From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

A Working Mom’s Retirement Plan

Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anyone to this country and to mankind is to bring up a family.

George Bernard Shaw

“Mom” is a weighted word. Weighted with immeasurable love. “Working mom” is a title weighted with pure guilt. From the moment a baby is born, moms question their own decisions. Complete strangers feel they have the right to express opinions, and family members offer unsolicited advice.

In our society we refer to an employed dad as a mechanic, dentist, accountant, nurse, or banker, according to his occupation. Why is it then that we still refer to mothers who work outside the home as working moms?

When my children were small, I opted to work in a school so that I could be on the same schedule as my kids. I loved my job and still do, but truth be told, I aspired to be in the creative arts: journalism, photography, acting. A mom can dream, too. Often a working mom is so busy fulfilling her children’s dreams she neglects her own.

Now that my children are adults, I realize I actually did achieve all of my aspirations. The pay scale was just different from what I anticipated. Although I never earned a journalism degree, I honed my writing skills each night. After I tucked my daughter and son into bed, I wrote page after page in the journals I kept for them—entries that made me laugh, cry, and wish they would never grow up. I completed not one, but two noteworthy “books,” albeit handwritten and spiral-bound. I also wrote inspirational notes on bananas and tucked them into their lunch boxes. This tradition lasted until my son reached fourth grade. His teacher asked me to refrain when she discovered him passing my “love notes” to the girls. “Plagiarism!” I yelled at him.

Writers like feedback no matter what form the critique comes in. My critical acclaim came when I presented my children’s books to them when they turned twenty-one. The reviews were laudatory and loud. If my “books” had made it to a publisher, I just know they would have been number one on the New York Times bestsellers list.

“Mom, I can’t believe you wrote this. I did not do such a thing!”

“Mother! You have got to be kidding; I didn’t know about that family secret.”

My writing generated a lot of laughter, nostalgic tears, and accusations of embellishment. Every word was true, especially the closing comments: “As I look at you tonight, I want to hold you and keep you this age forever. I love you so much.”

I didn’t become a professional photographer, but I spent a fortune on film and equipment. Before digital cameras and video recorders, there were blinding flashcubes, popping flashbulbs, and canisters of film that had to be loaded into the camera and sent off to be developed. My interest in photography evolved into an obsession. I have large plastic tubs filled with loose photographs to prove it. I gave up on categorizing and “album-izing” long ago. I have pictures of my children from the time they stretched my belly as big as an overinflated balloon to when they stretched their little arms wide as I asked, “How much does Mommy love you?”

I documented every milestone and achievement from the first official potty drop to the final handing off to their bride or groom. These days when I reach for my camera at family gatherings, my kids moan and reminisce.

“Remember the time we were on vacation driving through that desolate area in Arizona and Dad had to pull off the road so we could go to the bathroom?” my son asks.

“Yes, and Mom took a picture of us peeing!” my daughter shouts, so everyone a block away can hear.

“But it was only a rearview, distant shot; you couldn’t see a thing.” I defended my freelance photography. “You guys want a copy of that picture?”

I never had to dicker for publication rights or monetary compensation. I bought the film. I paid for the developing. I could send the candid shots to whomever could give me the highest exposure: their grandparents, girlfriends, and boyfriends. My photos would make Hollywood paparazzi green with envy.

Did I mention that I always wanted to be a performer? My dreams became reality the day my children were born. I cried on cue. When my daughter received her first immunization, I bawled right along with her. I sobbed all night with my little boy whenever he had an ear infection. I smiled like a drunken sailor when I dosed him with the pink liquid-magic that relieved his pain.

To get him to eat, I made up lullabies that I sang at lunch to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb: “Here’s some yummy food to eat, food to eat, food to eat. Eat your yummy food today or you will have a long, long nap, long, long nap . . .” I could sing complete arias before they decided to chow down.

I deserved an Academy Award for my performances each Mother’s Day when my children surprised me with runny eggs and burnt toast that even the dog refused. My acting ability improved through the years. I feigned happiness when my daughter’s choices were way different from mine. I pretended it didn’t hurt when my children turned into unrecognizable alien teens who freely expressed their opinions and tested me. I battled with wits, offered bits of wisdom, and I usually flunked the test of wills.

I never made it to Broadway or saw my name in lights, but I gave a stellar performance the year my daughter entered middle school. Her school bus driver was notoriously late in dropping off the children. When a student misbehaved, he would pull to the side of the road until order was restored. Consequently, the children were often late arriving home.

Some performances are best forgotten, but the day I acted out with the bus driver was so memorable my daughter’s former classmates still mention it. When the traffic signal turned red and the bus halted, I bound from my car. As I stepped onto the bus, the driver radioed, “There’s a crazy woman who has been behind my bus honking for half a mile, and she is coming on board.”

“Release my daughter this minute! I’ve been worried sick about her safety. She is an hour late for her orthodontist appointment, and charges incur whether she shows up or not. What is the matter with you?”

I marched to the rear of the bus and escorted my embarrassed preteen down the aisle.

“Mom, what is the matter with you!”

“Take me, too,” her friends shouted.

“Moms simply do whatever it takes for the sake of their children,” I explained.

I’ve been a working mom for thirty years. I never found fame or fortune as a preschool teacher. I didn’t become a professional photographer, and I didn’t even grace the community theater stage. My pay has always been low, but my fringe benefits high. Arriving home at the same time of day as my children paid off in sticky hugs and sloppy kisses. I reaped dividends of unconditional love and shared quality time.

I don’t have a personal retirement account, but I do have a future retirement plan. I plan to slow down. I plan to relax. I plan to sit with my grandchildren and share the wealth of memories, a pictorial account of my life as a working mom.

Linda O’Connell

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