I collect antique tea cups. This summer, while visiting Newport, Rhode Island, I bought this “Votes for Women” cup and saucer. It’s a replica from the estate of Alva Vanderbilt Belmont. Starting in 1909, after forming the Political Equality League, she held Suffrage Dinners at Marble Palace to raise funds for the Suffrage movement. Dinners were served on this china, made by John Maddock and Son.
I don’t keep this cup and saucer with my others, in part because it’s not antique and, in part, because I like it on the windowsill, above my kitchen sink.
I love that I’m able to stay home with Sophie. We’ve given up a lot to make that happen. And honestly, financially, it makes sense. Working as a managing editor and paying for daycare is, sadly, about equal to my staying home and freelancing, purely from a financial standpoint. Still, it’s been an adjustment—a huge adjustment—an adjustment I’m still still dealing with.
Beginning in high school I’ve worked. I’ve babysat. I’ve waited tables. I’ve stocked lipstick in the middle of the night. I’ve sold glow-in-the-dark necklaces at a theme park. I’ve called college alumni asking for money. I’ve worked in college dining halls. I’ve interned. I’ve written articles. I’ve edited magazines. I’ve managed magazines. I’ve been required to show up somewhere at a particular time wearing a particular outfit with like-minded adults for most of my life. When I was a little girl, I remember constantly being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (My answer then was Vanna White.) I, perhaps wrongly, viewed education as a means to a job, not a means to personal growth. Work, largely, defined me. It was a huge part of who I was and, in many ways, who I am.
I realize I’m lucky. Personally, I consider my work now considerably more difficult—yet also considerably more rewarding—than any other job I’ve held in the past. And if given the option I wouldn’t change a thing. But yet. I still sometimes long for adult interaction. I long for the opportunity to carry a leather purse and wear high heels. I long for the immense gratification that comes with seeing a project through to completion. I long for someone more experienced than me occasionally looking over my shoulder, marking my work in red or, better yet, saying “Good job.”
But then I think about what I would miss. The chance to interact with my daughter on a daily basis. The ability to wear jeans and a T-shirt, makeup optional. The gratification of seeing Sophie succeed—and seeing my own successes as a mother—as she grows. And although she’s not more experienced than me, she lets me know when I’ve screwed up (think tantrum as a result of a missed nap time). But she also lets me know when I’ve succeeded (think squeals of laughter or my watching, in amazement, as she says “Mama kiss” and leans forward to kiss me).
I struggle most while doing the mundane—dirty laundry, dusting, dishes. Although, I must admit, some chores I once thought mundane have become enjoyable—hanging laundry on the clothesline on a beautiful summer day, successfully tackling a new recipe, folding impossibly small socks.
Years ago I honestly think I would have been appalled at the suggestion that I would be a stay-at-home, or, perhaps more accurately, a work-at-home mom. But I learned something surprising (to me) in the many women’s studies classes I took in college. Feminism isn’t about having a career. It’s about having a choice. Ms. Belmont wasn’t fighting for women to have to vote, rather for women to have the choice to vote. It’s about being able to admire the working mother and the working father and the work-at-home mother and the work-at-home father and the stay-at-home mother and the stay-at-home father equally.
And so my “Votes for Women” tea cup sits on my windowsill above my sink as a reminder, while I’m doing the mundane task of washing dishes, of the fantastic fact that because of Ms. Belmont and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Blackwell and Amelia Jenks Bloomer and Carrie Chapman Catt and Kate Chopin and Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and Maureen Dowd and my grandmothers and my aunts and my mother and so many others that I have a choice. And instead of longing for the supposed greener grass on the other side (which I so often do) I need to be thankful I have a choice and embrace that choice and realize that I’m exactly where I want and need to be.
Still, I want more. On days when I’m on deadline I want more time with Sophie. On days when I have nothing due I want more writing work. I want to be with Sophie every second and yet I want someone to publish my book and send me on a month-long book tour. I want and want and want. And in some ways, I think that’s OK. In a, perhaps screwed-up way, I think that’s a form of ambition. But I’m also working on being thankful for what I already have and always thankful for the women who have worked so hard to allow me to have it.
“I’ve yet to be on a campus where most women weren’t worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children and a career. I’ve yet to find one where many men were worrying about the same thing.” —Gloria Steinem