Today, I wore running clothes when I dropped Mr. T off at school. What's the big deal? It shouldn't be a big deal, but I can't silence the different voices in my head, and the voices of other moms. Recently, a friend-of-a-friend snarked on said friend's Facebook about moms in workout gear at daycare drop-off (the issue of only moms and not dads as well is another one). Yes, I know I shouldn't let others' judgements bother me, especially those made on Facebook, but it did. And while I restrained from picking a fight, my friend did remind the commenter that she doesn't know the other parent's story.
This kind of thing goes on all the time. Google it, and you'll find hundreds of blog posts listing things you shouldn't say to moms on both sides of the working/stay-at-home home fence (again, only moms. This should not be our cultural starting point), including these two Huff Post links, and mentioning workout gear is on the list.
Yesterday, after a pediatrician's visit to get J-Cakes his 6-month vaccines, I thought more about this. I mentioned to the doctor that he'd be starting daycare two days a week in January, and when she brightened and said it'd be good for him to have the social interaction, I agreed, but qualified, "Yes, and I work from home, and it's getting harder to work around his naps."
Why do I feel compelled to justify his daycare going with my work? Why do I always bring up the fact that I work when chatting with other parents at T's preschool? The current cultural feminist* discourse says I should just be proud of working from home so I can have my son with me, and not feel like I have to justify my actions to anyone. That I should be proud of staying at home with the baby, and not even mention working, or not feel the need to mention working.
But I'm not a cultural feminist. I'm an old-school feminist, a 1970s-style, Ms.-Magazine-reading feminist who grew up with a working mother and a chemist grandmother and was a latchkey kid who loved being a latchkey kid, and I'm someone who's miserable when I don't have a real, money-making, society-contributing job. And I think we need to continue to encourage women to fight for that, because someone has to run libraries and heal the sick and make laws (haha, apparently right now no one feels the need to be a lawmaker, but that's another story) and fight crime and fires and do my taxes for me because oh, my God, they are too complicated and I hate finances. And cultural feminism says we should leave all that to the men, because they don't have boobs so obviously they're not as important to young children as women are. No thanks. If you genuinely want to stay home and be nurturing and it's in your own, personal nature, that's awesome, but don't try to say it's biology, because you're saying people who don't feel that way -- or men who do -- are somehow broken, and that just sucks. It makes everyone feel guilty, and then it makes people act smug to hide their guilt, and then their smug just makes everyone else more guilty, and on and on, until we're all insufferable and unhappy and we live in The Handmaid's Tale.**
So all that is just really long background to what was supposed to be a fun, lighthearted-ish post about a topic I apparently cannot be fun or lighthearted about because it matters too much to me. What I set out to do this morning was play a little game, the "What's her story?" game that my aforementioned friend and I played after the minor Facebook kerfluffle, and try to remind each other that we don't know someone else's story, so we really shouldn't judge.
Here's how to play. It's really simple: Make a list of reasons someone would be wearing workout gear to drop their kid off from school. That's it. I'll start!
- She's a fitness instructor
- She owns a fitness store or clothing boutique
- She's a fitness apparel model
- All her other clothes are in the wash or at the dry cleaners
- She works nights, so these are really her pajamas
- She works during her baby's naptime, and in order to save time, she dresses in running gear in the morning so she can work every second he's sleeping and hit the road with the stroller as soon as he's awake
- Her office has no dress code
- Her office is moving to a new building
Anyway, you can see where I'm going. There are hundreds of reasons -- silly and realistic -- why someone would wear workout gear, not the least of which is it's really darned comfy, and none of it means the person wearing it has an idyllic, halcyon existence of endless child-free workouts followed by hours in a hot tub eating bonbons. The parent is probably just as tired as you are.
We all have the same amount of time every week, and surprisingly we all do basically the same things every week -- we eat, we sleep, we work, we spend time with our families and friends, and we keep house to some degree. Time use studies, such as those done by Laura Vanderkam, show we all even spend pretty much the same amount of time on these activities as everyone else -- it's just a matter of when we do them. My time log shows I hit about 20 hours of work a week, not unusual for a parent of a 6-month-old if we had reasonable parental leave policies, but I log those hours between 10-1 and then again after 8:30 at night, and I have a 7-day work week. But that means I get to go for mid-afternoon runs, and take my kids to the library every Wednesday afternoon, so I'm not complaining about my schedule. I'm just trying to say we aren't all bound by the same schedule, but we do all do pretty much the same things.
So, what do you think that Nike-d parent is off to do after dropping baby at daycare?
*Thanks to Emily Matchar, author of Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity, for this term, which she uses to describe the modish argument that it's sexist to try to change women's "natural" nurturing characteristics and fit them into the "naturally male" world of the competitive workplace, and which is opposed to liberal feminism, which says that's just a bunch of sexist, separate-but-equal baloney (spoiler alert: I'm a liberal feminist). I'll be writing more about Matchar's book and all the things it's made me think about and the way I'm shifting my perspective and how I've started working through the extremely complicated feelings I've had about domesticity for the last decade. I know I'm late to the party, but when am I not?
**Hyperbole. Sort of.