Stairs

(And, yes, that stairwell is real.)

by Hadley Duncan Howard

I stayed up nearly all night, glued to the television. It was Election Night 2000, the night that no news network could predict or call a clear victor in the presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. I stayed with my favorite newsman and commentator, NBC’s late Tim Russert, all night long as he so brilliantly drew pictures of the Electoral College on a whiteboard and repeated “Florida, Florida, Florida.” It was the night we all learned about red states and blue states and “hanging chads.” Oh, I loved that night. I had politics on the brain in those days.

I finally succumbed to sleep around 3am, still wondering who our next president would be, eager for the news day to come. So it was very odd, to say nothing of totally unexpected, to have one of the most profound visions of my life in the next 90 minutes. And it had nothing to do with politics or public relations (also on the brain for about 70 hours each week). It was as if God were saying, “We interrupt this programming for these important messages.” I’ll let my journal entry from that night tell the story:

November 7, 2000

4:36am

Election Day

I just had a dream. I was startled awake with palms literally dripping wet. Whoa – talk about a metaphor.

I was on a ladder, well, stairs, actually, that went up along a wall. The stairs were steep and very, very narrow and had no railing. I was climbing up the stairs, and about half way up, I noticed that I had a baby in my arms. I also noticed that Baby was becoming increasingly difficult to carry, particularly to balance. It was incredibly hard and frightening to try to balance myself and the baby while on these stairs with no railing. I was trying to balance Baby on my outer hip while climbing, but was too afraid to hang Baby over the edge like that. I couldn’t use my inner hip because I’d then fall off the stairs. I started to panic. I was sure I’d drop Baby. I was holding Baby away from me by the horizontal seam from armpit to armpit on the baby’s knit outfit, and oddly, Baby was commenting on the quality of seams these days. The seam started to tear and I was losing my grip on Baby very quickly. I was panicking but didn’t even think to move. In the room where the stairs were, were women of all kinds. I was yelling and screaming “Someone catch my baby! I’m going to drop her!” But nobody seemed to hear me. I was scared to death that I’d drop my baby, but didn’t move down the stairs. I was just seconds away from my baby slipping out of my hands, when a petite young woman in a tan, belted shirtwaist dress (she had long, curly red hair) quietly walked to the base of the stairs, away from where I was at the top, and calmly said (as if it were so evident), “Come down from the stairs.” I said I couldn’t, wouldn’t she just catch my baby? She just quietly repeated herself, “Come down from the stairs.” So I did. Coming down the stairs was also very scary for purposes of balancing, but I came down abruptly and at once. Once on the floor, I slid down the wall into a heap on the floor and started to cry. I was filled with fear and guilt and shame. My baby was fine.

That dream is burned in my memory; I can still see exactly what it looked like and hear the calm entreaty of the young woman. I knew instantly and with very great certainty that this was a message to me from God.

I was single and childless and living alone.

But a couple years later, newly married (and still childless), I quit my soul-killing PR job. I walked away from the kind of life that drops babies.

Yet, I still work – yes, I’m a working mother. I choose to work, primarily because I feel that this is what God has in mind for me. And so with every opportunity, every possibility, every potential client or position, I weigh my needs and desires against the dream. Will this opportunity feed my soul, allow me to express myself and spend time with my passions? Will it energize me, so that when I’m home I can be totally present with my children? Or will it drain me, so that I’ll come home and crash? Will this job serve both masters: my desire to work outside the home as well as my desire to be an excellent mother? If the answer is no, something has to give. And it will never be my children.

Perhaps I’ve made some unconventional career choices; certainly, I’ve negotiated family-friendly terms and conditions, and followed the Spirit rather than the money. While I’m very proud of my impressive resume, I know that I’m unlikely to add the kind of titles to it that will bring in six figures. I enjoy my work, I love mothering, and I’m satisfied with that trade-off. My vision of the stairs was unmistakable revelation – personal revelation – and so my choices are personal. Perhaps other mothers, having received different and totally individual personal revelation, would make other choices. That’s okay.

But one of the several ways I know that God’s plan for me is to be a working mother is that He warned me of the dangers of the 70-hour workweek in relation to mothering. If I were never going to work again, He wouldn’t need to alert me to keep off the stairs – that ladder-climbing and child-rearing are incompatible for me, that Iwould struggle with balance, that I would drop my baby. If I were never going to work again, He would have sent me a different dream, or no dream at all. The dream He sent was counsel for me, a working mother.

In my dream, the room was full of women in professional dress. And there were babies. But the babies were on the floor, at the bottom of the stairs. The message to me was clear: Don’t climb too high; balance and height are incompatible for you; keep yourself grounded, focused and accessible; this is where there are no regrets.

He counseled me in working motherhood. He did not counsel me out of working motherhood.

And so, as I navigate my professional path, I keep these things in mind. I expect, in one way or another, I’ll always work and, certainly, I’ll always be a mother. God has lovingly shown me how – for me – these two heaven-endorsed endeavors can peacefully coexist. So far, so good.

(And, by the way, since becoming a mother, politics has completely lost its luster for me. I’ve now got more important concerns keeping me up at night. But, oh, the memories are sweet.)

4 Comments on “Stairs

  1. Very powerful, Hadley! Each one of us has to find our own path. Oh, and Tim Russert was one of our favorites too.

  2. Thank you! I’m working full-time with a one-year-old, continuing a successful decade-long career, but with the upcoming baby I know deep in my heart that the balance must shift. In a way, I fear disappointing my “Lean In”-minded sisters by not aggressively pursuing career glory first and foremost. I fear they’ll think I’m weak-minded or just not strong enough. But taking that path would be deeply wrong for me. Because although I don’t relish the idea of doing less-interesting part-time work or unpredictable consulting jobs, and I’ll miss seeing large paychecks go into our bank accounts, when I think of leaving two kids to work 40(+) hours away from home, life looks dark and chaotic. I love hearing how you have chosen what to take on and what to turn down. Thank you, again, for sharing your thoughts and experience.

  3. I felt the anxiety of this dream with you. Don’t drop baby.

    (I remember that election, too. Sitting on the edge of my coffee table in my apt watching the news spin around. But now, now it’s like an endless circle of nonsense to me.)

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this very personal post. I think we must all remember that most of the women (and men) in our lives are trying their best, are doing what they can under current circumstances, and are probably consulting the Lord on what He has in mind for them and their families. Less room for judgement by us all, more room for solidarity and emotional support.

    xox

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