story of a working mom, take one.

April 23, 2014

I think I’ve mentioned before that during most of my time here in Riyadh, I’ve worked online in a part-time position for a university in the States. It wasn’t particularly inspiring work, but it was a job, and I was grateful, especially since I could stay home with Lavender while I did it, and I gots student loans to pay.

Well, about a month ago, I got notice that the funding for my position was being cut, and that at the end of the semester, I would be out of my job. I expressed my frustration with the situation in a discussion with some friends in a private Facebook group, and a few minutes later, I got a message from one of them, asking if I would be interested in teaching in a new English school for adults (women only, of course–this is Saudi Arabia, after all) that is opening in Riyadh. She explained that I could teach part-time if I wanted, and that there was childcare in the center, so I could bring Lavender with me.

Well, this was a great offer, even better than working online. As much as I just want to stay with Lavender all the time, after a year and a half in the role of stay-at-home/work-at-home wife and mom, I don’t feel like I’m very good at it, even though I love it more than I ever believed I could….but does any stay-at-home mom ever feel like she’s good at it? Seriously, I want to know. I also want to make clear that there is no way in hell that I’m implying that stay-at-home moms don’t actually work. Sometimes when Mr. Mostafa gets home from work, I will ask him to change Lavender’s diaper or otherwise occupy her so I can, like, go to the bathroom with the door closed. He’s usually pretty good about this, but occasionally, if he’s had a long day at work, he’ll balk or heave a great sigh, like I’m asking him to do something enormously difficult. From time to time he’s even pulled out this old chestnut: “I have been working all day, and you get to stay at home.” One day he did this, and I was in no mood for it. I said, “Listen, when you get home, and you don’t want to go on Lavender duty, why do you think that is? Why do you not want to do that? Because on some fundamental level, you know it’s work. And that work is what I do all day. So let’s agree that we both work hard.” And thus, the issue was settled.

But anyway, I was excited about this offer. I would still spend most of my day hanging out with my baby girl, but I had the chance to get back in the classroom for a few hours a day, and Lavender would have the chance to spend some socializing time with other kids, especially Arabic-speaking kids. And she would be right there with me, in the same building, on the same floor, where I could easily peek in on her and make sure she was okay. Furthermore, we would both be able to get out of the house every day, and I surmised that the job might catalyze more of a set routine that would kick-start my productivity, since obviously staying at home all day has not been conducive to my dissertation motivation.

So, last week I went in my first training day, to kind of suss out the situation. The in-school childcare was not opened yet, so for the four hours of training, Lavender stayed with her grandmother, my mother-in-law, whom I love. And when I left her on that first training day, I cried. Lavender was just fine, but I bawled like I was the baby. Leaving her was hard.

While I was gone, my mother-in-law constantly sent me pictures and updates on WhatsApp to let me know Lavender was okay–there were pictures of her gleefully crawling after the cats, pictures of her throwing colorful balls around in her purple Pack ‘n Play, pictures of her conked out after her playtime–in short, pictures of her being her happy, sweet self.

She was happy to see me when I got home, but she wasn’t distressed at all. She was fine.

This went on for two days. Then, on the third training day, the childcare area opened, and I brought Lavender with me to work. I got there early, so I would have time to sit with her in the childcare room, which was full of new toys and had a fun, colorful floor made up of soft foam letters. She crawled around a bit and got comfortable while I chatted with the lady in charge of the room. Lavender didn’t seem too eager to interact with the other kids in the room, which surprised me, because the previous week, we had gone to a La Leche League meeting, and while we were there, she crawled right up to the other babies and toddlers and wanted to play. But this time, not so much.

After about twenty minutes, I decided we were good to go. Lavender seemed happy. I kissed her and left the room.

Now, keep in mind that I was no more than thirty feet or so away from her at any time after I left her–I was very close to her, but just in a different room. After the first five minutes, I peeked into the room through the window, and she was fine. She was perched on a pillow, holding a toy, while the childcare manager danced around her in a (seemingly unsuccessful) attempt to get her to smile. She didn’t look happy, exactly. But didn’t look upset, either.

About five minutes later, I heard a baby cry. I thought it was one of the other babies in the childcare room. One of my managers asked me, “Is that yours?”

“I don’t think so,” I replied. It didn’t sound like Lavender at all. But as the crying continued, I figured I should probably go check on her, because in other situations, I had seen her become upset when other kids started to cry.

You can imagine how terrible I felt when I looked through the window and discovered that the wailing baby was Lavender. I hadn’t recognized her cry, because I had never heard her scream like that before. If you had asked me if I would be able to recognize my baby’s cry out of a bunch of other babies’, I would have said, “Absolutely.” But here, I had failed.

I ran into the room and took her from the arms of one of the other ladies, who had kindly attempted to soothe her. As she clung to me, she screamed a few more times, and kicked me a few times as well, as if to say, “How dare you scare me like that?!? What kind of mother are you?!?” She calmed down a bit, but she continued to cry, just more quietly.

I knew nursing her would be the best way to soothe her, but it occurred to me that disrobing in my workplace within the first hour might not be considered very professional. So I grabbed a bottle of pumped milk from her diaper bag and hurriedly attempted to feed her with it. She was having none of it.

I took her out of the room, thinking that the relative calm of the hallway might help relax her. The bottle that I was holding was a Playtex Nurser, which is the only bottle that Lavender has ever been really willing to take. However, according to what I (thought I) knew about such bottles, it’s best to press gently on the liner to push out the extra air through the nipple, to avoid getting extra air in the baby’s tummy. I’ve always done that (and so has every other mom I know who has used these bottles).

So, as I stood in the hallway bouncing Lavender, two of my managers approached and asked how she was doing.

“Oh, she’s going to be okay,” I said as I pressed on the bottle liner to prep it before I settled in to feed her with the bottle. “But I feel so horrible! I heard her crying for, like, a minute before I went to check on her because I didn’t recognize her cry and–”


I stopped talking when the bottle exploded on me. All over my dress. And Lavender’s face. And all over the floor. My breastmilk was on the floor. Lavender, startled by the noise and by the milk splashing on her face, began to cry all over again, because what was this awful day.

I didn’t blame her, honestly. At that point, less than an hour into my training day, I wanted to cry, too.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’ll clean it up,” said one of the managers.

“No, I’ll do it, I…”

“No, just take care of the baby. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.”

My other manager said, “Would you like to just finish the training with her with you?”

I answered in the affirmative, apologized profusely, then went to the bathroom to dump the milk that remained in the popped bottle liner. By the time I got back, everything had been cleaned up, and with Lavender in one arm, I went into my classroom to work on the lesson plans for the two demo lessons I was supposed to give later that afternoon.

Lavender was still unhappy, but she calmed into red-faced hiccupping, with her head buried in my shoulder. The manager who had cleaned up my milk mess came into the room and asked, “Would you want to move to the room down at the end of the hall? It’s quieter, and darker, and she might calm down better there.”

So I grabbed my nursing cover from Lavender’s bag in the childcare area, packed up my teaching materials, and moved the whole show to the room at the end of the hall. Once there, I threw on my nursing cover, stuck Lavender underneath it, and held her with my left arm while she nursed, as I intently scribbled out lesson plans with my other hand.

Finally, on the boob, my kid was happy. She nursed contentedly, and as I observed a few yawns and a bit of eye-rubbing, I fervently hoped she would fall asleep there.

But of course, that was not to be. She nursed, and then she was done, and when she saw that there were no other people around, and thus no chance of me leaving her with said people, she wanted to get down and play.

The floor was dusty (being a brand new building, still not entirely ready), but the room was small, so I obliged and put her down on the floor. She gleefully crawled all over the place, inspecting the legs of chairs, pulling herself up to stand, giggling at me. And then…then she found something really fun.

The electrical outlet.

When she spotted it, she was about two feet away from it, and she crawled over within a few seconds. She put her hand up to touch it.

“Lavender, la!” I said sternly. (Interestingly enough, at this point, if you tell her “no” in English, she will just look at you and giggle. But if you tell her “no” in Arabic, she will listen.)

She stopped and turned to look at me, her hand hovering in midair next to the outlet. I jumped up and pulled her away, sitting her back on the floor in the corner farthest from the outlet.

I sat back down in my chair. Lavender again made a beeline for the electrical outlet. Except this time, she stopped at the outlet, put her hand up precariously close to it without actually touching it, and gave me a wide smile.

I picked her up and put her in another corner far away from the outlet. She did the same thing as before. As she looked at me with her best devilish grin, her hand again hovering in midair next to the outlet, I realized that electrical outlets were now a game to her.

Oh, this kid.

I picked her up and put her on my shoulder and started to bounce her and sing to her, hoping to get her to sleep. I quickly discovered that it was impossible to write lesson plans whilst bouncing the baby, so I focused on the task at hand. Within ten minutes, she was asleep, and I went back to writing.

A bit later, I had a decent outline of one mock lesson, when I was supposed to have been preparing two. One of the managers came to the room and got me to come eat lunch. Lavender woke up. We went into the open area and while I ate, Lavender crawled around on the floor, making friends and exploring her surroundings. She seemed happy. When I finished eating, I took her back to the childcare room and attempted to reacquaint her with the room.

I guess on some level, I was stupid for thinking that she would understand that Mommy was just outside, still checking on her, still with her…just in another room. But that had been my (silly) hope. So when I took her back to the childcare area, I sat with her while she played, got her settled in again (or so I thought), and left the room, off to my classroom to give my mock lesson.

After lunch, it was time for me to give the mock lesson I had prepared. My “students” were two managers and two other teachers. A few minutes into my lesson, I heard Lavender wailing again.

I bit my lip and kept teaching. I guess my panic was evident in my eyes, though, because as soon as I got an “activity” started with the “students,” one of the managers said, “Do you want to run grab her?”

“Yes,” I said, and I sprinted down the hallway, burst into the room, and swooped up my crying baby. As she calmed down, I perched her on my hip, went back to my classroom, and continued my lesson.

She remained with me for the rest of the training day. The only time she was out of my arms was when she fell asleep in them at one point, and one of my fellow teachers, who is a total sweetheart, offered to hold her while she slept. “You need a break. I have two daughters,” she said. “I’ve been exactly where you are.”

When I got home, I sat down with my mother-in-law and burst into tears. I felt so guilty at the thought of Lavender and her panicked wailing, not knowing where she was, who she was with, and why I had left her there.

“Nicole,” said my mother-in-law, as Lavender played happily in her lap, “why you don’t leave her with me when you go to your job?”

So, for now, that’s what we’re going to do. I did want Lavender to get in some time with other children, but she has plenty of time later for that. This way she gets to stay in her familiar territory, and she gets some time with her grandmother and her auntie before her dad gets home from work and takes over Lavender duty. It will give baby and her daddy a couple hours of good bonding time before they come to pick me up, and at this point, that’s more important than her being around other kids. If it doesn’t work for Lavender, then I can go back to staying home. And thank God we have these options to consider.

Now we’re just waiting for the English learning center to officially open so we can start our routine. I’m excited, and I think Lavender will be okay with the arrangement. Just last night, she spent a few minutes downstairs with my mother-in-law, and when she was brought back upstairs to me and Saleh, she burst into tears and shrieks because her grandmother was leaving her with her silly, boring parents (at least, that’s what I’m assuming was going through her head). Get used to it, kid. Your parent-infested youth is just getting started. Bwahahaha…

We’ll see how it all works out. Either way, if I end up working or continue staying home, I know it will be the right thing for our family. God doesn’t make mistakes.


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  • Becky

    Congrats on your new job! And you are handling everything beautifully. People are super understanding of what you are going through- and it’s totally true that grandparents are the best at this stage! (My mother in law came to the US to watch my girls for 5 months when they were born and I’m so grateful) Also, for me anyways, keep in mind that HOW you do and prepare for out of the house work may be very different from before and usually take much longer (like everything else with baby :-)) <3

    • Nicole

      thank you very much! :)

  • YankeeDoodleSaudi

    Guess who is most likely going to be joining you in Sha Allah??? :)

    • Nicole

      i’m so excited! :)

  • Risi

    Congratulations! Brings back memories! The tears, the fears, the pumping, the running over to the sitter’s at lunch to nurse…experiences of the modern woman. You’re doing great! So happy for you! This job sounds like something you will enjoy.

    • Nicole

      thank you! i think it will be good for all of us, inshallah! :)

  • Cam

    Hi Nicole! ,i follow your blog always so congratulations for the job! i understand you missed the classroom cause i’m a teacher too but at the same time i understand your position as a mother and the worry you felt about Lavender,as you say God will know how to do and which things are the best for the family,but in other hand good luck and enjoy the job!

    • Nicole

      thanks, cam!

  • Brittany H

    They have a La Leche League there? I wanted to do something like that when cole was a baby but didn’t have much luck finding one close. I too have busted the bottle liners everywhere….not in such a public setting though! Hahaha I would have been stress sweating! Is that tmi??

    • Nicole

      yes! la leche league is actually reasonably active here…there are monthly meetings and there are several la leche league-certified peer counselors here. if you ever come visit, i’ll take you to a meeting! 😉