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Mastering the Balancing Act

Jobs: Ginger Castillo discovers that working the occasional shift while raising her three children gives her the best of both worlds.


Ginger Castillo quit her job this summer. Her decision wasn't simple--or even as clear-cut--as it might sound. But it was cause for celebration.

On Castillo's final day on the job, her husband, Ruben, sent her a congratulatory bouquet--ordered for $45 from Paul's Flowers in Fullerton. And although the two women didn't meet--Castillo was out for a send-off lunch organized by her Nordstrom co-workers--it was shop owner Lisa Howell who delivered the flowers to Castillo's Brea Mall office.

Castillo decided to leave her job so she could spend more time with her three children--including energetic 2-year-old twins. Her decision grew out of an evolving sense of what would bring happiness to her and her family, and coincided with a reorganization at her workplace.

Castillo, 35, and her husband--who sells paper products--had been weighing the benefits of her job against the costs of being away from the children when Ginger was offered an assignment that she wasn't excited about.

She and Ruben married in 1987, when she was 24. They wanted children, but not right away. "We wanted to buy a house first. We had some goals," Castillo says.

Castillo, who grew up in Fullerton and Temecula, had always been interested in fashion. She worked as a clerk in a dress shop as a teenager; she earned an associate's degree in fashion merchandising from Palomar College in San Marcos.

Her dream: to become a fashion buyer for a major retailer. In 1989, she landed a job selling cosmetics at Nordstrom in Santa Ana. The variety of the work intrigued her. "It's always changing," Castillo says. "Every customer is different. Every face is different."

Castillo worked her way up to manager of the cosmetics department, a job that entailed a lot of hours, from opening until, often, closing. Weekends. Holidays. On the day after Thanksgiving, when much of the rest of the country was shopping or watching football, she was dealing with the crush of customers from behind the counter.

"I had to work the same hours the store was open," Castillo says.

She realized that buyers worked equally hectic schedules, often on the road for days at a time.

After the birth of Gabrielle in 1992, Castillo "began to rethink things," she said. Being a buyer no longer looked as attractive. She transferred from the sales floor to the human resources office for more stable hours.

Two years ago, things changed dramatically: She gave birth to Brooke and Alexandra.

Castillo returned to work in human resources at the Nordstrom in Santa Ana and last year transferred to the Brea Mall location.

In August 1997, she went part time; this summer that job disappeared in a reorganization. She was offered a position training new employees, which did not interest her.

The decision to quit her job began to make more sense.

"I did it so my family could have a better life," Castillo says, during a rare quiet moment in the living room of the family's Fullerton home.

Her decision had its costs too. "Financially, you don't go and have the little extra trips, the extra whatever," Castillo says. "But you make things happen. You make them work."

The days at home are rewarding--and draining.

"A lot of moms wish they could do this. But once you get here, that's the reality check," she says. "The first week, it felt like I was on vacation. [But] you don't get a break. There are days when they're all dragging me around, and it's like, 'Oh, God!'

"I took a yoga class--that was my night to do something. Then I will go out to the Border's Bookshop. You just need that time to get away. I'm not just a mom. I'm me too, and that can slip away when all you're doing all day is sitting on the floor writing with chalk and making peanut butter sandwiches."

Castillo and her husband give their children a lot of freedom to play and explore. One room is dedicated to the kids. It's stripped bare, which makes it an open canvas for imagination. But even play can be exhausting.

"When 9 o'clock comes around, I'm ready to pass out," she says.

Castillo realized she needed--"for peace of mind"--to work outside the home at least part of the time. So she's working an occasional shift when the store is short-staffed. She returned for her first fill-in shift about a month after quitting.

The shift was more celebration than labor, though. The adult company felt good.

"It was like a social hour," Castillo says, with a laugh. She has since worked other shifts and finds that the work still appeals to her. She expects she'll return to full-time work at some point, when the girls are older.

Meanwhile, Castillo has found a balance in her life.

And, flowers or not, that feels very good.

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