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.