A few weeks back, I dropped my daughter, Ida, off with a neighbor and rushed to work. This is the sum total of what I know about the woman I entrusted with my 18-month-old's life: Her name is Lisa, she lives on my block, and she has two kids. I didn't — still don't — know her last name, and I forgot to take her phone number with me to the office. I had chatted with her a few times in passing, on my way to our neighborhood park, and she'd nicely offered to babysit. So when my nanny called in sick at the last minute, I took her up on it.A sample situation in which I, grerp, would consider giving a stranger complete and total access to my son without getting her name and contact information: The world as we know it collapses, there is violence in the streets, order breaks down, and police go door to door rounding up people of my racial/religious/socioeconomic group to be taken to an unknown location for indefinite detention.
During my commute to work that day, I couldn't believe I had left my kid with a stranger. If I'd stayed home, would the office have come to a standstill? No. Would I have been fired on the spot for taking a day off? Unlikely. But in the panic of that morning, all I could think about was the giant to-do list waiting at my desk, the inconvenience I'd cause my boss, and, most importantly, the shame of failing to manage my personal life in a way that didn't interfere with my job.
It's as if the day I became a mother I'd made some tacit agreement to never let my new, non-paying job interfere with the one that gives me a salary. How hopeful I was — and how very wrong. I had no idea that life with kids would be so messy and unpredictable, so marked by those WTF moments when the urge to be a perfect employee and the urge to be a perfect mom rush at each other in a game of chicken. Inevitably, one of them goes screaming off the track.
Most of the time, it's only a temporary derailment. Your boss forgives you and your kid forgives you. What's tougher is forgiving yourself.
That's about it. No hyperbole. The nanny-calling-in-sick scenario doesn't even come close to making this action responsible or acceptable.
I get that women work. I understand that with the terrible economy and the breakdown of the family, women often have to work. I also understand that child care is expensive and often inconvenient and that parents frequently have to take what they can get and punt when things come up. My family tree is filled with women who worked when their children were young. Both my grandfathers were seriously disabled for periods of time, and my grandmothers stepped up to the plate. My mother worked and worked outside of the home after I was 10. This is not a working mothers vs. stay-at-home mothers rant. This is a rant about putting first what should always be put first - your child's safety.
The above woman didn't have to leave her daughter with a stranger. She chose to. She didn't want to miss work. She didn't want people to know that she doesn't have everything in her life under control. And she probably didn't really want to stay home with Ida that day. So she chucked her daughter into the arms of a women she didn't anything about and punched in. And, having done so, she doesn't want to feel guilty about it. So she writes the above, "Who's with me?" manifesto. And women cheer her on because, well, we've all been there, haven't we?
What feminists do not acknowledge (but do know) about the work/motherhood dilemma is that it's not really much of a dilemma. If you screw up at work, you will be fired. To be fired from motherhood, you have to fail spectacularly and repeatedly, and this failure will have to be noticed and documented by teachers, social workers, police officers, and judges. Therefore, work will always come first because the pushback for failure will be harder and more immediate from a boss. To a child, "normal" will be what Mommy creates for her, even if that's neglect, abuse, chronic selfishness or the less malign flakiness.
What irritates me most about these sorts of articles is the idea that women must jump on the 7-7 treadmill for the betterment of the child, for the fulfillment of the mother. The majority of women out there working aren't doing so because they love it or because it's making their lives richer. They're doing it because they need the money to pay for food and rent. Their jobs aren't glamorous and never will be. They're trapped because of the economy, because of divorce or single motherhood, or because of outstanding student loans. And there is no "work/life" balance. There is only work and then whatever you can get done after work - the same grind people had before the period of the mid-twentieth century American prosperity. Only now Grandma's not living upstairs and can't take care of Baby while Mommy twists together silk flowers or does piecework, so Baby has to be schlepped to an expensive daycare. And children get parked in front of a TV or a game center and stay up all night and eat fast food and gain weight and lose both their ability to pay attention and their ability to interact with real people.
But it's all right in the end because "we become far happier once we accept that most days call for tough decisions." Or something.