Who wants to work with me?

I did not plan to be a stay-at-home mom. I always thought that I would work part time for a while after having kids and then return to a full-time job when they were older. That plan worked for a couple of years. I shifted to a part-time position after I had Eleanor and was very happy that I got to work and have a lot of time with her. My plan needed contingencies though. I did not know what to do when I learned, while pregnant, that I would be losing my job. And I really did not know what to do when that baby I was carrying died.

I’ve been working as a freelance writer and editor for the past three years, when I can find work. That’s the catch. I am always searching for work. I should be constantly pitching story ideas to a bunch of editors, but I’m not finding a lot of inspiration while grocery shopping and cleaning house out in the suburbs. (Maybe I should write about how those new laundry tablets are a trick to get us to spend more on detergent.)

When is the right time to go back to work? I’ve thought a lot about that. I would love for Henry to be able to attend the same little half-day preschool that Eleanor attended. But that would require my staying home for another four years, and I am itching for something to do. I beat myself up a lot for wanting to go back to work because it seems that most of the stay-at-home parents I know are very happy in their roles. Plus, there is an entire industry built around enjoy-every-minute/it-goes-so-fast/I-miss-those-days.

Is it OK for me to say that I would enjoy my children more if we spent less time together? I can’t enjoy them for 14 straight hours every single day. I’ve tried. I would love to have an intellectual challenge and talk to other adults. I would be a happier person and probably a better mother because of it. And frankly, I think Henry is growing weary of me. He’s reaching that age where he really wants to see other kids.

All of this is to say that I have started looking for a job. In a perfect world, I would find something that was 25 or 30 hours a week, but I know how rare those jobs are. So I’m looking for a full-time job with some flexibility. The further I get into this parenting thing, the more I see that returning to work will be daunting no matter when I do it. The kids will always have the summers off and will always have after-school activities.

When the mom guilt gets too heavy, I try to imagine Eleanor as an adult. I would love for her to feel that she can pursue her own goals and still be a great mom. I certainly wouldn’t criticize her for wanting to work while raising kids, so why am I so hard on myself?

If you have overcome the parental guilt, fill me in. And if you know of a great job opening, tell me about that, too.

Raising the kids you have

When I took developmental psychology a few years ago, we learned that scientists currently think our personalities are about equally shaped by genes and environment. The nature/nurture split is about 50/50. I would disagree. Personality seems much more governed by genes, while potential is probably much more governed by how and where you are raised.

This New York Times piece offers some fascinating insight. It’s about identical twins who were mixed up shortly after birth. Each set of parents raised what they thought were fraternal twins, not realizing that two of the brothers had been swapped. The boys were raised in dramatically different circumstances, and when they found each other as adults, the identical twins had much more in common than the boys who had grown up together.

When Eleanor was born, Greg and I both thought that we would raise a tomboy. We would give her a mix of toys, both trucks and dolls, and sign her up for sports. We were ready for a soccer-loving kid who was into science. What we got was a ballerina who loves reading. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of parenting is understanding what you can control. Greg and I are doing our best to be good parents to a bookworm ballerina.

Eleanor barely tolerates running, sweating, and physical contact of any kind. She began a ballet class last week, and when the teacher took attendance, she asked each student if they preferred to be called by a nickname. Many of the girls did. At Eleanor’s turn, she told the teacher that her nickname is Elsa. The mothers in the waiting room looked around curiously. Who would claim this child with the Disney princess name? I meekly raised my hand.

Over the weekend, Eleanor became furious with Henry’s meddling in her toys. Typically, these interactions end with her crying and stomping off to her room. This time, when Greg and I tried to calm her, she launched into an operatic performance. She began to sing at the top of her lungs about how hard her life was and how wrong her parents were. She strode from one side of the room to the other, flourishing her arms. She took dramatic pauses. Greg and I watched, transfixed. When she finished, I wasn’t sure whether to send her to her room or toss roses at her. Where did this child come from? I’m not so sure about the science thing. But “Elsa” might be on Broadway someday.

Meanwhile, Henry learned over the weekend that the television develops interesting splotches of color if he bangs the screen with his little toy hammer. Greg commented that this isn’t what he would have chosen. We have a son who is super busy and constantly putting himself in dangerous situations. We have a daughter who is sensitive and dramatic. We are raising stereotypes. Yet, Eleanor does love Legos. And science museums. Henry, despite his boisterousness, always shows concern when someone is hurt. He loves to snuggle up and listen to a book. So I don’t think our effort at gender neutrality is a loss.

Nature gave us these particular kids. And now we’re doing the nurture part. Turns out that our job is not to tell them what they love. They already know. Our job is to help them find those things.


The fine line between moisturizer and rocket science

I’ve always bought drugstore moisturizer. I’m not devoted to any particular brand. I pick out something inexpensive with some SPF in it and get on my way. A few months ago, I read a blog post by another woman who said that she had started buying expensive moisturizer and that it seemed to have improved her skin. She couldn’t be sure, of course.

Shortly after that, I bought a sample-sized jar of expensive moisturizer. It was called Hope in a Jar, perhaps the most brilliant name ever for a cosmetics product. My skin did seem to glow after I used it. Or maybe the suggestive name got to me. Regardless, the moisturizer had a pearly sheen to it and a light, airy texture. It was luxurious compared to my drugstore stuff.

This summer, I’ve had several age spots show up on my face (The Texas sun is vicious!). I try not to worry too much about my appearance, and I hope to age as naturally as possible. I am not convinced that something I rub on my skin is going to change what is happening beneath the surface. Stretch marks seems sufficient proof of that. Still, I would love to have these dark patches fade.

I hesitated at the idea of shelling out for more Hope in a Jar, so I decided to see what else I could find that would be less expensive but still have that magical property to it. Friends, the moisturizer market is insane. Based on the descriptions, some of the best chemists and physicists must be working to smooth our fine lines and plump our skin. I had hundreds of choices.

I finally settled on a highly rated concoction called Belif the true cream aqua bomb. This was going to be a moisture attack. Alas, UPS lost my aqua bomb in transit. While I waited for its replacement, I ran out of moisturizer and had to buy another bottle at the drugstore. For the second time in a week, I pondered the marketing tactics. Did I want age-defying? Line-erasing? Spot-reducing? Pore-minimizing? Gosh, ladies, pretty much everything is wrong with us, isn’t it?

I chose positively ageless youth perfecting moisturizer. I have no idea what that name means. A few days later, my aqua bomb arrived, and with it, a free sample of yet another moisturizer. This one is future response age defense creme, which sounds like it might be a more Republican-leaning brand of moisturizer. I like the aqua bomb so far. The label says that it contains lady’s mantle. Be honest with me. Is that something out of Harry Potter?

In the midst of my moisturizer experiment, I read this article last week about the make-up tax. The gist is that women who wear makeup earn more money and are often treated with more respect. The typical woman is spending at least an extra hour to get ready every week compared to a man. That’s time that she could spend on hobbies or working or hanging out with her friends. Also, the cosmetics industry makes $60 billion every year.

That got me thinking about how our society could change if we changed expectations. What if we quit spending all of that time and money on our appearances? What if we spent it fighting for paid family leave or flexible work policies? Even our female leaders who are fighting for those things are expected to have perfect hair and makeup while doing so.

There’s a lot here that I would like to discuss. First (and most important, obviously), is whether expensive moisturizer is any better. Second, is there a way for us to overturn this societal expectation that women devote so much time to their appearance? I love the idea of a boycott (I call it No-Makeup Mondays.).