Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Judging Judies
by Adrienne Martini

Our feminist foremothers flew in the face of human nature. Not only did they sell us a faulty worldview -- the one that says a modern woman can have kids, a job, a healthy sex life, and easy-care hair -- but they also forgot to account for the way women (and men, natch, but this rant isn't about them) actually behave. We can be such a petty lot, us chicas, ready to peck each other's eyes out like a flock of Hitchcock's birds. Sisterhood, shmisterhood.

Take, for instance, the following conversation, which is one that I had with a fellow mom at the local Mother Goose story time:

"So what do you do?" I asked. I felt it was a fair question, given that we'd been sitting next to each other at these hour-long sing-a-longs for the last few months. She'd mentioned previously that she'd worked at home, as I do.

"I'm a mom," she replied, with a look that could have set my sweater on fire.

"Oh, right," I stammered. "I meant in addition to that. You said you work at home."

"That is my work." Again, I get that look. "And what do you do?" she asked, and I knew there was no good answer.

"I'm a writer," I said. "I work for the local paper and do a bunch of freelance. From home, a lot of the time."

"How nice that you could join us," she said, with a pointed emphasis on the word nice. "How do you find the time?"

"Well, um, Maddy is in day care some of the time. See... she really loves it. Other babies. All the activity. And it's a really great place," I babbled on. A wise woman would have shut her trap at this point. "And it's a big help to get some time to work on my own stuff every now and again, like a real grown-up."

"That must be nice for you." Again, she hits the nice very, very hard. "I could never do that to my baby."

I take the hint. I'd like to say that this is the first time I've had this conversation, but this is yet another chorus in the same song.

At the next meeting, she sits on the opposite side of the room from me. I straggle in for the next couple of Mother Gooses after that, then stop going. Maddy and I can sing "Wheels On The Bus" on our own time, thank you very much, and I'm tired of being shunned by the other mommies because I didn't choose to put my professional life on hold. Which isn't to say it's easy to juggle all of this. But lots of things about being a parent aren't easy, whether you stay at home or not. So I won't play yet another tune from that particular songbook of mothering blues.

What is currently scalding my milk is the un-talked about divide between working moms and stay at home moms. Yes, yes, I know the rhetoric: home moms are working moms, too. It has been drilled into my head for the last 30-odd years by the second (or was it third?) wave feminists who wanted to feel valued, too, for their time on diaper duty.

The backlash has lashed, however. Now, my peers wear their home-mom status like a medal of honor, denoting that they are privileged enough to delicately nurture their tots into bright, productive citizens and that any woman who chooses to leave some of the day-to-day care to a third-party is somehow condemning her kid to a lifetime of Jerry Springer. It's mothering oneupwomanship, where some moms can only make themselves feel better by putting other moms down, like this was some sort of competition that only one mom can win.

This is the part of the equation that gets left off of the feminist solution. Sure, conventional wisdom would blame the patriarchy, how The Man turns us against ourselves as a class so that we can re-channel our anger at the social system into petty hair-pulling and eye-scratching. But that's too easy an answer, mamanistas. We do this because we're human. Humans sort things. Pre-teen boys exhibit this behavior with baseball cards; small kids do it with m&ms; men do it with hi-tech gear. And we do it with people. This group of women (or cards or candies or cell phones) are better than that group, in the order of my world. The rules are arbitrary and change with the fashion of the times. In this corner of the current world, you are not a true mother if you don't stay at home, gazing lovingly into your child's eyes every minute of every day while you plot enrichment activities involving Mozart and flash cards. So be it. Eventually, the tide will turn again.

All I know at this point is what works for me and my little family. Being a stay at home mom left me feeling disconnected from the world and chewing my fingers to the nub from the mind-draining boredom. Simply mothering made me feel like I was cheating myself and my child and my spouse by not giving them a complete person, one who has to take time for her own pursuits in addition to helping them accomplish theirs, whether that be learning to sit up or pursuing a promotion. My self-worth is not tied up in how many hours I log with the baby or how quickly she learns her numbers or how smartly she's dressed. I am my own woman. She is her own baby. We complement each others lives, rather than complete them.

Yet I can't help but feel there is something horribly wrong with me, given that the very idea of having to stay with the niblet every hour of every day gives me a bad case of the yips. I am a rotten mom, I can't help but think, an example of womanhood gone wrong simply because I can't find my bliss in the baby's eyes. And I am a rotten human because I do tend to sort home-moms into the same suspicious pile in which they sort me. Round and round we go, sorting and resorting according to the style of the times.

In my deepest heart, I hope that this isn't an issue for my daughter's generation. Yet equally deep I know that it will be. This is what we do, no matter how many bras we burn or manifestas we read. We are woman. Hear us judge.
Former Austinite and Austin Chronicle contributor, Adrienne Martini, now lives and writes in Knoxville, Tennessee.