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Yes, Evan's mother would work, and Evan would be okay. But whether his mother would be okay was far from certain.
When our native Texan was three months old we moved back to New York and took up the life of suburban commuters. It was a life led to the rhythm of a portable breast pump and the whistle of the early-evening train. Missing the 6:19 from Grand Central meant missing bedtime and bathtime at home. Some nights that broke my heart. Other nights I was secretly relieved (but racked with guilt at my relief) that there'd be that much less for me to do when I finally made it home.
"How did you do it?" I asked my mother in a tone that was more accusation than compliment. "How did you study for the bar exam and keep us fed? How did you write your thesis and proofread our homework? How come your generation did it and mine is losing its collective mind?"
In the world according to Mom, the answer is threefold. First, she says, my life really is more complicated. She was a mother first. Then she had a career. She didn't graduate from law school until I was a senior in high school. When her youngest child left for college, Mom was forty-two years old and there was no one waiting at home for a bath and a story. When I am forty-two my youngest will still be in elementary school. Mom did things serially while my generation does them simultaneously.
That said, Mom gently suggests that me and mine all think too much. Working mothers, she reminds us, have always felt torn. It's just that there are more of us now, in jobs that are more fulfilling partly because they are more demanding, and we are not a group who sees a need to shoulder our frustrations quietly. There is a hint of reprimand in her voice when she says this. Her own mother worked, and she turned out okay -- but there were times when her parents just couldn't be there. "That's why they call it work," she says, quoting my grandmother.
But the most important difference between my life and hers, the reason I felt like a failure and she felt like an adventurer, is a difference I came to see only after I had children of my own. When I look back on my childhood, I remember the security of knowing someone else was always there. What my naive eyes didn't notice was who that someone was. When my mother wasn't home, my father was, straightening patients' teeth in his suite of offices attached to the house, greeting me when I came off the school bus every afternoon, bringing my homework when I forgot it (truth be told, he sent his receptionist to do that, but I was relieved to be rescued), and tucking me in when I was sick.
Yes, my mother worked, and I turned out okay.
Thank you, Mom and Dad.
From LIFE'S WORK by Lisa Belkin. Copright © 2002 by Lisa Belkin. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., N.Y.