I Want To Be… A Mother!

Sayward Rebhal

When Sayward Rebhal of Bonzai Aphrodite emailed me about my careers series, & said that she wanted to contribute her thoughts on being a mother, I was so excited!

She summed it up wonderfully when she said,

“I know, I know. It’s a departure from what you normally cover. But I really feel like as the neo-neo-feminists (ooh meta), the *choice* to stay at home is an important one to recognize. So I figured I’d put it out there.”

I love this interview. It’s one of my favourites so far. I hope you enjoy it too!

Tell us about what you do.

My first thought: “EVERYTHING!”

As a work-at-home mother I’m on a triple mission: to fully engage in raising my baby boy, to keep the house (read: our lives) running smoothly, and to help bring home the tofu.

Amidst all that I also find space to pursue my passion – mindful living, natural choices, DIY culture, environmentalism, health and food politics, minimal consumerism . . . yeah, basically I’m totally crunchy. But I’m a product of the Grunge 90s, when punk was paired with politics and everyone actually gave a shit. And I’m still trying to change the world, chipping away and chronicling my experiments and my experiences. I blog at Bonzai Aphrodite, where I write about how to be socially conscious – and still stay totally fabulous!

What does an average day at work look like for you?

This is going to be long. But work-at-home parenting is not a picture that many people get to see, so I thought I’d paint it in detail.

The alarm sounds at 7:15 and sly like a cat I slink out of bed without waking Waits, who sleeps with us. I shower, dress, primp, and make my coffee. I love coming upstairs in the morning, steaming cup of caffeine in my hands, and finding my husband and baby laughing in bed. *Best* way to start the day.

While Damian gets ready for work, Waits plays on the bedroom floor and I enjoy my coffee and check in with the Internets. Damian’s off on his bike by 8:45, and then it’s baby bath time. After Waits is cleaned and dressed and maybe had some more play time, he’s ready for breakfast. He usually falls asleep at the breast. Naptimes are my work opportunities, and I have to be diligent and adaptable in order to get things done. My one-handed typing skills are pretty damn impressive!

When Waits wakes up it’s dog walk time. I wear him in a carrier and we head out to hike at a freshwater marsh near our house, stopping by the market on the way home. I’ll pick up whatever produce is cheap and that determines our dinner – shopping sales every day is the best way to eat organic on a budget! This whole excursion takes about an hour and doubles as my daily exercise.

Back home I keep Waits in the carrier while I make my green smoothie and putter around – load or unload the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen and living room, water plants, start some laundry, whatever needs to get done. We also do the farm work – take out the compost, harvest the garden, and let the chickens out to free range the yard. We may live in a row house in the middle of the city, but we’re enthusiastic micro-farmers.

Waits goes down for his afternoon nap around 2 and this is my prime work time. It’s a flurry of one-handed speed typing, a race to research, write, correspond, and get all caught up before he wakes. Which is totally a joke, because “all caught up” doesn’t actually exist, right?

Early evenings are open-ended, from taking pictures or other blog prep work, to running errands, to starting dinner. Or maybe we’ll just play until Damian gets home. When Damian takes over baby duty, that means I have two hands again. Yay! I love to cook, so I cherish this ‘me time’ each evening, bustling around the kitchen listening to podcasts (Radiolab!). I keep a vegan kitchen and I cook from scratch. And my shit is good.

After we’re dinnered and digested, I put Waits back into his carrier and we head out on our night walk. 45 minutes in the dark puts him to sleep for the night. And I really rely on this quiet time to recharge my batteries before getting back to work.

Yup, back to work. With Waits asleep I’m back on my laptop, where I’ll be for the rest of the night. Of course, I’m on the couch next to Damian and there’s a movie on in the background, so it’s happy-husband-cuddly-type work time. Finally I unplug around midnight, set the alarm, and hit the sack.

Glamorous? No, I don’t think it is. But it sure does feel good.

Do you work alone or with other people?

My boss is 2 feet tall and frequently pees his pants. But he’s a really awesome guy.

Sayward Rebhal

What kind of education do you have?

I have a bachelors degree in biology and I’m a published scientist, but that has almost no relation to what I’m doing with my life! I did break into writing via science writing (textbooks), and I’d love to explore more science journalism someday.

Do you think official qualifications are important for someone entering your industry?

There are certainly qualifications that make being a work-at-home mother easier, but they’re not something you go to school for. Foresight, patience, and positivity will take you far. But it really comes down to work ethic, because – no illusions – this is HARD.

If you went to school, did you enjoy studying? Could you see where it might lead you at the time? What advice would you give to someone else who might be studying to get into your industry?

I’m totally a Type A personality. I threw myself into school, set wildly high standards for myself, and was determined to meet them (for example I graduated with a 4.0 gpa). I really thrive when I’m meeting a challenge, so yeah. I had a blast!

And actually, yes, I did see it leading here. I always knew I wanted to stay home with my babies . . . it was like this dirty secret I felt like I had to keep from my colleagues and mentors.

As for advice, initially I’d say to plan ahead. Secure an online/work-at-home position before getting pregnant. It’ll get you used to the lifestyle and it makes pregnancy a whole hell of a lot easier as well! But if you already have a kid and want to start working from home, my advice is the same as I give to everyone, about everything: Be Diligent. Very few people get things handed to them. Almost nobody gets it right the first time. Successful and happy people got that way by working really hard and never giving up. So scour the Internet for job possibilities. Check your local papers and job postings and Craigslist gigs. Investigate Etsy or the WAHM community on Mothering.com. It may not happen right away, but you can make it happen eventually. And if that’s the life you want, it’s so very worth it.

What do you think is the best thing about what you do?

I’m a born activist; I was raised to stand up and speak out. Being able to do that daily is so meaningful to me. I write about things that matter, things that need to change. That I get to hang out with my kid while I’m doing it . . . well, frankly I don’t know how I got so lucky.

Between my baby and my blog, I get to live what I love every. single. day. I don’t think it gets better than that!

What’s the worst thing?

[Not] Finding balance, and the guilt it creates. I want to be fully attentive to my son, at all times. But I’ve got to make money. And I also have so much drive to do my personal work, which is an integral part of maintaining my sense of self. I struggle every day to find that sweet spot between those three things.

Sayward Rebhal

Would you call yourself a workaholic, & if so, are you alright with that? Do you think that’s normal for your industry?

I am the quintessential workaholic. Actually, I’m more of a multitaskaholic. It get’s me in trouble. I actually think I’d be a better mother if I could just learn to slow down and be really present with one thing at a time. That’s something I’m working on…

What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?

This is not your grandmother’s world, or your mother’s world, or even your older sister’s world. The Internet changes everything for women. Use it. Be creative and work your ass off and make it yours. We can raise our own babies *and* be financially valuable.

People think that the choice to stay home is a cop out, but it’s actually just the opposite. This is the decision to truly have it all.

…How about number two?

Feminism lives in the kitchen as much as it lives in the board room.

Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?

So many! How many stereotypes can I bust? Let’s see, I can assure you that I’m not lazy, dumb, or unambitious. I do not hang out in a velour tracksuit all day watching daytime television and paper crafting. I am not bored, ‘desperate’, or lonely. My role as mother does not entirely define me. I am not ‘kept’ or trapped or disempowered. I haven’t given up my social life – my parties or my cocktails or my short skirts. I’m not conservative or religious. I’m not dissatisfied or un-romanced. I don’t resent anyone – my husband or my baby or myself. I don’t ever eat bon bons!

Sayward Rebhal

What is the best thing that’s happened to you as a consequence of the work you do?

The blossoming of self-assurance that comes from following your heart. I’ve gained this quiet confidence just by doing what I love. And I’ve gone through so much personal growth as part of becoming a mother. I am more *myself* now than I have ever been before. And holy hell, that feels fantastic.

What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?

My readers at Bonzai Aphrodite. They are so amazing! They’re some of the most insightful and inspired people I’ve ever encountered. And they are so open, so honest, and so invested in moving towards a better world.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with my responsibilities or melancholy over politics. But then I’ll receive an email from someone halfway around the world, telling me about how my work has impacted their life; how they think about things differently now or how they’ve gone vegan or how they feel hopeful for the first time in years. These emails always come when I most need them and they are my soul’s food. That’s what keeps me going.

Who do you look up to within your industry & why?

Is it too cliché to say “my mother”? She died when I was nine, and now as an adult I can look back and understand the tremendous sacrifices she made for me, and also how she never let me see them. She was a single mom and we were dirt poor and I seriously had THE happiest childhood. She was amazing.

Rate how happy you are with what you do out of 100 (100 being the best, 0 being devastatingly awful) on an average day.

Being a mother is the strangest thing. It has the most impermanent trauma, in a way that nothing else ever does.

Like, I could be having the hardest night: Waits has been screaming for ages, my blood sugar crashed an hour ago and I’m shaking and starving, lying in bed in the dark and desperately trying to nurse him to sleep, sobbing. Yes, for real. So what is that, like a 16/100?

But then, Waits falls asleep. My husband brings me a frozen nanner with almond butter, and turns the light on, and I curl up and surf the web for a while. And before I know it I’m soaring at 95 like nothing was ever wrong, because now my belly is full of goodness and I found this awesome activist blog and best of all, the sweetest little dude in the world is lookin’ all cute just snoring in my arms. And I’ve never been happier. It’s a trip, man.

So that’s really a hard question to answer. When I think back over the past 8 months I can recall that I’ve had the lowest lows of my life. But they don’t stick on my psyche, not even a little bit. Motherhood is magical like that. It makes me want to say “100!”

Do you think you’ll continue doing this for the rest of your life?

In some form or another, I sure as hell hope so!