21 March 2011

My Matriarchy

For those of you wondering what Emmaline did today, I can tell you that she got up and had breakfast with Daryl. I slept in to prepare for a late night shift and also because I really, enormously love to sleep. Daryl taught her about donuts, including the Boston Creme, because why would you not put pudding in the middle of every food possible? She had a bath. She went outside. She had a tantrum. Standard eighteen-month-old stuff.

I can write about the glorious Miss Em ad infinitum, and certainly have, but want to take a moment to say, in a more serious note, just how much I love her. She brings me joy in ways that my husband, my work, my writing, and my friends never could. I'm not saying anything that every other mother out there hasn't thought at one time or another. But I write it today because I want to talk about an interview I just listened to on Radio Boston with Susanne Venker, the author of The Flipside of Feminism.

I need to admit right from the start that I haven't read the book and I'm actually not sure that I will read the book, as interesting as I find it to think about women's place in our society and the ultimate question of whether we are happier in our roles as providers and mothers then we were (collectively) when we were barefoot in the kitchen. I also need to admit that I am having difficulty bringing any attention at all to a book reviewed as "A gutsy and profound book.  Flipside is a must-read.” by Ann Coulter because Ann Coulter is, inarguably, a right wing nut job. I know this because Al Franken told me it was so and also, because any time I have heard her speak, I vomit a little bit in the back of my throat.

Nevertheless, I will perservere and ask the hard questions. Am I happier juggling the many different parts of my life than I would be if I didn't have the opportunity to do anything more than to decorate cookies for the church bake sale? No. Would I be happier without the shackles of Emmaline's schedule keeping me from writing or sleeping in as I so luxuriously was allowed to do today? An equally resounding no. Is life harder because I am pulled in so many directions? Do I sometimes feel bruised and battered, stretched and kneaded like toffee until I'm wafer thin? Yes.

Now in the interview it became clear that while Miss Venker and I might not be likely to agree on such things as politics, healthcare reform, or gun policies (or maybe we do, I'm only guessing), we are both reasonable people, or we at least strive to be. I'm sure she would agree that my sole goal in life should not have been, from a very early age, to marry and have children. She would instead argue that feminism has made it impossible for me to feel as if these are valid goals to include amongst the other things that interest and drive me. Fine.

I would argue, however, that these are adult goals to have. When I was seventeen and starting college, it would not have been appropriate to choose which school I wanted to go to based upon the relationship I had been in for several months. I hope that Miss Venker would not disagree. So I went to Princeton, an institution that has a not insignificant price tag. I worked hard. I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I was not in love. I was not married. Why would I not continue to do what I enjoyed, which then was learning and studying, just because I was born a girl instead of a boy?

So I went to medical school. I became a doctor. Maybe Miss Venker would even applaude me for the two years I took to study in Oxford, time off of medical school I ostensibly took to write and get a degree in medical anthropology but a divergence from the traditional track of 'start a task and finish it in record time' inspired in no small part by the fact that I felt ready to meet someone, fall in love, get married and I didn't think that was going to happen in the medical school library. Or maybe she, like my mother, would simply say I was crazy.  Two years passed. I returned to med school and residency no longer as merely an individual but rather as part of a pair. The long hours and stress were mine and Daryl's to go through together. We got a little cranky at times, but we made it.

Enter Emmaline.

Now it seems that one underlying tenet of Miss Venker's argument is that it is incredibly difficult to work outside the home and parent your children. I feel comfortable saying this not having read her book because she has also written another book entitled 7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don't Mix. That seems clear enough. I do not deny that this is true. It is hard. But, like baseball, maybe it's the hard that makes it great.

Also, and I think this is not only relevent but also unfortunately the most important consideration for most of us whether we fall to the right or left of center, children are expensive. I cannot afford not to work because I took out student loans of gargantuan proportion in order to train for the job I have today. Should I have not gone to medical school? Should I, single at age 21, have not pursued a career that interested me and inspired me because I might someday want to be a stay at home mom? Should I have believed so little in myself that I stood aside while my life was passing me by and patiently waited for a husband? I think not.

Certainly I think that raising children is one of the most important jobs in the world. I think it is important for women and I think it is important for men. I believe, given the opportunity and the financial freedom, both Daryl and I would choose to work less and play with Emmaline more. But I also believe, that Emmaline will be a stronger, more self assured young lady because I not only tell her, but also show her by example, that if she works hard then she can be anything she dreams she can be.

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