By the time I got through five seasons of Mad Men over a period of five weeks last summer, the sheer seduction of going to work was as titillating as Don Draper’s absurd handsomeness. After nearly two years out of the workforce, managing home life for free as opposed to managing a staff for pay, I started feeling displaced.
I realized Mad Men awoke two strong desires: find the perfect shade of matte red lipstick and to get back to work. I know, a woman being inspired to go back to work by Mad Men is like being inspired by The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for true friendship.
The richly drawn workplace as a protagonist conveyed to me many reasons I missed it, not the least of which being income. I watched Mad Men and I was jealous of the pretend paychecks of pretend television characters. Uh-oh, thought I…Being with my girls was a huge reason for leaving work. Turning into a fruitcake wasn’t part of the strategic plan. I was so confused. My pencil skirts and heels stared out of my closet at me in dismay, shoved to the back. My girls looked at me with love, but now had full-time schedules busier than mine.
So after digesting 600 hours of seduction and drama, I acknowledged my own need to get back out there, minus the constant smoking, scotch at 10 in the morning and deception, of course. I got my resume together, figured out exactly what capacity I could handle now that I had a deeper connection to home and pushed the search button for a job. It took more time than I thought and I worried a lot. After my Mad Men addiction, it seemed everything around me was about work. Billboards, movies, magazine ads, the news, bustled on about 401k planning and success.
Television commercials revolved around two archetypes: the working woman I was no more and the smiling mom washing the floor. Note to advertisers: listen to Carol Channing sing “Housework” on the old album “Free to be You and Me.”
Remember, nobody smiles doing housework but those ladies you see on TV.
Your mommy hates housework,
Your daddy hates housework,
I hate housework too.
And when you grow up, so will you.
I found that the spectrum of notions or stereotypes of moms are all just that: notions. Everyone is in a unique situation and all have admirable goals. When I landed a job, my fellow moms were utterly supportive, offering to pick up kids if I had a meeting and to generally pitch in. Their kindness and lack of judgment made me cry with appreciation.
I am awed by the abundance of educated, dynamic women I’ve met in the last two years who surrender income and recognition (let’s face it, do you get a bonus at the end of the school year for all of your good work?) to totally orchestrate their family life. Now that I have done both, I have a strong opinion about “Staying at Home” – one of the dumbest, insulting labels. It’s very similar to going into work and when you are at home, it’s never to eat bon bons. It requires self-discipline, drive, driving, being driven, scheduling acumen, endless patience, realizing a threshold for boredom, navigating the politics of one to three separate PTAs and understanding the teaching methods of sometimes a dozen educators.
The paycheck is the comfort of being absolutely available for those you deeply love. My dearest friends devote themselves fully to occupying the parallel universe that makes the world hum while others go into offices. It’s just that for me, being with the kids and chores all the time messed up my equilibrium and the darlings were starting to notice. Like too-tight yoga pants with unflattering panty lines, my increasing irritability was just as evident.
In my new career there are no drama-drenched glitterati of Mad Men, but there is a sense of belonging to a tribe with pay. I do not leave my experience of the last two years empty-handed. I feel far more connected to life. I’ve met new friends as close to me as family. My “Stay at Home” friends buoyed me through storms as they wrapped their own minds around their own bobbing futures. They supported me through my worry and cheered for me on my first day. On my days off we’ll get caught up at the pool. We are forever connected in my mind, in a special way, as they guided me through the complexities of not going to work.
As for those gorgeous imaginary suits and pocketbooks of Mad Men that got my work engine roaring, they’ll always be a part of me too. It’s funny what a blazing red lip will do for you as you clutch an impressive first-day agenda. Finding a job takes time, but I did it. And speaking of time, or a time machine, I look forward to the next season of Mad Men which I will watch in real time, after work.