Friday, March 17, 2006

If a Tree Falls in a Petrified Forest ...

From Ash:

Three parts to this post.

Part 1.

In a previous post, I mentioned that in the research on work-family balance, the vast majority of people think they're at least somewhat successful at it.

That's completely bewildering to me. I'm already terrible at the work-life balance -- and it's just me I'm responsible for. I don't have a family on the other side. Perhaps that makes it easier for me to have that balance out of whack (i.e. nonexistent) -- because I don't have kids calling me at work asking when I'm coming home. Maybe they'd force me to realize that I don't actually have to stay in the office until 10:30 pm for the fifth night in a row.

But I’m staying late at work to pay bills. And those bills won’t go down with kids. They'll go up. If anything, I'd have to find more demanding, higher paid work than I have now, just to make ends meet, let alone provide a child a comfortable living. I'm profoundly overwhelmed by the schedule and demands put upon me now. And you expect me to do more? And -- someone's whole being -- his psychological development, his physical growth -- his very life is at stake?

Po's friend meant the Petrified Forest appellation as an insult, but I don't take it that way. In fact, I'd say, "Hell, yeah!" How could you not expect me to be petrified at the thought? There's that old saw about "If you're not scared, you just don't understand the situation," and I think that applies here.

Part 2.

Let me tell you a story.

I was raised to want more. More opportunities, more success, more wealth, more responsibility. More, not less. And nothing along the way changed that. When I was unemployed for a while after college, my mother didn't say "Get a man." She said, "Get a job." When I finally got the job and was on my way, everyone (myself included) asked, "So when's the promotion?" Not "So when's the wedding?"

A few years later, I'd found myself in Washington D.C. working at the White House during the day, and attending Georgetown Law School at night. That Christmas, I invited my family to visit me in D.C. I promised to show them a great time if they got there. They did, and I did. I introduced them to V.I.P.s. -- the men and women literally running the world. Private tour of the West Wing and Oval Office. You name it, we did it.

My tour included a stop at my Law School. Midway through, my bored grandmother interrupts me with, "But all I want to know is when you're going to get pregnant. I've given up on you getting married -- but do you think you could shack up with someone for a while and give me a great-grandchild? I'm not going to live forever, you know."

I stuttered, and managed a quip about how she'd have to live for many more years, until I was out of school and in a good job. But I was devastated. Here I was thinking I was finally accomplishing something with my life, so proud that I could share it with my family. And now, suddenly, after 28 years of pushing me to really do something, it turned out that they couldn't have been less proud, even less interested in what I had done. Gramma didn't give a rat's ass about law school or the White House or getting to see President Clinton go Christmas shopping. All she wanted was to see me with a baby. And my parents seemed to agree with her.

When my grandmother died a few years later, that day was all I could think about. I'd never given her that great-grandchild. In her living memory, I would always be a huge disappointment.

Part 3.

I'm kicking myself because I didn't save the clip. But a while back, members of the Japanese government were debating what to do about their dangerously low birth rate. After the experts explained how women have less children when they are educated, and the more education, the less children they have, one member of Parliament basically asked, "Well, then why don't we just stop educating the women?"

You can imagine the castigating he got for that one. Of course he apologized and took it back. I mean, in practice, it's got to be right up there with "Let them eat cake" for realistic answers to a problem. But I actually give him some credit for having the stupidity to say out loud what everyone else was thinking. Because, for a brief moment, at least the guy saw the problem and admitted that there's a cruel, troublesome myth of new expectations being put upon women.

And some, like me, didn't know that. We bought into it all. Not only that, we were told that the heroines of Women's Lib had made sacrifices for us all -- and we had to do the most with those new opportunities that they gave for us.

But according to my grandmother, every day, I drive to work and take my life further in the wrong direction. Having kids now -- not that I could -- not that I would -- but that would mean admitting she was right and I was wrong and all this has been a waste.

Petrified? Damn right I am.


Anonymous tirzah harper said...

Petrified. Yeah, me too.
There is just too much at stake to not be.

6:18 AM  

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