When I was single, and before I met my husband, I had a house in Dallas. It was built in 1963. It was on an enormous third-of-an-acre lot with a gorgeous oak tree in the back yard and crepe myrtles so large you could climb them. (I did.) It was a fixer-upper with a mish-mash of floor coverings and a foundation problem. (After over 40 years, the load bearing wall wasn't bearing the load so well anymore.) It was too much for me. I never fixed it up. I did a few cosmetic things: painting, mainly. And my mom, dad, and I converted a screened porch with a sauna (seriously) into a screened porch with bar and a sink. It wasn't perfect. But it was mine, my little third-of-an-acre.
And when I lived in Dallas, before I became a suburban wife and mom, I took the train to work. And it was awesome. Dallas has light rail. I have always been enamored of urban rail lines. Maybe it's because I'm from a small town in East Texas that commuter trains seem very glamorous and modern to me. Maybe, though, it's simply because I hate to drive.
So, even though it sort of smells, I love The Tube in London. DC's Metro is so slick. Chicago's El makes you feel nostalgic for a life you never knew, as you wind around the buildings at mid-level. And the subway in New York? Well, even though I've visited the city more times than I can count on my hand, I've never actually been on the New York Subway . . . but I love the idea of it . . . and Grand Central Station is cool. (My husband, who did live in New York for several years, swears that he damaged his hearing on the Subway, but I digress.)
I like everything else about my life in the suburbs: the fact that the city is small enough to walk just about anywhere, the parks, the running trails, the school district, our house. And, of course, my family. Even the fact that my home is far away from my office downtown makes me happy.
But we're not on a DART Rail line. So when I moved to the 'burbs, I gave up my rail pass and, with it, an hour or more of my day in which I would read books. I would read one or two books a month on the train. It was my decompression time. It was my time to explore the paper world. I felt smarter and more well rounded. I am sure I was more interesting to talk to.
I also liked that I wasn't clogging the freeway with one more tin can, that I wasn't burning all that fossil fuel, and that I was participating in Dallas's urban-ness. Taking the train makes you feel differently about the city you live in. Dallas seemed smaller and easier when I took the train. Need to get downtown? Just hop the rail line, and you're there in less than 30 minutes with no traffic snarls or hassels with parking. You're less likely to head downtown if getting to your destination involves a long drive on a hot and crowded freeway followed by a frustrating search for a $10 parking space.
Now, I drive to work. I've tried books on CD to fill the dead time in the car. It's not the same. I'm not nearly as engaged in the text when I'm listening to a book on CD for all the obvious reasons, not the least of which is that I'm paying attention to traffic. In fact, often, I'm not listening at all. The book is just a sound to cover up the road noise . . . might as well listen to the radio. And the 45 minutes to an hour I spend at the end of each day trying not to die on Interstate 35 exhausts me so much that I am less likely to do the things I need to do to be a healthy human: cook meals, exercise, read books. And it makes me less fun for my husband and son too. I also feel badly about the gas, the pollution. That's the air my boy will breath for the next, let's hope, 100 years or more.
There's a new rail line that extends to a neighboring suburb. I would still have to drive to get there, maybe 15 minutes or so. And then the train ride would be another 40ish minutes. Is it worth it? It might be. Maybe, one week, I will try it . . . .
I miss taking the train.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Sunday, September 25, 2011
This essay, in which I explain my Working Mom premise - and in which I also explain to "no one" how I'm not going to do a blog (never say never) - was written on August 12, 2011.
Today, while pouring 1.5 ounces of breast milk into a common container in an effort to come up with one bottle of milk for my five month old son, I decided to start writing essays about, well, me . . . and my life. This is not a diary. This is not a journal. I don’t write those. I’ve tried to write journals in the past and I find them to be boring and embarrassing. And most importantly, diaries and journals feel narcissistic to me: the opportunity to revel in my own thoughts and feelings and write my own story with no scrutiny or edit or accountability. Who is to say if what I’ve written is true? So I don’t like diaries. I don’t do journals.
These are essays. And they are essays that I am writing as if someone else might actually read them one day. I thought about doing a blog – that’s the thing to do in 2011. But, nah. I’m not interested in being out there immediately with an audience. I need copious opportunity for editing. And I’m not interested in your comments. Isn’t that what blogs are all about, the provocative commentary followed by some give and take in the comments section. I’m not interested in your knee-jerk responses to my spontaneous blatherings. Still, I’m assuming that you’re out there somewhere, my audience.
So anyway. Working Mom.
That’s me. I’m a government trial attorney. I’m 41, almost. I have been married for a little more than three and a half years to my best friend in the world. And we have a five-month-old son who is the cutest baby in the world (I will hear no argument to the contrary).
“Working mom” seems to be a dying breed from my perspective. My female peers at work, with the exception of one mother of teenagers, are either married with no children or single with no children. My son was the first child born to anyone in that office in about a decade. And my peers outside of the office seem to be, more and more, becoming stay at home moms. Women with multiple college degrees are electing to stay home with the kids. Betty Friedan must be spinning in her grave.
And what’s up with that? Why does it seem like career girls aren’t becoming mommies? And why aren’t mommies staying in their careers?
My answer will not be that the Patriarchy is still keeping the women down.
Maybe it’s just coincidental that the gals I work with, by and large, don’t have babies. They haven’t met the right guys yet (the single ones) or have made the life choice not to get married and/or not to have children.
But my own experience of really wanting to get married and have a family, and of not actually getting married until the age of 37, suggests to me that my career choice was somehow incompatible with my life's desires. When I was single, I found it difficult to meet men because I was working all the time. And then the men I did meet were just not right. That being said, I met my husband at the office. So maybe the problem was with me . . . until I met him.
I don’t have much experience with being a stay at home mom, only the 11 weeks I was home on maternity leave. It was hard. Tiring. Fun to hang out with my son. But also enervating. I would get stir crazy. I would miss adult interaction. I spent a lot of time watching crappy TV or surfing the internet, and yet I was unable to get everything I needed to get done done in a day. I developed an unnerving affection for Nate Berkus.
But, being a stay at home mom was never part of my plan. I always intended to have a career. What’s the point of going to law school if I’m not going to be a lawyer? I have a hard time understanding why other women make that choice. When I hear the explanation, which is usually some variation on the theme of “it’s better for my kids,” it implies that, well, my choice to go to work and to put my son in daycare is worse.
And, thus, the root of the Mommy Wars . . . .
But he’s happy at daycare! Even at five months, I know that he loves it. There are times when I go pick him up that I swear he looks disappointed to have to leave. And, by and large, I like being a lawyer. I definitely like having the daily intellectual challenge. And isn’t it better for him if his mom likes what she does? A day spent in court versus a day of squeezing loads of laundry in between awake-times and feedings (and Nate) is a no-brainer choice for me. Am I a selfish mommy, therefore? Because I want that thing for me?
No, I think the real explanation, the unacknowledged and unexpressed one, is that when women make the choice to stay home it is because it is what makes them happy. They would not rather be in court than doing the laundry. Can’t we just be honest about that? It’s not all self-sacrificing and it’s not all “for the kids.” Not 100%. It’s no more 100% for the benefit of their children than my going to work every day is 100% about me earning my salary. There is, in both cases, the very real element of "this is what I want to do." So is it? Are we? Are we all selfish? I guess I don’t really care that much if we’re all selfish. That’s being human. If we have the luxury to make our own paths, we do what we want to do. Let’s just be honest about that. I go to work because I want to work. You’re staying home because you don’t want to work at a traditional jobby job.
But let’s talk about dad.
Here are some things that I do care about: that my husband doesn’t feel over-burdened; that my husband does not resent me; that my husband sees me as his equal partner; that my husband remains healthy and happy and alive for a long, long time; that my husband respects me; that my husband continues to find me interesting.
I’ve not done an empirical study, but it seems obvious to me that it is a lot more stressful to be the only source of income for the family than it is if you are only carrying about fifty percent of the load. It also seems obvious to me that the situation in which one spouse goes to a job and one spouse stays home creates an ideal environment in which to breed resentment when, for instance, the wife gets to hang out with her friends at play dates and the husband has to work until nine at night.
My husband is a wonderful, wonderful man, but he is not a saint. No man is.
So to me, in addition to not being what I want for me, the stay at home mom thing is not what I want for my husband either. I think it would do no good for our relationship.
Maybe it doesn’t happen in families with stay at home moms. Maybe all those dads are no more stressed out than my husband in his companionate, 50/50 marriage. Maybe those dads are fine with bearing 100% of the family economic burden. Nevertheless, there are two things I know: (1) If I were dad, I wouldn’t be fine with it; and (2) I’m not going to do to my husband what I would not countenance being done to me.
Hey, I'm not into the Mommy Wars. Grown ups make choices. Couples negotiate their marriage contracts differently. I've got friends, I've got family, who are stay at home moms. And I love them. I can't say someone else's choices are not right for them. All I can tell you is what is right for me and my boys.
I’m proud to be a working mom.
I swore I’d never do a mommy blog. There are too many mommy blogs. And, mostly, they say nothing, or nothing new. This one will be no different.
Still, here I am six and a half months into motherhood, and I feel the inexorable tug of the echo chamber.
I want to shout into the darkness. And no one may shout back . . . in fact, I don’t think that I even want to hear the echo. But I want to shout.
And, weirdly, that seems to be enough right now.