Things I Know About Marriage & Careers After 15 Years

01.30.13

This should be a two-word post.

Not much.

I don’t know much about marriage and careers even though I’ve been married for over 15 years.

I suspect many things and I know a lot about my marriage but I don’t know a lot about other people’s marriages. I ask about them and certainly, I observe them but if success or failure is marked by marriage or divorce then none of us know much. There are marriages I knew were doomed. I went to weddings and decided to not bring a gift because no part of me thought they’d be together at the end of the year. Some couples are unable to make a clean break and they need to get married so they can get divorced. It’s like it’s the only way they know to get away from each other.

Other marriages I simply don’t want for myself. I suspect they’re happy (perhaps in the way people with Stockholm Syndrome are happy) poking and prodding and making fun of each other. Others seem sexless and one, in particular, has me thinking that they’re both gay and closeted (even to themselves), to be fair Mr. G says that I think everyone is gay, maybe I spent too much time in West Hollywood selling tanning packages to “straight men” who had an inordinate number of gay male friends and a penchant for bodybuilding, hair waxing and tanning nude. Maybe I just see the world a little differently.

My friend Cassie is starting a new relationship and as everyone who is married or living with someone knows, the first year is really tough. It’s not tough in a way that folks understand when they’re in it, it’s difficult in hindsight. My husband and I were strangers sharing a home, a cubbyhole really in the hillside. We had to figure out how we saved money (hah! there was none), how we earned money, who got the computer, who scooped the cat shit and who our friends were. We had to decide on bedtimes, morning routines, food and newspaper sections. Everything was a negotiation the first year and it was easy because we were madly in love and really couldn’t get enough of each other. When people date for 5 and 7 years before marrying or cohabiting I wonder if it’s more difficult having some of the bloom off the rose?

So Cassie and I were talking about Penelope’s post where she talks about the different ways to be married to someone successful and I sort of bristled. I didn’t say it out loud (because I’m trying to develop tact) but hasn’t Penelope been divorced? More than once? She’s crazy, right? Or maybe she’s just crazy smart. I don’t know, I haven’t read enough to make that judgment but something tells me there’s a bit of mania involved with her ascent to the top. I say that without judgment, with some amount of reverence even. I’ve become a bit of a slug in the winter months I could use a dose of mania.

So there’s this post where Penelope Trunk outlines the kind of marriage you can have if you want kids. According to her, there are the following scenarios for women:

Be the breadwinner

  • Marry a Stay at home dad
  • Use nannies

Be home with your kids

  • Work part-time
  • Don’t bother earning money

I’ve read and re-read that post a dozen times and I’m wanting to pick it apart and be able to say, with authority, “This is insane, there are more options for mothers than this. There is a balance, there’s a way to have a career that doesn’t dip into your personal life. It’s all possible.”

I can’t say that. If you’re thinking of marriage and you know you want to be someone’s mother these are discussions to have before conception. I’d argue that this is a decision to make while dating, before getting serious.

No matter which route you go it’s tough to adjust to marriage and to parenting. I cannot begin to comprehend what it’s like to adjust to parenting someone else’s child. My mother married when I was 15 or so and our stepfather had to walk a fine line. I think he did it gracefully as teenage years are not imbued with grace.

There’s a particular challenge in being the non-earner. It’s been difficult to give up control of our future and basically bet it all on one man that I met at a boozy party when I was 25. Obviously, we’re the thing movies are made of. We still like each other, we haven’t filed bankruptcy and the kids seem to be well adjusted. I’m only minimally jealous of my husband.

Yes. I am often envious of my husband. Which makes ZERO sense because when I go to pilates today he will be meeting that will likely wring him out and use every bit of energy he has. But he’s doing it in a luxury hotel so I convince myself that it’s all fabulousness and luxe and there’s no actual work involved and then I feel sorry for myself that I’m home.

And then I start arguing with myself (maybe Penelope and I have a little bit of The Crazy in common) and I remind myself that the man works long hours and I don’t. I should stop being petty and jealous of his amazing dinners. Then I remind myself again that we are different people and he doesn’t actually love fancy dinners with strangers. He doesn’t thrive on it. This is actual work for him. So I start feeling grateful and not at all put out that I have to rush to FedEx to get a tie that he forgot sent overnight. In fact, I hoped to myself that he would be as generous with me and my pending trip to Australia.

Then we got to chatting a little more and I found out that someone booked his flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans via Minneapolis. No. I cannot explain why. I can’t even get a slightly slow eight-year-old to look at a map of the US and explain how that happened. I chatted with him about ways to fix the return flight (which has similar idiocy built into it) and joked with him about needing a private jet.

Which is when I began to resemble this lady.

In marriage it's easy to turn green with envy, and equally important not to.

 

Mr. G explained that his trip in late February would indeed involve a private jet to the east coast. I love that man and I want wonderful things for him but sometimes the perks of being the one who works leave me feeling a little left behind.

And it’s just a feeling. We don’t cater to feelings here. We cater to actions.

 

What If You Weren’t a Mom?

11.20.12

During one of the many drives we take around town Jane asked me to buy her something expensive. I don’t recall what it was. It wasn’t totally unnecessary or out of line, it was simply something expensive and I cannot recall if it’s something we could not afford to chose to not afford. I don’t often tell the children which is which, rather I default to choice.

We are terrible about teaching our kids the value of a dollar because we have little respect for a dollar. The kids have allowance and a good but not incredible work ethic. When they run out of money I’ll give them the opportunity to earn more but I’m quite happy to buy them things they don’t need. A better mother might make them work for these things.

It gives me joy to give to my children and I fight internal battles every time I overindulge but they’re good kids. They’re very good kids so I know I haven’t spoilt them.

In any event Jane was asking me for something and I told her that we just couldn’t swing it and then joked about her being really really expensive (and for once I was understating the facts). She gave me some kind of face and told her I’d see if I could pick up a little extra work. This is when we had a surprising but long overdue discussion.

JANE: I’m sorry I’m so expensive Mom. [She is, in fact, not sorry but she’s wise enough to be sweetly apologetic. Maybe she could manage the Pantages Theater twitter account.]

ME: It’s okay honey, you’re a kid. It’s your job to be expensive.

JANE:  I bet if you didn’t have kids you’d work a lot less.

ME: Nope, just the opposite would be true.

JANE: But you wouldn’t need as much money.

ME: People work for more than money. When do you see me work?

JANE: I don’t see it but I know you do it when we’re gone.

ME: If I didn’t have you guys [Alexander is in the car for this exchange] I’d probably work more. I’d probably go to an office every single day, come home late at night and take every opportunity to travel.

JANE: Really? Then why don’t you do that? [she was genuinely confused]

ME: What happens when I’m on one of my trips?

JANE: Nothing. We eat out a lot.

ME: How do you do when I’m gone?

JANE: Okay but sometimes I need you.

ME: How does your brother do when I’m gone.

JANE: He really needs you.

ME: And did you feel like you needed me more three years ago when you were the same age?

Jane shrugs.

ME: I’m really happy to be home for you guys. I love you and being your mom is my job but with the way Daddy works we can’t have two of us working like that.

We talked more about the fact that I’m really lucky that work has been a choice. We’re all lucky that their Dad hadn’t been laid off and no one had to flip burgers on the midnight shift but that we absolutely would because the only thing that’s undignified is the refusal to work hard. I talked to her about diligence being more important than talent or intelligence and then I talked to her about homework and mascara and My Chemical Romance because really when you’re driving around town in your Mom’s hybrid you don’t really give a shit if she wants to work or not.

I think she heard me. All I can do is say it.

Is Mom Blogging A Time Consuming Hobby or a Career?

09.21.12

The Mom Blogiverse is aflutter about a post by Amy Suardi over at Frugal Mom where she announces that she is no longer in the business of blogging. In addition to hitting on every point that a work at home mom would feel conflicted about she states the following:

Jockeying for attention in the age of a million blogs and still trying to care for my family, live by my values of meaning and connection, and maintain a simple, sweet, slow life was an impossible ideal.

Is mom blogging saturated? Are we competing with one another for some spotlight? Are the kids neglected? Sort of yes, not really, I hope not but probably.

Every private forum and facebook group is talking about this post. I’m hopeful that at least a few women who are pouring time and money into blogs that don’t create joy or revenue will rethink how they wish to spend their days. It’s important to define success for ourselves wisely and though a large online audience may make you feel good your family will always feel better. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to work a small number of hours so that we can be with our families, some folks really don’t have that option. Giving up even a few dollars a month could be tragic. These are tough times and quitting a job (even a freelance one) isn’t always an option.

I read Amy’s post and was quite puzzled. I think that Amy has four kids, they look to be little. I’m trying to understand how much a babysitter costs for four kids (my mom was my only real babysitter and we paid her in hugs and gratitude) because of statements like this:

The money I made from writing a post for Parentables did not even cover the cost of a sitter. Freelance writing is not about the money, I eventually learned. It’s about the flexibility of working in your pajamas, the freedom to write about your last vacation, and the cachet of being associated with a large publication.

I’d never actually heard of Parentables before today but I’m trying to understand how a writer could make less money than a babysitter? This confuses me in every way. If you’re new to freelancing I’d really hate for anyone to think that it’s about flexibility, sloppiness and cachet. Freelancing is about owning your time, knowing your value and writing your passions. I was recently published in a large publication and I assure you I was not paid in accolades.

I asked some other folks what they thought of the piece and Kori said, “I thought it was a good article because I can relate to what she is saying.  I think all of us have to find a balance that makes sense in our lives. With that said though, I think you can find a balance and still make money blogging.”

Jenn thinks she’s not much of a blogger anyhow so the conversation isn’t applicable, “Do you consider making a TV show blogging? Now I’m even more confused.” I’m with Jenn. It sounds like being in front of a camera was a lot of work for a mom with little kids. Some folks aspire to be on camera, some just sort of land there. I think it’s a softer landing when it’s actually a goal but it’s a tremendous amount of work and it’s not time that you’re in control of. I’m not really clear on the show but some talent isn’t particularly well compensated. Perhaps that’s the cache she’d mentioned?

Trisha suggests that a successful career blogging comes from being a savvy entrepreneur, “The key to being online and making a living is learning to know your worth. You have to absolutely learn to say no when there is no benefit to your brand. That clears up your time to dedicate to the companies that are more seriously dedicated to you resulting in better posts, and more importantly, better opportunities.”

I wish Amy well and I’m sure she’ll have great success. She’s a smart lady because she knows that success is self defined and putting family first is her truest measure right now.

Blogging serves many masters. I’ve recently changed the way I do things and it might look like a not-very-smart move to some but for me it was the best thing I could have done.

Can a new blogger come on the scene, set up shop and make a good living? Are we quite simply saturated? I don’t know the answers to that. I’ve often compared blogging to the MLM industry. There are many more women who will lose time and money (time that cannot be replaced, money that can) from jumping into the business of blogging. They’ll be sold websites, templates, mailing lists and conferences that are all unaffordable but allow them to feel like part of the workforce without really entering it. Is this a bad thing or just a thing? Is working at home part of a phase that stay at home parents need to experience?

I really don’t have any answers. I do know how to run a business. I’ve been working for myself since 1998 and I know that I’ve redefined success a thousand times in as many days. Sometimes I need to stretch a little more, sometimes the new definition of success means doing less.

Bloggers, ladies in particular, it helps to be realistic. If you’re making less than minimum wage it’s a hobby. Hobbies get different hours than jobs.

Photo courtesy of Flickr via creative commons. 

Call Your Girlfriends First

05.31.11

One of the great love affairs in my lifetime has been the one I have with my city, Los Angeles. I love living here, I love it’s brief history and I love parts of this city that few other people seem to care about. So when LA Noir was released I was one of the first to grab a copy, not the first, but one of the first.

I put the kids to bed and then ran downstairs to pop it into the Playstation and proceeded to play so horrendously it was laughable. With my siren running I drove the police car on sidewalks, and when I meant to ask passers-by questions I punched them instead. I was a very very bad cop.

The second day was better. I was no longer plowing down citizens and I seldom punched them, but I’d have been fired from anyone’s force. There was a bank robbery and a good bit of blood and shooting, but I still wasn’t seeing why it was rated M.

I remembered that my friend Laurie had a copy of the game so I called her up and asked her why I couldn’t let my kids play. Thus far it wasn’t exactly a wholesome game, but I didn’t see why it needed to be kept under lock and key.

“Oh no you can’t let your kids play. A friend of mine wrote a review of it and she was talking about a crime scence where a woman’s dress was pulled up over her waist and you could see pubic hair.”

“Yikes, I don’t need Alexander seeing that.”

“That’s not all, then when you investigate there’s anal bruising and semen analysis.” Laurie gave me a few more details but I was busy hyperventilating at the thought that I’d nearly handed my son the controller so that he could help me not drive on sidewalks.

Then we started talking about the usual stuff, parenting, work, marriage. I started to tell Laurie how I felt badly that I’m not going out much at night anymore, that I’m skipping BlogHer and other similar conferences. I told her that I needed to be home with my kids and that my work days with them seem to be starting at 3pm these days.

Plain as day she said, “Of course you do.”

And really that was all I needed to just collapse. Because when your kids are a little bigger it’s easy to let people tell you that you don’t need to be home with them. It’s easy to feel like they’re okay on their own, and they very well may be okay.

But okay is different than good, and Jane and Alexander didn’t stop needing parenting when they learned to make their own snacks, and just because Jane can be left home alone doesn’t mean she should be left. So when you feel conflicted about parenting, mothering, and marriage go call a girlfriend because four words might be all you need.

 

 

Don’t Underestimate Me: I May Be a SAHM But I’m Not Silly

10.6.08

With two kids in Elementary School I’d be a liar if I said my life is difficult. Mommy blogging has taken hold due to the enormous physical and emotional tolls taken during the first few years. When our kids head off to school the oppressive loneliness and physical exhaustion wanes. We all take up our hobbies (again) and the sisterhood of playgroups and play-dough is lost.

Those first five years when my kids learned how to separate themselves from me, were intense. There was never a moment when I thought I should have been working. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of moments when I wished I was working outside the home, but never did I waver in my decision to be Their Mother. Never in those early years.

Now the kids are bigger, and they need me a little less. Everyone can tie their own shoes and wipe their own bottoms. My daughter can make herself lunch and my son is on his way. Jane crosses the street herself and, soon, will be crossing Sepulveda Boulevard without me to hold her hand. Truth be told, from 9 to 3, I play a lot of tennis, fuss around the house and prepare elaborate dinners.

Does my family need a Stay at Home Mother any more? You might say, “no”. With the economy today, one could argue that women like me belong in the workplace. I should be supporting our household’s bottom line.

I will unapologetically say that; I’m staying home and that this is where I belong.

I can’t assign a dollars and cents value to what I do. Some websites try, and though I appreciate the thought, there’s so much more to my gainful unemployment than washing windows and roasting chickens.

There’s a calm involved in my decision to stay home. There are a multitude of tiny errands that need to happen in any home. How lovely is it that my kids don’t have to come with me to the bank, the grocery store, the other grocery store, Costco, the hardware store and the beauty salon? Oh yes I did say the beauty salon! I’m entitled.

I’m entitled to enjoy my life. It’s okay for me to relax a little bit each day. In fact, it’s desirable. At 3 pm Monday through Friday I pick the kids up from school and work like a crazy woman. I’m helping them with homework and social issues. I’m preparing dinner and moderating debates. I’m walking the dog and finding the lost hamster, again. I clean the dinner dishes and lock up the house at 8 o’clock each night. If I didn’t do something for myself why ever would I look forward to their homecomings?

I sink into bed each night with my bones aching.

I know that my day has value. I see it in our dinner table conversation. I feel it when my children bring home their friends. I watch my husband hurry home after a long day, and I know he’s in a hurry to be here because he doesn’t feel overwhelmed when he walks in the door.

Recently I read a post written by a working mother and my chest tightened. I literally ached for her. It’s clear that she doesn’t want to be in her office. It’s clear that she’s furious with her husband and I have an inkling that she resents her children.

I want to tell you a secret. Me too. When my kids were four and one and my Grandmother needed me too, I resented them. It was all too much to bear. I would lay on the sofa while they napped knowing that my husband was having the time of his life talking to adults. I would clutch the steering wheel with white knuckles while the kids sang along to Courtney Campbell and wish against wish that NPR would miraculously appeal to them. I won’t even bore you with the details of what gaining and losing 80 pounds does to your body. I didn’t realize how hard it was until it was over. I didn’t know how much I hated being home, because I was too busy for introspection.

So all you working moms? Me too, really. The Mommy Wars are passé. I’m okay with the world at large not seeing my value. I’m okay with enjoying my life. I refuse to believe that my only value comes in the form of martyrdom or in being overworked. The world appreciates the value of a working mother, my goodness, working women are heralded as SuperMom on a daily basis.

Am I setting a bad example for my daughter? I don’t think so. If she wants to be an engineer or a street sweeper I hope and pray and that she’ll be the best one she can. And if she wants to be a Mommy, I hope she gives herself permission to do that too.

With Alexander being just seven, I have 11 more years of gainful unemployment coming my way. Whatever will I do in retirement?