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.