Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How Not To “Do a Doris Lessing”

photo by Elke Wetzig

Doris Lessing (a great writer who left a husband and 2 children and moved to another continent) once said, “There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children.” It’s difficult, frustrating, tiring and sometimes filled with drudgery - but it isn’t the most boring thing. I bet that it’s WAY more boring to answer the phones at an accountant’s office all day; Or to be the photocopy person at Kinko’s. How about the cleaning lady at a burger joint? The woman who stands by the side of the road selling Wexford strawberries in summer? I could go on and on. There’s nothing wrong with these jobs (I’ve done similar ones myself). They make money and provide a lifeline – hell, these may even be self-employed cleaning ladies or Wexford strawberry sellers and be very satisfied. Nevertheless, doing the side of the road fruit selling shtick can’t be as stimulating as taking care of my two all day. I love Doris Lessing. She was a trailblazer. But being not a dumb woman myself, I’d have to say she just wasn’t looking at the situation in the proper light, with the proper attitude.
I’m endlessly challenged by my kids who, despite the fact that I’m 35+ years older and way more educated, always manage to outwit me. I do wish I had more time to write, read, work, etc. – and I will one day, when the two year old goes to school. There will come a time when I’m not changing diapers or cleaning spilled milk. In the meantime, I snatch what time I can, here and there. I take 20 minutes to type something up while they’re watching Dora (a post-feminist icon if ever there was one: roaming the jungles with only a monkey, a backpack and a map, yet wearing pink clothes and a delicate little pearl bracelet). I get a little bit of time between 8 and 10 in the evenings a couple of nights a week. It isn’t much but it’s what I’ve got. Love for the boys gets me through the rest. I hang on, clinging to the knowledge that the pre-school years aren’t forever, and that they have a lot to offer me and teach me. For example: Patience (I have a lot to learn); Courage (like the time I had to walk through murky, crab-filled water on the beach in order to rescue Max from a rock – not much, but it’s all I got); Cunning cookery (hide the healthy bits); Time Management and Negotiation skills (Starting about 30 minutes before I actually have to leave:
“Zach, use the potty and wash your hands, we’ve got to go.”
“But Mom, I’m watching this.”
“Use it, we have to go.”
“When this is over.”
“Now. We have to go. Please go up, use the potty and wash your hands.”
“But Mom...”
“I’m shutting it off.”
“Off, it’s going OFF!”
“Mom...Can I use the potty down here while I watch?”
“No, you’ll stink up the place.”
Big sigh, “Oh...OK...but then I’m shutting it off!”)
I’ve learned stuff I never wanted to learn, too – like how to get stains out.
Doris feared she’d end up a frustrated intellectual and alcoholic. I’m Lucky. I was born about 50 years later than Doris. I know, however, that I benefit now from technology, which allows for flexible working (think: laptop on the go, broadband and email). She and her generation ploughed the furrows, planted the seeds. I’m reaping the benefits the feminists gave us, and I know it.  The post-feminist, angst ridden mother in me wishes she’d been born a decade or two earlier. She pines for the days when feminists were feminists, when ladies with curly haired coifs wore polyester pant suits, ERA buttons pinned tightly to their lapels. She would have stood around an oil drum with her ‘sisters’, casually thrown her brazier atop the pile of lace and elastic, doused it with oil and lit a match. We’ve moved past the bra burnings and now gather in groups only when there’s a Gymboree session down at the local community centre, or when we’re in desperate need of a cappuccino. I can sense men’s fear when there’s too much oestrogen in one place. I can’t blame them. If only we weren’t all so damned sleep deprived, we’d start a revolution.  
Women think they’ve arrived when they haven’t; that the option between work and childrearing is what we fought for. That’s only half the battle. What we need is to combine the two in a way that is realistic. Women need a more fluid situation in the work world, which allows for children getting chicken pox and sleep deprived nights that turn into sleep deprived days. We need heavily subsidized childcare, to free up women in lower income bands to exercise their intellect as well. Doris thought that a woman who wouldn’t tell men what they thought to their face “deserves everything she gets.” I have no fear of telling everyone what I think. Doris, if only you had your own blog, something you could run upstairs and type during nap time, maybe you would have had the release valve I have, and wouldn’t have had to cut and run.


  1. I hear you sister. Totally psyched to be at my new gig at a swish client's - but this meant hiring a sitter to take care of the kids after school and Wednesdays, in a big hurry. Today the husband calls to tell me the sitter will cost us 700 Euros a month. Cue ridiculous, irrational guilt: "It's my fault we have to pay someone 700 Euros a month," when of course this is offset by what I'm making and the business I'm building.

    Keep writing! Awesome stuff!

  2. Thanks, Elizabeth! 700 / month is a bargain, by the way - in Ireland it's more expensive!

  3. Lori - this is superb. Thanks for voicing what lots of my friends feel!


Creative Commons License