Monday, August 03, 2009
I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, that's important to note. What I wanted to be was a soap opera actress. It wasn't even, really, a matter of wanting to be this-- it was just what I knew I would be, always I knew it.
That's why I didn't really pick a major in undergrad, just sort of drifting into speech communication because comm professors held evening classes and were seldom around on Fridays and understood that my weekends were for the speech team. I did want children, and I figured the life of a working soap actress was great-- you could bring the kids with you to the set; the work was steady with fairly normal hours, and all the actresses I read about in my Sop Opera Digest talked about their easy time balancing kids and family. It was a practical career choice, I figured.
I remember the day I realized I wasn't actually going to be a soap star. I was taking an autobiography class my junior year at Bradley, and my autobiography was all about my obsession with soap stardom-- how I used to pretend to be Ethel Merman's crabby sister when I was a preschooler, how I watched Days of Our Lives before I could talk, and how my earliest memory was of the day the Salem Slasher killed Renee DiMera and left a raven's feather on her lifeless body (that was 1981. I was 3). I interspersed these anecdotes with tales of the time I pretended my plastic Little Tikes Smurf picnic table was a fur coat and put it on by standing it up and slipping my arms between the benches and then plunging face first onto the basement floor-- my arms helplessly akimbo, my body no match for the table's weight-- and smashing my fat little nose, memories of what a shitty but dedicated roller skater I've always been, and lamentations of my small town Illinois life. One day in class, it was my day to read my work and get peer feedback, and while I was reading, I thought about how I must look to the rest of the class and wondered what they saw when they read my stories because I saw a roomful of D&D loving, greasy weirdos who would be maybe half of what they wanted to be if they were lucky, the kind of kids who always populated creative writing classes-- my peers.
It's a sad fucking day when you realize Alison Sweeney is out of your league, you know?
So there I was, not pretty enough to be a soap opera actress and without any sort of career ambitions outside the small screen. Luckily, I dropped so many early morning classes that I had an extra semester at Bradley to figure my life out. I immediately decided to be a poet instead (such common sense! such rationality!) and took enough classes for a minor I never declared and entered some of the most shockingly terrible poetry ever written in a scholarship contest. Upon rejection, I abandoned that dream as well and did what any underachieving comm major with a warped understanding of how students loans work would do: I went to graduate school.
And fell in love and got married and had babies. Oh the babies.
Before they were real, I talked about them in theory because I knew all about motherhood in theory because I was a feminist scholar goddamnit. Before they were real, I scoffed at the stay at home mom and told anyone who would listen how much I believed in daycare-- it takes a village and all that-- and anyone who was anti-dayvcare was anti-woman, plain and simple. Before they were real, I ranted against the image of the ideal worker as an a disembodied man, whose private concerns were taken care of by his wife, who also minded the children.
Then they were real-- babies in theory became my Harry and my Jack in practice, and no part of me could stomach the idea of a daycare center (which might be because they all smelled like a kennel), and all I wanted to do was stay home with them and play games and do puzzles and go to baby gym class and kiss their sweet heads and smell their soft hair and touch their velvet cheeks. When Harry was a baby, we went out to lunch with his friend Josephine, and I turned around to say something to Josephine's mom, and she had Jo's whole earlobe in her mouth, nibbling it absently as we walked, and I was like oh my god-- I am not the only person who loves her baby so much I want to eat him and I was so relieved to realize that this overwhelming love is universal, a happy side effect of mothering that I never read about in any theory anywhere.
I have almost quit my job, abandoned my studies, etc about 64 times in the past 3 years. Ben is always a thousand and fifty percent supportive , but I can never quite pull the plug on the other part of my life because it's almost perfect, too. Somewhere between that sad, sad autobiography class and the giant pain-in-the-ass that was my dissertation, I fell in love with my work, too.
As a child, I never imagined my life this way, but to change any part of it now is unimaginable.
So what do we do? How do we fit all the pieces together? How do we juggle 3 great loves-- marriage, babies, and work?