One Year Later: How Two Working Moms Are Doing

Priya Sethi walked outside the kitchen’s back door so that the strong salty sea smell blew onto the balcony. The air had a sharp tang that battled for supremacy over the scents of tandoori salmon and smoke (yesterday’s dinner) that blew out from the kitchen.

She couldn’t see the ocean—a row of bungalows identical to her own, some with redwood planter boxes blooming with trumpet-shaped pink petunias blocked her view. She could hear the water though . . . the steady dull thunder of the surf reminding her that it was close, at the edge of Manhattan Beach in Southern California where they’d relocated to.

She walked back into the house, noting the dirty dishes stacked on the side of the sink that would have to be put away before her work trip to Seattle tomorrow. She wasn’t looking forward to being in the wet, damp city that they’d lived in for six years, but thank goodness it was only going to be for a couple of days.

How quickly they’d adjusted to life in sunny California. She cast her mind back to the family’s vacation last summer to La La land and how they’d always dreamed of living by the beach. But, they had always viewed that move as a retirement plan.

Priya Sethi was a daughter of The Great Plains, born and raised by immigrant parents near the confluence of two great rivers in Illinois. But the Mississippi and Ohio, powerful as they were, had nothing on the Pacific Ocean. The ocean was magical to her, its depths and mysteries were boundless, its call irresistible. Watching her two sons frolicking on the beach, laughing and gamboling upon the waves, she’d turned to her husband and said, “Why not do it now? Since we can work remotely.”

Microsoft, where Priya and her husband both worked, was open to people working remotely permanently. That’s when it became a reality. Over the winter break, the family moved. The boys started their new school in January, remotely at first, and now attended in person. Besides, they were careful to buy a place next to LAX. It was a quick jump on the plane anytime they needed to go back for meetings.

Cody, the Labrador, came bounding into the kitchen, plumed tail wagging, looking for his breakfast. Priya couldn’t help smiling as she let out the dog, enjoying the sunshine on her face as she walked beside him. As part of the move, the boys had negotiated a pandemic puppy.

“I never thought we could leave Seattle,” she would tell her co-worker Linda the next day while attending a meeting at the company’s headquarters.

“I never thought I could work from home. This year has really changed our world.”

* * * * *

Gigi put her sweats on over her black leotard and sports bra and laced up her sneakers. Grabbing her iPod, she pushed through the door leading from the main house to the garage.

As she pounded on the treadmill, she reflected on how the garage that now housed the Peloton and a squat rack had got a gym makeover last summer after normal routine had been disrupted.

Last March, Gigi, who markets commercial gym equipment, began working from home. It was only supposed to be for a few weeks. A few months at most.

Then, her hours were cut. She went on partial employment as gyms across the U.S. shut down, and demand for new machines dried up.

Meanwhile, Gigi, who lives with her fiancee, was also caring for their two-year-old and helping to support her fiancee’s two middle school-aged children learning at home.

Emotionally it was stressful. The lines between the workplace and the house got blurred. “We are all in this house together,” she remembered complaining to her mom. “It has strained our relationship. And financially, this year has put me behind. I’m not paying anything over the minimum on the car payment.”

“Why don’t you start working out in the garage?” suggested her mom, who was hunkering alone on the seventh floor of her hot and humid apartment in Miami and had taken to playing bingo with her Woodbridge Club friends over a weekly Zoom meeting. “We have college friends joining us from as far away as Philadelphia and Paris, too,” she’d cackled happily.

That had been Gigi’s life-saver. They pulled out the junk from the garage, painted the walls, put in a mat floor, and arranged the equipment.

Gigi massaged her aching muscles as to talked to her mother, who was 2800 miles away. “Now, every time I feel the need to pray or somebody asks something of me, I think of the endorphins pumping through my system. I take a long exhale, and breathe out calm and tranquility.”

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