by Lori R
The corporate life was tough, but motherhood is tougher! Or is it?
It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult, thought Lissa, this daily juggling of responsibilities. Prioritizing was her specialty; it was why she got promoted over less organized people. The entire company knew that if your project was in a mess, deadlines looming like lions over prey, then call Lissa. She could cut through the crap and find the things that really mattered to get the job done. Well, except in her personal life maybe.
Phones were ringing in the background, the receptionist, who said hello like Donald Trump did, “Halloo”, was paging someone who obviously was not responding. Lissa looked at her desk, piled with folders and paperwork. She loved her desk, had picked it out of the expensive office furniture catalog because she swore the desk spoke to her and said, “I am your key to efficiency.” She loved that it had drawers and cubbyholes for everything. Even more alluring was its cherry wood finish, smooth and warm. So why wasn’t the desk doing its job?
“Ah, ahem, Lissa? Lissa?” She jumped a little at the sound of her bosses voice, a bit disoriented as though she had been caught napping. “Yes? Oh, the Klein paperwork. You’re waiting for that aren’t you?” Shuffling through the cascading papers on the lazy desk, she found the correct color-coded folder, producing it triumphantly. “Are you doing ok? You seem a bit, well, pressed,” said her boss. “No, no. I’m fine. Everything is smooth.” With a furrowed brow, the rumpled man said, “Then I’ll leave you to it.”
Again she looked at the desk. No one had told her that hormonal changes would screw up her sense of order and efficiency. Why wasn’t that included in the fine print on the home pregnancy test? “Warning: positive reading will total destroy any sense of control you once had.” She should sue someone. Maybe her husband Rick. Maybe.
A Nokia Razor cell phone buzzed on her side table. Looking at the caller ID, Lissa’s stomach rolled over twice. “Hi, mom.” She wasn’t prepared to tell her mom the news. There was no telling how Corrine Lavery would respond. “What time are you and Rick going to pick me up tonight?” Ooops, one more escaped detail bopped Lissa over the head. “Oh, umm, I don’t know. Can I call you after I talk to Rick?” A moment of silence ensued before her mother responded, “Well, I can’t just wait on you. I have a meeting to attend. I need to know now.” “Mom,” she found herself slipping back in time. Now she was eight and whining. Before she could finish the sentence, Corrine snapped, “Never mind, leave a message on my cell.” With that, the conversation was done.
Lissa sat down, turned her back to the door and looked out the window. There were many things to be done and deadlines to meet. A creeping, nauseating tiredness came over her. If she was a less driven woman, she would just throw in the towel and go home sick. That was not an option she chose. Allowing just one more minute to gather herself together, Lissa sent up a silent prayer that she could just make it through the day without either crying or puking, neither of which she did very often.
Ok, turn and face the desk. Sort the folders into the appropriate piles: not important, important, urgent and on fire. Pick up the scattered paperclips, pens and what-not. Throw away the phone messages and put the CD-Rom’s in their box. Put away what is non-essential and focus. That’s it, focus. Oh, shoot, it’s just not working.
This time her cell phone ring tone serenaded her with “Baby, I’m For Real.” It was Rick, her knight in shining armor. “Hi, honey,” she said. “Hey, how’s my little mama doing?” With that comment, tears began to slide slowly down Lissa’s cheeks. Trying to steady her voice, she told her husband about her disorganized day, her cranky mom and her sick stomach. “Oh,” Rick searched frantically for the right thing to say to a newly pregnant corporate executive who was having a melt-down. “Yeah. Well, I’ll call Corrine and tell her what time we’ll pick her up. Maybe some crackers for your stomach? And, sick or not, you are still the most organized person on the planet. Give yourself a break there, sweetheart.” He was a good man and she allowed his words to comfort her. After saying goodbye, she took a deep breath and faced the rest of the day.
Opening the front door, Lissa was in a panic. She had left work late due to a staffing problem that no one could think of a solution to be her. Now there was 10 minutes to change from her tailored office suit into a cocktail dress. How could she look glowing and refined when she was so rumpled feeling? Fortunately Rick was ready to go, so that was one less thing she had to worry about. Tonight was fraught with pitfalls of its own. No use to falling into one at home! As she plugged in the curling iron, Rick came in and sat on the edge of the bathtub. “Well, did you tell your mom the news? I didn’t want to leave anything on her voice mail about it in case you hadn’t.” Glancing at her husband’s reflection in the mirror, she shook her head. “So are we going to tell her tonight?” Again she shook her head. “So are you actually going to talk to me tonight or are we going to communicate in mime?” A small smile formed on her lips. “Fine,” she said, “Audible language it shall be. I think we should wait. I don’t want to steal her thunder. It’s her night after all.”
It was indeed Corrine’s night. Tonight they were attending the Stevie Awards for Women Entrepreneurs. Corrine was to be awarded “Mentor of the Year”. Lissa found it highly ironic that her mother was to receive such a prestigious honor for helping other women. Hopefully, no one would ask her opinion of her mother’s talents in this area. It wasn’t that Corrine was incapable of mentoring anyone; she just seemed to care more about others than Lissa. With a sigh, putting the last touches on her make-up, the daughter who had made her own way prepared to face the long evening.
Rick and Lissa were about to make the turn off the highway that lead to Corrine’s home when Lissa’s cell phone rang. “Darling, don’t bother coming for me. They’ve sent a limo. I’ll just meet you both there. By the way, what are you wearing?” Quickly telling her husband not to turn, Lissa couldn’t decide whether to tell her mom what she was wearing or wait until they got to the event. These were the kind of decisions that were made often. Corrine had very specific tastes, ones that were often in conflict with her daughter’s. If Lissa told her now, and Corrine disapproved, she would be spared a potentially embarrassing moment in front of others. “I’m wearing an emerald green Vera Wang cocktail dress.” There, she had said it! “Hmmm, that might look alright. I’ll have to see,” responded her mother. “Ah, the limo is here. I will see you soon. Don’t be late!”
“Well, did the empress approve of your choice in attire?” The son-in-law had no patience for his mother-in-law. Rick had known Lissa since high school and her mother had always been the same. No matter what Lissa did, there was an underlying sentiment from Corrine that it wasn’t quite good enough. He was sure tonight would be especially rough on his wife. Being six weeks pregnant was rough enough, but being measured next to her over achieving mother was worse.
“Personally, I don’t give a rip if she likes my dress or not. You like it and that’s all I care about. Besides, I wouldn’t be caught dead in her Isaac Mizrahi outfits!” Reaching over and patting Lissa’s toned stomach, he smiled warmly at her. “Honey, our most important achievement is right in there! Let’s not let your mother steal our joy from us, deal?” Jutting her chin out and sitting straighter, Lissa said firmly, “Deal!”
The evening was long, but not as horrible as one might have imagined. Corrine’s award was toward the end and was presented to her by Vera Wang, of all people. “Oh, Vera, I just love your designs,” Lissa heard her mother purr after the ceremony was over, “Isaac sent this over to me personally so I just felt I had to wear it. Didn’t want to hurt the poor boy’s feelings!” The polite Ms. Wang just nodded and walked away.
Turning her attention to her only child, Corrine picked at a small bit of fuzz on Lissa’s sleeve. “Well, dear, we haven’t gotten a chance to talk much this evening. Let’s have brunch on Saturday and we can catch up. I think I may have a job prospect for you. They really don’t appreciate you at that sludge hole you work at now. It’s time for you to move on to greener pastures.” Through clenched teeth, Lissa replied, “Thank you for the suggestion but I am doing just fine where I’m at. There’s talk that I’m in line for the V.P. of Regional Organizations.” With an arched eyebrow, her mother looked like Lissa had lost her mind. “Fine. I suppose we could still have brunch. I’ll have Megan call and set up a time with you.” Corrine’s overuse of her assistant, Megan, was legendary. An efficient and sycophantic old maid, Megan had clawed her way into the job. No task was too menial. Everyone wondered what Megan thought was at the end of the Corrine Lavery rainbow. Surely there wasn’t going to be any pot of gold!
As she watched her mother walk off into the crowd of glittering people, Rick leaned close and whispered, “Let’s blow this joint, baby.” Looking up at him with a smile, she placed her arm through his. Maybe a good night’s sleep would help things settle in her mind.
The morning light streamed in through Lissa’s office window. As she sat her mocha latte down on the desk, she noticed an envelope propped against her flat panel screen. Opening it, she quickly skimmed the contents and let out a small whoop of quiet joy. It was the offer of the Vice President position. The terms were spelled out briefly: salary, benefits, etc. A meeting was to be held with the president of her division today at 3pm so he could receive her formal acceptance of the job.
She settled into her chair contentedly. Would she get a new office? There certainly would be an assistant given to her. This was a momentous day full of promise and a shining future. Suddenly her stomach knotted and she grabbed the waste can just in time to loose the five dollar latte she had just drunk into it. “Ewww, do you have the flu?” It was her friend, Nyla, looking at her horrified. Shakily wiping her mouth, Lissa shook her head. “I’m fine, really.” For some reason telling people about the pregnancy was not something she wanted to do yet. Maybe subconsciously she felt it was too early, just in case something happened. Perhaps her mother should know before her coworkers. To distract her friend, Lissa waved the letter at her. Eyes widening, Nyla said, “Is this what I think it is?” “Yup, wanna be my assistant?” Laughing, her friend replied “Sure. I think I’ll start by getting you some water to rinse your mouth with. Oh, and a breath mint. I’ll be right back!” After a quick call to Rick to tell him the news, Lissa settled into the rest of the day, trying not to be too anxious about her afternoon meeting.
At the appointed time, Lissa straightened her charcoal grey skirt, ran a brush through her hair, touched up her lipstick and went to meet with Harlan Jacks, the division president. His office was nicely furnished in honey colored oak furniture. The desk was large and empty except for a slim laptop computer. No pictures or decorative items were displayed.
Harlan shook her hand warmly, pointing to a chair opposite his desk. As she settled into it, he said, “Well, I am assuming you are going to tell me that you will take the position. Am I correct?” Nodding her head, Lissa said, “Yes, Mr. Jacks, I am looking forward to these new challenges.” With a smile, the executive said, “Good. Good. We are confident you can handle anything that may come up. You are well known for your ability to problem solve. That’s why we want you here. Now there have been a few changes to the position. In the past, the V.P. has had to make occasional road trips. We’ve found that not to be very effective management so now you will be traveling a couple of days a week. That won’t be a problem, will it?” It was more of a statement than a question. It was an assumption that Lissa was a “team player” and would do whatever was necessary for the corporate good. Assuring Harlan that it would be fine, Lissa stepped into her new position, with only a small, nagging feeling deep inside the only small dark cloud on her horizon.
Saturday was cloudy and damp. It matched the moods of both mother and daughter as they tried to make small talk over brunch. Corrine rarely asked Lissa how things were going. Mostly, she just declared how her daughter’s life was. In Corrine’s mind, people rarely saw the true state of things. She was one of the brave ones, who was “honest” enough to help others by lifting the emotional furniture and showing them the dust bunnies beneath. So it was in this mood that she received the news. “Mom, uh, Rick and I are going to have a baby.” It was a statement of fact, not one of great joy like it should have been. Lissa looked at her mother and waited for the response. “Well,” said the grandmother-to-be, “Your timing certainly could have been better. You really don’t have room to do that right now. This new promotion you received really needs your attention. Distraction will be the death of your new opportunity, my dear.” So there it was, out on the table. This child was, to Corrine, nothing but a pitfall. Not the continuation of a family, not a legacy or an heir or even a bundle of joy. Just a bit of bad timing. Lissa had known that Corrine would not be thrilled, but she had thought that would have more to do with vanity and not wanting to be “that old”.
Corrine looked at her daughter. She looked pale and tired. Poor thing, she just didn’t have the stamina it would take to raise a child and still maintain some semblance of a successful career. Not to mention trying to make a marriage work! Rick might be more of a help than Lissa’s father had been, but that was doubtful. Men just weren’t capable of concentrating on family and work at the same time. Women were the ones who could juggle 5 things at once. It’s just the way things were.
“Darling, you are just going to have to make up your mind that you will work harder than anyone else. Have you looked into hiring a nanny? Probably a live-in would be best, that way you don’t have to be home from the office at a certain time. It will free you up to work and to travel without restriction.”
Lissa was trying to focus on what her mother was saying but all she could hear was that “waa waa waa” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher always made when she talked. Corrine’s lips were moving and Lissa was sure important advice was being given, but it just wasn’t penetrating her brain. “Well, ok. I need to get back home, Mom. I’ll talk to you later.” Lissa pushed her chair back, retrieved her purse from under the table, and left the restaurant.
Looking at her daughter walk away, Corrine couldn’t help but think back to when she was in Lissa’s position. The year was 1975 and Corrine’s company was barely 2 years old. It was a struggle every day to keep it up and running but recognition was starting to come her way. The women’s liberation movement was in full swing but that wasn’t affecting male dominated fields very much. It was hard to be the only woman in a roomful of testosterone-charged salesmen, but Corrine had learned to hold her own. When she found out she was pregnant, she had immediately decided on an abortion. Unfortunately, her husband found out she was pregnant and he talked her out of it. With many promises of help, he persuaded her to have the baby. When Lissa was born, he helped for a week or so, and then seemed to loose interest. So Corrine juggled and worked harder than ever. Fortunately, she was a woman of considerable inner strength. When her husband told her to choose between him and her company, the choice was relatively easy. Just the fact that he asked her to choose showed that he didn’t have the faintest idea of what made her life fulfilling. Corrine chose her company and never looked back.
Aggie stabbed at the dirt with a spade. She poured out some potting soil and went to work mixing it in with the sandy soil that posed as dirt in this part of the country. It was easier back in Iowa, where the soil was so rich it was black. Why, you could grow anything there even if you were Cain and cursed. The time spent in her garden was her favorite part of the day. There was rarely a time when she didn’t go poke around in it. If Aggie McPhail wasn’t in her garden, you might as well call a doctor!
She had lived in a lot of places. Born in Maine, her parents moved to Iowa when her mother got arthritis. Aggie supposed Iowa winters were easier than Maine winters, but she never understood why they hadn’t moved to Florida or Arizona. At the age of eighteen, Aggie married Jess McPhail. They farmed in Iowa for many years. In the late fifties, Jess got stars in his eyes and they moved to Southern California. They lived in a small beach community named Hermosa. Within ten years, Hermosa Beach was overrun with surfers and hippies. Jess got tired of the craziness so off they went again.
This time they settled in Nebraska, where they lived until Jess died four years ago. It was a freak accident that took her beloved man from her. A friend had given them some peach preserves. Aggie supposed afterwards that they had sat on the shelf too long, probably pushed to the back time and again. That friend never really got the hang of canning and her preserves always had a strange aftertaste. Anyway, Jess had struggled to open the jar and finally slammed it on the counter in frustration, turning on his heel to walk back into the front room. Before he had taken two steps, the top of that Mason jar shot into the air, the jar shattered and a large piece of glass sliced straight into his carotid artery, severing it and ending his life.
Aggie McPhail thought she would never again laugh or even smile. Being married to the same man for 58 years meant that his breath had become hers. Her entire body was on the same clock as Jess’s. It was his sharp yawn each morning at five thirty that was her alarm bell. His quiet snore in the easy chair after Jay Leno, the signal that the day was done. They shared the same history, now there was no one who would remember what color dress she was wearing the first time he spoke to her.
The biggest fear was that she would forget all the small details that make up a life. If this happened, who would help her remember? Aggie certainly couldn’t depend on Corrine, her only child. Jess and Aggie had tried for several years for a baby. There were several miscarriages and finally there was Corrine! How happy they were, given a gift they had been denied for so long. They doted on their daughter, spoiled her some would say. But she was their hope and joy. Yet somehow this adored daughter didn’t return the affection she so freely received. Instead, like a black hole, Corrine absorbed all the attention and love, letting none of it go back to those around her.
After Jess had been gone a couple of years, Corrine made an executive decision that Aggie needed to move back out to California to be closer to her daughter. Personally, Aggie thought she was doing just fine. She had carved out a routine for herself, had a good group of lady friends and wanted to stay put. Corrine used all her powers of persuasions to get her mom to move. One might think that the daughter actually wanted to care for her mother, but in actuality Corrine knew Aggie was getting old and would need more care. She just didn’t have the time to be flying between Nebraska and California. It was much more efficient to have her mother close by. So a suitable retirement community was located and a small condo with an even smaller backyard was purchased. Aggie was uprooted once again. Her only consolation was that she might be able to build some kind of relationship with her granddaughter, Lissa. They didn’t know each other very well. There had been the obligatory holiday visits, etc. but that was the extent of it. So the elderly woman had set about getting to know this young lady.
The sound of a door bell aroused Aggie from her reverie. It took her a few moments to push her stiff joints into a standing position. It was a good thing she lived in a small place! The journey from point A to point B was pretty short. When she opened the front door a small cry of joy escaped her lips. “Hi, Granny! We thought we’d surprise you,” said Lissa. A visit from Lissa and Rick was always one of Aggie’s few great joys. Hugs were exchanged and Aggie ushered them into her living room. Lissa was always surprised at how completely different Corrine and Aggie’s tastes were. While Aggie did not decorate in a kitschy country way, you could tell that she had a great love for the land by the tasteful paintings of country and farm scenes. There were also always fresh cut flowers in nearly every room. Lissa always felt comforted and safe when she visited her grandmother.
As Lissa and Rick settled into the overstuffed couch, the older woman looked at the younger, a slight squint in her eyes as she examined her granddaughter. “Do you have some news for me?” Rick and Lissa exchanged surprised glances. “Have you talked to Mom in the last day or so?” Lissa queried. With a small snort, Aggie said, “No, of course not. I rarely hear from Corrine. But she does send the occasional fruit basket.” Rick looked at his wife and said, “Well…” Lissa said a bit hesitantly, “We’re going to have a baby.” Aggie jumped up and let out a small whoop. “Stand up here, girl. Let me have a hug.” Aggie hugged Lissa with surprising strength. “That is the most wonderful news you could have told me. I am so happy for you both. There is nothing more worthwhile than bringing another life into this world.”
Lissa was almost taken aback by her grandmothers happiness. It was such an opposite reaction from Corrine’s. Her family confused her often. No one seemed actually related to one another. They all seemed like strangers who had been brought together to perform some kind of theatrical show. It seemed almost a shame to bring yet another human being into the group.
After a pleasant visit, Lissa and Rick went home. As they were driving Rick commented on his wife’s mood. “You seem awfully quiet. What are you thinking about?” Sighing, Lissa said, “Oh, I’m just tired and hormonal. My emotions seem to get the better of me right now. Everything pretty much makes me want to bawl my eyes out.” With that, she actually did start to sob, much to her embarrassment. At a loss as to what to do with his wife, and making a mental note to stop at Barnes & Nobel to pick up some sort of book for guys on what to do with a pregnant wife, Rick gently patted her leg and waited for the emotions to calm down.
Sniffling and digging in her purse for some Kleenex, Lissa wondered how this would all work out. A baby coming, Grandma’s getting older by the minute, a distant mother, and a job where she had to travel all the time. How could this be juggled and she still keep her sanity. Maybe her mother was right, this wasn’t good timing for a baby. It seemed too late to think about that now. Rick would never agree to ending the baby’s life. Lissa would just have to figure it out. She’d pull herself up by the bra straps and do what she did best, figure it out.
Sitting in the terminal at Los Angeles International Airport was not fun in any way, shape or form. Lissa was waiting to catch a flight that was delayed, which meant that she would miss her connecting flight and have to be rerouted through the most inconvenient place the airline could dig up. She pulled herself up out of the black leatherette chair and went to ask the ticket person to help her change her flights around. This scene was one she was becoming overly familiar with.
Harlan had been right, there was a lot of traveling involved. At first it had been fun and sort of an adventure. She was feeling independent and, well, important. Lissa became accustomed to being in charge of her own schedule, eating where she wanted, doing whatever amused her on her down time. Sometimes coming home to Rick was a bit of a culture shock. But after 4 months of constant motion, she was getting weary. It might have been because she was further along in her pregnancy. She was now in her last trimester. Lissa’s doctor had told her she could only fly until the end of her seventh month, which was next week. Broaching this subject with her boss had not been pleasant.
“Can’t you get a medical waiver from your doctor that will let you fly until the end of your eight month?” he had asked insistently. “But that would mean I was basically flying right up to the point of delivery. I won’t do that. I am too darn tired as it is!” Wrong thing to say, she discovered momentarily. Harlan looked at her with barely concealed contempt. “Look, you told me you were willing to work hard at this job. I’m willing to allow you the time off for maternity leave, but until then, you have duties that must be taken care of.” Lissa was beginning to wish she worked for one of those “family-friendly” companies you were always reading about in the magazines. With a sigh, she told her boss once again about the contingency plan she had made. “Look, sending Nyla into the field will work fine. She knows all our clients, she knows the ins and outs of the accounts. All the bases will be covered.” By now, Harlan was barely acknowledging her. He was shuffling through paperwork, irritated. “Whatever,” he mumbled, waving his had at the door, signaling her to leave. “But I’ll tell you this, Lissa. If Nyla screws anything up, it will be your head on the platter, not hers. I hired you for this job, no one else. If you can’t do what it takes, then maybe you need to take a demotion and find something here in the office.” With that, their meeting was over.
So now here she sat, feeling the pressure. Lissa longed to be successful at work. She had worked her way up from receptionist to vice president of a division. There had been late nights, sacrifices, political maneuverings and all the other things that go hand in hand with pulling your way up the corporate ladder. Lissa was proud of one thing, she had never compromised her integrity. It took a lot of work but she had always been honest with people, even when that didn’t make her the most popular person in the cubicles. Why did she keep having this nagging sense that she was losing her integrity? There were no confidences that she had violated, no lies told. Yet deep inside her core, the part where all her truest feelings lived, there was something wrong.
When Lissa’s flight landed finally in Atlanta, and she was safely ensconced at the Ritz Carleton in the downtown business district, she took out a pad of paper and began to make a list. This is what she always did when trying to sort out a particularly thorny problem. It just seemed to help looking at words written, not typed, on a page. Writing with pen and paper is just so basic, so tactile. The feel of the paper under hand, the pressure of pen against fingers, and the flow of ink as it was absorbed. This was much better than typing on a keyboard.
She divided her list into two sections: work and home. Then came the prioritizing, figuring out what was important in each area. The list for work was pretty easy to do. However, the home list was much more difficult than she imagined. There was a huge unknown factor and that unknown was the baby. The baby. The baby that would be here in a very few weeks. Lissa could not even imagine how her life would change. She had read books and magazine articles. Talking with other women at work had not really helped, it just made things seem overwhelming.
Lissa had yet to line up a nanny. She and Rick couldn’t quite agree on a person. Also, Rick was not very happy with the idea of Lissa traveling so much after the baby came. “Look, I don’t want to be unsupportive, but how are you going to bond with the baby if you are out of town three or four days a week? Am I raising this child or are we going to raise it together?” When he stood with one hand on his left hip, Lissa could tell he was digging his heels in.
Sitting in her comfortable hotel room, drinking herbal tea out of a china cup, Lissa stretched out her swollen legs and sighed. Looking at the list she had so carefully made she realized that no amount of sorting of priorities was going to solve the battle in her heart. Traveling was part of her job and really she couldn’t expect Harlan to change her duties. It was just how it was. Rubbing her tummy, she could feel the thump of the baby as it switched positions. She lifted her blouse and stared at her swollen abdomen, thinking, “OK, kid, what are we going to do?”
Suddenly, her cell phone rang. Without even looking at the caller identification, she flipped it open. “Hello?” “Lissa, dear, how are you?” Corrine asked. “ Fine, mom. How are you?” With that Corrine launched into a 5 minute soliloquy about some fight to the death meeting she had with her Board of Directors that day. Of course she won, as always.
Lissa had kind of drifted off into her own thoughts when she realized her mother had asked her a question. “Lissa, Lissa, did you or did you not hire a nanny yet?” “No, no we haven’t. We can’t really find one we agree on. And Rick isn’t very comfortable with my traveling so much. He thinks I won’t be able to bond with the baby.” With a short laugh, Corrine exclaimed “Nonsense! I worked much more than you will be and I bonded with you just fine!” Oh, really, she thought, I wouldn’t consider us bonded at all. “Well, you just tell that son-in-law of mine that you have a right to be fulfilled, just like he does. You know the cliché, ‘If mama’s not happy, no one’s happy!”
Is everything really that simple, thought Lissa. I just decide to keep operating as vice president and everyone will fall into step behind me? It had always worked that way in Corrine’s life but that was because she really did not care what others had to go through. Lissa couldn’t live like that. She just wasn’t cut from the same cloth.
After a minute more of conversation, Lissa made an excuse to end the phone call. Now completely depressed, she put on her nightgown, washed her face, and went to bed. She fell into an exhausted sleep. A dream came to her that night, one she would never forget.
Lissa was at an airport, about to board a plane. A faceless child came up to her, saying “Mommy, don’t go. Don’t go!” Looking down at the blank visage, she said, “Get away from me. You’re not my child.” Then a security guard came, picked up the wailing child, and carried it screaming down the terminal. The scene shifted and Lissa was four years old. She was in what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse. Lost and confused, she started to cry. Suddenly a woman, whose face Lissa couldn’t quite make out, appeared before her. “Mommy!” exclaimed Lissa the child. “Get away from me. You’re not my daughter!” said the woman, who then turned on her heel and marched off into the distance.
With a stifled shout, Lissa sat straight up in bed, her heart pounding furiously in her chest. It took her a few moments to get her bearings. Shaking her head, trying to clear the images from her mind, Lissa looked at the clock. It was three thirty in the morning, much too late to wake Rick up. Shakily, she got out of bed and went to the bathroom. Wetting a wash cloth and pressing it to her face, Lissa knew what she must do. Her stomach roiled, and she bent over the toilet, vomiting violently. Drained of strength, she slid to the floor of the bathroom, and leaned her head back against the tiled wall, closing her eyes against the brightness.
Rick was waiting for her at the airport, a bundle of flowers in his arms. “Hi, sweetheart! How was the trip?” He kissed her upturned face and smiled. “Oh, it was revealing, I’ll say that much.” Lissa responded, ‘I’ll tell you more on the drive home.” “Hmmm, sounds mysterious,” he chuckled. He grabbed her bad from the carousel and but his other arm around her shoulders. Lissa felt safe at that moment. Maybe she was making the right choice.
After Rick had maneuvered the car onto the freeway, he said, “So tell me all that was revealed to you, my dear!” His wife glanced over at him and said, “I’m thinking about taking a demotion.” Rick’s head swiveled her direction so fast she could hear his neck creak. “Seriously? What made you decide that?” Sighing, Lissa explained her dream to him. When she was done, he was quiet for a few minutes. Finally, Rick questioned, “Are you sure that just wasn’t a pregnancy dream?” Running her fingers through her hair, Lissa responded, “Maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t. But I think I’m making the right decision. You were right to ask me how I would bond with our baby if I was gone all the time. I want to get to know this new member of our family. I want more than what I was given as a child.” Nodding his head, Rick said, “OK. I’m with you. But you better just write your mom a letter telling her about your decision. That was she’ll have time to cool down before you talk to her.” With a chuckle, Lissa acknowledged that was probably the smartest thing to do. She laid her head against his shoulder, glad to have sorted something out at least.
The next day Lissa scheduled a meeting with Harlan. As she sat at her desk, sorting through stacks of paperwork, Nyla came in. “Here, little mama, a nice green tea for you. Gotta keep giving that baby lots of vitamins and anitoxidents! How was your trip?” Looking up from the contract she was reading, Lissa squinted slightly and rubbed her eyes. “Oh, it was fine. I got stuck at the airport again but that is getting to be routine. The meetings were good and the hotel was great. How are things here?” Her friend picked a thread off of a chair before sitting down. “Things here are boring. I hate being in one place all the time. I can’t wait for you to go out on maternity leave so I can hit the road!” Laughing, Lissa replied, “It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. But you’ll find it out soon enough.” Nyla tilted her head to one side and studied Lissa closely. She looked so tired it seemed as though her skin had become translucent and gray. There was no “pregnancy glow” about her at all. “I was kind of wondering,” Nyla began, “do you think you’ll stay in this job after the baby gets here?” Surprised by the question, Lissa didn’t quite know what to say. It was bad form to tell a co-worker you were resigning you position before your boss knew. Lissa had always been a terrible liar. Her pause before answering gave her away, unfortunately. A astonished look crossed Nyla’s face. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! You are going to quit aren’t you?” “No, no, no!” said Lissa, “I didn’t say that, did I? I’m not going anywhere. But you, my friend, need to let me get these forms finished before accounting has my pregnant butt. You know how they are about expense reports.” Rising from the chair, Nyla gave Lissa a look that said, ‘I know you’re just trying to get me out of here.’ With a shrug, she said, “Fine, I’ll leave. I just think you look really tired, that’s all.” Turning on her Fendi heels, Nyla walked out of the office, shutting the door behind her.
Whew, that was close, Lissa thought. Did she look that bad? Pulling a compact mirror from her purse, she examined her face closely. There were dark circles under her eyes, which made her think she needed to buy a stronger concealer. Her skin, always fair, did look downright chalky. Other than investing in more makeup, there was little to be done about her appearance.
Sipping the tea Nyla had so thoughtfully brought her, Lissa tried to think through what she would say to Harlan. A delicate tightrope walk had to be performed. How to ask to be reassigned to another position without looking like someone who could not handle the pressure was going to be very difficult. It wasn’t like she was waving a white flag and admitting defeat. Her priorities had just, well, shifted in the last seven months or so. Women in corporate positions have babies all the time. There should be no penalty for asking for assignments that kept a mom closer to home. But, in all reality, Lissa knew this was not the case. No matter how much corporations talked about gender equity and bragged about how accommodating they were to mother’s in the workforce, it really wasn’t true for the majority of companies in operation.
Lissa had a horrible feeling that she was about to throw a huge stick of lit dynamite at her career. Years of dedication was about to be blown into the stratosphere. Would there even be a career to salvage by the time her child was old enough to tolerate her being gone more often? Putting her head in her hands, Lissa’s emotions were running rampant. This was no way to go into a meeting this important. Struggling to put on her game face, Lissa prayed that the right words would somehow come out of her mouth. Standing up from the desk that she loved so much, looking around at the spacious office she had never really been around enough to enjoy, she squared her shoulders and walked down the hall to Harlan’s office.
Harlan looked up from his computer screen as Lissa walked in. Trying to read the look on his face was impossible. She had been hoping to be able to gage his mood before she began her talk but that was obviously not to be. “Have a seat,” he said, waving her to a chair. After some small talk about her most recent road trip, Lissa cleared her throat nervously and began to toss that stick of dynamite at her career.
“Well, Harlan, I have been doing some thinking lately about what my priorities need to be. I really feel that for the good of the company and for the good of our customers, I need to step down as Vice President of Regional Organizations. I am recommending that Nyla Luwasi take my place. She has all the qualifications and …” Cutting short her speech, Harlan looked at her pointedly and remarked, “ And none of the baggage?” Shocked, Lissa sat back in the chair. She had to make a determined effort not to let her jaw drop. “I would hardly call my bringing a child into the world ‘baggage’, ” she said, trying not to let the anger show in her voice. “Yeah, yeah, don’t take it personal. You know what I mean. Well, I’m not sure we have a place to put you at this point in time. I’ll have to think about it.” This was not a possibility that Lissa had considered. Even though she had figured she was messing up her climb up the corporate ladder, she had assumed that there would be some sort of place for her in the local office. “Well, thank you for your resignation and we will discuss your future here at a later date.” With that, Harlan stood and actually escorted Lissa to the door.
Standing out in the hallway, she looked around a bit dazed. Things had gone a bit too fast in there. While not expecting for things to go well, Lissa hadn’t expected them to go so badly. “Hi Lissa,” said Frank, the copy boy. “Um, hi Frank,” she replied, realizing that if she stood there much longer people would stare and start muttering about her. Walking back down the hall to her office, she started to wonder how her mother was going to take all these developments. Talk about an explosion, Lissa thought, the biggest explosion had yet to happen.
A soft glow slowly filled the dark room, gradually increasing in brightness until it was a strong, steady light. The soft hum of an air purifier could be heard. The strong scent of Kenyan AA coffee wafted through the room.
Stretching slowly, Corrine began her morning rituals. Before getting out of bed, she did some simple movements, first lifting one leg straight up in the air, flexing her foot, and then the other leg. Getting gently out of bed and crossing the large room, she reached for the yoga mat in the corner. Unfurling the mat, she proceeded to work her way slowly through thirty minutes, no more and no less, of exercise. It was her belief that anyone who failed to do some form of physical activity was a complete and utter fool. She didn’t get where she was today by letting herself slide into slothful behavior. If one could control one’s body, one could control every other aspect of one’s life.
After completing this discipline, she walked down the blue tiled hallway and into the large kitchen. It was very utilitarian in design, with stainless steel appliances, blond wood cabinets, and dark green marble countertops. Everything not in immediate use was hidden in the nooks and crannies of the cabinets. There were only two or three decorative touches. If a stranger entered the room, they would doubt that the occupant of the home ever cooked. They would be correct in that assumption for Corrine thought there were better uses for her time.
After pouring her first mug of coffee, Corrine rummaged through the refrigerator for the skim milk. Taking a box of Kashi Cereal from one of the cabinets, she poured it into a Mikasa stoneware bowl. Her cholesterol levels were the envy of all her friends. Her heart would probably be the last of her problems as she aged.
As she sat in the breakfast nook to eat, a list of her appointments for that day ran through her mind. There was much to do, as usual, and she was an expert at prioritizing. One of the main things she wanted to accomplish today was to make sure that Saritha Lebeauf, who was her main protégé, felt confident enough to handle the Board of Director’s meeting they would have to attend tomorrow. Saritha reminded Corrine so much of herself, confident, smart, and not afraid to speak her mind. Someday the company that Corrine had founded would need to be passed on to some deserving woman, and she hoped that would be Saritha.
The ring of the telephone disturbed her reverie. It was her personal assistant, Megan, calling to let her know that Lissa wanted to meet with her. Was today a good day? Corrine sighed. The day would be busy; could they do a phone meeting? No? Well then Lissa would have to wait until tomorrow, no, wait, the Board meeting was then. Telling her assistant to put Lissa off until later in the week, Corrine hung up the phone, walked to the dishwasher and placed her dishes in it.
Off to the shower, then. Just like the kitchen, the bathroom was simple in design, with nothing unneeded on the counters. Switching on the towel warmer before she got into the shower, Corrine paused to glance at her slender figure in the mirror. Frowning a bit at just the barest hint of a pooch in her tummy, she vowed to do more sit-ups. Reaching for the bottle of Bliss Lemon and Sage shower gel, she once again focused on the day’s tasks. One of her competitors was trying to stage a coup of her sales staff. That would never happen; she would make sure of it.
After showering and wrapping in a warm towel, she attended to her make up. She was fastidious about her beauty regimen. Only Dr. Perricone’s Neuropeptide Facial Contour cream, at over two hundred dollars a tube, was used on her face. There was no expense that was too great, when it came to retaining her beauty. Corrine knew all too well that a woman was judged first by her appearance. No matter how sexist a concept that was, it was the cold hard facts. Her foundation was Dior’s AirFlash, which made all the fine lines disappear. All other make-up with either Laura Mercier or Nars. The option for plastic surgery was always there, but she wanted to withhold that for as long as possible.
Satisfied that her face and hair were perfect, she went to the large walk-in closet to choose the outfit that would best suit her goals for the day. Since there was going to be a lot of sitting, she would chose a pant suit that would resist wrinkling. A nice pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes to compliment the fabric were next. Now, the best part of dressing each day: picking a fabulous piece of jewelry. She chose a 1930’s style eighteen carat gold Tiffany brooch, made of 29 rubies in a vine motif.
A knock on the front door let Corrine know that her driver, Frank, was ready for her. With one final glance in the full length mirror, she turned and picked up her briefcase, ready for the day.
Four cities away, Lissa was receiving a frustrating call from Megan. Her mother was too busy to meet with her in the next couple of days. Was that ok? Lissa always wondered why people would tell you the way something was going to be and then act like they were asking your permission. No, it wasn’t ok, but what would Megan do if she said that? Would she call Corrine and say, no, you have to get with your daughter. With a sigh, Lissa got off the phone. It wasn’t like she was so looking forward to telling her mother that she had resigned. Mother’s were just supposed to be there for you, not putting you off like a bad date.
Her cell phone rang out the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. That meant that Grandma Aggie was on the phone. In need of some nurturing, Lissa answered with a cheery, “Hi Grandma!” It always helped her to talk to the only woman who really understood Corrine. “Hi, sweetie, how is your day going? Is my great grandbaby kicking you much today?” Aggie was thrilled at the prospect of becoming a great-grandmother. Several of her friends were on their fourth and fifth great-grandchild. It was time she started catching up. “Oh, he’s not kicking as much. I think there’s probably not much room to move around in there!” she replied.
They chatted for a few minutes about babies and work and what was new at the retirement village. Finally Lissa said, “Grandma, I’ve resigned my position as Vice President.” There was a pause on the other end of the phone and then Aggie said, “Well, if you resigned I’m sure there was a good reason and everything will be fine. I know you thought things through, because you always are trying to find the best way to do things.” It was nice that someone had that much confidence in her decisions. Other than Rick, pretty much everyone else thought Lissa was crazy for resigning. One of the sales guys even said it must have been a hormonal imbalance that made her do it.
“Grandma, I just couldn’t reconcile the fact that I would have to be gone on the road so much. To be away from this baby just didn’t seem to make sense. I mean, if I’m going to be a mom, I feel like I should be around. So I’ve asked to be reassigned to a position here in the office. The only problem is that my boss doesn’t sound like he want’s to do that. I’m afraid I might have lost my job.” The crack in her voice told Aggie that her granddaughter was beginning to doubt herself. As long as she could remember, Aggie had watched Lissa put more pressure on herself than anyone could expect. Well, except Corrine of course. In Corrine’s world there was no such thing as putting too much pressure on yourself.
With a soft tsk tsk sound, Aggie employed her best grandmothering skills, telling Lissa that things really do work out for the best when you are doing something for the good of your child. That’s what this was all about, from her viewpoint, doing what was best for the life you brought into the world. That was one area that Aggie and Jess had messed up in. They thought that giving Corrine everything she wanted was what would make them good parents. Unfortunately, they had learned too late and Lissa had to pay the price for their mistakes.
As Lissa listened to the soothing sounds of her grandmother’s words, she felt calmed and reassured. A small, rhythmic thump inside her told her that no matter what, there was a small piece of joy about to come into her life. And that was something no one could take away from her.