No doubt your own mother has disappointed you a time or two, and now Mary Tyler Mom has too. Perhaps I’ve overstated my significance to you. All three of you. I committed to publish on Fridays. Last Friday, on vacation in sunny Mexico, I had no intention of writing about working and mothering, being too busy simply mothering and letting someone else cook and utilizing my elbows to transport large vats of guacamole into my mouth. But I did intend to notify you of my absence. And I did not (in my defense there were technical difficulties). Yesterday, I just plum forgot in the midst of a ridiculously busy day. When I did remember last night at 10:30, relaxing for the first time in 15 hours, I thought to myself, “&*%$ it.” Not good.
Enter the guilt. What if Mary Tyler Mom has just become another thing to feel guilty about? I’m already the love child of a Jewish mother and the Catholic faith. Guilt is in my DNA, the force which propels my emotionally charged synapse messages from neuron to neuron. It’s endless. infinite, perpetual, tiresome.
Here are but a few of my current guilt triggers:
having weekly acupuncture appointments
not cooking creatively enough
spending too much $ on stuff
not paying enough attention to Mr. Mary Tyler Mom
telling Mary Tyler Son to wait for me to play until I …
needing regular alone time
providing the iPad more action than Mr. Mary Tyler Mom
donating my teflon pans to Salvation Army when I’ve deemed them unsafe for my own family (but what are you supposed to do with them?)
not taking my herbal supplements as “Needle Joe,” my pin guy, advises
feeling burdened and overwhelmed (yes, I said it) by directing my dead daughter’s charity - - since when does losing a child qualify you to run a non-profit?
having lunch out three days I week when working
serving boxed Kraft Dinner instead of homemade mac-n-cheese for the boy and choosing not to add even the frozen peas I should
not paying my bills on time with $ in the bank
feeling a stir when Mary Tyler Son wakes from his nap, wanting just a few more minutes to myself please
only buying some of my produce organically
using the wrong sunscreen on vacation - - a better mother would have known better
not sending thank yous promptly or at all
not losing the ten pounds I promised I would before vacation
using facebook at the office
Jesus. I could go on, but I won’t. In rereading the above list I sound a bit too much like Gwynneth Paltrow, a mom I live to judge, with her privileged, whiny problems. Sorry, Gwynnie, forgive me my transgressions for poking fun at your “problems” and using punctuation marks sarcastically as I do. Turns out I have a few of those “problems” myself.
And, yep, there it is. Mary Tyler Son just awoke from his nap and as if on cue, the stir deep within arrives, wanting just a few more minutes to myself. Sigh.
I am the product of a working mother. Yes, it’s true. I was seven when my Mom started working and I wore a gold key on a red and yellow lanyard, tucked inside my parochial school uniform. I couldn’t actually unlock the door, so a neighbor kid would open it and let me in. My brother, two years older, went to a different school and got home an hour or so after I did. Today this would be illegal (Illinois’ current legal age for home alone children is 14). In 1977 it was merely shameful.
There are a few very potent memories I have about this status of latchkey kid: one was really enjoying Brownies, but opting out of Girl Scouts after hearing a neighborhood mom complain about driving me home from the meetings. I could really rail on this witch, but I won’t. Who am I kidding? Of course Imma rail on this witch. First off, why on earth would she say that in my presence? Secondly, my Mom didn’t drive, so she would be carting my little Brownie ass around anyway. Thirdly, her own daughter was a Brownie in my class and we lived a half block away, so really? Finally, I could name names, but the gal’s daughter is my facebook friend, and even though I haven’t seen her since 1983, who would want to know that about their mom? I take great pride in keeping that particular sadness to myself and never shared it with my Mom. Instead, I said something about not wanting to sell cookies, which my Mom was probably pleased as punch to not have to deal with anyway.
Another memory I have is standing on a street corner with my Mom. Get your mind out of the gutter, people! As mentioned, my Mom didn’t drive when I was little, so every morning she would stand on the corner and wait for another mom who lived a few blocks over to pick her up and drive to their mutual job - - an attendance office for a high school in a neighboring suburb. My Mom left early, something like 7am, so she woke us up early, made certain we were dressed and fed, and took off a little before my brother and I walked to school. At that age I hated that my Mom worked. If I’m honest, I think I was ashamed. And know that I write that only because my Mom is dead and it can’t hurt her to read those words. Sigh. Anyway, every morning I would walk out to the corner with my Mom and hang out with her while she waited for the other gal to pick her up. Many years later, me all grown, my Mom told me that it just about killed her that I did that. She felt terrible, she said, guilty as all get out, driving away as I waved. Now I get it.
A year or two later, my Mom was laid off from that gig and started working at the local library. For some reason, I liked her working there more. Maybe because she really liked it. She stayed in that position through my college years. God bless her. This was full-time work and involved two evenings a week. At this point I was about 10 and my brother 12. Double digits. She and my Dad had a very traditional marriage - - she cooked and cleaned and he didn’t. So for those two evenings, she taught my brother and I how to make dinner. It was usually just heating something up she had prepared in the morning, but once in a while I cooked a pork chop or a hamburger. Not a bad lesson for a 10 year old, I think. This is when we started doing our own laundry, too.
Another really sad result of my Mom going to work was her cutting my hair. I had mad curls and screamed every time my hair was washed or combed because of the tangled mess it gravitated towards. When my Mom got hired she sat me down and told me it was time to get it cut. Ouch. This was 1977, folks, so we went for a Dorothy Hamill do. Word to the wise: never give your mop top curly girl a short cut. It just doesn’t work. Actually my Mom wore that same do from 1976 until she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004. She was a knockout with it - - it just totally suited her. When she stopped styling her hair because the tumor had paralyzed her right side, I was shocked to learn her hair was just as curly as mine.
So what’s my point? It’s complicated. Yes, that’s my point: it’s complicated. I have mixed feelings about working and mothering, just as I had mixed feelings about having a mom who worked. In the end, it worked out. I was a good kid. Probably the worst that came from it was that I watched too many ABC afterschool specials, which taught me that if you took PCP you would jump out the window of your high school classroom. I ate too many Ore Ida Crispers for an afternoon snack. I was a little lonely. None of those are the best things, but none are the worst, either. It’s hard to imagine my little seven year old self alone for an hour every afternoon and I kind of want to give that girl a hug. By the time I was a working mother, my Mom had already died. Just six months earlier. How I wish I could talk about working and mothering with her - - what it was like for her, what it is like for me. Sigh again.
So what about you? Did your mom work? How old were you? Did you, too, wear the key on a lanyard and hang your head in shame? Talk to Mary Tyler Mom about it.
Last week I wrote about the cruelty of mothering and working, the judgment that goes on, the thanklessness of it all. This week? Sorry, but I’ve got to judge. I can’t stop myself. Huff Post did a piece on Gwyneth Paltrow a few days ago, I can’t even remember what it was about, but there was a link to her Goop, her weekly online “newsletter” about “lifestyle.” Specifically, a link to her posting about “A Day in the Life” of busy working mothers. I’m a busy working mother, I says to myself. I write about working mothers, too, I says to myself. So I clicked on the link. I laughed. I cried. I wretched.
At reader request, Gwyneth, or Gwynnie as I like to call her, thought she would solicit a slice of life, day in the life guest blog from two “extremely busy working mothers.” To best relate to her readers, she chose Juliet, a partner in a California venture capital firm, and Stella, daughter of a Beatle and famed fashion designer. You know, just two average working Joannas. The intent was to have the three working moms, Gwynnie included, detail a day in their “manic” lives to see how they fit it all in, how they do it all, if you will, and to share working mom tips for the rest of us. Ugh.
How Wealthy White Women Who Work Make It Work:
get up b/w 5:30 to 6 am daily to exercise as it will “make you happy”
have a personal trainer come to your home on Monday mornings to ensure a healthy start to your work week
"curate" your social media and personal web
get an amazing assistant
commit to a weekly blow out to save time in mornings
enjoy 90 minutes of “family time” from 6 to 7:30 pm, as “many nights of the week as you can make it”
schedule your acupuncture at 9:30 at night
spend your time “impacting the highest upside situations”
have dinner with your kids at least 3x/week; read to kids 5x/week
find a “great alteration person” to help you “review your looks, sort out closet, and plan key looks for travel, weekend, evenings, holidays”
ingest copious amounts of flax seed oil and make your children do the same
devise lists and spreadsheets and lists of spreadsheets
organize “one or two key moments” during school year so your kids can see you “interacting as ‘Mummy’”
take meetings in cabs
I honestly thought I was reading a piece from The Onion. Alas, I wasn’t. These three gals go on and on about the difficulties of doing it all and something about it all being worth it. At one point Gwynnie describes the conundrum of needing to leave the house by 8:20am and having one of her two adorably named kids still asleep at 8am. In just 20 minutes time, that Gwynnie managed to gently awake her son, dress him, feed him eggs and toast she prepared herself, administer the aforementioned flax seed oil (lemon flavored, she’s not stupid!), finish decorating the Christmas toy drive shoe boxes for those less fortunate, explain the significance and reality of children having less around the world, then wait for her two adorably named kids to go to their playroom and pick personal toys and books to contribute to now completely decorated shoe boxes as they have been sufficiently enlightened about the plight of others and feel for Angelina Jolie’s soon to be adopted children.
Fuck that. I reject that is humanly possible. Gwynnie has lost all credibility, awesome gLee appearance be damned.
The three gals each very briefly mention their nannies. Who come to them. And apparently stay til the kids are in bed. And probably live with the family. Fuck that, too. I can’t stand this need to perpetuate the myth that women can do it all. We can’t. Something always suffers. Always. It’s work or it’s family or most commonly a bit of both. And my honest guess is that something suffers for these gals too, even though they are Oscar winners and rock and roll scions and venture capitalists. What is a venture capitalist, anyway?