Apparently Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, and Deepak Chopra were all in Harvard Square yesterday for the launch of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way foundation. I was in Harvard Square, too, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of them. I was there just for the fifteen minutes it took me to FedEx a book back to a client. Then I got home and discovered that a chunk of the proofread I had just mailed was still sitting on my desk.
My desk isn’t even very crowded (for me, anyway), but I had cleverly separated out the last section of the book to cross-check against the earlier sections, and that turned out to be a bad plan because no one wants their proofread back with the last 20 pages missing. I couldn’t believe it. I had never done anything like this before. How could it have happened?
In a nutshell, this feeling – the bottom-dropping-out-of-your-stomach uh-oh moment – sums up what it’s felt like to work from home since having a kid. Before the blessed event, I naively thought I’d have the best of both worlds. I could be home with him and just squeeze my work time into nap time, right? Babies sleep a lot. And when he got older, he’d play by himself sometimes too, so there’d be some more work time then.
At this point, you’re probably asking if I even knew what a baby was, and the answer is that of course I did not. Babies and kids were just an abstract concept to me then. I did not know that a baby might want to spend all of his time napping right on you, making it possible to get trapped in one uncomfortably contorted position for a couple of hours, with nothing to do but discover that there really is an episode of “Law and Order” on at every hour of the day. I did not know that a toddler might not like playing alone and furthermore might take great offense to you being on the phone for even five minutes, leading to conference calls in which your clients politely assure you that your child sounds adorable, and you somehow manage to keep from saying, “I’m sending him to you for our next meeting, then.”
Right now, this is my freelance life because Boston – and the entire state of MA – is the most expensive place for childcare in the United States. (Sidenote: What is the connection here to the fact that Boston is also the drunkest city in America? There has to be a correlation, other than the fact that we have so many top universities that we are just that competitive about everything.) The cost of daycare here is seriously ridiculous, especially for someone who doesn’t know what her income will be from month to month. I feel at times like I shouldn’t complain; at least there are two incomes in our house, and I’m not falling into the situations described in this incredibly depressing article about the death of the creative class, such as losing my house or having no health insurance.
But the fact is, I like to work. I need to feel like I’ve accomplished something with my day, and it needs to be something other than successfully getting my son to eat carrots instead of cookies as a snack (not that this is any small feat). I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. I have friends who are and who are happy with that choice, and more power to them. I wish sometimes I could be happy with it too, but I’ve tried that route and it makes me seriously crazy. (No, really, just ask my husband.) It makes me so crazy that I feel impatient when I hear anything about the guilt of working mothers; I don’t feel guilty about working at all! I just feel frustrated that there isn’t any affordable way to do it. Either I spend all my money before I get it by putting my son in full-time daycare and hope to make up the difference, or I take on projects, scramble for daycare coverage, and end up working at night and worrying that I’m forgetting something vital. Fortunately so far, it’s just been the dishes, or the laundry. Because I’m a perfectionist, I always get my work done on time; the house just tends to fall to shreds while the projects are happening, because even though my husband does a lot, he can only do so much. And he has a full-time job too, so it’s not like he’s sitting around with copious amounts of free time.
And now I’m going to say something I never thought I’d say, which is that we can sum up the heart of this situation with a little classical mechanics problem. It’s called “the two body problem,” and I just learned about it last night. To boil it down for all you non-mechanics folks (including me), it is a problem that involves two bodies orbiting each other, and it’s only solvable if you reduce the complexity of the system, so that you essentially end up dealing with one body. Among the astronomy and physics community, and possibly other academic communities based in scientific research, the phrase has come to refer to two professionals getting married and procreating and having to figure out how to deal with the care of their offspring. Basically, in a high-pressure career environment that you’re both sharing, who gives up what? How do you make it all work?
So, anyone out there with a knowledge of classical mechanics? I’d love to find a solution for this one.