The Upside of an Upside-Down Resume
Recently I had to update my resume. While no one really enjoys the task, it is just one of those things regularly done, like taking out the trash or going to the dentist.
But I had not touched the thing in 24 years. When you are self-employed or volunteering, no one is checking a resume. A husband, trusting you with everything he owns and is, does not scan your educational credentials. A child, about to give you the significant task of becoming his mother, does not first look for evidence of parenting skills.
But my husband and I had been invited to apply to join an organization called L3, and, unfortunately, they needed a resume.
After searching in vain for a digital copy of my old one (Did I even have a computer in 1988?), I decided to start from scratch. I found a template online and began.
Name, address, and education: Auburn University. Harvard Law School. I’m on a roll here. This is not so bad.
Work experience: From 1988-1991, I work with one of the top law firms in the country. I write extensively-researched briefs, exploiting nuances of language in statutes and case law, arguing why the big corporation I represent should prevail over another big corporation – though both sides often emerge from the pit of commercial litigation bleeding and exhausted, their resources depleted but the lawyers enriched. My briefs are read by my supervising partner and filed with a court, languishing in obscurity until the case settles or goes to trial. Most settle – to stop the bleeding- and my work goes unused. Nevertheless, I am important. I have a private office with mahogany furniture, a big window, and a ficus tree in the corner. I have a secretary and wear suits.
It’s looking good so far.
Let’s see… now we are up to 1991. Son Edward is born, and my husband and I decide that I will retire from the practice of law for a time. I don’t do balance very well, and the phrase “nothing in moderation” describes me fairly accurately. I expected this to be a hard choice, but it is not. This tiny creature, that I love more than life itself, is a source of constant wonder. From the first minutes- look how intently he stares at me. How does he know how to seek nourishment, when always before, in utero, it just slipped into his body, more effortlessly than breathing? How complex are his murmurs and whimpers.
And the changes I see within myself are astounding. How can I just know what that cry means- I never learned it from a book. How can the joy of soothing him in the middle of the night make me think that uninterrupted sleep, once treasured, is over-rated.
Good thing I thought that, for 19 months later Andrew arrives, followed 19 months later by John, and then 26 months later, by Big O, all 9 pounds 3 ounces of him. With the combination of pregnancies and babies, I rarely sleep through the night for almost 7 years. Regardless, I think back on those times with deep joy and complete fulfillment.
I go back to the resume. 1991… A black hole on the resume. But then, I remember that there is a place to mention children. Here at the bottom under the “Personal” section, I can put “Four Children”. What about their birthdays? Surely it is relevant to someone evaluating me to know that they were all born in a period of 5.5 years. I guess not. I don’t think I have seen children’s birthdays on a parent’s resume.
Mental snapshots of birthdays scroll through my mind . . . First birthday parties and our traditional carrot cake. The surprise and delight on little faces discovering sugar, fingers digging into the sweet cream cheese frosting, asking for “mo’ cake.” There were at least 45 birthday parties – homemade invitations, a backyard full of family and friends, and lessons in thankfulness and manners. I go back to the resume. There is no place for all that.
Is there anything else I can add? I see a “Community Volunteer” section wedged between Work Experience and Personal. I volunteered a lot at church and school. I can list all that. But, maybe not, for it was just little things, so many little things. Maybe I’ll just put “Volunteered at church and school for 24 years.” I had titles for some of the things I did. I was on a school board and helped start another school. I can add that.
So it seems I have finished.
Oh, I can add that I am married to Ed under “Personal.” But can I put that he was in school the first three years we were married? Can I put that he quit his “real job” six weeks after I became pregnant with boy number four? Do I get a line on my resume for solo parenting through all those late nights and weeks of travel he put in, throwing himself into at least five start-ups over 15 years? I don’t think so. But that’s O.K. His resume looks pretty good. And he gives me way more credit for his success than I deserve.
I print it out and read it. Is this me? Does it reflect who I am and what I am capable of? Can a resume ever really do that?
I look at it, and it looks upside down. The things at the bottom of the template are the important things about me. The things at the top, relatively minor. I decide to look for another template. One that starts with “Personal.” I can’t find one. You just don’t do it that way. I don’t care. I do it.
I cut and paste and turn it upside down. I change the “Personal” heading to “Family.” That’s better. I smile with satisfaction, feeling strangely rebellious. I add my children’s names and birthdates. I think of all the events I planned, groups I hosted and miles I drove, the early years of homeschooling, all the things I did in life that mattered most to me. I work quickly, inspired, and I capture at least a sample of it.
So here it is, the top section of my new resume:
- Married Ed Powell, 1987
- Mother of 4 sons: Edward III (b. 1991, now a Senior at the University of Chicago); Andrew (b. 1992, now a Sophomore at the University of North Carolina, Morehead Scholar), John (b. 1994), and Owen (b.1996)
- Foster Children: Provided foster care for and helped facilitate the adoption by another family of two young brothers ages 9 and 7 who lived with us 10 months in 2002.
- Homeschooled sons from 1995 to 2002, helping all learn to read, write, do math, love science, and excel academically when they later entered independent schools.
- Facilitated 4 active boys’ involvement in sports and music, driving to countless practices, performances, and games, organizing related snacks, team parties, pictures and travel.
- Hosted numerous parties, church youth group events, women’s prayer groups, family fellowship groups, and discipleship groups. Routinely hosted one or two events per week during the school years for the past 15 years, working to have the home where our sons and their friends congregate.
Many mothers across time and space could start their resumes (if they bothered to make them) the same way. And the world is a better place because of it.
At church recently we were asked to share what we dreamed of becoming as children. I thought about being a nurse. My dad said that being a nurse was a fine thing, but I should also think about being a doctor if I liked medicine. So I thought about being a doctor. I also thought about being a lawyer. People said I would make a good one because I liked to talk and write. I became a lawyer.
But I only dreamed about becoming a mom.
And I did it.
And that’s what is at the top of my resume.
This essay is dedicated to my mother, Kate Foster Lindsey, a bright and capable woman who showed me by her example how fulfilling a job motherhood can be.