Sunday, December 5, 2010

Not Nice

I recently ran into an old coworker at the grocery store. The last time I'd seen her I was six months pregnant and she was leaving our organization after having landed some version of her dream job. Now my thirteen-month-old peered up at her from behind my legs.

"Is this your daughter?" she asked.

"It sure is," I said.

She gave the requisite compliments. I asked about her job and she gave me a brief summary of its pros and cons.

"Where are you working now?" she asked.

"I'm still home with this one," I said.

"Wow," she said. "That must be nice."

If you ever want to watch me struggle against my temper, say something to this effect. A common variation:

"You are so lucky to be able to stay home with your baby!"

In fact, my partner and I have made and continue to make a number of very large sacrifices - financial, professional, artistic, and emotional - so that one of us can always be with our daughter. It's a constant struggle that we've prioritized from the beginning. As well as being the best thing I've ever done, it's by far the hardest for a million different reasons.

Let's just say it's a lot of things, but it's certainly not nice. And although I realize there are many people who can't stay home with their small children no matter how much they want to and no matter which way they rearrange their lives, these are never the folks who call me lucky. Luck has a part to play in everyone's life, yes, but I promise you that's an entirely different conversation than the one being rudely, wrongly, and self-servingly assumed in these instances.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In Praise of Co-workers

One of the hardest things about swapping a day job for stay-at-home parenthood for me has been the lack of co-workers. I miss the automatic interpersonal perks and challenges of seeing the same people on a regular basis, of striving to accomplish tasks with and sometimes in spite of them, of sharing a common professional environment, experience, and set of inside jokes. In my adult life, work friends have always been invaluable.

Which is why, I suppose, so many new parents sign up for groups and classes. Joining can provide much needed structure, support, and social interaction for those embarking on an all-consuming, high-stakes new way of life.

I get it. I totally do.

And I wanted nothing to do with it when my daughter was born.

I doubt that acquaintances peg me as an introvert. My friends and family often reject it as an appropriate descriptor for me. It's true that I'm friendly, that I enjoy people and good conversation and many aspects of socializing, but I absolutely love being alone. Anything that involves mingling is nothing I want to attend. Groups larger than five stress me out, whether comprised of close friends or strangers. I hate using the phone; lack of access to facial expressions and other physical cues renders me hopelessly awkward. I realize that I'm not an extreme introvert by any stretch - I adore spending time with my family or a few close friends, and I tend to enjoy even gigantic parties to some degree once I acclimate to the scene - but I identify with term for very real reasons.

My tendency towards introversion became more intense right after my daughter was born. Although the general consensus is that new mothers benefit from participating in parenting groups or mama-baby yoga classes or some sort of activity along those lines, I was far from interested. "The last thing I need is to spend more time talking about being a parent," I'd tell my partner. Or, "Just because someone has kids doesn't mean I want to hang out with them." Or, "I didn't like yoga classes before I had the baby, so I don't imagine bringing a fussy infant along would make it suddenly my favorite thing."

I was drained all the time and impressed if I managed to care for the baby and feed myself throughout the day; the last thing I needed was an appointment hanging over my head, much less one that entailed presenting my bedraggled self to new people. On top of that, the idea of going out of my way to further self-identify as a mother when motherhood was swallowing my life whole in the first place seemed ass-backwards. What I needed was a break from the baby. Some time alone. The chance to read a book. A drink at a bar with a friend. A walk without the dog. Anything that had nothing to do with being a caregiver. 

Now I see that the one-two punch of endless exhaustion and no free time might have been assuaged by the regular company of those experiencing the same challenges in service of the same goal. Like co-workers, stay-at-home parents share a line of work, speak a kind of jargon, and are generally eager to commiserate and trade notes, all of which provide some serious mental health benefits. It's true that I needed free time and sleep more than anything, but I didn't get either by not joining a new mothers' weekly stroller stroll (which I just made up but I'm sure exists). I wish I had handled my reticence about new parent activities the same way I've learned to handle my reticence about parties and other large, mingle-y gatherings: if any small part of me thinks it could be fun, I ignore my introverted self and just go.

Which, like everything, is much easier to do now that I get more than two hours of sleep at a stretch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dear IUP Readers:

I've been kicking around a few new ideas for this blog.
Mostly I'm thinking advice column.
Shall we try it? Let's try it!

If you're looking for a second opinion and would like to hear from IUP, lay out your situation/question/dilemma/concern in an email. I'll take it from there and we'll see how things go.

NOTE: Your correspondence will be re-posted here if chosen for a public response. Signatures will not be altered, although IUP will confirm before publishing anyone's full name or other potentially confidential information.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Little Monsters (Part Four)

Parts One, Two, and Three attempted to share the fodder behind my recent mediations on public parenting and the judging that ensues. Over the course of these posts, a bunch of really smart and thoughtful people chimed in with their comments and enriched this raw material into a meaty and complex conversation. No one was more thrilled than I, not only because I appreciate the feedback and added energy of readers but also because such comments help me to continue sussing out whatever topic is foremost on my mind and therefore under examination here.

As I've mentioned before, my primary reason for writing this blog is to provide myself with a place to process the trickier points of being a parent in the world in general and a stay-at-home feminist mother in particular. I'm happy to report that so far the author's mental health benefits are very real. Whatever frustration, angst, hurt, and/or confusion inspires me to sit down and compose a post in the first place dwindles by the time I share it via the internets. It tends to dissolve completely when others offer their points of view.

Which is to say that I'm feeling pretty calm about the whole being-judged-as-a-parent thing right about now. I found some kind of resonance in every perspective that was posted, whether or not I agree with each comment completely. This resonance reminded me that although different people, with our different personalities, often have different ideas of what's appropriate and helpful in any given situation, the majority of us are at least trying.

Maybe that's what's so frustrating. We're all trying and yet we so often find one another grating. Do we care too much? Should those of us who feel incessantly judged stop caring so much about what other people think? When we're irritated or inconvenienced by friends, family, or strangers and their rotten kids, should we take a deep breath and chuckle at the dynamic spectacle that is public life? Should we quash the voice inside our heads that automatically assumes we know better than the next person how to raise children and supplant it with a more humble, empathetic gremlin?

I believe the saying is, "Live and let live." Or, more succinctly, "Relax."

It's nice to know that most people have concern for the health and well-being of children in general.

It's a pain in the ass that different people have different boundaries regarding their concern for the health and well-being of children in general.

It's too bad that some people don't concern themselves with the health and well-being of their own children.

It's impressive but rare that people exhibit the grace to support parents instead of issuing criticisms or attempting to usurp their authority, tactics that are certain only to alienate and enrage.

As Bree suggested, perhaps the best approach is to "offer a kind word, a helping hand, and try your best to keep the judgemental tone out of your voice whether you have kids or not."

I suggest a quick and easy self-administered pre-test for those on the verge of jumping into the raucous parenting moments of others. As a parent, I always appreciate and warm to offers of support. Unsolicited help, on the other hand, tends to piss me off. I'll let you, dear reader, chew on that one yourselves, but here's a hint: the difference is a simple matter of intention, and no one likes being condescended to or colonized. We all think we know better, but that's missing the point completely.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


This blog has been rendezvousing at Psych Central. I'll soon be referencing a bunch of comments that were posted to that site but cannot be read here. If you'd like to read up on those conversations and/or add your own thoughts, please go ahead and visit my reposts of The Handsome Daughter, Little Monsters (Part One), and Little Monsters (Part Two).

Little Monsters (Part Four) coming soon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Little Monsters (Part Three)

Not long after the incident recounted in Part Two of this Little Monsters series, I received the latest installment of the Growing Parent Newsletter from Growing Child. In a piece entitled "Needed: The support of others," Carol Gestwicki gives calm and clear voice to a perspective I'd been needing to hear for months. I can't help but quote her at length. She writes:
A friend recently sent me a link to a blog that started with a mother asking the advice of others about how to travel with her several small children across the country by plane during the holidays— to visit a sick father, as it turned out.

What was fairly shocking was the amount of virulent anti-child feeling that her question elicited.

Readers responded with comments such as she should just stay home, and why didn’t she think of that before she had the children?

Now, granted, I have had my share of annoying experiences with kids kicking the back of my seat and wailing babies. But the idea that parents and their children do not have the right to participate in the world with the rest of us is deplorable.

There is probably not a one of us who has not felt the grip of desperation when our young children just were unable to be reasonable and self-controlled when out in public.

For whatever reason, perhaps fatigue and strangeness made them into persons with whom we would rather not have admitted kinship.

Surely those of us who are not currently in the throes of parenting young children can have a modicum of sympathy for those parents who are trying to get through an experience with their sometimes-out-of-control offspring.

Whatever happened to the notion that we’re all in this together, that those of us who are coping okay can lend a hand to those who need some extra help?

Parents are able to do their best job of being patient when they feel supported, not harassed.

When children feel that their parents are calm and in control, that helps them remember the life lessons they are gradually learning about appropriate behavior.

Why should parents even have to ask for the help and tolerance of onlookers, who have no doubt been in similar positions at some point in their lives?

Surely as a people we have not become so caught up in our own lives and preferences that we cannot help and support parents in doing their most important work -- guiding their young children and getting them through new or difficult situations.

Certainly it is difficult to not turn around and see where all the noise is coming from in a public setting. And it is human nature to wonder why someone is not tending to that child. And yet, a moment’s reflection will bring to mind with a memorable clarity those moments when we were close enough to that situation to see (or be) the parent trying everything possible to soothe a distressed baby or child.

So, whether you are a parent who has found yourself in situations where you desperately feel the need for help and support, or someone who could easily give that help (rather than disapproval), let’s remember that it is in the best interests of us all to help children feel that the world around them supports them and their parents.

Then they will want to become a part of that loving community, and we all are strengthened.

I felt a tremendous sense of relief after reading this. It was as if someone had taken the jumbled, exhausted mess of my thoughts, tended to them with patience and loving care, and now here they were again, clean and freshly pressed after a good long nap, hair combed and everything. "That's my post," I thought. "That's what I wanted to say."

But something was off. It seemed ... so simple. Suspiciously simple. Was it really this simple?

Of course not.

If human beings were regularly as even-keeled, forgiving, unselfish, and kind as Gestwicki invites us to be, things would be verging on world peace. I suppose her vision is possible in the same way that peace is possible - anything is possible, right? - but an honest look at history makes certain idealistic visions seem more than a bit naive.

Which is not to say we shouldn't give voice to such optimism, strive for it ourselves, and urge others to do so as well. I return to Gestwicki's words again and again the way my daughter seeks out her blankie when she's running low on her usual confidence and energy. And as we all know, having a blankie is golden.

Still, blankie or no blankie, we must cope with the real world. Which is to say: here comes the series finale, better known as Part Four.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Little Monsters (Part Two)

After weeks of avoiding the question of who – if anyone – has the right to judge the relative success or failure of parents, I had an experience that bumped the subject to the forefront of my mind.

What was intended to be a brief, last-minute trip to the grocery store before my daughter's dinner, bath, and bedtime turned into a late-running, lengthy fiasco thanks to rush hour traffic and a glut of people with the same idea. As I wove my shopping cart through the congested aisles, I couldn't help but notice the same black-haired, blue-eyed boy over and over again; seven years old but already strikingly handsome, this kid was tearing around the store, parting the crowd everywhere he went with a child-sized cart-cum-battering ram. A little sister rushed after him, always a few steps behind but positively glowing with admiration and exhilaration. Then the father, also handsome but less striking for his lack of devilish glee, which appeared to have been replaced with a willfully vacant stare and hangdog mug. Not once did I see him speak to or look at either of his children. In fact, the only thing connecting him to these kids was their undeniable resemblance and vague but consistent conga line.

By the time I was ready to check out, my daughter was hungry and tired and on the verge. The lines were depressingly long so I looked for one harboring babies or small children, knowing the very sight of other kids is usually enough to keep mine entertained. There in the nearest line were those mischievous blue eyes, so I maneuvered into position behind him and his family.

All went according to plan until my daughter, now out of the cart and nestled in my arms for a better view of the kids, turned her head suddenly and cracked it against mine. After ten dreadful seconds of silent, wide-eyed, open-mouthed limbo, she unleashed her most devastated/devastating caliber and decibel of screaming sobs.

Yes, the entire store seemed to hush and turn in unison horror towards us. (I'm pretty sure this actually happened.) Yes, it was stressful and uncomfortable and embarrassing, but I decided to ignore my surroundings as best I could and focus on comforting my overextended baby. The boy and his sister were staring, so I smiled at them and hoped they might take up the cause of cheering her.

This is not what happened. Instead, the boy's watchful expression spread into a roguish sneer. He turned to his little sister, took a deep breath, and let out a fake wail. "Wah!" he jeered. "WAHHHH!" His sister's eyes widened. Then she grinned hugely and joined in, the two of them giggling and mocking with wicked delight.

I was completely taken off guard by their meanness. For a moment I dared to hope that their teasing would accidentally entertain and soothe my unhappy child, but it only freaked her out on top of everything else. I checked my anger by telling myself that these were just kids being kids, that they didn't know any better, but these thoughts inspired questions: Where's the adult? Why isn't anyone stepping in to stop them from taunting a crying baby and explain why such behavior is unacceptable?

Suddenly I remembered the man - the one I assumed was their father - and looked for him. There he was, still waiting in line, standing less than a foot in front of his kids, averting his eyes and doing his best to appear preternaturally oblivious to the chaos that was unfolding directly beside him.

My anger grew. I turned away from the kids and began murmuring to my daughter. The woman in line behind me caught my eye and smiled, shaking her head. She motioned toward the little boy. "Ugh," she said.

"At least my disruption's still a baby," I said, a little louder than necessary. "I wonder what their excuse is."

Needless to say, this interaction got me thinking about the whole judging-of-parents question once more. And then, like magic, more inspiration fell into my lap. Again, stay tuned.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Little Monsters (Part One)

I've been planning to tackle the ever-popular question of whether or not "non-parents" are entitled to judge the technique and misbehaving children of "parents." Such a post has been requested by a bunch of people, some who have children and some who do not.

For instance, when I began kicking around the idea of starting a blog about the bizarre social consequences of becoming a parent, my friend Sarah wrote:
I have seen some weird *ss mothering in SF. Unfortunately, a few situations that have haunted me over the years. I have also gotten into fights with friends about parenting--which is the worst, especially when I am told I have no moral authority because I "don't have a child." I call this the Puritan vs the Quaker fight. Puritans don't take their children to fancy restaurants and let them bawl and scream at the top of their lungs (that's what family restaurants were created for). Quakers feel it is important to let children do as they like wherever and whenever. I am of the camp to take children outside, to the car, to the bathroom (anywhere that won't interfere with other diners/people's ear drums) and let said child express themselves--which is sort of a combination parenting of Quaker and Puritan because let's face it, melt-downs do happen. Having to avoid friends that don't have what I consider to be social boundaries when it comes to their kids is a very confusing place to be.

Sarah's musings soured me on the subject for awhile. It’s not that I disagree with her necessarily; her characterization of a Puritan and Quaker parenting binary is certainly funny and as good a place to start as any.

No, my problem is that you'd be hard-pressed to find a parent more uncomfortable with unleashing her child's soul-shattering screams upon the public than I. If there was a way to avoid such experiences completely, I’d have found it long ago. While I strive to be graceful in the face of my daughter’s public meltdowns, I continue to struggle with this aspect of parenting.

Sarah’s comment reminded me not only that most people claim the moral authority to judge parents, but also that different people have different standards for pretty much everything. What is a “fancy” restaurant? When is a child “interfering”? It’s these discrepancies more than anything that freak out the people-pleasing part of me since they are the source of certain extremely unpleasant interactions, a.k.a. conflicts. The task of revisiting those times when my daughter has caused a public disruption, not to mention the probable judgments such disruptions evoked from strangers, is particularly unappealing to me.

Still, the topic lingered, dormant but humming in the back of my mind. More impressively, it seemed to follow me around for a time, giving me more than enough fodder for a multi-part blog post. Which is to say: stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Handsome Daughter

One of the first issues that arose during my pregnancy was whether or not we were going to find out the baby's sex before birth. I didn't especially want to but my partner really did, and when he suggested half-jokingly that he could find out and keep it to himself I decided to go ahead and ruin the surprise with him. We'd find out eventually anyway, he rationalized; what would a few months earlier or later change? (I'm pretty sure it's about the method of discovery and not the timing, but anyway.)

Once I'd signed on, I really looked forward to the possibility of the baby not crossing its legs during our one ultrasound. I had wanted to wait partly because I love surprises and partly because I didn't want to give false weight to our child's male- or female-ness. In the end, I realized that our excitement didn't stem from a specific desire to know the sex of our child but a general desire to know something. We had no interest in stocking up on gender-specific clothes and toys and decorations for a nursery ahead of time, no need to narrow down baby names as soon as possible; we just wanted a piece of concrete information around which we could daydream for the second half of my pregnancy.

Still, there's no escaping it. Gender and all its weird trappings rear their heads even before birth and just keep on rearing once the baby arrives, whether or not the mama consents.

Let me interrupt myself here to say that I could go on and on and on about gender. It's a hugely challenging and endlessly intriguing topic, and more often than not I am infuriated by the way gender expectations play out in my life, the lives of my loved ones, and society as a whole. In other words, I could spout off about gender and parenting all day long, but not much of it would be news to anyone I respect. Instead, I've decided to share the two biggest lessons I've learned about gender since becoming a parent.

First of all, having a little girl has taught me that boy = infant neutral. Babies, with their no hair or short hair, are assumed to be male barring the conspicuous addition of some explicitly feminine indicator/signal. My daughter is mistaken over and over again for a boy even when wearing mildly feminine garb. At ten months, she is just now beginning to cultivate enough hair to be automatically perceived by some as female. I'm sure there are female babies that somehow look particularly like little girls without any extra adornment, but I'm also sure that they are in the vast minority.

Given this early androgyny amongst the baby set, it's surprisingly rare for strangers to come right out and ask, "Boy or girl?" I had always assumed that the only reason parents would dress their babies in nothing but boringly explicit "gender-appropriate" clothing is because they themselves are utterly unimaginative. While this might be true in many cases, after the first dozen consecutive times that my neutrally-dressed daughter was taken for a boy, I amended my judgment to include parents who find it disturbing to have their child mistaken for the opposite sex. Then, one particularly exhausted morning, I caught myself sorting through my daughter's baby clothes in search of something identifiably girly. Upon self-cross-examination, I realized that we had to go out and run errands and I didn't feel like dealing with the irritation of strangers.

Which leads me to lesson number two. I enjoy dressing my child in all sorts of clothes and I don't have any problem with her being mistaken for a boy, but strangers often grow offended and irritated if they can't guess the sex of my child. Gender-specific clothing is a social shortcut that allows strangers to gracefully apply pronouns and adjectives to an infant they don't know. It's not just parents who find such such social cues important; lots of people expect parents to offer enough hints for them to make accurate gender assumptions without too much effort. Furthermore, if parents don't do this - especially mothers, since fathers can be forgiven for not knowing how to "properly" dress their children - there will be embarrassment, dirty looks, and even scolding.

I don't know why this surprised me, given that androgyny and other challenges to gender norms are most often met with extreme discomfort and sometimes with violence. Perhaps I naively assumed that infants would get a pass from society's bizarre intensity around this stuff for at least the first year of their lives. In a way they do, since it's adults who dress them and are either rewarded or punished for their choices. That the weight of such judgments will eventually shift to my daughter - and probably sooner than I imagine - is a reality amongst so many that give me the chills.

But for now I can be a buffer. My kid is gorgeous. Handsome. The best-looking baby around. Her favorite book this week is "My Little Toolbox" and her favorite toys are a squeaky dog ball, a mirror, and plum-colored sequined tank top that her mother bought a decade ago but never had the guts to wear and so lets her drag around the house. She is lanky and strong, stubborn and charming, and completely unconcerned about making other people comfortable. All she cares about is learning to walk. And soon she'll start picking out her own clothes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Why would I want to push my baby away from me?"

A dear friend of mine is getting married this weekend. I have a dress to wear but no shoes to match so I stopped at one of my favorite stores to see if they had in stock a pair I've admired online. Instead of putting my daughter in her stroller or carrier, I pulled her out of the car and hitched her straight onto my hip. She's a real active, fidgety baby and if you're going to strap her into something you'd better be damn sure to stay in motion or else she'll flip her little lid. Shoe shopping requires all sorts of side entertainment best achieved if said baby is not physically restrained.

On my way to the pay-to-park box, I passed two young women standing on the sidewalk holding clipboards. They flashed broad smiles and one said, "Do you have a minute for women's rights?" And I laughed because, well, it's such a terrible question and ironic for me and it's designed to paint you into a corner. I muttered, "If I had a nickel..." and they looked confused so I just kept walking. But the parking box was within earshot and as I waited for my ticket, the same women shouted, "Hey, thank you for carrying your baby!" I must have made a face because she gave me a very earnest expression and said, "I'm serious. Thank you!"

Now, look. When I was pregnant, my partner and I agreed to buy as few things as possible in preparation for the baby. No registry or anything. We figured we'd rather find out from experience what we really needed before ending up with a pile of unused stuff. One of our more scandalous decisions was to forgo purchasing a stroller. Our baby was due in autumn, which meant a long Chicago winter would keep us mostly indoors until she was at least six months old. At that point she'd be big enough for the more affordable umbrella-type strollers, so we'd wait and buy one of those when the time came. We daydreamed about carrying our tiny baby from place to place or wrapping her securely against our chests, and that's exactly what we did. It became a huge joke of ours to scoff privately at every stroller we saw. "Disgusting!" we'd say. "That poor child! His parents don't even want to hold him." (We think we're very funny.)

But now we have a stroller and we use the hell out of it. There were times in our first few months of parenthood when some kind of stroller would've come in handy, but I'm glad we waited for two big reasons. First of all, when we finally bought a stroller, we knew exactly which one we wanted and why. Secondly, we got used to carrying around our baby, she got used to being carried around, and we still default to carrying her on a regular basis.

So when this stranger thanked me for carrying my baby, my first thought was that she's a little anti-stroller, too. But then I wondered if I was projecting. Was she referring to the fact that I "carried" my baby during pregnancy? That would be a big assumption on her part, but big assumptions are not a rarity, unfortunately. Then I realized that it didn't matter what she meant because, in the end, I just wanted to beg this woman to stop saying weird shit to me. Why was she thanking me? I don't doubt that she had good intentions - everyone does, it seems - but come on. Let's have a lesson:

ACCEPTABLE: "It's nice that you carry your baby. I don't see that very often."
ACCEPTABLE: "She's the first baby I've seen all day who's not in a stroller!"
ACCEPTABLE: "That baby looks happy to be up there with you."

I know. It's such a small thing. Perhaps she was trying to give me a compliment and it came out sounding condescending. Not the end of the world, but being condescended to - even lightly - is gross no matter what. Being condescended to regarding my choices as a parent makes me a little growly. And it happens all the time.

And the beautiful shoes are unbelievably uncomfortable. Boo.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What It Is

I'm definitely conflicted about my decision to write what might very easily be categorized as a parenting blog. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit right now to being a default hater of all things contemporary yuppie parenting and, as far as I'm concerned, writing a parenting blog is as quintessentially contemporary yuppie parent as it gets.

My great disdain is, of course, a fallacy. There are plenty of nifty trends and gadgets and consumables and communities and perfectly nice people that come out of this culture. Again in the interest of full disclosure, I am currently shopping for a used Ergo even though we own a used Baby Bjorn (baby girl's grown too big for it) and a Moby wrap (I can't wrap her onto my back without assistance). Considering my family of two adults and one baby will soon have three baby carriers, who am I to judge?

Still, the whole blog thing is a real eye-roller for me. Sure, I'm a writer with a degree in Women's Studies and a history of social activism who recoils at the idea of joining a parenting group and really just wants some quiet time to myself so I can nurture good creative habits and process the more mystifying experiences of my full-time parenthood .... all of which make this blog an almost natural choice.

But I want to be clear about my goals from the inset. My intention is not to document my daughter's youth nor my own parenthood. It is not to rely on this forum as my sole writing practice or my primary source of dialogue and wisdom-sharing between friends and strangers. I do hope that all these things happen organically to some extent, but my main reason for starting this blog is to empower myself as a cultural critic. More and more, I feel the need to shore myself up against certain elements of society that say and do the darnedest things to those of us raising kids. I guess you could say that my goal here is mental health.

Speaking of which, I'm going to go watch that new episode of Mad Men and eat pizza with my partner, who upon hearing that I'm actually going through with this blog said, "Oh good! I thought you'd chicken out." Sigh, me too.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

If I Had A Blog, It Might Go Something Like This

Mad Men is one of the few television shows I enjoy and possibly the only show my partner and I both love. I'm excited for the new season and have been indulging in media hype such as this problematically summarized compilation of video clips in The New York Times.

Ah, the Motherlode column. By now I should know it's best to steer clear of this tinderbox unless I'm determined to ruin my own day, nay, week. In my defense, I clicked on the link seeing only its relation to Mad Men and not realizing that, as a Motherlode column, it is essentially a shit-starting talking point followed so immediately by readers' comments that it's hard to distinguish between the two. As someone who makes it a point to refrain from readers' comments on most internet forums, I will say that discussions appear to stay relatively civil and intelligent on the Times website. For instance:
If only women would respect that it is a choice. And by choice, I mean staying home with the kids versus working. I have a friend who looks down on stay at home moms, says that they're wasting their lives by not working outside the home. The previous generation (I'm not yet 30) fought for the right to decide how they live their lives, only to have society swing to the other end of the pendulum and make it seem odd for a woman to want to "just" be a mom.
Okay, good! Rachel from New York City seemed to nip things in the bud with comment 2. I should've stopped there. Instead, feeling heartened, I read my way straight into the toxic ambush of jzzy55's comment 7:
What's wrong with "just being a mom" is that a) you put yourself at great risk of being structurally unemployed and poor should you try to find work and/or get divorced someday, and b) the kids grow up & go away a lot faster than you would ever imagine, and for sure by age 12 or so they don't need you as much unless you have a special needs kid or a huge family.

Then what? It's much better to keep your hand in professionally, at least part-time, than to allow yourself to become unemployable. Now, if you assume you won't ever need or want to work again, that's another thing entirely.

I think many of the moms who didn't go insane at home raising kids in the 50s and 60s were able to keep it together because they were going to college part-time or had little jobs that eventually grew into bigger ones.

Anyone who thinks he or she can just hop right back into the job market when the last kid treks off to HS or college is delusional. We don't have that kind of economy anymore. You are taking a huge risk by removing yourself from the work world for years and years. A very huge risk.

We used to say, "You're only a man away from welfare" regarding the SAHM. And now we don't even have welfare in the old sense of the term! Unless you have independent means or you signed a prenup that guarantees you a big fat monthly alimony with COL raises for the rest of your life (and you're 100% sure your spouse will always be good for it, which is another risky assumption these days), boy are you playing with fire.

And you know who will suffer -- those kids you stayed home for.
Where do I begin? There's the use of words like unemployable, insane, and delusional. There's the fear-mongering, the overgeneralized worst case scenarios presented as reality, and the appropriation of some very real concerns to a decidedly limited outlook. There is the assumption that being a stay-at-home parent means having absolutely no professional life until the kids are in high school or college. There is the complete lack of creativity in this person's approach to cultural restrictions.

Right now I need to eat a very late dinner and start heading to bed. Nine months into parenthood, I still find it nearly impossible to go to sleep before midnight. In spite of exhaustion, interrupted sleep, and the nonnegotiable 7 a.m. alarm that is my daughter, I remain a night owl.

And in spite of being an unemployed stay-at-home mom with a breadwinning male partner, I remain a feminist. The decision to step away from one's career to be a full-time parent carries all sorts of complicated risks in contemporary American society - just the stress of dealing with people's weird assumptions, judgments, and statements is enough to break a person's spirit and drive them to start a blog, for instance - but this was my choice and I'm confident and proud of it. I am many other unglamorous and awkward things because of it, but confident and proud remain.

If that last sentence doesn't scream feminism, I don't know what does.