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day 49: mommy wars

March 22, 2011

On Day 49, I spent most of the afternoon on the preschool playground with my children.  Not only was it a beautiful day, but I had spent the first half of it chained to my computer and I was ready for some fresh air.  My children spent the better part of the afternoon digging (“to the end of the world”) in the sandbox, joyfully learning how to cross the monkey bars, and chasing one another from one end of the shaded space to the other.

Other kids came and went with their parents while we remained, holding office hours until dinnertime.

One mother showed up, still in nursing scrubs, with her little boy.  I know her both as a fellow preschool mother and because she is in my book club, and we began to talk as our sons dug a racetrack in the sandbox.

“I’ve been offered another position,” she said, sighing, “and it is my dream job.” Her face reflected absolutely zero dreaminess.  “It is full-time, and I really only want to work part-time until he’s in school.” She nodded toward her dimpled boy, burying my son’s leg in the sand.

“I’m having such a hard time figuring out my career,” she said, her eyes starting to well up.  “I mean, do you ever feel conflicted about being a working mother?”

Ah, yes.  The working mother question.  The decades-old debate that pits stay-at-home mothers against “working” mothers, frequent fodder for the “Mommy Mafia.”

So, we had a long conversation, she in her scrubs and I clutching my smartphone, each with one foot in the working world while our children played uproariously.  Neither of us came to any particular conclusions, but we each admitted our good fortune at having jobs that didn’t keep us punching a clock from 8 to 5, jobs that allowed us to have this conversation at four p.m. on a Monday afternoon.  We each conceded the benefits of having working partners and good educations.

We also talked about the hard parts, like when her son awoke to find that she’d already gone to work and wouldn’t stop screaming, assuming she “got dead.”  Or when my toddler grabs my leg, imploring with eyes blue and sad, “I don’t want you go to work.”

In the five years since having my older son, I’ve read countless books and articles about the conflicts faced by mothers in the professional world.  I’ve found none to be completely satisfying (while I think she’s brilliant, Faulkner Fox’s Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life, upon a reread, left me depressed), I’ve gleaned beneficial pieces from each.

Mommy Wars, a collection of essays edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner, kept me busy in the early days after my older son was born.  The essays explore the complexity of stay-at-home and career motherhood from the points of view of twenty-six female writers.

Day 49’s gift is this book, to this mother, in hopes that it provides her with some company in the sometimes-lonely land of mommy guilt.

A few updates:

Friends and family members of the Bonds (the couple recently diagnosed with late stage cancer and their 18 month old baby) have been hard at work.  A website has been created to provide updates and allow for donations to a trust for their medical care and childcare expenses.  If you’d like to follow their story, check it out.  Additionally, an email address,, was created as a way to send Nathan and Elisa stories of inspiration, well wishes, and love.  Are you on Facebook?  “Like” their page, Team Bond, and share it with others who might want to help with prayers, stories of hope, or fundraising.

Also, my friend Melanie shared Reed Sandridge’s amazing story with me yesterday.  When he was unemployed in 2009, he decided to give away $10 to someone every day for a year and write about it.  His journey continues in 2011 as he invites volunteer “kindness investors” to do the same and be profiled on his blog.  He only profiles those who are unemployed.  Check out his blog and let me know what you think.

Lastly, the lucky winner of Day 40’s scarf giveaway is Amy!  Send me a message with your address, and I will get your prize to you ASAP.

Here’s hoping you enjoy some sunshine today, guilt-free.  Thanks for showing up.

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