Well, I knew the day had to come. It is inevitable that when one makes the choice to leave the work force and stop drawing a paycheck, one will eventually find a gaping black hole of cashlessness in the space that was once their bank account.
It happened this week. After hording my money while on bedrest, alas, it is gone. Spent over the past fourteen months on diapers, groceries, baby clothes for Ethan, fat-girl clothes for me, baby food, too many lattes, more diapers, books, scrapbooking materials I have yet to use, a jogging stroller, toys, diapers, wipes, and more diapers. I'm sure there other odds and ends, but oh my god, the diapers!
This means that now I am officially and truly a "kept woman". I have to admit, it makes my skin itch a bit in a way I didn't think it would. This is something Husband and I talked about & planned for prior to getting married. My being a stay-at-home type of mom was a foregone conclusion way back when Ethan was still a mere concept to us rather than the tornado of joy & frustration that he is now. It was what I envisioned for myself way back when the first fantasies of mommyhood flickered in my brain. I didn't think the idea of not having or making my own money would resonate with me on any level whatsoever, nevermind one that set my teeth a bit on edge.
I realize it's not the idea of being a stay-at-home mom that makes me uncomfortable. I am not one of those women who feels passionately that there is a right or wrong way to *do* motherhood in terms of continuing a career or taking time out of "professional life" to raise a child. Whatever works best for each family and each mother is the best choice for those particular people. I think this anxious-to-the-toes feeling is more about the fact that having a job and making money has been a part of my life as long as I can remember.
I have been working and making at least spending money since I was 14 years old.
My first job was washing used cars off of Main Street in Nashua, NH, the summer between 8-9th grade. I endured creepy men driving by slowly asking if I was included in the price of the car, but it was a kick-ass, out in the sun all day, not using your brain summer job for a teenager & I always had money for the R-rated movies I was sneaking into.
I have worked at a shoe store, an cheesy, cheap accessory store, a hospital nutrition office, a medical filing office, a dining hall, Express, Filene's, a one-hour photo booth, a bookstore, as a tutor, and at five schools. Each of those jobs gave me some amount of money, either to spend frivolously with my friends, to save for college or, finally, to live off of and support myself. For the past 21 years.
This week, I had to ask Husband for money. We needed, what else, diapers. And the whole "you are now a woman on an allowance" smacked me upside the head with a force I had not anticipated. I was suddenly 12 years old again, with my hand out waiting for spending money. Oh, the agony. Isn't this what I spent 21 years of my life working against? Isn't this what the cynical feminazis call "institutionalized prostitution"? Why can't completion of a master's degree come with a pension? That seems reasonable.
Don't get me wrong. I am not one of those cynical feminazis. I consider myself a feminist in the truest sense--believing that a woman should have the freedom to choose and do that which is best for her, regardless of what the feminist movement of the day says that "best" option is. I don't believe that I am prostituting myself in any way, shape or form. But I realize that others do.
It's not much different from the time in Economics class in high school when we were revealing our plans for our future careers. I attended an all-girl high school where the majority of the honors level girls were anticipating careers in medicine and law. I was looking forward to a career as a teacher. I endured countless barbs and snide comments about how I should be trying to do more with my life. How we lived in a time when women could be anything, why would I want to be something I could have been 100 years ago. I was looked down on. My dream was poo-poo'd.
It is much the same now. When Ethan was about 3 months old, I was asked by a well-meaning, but at the time clueless girlfriend of mine how I liked, "being a lady of leisure." I plastered a smile on my face (she was a few months pregnant and I didn't want to burst her bubble with too many horror stories of the sleep deprivation and oh my dear god in heaven, the colic). It struck me that whenever one isn't actively putting in a full day's work on someone else's clock, they are "at leisure". It didn't matter that I was up at 4:45 every day, bouncing a crying baby, doing 5 loads of laundry a week, pumping breastmilk, rocking a baby to sleep every 2 hours during the day and trying desperately to entertain a fussy, miserable child for the hours he was actually awake. I was at leisure because no one was cutting me a check bi-weekly for my efforts. (That friend's child is now 6 months old and I'd venture a guess that she'd not ask the same question again).
And although no one knew that before last week I had my own money and this week I don't, I feel like it is plastered on my forehead, nice & loud. "MAMA'S BROKE!" "WILL PROVIDE MATERNAL SERVICES FOR FOOD."
But what is to be done? Nothing. This, as it seems to be with everything in my life, is a matter of self-perception. I will take a few deep breaths & realign my idea of what, to me, success and prosperity are again, through yet newer eyes. And clearly, when I look at Ethan, I am reminded that life's truest riches are not found on any bank statement, but in the feeling of complete and utter trust and love when his head rests on my shoulder as I carry him upstairs for a nap.