluids from every orifice.
Which is why I bought the briefcase.
A fancy new briefcase, I figured, could pull me out of my brain-numbing domestic existence, jumpstart my seriously weakened enthusiasm for putting on control-top pantyhose, and replace the juice-stained black handbag filled with diapers, drool cloths, teething and rash ointments, and countless loose, lint-covered Cheerios. (These all-important cereal bits are what we frantic moms dust off and shove into our kids' screaming mouths on three-hour airplane flights--all to keep childless people like you from glaring at us.)
With all of this in mind, I zoomed up to NorthPark and forked over $392 plus tax to a saleswoman at the Coach store. Like the guy who buys his first bottle of Rogaine hair stimulant, I was eternally optimistic, triumphant, confident that this one purchase would make things right again. I saw myself charging off excitedly to interviews--briefcase in one hand, breast pump in the other. (During those first months back, Dallas school board member Jose Plata was by far the most relaxed about leaving his office for a few minutes so I could pump a bottle.)
What I hoped was that the briefcase would fire me up, awaken my professional ambitions, screw my old work head on straight. Armed with this sleek new piece of luggage, I would blow through my office door, suck down 10 cups of black coffee, and return instantly to that woman I'd been just three months before--a maniacally intense, perfection-seeking, schedule-juggling, somehow personally and professionally fulfilled female basket case who was often overheard by her office neighbor yelling into the telephone: "I know you're bored, but I'm busy. Go turn on the computer, and I'll be home in three hours. OK?"
Unfortunately--or fortunately, for my family--I wasn't able to return to my old ways.
The coffee did come in handy--not only on the first day, but on many days after that. (It's that third pot of hazelnut coffee on your 10th hour after the rest of the office has gone home that really clears the creative cobwebs.)
But the fancy new briefcase never came out of its cardboard packing box. To this day, it sits out of sight, out of mind atop the highest shelf of the hall closet. I've never taken a peek at it, let alone seriously considered using it.
And I know why. Because I have no business being back at work. I'm on my third--and last--child in the 10th year of my marriage, and I have a whole lot of family business to take care of. To sum things up, I'm out of whack. My life has lost its balance. I'm tired, stressed, frazzled, disorganized, guilt-ridden, and short-tempered with the last people I want to be short-tempered with--my kids.
I've got a husband--a lawyer and state legislator--who travels constantly to four different cities. I've got a morning routine that requires me to be out the door and in the car at 7:15 a.m. each day to get my two daughters to school. My house needs new gutters, cleaner windows, more organized closets, and the dining-room rug we've been too busy to shop for since we got married. My kids' extra-curricular activities read like the day's event postings on a QE II cruise: dance, piano, sports, acting class, French and Hebrew lessons.
Still, month after month for well over a year, I've steadfastly denied--to myself, my husband, and my kids--that I'm stretched way too thin. I've soldiered on, week after week, zealously pursuing stories that were important to me, churning out complex articles of up to 11,000 words in length, working nights and most weekends, and pulling the occasional all-nighter at the office to get a story just right.
It was a valiant effort, to be sure--I'm confident that somewhere out there, a large macaw or a small Doberman is defecating on some small portion of that voluminous Paul Fielding story I wrote four weeks ago.
But I just can't kid myself any longer. I've got to admit that for months I've been having these secret fantasies--they play like old movies in my head the minute I finish one column and set about writing the next.
I'll be sitting there at my desk in the old KLIF radio building downtown, staring at the long list of unanswered telephone messages, when suddenly the daydreams begin.
In the first one, I'm gliding up to the carpool line at my four-year-old's school. It's two in the afternoon, and as she stares at my car curiously, I assure her that I am her mother, and that we're--pinky promise--not going to Mommy's office, where my kids know they have the attractive options of either coloring on copy paper or crashing on my office floor. No, I say, we're going to the Discovery Zone. (For the benefit of non-parents, Discovery Zone is a disgusting, chaotic, overly colorful place built just for idiots and small children. The only place worse is Chuck E Cheese.)