- The workflow. Even before I read The Tyranny of Email I had already discovered that I work best in three-hour segments, especially when I'm writing code. Ha! No stay-at-home mom ever has three straight hours to get anything done. I don't do much coding these days, but I also find the three-hour rule to be my standard for copyediting, sewing, and anything else that requires some concentration and puts me in a state of flow.
- The co-workers. I was already in full sympathy with the stay-at-home moms who went totally nutso when confronted by the social deprivation of being trapped with a two-year-old all day. It even happens to people who are used to being around children, like kindergarten teachers and physical therapists. But at times it's beyond frustrating for someone who was accustomed to spending lunch hours, walks to meetings, and not an insignificant amount of work time chatting with a bunch of other geeks about Star Trek, operating systems, and cars.
Once you're a stay-at-home mom, you can basically give up on ever getting a chance to talk about those things again (except on the Internet, where nobody knows you're a mom). I have yet to meet another SAHM in person who likes anything remotely geeky. I'm sure they're out there somewhere, but in trying to find one I feel like that guy with the lamp who went looking for an honest man. The women I've made friends with have been highly intelligent and educated, have wide-ranging interests, and have been great mothers, but they couldn't care less about the new season of Doctor Who or the possibility of Microsoft hooking up with Facebook, and no matter how silly it seems, I would like to have someone other than my husband (the Go-to-Work Geek) to discuss some of those things with.
...and speaking of TGTWG, I like talking with guys. Since first grade I've had at least as many male friends as female, sometimes more. Most of my co-workers in my last job were guys. But guys don't hang out in playgroup. There might be an occasional stay-at-home dad (and he's usually a geek), but there seems to be some baffling unwritten etiquette about talking to these men in playgroup: first, you have to already know their wives, and preferably, already be close friends with them. It's best if you were college roommates, or if one of you once saved the other from drowning in an icy pond. Second, you can't talk about anything that the rest of the group doesn't know anything about. That's actually just good manners; it's not specific to men or playgroup, but it rules out any conversations about the newest release of Ubuntu or whatever. It's not always followed, either; apparently my favorite playgroup had no problem, the time my husband attended in my stead, talking about breastfeeding and PMS (I'm assuming those were two separate conversations, but who knows) and all sorts of things that made him lapse into a kind of misogynistic language I've never heard from him before.*
- Myself, as a worker. Mainly, I think I miss being somebody in my own right: not "Borg Boy's Mommy" or "Mrs. Go-to-Work Geek." I realized not long ago that when my attention is divided between a conversation I'm trying to have and keeping Borg Boy from sucking up an entire bottle of green SpongeBob yogurt and then spitting it out all over somebody else's sofa, I simply cannot be myself. I lose track of the conversation, I get self-conscious, and I completely lose my train of thought. That makes me even more self-conscious, and it just spirals downward from there, so that I leave social events frustrated and angry with myself. I don't have this problem—at least, not to the same extent—when I'm on my own. But I'm almost never on my own! That's what I miss the most about work: having eight hours a day when I was a competent person, good at my job, able to talk to people and listen to people and respond authentically instead of having to interrupt them with "Oh, just a minute, he's climbing into the trash can." Yes, it's true that I probably derived too much of my self-image from work. The problem is that I'm still doing it, only I'm not nearly as good at this job.
* Well, he called them "a bunch of hens," which is pretty misogynistic for a guy whose mother had him marching on the steps of the state capitol hoisting an "ERA YES!" sign when he was 10, and who has worked in a female-dominated field for nearly 20 years.