Today Heather-whom-I-love at http://www.dooce.com wrote that she feels that choosing to be a stay-at-home-mom is the most feminist thing she’s ever done.
My mom was a fried-egg-sandwich-making stay-at-home-mom with a house keeper in L.A. until about age 55. Then we moved to northern California and my parents bought a business—a mom-and-pop, literally, grocery store/gas station. (I told them it was bad idea, but they did it anyway.) “The store” worked them non-stop; I spent days there, sitting on the cooler in the back, consuming all the popsicles and chocolate milk I wanted. I had to help by sweeping and putting away returned coke bottles and stocking the walk-in with milk and butter. I hated it; aside from it being too much work, my parents liked it.
They liked Peg Leg Pete with his toothless wife and truck-load of kids, the little boy from down the street always wearing his cowboy boots on the wrong feet, the hippy couple who brought their baby in on the day she was born to show my mom. After 4 or 5 years, they sold the grocery store and bought an accounting business. (My dad had been an accountant in L.A.)
They loved the social aspects of the both businesses; in the accounting business their clients spent time chatting at my parent’s office. There were a lot of deadline pressures and it’s too bad they weren’t rolling in the dough, as my dad would say, but overall, I think they were happy small business owners.
My mom went to work at the store when I was in the eighth grade and for me, it was sort of a relief. The spotlight shifted from me to the store. I loved coming home to an empty house-- I still do-- to have a snack and read in the quiet. My dad, aside from the occasional time-crunches when they owned the accounting business, always seemed happy at work. He’s very “the greatest generation.” He didn’t retire until he was 80.
After I had my daughter I cried in the bathroom at the thought of leaving her to go back to work. It was 1997 and the streets of San Francisco were paved with graphic design projects. So I quit the best job ever, my second in a series of graphic-designer-at-a-museum jobs. The work at the museum was great, although one very unhappy person I worked with frustrated me so much I would go sit in my car and scream. (I wonder if I would still have that reaction? Somehow, I think not.) I started doing freelance and most years made as much money as if I’d been working at least part-time at the museum, some years even more, only doing a few projects throughout the year. Stay-at-home-mom/graphic-designer-with-a-baby-sitter-to-walk-the-baby-to-the-park-for-a-few-hours is a good gig. I did that for seven years.
After we moved away from most of my clients, Peter really wanted me to get a job with a more regular paycheck. He has always hated the random-ness of the paychecks provided by Dina Bernardin Graphic Design. Also, I kind of wanted a place to go, I felt isolated in a new city. Graphic designer in a museum remains one of my dream jobs, but I couldn’t find anything in Portland. My list of places at which I was willing to work was very short, and Hanna was on that list. I love working in the children’s apparel business—working for a children’s clothing company is another dream job of mine--and the people here are very nice, even though the job doesn’t really play to my talents. The hours are perfect, I’m happy to work part-time, and have my freelance design clients at home.
Having interesting work is almost as interesting as having kids. If you can manage both, having children and getting an education where you learn to do something you like, or at least getting a ticket to do something you like: that’s it. But having to leave a four-month-old baby with someone else would have been torture for me. I am so lucky that I got to do it the way I did.
I have one friend who totally hasn’t wanted to go back to work after having a baby. “Do you think you’ll go back to work?” she was asked. “I hope not!” she said. Most people I know have jobs they like, or they stay at home, or they work part-time. Heather of Dooce.com is like most people I know: they have worked something out. Working part-time, working at home or not working for a while, taking the baby to work… most everyone I know, including my mother, has had at least some choice. Maybe what that really says is: I live among the privileged.
I hope that I am a good role model for Camille in terms of work. Having work that is interesting to her in some way, I think that’s what’s most important. Not having to haul water all day, that’s also important.