Claire Dederer shares your feeling that we should all be politically organizing instead of perfecting Warrior I. She gives herself a hard time for skipping the WTO protests that rocked Seattle in 1999 so that she can finally settle down for a day of writing. I take this in the spirit of dutiful self-flagellation. Yes, we would be better off with improved access to health care and better parental leave policies and universal preschool. But it is damn hard work to accomplish such changes, and even a first step feels far away and abstract. The book review Dederer wrote that day, on the other hand, is a concrete accomplishment. The worker bee in me says she made the right choice. And while recognizing what you didn't show up for isn't the same as showing up, it's something.
Your co-op envy makes me realize once again what a foot-dragger I am when it comes even to smaller-scale group organizing. The only childcare swapping I've managed has been informal and among a few friends, like on snow days. When my kids were in day care, I wanted someone else to take care of them so I could work. The daycare my older son went to made us take our turn cleaning a few times a year. This was meant to build community, as you and I would both put it—we'd go on a Sunday, with another family. I confess I was the mom with the evil fantasy about hiring a cleaning service. I wanted my Sunday back.
This is sort of about money but also not, because time is money, too. If women want to make real money they have to give themselves the time to work consistently at a profession: Studies consistently show that mothers (parents, but really mothers) pay a toll, in reduced lifetime earnings, for taking the off-ramp and then for getting back on. Here again, I find myself feeling more judgmental than I'd like. When Dederer talks about making "my usual genteel pittance," I cross my fingers for a big bump up, to give her the wherewithal to exercise further her powerful writing muscles. Also, the roles in her household—she as Mother, her husband as Earner—turn them into "characters in some phenomenally boring Ionesco play." They have lots of worry and little laughter. Anti-feminist, but worse, anti-enjoyment. At the same time, in a more contented moment toward the book's end, Dederer comes up with one of the best paeans to companionate marriage I've read. She says of her husband, the fellow talented-writer Bruce Barcott, "He was, after all, my husband. Not just the father of my kids, not just the fourth wheel. He was someone who could floor me with a smile."
How does Dederer get from there to here? She reduces the "goodness-to reality ratio" in her life. I am not sure how this fits into the bake sales and other niceties we were discussing. But I really liked this: "Who cares about goodness? Who even cares how it looks? There's only this: a woman in a heap on the floor." I'm there with Claire Dederer, falling out of handstand, also in desperate need of a haircut. I'm so glad I read this book for the company, and for the chance to talk about it with you, Judith.
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her forthcoming book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter.