A Woman’s Place
Not having child care sucks. I had child care. I had a miraculous saint of a woman who knew baby sign language and spoke Spanish and could be trusted with my daughter. But, she revealed herself actually to be an evil, disappointing deserter that quit with no notice. Well, eleven hour’s notice. Text came through Sunday at 9 p.m. before work on Monday at 8 a.m. The text read: I found a better job. Now, I don’t mind if you get a better job, go for it, I know I can only offer part time, but a little notice please? Because here is what happens when a woman, a woman that is not the bread-winner, loses child care: Her. Life. Stops.
I thought I had made it through the hard part. The saturated part. The part where my identity had almost disappeared so completely that I couldn’t remember the lyrics to Passin’ Me By. I was ready to start my life again, well this new part of my life, where I finished what I started.
On Halloween, 2019, I gave birth to my daughter, Beatrix. A true love of my life. My actual heart that beats outside of my body. Before her, I had been “acting” for 20 years in Los Angeles. And by “acting” I mean I had been actively auditioning but not consistently working for two decades. I describe my career as big parts in small projects, medium parts in medium projects, and one really tiny part in one really big project. I died a lot. Not exactly printing money. And then the miracle of all middle aged miracles happened. When I wasn’t looking, or needing, or wanting, I met and fell in love with a unicorn. A true gem of a (hu)man. Handsome. Smart. Successful. The actual captain of his high school football team. (He would not have dated me in high school. My awkward years lasted till senior year of college. Took me years, even after that, to realize that I maybe had outgrown it and maybe had transformed into a woman that maybe people noticed. I never could flirt.) And so goddamn funny some nights I am rolling in tears of laughter, laughter so violent I have to take heaving breaths to get through them. His humor is my own paradise. Five years to the day of meeting him, my water broke.
Nothing prepared me for motherhood. It is like being caught in the heart of an avalanche. The first six months postpartum, I was just trying to dig myself out, spitting in the air to try and see which direction to move. And having a baby in the time of Covid magnified the loneliness by an unmentionable amount. They say it takes a village but that village was on lockdown. I’m still surprised how few women mentioned loneliness before I had the baby, but are eager to share about it afterwards like they don’t want to curb the population by revealing that isolation is the worst labor pain.
The last couple of years were tough. Child. Covid. And then, just because I like a good alliteration and so often, good or bad, things come in threes, I also got breast cancer in 2020. (But that’s another story.) We hired a nanny out of necessity while I had chemo, and then as I healed and became a human again (from being a patient, the former being much preferable), I started to peek my head out of the water and take some deep breaths. I was starting to be me again. My baby was in good hands for twenty hours a week. I had N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease). The traffic had returned to LA. Things were looking up.
I was feeling optimistic. The chemo brain-fog had disbanded. I was working out. I signed up for an MFA in creative writing. It was my time to finally be something more than a mother again. Now, if being a mother is what is right for you, Godspeed. I love being a mother. But I never thought I would be a mother, so my identity is not associated with motherhood. I was me for forty years before I was a mom. Why am I, and so many women, expected to forget the lifetime that existed before they had children? It’s a similar feeling I had when it came to changing my last name. When we first applied for a marriage license I didn’t think it mattered. But when it came down to going through with it, I couldn’t, or didn’t. If I was resistant to changing a few syllables, why didn’t I realize that ceasing TO BE EVERYTHING I WAS before motherhood may be a problem.
So here I am, it’s Sunday, January 2, 2022, and I am on the precipice of returning to civilization. I am about to have a moderately separate experience from being a full time mom. I am a person again. I am alive with the anticipation of the unknown. I am enrolled in an MFA program. I am ready to commit to a schedule of writing. Before me are deadlines and Zooms and still more than the occasional doctor’s appointment and therapy, scans, etc…I am ready. And then, the nanny quit. In the time that it took me to read the text (no time), my imagined autonomy was ripped out from under me, faster than any proverbial rug. Hiring and feeling safe with a new nanny takes months. There is no instant fix. I heard the sounds of doors closing.
My husband, as I said above, is a true unicorn. Exceptional in every way. He tries to make as much time as he can for me to have space to work but the truth is, his work trumps my work. He makes the money. And it is profoundly hard to accept. I am a nontraditional woman in a hyper traditional role. It feels strange on my body to live out this experience, like wearing a wool onesie in the middle of summer. It’s itchy. He works a lot, sometimes from seven a.m. to eleven p.m., or longer. Even with that work load he makes time to be with our daughter. He has given her 90 percent of her lifetime baths. But the reality is, with the demands on his work, and the real money that he makes, my work is pushed and squeezed into little corners of the day that I carve out. Early mornings. Naps. Times that are all conditional on the child sleeping. I don’t include evenings because after a full day of toddler time, there aren’t two words that I trust to come together in any significant order. By seven p.m. my brain has been pulverized by too many tantrums, too many negotiations, and by far the worst of it, too many repetitions of Baby Shark.
There is an old dinner party trope about Interesting People being horrified at being seated next to the most boring person, the Soccer Mom. I used to dismiss these old stereotypes as just that. People are more than their professions, blah blah blah. Until I became one, the dreaded Soccer Mom. Not exactly a soccer mom, but a full time mom, and I can tell you, it’s true, I am the worst dinner companion possible. I have nothing to talk about. I’m tired. I haven’t had a conversation with an adult other than my husband and my other mom friends in over two weeks, so I don’t have much to bring to a conversation unless you have a strong opinion on picky eaters or want to hear about the new Positive Parenting book I’m reading to try to distill the onslaught of future tantrums inevitably headed in my direction. Can you blame me? Who has the time to read The Marginalian? I can’t even drop “something I heard in a podcast” because as I mentioned, Beatrix has co-opted my Spotify. No one told me having a two year old was like living with the shittiest DJ ever.
Let me take a brief interlude to tell you how much I love my daughter. It’s important to know that when women are talking about what they need, it is not dismissive of what they already have. My love for my daughter is the stuff of moonbeams and magic. Her giggles are the drips of ice cream on the side of a cone. Watching her race around on her scooter yelling, “I need to coot!” I overflow in adoration. Each night as my husband and I put her to bed, she calls out for a “family hug.” She reaches her little arms out wide and brings us both into her embrace. “I love you mommy! I love you daddy!” It’s like jumping off a dock into a still lake on a warm day. I’m obsessed. Still, I need more. I need help.
I write this as she squirms in the monitor. The window is closing. Any minute now I will have to shut my computer and finish the second half of my day denying her requests for television and making her food that she won’t eat. In an interview with George Plimpton, Hemingway is quoted as saying, “I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you…” Ha. Hahahhahahha. Ha. No one to disturb you? No one disturbed him because his wife took care of everything. I am the wife but I want to be the Hemingway.
From the informal polls I’ve done, in almost all circumstances, childcare falls on the women’s shoulders. Trying to remove this conditioning is like trying to take out an ingredient after it’s been mixed together in batter. No, you can’t take that baking soda, it’s been smushed and spread and cast all the way out to the far edges of the bowl with all the other dry ingredients. It can’t be removed. Not cleanly. Women’s responsibility to child care should be up there with the inevitability of death and taxes.
I wonder how men would feel if they had to put themselves in a little box on a shelf anytime the babysitter called in sick. Do they think it feels different for us? That it hurts less because we are used to it? Because I am not fulfilled at home. And I have to come to terms with that. I have to come to terms that this wild and extraordinary being, that I love more than all the stars in the sky, is not enough of an expression to keep me moving through this world as a whole person. Losing my nanny wasn’t just an inconvenience. It was a wake up call. I’m learning that having a life outside of motherhood isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Gillian Shure is working on her MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University. Her work has appeared in The Paragon Press, Carbon Culture Review, On The Bus, The MacGuffin, and Side-Eye on the Apocalypse. She lives in Los Angeles.