The War on Wearing Pajamas at Noon

A few days ago, Sean walked through the door after work and announced “I know exactly what you should blog about next! Democrats don’t believe that stay-at-home moms work hard!” Of course he was talking about the recent comment made by Hilary Rosen about Ann Romney, and how she “never worked a day in her life”, even though she raised 5 children.

Disclaimer:  I live in a house divided.  My husband is a Republican, and I am a Democrat.  I believe that in order to make our country better we need to start with a few minor details, like making sure that all of us have the right to love and marry whomever we choose.  You know, basic civil rights are kinda important.  And my husband believes that we should keep all of our money.  Maybe it’s not as simple as that.  But it makes for some great arguments friendly debates.  And we’d make an excellent reality TV show.  Consider yourself warned….

I can’t be fooled.  Hilary Rosen isn’t suddenly the spokesperson for all Democratic women.  And even if she was, that’s not what she MEANT.  That’s not what she MEANT, people!  You know it, and I know it, and you bet your morning coffee served in a mug at your kitchen counter while your five kids bicker about what cereal to eat that Ann Romney knows it too.

Hilary Rosen didn’t mean that my life isn’t hard.  She wasn’t trying to say that raising a child isn’t work.  What she meant to say (and I didn’t ask her personally, but this is my guess) is that women who work outside of the home have different issues and concerns than women who work INside the home.

My concern this morning?  How on earth did my (almost) three year old decide that it was a good idea to attach a toy wrench to one of the (fake) blades on his (fake) mixer, and turn it on until the wrench spun around and around and finally flew off?

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And what idiot decides to make a (fake) mixer for kids anyway?  With blades (?!) that spin around at high speeds?

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My life is hard, y’all.  Raising a child is serious business.  VERY serious business.  In addition to molding a human being from a tiny blob of squalling newborn baby, I have to change 10 diapers every damn day.  (No, I’m not kidding).  Not only do I spend countless hours teaching my toddler how to be kind, use his manners, ask for what he needs without yelling (“But I waaaant to sqweam!” he screams) and how to not drink bath water that he has already peed in, I have to put up with other women constantly asking me “Do you work?”

I cut sandwiches into shapes and kiss boo-boos to make them feel better.  I lie on the floor while my kid calls “Fireman Sam” and tries to rescue me.  I watch Caillou and the Cars Movie over and over and over.  I dream up educational activities that involve play-dough and colored pencils, and then watch as my little student throws everything on the floor and steps on it when I turn my back for 60 seconds to start dinner.  Which I’m responsible for making.  Because my husband works.  And I don’t.

You know what?

I don’t work.

I don’t.  I stay home.  Sometimes in my pajamas.  Watching my child grow from the baby that I cheered on when he rolled over for the first time, to the toddler that I clapped for when he finally learned to hit a golf ball….even if his swing looks a lot like his Daddy’s….

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Sitting in the backyard watching Max golf isn’t work. It’s a privilege.  Is it hard?  Of course.  Don’t get me wrong, of all people, I’m the first one to say that mothering is HARD WORK.  Driving around for hours every night with a sick kid who didn’t sleep was hard work.  Cleaning vomit out of a carseat was hard work.  Struggling through post-partum sadness while figuring out how the hell to get milk to come out of my boobs while simultaneously bouncing with my baby on an exercise ball because it was the only thing that made him stop crying for 5 minutes, was hard work.  Loving your child so much that your heart is in pain when you think about them ever leaving your side, is hard work.  Raising a little boy so that he will be a GOOD MAN, that is hard, constant, challenging work.  But it is also a privilege that many moms are afraid to admit.  When I offer Max a choice of organic strawberries or home-made muffins for snack, that is a privilege.  When I take Max to the pediatrician that my husband’s employer pays for, that is a privilege.  When he gets medical care from one of the leading Children’s Hospitals in the WORLD, that is a privilege.  When I can afford an amazing Nanny to watch him on a Saturday night so I can re-connect with my husband, that is a privilege.  When Max gets to socialize with other children at preschool, or a gymnastics class, or at our brand new neighborhood park that is safe from things like gang violence and drug syringes, that is a privilege.  The fact that I can even write about my life on this blog, is a privilege.

Why?  Because there are so many moms out there who are WORKING their asses off to take care of their children.  Not the kind of work that I’m doing.  The kind where they get up before the sun rises and walk in the biting cold to the bus stop.  The kind of work where they clean other people’s houses and watch other people’s kids.  The kind of work where they piece their tips together to buy used winter jackets for their children and use food stamps to supplement the crappy free lunch that the elementary school provides.  Moms who fight to understand their kid’s homework because it’s not in their native language.  Moms who care for more than one kid, with no partner and no support system.  It is a different kind of work.  The kind that Hilary Rosen was talking about so stop pretending that you’re offended and bitching about it at your privileged playgroups and your privileged mommy websites for crying out loud

When I was in my early 20’s I attended a school meeting with one of the moms that I was counseling.  Her son was 7, and he was due for a review of the IEP that governed how he would be taught in his special education classroom.  I sat next to his 25 year old mother and acted as her advocate, as she defended her son’s right to extra support services.  She had never finished high school.  Her son was one of four children, all from different fathers.  She was living in a shelter and surviving on the crappy donations that strangers dropped off.  As the meeting progressed, I was blown away with the power of her love for that boy.  It was nearing 5 o’clock, and she had almost gotten everything that she wanted out of the meeting.  But we had a few important things left.  When the principal asked if we could keep going instead of postponing the rest for another day, I eagerly shouted out “Oh of course!  Yes!”  After all, things were really in my client’s favor at this point.  “Miss Kim” the mama said, and glared at me.  “You might have all the time in the world, but I have three other kids at home who need dinner, and baths, and bedtime stories.  I still need to take the bus to the grocery store, go home and cook, help with homework, and sit in the laundromat for an hour waiting for my last load of wash.  You might have time to stay, but I have work to do.”

It was the first time I had truly been confronted with my privilege.

She was right.  At 24, I didn’t have a husband or children to care for.  My biggest worry at that point was whether or not I’d make it home in time to watch The Bachelor with my Roomie.  And who would pick up dinner from Fiesta Taco.

It occurred to me that this mothering stuff was hard work.  And it was even harder if you didn’t have the resources that so many families do.  A car to carry your groceries in.  A washer and dryer in your garage so that you can do laundry while watching your children play.   An extra hour at night to do whatever the heck you want while your husband takes care of paying the bills and taking the trash out.

I’m not mad at Hilary Rosen, because she wasn’t talking about me.  And let’s be fair, she wasn’t even talking about Ann Romney.  She was talking about all of the moms who do what Ann and I do, AND THEN DRIVE TO WORK EVERY DAY.

I’ll be the first one to admit that some days I feel like I’m not tough enough for this gig.  When it’s 4 pm and my eyes are glazing over because you can only build so many lego towers and my son was up at 6 am (and did I mention he doesn’t exactly nap?), I do find myself dreaming sometimes about wearing cute Editor pants and my trendy pink blazer and stilettos and walking to Starbucks with my colleagues having a business meeting.  I miss the adrenaline rush of working for the police department, and the energizing buzz of a great Q&A session after teaching a workshop for adoptive parents.  I miss having a nice office that was within walking distance to the best French cafe in San Francisco.  I miss coming up with great ideas that don’t involve dinosaurs and spaceships, and laughing with friends over happy hour cocktails about our bosses and our dreams.

Then I remember that every day I spent sitting at my desk, checking my email, reading People.com working my ass off, I was dreaming of having a family.  I was patting my expectant belly and sending my great expectations to the little boy who was growing inside of me.  I was looking longingly at the mommies pushing their strollers down Fillmore, the ones who were  cuddling their babies while they grabbed a cup of coffee and walked right back into the sunshine….at 1 pm on a Wednesday.  Every day, I prayed so hard that I could ditch my pencil skirts for yoga pants and my smart black work purse for a diaper bag.  I would walk back to my office with my heels clicking like typewriter keys against the sidewalk, and daydream about what my toddler would say to me as we walked together hand in hand.  I wanted more than anything to be a mom, and this little boy who blessed our family is even sweeter than I ever imagined he would be.  It is my privilege to mother him, from home.

The view from here is gorgeous y’all.  And it’s the easiest work I’ve ever done.

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Comments:

  1. Great piece! I love your story about what you learned from the 25-year-old single mom at the IEP. Also liked the image of you browsing People.com at work! Not that I’ve EVER done anything like that…:)

  2. I have two parts to this so bear with me. 🙂

    First part: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for acknowledging that staying at home (for the most part) is a privilege. While there is a small percentage of parents who stay home because the price of daycare/transportation, etc. is more than they would make in employment, the majority of parents stay home because they have that option. I work and while I would love to stay home with my daughter it’s just not feasible for our sanity (pinching pennies every month is not how I want to live). With that said, it is definitely NOT easy street…staying home with the kids and keeping them engaged for 8+ hours day in and day out is not for the weak.

    Second part: My gripe with the Hilary Rosen comment was her suggestion that women that stay home don’t have economic concerns. Her actual quote was “She’s [Ann Romney] never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and why do we worry about their future.”
    If Hilary wasn’t talking about Ann specifically but women who do work in general, in which case she essentially highlights (by way of exclusion) those that stay home, then I think she’s doing a great disservice to stay-at-home-moms (apparently stay-at-home-dads are an urban legend *wink, wink*). Who is she to say that you or any parent who stays at home isn’t worried about the job situation, the price of gas, the price of food, are the public schools safe enough and enriching enough for children, etc.? I’m sure you would be greatly concerned if your husband’s job was at risk do to a wavering economy or if the price of gas has now forced you to reduce the amount of money you save every month. Who says these topics even need to effect you directly in order for you to be concerned? I’m put off by the assumption that the only way for a person to be concerned about a particular topic is if it directly effects them.

    Hilary either assumed that only “those who have been there” can have any opinions and concern on the topic of the economy or she was personally attacking Ann Romney for her personal choices.

    This isn’t meant to be a “down with the Democratic party” because Lord knows the Republican supporters (Ted Nugent anyone?) aren’t doing much better about keeping their feet out of their mouths.

    • Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment! I do agree with you that even moms who stay at home, share concerns about the world/economy/social struggles/etc. My frustration with the response to Hilary Rosen’s comment came primarily because she chose to direct it at someone who lives a life that is very removed from reality. Of course Ann Romney is probably concerned about the fate of the working mom or even the stay at home mom. However, I really do believe that someone who doesn’t clean their own toilets, shop for their own groceries, handle their own finances, etc. shouldn’t be a spokesperson for the average mom (working or stay at home). The Romneys are incredibly wealthy. This affords them certain luxuries that the rest of us don’t have, and insulates them from certain concerns that the rest of us DO have. This isn’t a political statement BTW, I’d put the Obamas in the same category. I do agree with lots of things that you said in your comment, I just feel like we’re all kidding ourselves when we allow Ann Romney to pretend like she’s offended. She knows that she’s not the average stay at home mom. She knows what Hilary Rosen meant. Yes, Ann Romney can still be concerned for us, but until she truly has a grasp on what it feels like to wonder if she’ll be able to pay the rent, I don’t want her held up as an icon of stay of home mom-ness 🙂

  3. Beautiful post on an enormously complex subject.

    I appreciate your point of view. Part of the reason why I love this blog is your positivity – even in challenging situations. I relate to that and I also think the world could use a lot more of it.

    The issue I have is society as a whole doesn’t see any VALUE in staying home. Questions like “what do you do all day?” or “do you feel like your brain is turning to mush?” suggest that there are more important things you can and should be doing with your time than raising your child. Because ANYONE can do that for you.

    You say very simply that mothers that would outside the home have different concerns than those working inside the home. Is that true? Not sure. But let’s accept that it is. Implied in Rosen’s comment (or worse Hillary’s from a few years back) is that your concerns are not as important as a working moms. That only struggle matters.

    Also implied is that all working moms “have” to work. I know quite a few who insist that’s true. I mean, who else is going to make the payments on their BMW or Hamptons home mortgage? Sheesh. That does not meet MY definition of “have to”.

    I’m a lawyer. That means I went through a lot of schooling and I spent a lot of years building a practice before I had kids. “And then I threw it all away to stay home” is the general sentiment. That’s unfair. Call what I do hard work, call it a privilege, call it whatever you’d like but until society starts recognizing the value of raising their own children, I call comments like Rosen’s shitty (please don’t let Max read that, I never curse).

    • Carinn, thanks for taking the time to share this! You bring up some very interesting points, and yes, this is waaay more complex than I made it seem 😉 I do agree that society doesn’t see much value in raising your own children. These “mommy wars” are fueled primarily by women, who are in such fierce competition with EACH OTHER, and rarely supported by their employers. I do think that the concerns of the stay at home mom matter, but feel strongly that having “privilege” alleviates some of these concerns. I was simply frustrated by Ann Romney being held up as this mother who works sooooo hard and is soooo misunderstood. She has a ridiculous amount of help. While she may have a soft spot in her heart for real-world struggles, and I appreciate her empathy, she is not the spokesperson for the “average Jane” who is raising children without a housekeeper, driver, stylist, etc. As for women who choose to work, I have so much admiration and respect for them. I think that we all have the right to choose our career, whether it’s in the home or at an office. Either way, it’s the example that we set for our children about following our passions and making the right choices for our families that matters in the end.

  4. Well said all around! Now if all “mommy wars” could be this civilized it would be far easier to find common ground.

    I could not agree with you more – if we are really talking about Ann Romney (vs. the “typical” SAHM) then your post is far more clearer to me. Great perspective.

    And so as to not be misconstrued on the “have to” work point, I have the utmost respect for women who choose their careers. I have a girlfriend who I went to law school with that has kicked ass, made partner at a young age and continues to work 80-90 hour weeks with two boys. I applaud her success with 100% sincerity. But that’s because (in my eyes) she owns up to her choices. She says I love my career! So how can I not get behind her? She takes a fair amount of vacation all with her boys and she seems to have a great bond with them.

    The ones who I have little respect for are the ones who say “boo hoo, poor me. I’d love to be at home coloring with my babies but I can’t. I have to work [implied is: I have to work so I can make my BMW payments and own 2 homes]. I understand this is a small group, not meant to include the ones who choose to work either for financial reasons or for the love of their career. It’s the ones who seem to be making no choices at all.

  5. I have written enough to fill two posts here just in your comments! Maybe I’ll just cut and paste them over on my blog 🙂

    Thank you for entertaining this dialogue. It makes for a nice place to visit!

    • I’m so glad that you’ve shared those comments here, and yes you should totally put them on your blog….because I was actually thinking about doing a Jessica Simpson post after reading yours, so it’ll be like a swap 🙂 And I’m pretty sure we could find something equally as awesome as jalapeno poppers at BlogHer btw 🙂

  6. I love this – it’ so great, and so honest – thank you for writing this! I just stumbled across your blog from the list of attendees going to BlogHer ’12- I’ll be there too! I look forward to reading more of your stuff and hopefully meeting you at the conference!

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