Friday, December 28, 2007

The (Fallow) State of My Ovaries

I'm going to hope that most of my law professor/law clerk/judge/politician/lawyer (yeah, I check by IP address) audience is on vacation in time for the reversion I do every break to my weird posts of yore. And assuming some are still reading while they're grading, well, eh, you know me by now. Don't take this into account when you interview me. I'm talking to you, Dan Filler.

At any rate, after a few days of being a Glorified Unpaid Nanny to more children than I ever was personally in charge of when I worked in a daycare center (oh yes, I am professionally trained, and this is why I am Aunt Nanny) and having just spent 7 hours today going over test taking strategies for the verbal and essay sections of the SAT and proctoring a diagnostic exam for my 16 year old nephew, I swear, not until after tenure will I have a baby. Okay, maybe if I land a tenure-track job I will think about relaxing this edict slightly if the school lets you stop the tenure clock for a year and I and my partner are in a position to care for the child financially and emotionally, then I could imagine having a baby pre-tenure. But I swear I want to rip out my ovaries for now. I love "my" children, but if they were mine for more than this (and the year I spent at home, they were mine from 9 am to 9 pm, 5 days a week, and basically only unconscious and thus compliant at their parents' house), I would try to rip out my uterus for good measure.

I do not say this tra la la lightly and without consideration, like those stupid Yale undergrads did when they said they wanted to be stay at home mothers in the second iteration of the media-created "Opt Out Revolution" in that non-rigorous not-social science article written by the deplorable Lisa Belkin, an article so bad I refuse to link to it. But seriously. Have you ever cared for an infant in diapers for a significant period of time, from the time they wake to the time they sleep? Have you ever tried to do all of your work during naptime, only to be distracted by exhaustion or something to clean up? Have you ever taught children how to read, a slow and agonizing process? Have you ever watched signifcant amounts of children's television or come up with your own silly songs? Prepared 5 bowls of rice and feed three of the non-dexterous children at once? Given the same five children each baths until you can't straighten up after having bent over the tub for so long? Have you ever spent hours trying to talk to a teenager to convince him of the logic and pracitcality of personal responsibility and work ethic? I think this is only the minimum of what I have done in the past few days, and what I did for years: every weekend during college and law school, and currently every time I visit home.

Granted, when I have my own children, it will hopefully be one at a time, and I'll hopefully space out the births. But seriously, a child is a lot of work. Not the only work you can do, such that I'll quit my other job permanently (I have invested way too much time and effort in my own job and career and want to set that as an example), but a child is too much work, and too deserving of time and love for you to think of him or her as a mere hobby. It's a second full time job. I love children too much--my own, the world's, etc.--and I believe the children are our future, and that you should teach them well and let them lead the way, showing them all the beauty they possess inside. But if I hear one more cinematic platitude about how they magically make life better and even "easier," as if delivery = deliverance, I will randomly shoot some screenwriter in the next coffee shop I visit.

So why the weird diatribe on the state of my for now hopefully dormant-ovaries and womb?

Because I just watched Waitress. And re-watched Knocked Up. I've yet to see Juno, but dont' really see the point except maybe to watch some better acting by Ellen Page. I mean, what is up with the spate of movies about unexpected(ly delightful) pregnancies? All the movie reviews are spoilers--so, SPOILER alert--is Juno really just Knocked Up from the girl's point of view? Does Juno's happy single parent ending (SPOILER the same as Waitress' ending) really an upset of the family values debate? Is this the real kulturkampf? Seriously, in this late year? Single mothers? Really?! That's it?! That's the hot-button issue that redefines families in this era of political/social mobilization for legalizing gay marriage and in support of non-traditional LGBT families? I mean, seriously, single mothers?! Didn't we already go through this over a decade ago with Dan Quayle and Murphy Brown ? Doesn't it seem like we've regressed? It is a half step forward, two steps back.

WTF?! Did I just spend all four years of college donating to and working on behalf of NOW and A Million For Roe just to see the personal choice of abortion watered down and pushed aside in pop culture as a throwaway joke, something obliquely referred to as "smshmortion" in Knocked Up? Abortion is not really presented as a viable alternative in any of the movies (running out of clinics in tears? Dragging your one-night stand to the gynecologist to get an ultrasound when you could have dragged him to Planned Parenthood, if you dragged him anywhere at all, which is highly unlikely?!). What the hell was I doing in college with all that political activism for choice, and what the heck was I doing in law school waiting for Gonzales v. Carhart with such trepidation and anxiety and then dismay if none of this really matters in public discourse. I mean, is this how choice and unplanned pregnancy is really discussed? Glibly? Romantically? Unrealistically? If I wasn't busy tearing my ovaries out with my bare hands, I'd be tearing out my hair.

I really do love all of the children in my family, and feel, justifiably, that I have helped raise at least seven out of the nine of them. I've helped teach them how to read (literally, every weekend in college and law school, I had a little day care school), their manners, had the sex/drugs/alcohol talk with the older ones, and am both loved and feared by them all as an almost-equal authority figure who is nevertheless a little more honest, open, and slightly cooler than their real parents. I'm not their friend, I'm not their parent, but I'm really there. I couldn't imagine losing any one of them, and wouldn't for the life of me wish that any of them didn't exist. But they're all a lot of work, and while they're wonderful and life-fulfilling, they are not magical happy makers. They really are a lot of work, and blah blah, it takes a village--but seriously, they are supported by a large extended family network of grandparents, aunts, uncles, live-in nannies, and part-time day care. It does take that much. Sometimes I wonder what happens in these movies, when the credits roll and the screen fades to black, what happens to these couples and single mothers, who by the grace of pre WGA-strike writers, manage to find love and happiness with the schlub who impregnated them, get a deus ex machina resolution to their unhappy marriage and financial woes, or otherwise manage to escape AFDC/TANF and a life of extreme hardship. Really, I wonder.

I am in for another day of small-child childcare and SAT advising tomorrow, and at some point am going to try to do work, maybe after all the kids leave after dinner. And the work, ironically, will be on family and medical leave law. I can't say I live my work, and so yeah, maybe I'm a hypocrite, or sounding too much like Linda Hirschmann (with whom I do not totally agree, even as I have some agreement) --after all, even as I argue for expanded leave requirements, I've confessed in the first paragraph that I'll probably work around the ungenerous leave requirements and within the traditional job requirements, because that's the only thing I can figure will work. I can't plan everything, of course. Something might happen to upset all of these best laid plans. Something probably will. And if it happened right now, I would make the choice for choice. I would probably grieve over this, but I would. And life would probably go on, but in a way that was more a continuation of my previous state than if I were to have the child. Because everything changes if you have the child before you are ready, and there are times you are more ready than others. I think that such a time would be with a co-equal, loving partner who mutually decided to have a family with me, and when we, or at least one of us, was in a position to support this family. Not everyone has the same definition for readiness, but the truth is it's better to be ready. Unexpected doesn't mean unexpectedly delightful. And the movies don't show you that. They show you happy, cleaned up babies who give nothing but strength and encouragement to their mothers, and no stress or worry. Everything works out for them.

So, hypocrite that I am, I'll probably try to work hard, get a job, put in the hours and wait until there's a "better time" (there is never the "perfect time" or even a "good time", but there are better times than others to get pregnant and raise a child) and get in a position to provide my child the conditions for a happy, healthy, loving, and financial secure home. And when I think I can do this, then have a baby. Hopefully within my child-bearing years. Now I sound about as unrealistic as those Yalies who want to be stay at home mothers. But at least I'm being practical in my idealism.

The most depressing thing about my work is realizing that for all my idealism and desire for change, the gender/family care/work/life problem is so deeply entrenched in our social psychology and organizational structures and laws that it's going to take wayyyyy more than changing the FMLA to affect any real change. I honestly feel like a dishonest academic sometimes, pretending that my work really matters.

But even more depressing is that for however little my work does to change the public discourse, pop culture is so much more powerful a force and IS the discourse, and that's the message being bandied about these days. Nothing's changed. Unwed white mothers are still the biggest problem plaguing our nation, but because abortion is not really a choice (in fact, it's a retrenched choice), babies are magic blessings that make life better and easier, and somehow things work out and the babies are easily provided for. Barring that, you can always fall in love and stay happy with the father and raise the baby together.

Now, who sounds more idealistic, unrealistic, and stupid: me, the over-planning, optimistically pragmatic and rational aspring academic and future "I want it all" professional mother, or the movies?

I am so going to regret posting this, but it is really late at night, and the damage will be done by the time I wake up in the morning in California. But I'll eventually wake up. I'm at my parents' house, and the children will be here soon enough.