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PLAN ‘B’
by Elana Rabiner

I don’t recall if I was especially miserable, ugly or sad, but something inspired my husband to come up with the most insane and brilliant idea. Right there, a year ago August, on Seventh Avenue and 41st street, he changed our lives. "Instead of buying that weekend house we talked about", he said, "we could live there full time and do our business full time right from home." I signed up on the spot.

For 15 years I had worked as a fashion designer for great houses like Bill Blass and Charlotte Neuville. I worked with a lot of wonderful, smart, clever people, and learned a lot from all of them. I traveled to Europe on shopping trips, stayed in the best hotels and ate in the best restaurants in Europe and Asia. I had fabulous wardrobes made for me exclusively, and worked, worked, worked on my career. In addition to my more-than full time job, I had started a business in the winter of 1992, where I designed, and together with my husband, manufactured Designer sweaters under my own label. Surprisingly, it was a hit from the beginning, and we soon found ourselves in prestigious stores like Saks, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus. Finding time for the business in addition to my job seemed hard at the time, but when I look back on that now, that was a piece of cake. I was enjoying myself, doing what I loved to do, gaining a good reputation, and feeling confident in my art.

Until last August, when my husband picked me up from work a depressed woman. Trapped is more the feeling.
At the time, I had what so many people would consider a glamorous job, but believe me there was nothing glamorous about it. I was working for a large private label company that manufactured sweaters for the chain stores – Wal-Mart, Kmart, etc. (Doesn’t it sound glamorous?) I had the fancy title of Design Director. I loved that title. It made me feel good. I had a staff that I was responsible for. I was what I considered to be a good and fair, but strict boss. I lavished praise upon my designers, but I never let anyone miss a deadline.

For 4 years at this company, I worked long hours, weekends, and 8-day weeks in Hong Kong, Greece, and Europe. On trips, I often worked until 2 or 3AM with no days off, sometimes never leaving the hotel for the duration of the stay. Basically there was nothing they couldn’t ask of me. They were paying me more money than I had ever been paid, and I felt it was my duty to offer up my life in return. I was loyal to the end, no matter what that meant, and everyone knew that I was the favorite employee; I could do no wrong.
Until I did the unforgivable – something so awful, so hideous and disloyal that it had enormous and shattering consequences. I had a baby.

I took 3 months maternity leave, working right through it, at home and sometimes in the office. Aware of the fear in my employer’s eyes that I might decide to stop putting my job first, I had written a mission statement for my maternity leave that was worthy of the war plans for Desert Storm. I hired a nanny at 6 weeks and tried to ignore the new feelings I had that were shaking up my priorities.

5 months later, when my husband picked me up from work, I hated my job. My bosses didn’t like what was happening, and my morale was low, and getting lower. To my female boss, babies were like kryptonite – I believe that she feared them because they took away her powers – and she couldn’t understand why I would want one. To the male boss, I was just lazy. He wondered why I needed to leave work at 5:30? Why did I have to take time out to go to the pediatrician? Why did my baby have to come to work with me when the first nanny quit? Why couldn’t I work on the weekends? Why didn’t I see this before?
This was not where I wanted to be.

I had been through two nannies by that point, and the one we had now was a nice woman whom I trusted, sort of, but of whom I was exceedingly jealous. She got to see my daughter all day long, whereas I got to see my daughter for 1 ½ hours in the morning, and then again in the evening.

I was not becoming a confident mother. I was actually afraid to spend an entire day with my baby, not being very familiar with her, and used to someone else making decisions about her day. She cried when the nanny left, but never cried when I left. I videotaped the nanny every day and watched 10 hours of tape on fast forward, every night, looking for signs of neglect or abuse, but mostly just re-living my daughter’s day.

It was not where I wanted to be.

That day in August, sitting in the car with my husband, I felt there was no way out. A lifestyle I enjoyed just 15 months ago, was now a prison. How did other working mothers do this? Should I just accept my role as CEO but not participant in my daughter’s life? Should I just shut out this part? Seek therapy to learn to accept it? I still don’t know the answer to that question.

My husband, baby daughter and I are now living in the country -- the most country of country you can imagine. Why my family is here is clear; we did this to raise our daughter without the aid of caretakers, or rather, without a caretaker raising her instead of me.

Our doctor says, ‘You are lucky to be able to do this," but I don’t think it is luck. As a matter of fact, that takes away any value I attach to this decision. It’s a risk, and I guess that’s why I have that kind of walking - on - a - tightrope - high - in - the - sky feeling to my life. Luck would have been winning the lottery and then being able to live without the fears and worries that come with a life altering decision. This is Risk, honey, and it doesn’t feel as easy as I imagine luck would.

We’ve been living in the country now for over 7 months. We work on our business seven days a week, and take turns caring for our daughter full time. We have almost no friends, have an awful time trying to find time to work, we’re always behind and lacking in sleep, and both families wish we’d just get real jobs. Not much has gone smoothly since that decision one year ago; and that has become "business as usual". Oh, except one thing. Now my daughter has a FIT when I leave the room, and a part of me just has to smile.

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