Friday, October 3, 2008

Questions

I’m currently reading a fascinating book of essays, all written by mothers. It’s called Mommy Wars, edited and compiled by Leslie Morgan Steiner.

As the title predicts, Morgan Steiner sets out to understand why we have an ongoing battle in our society about mothers’ choices. She wanted to gain perspectives from women in each place: those with paying careers and those without, and all the places in between. Are there mommies who truly love staying home? Are there mommies who are so happy working? Yes and yes. Are there some that fall somewhere in between? Yes. I have enjoyed reading each of these women’s stories about each of their entrees into mommyhood.

Why do you work?
Why do you stay home?

It is my question. It is your question. It is our question. But my answer is really none of your business. And your answer is none of mine. Nonetheless, our overall question prevails—answers and decisions instigate friction and all-out-war between otherwise civil, smart, level-headed women.

The only constant in these scenarios is this: A woman becomes pregnant. She has a baby….

Like most aspects of our lives, we each forge our own path.

I always knew I wanted to have children. Always. I was also certain I wanted to stay home with them. When I was 19, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. After treatments and two surgeries, my doctor told me to start having children by the time I was 25.

“Sure”, I thought sarcastically, “no problem.”

So my twenty-fifth birthday arrived. I was single, living in Chicago and couldn’t figure out why this birthday felt so, well, poignant. It really wasn’t until today that I realized the impact of that birthday’s passing with not a single possible father in sight.

Four years later, twenty nine comes along and so does my future husband. I swear I visualized him just months before he appeared in my life. Strong, independent, tall, funny and tender-hearted. (I didn’t visualize stubborn, but then I’m sure he didn’t check the “anal-retentive” box on his wish list….) We married when I was 30. After several very deep and tearful conversations about when we might have kids, we decide to start trying. I purge my body of bad things and he is a happy camper. (Sorry, Mom.)

Four months after we marry, I’m pregnant. I couldn’t believe the stick. I had to take at least four more tests between the first one and my doctor’s appointment.

I did not want to go back to work after the baby was born but thought I might have to for financial reasons. After many more very deep conversations, we decided I’d stay home (or, more accurately, I convinced Brian that I should stay home). I would’ve loved to work part-time, but advertising clients are not part-time. Abby was born and life was sweet. I was thrilled to be home with her. But three months after quitting I was surprised by pangs (ok, earthquake-like jolts) of jealously when my only other “equal” was promoted to our (I mean her) next level. My thoughts danced, “If I still worked there, would I have been promoted? Was I even in the consideration set?” I was happy for my colleague (I still truly like and respect her) but I was envious. And it didn’t help that I was covered in breast milk and carrying an extra twenty pounds.

Two years later, my hubbie and I decided to go for number two. Two weeks later I was staring at another positive pregnancy test. My husband joked and said I made up all this infertility stuff.

I went from thinking I might never have children to having two, each one when we wanted to, give or take a couple of days. Absolutely miraculous. When Henry was born, Brian was six months into his MBA program and traveling every other weekend to school. All while working full-time. Even though I had bad days, and sometimes bad weeks, I knew that home with the kids was exactly where I wanted to be.

Should I be awarded for my sacrifices and desire to stay home with our children? YES. Does it make me a better person than many of my dear friends who have continued their careers? NO. Are moms with careers better because they are setting a sound example for their children, showing them that women can and should have ambitious careers? NO. Are they gaining joy from their careers as well as from their children? YES. (Am I very thankful that those women are there highlighting the diversity of women’s choices for my dear daughter and son? YES.) Are we all fabulous for the things we do for our children and the contributions we make? Ab-so-stinkin-lutely.

When I was younger, maybe 16, I thought that every woman would want to stay home and raise their children but only some, with the right financial resources, were actually able to do this. Now that I’m more seasoned, I realize, once again, how na├»ve my beliefs were.


Some of us have no choice and have to work. There are moms who have no choice and have to stay home. There are some that have financial independence and choose to continue their careers after their children are born. And there are moms who choose to stay home. I’m one of those. It was the right answer for my family and me. Even on my worst of worst days, I’m still glad that I’m at home with them. I love supporting them and helping them grow. I have loved watching each of their inquisitive minds catapult and synapse. I love watching their golden hair shine in the midday sun. I love not having to rush out of the house to get to work.

Do my counterparts who work enjoy these things any less? Or more? Although I don’t know for sure, I doubt it. We all sort through the gifts of our children at our own pace and with our own individual filters.

I respect women and their families for their choices. Even when they are different from my own. Not better, not worse. Different.

There are aspects of staying home that are hard. With a husband who has a very full-time job and extensive travel, I am solo a lot. There are times when I desperately need a break and cannot get one. I sometimes wonder if I will ever stop cleaning up poop or crumbs off the table. At times I feel like a built-in-babysitter. Being thwarted by a two-year-old tantrum has made me throw some private tantrums. Some days, I think of bed time as a shimmering oasis.

And although I contribute my time, energy and love to my kids, my husband, my dog, all their bodily fluids and schedules, I do not contribute financially. This strikes me as odd. Especially since I was a financially independent woman for a decade before I got married. My husband and I carefully navigated those financial waters and ultimately mapped a route that worked for us. Now that I am freelance writing, and earning a bit, it feels great to say I’m contributing monetarily. But I wonder why it is important to me. Is it truly essential to me or is its importance dictated our society? In the past, I always knew I was doing a good job when I received a promotion and a raise. Or a hefty bonus. Now, my only barometer is my own equilibrium. Am I happy with my choices? Am I doing a good job? Are my children thriving? Does this feel right?

Will I ever have the answers? Will I ever stop asking the questions?

I’m not sure. But I know that my questions, your questions and our questions are eternal; garnering different feelings, nuances and responses with the shift of a boss, an age, a season or even a tide. I’m just glad we’re asking. May your answers be forthcoming and fruitful and may they resonate truthfully within you.