Hating Other Women: Hating Ourselves

I was transfixed by her neck and by her thinning hair. She’s only been my boss for a week, and this was the first time I saw her neck exposed. It was the neck of an old lady, hollow and wrinkled. A funny flat color, somewhere between yellow and gray. Her dark hair was blown out perfectly, as always, but up close I could see her white scalp. The hair was just swept up and over it.

I don’t want to get old. I don’t want to get old. I don’t want to get old. She looks so vulnerable. Sort of pathetic.

I couldn’t control my thoughts. I’m not proud of them, they were lousy thoughts, but I thought them, so I guess I have to own them.

Then she asked me a question. I couldn’t answer because I was worrying about whether my blow drying addiction would make my hair more prone to thinning in a few years.

Also I was wondering how I turned from a young person to a middle-aged person without noticing. How I started the separation young and pretty, and ended the divorce suddenly feeling, well, OLD. I mean, it’s only been three years.

Then again, I also started the separation by losing 20 pounds. I was emaciated. I ate nothing, except to survive. I drank lots of wine, however, at the beginning. Again, I have to own what I own, pretty or not.

And everywhere I went, people told me that I looked fabulous. Friends encouraged me to “stick with my diet.” Distant acquaintances asked me for diet tips. More than one husband of a friend mentioned it. My therapist told me I wouldn’t be single for long with my “figure.” People told me I looked like an entirely new person.

But I wasn’t overweight before I started losing weight. Oh, I know I had a mummy tummy after several pregnancies. I probably could have lost a few pounds. I do believe my face looks better when it’s emaciated. But I am 5 feet and 8 inches, and pretty soon, size four pants were falling off me. Those lovely hip bones of my youth mine were jutting out again. I liked it. I started to feel powerful.

It all reminded me of when Harper’s Bazaar magazine’s editor-in-chief Liz Tilberus was dying of ovarian cancer, that brutal killer, and everyone told her she looked more gorgeous than ever, giving new meaning to the expression, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” Because even when being thin means you’re nearly dead, people will still admire it.

But in my case, I gained back the weight through time, once the shock wore off and the reality set in.

The compliments stopped.

I still mourn their loss. I must be honest and confess his wretched thing: part of me wishes I was still in shock and too traumatized to eat. I would love nothing more than to walk outside tomorrow and have people tell me that I look fabulously thin.

But at the same time, getting older and gaining a few pounds makes me realize something: our outsides do not tell our stories. Thinness can mean extreme mental pain and trauma. It can mean illness and death. Thinning hair may not be valued in our society, but it also means that you are still alive and kicking and living – and you’ve reached the age when you are the boss, finally, of yourself and others. Youth is wasted on the young, all hip bones and plump elastic skin and long golden hair. But a saggy neck and spreading waist show that you have survived. You have given birth to children. You are still here. It’s a club: we are all still here, together.

As for my boss, I mentioned to her that my daughter forgot her lunchbox. “Oh, honey,” she said, “Don’t worry about a half hour here or there. I don’t know how you’re doing it, working full-time with two young children. I don’t want you to worry about keeping track of all this time. I remember when my kids were young.”

And I could suddenly imagine her then, my tough new boss, as a mom to a little boy and girl. I could see clearly what she looked like 15 years ago.

Last week she threw away an office plant. “I’m better with babies than plants,” she said. I laughed, because I’m better with babies than plants too. Someday I will be like my boss – my children will be grown, and my hair will thin. And instead of hating these things, I hope I can embrace them and still be kind to the next group of women coming up behind me. Because we’re all in this together.  If we hate each other, we really just hate ourselves.

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One Crap Day in the Life of a Divorced Working Mom: A Vent

I’m still new to this. It was always so easy to get babysitters. I live in the shadow of one of the best colleges in the country, which gives me an ever-evolving group of cute, eager babysitters. 

But I didn’t anticipate that the vast majority of students don’t have cars and don’t really want to babysit every day in the afternoon. And that competition for girls who do have cars and want to babysit every day is fierce, especially when you get a very late start on your babysitting ads because you assumed it would be so easy. Like back when you were a SAHM.

So I’m in between babysitters. My new babysitter starts next week, just in time for school. But today I had no one. So I did what any working single mother would do: I cobbled together a mess of a day.


7:00 am  Dragged the kids out of bed. They are still jet-lagged from our trip to California a week ago because their father allowed them to stay up each night until 11 pm since that trip. They actually called me at 11:30 pm last week, making me realize that I can no longer always control my children’s schedules or health or welfare. 

8:30 am  Dropped the children off at my friend’s house. She is a pediatrician and at work, but her nanny will watch them. A fun double playdate. They are thrilled; I am thankful.  

8:45 am  Mystery traffic. I will be late for work. I think inappropriately mean thoughts about the cute young stay-at-home-moms pushing strollers along the sidewalks. I think appropriately mean thoughts about why every other person in my neighborhood suddenly seems to have a white Mercedes SUV. I try not to beep because my children’s school sticker is prominently displayed the back of my car. It’s a small city and I don’t want any Mercedes drivers to start talking about the crazy divorced beeping mom. 

9:15 am  Had to park on the roof of the university parking lot because I’m late. I worry that I might have been tailgating a very important workplace person all the way up to the roof. I hustle out of my car and hope that she doesn’t spot me.

10:50 am  My friend calls me, breathless. She tells me that her nanny just contacted her, and that my son is terribly sick. The nanny says he became blind for a few moments and had no pulse before vomiting. Oh my god, I think. It’s Ebola. Or meningitis. I babble something incoherent to my thirty-something, childless boss and rush out of work. She seems sympathetic but somewhat skeptical.

11:20 am  I pull up to my friend’s house. From a block away, I have spotted my dying son running around in the street with the other kids. He looks pretty healthy to me.

11:30 am I finally get my son in the car after listening to my friend’s nanny describe the situation in detail. She wants me to bring my son to the emergency room immediately. She will later tell my friend, the pediatrician, that my son has blood pressure problems and had a stroke. (Meanwhile, my daughter chooses to stay there with her friend. She is unimpressed with her brother’s illness or by the nanny’s panic.)

11:34 am  My friend calls, mortified, and tells me that her nanny is a little crazy. And that there is probably no medical rhyme or reason behind why my child’s heart would stop beating and then start back up frenetically, and he would be blinded by vomit and then have a stroke at the age of nine. But it’s too late. I’ve already called my own pediatrician’s office and put them all in a panic. They will squeeze us in at 2:30, even though I promised to be back at work by 1:15.

Noon: It’s quiet in my house. My perfectly healthy son with no fever son plays Minecraft. I edit something and send it off to my colleague. And then there are suddenly voices downstairs and I realize that today is cleaning lady day. It’s usually my favorite day of the week because I cannot afford these wonderful ladies but their weekly work keeps me sane. I explain the situation and they laugh, relieved that they don’t have to change the sheets or clean my children’s shared bedroom. I start feeling better.

1 pm  My sweet college, car-less babysitter shows up with my daughter. She has obviously heard the story from Crazy Nanny. I explain that my son isn’t really sick. It’s all a big misunderstanding. Her eyes grow large, but she has perfect manners and doesn’t say a thing. 

1:30 pm  I roll back into work, into my same spot on the roof. When I arrive, there are workmen in my office. They want to know if I smell garlic in the mornings in my office. I think about it. “Not today,” I say. They ask me if there were any other odors around breakfast time. “Yes, today it was eggs and some sort of spicy meat,” I tell them. They wrinkle their noses in disgust, and I somehow feel responsible. You see, my office is above a massive venting systems that vents the entire complex of buildings where I work, including several areas with cafeterias and fast food restaurants. The men advise me to never, ever open my windows. I tell them that it’s necessary because the average temperature in my office is 58 degrees, and I need some warmer air. They ask if I want them to turn off the air-conditioning, and I nearly scream NO, just thinking about the last time they did that. I worked in a swampy 88 degrees for days. They leave, telling me that the exhaust system is emitting “very dangerous” fumes and warn me not to ever open my windows again. As soon as they leave, I shiver and want to open the windows despite the fumes that would make me sick. But then I remember I can’t die, because then my EX will raise my sweet children. I leave the windows closed and take out my illegal space heater and plug it in.

2:50 pm  My pediatrician’s office calls. I forgot to cancel the appointment. I tell that they he’s perfectly okay now. That I am back at work. There is a long pause on the other end. 

4:45 pm  I ask my childless boss in her thirties if I can work at home tomorrow. She says yes, because she knows she’s only in charge for two more days, and because she is a very nice person. Our real boss starts on Tuesday. I suspect that my temporary boss is worried about me and whether I can pull it together in time before the new boss realizes that I’m a mess right now.

5:15 pm I get to my car and realize it’s filled with moving boxes. I had packed them up last night, ready for the storage space I rented. I need to declutter my house and stage it for sale in a few weeks. I had meant to drop off the boxes at lunchtime. Now I know I can’t leave them in my car overnight, or someone will break into the car. Sigh.

6 pm  Home to my healthy children and my sweet babysitter, I give her $100 in cash and think about all the things I could buy with that money. 

7 pm I feed my children microwaved chicken fingers, an heirloom tomato, an avocado, and organic raspberries. NOTE: I did not expect them home tonight; Wednesdays are their night with EX, but apparently he is traveling. Again. (Which is fine.)

7:30 pm  Off to the storage space. Fun! The office is closed, and there is no moving cart visible. I give my son my cell phone and some vague and hopefully non-threatening safety directions, ask my daughter to hold open the door, and I start carrying boxes into the deserted complex. My daughter holds her nose and keeps asking why our particular storage unit smells so bad. My son tells her he bets that homeless people sleep there. He seems sure of it, and my danger instincts kick in – something is wrong in that place. I know that a civics lesson is in order, but I’m scared, which happens very rarely, and we all hustle to the car. 

8:15 pm  My daughter tells me she’ll never take a shower again. She hates them. I smile calmly and try to convince her.

8: 35 pm  Standoff. I let my son explain Minecraft to me and ignore my daughter who keeps telling me how much she hates soap and water and that soap is bad for the environment. She is eight.

8:45 pm  I give in. “Fine, don’t take a shower, ever again, I don’t really care,” I tell her. She looks at me and shrugs her shoulders and finally turns on the water.

9:15 pm  I read two chapters of a Judy Blume Fudge book. I wonder if it’s a little sassy for them, but they like it. I like it too. We laugh and my kids ask for a dog. And a parrot. I realize that my daughter used no shampoo in her hair and probably no soap on her body. I put everyone to bed anyhow. Hugs all around – showers or no showers, parrot or no parrot, divorce or no divorce.

10 pm  My daughter comes downstairs and tells me she can’t sleep. I walk her back up, tuck her in, and hug her again.

10:15 pm  See 10 pm.

10:30 pm  See 10 pm, but I’m writing this vent, and I tell her to go and sleep in my bed. It’s been a long day, and I know it will work. She will be asleep within minutes. 

10:40 pm  She’s asleep. I drink a glass of wine. I’m working from home tomorrow. 

Divorce, Staying at Home, and Going Back to Work

“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was. Likewise, I never imagined that home might be something I would miss.”
― Ransom Riggs

 

In two weeks, I will be back at work for the first time in nearly ten years.

I should add the word “paid.” I will be back doing paid work. I’ve worked hard raising my babies, being a single mom, volunteering, carpooling, showing up at every school and sporting event, doing a little bit of freelancing, and managing a whole lot of things including a high-conflict divorce with a vicious lunatic high-conflict individual.

As much as I’ve cherished these days at home with my children, I’ve paid a steep price for them. Nine years ago, I chose to become financially dependent on someone who wasn’t dependable. To be fair to myself, I did not know this at the time – he was employed in a high-profile and lucrative job. But there were already serious cracks in my marriage, and I should have known better than to become financially dependent on him.

As one working mom says, “It’s always a huge risk to become dependent on someone else.” I always wondered if maybe this sounded a bit cynical, but now I understand it. It’s a risk, like everything else.

As Leslie Bennetts says on NBC Today Money:

But in 21st century America, it has never been more clear that choosing economic dependency as a lifestyle is the classic feminine mistake. No matter what the reasons, it’s simply too risky to count on a man to take care of you over the long haul.

Half of all marriages end in divorce; the average age of widowhood in America is 54; and by the time women reach 60, two-thirds of them no longer have partners. Even those in lasting marriages must contend with an insecure labor market in which many men lose their jobs at some point — a hardship that proves especially painful for families who rely on a single breadwinner.

Meanwhile women’s life spans have doubled in the last century. The result is that American women are now twice as likely to slide below the poverty line as men in their later years — and 80 percent of those women were not poor before they lost their breadwinners. And yet our culture continues to encourage the fairy-tale fantasy that women should devote themselves to marriage and family, in return for which Prince Charming will take care of them forever.

I look around, and most people in my affluent neighborhood seem to be beating the divorce odds. I am glad for them and their children. But still I wonder. Just today I heard of another impending divorce. Plus, our children are young, and everyone says that the divorces start snowballing in a few years. We will catch up with the statistics.

As a divorced friend likes to say about us divorced moms: “We are the early adaptors.”

And so I adapt. I found a job because I need to work. We need the money. We need the benefits. And I need to do this as a step on a path that is taking me upwards and away from my soon-to-be-ex who has held me back for too many years. I gave up my first career when I moved to his city to marry him. I loved that career, and I was good at it. I have wanted to go back home, to the greatest city in the world, for many years, but soon-to-be-ex always put his own career first.

My new job seems doable and possibly interesting and even involves a little writing. But it’s not where I would be if I had worked for the past nine years. I will earn less significantly money that I was making nine years ago. That is another price that women pay when they stay at home. I recently read a statistic that women lose 4 percent of their earning potential for every year they stay out of the workforce. When I calculate my income, I’m beating these odds, but not by as much as I would like.

I haven’t yet told my children that I’m going back to work, though I have tested the waters. “Hey, if I did more work at an office, how would you feel about having a babysitter pick you up from school and help you with your homework? I’ll be home by dinner.”

My son was enthusiastic. His babysitters are way more fun than me.

My daughter was wary. “Not every day, right?” she asked.

I told her I was still working it out. I thought my heart would break.

I will miss these days, and the rhythms of a stay-at-home-mom. The quiet supermarkets and the friendliness of the cashiers when they see my kids. The spotlessly clean house, time to spray-and-wash the laundry. The coffees and walks with my friends and the gym. Checking my children’s homework every night and working on dioramas and homemade cookies and art projects. Or calling and checking in with a teacher when my intuition tells me that my child needs help. The time to be the kind of mom I want to be.

Or even the time to buy soccer cleats and ballet leotards and paper towels and gas. To go on school field trips. Or let’s face it, to take a long nap after a court hearing or when soon-to-be-ex has lobbed his latest crazy accusations against me.

I could go on. The time to take care of my children when they are sick. Teacher workdays. Trips to the pumpkin patch. Bringing my children to the dentist myself.

I’m afraid these days are over.

I think I might miss the drive home from school the most. It’s the time when my children just talk. I just listen. I get to hear it all – the good, the bad, the ugly. What the notorious “Nate the Not Great” has done to upset my daughter today, and what her friends have said to make her laugh. Whether my son has scored any goals at recess, and if his teacher rewarded him with a Hershey Kiss for good behavior.

These days are over.

But then I focus on the things I’ll still have. I still get to drive my children to school. We will have breakfast and dinner together. We’ll have a bit of time after dinner for bedtime and stories and hugs. Or maybe even a walk or evening swim. And I’ll have weekends and holidays. (Or at least half of the weekends and holidays, depending on how things go in court.)

It’s just a few less extra hours each day.

Right?

But I already miss these days. It’s bittersweet in the same way as watching your children grow up is bittersweet. You have to let go, more than you want to – you worry so much, and miss them so badly that it hurts.

 

Getting Ready to Walk

Getting Ready to Walk

Status: 2 1/2+ years of Separation, and the Divorce of the Century is nowhere near finished. Update: Job interviews have started for me, after staying at home with my children for nearly ten years. The Good: The jobs aren’t bad. … Continue reading