Women at Work

I haven’t been writing much. I guess I’ve raised my standards and what I do doesn’t seem to meet them. So I’ve kept quiet. And stared ahead. And wondered what I should do now. Of course, it occurs to me that sometimes standards are excuses and excuses are weakness and weakness is meant to be overcome. But mostly this occurs to me in the middle of an episode of Veep or right as sleep starts tingling against my legs. So, I stare ahead - eyes open or eyes closed and decide to be good enough tomorrow. 

It’s still not tomorrow. But I’ve got things clanking around my heart. Maybe if I decide from the get-go, “this piece of writing won’t be what I want it to be, but at least it will ‘be’ and being has more value than a void”, I’ll forgive myself for the anecdotal, feeling, sentimental things I always seem to create. 

Dear Universe, bless me with the ability to forgive myself for the imperfect things I create. 

So. A thing that clanks.

I shared an article a few weeks ago on my private FB page. It was a call to equality in parenting, a passionate plea for a workplace that understands the value of mothers as career woman, it was a rallying cry for the working woman who is also a loving mother, the loving mother who is also a working woman. It was a space making, place setting piece. And when I was done reading it, I hurrahed as if it had spoken to me.…even though it had little application for me. I don’t want a traditional career, I have little interest in real or corporate ladders, I have never felt like I missed out because I don’t speak in quarterly reports or Sandberg-isms. My preferences have nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with who I am - marriage or no marriage, children or no children, I would have always been the type of person that writes in coffee shops in between the rest of my living. 

So why did I share that piece? That triumphant article like it had anything to do with me or my goals? I could answer that I shared it for the women I love that it would help. I could say that I shared it because if we make room for one another we’ll all be lifted. I could say I shared it because my daughters might want to be lawyers and mothers and I am working to create a world where they can thrive in the midst of that decision, not just survive it. But…those answers, while worthy - aren’t really what motivated me to shout about one woman’s revelations like they lit my personal sky. Rather, I posted that article to my FB wall with fist bump emojis because I am not really happy with where I am in life right now. No, let me remove qualification. I am done with qualifications. I am not really happy. I am blessed. I am joyful. I am hopeful. I am starstruck by my good fortune. But. On a Tuesday, in the afternoon, in the quiet…I am not quite happy. Many of my days are eaten up with a feeling of emptiness. And frustration. And seeking for structure. But what will fill that emptiness is not trending, and the balm for my frustration isn’t universal childcare, and the structure I seek - both for edification and protection - isn’t found in a board room or spreadsheets. And because of that, I feel alone. 

I feel so fucking alone. 

I don’t envy the women that came before me. 

The ones that spent all day making bread and babies. The ones that scoured pots and hung dry clothes. I don’t desire their maternal mortality or the children they lost to colds and breaks and infection. I don’t want a thing to do with the mentality of the society they were forced to squeeze through - the restrictions of their minds and ribcages. I don’t want a husband to preside and I don’t want daughters to submit. I reject the “there, there” implications of phrases like “women’s work” and “a man’s world”. I was not made for those times. 

But sometimes, my God, I envy the women that came before me.

Their quilting circles, where more was created than just patchwork blankets. The mornings spent baking bread together…communing over circumstance and ideas. I ache for the sisterhood that counterfeits like tapping twice on a screen pretend to emulate. I want to feel like by building my family, I am building the community around me. But I’m not always sure where to find my community as it races by in cars and across internet connections. I miss the bake sales that supported more than soccer camp. I miss the communion that modern day convenience and opportunity has accidentally denied me. I miss universal causes that resulted in united domestic action. I am sick of being asked what I do (Mother? Oh, isn’t that nice?), and am yearning to instead hear, “Who are you?”

Oh, sweet sisters, who are you?

Honestly, I think I miss something that hasn’t yet really existed. 

And I feel tremendously guilty about all of it. Because who am I to think my hurt, my isolation, my tremendous lack of representation in modern discourse is not a price worth paying for those that have been helped by the new order of things? I would not go back to before motherhood became so lonely, before it became something navigated around rather than steered toward. So who am I to dictate how we move forward? “Shut up, Meg”, I think, “With your healthy children and pantry brimming with food and car full of gas.” And so I do, and then cry into my pillow because I don’t know where to go or how to get there. 

I think I’ve been waiting to write until I had answers, but I am still unresolved. The conflict in my heart and home looks like this:

I want to be a SAHM mother, for now. I want to be home with my children, for now. I want to be a physically present witness to their lives, for now. But I can no longer bear the burden of of my isolation without it hurting me and the people I love.

My husband is moving the world and I am just in charge of making sure its sheets are cleaned. 

My work is tremendous. My children awe-inspiring. I am fulfilled and and ready to pour out every good thing I've learned from them and with them. They are all I'll ever need.

I need sisterhood beyond playdates. 

I might just be depressed. Maybe I’m making all this up in my head.

I need personal success. I need to build. I need to revolutionize. And I need someone, ANYONE, to tell me it can be done outside of earning a paycheck. And then I need them to roll up their sleeves and get to work with me. 

Why do I need anyone? Can’t I just do this on my own? What is wrong with me?

Is career success the only kind we can quantify? Is it the only one we consider publicly laudable? 

Why do I feel the need for any success that can be measured? Is that just a symptom of the messaging I’ve consumed since grade school?

I need to be able to acknowledge that something is missing in how we are approaching the circumstance of women like me without it sounding like I am criticizing the decisions of others. 

I need to be able to say we deserve more. 

I don’t deserve what I already have. 

Maybe I should just go get a job, after all. Then I wouldn’t have so much time to fixate.

I will always be an ambassador for equal pay and a workplace where motherhood is valued. But I wonder if I can ever figure out how to be an ambassador for the choices I’ve made, too, without sounding retrograde or undeveloped. 

I know I am blessed to be able to make a decision on whether I work or not. Everything I am and everything I have is a result of privilege. I get that. I know there are mothers burying babies as they flee war-torn countries. I know there are women who would kill to have children, or to have not had children, or to even have a moment to breathe long enough to think about their personal circumstances. 

I’ve got an inbox full of emails from stay at home mothers that feel alone. They are “isolated”, “unheard”, “don’t fit in”, “feel undervalued” and without a place at the table of acceptable womanhood. Do we tell them to just be grateful for what they have and shut up? Because that rhetoric sounds like what we’ve always told mothers, only it’s now acceptable because it’s other women saying it, too?

I am not alone in feeling so alone, I am not the only one in this room that echoes, I am not the single woman yelling into my pillow for relief. And it’s time I start taking responsibility for that knowledge.

I said I was unresolved but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving today without resolution. 

We’ve got to begin creating space for all women. We’ve got to stop blaming “society” for our isolation as women who mostly mother. You know, some linguists think women created language while sitting around a fire while doing the domestic work of the day.  As a woman primarily concerned with "domestic work" I can say that an at home community that builds and creates - that domestic gathering around a ring of fire - is largely absent from our modern lives. Of course, the focus on creating more room for women in the workplace didn’t rob us of our community. We let it slip through our fingers, if we really ever had it. Why? Because maintaining sisterhood is damn hard work, because the couch is comfortable, because we keep waiting for articles in the NYT to create a space for us as feminists and worthwhile women, because we could step out of our boxes and actually touch one another but instead we tap a screen, because if we keep waiting for others to model alternatives we are always going to feel like an alternative. Because as women we’ve bought into that man-made idea AGAIN, the one that says we’ve got to be given something to have it. Because, dammit, it is just so self-serving to scream into a pillow when I could be screaming on behalf of the women that need me - the ones that work, the ones that don’t, the ones with babies found, the ones with babies lost, the ones that agree with me, the ones that don’t, the ones that have found their place and the ones that can’t seem to find a chair no matter how many times they circle the table. 

If I want a matriarchy to give structure to my currently maternal life, then maybe I should just shut up and start building it. I can’t see its shape yet, but I do sense the place it will stand. I can begin to build it a brick at a time, or we - all women of all stripes - can start lifting the building blocks together.

Please, let’s do this together. I can’t see this new place without your eyes.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to decide 'being' - however imperfect - has more value than a void, and rejoice in that one certainty.