Archive | March, 2011

The Response that Blew my Socks Off

14 Mar

I woke up today in quite a dreadful mood – not sure why exactly – could be the lack of sleep this past week due to nothing in particular or it could be this nagging sore throat. In any event, hopping outside in the downpour to grab my mail only further exasperated my mood. There is was, a disappointing response to my recent letter to the Smith Quarterly:

“Regarding a letter writer’s plea for greater representation of Smithies who have embarked on “new jobs as stay-at-home moms,” let me suggest that the Quarterly is the wrong place to look. While becoming a mother is the most truly miraculous thing, it is also the most commonplace. What Smith prepares us for is something else- to make our unique contribution to this world. The Alumnae Quarterly is the place to read about the jaw-dropping, amazing things Smithies are doing to make the world a better place. It’s inspiring – if often a bit intimidating (we aren’t all destined to swim the English Channel or find the cure for something – myself included). In the lightening flash of twenty years, which is what it will feel like when the letter writer has successfully launched her children into adulthood, she will be glad if her only job was not “stay-at-home mom” – and the readers of the Quarterly will be fascinated to read all about it.”

Now, my initial response was quite emotional – I was sad and my feelings were hurt. Then, I just got mad.

The staying-at-home vs working is a constant battle for every family and especially women. No matter what we choose to do we will get flack from just about anyone. You stay at home? Yikes, doesn’t your mind go to mush? You go to work? Yikes, don’t you feel guilty? Well, actually, yes and yes. There is no right solution. There is no right answer. Mothers go back to work after giving birth out of necessity and/or desire. I was one of the lucky few who had a choice and I decided that I was going to be get more satisfaction and be of more use at home than I was going to be working outside the home. Now, was this the right decision? Some days it is and some days it is not.

If I had a job to go to every day where I was passionate about what I was accomplishing, I would feel that the benefit of me being happy and one hundred percent present when I was home would grossly outweigh the benefit of staying home just to stay home. Unfortunately, I did not work in a job that I felt good about. So I believed (and still do) that I would be happiest at home. This doesn’t mean I am happy everyday just as those who go to work have their good days and their bad days. There are plenty of days when my kids would probably be more entertained and taken care of at daycare but I like to think that the majority of our days we are thoroughly enjoying our time together. And that is the most important point – when the parents are happy, the family is happy.

The benefit of going to a nice college is that your resume looks good from the start. I learned early on in my short-lived career in the investment banking industry that pedigree is everything. I was one of the lucky ones (there I am again, happily in that bubble) who went to such a college so getting an interview at any firm I wanted was not an issue. I am actually pretty sure that I was hired at Goldman Sachs simply because I went to Smith. I was thereafter introduced to clients and prospects as “the girl who went to Smith.” This naturally meant that I was smart and capable and would not screw your accounts up. This is the downside of going to a nice college – in a sense you are pegged by the outside world for life. So when said “girl from Smith” decides to leave the solid resume, the promising future and stay at home with her kids, a lot of critics and judgements step in. I mean, who would trade pantsuits for making cardboard troll homes?  I didn’t need to go to Smith to accomplish that did I? Well, yes and no.

I gained an incredible experience from attending that school and am an educated woman because of it. This will transfer quite nicely to my children. But what I also gained was a sense of deciding what is right and best for me. I knew that the finance world was not the place where I wanted to be (did you read the recent NYTimes article about the executive that left Goldman? So right on.) Coincidentally I got pregnant shortly after making this decision so the natural transition would be to stay at home, raise my kids and figure out what DID make me happy and pursue that.
It ends up I like to work with my hands (I am the daughter of two artists after all) so I get a lot of satisfaction from building things, making things and cleaning things. I actually enjoy getting down on my hands and knees and scrubbing the heck out of my floor – because, look, now there is a nice, clean floor to admire. But that doesn’t mean I don’t also enjoy a brilliant novel or that I can’t argue my way through the latest piece in the New Yorker. There is such a thing as balance.
If there is one thing that Smith taught me, it is that I have the capability to be anything and to do anything if I put the work in. I have the final say in what makes me happy and what doesn’t. I have the power to manifest my own destiny. The reason I was so upset over the lady’s words was that I felt like she was belittling my choice to stay home and that I didn’t understand what would really make me happy. Well, it turns out that we all have different roles to play and different passions. So please excuse me for a few years while I find inspiration and joy from two little munchkins…we’ll see where that leads me.
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