Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ironing Out My Issues

I went out last week for a Mom's Night Out, a few friends and fs-of-fs to eat dinner and, gasp!, actually finish a sentence without a wee cherub interrupting to tell you she needs an "eyeh pack" for her "hurt" foot, or that she is peeing as we speak, or that she wants you to give her a popsicle, get the picture. An opportunity to feel like a person who gets to be a person independent of a smaller person. I couldn't wait, because as I've said in these pages before, if you now always refer to the bathroom as "the potty" and to your reasons for going there as, "Mommy has to do pee pees," then you need to get your bad self out da house so you can urinate alone in an actual "ladies room" at least once per month.

So I wore actual clothing without crayon marks. My hair looked good, mostly because I had blow-dried it before going out. I wore actual makeup, including things like eye concealer that--catch 22--does help to remove the tiredness from my eyes but that ironically takes too long to properly apply and I'm too tired to wake up a half hour earlier just to apply it...

So off I go into the breech, where people eat meals in restaurants with cloth napkins, no "activity placemats," and no high chairs. Unbelievable, I tell you! It was awesome and fun and certainly a novelty for all of the women there. But here's the thing: now that we've established that we can indeed get out of the house once a month, we now need to work on not spending that time talking exclusively about our kids.

At some points in the conversation I kept wanting to blurt, "Yes, I have a two year old child for whom I would eat glass or throw myself under a bus, but I also have a Master's Degree and a new small business and a keen interest in politics, World Cup soccer, good food, and a bunch of other things, including hearing more about YOU, a woman who I can see within 5 minutes of meeting is attractive and smart and funny and accomplished in numerous ways beyond potty training."

It was as if we are so into the mother thing that we didn't know what else to talk about, even with 4 Master's Degrees, a PhD, and several ongoing challenging professional lives between us. We always came back to, "so how do you get his shoes on to get out of the house on time?" Which is not a bad thing, since I really did benefit from the conversation, but I guess I just wanted to really learn more about these women as women, in addition to learning about them as moms. Which I know is one and the same thing, since we all bring our whole selves to each role we play in life, whether personal, professional or maternal. But I just wanted to know more about their non-mom jobs and opinions, I guess.

One good conversation seemed to touch on this divide, when we discussed how different we are from our own mothers, even those of us who spend a majority of time at home with our kids. The push-and-pull between being a mom and a working professional is a delicate balancing act that really truly messes with your mind, from having no mental transition time between the two, to trying to get dressed and look somewhat professional while entertaining a toddler and ensuring your suit doesn't get messed up before you even leave the house, to handling issues like a sick child on a "big client meeting" day. It can be easy to wish for "simpler times" when being at home was your "only" responsibility.

My mom stayed home with us until we were all in school, which I know was hard for her because, let's face it, three kids and hanging out with other moms who only talk about kids does not a completely intellectually stimulating and rewarding life make (at least for my mother). But my mom says today that it is harder for young mothers because there was never an expectation on her that she had to earn an income while raising three kids full time. My father worked three jobs to make up for the non-mom income, so his life wasn't a bowl of cherries either, but as hard as it was sometimes to have three kids under age 5 all day, the pressure was not on my mother to do three full time jobs at home while also generating a livable wage outside the home.

My mom definitely has a point. As hard as her day-to-day was, she didn't also have to generate money. She certainly saved a lot of money by being economical and frugal even by Scottish standards, and she certainly made a pound of ground beef go farther than you'd think possible, but until we were all in school, she didn't have to earn money.

It sounds like heaven sometimes to me, making me think longingly for a gig as a non-"working" mother. But let's be honest: most of us would take our lives today over any seemingly "easier" life in the early '70s. The women at the dinner all agreed that, hard as it is to afford a life anywhere close to what our parents gave us, and to feel pulled in ten directions and be a master of none, we'd all still rather be where we are today. Why?

When we were kids, being a mom meant more than being a mom. It meant running the house, fixing things that broke, keeping it clean and well-stocked, having dinner ready at X o'clock, attending school meetings, going to doctor appointments, and in general making the house and the kids look like nothing had happened all day by the time the husband got home. Oh--and somewhere in there, you had to fix yourself up to look like you weren't too tired (or on occasion annoyed that your husband was just one more person needing something from you) to of course be an excited and interested sexual partner around 11pm...

That, my friends, is my definition of hell on earth. Made even more unbearable by the fact that one of those household responsibilities included ironing--and lots of it. I own an iron, I do. But it resides on a shelf in my laundry room from which it has been withdrawn and utilized perhaps once in 4 years in a dire emergency. I look back at my childhood and feel so bad for my mom who I recall doing TONS of ironing. What the hell was going on in the 70s?! Definitely no dry cleaning, I can tell you that. Every one of the women at the dinner remembered veritable mountains of ironing that their moms transformed into neat piles of clothing while still managing to make dinners and lunches and snacks to boot. Which explains my mother's (and others of her generation's) opinion that women of our generation are too much our children's playmates rather than just telling them to "go play." She's right. I definitely remember her being involved; but I also remember being out in the yard with the sibs while she was mopping, dusting and ironing inside.

So what's my point? My point is that you can always convince yourself that you're not happy or fulfilled in your life. But you can just as easily convince yourself that you ARE. How lucky are we to live in a time when fathers play as much of a role in the lives of their children as mothers? At a time when I am no more expected to iron clothing as weave it on a loom? At a time when I don't have to choose, like my mom did, of using my degree professionally or opting out of the labor pool for 9 years to undertake the most thankless job on earth since uphill sh*t shoveler?

All I'm saying, perhaps more to myself than to you, is that THESE are the good old days, and challenging as they are, I will someday look back on them with longing. A fun and active toddler who thinks I'm awesome, a growing business, a supportive partner, a home and leisure time that my parents could only have dreamed about. I'm lucky as all hell, for all of my ambivalence about my competing responsibilities. And most importantly, I don't even own an ironing board.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As always, you nailed this topic. Life is a challenge no matter which way you look at it but its better to be us here today than our mothers back in the day.