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My personal manhood began in the hellishly hot air of Austin, TX, where the women loom large over the landscape. At the time, Ann Richards was Governor, Molly Ivins worked in our building, and I was a young, naïve lobbyist cast in a manʼs game of scotch-on-the-rocks, maniacal egos and Marlboroʼs. I found myself dressing the part, playing up the power suit without the pants to command the respect I sought. But the mind game was still all about being one of the boys. There were hardly any women lobbyists and we stood out as either formidable opponents (read Bitches) or sex kittens gone awry (read Monicas). Trying to bridge the gender gap was like herding armadillos down the train track, in two-inch heels. At the end of my third legislative session, planning for parenthood, I casually mentioned to a friend, “Maybe I should get back on the pill.” He said, “Yes! I think you should,” half-eyeing my glass of Johnny Walker. Unbeknownst to me I was already 5 weeks pregnant. Strangely, because I donʼt think you know until you get there, I enjoyed domestic life after my daughter was born. I learned to conquer the hallucinations from sleep debt, manage the production from my own personal dairy farm, and open my heart and soul to the tiniest details of a babyʼs emerging personality. When my three-month maternity leave ended (Thank You Bill Clinton for the Family Leave Act!) and I was expected to return to the ofﬁce, I felt like Iʼd never get over the heartbreak. How could I leave the raising of this beautiful creature to someone else? To do the most important job in the world? But thereʼs the rub. You pedal against the vortex of loneliness while you “work inside the home,” which basically means getting no pay or credit for emotionally draining, 24x7 slog. Or, you go back to the ofﬁce, pedal towards a raise and recognition, and feel like a
total failure for entrusting someone else to raise your kid. The guilt factor for substitute hugs and kisses is sometimes too overwhelming to bear. I call this predicament the curse of the over-educated woman. The experience of professional accomplishment makes us appreciate and crave a pat on the back every now and then. But when the ofﬁce hours get longer and the pay stays just under the glass ceiling, the desire to devote every ounce of energy to make someone else a lot of money dissipates and transforms itself into something akin to resentment. So, for me, the declarative moment came when my husbandʼs salary increased to support us all on one income. In the resignation letter to my 70-year-old boss, I compared him to my daughter, “You donʼt cry as hard when I walk out of the room.” It wasnʼt until after the second child was born and we moved to San Francisco (and the post-partum depression) that I recognized an emerging pattern: I was too quick to take care of absolutely everything except myself. The endless cleaning, endless laundry, endless cooking, endless hours of peek-a-boo and board books: a cycle of mindless activity to save yourself from heinous boredom. Not to mention the lack of appreciation, the crumbling marriage, the doing everything to please everybody. To be fair, it must be bewildering to come home to a woman who has been inside all day with young children. No Daddy likes to come in second place with the kids and also get sexually rejected by the wife. But, not one mother would ask of another mother, for fear of being smeared with excrement, “Honey, what did you do all day?” Once, after hearing that question, I said nothing, grabbed my purse, walked right out the door and jumped on the MUNI as it rolled to a stop on the corner. I looked on the busʼ marquis to see where we were going, Fillmore and Lombard, and called a friend who lived in the same neighborhood. After dinner and margaritas, I came home. But the mess was bigger than before.
I still had to deal with the fact that I was angry, and now I had a disaster to clean up in both senses of the word. To me, his work was valued higher than mine. Since when does working out of the house for 9 hours a day, including a nasty commute to the ofﬁce, staying away from the family (eating lunch out every day), equal the job that 24-7 parenting really is? Really now. When was the last time your partner woke up three times in the night to breast/bottle feed, soothe a tooth ache, change a diaper or calm a bad dream, then arise to ﬁx breakfast, put in a load of laundry, get squirmy kids dressed, read The Carrot Seed, drive to the store with two toddlers in tow, shop, come home, put the groceries away, ﬁx lunch, clean the mess from while the kids were playing and you were cooking, ﬁx snacks, go to the park and listen to all the nannies chatter in other languages while one kid begs you to be the big bad wolf and the other is eating sand from the bottom of her shoe? Itʼs now 2:00 p.m. and there are three to ﬁve more hours until the partner comes home to share the domestic responsibilities, but after a full day at the ofﬁce, isnʼt the rest of the day all about time for him? So you sort the laundry and do a ﬁnger-painting and drink a glass of wine while you cook dinner and listen to Barney sing on TV. And you try to be happy with who you are. You realize you want someone to pat you on the back and say, ”Good job, Mom. Great! Thanks for dealing with my non-existent logic, paranoid outbursts, incessant whining, loud crying, periodic vomit, daily shit/pee, and altogether unreasonable demands for more sugar. I know itʼs hard now but there will be a time when you will look back and say “Iʼm glad I stayed home with the kids.” Those little smiles and hugs may make it all worthwhile, but unless you have some semblance of a village when raising babies, you will be eaten alive with care giving and the vortex of loneliness can give way to a big-city breakdown. In conversations with my husband, the curse always turned into a power struggle about which one of us was making the bigger sacriﬁce. My husband was envious of what I had with the children at home, and I was jealous of the independence, autonomy and
conﬁdence he gained at work. It took a marriage therapist to tell us that parenting is not the same for men and women. A man can be the primary caregiver, and because he is a man, the experience of parenting will be different. Not better, not worse. Weʼre talking apples and pomegranates. And the envy…well, thatʼs part of our “growing edge,” he said. Pshaw. No one was handing me a pay raise. So I put myself in his shoes, and realized I might ﬁnd more of myself if I mothered more like a father. When I want to read the newspaper (HA!), I will actually sit down and read. Simple, right? When I want to do something for me, the kids will adjust. They will scream and cry and cajole and beg, but learn how to be entertained on their own. So hereʼs how it goes on a Thursday evening during the re-training phase: “I need a break,” Iʼd say. “Then take one” my husband would reply. And Iʼd go out of the house and drive away and have no fucking clue what to do with myself. Who was I without the kids to tend? What would they eat if I left no dinner prepared? Was it worth it to go out if I came home and the house was a wreck and the children werenʼt fed? YES! Deep down I knew it. Fear was preventing me from growing a penis. Thank you, dear husband, for showing me how to not depend on our kids for my identity. Slowly I began to ﬁnd my way. I struck up the nerve to join a writing class and I went to therapy (yet again.) I made some friends and discovered that there was still someone inside that I recognized from years prior to marriage and children. There was the kernel of the person I knew before I began to deny who I really wanted to be. I remembered that I had something to offer the world besides my self-obsessive scrutiny as a parent and a wife. And after my third daughter was born (!), I even embraced my oh-so different body. My post-partum ﬁgure produced voluptuous curves and a softness of belly that seemed from a different person all together. Dressing the part was not just ﬁtting the role of motherhood but more an expression of my true self. I marveled at my hips in the mirror – such a scrawny kid – thrown like a pot on the wheel into this wholly feminine being.
And then it dawned on me again. I didnʼt need to be a man anymore. I had ﬁnally become a woman.
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