I wanted to have a degree for my children, for them to have a mother that was a college graduate. When I became a mother, I found out that’s not even something they needed from me. Their immediate needs were for me to be there for them. I dropped out completely when our baby boy arrived. I had managed my courses online until, in the ninth month, hormones took my whits about me, having spent more time researching cloth diaper services than the ideology of Women’s Studies. All collegiate answers on What to Be dissolving in a cup half full of what I became instead.
Around the office my husband fields inquiries about what his wife does. A question that comes back around after he answers “Stays at home.” It’s a clumsy explanation that serves nobody who has to answer to it well. Terminology so asinine it can’t satisfy the inquiring mind of a four year old on the weekday mornings I have to tell him “Daddy is at work,” warranting no sense of value, marred by his limited perception that Daddy should be home instead. I begrudgingly become the counterculture, listening to President Obama attribute the wage gap to my family choices; everyday American politics no longer easily filling holes in playground chit chat with working moms. Yet nothing on this side of fence is more revealing in the grapple on pay than the unconscionable salary that my man is offered to try and support a family on his own. Assuming salaries. Companies in every town embracing the new and improved American households of two working parents, leaving real people to pick up the slack.
We thrift for the things in the house we need, we haven’t budged on eating organic at home, and thanks to my discerning eye we manage, by all accounts, to look pretty good. I can’t say that I don’t worry that someday sooner than I’d prefer, my son will ask me why we don’t have some of what other families have. That’s a problem living in this country. He may begin to ask why his father and I share a car. Why things don’t come easily as it seems they should. And these are all good lessons to tackle, but at the desk by lamplight, the sun-soaked curiosity of a boy is gone, and it’s just you, bedding down this month’s earnings, wondering the same goddamned thing.
I passed a car on my way to pick up diapers the other day. It was a spanking new Mercedes with the custom license plate HRDWRK. He wanted me to know that he earned that car, or that I could have something just as nice if only I would work harder. I wonder if what he does with his job or money is important work. The work we need to do to feel like the important, irreplaceable thing. I’m not what any child who goes to school is taught to want to be. I wasn’t taught it myself. But when I ask myself what do I want to be, what do I want to do? The questions and answers are more human now than they were back then when I was dreaming. I think we all want for the same thing. I want to be better, I want to do better. I want for my children to be better, I want for them to do better. They used to say that children were the future. Now they say the future is female. So I’m staying at home, creating my own family of privilege, trying to fill the gaps that I see.