Failing September

What made it slightly more embarrassing that I wasn’t prepared for our Committee Meeting at my house was the fact that they showed up while I was still wearing teeny tiny pajamas.

I thought I had all morning to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting. Plenty of time to drain the coffee pot, type the agenda, send the reminder email, and make the muffins. Look at ALL OF THIS TIME! But first I’ll make the beds. It’s easier to be productive in a house with made beds.

Ding Dong. 

After a summer of carb-eschewing and spinning, my bits are higher and tighter. I’m sure our new interim director didn’t expect to see them, though. The remainder of the committee arrived after I found pants. And maybe they didn’t notice that hospital-corner bed-making after a breakfast of Tamoxifen and coffee meant I was legitimately feverish. Ding Dong, welcome to the Lee’s! Watch me glisten with hospitality.

I hate being busy. I’ll never be one of those moms tethered to her SUV and a slave to an impossible schedule of overlapping practice times at fields in different towns. It’s not that I refuse to let my boys drag me around because I prefer evenings on the couch. Like most moms, I’d give up all mid week drinking to shuttle them to sports. I’d spend my entire shoe budget on cleats and guards and pads and helmets. Lucky for me, we Lees aren’t traveling team material.

On any given school night, you’ll find us at home. Of course, there is some stuff on the calendar. Asian law requires piano lessons. And my boys are on a just-sign-up flag football team that plays for a handful of weekends in the fall. My days are plenty full with a part-timey job, oodles of volunteer meetings, and the usual mom stuff. And I take pride in my commitment to the mom stuff. Currently there is not a single item in any of the laundry bins. Can’t stop. Won’t stop. Sorting and separating.

But September’s calendar requires even the Lees to be busy. September heaps BACK TO SCHOOL and WELCOME BACK and FIRSTS OF THE YEAR functions onto doctor’s appointments, multiple trips to get vital sporting equipment for one season, and your 43rd party at the trampoline paint ball rock climbing venue because (better/annoying) moms insist on birthday parties for their kids. I still use a paper calendar, and this Thursday’s box is too small for all of the things I need to do but will probably forget because they are written too tiny and I KNOW, BERNIE, I KNOW THAT I NEED TO USE THE GOOGLE CALENDAR.

How’s your September going? Are you greeting the Chair of the Board of your nonprofit and its interim director wearing skivvies? Maybe you haven’t missed a single meeting, or shown up to one without pants and sweaty half moons of yesterday’s mascara heralding your competence. Me, I’m ready for this Sept-embarrassment of a month to be over.

Middle school dinner is tonight and I’m totally going to be on time, definitely not in jammies. It’s in my phone marked “don’t forget to go” with three alarms. I plan to be entirely un-embarrassing. Until at least tomorrow. (Tomorrow’s not on the Google calendar yet.)

 

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I still use these. I’ve missed three meetings this month, but I still use these.

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Opting Out

I am the prototypical opt-out girl. With two graduate degrees, a handful of publications, and many assurances of some sort of pay-the-bills job in science or medicine, I waddled my 9-month-pregnant self right out of the workforce. The New York Times reminded me I’ve reached a decade of unemployment. And just as Brodie turns 10, Judith Warner revisited women, like me, who in the budding new millennium dropped careers in the name of Motherhood. With the luxury and support of their husband’s income, as well as a shared idea that this was the right choice for their diapered ones, these women might have blushed a bit about becoming June Cleaver… but it was with superior, Family First! aplomb. The article reveals that ten years hence, they want (need) to use their Ivy League brains for something more enjoyable (profitable) than manic volunteerism or soccer halftime snack planning.

In short (which the article is not), many of these women find themselves under-utilized, or unfulfilled, or divorced. Though not a single one of them regrets the opt-out decision, none mentioned the fate of the children they placed ahead of a paycheck. There was, however, a fair amount of bitching about the laundry. The article is well-balanced, and does feature stories of the genera of women I love interrogating over cocktails: the ones who have found a flexible career that celebrates their smarts without sacrificing “quality time”—whatever that entails for their family unit. These ladies often describe their new jobs as “falling into my lap…” which is how work feels when you don’t actually have to do it. These enviable women have the continued support of their husbands (in both a financial and a we’ll-outsource-the-laundry way) and happily traded their yoga pants for pencil skirts and are leading non-profit organizations and small businesses.

But there were more moms whose lives took another turn. As their kids reached less-likely-to-get-head-stuck-in-bannisters ages, they felt the need to redefine themselves as more than crust cutters. These same do-gooding mommies who devoted a decade to poo and Polly Pockets and Legos and laundry now find themselves unable to tackle all of that after an exhausting day in a pencil skirt. And because a woman who lands a demanding new job may occasionally want someone else to wipe the sticky counter, or an appointment to address her dark roots, the confused husband in the messy house sees it like this:

“Once she started to work, she started to place more value in herself, and because she put more value in herself, she put herself in front of a lot of things — family, and ultimately, her marriage.”

He sounds just like William H. Macy in Pleasantville: “… and there was NO DINNER!”

Honey... I'm HOME!

Honey… I’m HOME!

This quickly sums up why I found the entire article irritating and depressing. Though masked as The Plight of the Opt Out Mommy, the undercurrent through it all was The Erosion of Marriage as exhausted couples try to do their capital B best at everything, except being very nice to each other. Who would want to live in any proximity to a woman who doesn’t “put value in herself?” What a dick, right? Or, maybe just a sort of sad guy who got sidelined as Wife morphed into Mommy who then turned into Working Woman who isn’t getting the laundry done. (Maybe still a bit of a dick.) I’m stunned and sad. Also, smug and lucky.  I’m Smucky. After ten years, Bernie and I still have regular check ins: Do you care that I bring in not a single penny and yet stand here in Jimmy Choos? Do you want to stop stepping on Legos and finish a residency in critical care? The answers remain no, and no. And even as Bernie brings home the bacon, and I fry it up in a pan, we still keep tabs on The State of Us. Are you happy? Am I happy? Do we still like each other? Yes and yes and yes.

Annoying Smucky Girl might also be an anomaly among Opt Outs. I love the laundry. My favorite part of the day is when all of the beds are made and no one is hungry. I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about flowers. And when asked what I plan to do when the boys no longer require my immediate and unrelenting crust cutting services, I defer to my algorithm (which last night leaned heavily toward the >4 cocktails pathway). Opting out has never affected the value I put on myself because what I do will never be who I am. Also, even though I take pride in my folded fitted sheets and meal-making, these little boys benefit most from watching Bernie and me be nice to each other… which I hope would happen even if I decided to don a pencil skirt and bring home a paycheck.

Busy

Stevie is procrastinating. We do have plans to continue our recent religious debate, but my favorite atheist Jew has a TV program to script, children with activities, homes divided between zip codes, and well… a life. But me, I’m a relic from bygone days: I’m not busy. Today I accidentally locked myself out of the house, and sat for one hour in my bum-warming car enjoying the nothing-to-do-ness– the bald fact that I’m not vitally necessary. There will be no grave repercussions from missing my slow-cooker window. The children will not balk over untidied play spaces. Absolutely nothing hangs on my response to, attendance at, or opinion of anything; and truthfully, any busyness in my life is of my own making. But embracing my universal unimportance with contented calm came slowly.

I used to bristle when people asked me, “What do you do all day?” The never-ending childcare of small boys left me exhausted, oddly lonely, and waiting for a reasonable hour to pour a glass of wine. Anyone who asks a mom (or dad) on Daily Toddler DeathWatch to account for her time deserves the mother lode of snarky retorts. There were many times I squelched an urge to splash sauvignon blanc into the pretend-to-care face of the pant-suited bitch asking this infuriating question. But now, as my small people are bussed away for one third of every weekday, and my participation in the workforce a decade in the past, the question sounds valid. At a recent cocktail party, I was pressed to itemize my paycheck-less activities and realized, that over the years, two approaches to this question have evolved: Descriptive Torture and Boastful Sloth.

Because I used to be a medical sort of person and have science degrees and whatnot, I get, “Will you ever go back to work?” as often as Ben Stein hears, “Bueller?” Vaulted from the reproductive years, liberated from malignant cells, and unburdened by school age children for the greater part of the day, certainly I’ve considered doing something with myself now? Sure have. Lookie what blogging girl hath wrought today: The Unemployed Mommy Algorithm! All paths lead to responses that amuse me… or to cocktails. All good.

“WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY?”

ALGORITHM

I’ll admit Boastful Sloth is more fun than Descriptive Torture. Even if I’m embellishing the mundane to the point of absurdity, the daily doings of stay-at-home-moms have a sort of chloroform effect. But if pressed to defend my day to a mom who works outside of the home (and employs a small team to outsource the mind-numbing labor), it’s only fitting I should trap her into listening to what she’s missing. I’ll bore her with line item descriptions of everything that happened from Teddy’s ill-timed, bus-missing poo, through crockpot recipes and laundry totals, right up to fraction-dividing extra credit math sheets, soccer halftime snack choices, and the great bathing debate (does swimming count?).

Those traveling down another path with this insidious query might inspire my best Boastful Sloth. This approach is more charming after four drinks. I can make days of yoga, pedicures, fancy lunches, garden tours, volunteer do-gooding, and home makeover projects sound super important and delightfully time-consuming. Who has time for a job with a beeper? I’ve got bulbs to plant and a squash lesson at 3. Ooh, and there’s my bringing-home-bacon husband over there! Yes, that devilishly handsome man fetching me another Prosecco. Isn’t he dreamy?

You’ll notice that I’m a little touchy about judge-y comments from other women. But, c’mon sisters, if we’re out of the house without the kids, let’s bond over the irritating idiosyncrasies of the smaller species. Let’s clink glasses, toasting a temporary reprieve from DeathWatch, diapers, wailing, and “Watch, mommy… watch THIS… watch me NOW!” And if you are gainfully employed, I want you to stop wearing pantsuits. I also want to know all about how working works, or doesn’t. It’s the (second) most important discussion in our lives at this moment, and peppering it with biased inquiries dishonors the conversation. (Please share the shitty, loaded questions thrown at you by drunk and/or annoying stay-at-homers!)

I know my activities aren’t essential, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re meaningless. And though my days aren’t demanding, I’ve got important stuff going on… like an international conversation about religion. And, well, also… maybe by summertime, an actual job-ish kind of thing. My cocktail chitchat may soon gain approval of The Busy People! And it’s kind of perfect in that I can work from home (no pantsuits) leaving plenty of time to draft algorithms. I’m going to need a new one.*

*algorithm, not pantsuit