A few months ago—in fact, the day after I gave birth to my third son, Harry—I got an email from a nationally important organization inquiring about my freelance writing services. Which was exciting! So I wrote back honestly, saying that yeah I was interested but also I was still currently having my uterus pressed by nurses, so it might be a couple weeks before I could get to emailing them some writing samples.
(Before anyone starts to get judgy or misunderstand my tone, no I did not actually say the thing about the uterus.)
They were totally cool with that, and when I got around to sending the samples, they had me come in for a meet and greet. All seemed to go quite well, and so they emailed me some onboarding paperwork (including a nondisclosure form) because, like I said, this organization is a Big Deal.
Thing is, all this paperwork came to me when Harry was a month old. In fact, Noah was still home with me, because in a miraculous stroke of humanity, his employer recently approved six weeks’ paid leave for all new parents. These two facts presented some problems for the onboarding paperwork:
1) Our printer no longer worked at home, and Noah wasn’t in the office every day to easily print a few documents for me and then fax them to the intended recipients.
2) My body and brain were both still very much in recovery mode from what I like to call “new human life on planet Earth onboarding.”
3) Harry and I both had some health issues (non-life-threatening) that required a whole bunch of extra doctors’ appointments and, you guessed it, PAPERWORK!
Ah, giving birth! The miraculous, primal, spiritual moment in the continuation of the species! Nothing memorializes and honors that event quite like reams and reams of legal and financial documents.
So what happened was, I was slow in getting the paperwork back, and because I didn’t have ready access to a printer or a fax machine, I attempted to use an app to scan and email the documents (which has worked beautifully in the past!<—foreshadowing)…and it didn’t work! It took three rounds of emailing to get the frigging paperwork back to the Nationally Important Organization.
I haven’t heard from them since.
The other day Noah was encouraging me to reach out to the N.I.O., because after my interview it was implied there was a project on the horizon for me, which has yet to materialize. He must’ve been encouraging and supportive at exactly the wrong moment (ugh, typical!) because the floodgates opened and I splooged out all my feelings.
I used unflattering self-describing adjectives. Foolish. Idiot. Unprofessional. This is an Organization of National Importance! I shouted, and I couldn’t even get the onboarding paperwork back! They’re not going to hire me!
Perhaps I’m thinking the worst of this Nationally Important Organization. Perhaps they’re very understanding (I thanked them for their patience “during this maternity leave period” amid the onboarding paperwork debacle in a Jedi attempt at inducing patience in case it wasn't actually there). In fact, one of the interviewers was herself very pregnant and preparing for her maternity leave. Maybe she’s not yet back at work, and when she is, that’s when they’ll reach out to me?
It’s easy for me to think rationally and positively in this moment, a few days after my episode of explaining to Noah why his encouragement and support were stupid.
But the thing is, no matter what, I have felt more acutely than ever before the ways in which Business and Work in this country are not set up for parenting. Why should I feel bad about myself for this? It seems to me there are very few professions in which the presence or peripheral existence of the employee’s children is completely inappropriate. Brain surgery comes to mind as one of those. Manufacturing, perhaps. The smelting of steel or mining of salt.
Though, why shouldn’t office buildings and industrial parks all have a childcare center? Why can’t people who work at a desk telecommute without consequence when a child is home sick or on school holiday? Why isn’t it standard to revere parenting as sacred with the relatively easy-to-implement opportunity for standard paid parental leave? Other countries do these things. Certain companies in this country do them. (<cough> Patagonia)
I don’t want to sound hysterical here, but PATRIARCHY! Don Draper doesn’t rule the world of work anymore, people. Let’s reconfigure how we do business. Remember last year when the video of that news correspondent’s kids be-bopping through his home office went viral? Everyone loved that! “It’s real life. He’s a family man.” Etc. I wonder if that clip would’ve been so well received if the working dad had been a working mom. Actually, I think for sure it wouldn't have. Instead of the conversation being around how hilarious that was, or how racist people are for assuming the guy’s Asian wife was actually his children’s nanny, we would’ve been having yet another one of the infernal Can Women Have It All, and also You Should Lean In, conversations.
I don’t want to resent my kids for needing me while I’m on a non-life-and-death conference call. I want to resent them for important things, like interrupting while I’m trying to watch British Bake Off.
So I dunno. I will at some point reach out to the Nationally Important Organization when I can figure out how to word the email. But my situation hasn’t changed. I’m still a mother, raising three young sons, one of whom is in that precious and fleeting period of total dependence. I don’t want to miss that, or resent that, or wish it away.
Post script: I wrote this a couple days ago, and then this morning I came across this article, which uses some colorful terminology to address an interesting issue...let's call it an epidemic of busy-work jobs. The part that interested me most was when the interviewee talked about a basic income for all, because caregivers (stay-at-home parents, volunteers, retirees, those who provide elder care, etc.) provide a service of extreme importance but get no compensation for it.
It's an interesting idea (I believe the Green Party also affirms the value of the caregiver economy). I think a lot of folks who would be against a universal basic income (people will be lazy! Freeloaders! Welfare queens! blah blah blah <insert racism> blah blah <insert classism>) would often end up as beneficiaries of it. I'm thinking of lifelong workers who are forced into retirement to provide care for a sick spouse, for example.
Regardless, it's refreshing to me to hear the caregiver economy begin to find footing in the broader discussion of work, technology, economics, etc. Because parenting, elder care and volunteerism contribute far more to the fabric of life than some random investment banker does, but one of those pays a lot better.