Last winter my brother called me after watching this video to say:
"F**k you, Rebecca."
He went on to remind me that when I was in my second trimester, he and I got into a huge fight because he suggested that I might want to stop working in order to be with Esther more and I was enraged that he would think I was that kind of woman. He pointed out that if I were still working, I probably wouldn't have been able to capture that kind of footage of Esther dancing in her high chair.
I deserved every word of it.
I have mostly gotten comfortable with being a stay-at-home mom. It was hard in the first few months to let go of my self-image as a professional person. However, I really love the rhythms of my life and I love the benefits for my daughter and our marriage that come with having one person with the time to coordinate domestic stuff. I am fascinated by Esther's development and so rarely miss the intellectual challenges of the work place. It's like being in school all over again.
That being said, a couple of months ago, I really struggled with my decision to focus on the domestic part of my life.
I was struggling because - like during my second trimester with Esther - I'm clinging to an idea that is a product of my insecurity, rather than a product of how things really work.
The context was a wedding that I wasn't going to be able to attend because of a combination of terrible morning sickness and a sinus infection. (I know, I know, this is no way to announce a pregnancy. So, we'll pause for a moment to say, "Yay! Baby!")
I have gotten to a point in my life where I'm mostly neutral about weddings. When I'm there, I love them. However, I know that my value to the marrying couple as a guest is actually quite low most of the time. My presence contributes to volume, which helps a party and spiritual vibe and the event becomes a shared experience in a continuing relationship, but, really, if you miss it, one's relationship isn't going to be significantly altered in the long run.
However, I was looking forward to this wedding for more than just my relationship with the bride and groom.
First and foremost, we were planning on leaving Esther with a babysitter and I wanted so much to dance with my husband, which I had not gotten to do at my best friend's wedding a month earlier.
Secondly, the invitation to this wedding had made me feel special. Of the 5 weddings that the people in my study group from graduate school had hosted, this was only the second that I had been invited to. I was gratified that my relationship with the groom had been built back up since graduation when we drifted apart, to be invited. He's one of my favorite people on the planet and I'm glad that he wanted me as part of his spiritual and party vibe.
Finally, I really wanted to attend because it was a chance to see and be seen by other people from school who were also attending.
Maybe that seems a little shallow but here's where the part about regretting my choice to stay home comes in. None of the other folks in my study group have children, except for one guy whose children are grown, and I feel like we're all in totally different worlds now.
Who knows if this is true, but I picture them all meeting for happy hours after work and bumping into each other at networking events. Even if that's not happening, if they do see each other, they have work stuff to talk about. Even if I went to the alumni events, who wants to hear about how Esther is an ace at stacking the rings on the spindle now? Who would want to hire me in 5 years if that was the last conversation that we had? I know that I could make more of an effort to keep up with current events and to organize happy hours (actually, 5:00 is a terrible time to try to get a babysitter) but I find that the rhythm of my days just doesn't allow for that easily. The perceived value of being proactive like that doesn't usually seem worth the opportunity cost to the other things that I do with that energy.
So, we drift further apart.
And this makes me worry that I'm letting my most valuable professional asset atrophy. I have a lot of professional skills that I can peddle to potential employers when I'm ready to go back to work. But it certainly seems that in this economy, you need an edge to get a job that you want to do instead of just a job where someone will pay you to do something. For most of my schoolmates, they have the quantitative analysis edge. They can run regressions and process the data to make persuasive power points.
I cannot do these things.
I passed all the statistics and economics courses (which is pretty badass) but it would be lying to say I could run a regression to anyone's satisfaction. And it seems like even in policy jobs where you don't have to do that, they want you to have put in the time having done that kind of data work as a prerequisite.
I have always comforted myself that what I do have to offer is established leadership skills in my work history and a robust network of people who will return my emails and possibly even have lunch with me.
But since a lot of my network is made up of the folks I went to school with and a lot of those folks are drifting away (and pulling ahead), I am growing much less confident in the robustness of my network.
Having to miss the wedding where I would be able to reconnect with many folks in my network because of my fertility and non-professional status (certainly I became pregnant again much more quickly than someone who was trying to be sensitive about the spacing of her maternity leaves) created a lot of despair in my feverish brain.
Like every other anxiety and disappointment in life, I'm coming to terms with it. We close doors when we make choices. I do not regret for an instant my family planning choices and so I just have to get used to the little uff of frustration when I run into that door that I forgot that I closed or that I thought I had left half-open.
I also know that the exciting opportunities in my life have rarely come about because of my planning and preparation. Most are dropped into my lap.When I'm ready to be professional again (or possibly even before I think I'm ready), there's a good chance that my career goals and policy passions will take a sharp turn from the direction I expected to go.
Still, I wanted to go to that wedding.