“I thought it would be easier in your forties.” The speaker was in her mid-twenties and on the cusp of the balance between career and a committed relationship. “Your kids are older. You have more time for yourself.” Those of you engaged in a panic-stricken chase as your teens find new ways to terrify you should swallow your guffaws.
A fragment of truth lays beneath my young friend’s observation. The kids ARE in school and theoretically safe from 9-3 or so. Apart from the chronic car-pool quasi catastrophes, supervision from 3-9 involves supper and homework supervision rather than tummy time and dirty diapers.
That’s the rub. In my thirties with babies at my breast, toddlers teetering at my toes, and boys bouncing about my being, I had an excellent excuse for scaling back my ambitions. I was unwilling to spend a single night away from either of my sons until they had safely celebrated their second birthday. With established twelve and nine year old ‘tweens,’ I traveled more last spring and early summer than ever before, but I have yet to arrive home more than nine days after I departed my nest.
Now what’s my excuse? I feel a frantic compulsion to make the career leaps most men make in their thirties. I hear the clinking change that constituted the fellowships intended to foster my potential. I remain stymied as to the translation between the talk of great potential (Ep=mgh) in youth and some kinetic action in middle-age:
How do I avoid the tremendous tumble we all witnessed in high school physics to demonstrate the phenomena. Maybe the additional mass I’ve added during my years of maternity will cushion the fall?
We are encouraged to think of this as a time of reinvention. The sales executive becomes a realtor to the rich. The high-flying financier becomes as micro-lender. We’re told point blank or by implication to take our talents and make them more maternal.
I read I Don’t Know How She Does It after I had decided I couldn’t do “it.” Allison Pearson’s fictional heroine decides to slow down like her less ambitious husband. Upon moving away from her “Hackney heap” and high-finance for a more pastoral vision of parenthood, she finds herself with a thriving consultancy helping other women with less cultural capital upon which to bank in a crisis.
Like Pearson’s fiction, Mika Brzezinski’s memoir promotes the value of a gamble. I read and taught All Things At Once when I had returned to my own downsized version of all things in my late-thirties. Lower your expectations in the short-term in order to surpass them in the long run. Brzezinski’s book gave me a timeline. You can land on your posterior at 39 and stand on the peak at 42. I am now 41 & 1/2.
“Morning Mika” had some hefty cultural capital of her own. Joe needed Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski aka Dad to lend credibility to a fledgling show. He also needed Mika’s comfort in conversing with the great and sometimes good cultivated around her parents’ dinner table.
Joe Scarborough has yet to sidle up to me with the offer of a national broadcast or a significant raise – as in Brzezinski’s second book, Knowing Your Value. His knight in shining armor makes for an uncomfortable character in a feminist fable. His Y chromosome shouldn’t matter. Friends and mentors can come in many forms, and Mika found one in a man.
Who cares? Wouldn’t we all like a Prince Charming who rescues us from career drudgery with OUT the expectation of romantic reimbursement? Problem: it seems too good to be true let alone to happen twice. I want a strategy not a fantasy. After all, I’m over forty. I need a plan in order muster all my energies and demonstrate some fortytude.