Friday, June 19, 2015

What the Heck Am I Going to Tell My Daughter?!?

When my daughter thinks about her career some day, I'm so proud that she'll have some awesome role models.  Her Aunt Jess is an engineer.  Her Aunt April is a surgeon.  Her Aunt Meredith works in fashion.  Her mom works for a pro sports team.

Sadly, while I would like to tell her that she can be and do anything that she wants to I know there is a catch.

You can do anything you want, but if you want to be a mommy too, you'll have to make sacrifices.

This has nothing to do with the "Mommy Wars" debate between stay at home and working moms. Neither option is without flaws.

If you work, you may have a paycheck, benefits, a source of pride and self worth, an opportunity for adult conversation, and the chance to pee in peace.  Still, you will have to pay for childcare, which is expensive, and deal with the heart-wrenching feeling of leaving your perfect, tiny little child in someone else's care. You may worry that you will be replaced--that your child will call someone else Mama, that you will miss major milestones, and that you won't have the opportunity to comfort your little one when he or she needs it the most.
Your child will inevitably get sick, and when that happens you will have to leave work. You may have to consciously make sacrifices in your career or you may not be given that choice. Opportunities may not be offered to you because it is just understood that you won't want to stay late or work weekends or --gasp-- that you may go on maternity leave again in the future.

There is the guilt. So much guilt.

And then there is the stress of trying to make up for lost time on the weekends--running errands, doing  laundry, trying to have time as a couple and quality time with your child. How can you possibly get it all done?

On the reverse side, am I supposed to tell my daughter to try to marry a guy who makes lots of money so that she has the option to stay home? That all of her education, that whatever career she chooses may only be necessary for 5 or so years, at which point she can quit and start popping out kids? That by the time she has finished getting coffee for people, or finished law school, or chosen a medical school, there might be little time for her real "career" before her biological clock starts ticking? Am I supposed to tell her that just being a mom should be enough? That there is no point in having your own dreams, or that if you do, they have to wait until your kids graduate? That even if you can get a career off the ground before kids, you'll inevitably have to take a hiatus until all of your kids are at least 6 if not 16? (Let's not forget, there is no school supervision from June-Sept.)

Yes, being home is amazing. There is no more wonderful experience than snuggling up with your toddler for a little extra sleep or getting to witness the pride in her eyes when she learns a new word. Having the ability to take your child to the playground  or storytime on a weekday is an incredible blessing. That said, being a stay at home mom is non-stop with no offdays. You can't call in sick. There are no gold stars, promotions, or raises. There are no nights and weekends to yourself, and when your tired partner comes home from work, they won't magically take over so you can finally get something done.

There is the guilt. So much guilt.

Perhaps most frighteningly, there is no guarantee that once you leave the working world you'll be invited back in. If you get bored, or need money, or lose your spouse you may have to start all over again--if you're fortunate enough to be hired at all.

Do I tell my daughter the lie that my generation was told? That she can have it all? That she can find balance? That she can be a star mom and a star employee?

Or do I tell her that as a part-time worker or stay at home employee she'll probably end up doing the same amount of work for less money? That she'll never get the same respect as her male full-time employees? That she can only hope to tread water while swinging a full-time parenting job with a full-time career? That finding time for any of her previous interests will be nearly impossible?

Do I tell her that she can have it all, but will be logging into her computer during nap time and after bedtime, juggling schedules with in-laws or a nanny, or a spouse? Do I tell her that her eye may be twitching and she may be constantly misplacing her keys, or her phone, or her wallet and that her teeth may be in constant pain because she can't stop clenching them, but that she's supposed to just power through for the next 18 years? 

Then there is the guilt. So much guilt. Guilt that you're not working when you're playing with your child. Guilt that you're not playing with your child when you're working. Guilt that you're at home but haven't managed to make dinner, clean the house, or change out of your pajamas.

Where can any of these mamas find time to remember to order new diapers, or to write a thank you note to a neighbor, or to try a new recipe to take to a family barbecue? How are we supposed to keep an eye on our child's development, schedule every doctor's appointment under the sun, and remember when the sheets were last washed? Are we having fun yet?!?!? Am I missing something here?

I know we are so fortunate to have opportunities in the working world, and I would fight tooth and nail to make sure my daughter has those options, but did we shoot ourselves in the foot by trying to have those options while still trying to complete every craft and cooking project on our Pinterest boards? While carting children around to every overly-expensive sport and art class within 10 miles so they don't have to miss out on anything? While making sure that our toddlers don't accidentally watch TV, or play with our phones, or fall out windows, or choke on small objects; while keeping school-aged children from having lunches with potential allergens, using sunblock with oxybenzone, eating anything that isn't organic or has saturated fats, or talking to strangers; while keeping our teenager from posting inappropriate selfies, or meeting creepy people online, or getting in car accidents, or doing poorly on their ACTs, or not applying to a good safety school? 

We've set ourselves up to fail at things we can't possibly afford to fail at. I have no solution. I have no side. I just want better for my daughter. I don't want to have to lie to her too.

A Love Story

We met on a Monday night in December at 11:52 p.m. I'd like to say it was love at first sight, but mostly I remember an overwhelming feeling of relief, followed by contented acceptance. "OK," I thought. "This is what my life will be now."

We moved in together two days later. At first, we didn't get out much. While snow fell all around our cozy little home we wrapped our bodies in cotton and fleece and got to know each other. Often we sat in silence, letting the ...quiet wash over us like a warm bath. We stared at the lights on the Christmas tree while the rest of the world slept, until our vision became blurry and all of the lights started to blend into one.

Our long nights faded into short mornings. As light piped through the windows I watched her fight sleep until she finally surrendered to her heavy eyelids. When she fell asleep on me it was heaven, like being trusted by an angel. I basked in the warm hum of her body, the softness of her breath, the quiet rattle of her heartbeat.

When I held her at night she would run her fingers through my hair, absentmindedly brushing her hands against me like a blind woman determined to commit each ridge and wrinkle into her deepest memory. I marveled at the way her head fit so perfectly under my chin, like we were cut years before from the same slab of concrete.

When she cried out in the darkness I stumbled to rescue her. Sometimes I cried too. I had never had to feel so much. I was overwhelmed with love and frustration and exhaustion.

I knew I loved her the same way that you know you have a heart and lungs and kidneys. You will never see them, but they are a part of you. You couldn't survive with out them.

We know each other now. She cries out less for me at night. I can only expect that as the years pass she'll be slower to let me hold her and quicker to let go. That I will be old and worn out, with no novelty left. That I will be what is expected, not what is exciting. That she'll no longer greet me at the door and insist that I hug her immediately.

Someday she'll leave me. Our happy moments, our stolen kisses, the nights that we slept so close to each other that her breath echoed in my ear will just be memories to me that she won't remember at all. To me it will be the greatest love story ever known, to her it will be lost time in the blind blur of childhood.

Still, I wouldn't trade her for anything. My beautiful daughter.