Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Before I leave for three weeks, I send this along: something to ruminate on and debate. I've been sitting on this group of sentences for a while, but it still makes a hell of a lot of sense to me. Maybe it will to you. Forget the stay-at-home vs. the working mom fight -- this is where the good punches fly.



This is what I have learned so far about the world from children: it is tiny and enormous. There are bugs more interesting than great books, and questions about bugs and eyelashes and sadness and electricity are never-ending. It’s all or nothing, and also all and nothing. It changes daily. You learn to go with it.

This is what I have learned about motherhood, stay-at-home motherhood: it’s a jungle in here.

As it was in the office, so it is behind the picket fence. The geography has changed but the scene is the same. The playground has become the office cooler, the PTO meeting has become the company picnic, and there is jockeying and one-upmanship all over the place. I never knew that when I left the career I built to stay at home with my kids that I would have to contend with another world of professionals. My greatest nemesis is no longer The Man, but The Mom: the Professional Mother.

The Professional Mother has a lot of company. She is one of the millions of women who benefited from every wave of Feminism. She picked a job she wanted, or thought she wanted, and she succeeded. When they told her as a little girl that she could be an astronaut, she believed them. She never got a free pass. She worked her ass off every step of the way and she became whatever her heart desired: a marketing director, a teacher, a filmmaker, a lawyer, a business owner, a nurse, a doctor, a banker, and even sometimes, an astronaut.

Maybe because she could do it all, or because she wanted so badly to do it, she became a mom.

Who knows what happened next? Either she couldn’t or didn’t want to keep doing what she was being paid to do, or maybe it was hormones or finances or love or who knows what, but she decided to quit. She gave it all up for the kid, the brood, the life.

As it turns out, the everyday life with kids is a sneaky life. It is mostly boring and rarely rewarding. For the most part, it’s spit up, crapped diapers, Legos all over the place and getting dinner not only made but also eaten. It is not like the magazine pictures or parenting books, or art: it is getting through one long endless day without going crazy.

The Professional Mother takes it all very seriously. Turning down a lucrative career, earned and fought for, is ridiculously hard for anyone. Why not make a career out of the life chosen at home? Why not up the ante on what you do, so that it’s easier to answer the question of old friends and colleagues: what do you do?

So, the Pro Mom engages her newborn in sign language, music classes (I did this once: it was mostly toddlers, always mine, running into padded gymnasium walls), and potty training before they can sit up. She considers co-sleeping, attachment parenting, and nursing on demand not an option but a requisite. She relishes an entire Baby Bjorn culture that literally glues the baby to the bod.

The Professional Mother of a pre-schooler or grade-schooler engages in activities so numerous that there are children less than six years old who have tried more hobbies in one week than I have tried in my whole life. There’s Spanish, team gymnastics, travel soccer, tennis, baseball, painting, ice hockey and lacrosse all weekend. And it’s not just one of these things – it’s all of them, at once. Her multi-tasking is without limit.

It wasn’t long after I became a full-time mom in the suburbs that I realized there was a pace out there that I couldn’t keep. As much as I desired, needed, craved to be busy, expressing that through my kids and with my kids was a disaster – for them and for me.

Don’t get me wrong, pre-school is a life saver and we’ve dabbled in soccer and ballet and the dreaded music class, but never more than one of those things a week. Truth be told, it was way too much work for me to drag a baby and a pre-schooler to stand outside a 45-minute “class” for a 1st grader. Instead, I just blare the IPod at home: dance, gymnastics, music class. There you go.

Did I nurse each child for fewer months than the one before? Yes. Do I consider crayons and construction paper and pretty much no guidance about what to do with those things (‘cause Mommy’s on the phone) a good, learning day? Yes. Do I make cereal and cereal bowls accessible to my tiny kids and expect them to make due some mornings? Yes, I do. Do I feel bad about all of that? No, I don’t.

I think.

My soapbox is wobbly I admit, and the doubts creep in. I doubt my exhaustion after a day of homework and housecleaning. I wonder since I didn’t drive to five activities is my tiredness, well, less than? Will Harvard reject my child because she didn’t speak French fluently by 9? And now that I don’t have a nursing baby to lean on (literally), is it my convictions that still make me pass on more than one activity per week? Or my laziness?

The Pro Mom exacerbates my undoing. Even on the days when I’ve whipped up homemade play dough or read the same book six times in a row – at dinnertime! -- she is out there. She is out there tapping endlessly into her Blackberry the schedules of her accelerated children to remind me that no matter what I do, or don’t do, I am not doing enough.

The Professional Mother doesn’t aim to be mean spirited. Maybe we brought this culture of competition onto ourselves. When I was in college, we good, smart feminist girls waged a minor rebellion – one of many that stood to pit us against old-school feminism. It was okay to be sexy, we said, to like men and wear mascara and short skirts. We were confident in our sexuality as a tool, not a limitation, and we took advantage. Marriage was okay and motherhood too. We would indeed have it all: respect and hot pants, babies and promotions. It would be different for us. And it is.

We forced ourselves over the line in a lot of ways. We supported each other, hired each other, built businesses, built networks, made changes and money together. But when we made the biggest decision of our lives, to trade the cash and achievement of our former selves for a colicky, bundle of ridiculously cute panic, we forgot in the process where we came from. Maybe it was the distance from the shackles of our past or the cool comfort of our modern success, but somewhere along the way we forgot what essentially gave us the idea that we could be superwomen in the first place: each other.

Our mothers before us? They shoved us outdoors, they handed out hot dogs like vitamins, and they never attended or arranged a single pre-school graduation. The lucky ones schemed a life for themselves in between the wife-being and the child-rearing so that when the chance came, unexpected or anticipated, they seized it. If there was a bad guy or a naysayer, he lived in the house or on the TV. For her, the girl next door was a partner and confidante. A lot times, she was the one whispering, “Go, girl, go.”

For me, the girl next door is confused a lot of the time. Her degree on the wall and a gaggle of kids in her hallway, a husband late to dinner, a house half done, a host of parties to attend, she is never quite sure if she lives in world of content or discontent. She is never quite sure that any of the rhetoric is true: that she is indeed doing the most important job in the world.

The Pro Mom implodes her doubt and confusion. She creates a coping mechanism that is a schedule so mercilessly rigorous, so chock full of child work that her billable hours far outnumber any corporate power player. She doesn’t so much swallow her resentment and isolation, she creates it—and passes it along like some grown-up girl game of Telephone. The Pro Mom creates a culture of perfection, a stratum of achievement, that is impossible to maintain. Mostly, it’s not a lot of fun.

Where did our girl network go? Why does it only seem to exist in dinners dropped at the door when a new baby arrives? Why does it evaporate when the real work begins? Why has the camaraderie of our earlier feminist experiences backfired in the moment of our most feminine experience?

Maybe feminism has failed. There are those among us who still don’t truly value the role of Mother, plain old just getting the job done Mother. And most of them are mothers.

If I “missed” the registration date for a camp I can’t afford anyway, then I apologize to my children in advance. If I avoided the countless other activities that might make my kids smarter or nicer or better, than I apologize for that as well. But if the proof is in the pudding -- my daughter does a perfect cartwheel, self-taught in the grass, the other not only marches to her own beat, but bangs the drum herself, and my son, he can make friends with anyone -- then the pudding is all right with me. I know I am qualified and educated: I have no need to prove that through my kids. They are not, never were, never will be, My Job.

There will never be a moment when I see the world as unwritten upon as I used to when I was a kidless kid. But when I find the calm in the middle of my amateur mom day, in between the heart attacks and heart aches and volunteer work and laundry and the guilt about never quite doing enough for any body at anytime that is so much a part of that day, I don’t use up the peace and quiet on my kids. I do the best that I can do – for me.

With Kidz Bop in the background and a plastic golf club in the gut, there are not a lot of thoughtful silences anymore. Most of the poetry I write is cheap haiku – but write, I do. I make business plans after midnight all the time. I try to have reasonable conversations about politics when I find something newsworthy on the ‘net. I gripe to my sisters and my friends about the drudgery of everyday doing and I hope against hope that I will find one open ear who will honestly gripe back to me.

I am grateful that I made my new girl network, all the ones who tell their truths, who cry sometimes, who whine even, who make plans like me, schemes like me, and the ones who have come to believe that this life, after all, is good enough. I am grateful for those who give me who they are and take me as I am.

But I regret that this loose knit web of secret holders, who for the most part don’t even know each other, is such a small part of my life. I regret that this is who we seem to be now, a disparate coffee klatch endlessly seeking a home.

Still, I have a great suspicion that secrets like mine are being shared all over the place, on streets like mine, in towns like mine, with friends like mine, even by Professional Moms.

In the end, the world remains tiny and enormous. Children ask a million questions because there are that many. There is more than one answer. You don’t need to be a Pro to know that.

7commentsBrilliant Person Wrote...

Anonymous said...

This was fantastic. You've pretty much put into words how I feel about the whole mom thing. It's a huge part of my life but it's not the be all and end all.

Sarahviz said...

Terrifically awesome post! The first one I've read of yours, but I will definitely be coming back for more!

This reminded me of the book "Goodnight Nobody" by Jennifer Weiner. Have you read it?

Anonymous said...

Good Lord, this is a beautiful and truthful expression...you hit a real nerve with any and every Mom who reads this. Thank you Darcy. Again, you are an inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic!!!! Thank you for this from all the moms out there...

Stu said...

This brilliant and thoughtful essay has been nominated by our readers at GNMParents for Hot Stuff Of The Week. Congrats, and good luck in the voting!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a great post! ...That mom you're talking about is me...but i'm trying not to be...Haha my husband said the other day, "you raise MM like it's your job" , and yes my 8mth old has been pooping in the toilet since 6mths...I am the first to admit that yes, I am nuts :)

Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

FYI: The link to this post is busted in the "But I Also Said This" widget in the right column.