Woman's Work

Today, it's Kay to whom I'm listening on the monitor as I sit down to write. On Fridays, Dee goes to grandmother's house for the afternoon so that she can have one-on-one time with my mom, and I can have one-on-one time with Kay. On Fridays, after her nap, Kay and I launch out for some special outing or another. She didn't get to go to her very-loved swim class last night, so my tentative plan is to take her to the gym to swim this afternoon. This plan hinges on two things: (1) that she take a nap, and (2) that she wakes in time to make it feasible before we reconnoiter with Dee.

As I write, Kay's been in her bedroom for an hour already, resisting a nap. Mostly, she's been playing quietly. I checked on her a few minutes ago and reminded her that the sooner she goes to sleep, the sooner we can have some fun together. "Yeah!" she said and crawled into bed. But ever since I closed the door, she's been working one of her fake wailings -- the one that sounds as though she is half-listening to it herself to see how well it passes for the real thing. I'm not a fan of the wail, but I can't help but be amused by her. At last, it bores her and she's quiet. Only time will tell, however, whether that means she'll fall asleep.

In the meantime, I'll see how far I can get.

I want to address a comment on my last post by Sheri: "(and why the parenthetical about being a SAHM and a feminist??? not opposing things...)"

I wholeheartedly agree with this. The comment I made in my last post that elicited this response ("[me] who considers herself a feminist (stay-at-home-mom though [I] be)") was borne out of a reaction I had to a book I read while resting my back last weekend. The book, Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life, by Faulkner Fox, as it is about her experience of early motherhood, was one I very strongly related to, but as it characterizes her as a feminist, I was feeling that I fall short. Sheri's comment turned up the volume on my own inner voices also protesting that sentiment, however, and got me to thinking about what exactly I might have been reacting to.

One of the things that I must have mentioned several times to Skip -- since he said so -- is how confronted I felt by Faulkner's own commitment to writing as a new mother. She frequently referred to the importance of honoring the legitimacy of her work as a writer as part of the feminist identity she sought to maintain as a mother. I've already lent out this book -- a clear sign that I loved it -- so I can't refer to examples of this and I'm a little anxious that really what I'm describing is my impressions of what she actually said, which may be more personal than accurate. However, I am sure, because this dug a deep groove into my brain, that she and her husband arranged their lives to provide her with four hours to write, in isolation, every day.

Now, I would love to have four hours to write -- especially in isolation, because as she described of herself, I also need room to write. It may not make sense; I mean, I'm just sitting at a desk with computer or pen in hand, and I don't need silence or even to be alone. I've done some of my best writing in noisy cafes. But I do need a lot of emotional elbow and leg room and most often, that requires physical distance from my loved ones. Not acres, but certainly a separate room and the promise of some stretch of uninterrupted time to occupy it.

That said, I realized as I read this book that I would not seek to arrange my life or ask Skip to rearrange his to allow myself that. There's certainly writer's insecurity involved in that fact (don't get me started on how depressed I was by Faulkner's encounter with a counselor who told her that most of the new mothers she counseled thought of themselves as writers); but in my bones I know I am a writer -- I may not ever be a commercially or critically successful or even moderately-achieving one, but I must write, and as far as I'm concerned, that makes me a writer. If I take a hard look at the question, I even feel that I'm enough of a writer to deserve the time to write, and I think that's where the crisis of feminist credibility came in.

You see, despite that, as I said, I know I would not arrange my life or ask Skip to rearrange his to gain myself four hours to write a day. And at first, recognizing this fact, caused me some fear that I just don't take myself seriously enough because I'm a not enough of a feminist. I began to worry that having become a stay-at-home mom had corrupted my sense of empowerment in and entitlement to the world of work. The comment in my last post stemmed from this place. From the sneaking suspicion that "good" feminists do both: they have work -- things to do that truly are of the world of work -- and they "stay-at-home" with kids.

This isn't where I'm going to make the case that staying at home with kids is real work. No one who is has spent any significant time alone with very young children alone (did I mention the alone part?) could possibly doubt this. Of course it is work. And it is truly fully occupying. But I will argue that staying at home with the kids is not a way of participating in "the world of work."

And, what's more, I'd argue that no one should be striving to make it be.

See, here's where I have finally come to on this issue: The reason that I wouldn't want, right now, to have four protected hours a day to write as a way to develop myself as a writer, which would almost certainly entail the expectation of seeking paid publication, is exactly that it would put me back into the world of work. And I didn't and don't absent myself from the world of work because I don't feel empowered in or entitled to it -- it's because I don't like it.

I chose to stay at home with my kids for a great variety of reasons, and certainly among them are "nobler" ones having to do with believing this is good for the girls, etc. However, also prominent among them is this fact: I am not a work-er. I just never have been. I don't necessarily wear the mantle of slacker proudly, but really, I like controlling the pace of my life, the activities in which I engage and having the freedom to do nothing. Being a stay-at-home mom is not totally compatible with these ends, but it is SO much more so than any job I've ever had. I choose to be a stay-at-home mom because I can and I want to -- mostly because it gets me closer to this ideal than anything else available to me right now -- and that is as empowered and entitled a statement as is necessary to prove my feminism to myself.

Even if it is kind of ridiculous.

Kay wakes. Gotta go have some fun.


  1. I think even with your choice and self-determination to stay home, whether out of noble causes or frustration, you still deserve time to develop yourself as a writer. Because, as Faulkner puts it, "This is the hardest thing I've ever done and my last job, director of a pro-choice organization, involved death threats."

    Our culture views paid work as more important than unpaid and as women we typically have a hard time asking for things that we need, especially when our partners are so nurturing and giving already. But in order to continue to develop our full selves we HAVE to push even harder to carve out time. It's easy to not feel like a "good feminist" when you are asking for time to develop yourself as a person.

  2. Well, I don't know nothin' 'bout bein' no feminist, but I DO know that you are indeed a writer!

    So as a reader of your writing, I say, do whatever you need to do to nurture that talent, Phoebe, if for no other reason so that you can continue to bless your blog readers with the interesting and satisfying food for thought you provide with each and every post.