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`It was a relief to be clear on what I really wanted to do ...'

After Vicky Keiser's first child was born six years ago, she took a year off from her job in marketing and computer systems. She returned on a part-time basis, working three days a week, until family concerns forced a reassessment of her priorities. ``Because I had flexibility with working on a computer, I was going to work at 4 in the morning so I'd be back just as Jenny came out of nursery school,'' she explains. ``I could put in an eight-hour day that way. I started realizing the crazy lengths I was going to, just to make it all work out.

``It was a relief to be clear on what I really wanted to do, and to enjoy that time at home.''

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Now the mother of two daughters, aged 6 and 1, Mrs. Keiser serves as board president for a volunteer parent-support group at Boston hospitals, helping families with high-risk pregnancies.

``I know a bunch of women who are working who envy me. There's a certain amount of envy on both sides. When I'm talking to a friend and hear about the high-power existence she's in ... I know there's a certain lure to it, and a part of me misses it. But at the same time she's saying, `Oh, I'd love to be home.'

``I missed contact with adults - not only the female company, but also the male company, the camaraderie. That's why I do volunteer work. I don't think I could be home all the time without having something that was my project.

``I miss having a salary. After always having my own checking account, it's weird to have to ask my husband for money. It's very easy when you stop working to have the power balance shift. Even though you no longer have a salary, it's important that you keep a balanced arrangement.

``People calling me for volunteer projects assume I have a lot of time. When you've decided to be the one at home, you don't have a lot of time. The reason you're home is to be with your children. That's your job, where most of your energy goes. I found myself falling in the trap of being involved in 10 volunteer things - school, League of Women Voters, a hospital project, my church. It took a year of being overcommitted to say no.

``You're respected for what you're doing if you're clear about it. If you're ambivalent, then you present it in a light that people don't think there's much to what you're doing. I tell people, `I've chosen to be home,' not, `I'm not working now.'

``I'm not ambivalent about what I'm doing now, but I want to have a career of my own later on. I can't see myself being 55 and not having something that's my own career. My mother has always worked. I'm sure I'll do something.''

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