maybe NOT baby…

Image via BL1961s Flickr.

Image via BL1961's Flickr.

So it’s been about a week or two since I wrote my “Maybe Baby” post about starting to think about having kids.  Today I picked up the September issue of Skirt! magazine and read a piece by Valerie Weaver-Zercher, and now I’m pretty sure having kids, while still definitely something that will happen some day, is back in the not SO soon pile.  The piece, called “Mentor or Mom” is about Weaver-Zercher’s experience as a mother of 3 who has a lot of 20 year old college girls in her life.  She sees herself in them, and she seems to have a fantasy about shattering their illusions of what their lives will be.  She imagines:

I pull the college women aside, fix them with a steady gaze and whisper in a conspiratorial voice: I was once like you.  I baked bread in Germany and walked through streams in Nicaragua.  I worked for a magazine and had a company credit card and wrote editorials that shocked people.  I got married to a man willing to clean bathrooms and we lived in a city and walked to market and protested the death penalty.
And then I had a baby. Here I pause, then raise my eyebrows.
And two years later, another. Another significant pause.
And two years later, yet another.
I stop for awhile, until they think I’ve made my point and begin to sidle away. Then I begin again: Each child is like an earthquake that hurls your identity off the shelf, I say. You will spend years picking yourself off the floor, along with everyone else’s socks and Play-Doh. You will no longer know who really wins: the one who goes to the office all day, or the one who stays home with the kids. You will feel guilty about each choice that takes you away from your children, and resentful of each choice that takes you away from your calling. And here I grab them by their scrawny elbows and bring it home: And you will never, ever judge a housewife again!

Yikes! I may not be a college woman, but that’s enough to send me heading for the hills, or at least the birth control pills. But Weaver-Zercher continues:

Young women don’t need phony assurances about how easy it is to be both a mother and an individual, to maintain both a family and a career, to win in both the office and the house. Such platitudes can only lead to disillusionment and anger– unless the next decade brings about sane maternity leaves, affordable childcare, universal health insurance, and family-friendly work environments. (I’m not holding my breath.) Or maybe, if they have children, they and their partners will find better ways to navigate these days of early parenthood– some way to change the world, change gendered patterns and still change diapers. I’ll be the first to cheer them on (provided I’m not too jealous).

On the other hand, maybe some college women will end up like me: bewildered, exhausted, not sure whether they’ve won or not, or whether they even trust the society that’s keeping the score. Indeed, maybe college women need me a little bit like I need them: as a prompt to reexamine how we calibrate wins and losses, and as a reminder that when it comes to motherhood and work, winning and losing are categories that no longer make an iota of sense.

I hope to be one of the ones to change gendered patterns and still change diapers. To read bedtime stories but still find the time to write for myself. But then I read things like this and wonder if I’m not just a hopelessly naive no-longer-in-college woman.

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6 thoughts on “maybe NOT baby…

  1. Ugh, I hate this. You don’t WIN at motherhood. You don’t win at your career either, unless you’re a pro-athlete or up for a Nobel Prize. She makes it sound like a contest, especially with her “if I’m not too jealous” bit, which is just what women DON’T need. Most 20-year-olds are too busy doing college stuff to worry about whether future imaginary kids will disrupt their career paths. Why not let them cross that bridge when they come to it?

    If you want to have a baby, do it because you WANT A BABY, not because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do or the next thing on your life list or because your mother said so. It doesn’t ruin your life and it doesn’t change your fundamental identity. You are not less of a writer or a woman or a wife or a cook or a whatever. You’re just more of a mom.

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  2. Here, here “bebehblog”
    Sarah, don’t listen to this lady- there are plenty of us out there who love life, no matter what comes our way and I have no doubt you are that kind of person! And yes, I love both being a mom and a college professor. I can still read and write and do the things I love to do, but I also love bathtimes, reading books to my kids, dancing around the living room like a nut, and especially snuggling. I still hate cleaning toilets, but find new purpose to it (keeping little grubby hand germ-free). And I do still have the energy to make my own organic baby food, scrub and rinse cloth diapers and make sure I am using recyclable, BPA-free bottles. But then again, I think this lady may consider herself more of a “loser” than I do – I think I’m quite a bit of a “winner” all of the time! ;)

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  3. this lady makes me a little sad. i wouldn’t want to be her child and read this article someday and realize that my mother held so much angst toward me.

    referring to her before and after examples, i’ve seen plenty of families on my worldly adventures who are perfectly happy. one hippy romanian family has always stood out to me on how traveling with kids can still still be a wonderful adventure. this couple climbed a volcano in guatemala with us. he had a toddler strapped on his back and she had a tiny baby strapped on her belly. sure, there was crying, but there was also joy and lots of love. it was very inspirational just to see that it’s possible. if they can do it, so can i.

    maybe it’s all about choices. like what “Thu” was saying. we can chose to love life no matter what comes our way. maybe Valerie choses to live life with poop in her pants. (that’s what joel would say.)

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  4. Naomi– I don’t know if I can dismiss her angst so easily. I feel much of the same ambivalence, and throughout women’s writing, many express this feeling. I certainly wouldn’t want her to censor herself or her feelings because her hypothetical children might read it some day. I WISH I could have a real, honest conversation with my mother about the feelings, both good and bad, that went into her decision to have children. I am not sure my ambivalence about becoming a mother will ever go away, though I plan to be a mother. And I think that’s OK. I get frustrated by people telling me that one day I’ll just be shiny and happy and sure and secure and will just know what I should be doing. What if I’m never that way?

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  5. Oh geez! I’m NEVER sure and secure – I have doubts about myself everyday, but you just can’t let it bog you down. Some people say the world gets smaller when you have kids, I say it gets bigger – you see a bigger picture. Don’t worry about being “ready” or “not ready” – you’ll just “be” – hell, I’m NEVER “ready” that’s why I’m always late! No one need EVER think it’s easy to juggle family and work and marriage and social life and spirituality and everything else. It’s not easy, it’s not even sensible, it’s D@#!@$# HARD! But you take the good with the bad, try to keep as many balls in the air as possible, and if you happen to drop a few, well, I hope you have a great support staff to help you pick them up. Humans weren’t meant to raise their children on their own, and most days, I need help to get by. And as for Valerie – I hate cleaning up playdoh just as much as she does, but it’s a small price to pay for my child to cultivate his imagination and his artistic side.

    I have had many conversations with my mother since becoming a mother myself and they are quite enlightening. They sure make me appreciate my parents in ways I never knew I would. She didn’t “plan” to have any of her 3 kids, but there we were and here we are. Does she wish things had gone differently? Sure! Does she look back on it with regret? What for? We are who we are because they made for us the life they could at the time. It is so true that you never appreciate your parents until you become one and I’m sure my mom feels justified now that I can see what she did for us as kids, and I am SO thankful! So maybe it seems like a thankless job now, but maybe, 30 years from now, when my kids become parents, I’ll get to see a glimmer of that thanks, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
    Don’t worry too much about being “ready.” Don’t you know God has a plan for all of us? We can never know exactly what that is, so we just have to take it in stride.

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