out of the corner of my eye, while i was typing at my keyboard, i saw the little legs come running up the walk. i heard the banging on the door. and then the wail. “mama,” he let loose, and then, like that, the tears.
the sobs began to heave. the baby finger, exhibit no. 1, held up, displayed, for me to catch a fleeting glance of the body part in question. the one that oozed with blood. the one that shook, in that way that something shakes when there is something rather out of place.
in one fell swoop he was in the door and flailed upon the floor. i groped, trying to get a closer look at the sorry little finger. hmm. i wondered, while i dashed to get a paper towel. and then cold water. and ice. the squishy little mama-saver they call the boo-boo bag.
i wiped his tears. i smoothed away the sweaty curls. i kept at the bleeding finger. tried hard to get a chance to diagnose. to see if underneath, there might be something broken.
the babysitter filled in the blanks in the story that was coming in between the sobs. something about a scooter. and a fall. smack dab, full force, on that baby finger.
never mind the not-so-breaking story i’d been tracking in the other room. never mind the sentence i left hanging, in the middle of a verb.
this very thing–the pains, the wails, the broken skin–is the reason long ago i decided i could only work from home.
i am lucky. i am blessed.
i say that not in hollow nod to those who have no choice. i feel the struggle of the woman just across the street, a single mama, who leaves the house at half past six, in her nurse’s whites, and pulls back to the curb, wiped out, at nearly 4, her gaggle of three already waiting and very much insisting on a piece of her.
it remains, in many circles, the pachyderm in the room that is tiptoed all around, in tentative baby steps. where a mama works, at home or not at home. whether she works, for pay or not for pay.
it is among the most private choices that a mama ever makes.
yet there’ve been trees felled and ink spilled by the tanker, in the national froth, still frothing, about what is right and what is wrong, in the domestic ring and the box the mama checks when asked the simple, “occupation?”
if it was true concern for women and children, if it was the personal pole-vaulted into the political, as means to put in place the underpinning of public policy that would ensure women the right to earn a decent living without worrying that their babies were left to God-knows-what or whom, or maybe even slipped a passport to rich and solid care, i wouldn’t mind the noise. i’d welcome it. but too often it is finger jabbing behind the mama’s back.
i suppose the only way to get at the nettling point is to, first, put down all the fingers, the pointing, jabbing fingers. and simply say out loud that there is no point in all the frothing.
it’s no one else’s business, is it? so why is it that how we choose to run our very personal lives becomes the fodder for so much political and playground debate?
i only know that in my house, long, long ago, when this equation rumbled to the surface, i had a baby boy who nursed and would not take a bottle. try leaving a babe like that home with sitter. see how far you get before a carrier pigeon is sent out to fetch you. for that was in the day when there was no such thing, at least in my price range, as a cell phone slipped lightly in your purse.
i made a choice that wasn’t cheap.
i gave up plenty over the years. i am no longer a player, not much of a player, anyway, at the newspaper i’ve called my home for the last quarter century. i have stood at fancy newsroom shindigs, and watched up-and-comers pass me by. because i was no longer someone who could get them where they wanted to go. i was only a mama who wrote stories, far from where they set their sights.
i have accidentally dropped a disposable diaper on a conference table, thinking the slim object i was pulling from my backpack was a reporter’s notebook. ooops. i watched the editor running that meeting roll his eyes. i heard him once tell me i knew nothing, i worked outside the tower. and that’s a quote.
but i did not give up the chance to be there when my boys bounded in the door from a bumpy day at school. and i did not give up the chance to wiggle loose the tooth that met with some resistance when it sunk into the hard-core apple. and i did not give up the chance to be the lap that sopped the tears when my little one came running in, his pinkie finger bleeding, swollen.
had it been dangling, the way i thought for a minute there it was, i would have been the one who grabbed the keys, played the ambulance driver.
i wouldn’t want it any other way.
i want the remedies the day demands to be the ones i minister right here at home.
it is delicate conversation, the heart throb of where a mama does the work she needs to do. it shouldn’t be debate.
no matter where or what you do in the course of every day, whether you mother, or work with mothers, i imagine you’ve given this some thought. i invite you to be polite, to listen in, to carry on a kitchen-table discourse on the ups, the downs, the sideways of the question: where and how for you is it best to ply the remedies that truly stir your heart? be they ones that heal the world, or the pinkie bleeding right before your eyes? i know, too, that what’s right at one point in our lives, might shift and change. it is a sad thing to me that women of my generation had so few models to look to, to learn from. and now, i ‘m told, women getting out of college look at us, the ones who’ve squirmed and wiggled, tried to do it all, and decided that we pretty much messed it up. they are choosing to get out of college, get married, start having babies. wham bam. wasn’t that the way it was half a century ago?