Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Tension Makes a Tangle

Twenty-six days since my last post. I'm improving!

Recently, Honey shared with me a link to a program that would allow us to seal in today's college tuition prices for Shortcake's future use. In other words, we could pay X amount each month for a total of Y amount, which would be honored at up to 270 universities around the U.S. - including our alma mater - in 2028, when she starts college. We figure in 18 years, the program will expand to include more than just 270; but for now, we're pleased that it includes our alma mater, MIT, Stanford and plenty of other recognizable, "good" schools. At our present income, the monthly amount we'd need to deposit for the program is not really do-able. This is something that I want to look into further and might likely be the best idea for college savings for Shortcake. But I'll be honest, I worry that discussing how to save for her will lead to a conversation I'm not sure how to have. Carrying my economic weight.

The underlying topics of this conversation, as I see it applying to me: obligation and role-modeling.

Let's begin with the obvious, obligation. I have a child now. I am no longer the center of my own universe, nor is my husband the center of his own. (Well, when we decided to marry, we combined orbits around a collective of two, so we haven't been the centers of our universes for several years.) Now, the focus of our orbit is around this little girl and any of her future siblings, and it is a vital focus. So that means every decision we make, and action we take, needs to be done for the good of the family, and more specifically, the good of her. Wanna move to Ireland? Will that be good for the unit? Good for her? Maybe. Maybe not. So, it seems like the logical response should be: Molly should get a job outside the house. It is her obligation, if she wants her child to attend college. And don't be so selfish, Molly - your husband needs someone to lighten his load. Get over yourself! What makes you so special that you don't have to get a hair cut and get a real job?

And this is where I begin to falter. I'm not sure I'm ready to re-enter the full-time workforce, yet. I'm not sure I ever want to. Let's get the selfish reasons out of the way, first: I enjoy caring for our daughter. I love it. Even when it's at its most annoying,caring for our daughter is still more rewarding than when outside work is least annoying. I enjoy being able to go to the library or go grocery shopping during the day, or take the dog for a walk in the sunlight, or go on an audition. Though mothering doesn't let me get as much done as I'd like to do on any given day, I like the weekly flexibility it offers. An economic reason I'm reluctant to return: childcare is expensive. The last job I almost took - a contract job that would've lasted a few weeks - I turned down, because the cost of childcare would've been about 2/3 my paycheck. Yes, 1/3 is better than 0/3, but it's hard to argue that I should leave our child in the care of a virtual stranger to bring home 1/3 of a paycheck working on a project that I'm actually not enthusiastic about. I've been in the workforce for about a decade or so, and my attempts to climb beyond the bottom rung have met terribly limited success. So, I'm not entirely sure I qualify for many higher-paying jobs to offset the cost of childcare, anyway. Finally, a sentimental reason: I don't want to become my mother.

My mom has worked outside the house in some form or fashion since she was a teenager. In the 34 years I've been around and have seen her work, I've rarely seen her content with her work situation. She usually resents her jobs. She enjoys being employed. Mom is one of those people who wouldn't know how to fill the time if she didn't have a job. She'd be bored and confused. But she's always ended up resenting her job.

And this is where the role-modeling conflicts with my sense of obligation.

I was lucky enough to see my dad switch career paths and find his calling. Ministry is difficult (financially, emotionally, spiritually), but it's what he's best at and what he loves, passionately. Mom never really found that path of passion. She did what she had to do to pay the bills when they were newlyweds, up through my tween years: working for the state in a mind-numbing bureaucracy. She despised it. When she decided she wanted to teach, she was thrilled to pursue it. She learned, after a few years, that students don't give a shit about learning, administrators' support of teachers is fickle and parents are either disengaged or overly protective. She hates it - or, at least, she's rarely had anything good to say about it in the last 15 years. I'm certain some of my mom's resentment isn't so much at her job as it is at the fact that she's always had to be the one whose salary is most stable, and often larger. Try raising a family of four, plus a dog, on $12k a year, the take-home my dad had when I was a teenager, and you can see how Mom was obligated to stick out a job she didn't like.

My goal has always been to provide our children - but particularly any daughters - with a mother who is happy with her career. Whose job is, if not her passion, then at minimum, a source of pride and joy. It has always made me terribly sad that my mom has never been happy in her career choices. The last thing I want my daughter to see, when she sees me, is a woman who lives with personal or professional resentment.

Of course, I realize I have to correct an earlier assertion. My mom did once have a job she was passionate about. She was a feature writer at our town's daily newspaper. Knowing her as I do, these days, I think that was the best job for her personality. It fits her organizational style, her personal curiosity and her writing style. She gave it up about a year or two before I was born. I never knew why until this last year.

She gave it up because she and Dad wanted to have a child. Dad, newly ordained, was chaplaining here and there, and subbing in pulpits, as well as in the local school system as a teacher. His income wasn't steady or sufficient. Mom's was. However, in the mid-70s, if you wanted to keep your job, as a woman, you didn't get pregnant. The only employer who wouldn't fire you if you were pregnant back then, that she knew of - and that would pay a better salary than she made - was the State of Texas. She returned to work six weeks after I was born. Six. Weeks. That's the amount of time they gave her. For those of you who've had kids, you know your body is just then starting to heal, and the baby, who still needs to eat every 2 - 3 hours, is entering the 6-week fussy phase and needs Mommy. Luckily, Dad was unemployed at the time, so he provided the childcare for a few months. Within a year, he got a full-time chaplain job at a local hospital and they had an employee nursery.

And this takes me back to work. I could be wrong, but I suspect that having me at home is an emotionally beneficial arrangement for us as a family, right now. I have had a few auditions (a couple this week, actually) for paying gigs; I'm exploring a paying gig for Shortcake and I'm not without options in terms of working from home or working on occasion. What I need to do right now is decide how committed I am to not subsuming. This would mean more self-promotion on my part, something I am loathe to do. I truly hate tooting my own horn, particularly as a means to an end. It might also mean a little more flexibility on my family's part. Currently, I try not to be out more than 1 - 2 nights a week, for rehearsal and performance. But I could (and would like to) make myself more available for improv teaching opportunities, some of which would be at night. The pay would be a pittance, but it would be pay doing what I enjoy and I'd be getting better at it for future work.

I really do appreciate all Mom has done for us. I just mourn that she decided to sacrifice her personal, professional happiness in the process. For most of human history, women have been the ones who've had to subsume their dreams for the expectations of society, or their subsume their happiness for the good of the family. Though Mom had more options than her mother, and she pursued them, she still subsumed both her dreams and happiness, ultimately. I live in an era when I have more options than my mother had. My dreams are fluid, as is my happiness, but I don't want to subsume them. I want Shortcake to see a woman who is happy with her professional choices, whatever they look like. ... I'm just living in tension about this, right now.


secret agent woman said...

I would have loved to have gotten to stay home with my kids when they were little, but couldn't afford it, particularly after having devoted years to getting my Ph.D. But I was lucky enough to be able to work part time their first year so that I could nurse them. We would not have been able to send our kids to college if I'd not worked, though.

mommanator said...

Holy Cow, at first I glibly said welcome to parenthood. I really never thought as much as you have on the subject. I did like my career however. I worked all of my adult life and through motherhood. I did have one great husband who thought he was a parent too(I'm not saying yours isn't), we made it through the good times and the bad times and together it made for a great home for our kiddos. Even with one of em being handicapped. My hubby even completed his doctorate. I am saying all this to say you will be a great mom and do what you must for your family, don't worry so much about it, it takes care of itself AND its not the amount of time which is spent with the child its the quality of time!

Virginia Gal said...

I emailed you about this, too much to write about in a comment box!

Darla D said...

Oh, boy, do I know how you feel! I was SO ambivalent about going to work at the library - even though it was just part time - while my girls were so young. In the end, though, I think it really gave them a special kind of relationship with their dad (who was home on his own with them the weekends and evenings I worked) that they probably wouldn't have had otherwise. These are such tough decisions, and I think it's great that you are thinking things through so carefully. There's no doubt that she's in good hands. :-)