Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Qualified for the Job
by Kim Kochman Moldofsky

I always envisioned becoming a mom some day, but I didn't think I'd spent my life preparing for the role. I'd thought I'd made the most of my adventurous single years while working my way around the world -- who knew that every odd job I held would prepare me to be the primary caregiver for my children?

As a short order breakfast cook at UT's Laurel House Co-op I whipped up French, er, Freedom toast, pancakes and eggs -- any style -- on demand. I grew so accustomed to greeting cranky housemates who reeked of late nights in smoky coffee houses that I can easily ignore the faint smell of urine emanating from the diapers of my current demanding diners.

Then there was my summer as a dolphin trainer during which I witnessed the power of rewards to influence behavior. Those upbeat cetaceans would literally jump through hoops for a few raw fish. I've found, however, that youngsters tend to be more motivated by, say, Oreos than by sushi.

Preparing meals for the dolphins meant submerging my arms, elbow-deep, into a sink full of thawing smelt -- about 80 pounds of it. Each fish had to be hand inspected in order to be included in a meal. Now all I have to do is pop a few frozen fish sticks into a preheated oven and fifteen minutes later dinner is served.

During a short stint as an Attractions Hostess at Disney World, I learned to show up with bright eyes and a smile. "Fake it 'til you make it" was my supervisor's motto. It's no wonder my home rivals the Magic Kingdom as the Happiest Place on Earth! And of course, having survived nearly 600 showings of various Disney films on my feet, it's not so bad watching Toy Story for the 32nd time, especially if I'm relaxing on the couch at the time.

I also spent a month working on an Israeli kibbutz in a factory that produced plastic bags that hold liquids (think of a box of wine). For seven-hour stretches I boxed bags to the blare of a fast-talking, monotone Israeli radio reporter. Six bags came down the line; I folded and boxed them. When I finally accumulated 24 bags I sealed the box for a change of pace. The work was indescribably boring. What could be better preparation for sorting and folding my family's laundry? Trying to distinguish the 12-18 month size socks from the 24-36 month ones to the sounds of NPR is utter joy compared to my work in the factory.

Another job I routinely performed on the kibbutz was cleaning: sweeping and mopping the communal dining hall, washing dishes for the 200 residents and cleaning the public restrooms. These tasks prepared me for almost any mess, and yet my two little boys continually surprise me. For instance, there was the time I couldn't figure out why our bathroom was getting exceptionally stinky... until my three-year-old admitted he sometimes prefers to pee in the garbage can rather than the toilet.

I eventually settled down at a nonprofit agency, planning and facilitating leadership development and educational programs for high school students. Working long hours for little pay prepared me to value my time at next to nothing. So when my eldest son recently emptied his piggy bank to compensate me for all of my hard work as Mommy, I accepted my salary for the gift it was. For five years of mothering, I received 48 cents plus an extra penny for being beautiful and another for taking good care of him. It won't pay the mortgage, but it's my most valuable paycheck to date.
When not caring for her family or sighing dreamily over her old photo albums, Kim Kochman Moldofsky is a life/creativity coach for moms. "One of my peak experiences from the 'adventure years' involved roasting marshmallows over fresh, hot lava during my dolphin days in Hawaii. I thought I'd never top that. But the moment I became a mom, I knew that I had." She can be reached at kim@moldofsky.com