Freaky Fortnight

Does Working at an Office Make Me Feel More Confident?
Watch as a husband and wife switch places.
Oct. 6 2009 7:23 PM

Freaky Fortnight

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Does working at an office make me feel more confident?

Last night, my aunt and uncle were in town from Colorado, and I went straight from the office to meet them for dinner. I got to the restaurant first, via taxi; Mike, who was also joining us, was delayed on the train. He came in with that worn-down kid look, a rumpled aspect you can't shake without a shower—it's the way people look when they spend 12 hours trapped on the runway in Pittsburgh. "How are the kids?" my aunt asked Mike. "How was the office?" she asked me.

By the time we got home, it was 10 o'clock. It felt like ages since I'd been in my apartment, as if I were returning from a long trip instead of just a day at work. I realized that over these two weeks, my apartment will become a place in which I spend only the margins of the day. Usually it's my home base: the "You Are Here" dot on my map of the world. I pop in and out of it with the frequency I once did my college dorm.

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The boys were already in bed. It had been 18 hours since I'd seen Will—the longest I've ever been away from him. Mike sat on the couch with his laptop to work on his first-day dispatch. I had a hard time settling down. Finally I went to bed and looked at stuff on my iPhone and eventually picked up the book I'm reading, Cheerful Money, which afforded an escape into the world of summer houses and eccentric aunts. But the thing I was really seeking was something that would tell me the story of the day at home. I had a total blank spot about the events of Oct. 5. It was like missing an issue of the New York Times, except there was no number I could call to get a replacement for my lost or stolen copy.

In the morning, I had the weird Groundhog Day feeling: Wait, we're here again? It hadn't been long enough for there to be a new day—we must have been repeating. Office time has the week on fast-forward. At the bus stop, Nick and I sang a song about taxis and enjoyed a doughnut-free commute.

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In Manhattan, I walked with my paper cup of coffee in hand, enjoying the cozy, twisty Village streets. Then I got to the building. In the lobby, I pulled out my driver's license and went through the Gattaca-like turnstile. Usually the only situation in which I show ID is when I need to get some kale at our members-only food co-op.

At the desk this morning, I felt more capable, probably just because this was Day 2. People do argue that being in the workplace boosts a woman's self-esteem. When we set out to do this project, I bought a pile of books on the supposed crisis in motherhood. In the past, I'd been content to absorb the message of these books through reviews or by reading sniping comments about them on Youbemom.com. But for this project, it seemed important to take in the arguments myself. One afternoon, I began with the book on the top of the stack: The Comeback, by Emma Gilbey Keller. Only a couple of pages in, Keller was making the point that when women stay home, the biggest thing they lose is confidence. This was an insight that resonated with me. There's a tentative way I approach the world that's different from the way I acted in my 20s. There's an image that sticks with me from those years: a window in which I would glance at my reflection every night when I walked home from my office. It was a big, dark, mirrorlike pane in which I'd see myself leaning forward, my coat lifting behind me like a Supergirl cape. These days, when I catch my reflection, I'm more likely to find the anxious mother of the Batman son.

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At lunch, a Park Slope friend who works in the building across the way from Slate called and said she was going for a sandwich. I met her on the sidewalk. She was a little more dressed up than she is when we meet at the playground, and I was, too. I had her take a picture of me because this morning Mike had a lot of fun tweeting about my trouble choosing outfits. Maybe I was more comfortable because today I felt more like me: back in clogs, the footwear of nurses, Swedes, and the mothers of brownstone Brooklyn.

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