A QUESTION OF TEMPERAMENT. Reading Linda Hirshman's guest-blogging items over the past week, along with Judith Warner's latest New York Times (Select) column on the terrible anxiety and stress of throwing a last-day-of-class kindergarten party, have really made me wonder how much of the writing about women, work, and motherhood is a reflection of reality and how much of it is a reflection of the unique temperaments of certain women writers. For example, this, from Warner:
I arrived at the party feeling quite proud. I had managed that morning to 1) take a shower 2) work for the better part of an hour 3) remember to bring the cookies I�d promised and 4) arrive a few minutes early, which gave me the satisfaction of seeing Emilie�s face change from anxious anticipation to pure joy as she entered the room and saw me.
In the previous 10 days, I�d been through three violin recitals, many half-days of school, a �biome presentation,� camp forms, doctor visits and an overnight trip to the mountains with Emilie (sheer bliss, a thunderbolt of stress before and after ) � all during work hours. Not to mention children at sixes and sevens with each other because, well, nobody likes transitions, and a bout of screaming at Max, who�d asked me, disrespectfully, I felt, to get off the phone.
(It was 7 p.m. on Sunday. The garden hose was blasting, mud was streaming, baths were running, the barbecue was cold, and I was on a work call.
He said: �If you�re going to yell at me, then I am going out to dinner.�
I said: �Couldn�t you just get the barbecue going first?�)
�I hate this [expletive] time of year.�
There's a certain category of women who don't work or work only part-time, not because they don't want to, as per Hirshman, but because they can't. Warner has written a great deal about her sense that there's something wrong with her; her last self-diagnosis was that she has adult attention deficit disorder, which is why she consequently finds certain sorts of simple tasks monumentally taxing, or lives a less than perfectly orderly life. (My own explanation: uh, you're human?)
Still, I can't help but think that the women I know with real jobs with real power seem to manage their childrearing with less anxiety than those whose work is of a more indefinite or contemplative nature. My scientist sister and investment banker sister-in-law make everything about marriage and childbearing look so much easier than do the writers of popular books on the topic. Maybe it's that once you've gotten used to things like closing multi-million dollar deals, handling a toddler party seems like, well, child's play. You learn to delegate, and you learn that it's OK to have people work for you, and you learn to manage pressure in a high-stakes environment. And with an identity base outside the home, you learn not to freak out over small questions of community social standing, such as how other moms look at you. Same, too, if your day job is to unlock the secrets of nature at the molecular level; having a baby is just another fascinating biological experience to explore, and while it has its stresses, living a laboratory life with 80-hour weeks has already taught you not to sweat the small stuff or get overly caught up in external things that don't matter. Whatever the case, while I enjoy reading Warner -- her genre of writing reminds me of the column my own mother used to write for Working Mother magazine, called "the guilt column" -- I can't help feeling that a lot of what she describes is a function of her writerly temperament, and not the world in which all contemporary women live.