“It’s time,” I announced to Donald a week after we had delivered our daughter to her freshman year of college. “I need to find a job. That pays. Actual money.”
“What?” He grinned. “You mean you’ve already used up all your hug coupons?” He glanced at my cheerless expression and sobered. “Go for it.”
He probably would have said more but we were eating dinner at the moment, which, with our newfound status as empty nesters meant sitting on the family room couch, plates of meatloaf balanced on our laps while Alex Trebeck read the question for Final Jeopardy.
Twenty-two years ago, our decision that I would stay home with our future kids was a no-brainer. I had closed up shop on my not terribly successful one-woman catering company in Hartford and moved to DC to marry him. We were anxious to start a family, as I was already thirty-six and he was thirteen years older. Happily, we hit it out of the park when we conceived our first child on the honeymoon. Back in DC, I was new to town and pregnant. It didn’t seem sensible to commit to a full time position only to abandon it in two more trimesters. I took an hourly sales job at Williams Sonoma, where I struggled to ring up the Calphalon cookware without throwing up on the customers. I quit after three queasy months and haven’t held a job since.
When Abby jumped the family ship in September by setting off for college, she was three years behind her brother. We were now facing not one, but two college tuitions to cough up. We’ve always relied on Donald’s salary as a college psychology professor, along with the income from his clinical practice. But no matter how tenured he is nor how many depressives take a turn on his couch, his salary can only stretch so far. There’s also been some talk among the offspring of law school, graduate programs, and semesters abroad. While the kids offer to shoulder those bills, we would like to help if we can. And I think I can help.
Once I wrapped up my return-to-work speech to Donald, I headed to the basement. I rummaged through heaps of moldy documents in damp and battered boxes accumulated over the last two dozen years. I dug through one particularly over-used box, which had been labeled and relabeled with Sharpies, marking the detritus of school parties and short-lived hobbies. At the bottom, beneath the faded paper jack-o-lanterns and dollar store valentines, amid some canceled passports, a couple of funny love letters, and our certificate of completion from Lamaze class, I unearthed my old resume. Composed on my manual Royal typewriter on what was now an aging piece of crisp yellowing onionskin, it felt as if it might disintegrate in my hands. Clearly, it was time to start fresh. I went back up the stairs, sat down in front of the family desktop, and opened a new Word document called MOMSRESUME.
My original resume tracked a zigzagging career that began the day I left college in 1978. I had filled up the page with everything I had ever done. I listed my five semesters of undergraduate training as a drama major, and then the meeting planner job I snagged after dropping out. I omitted the detail that my mother owned the meeting planning company. There was the two-year gig as a film producer’s secretary, the stint selling a comedy service to morning radio DJ’s, the year in Paris attending cooking school, and then the resulting pastry chef jobs when I came home. Near the bottom of the resume I listed my return to acting when I became a member of a fledgling improv group in Manhattan. Since the only compensation to the group was free beer, I included the time I worked as an office temp. For eleven months I rode the subway down to Wall Street where I typed numerous versions of the same letter, in numerous versions of the same office. There was no spell check on those speedy Selectrics in 1989. I retyped a lot of letters.
For my updated resume, I knew I had to cover-up the gaping hole of inactivity between 1994 and 2017. I followed the free advice of professional resume experts I found after Googling professional-resume-experts. They suggested chronicling my volunteer work. That made sense. I was a regular office volunteer at an area food bank, and I had put in some time at the local animal shelter. But my main gig had been uber volunteer at my children’s schools. It was the way I managed to justify my non-income producing existence. It went beyond baking cupcakes. I chaired committees and I ran fundraisers. I organized the science fair, hosted Kindergarten orientation, and manned the office phones when the school secretary was out with shingles. I was the cultural arts liaison for the elementary school five years running. (I hoped the word liaison would cover for the fact that the job merely required attending an afternoon of auditions by a variety of tired “educational” acts, where each performer had five minutes to sell themselves to an audience of PTA decision-maker moms. I had eight performing slots to fill. I gave most of them to guys with reptiles, a couple of slam poets, and a scientist who blew things up.)
Once polished, I was confident my new resume would get my foot in the door at a variety of businesses. I began the search by applying to catering companies looking for event planners. I submitted brilliant, upbeat cover letters to every theatre in search of development assistants. I broadened my pursuit by applying to a number of non-profits in need of volunteer coordinators. These were all jobs I knew I could do. Hands behind my back. Human resource directors in the tri-state area disagreed. Of the seventy-five positions I applied for, I received three automated responses confirming they had received my application. And at the top of those responses: DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL.
I continue to search the job sites. Today’s more promising listings include: Bikini Waxer-No Experience Necessary, and Hearse Removal Driver-Vehicle Supplied. The most intriguing opportunity is for a crime scene technician with a company called Aftermath Services. I’m sure to be a shoe-in for the job, considering my extensive background in the laundry arena and my unique skill set in stain removal.
My resume, reworked and rewritten and reworked again, simply cannot camouflage the obvious: I have not held a job in over twenty years. Like a rotary phone and an electric typewriter, I am obsolete. No one cares that I can type 65 words a minute or change the paper in the Xerox machine. No one calls them Xerox machines any more.
I will keep my chin up. I will sharpen my skills and enroll in a class to learn Excel. If that doesn’t work maybe “cemetery counselor” will be more fun than it sounds. Above all I will remember that while my current position doesn’t actually pay me a salary, it offers a pretty wonderful benefit package.