The Trade-Off

Wednesday at about 2:00 am in a fit of insomnia-induced MADNESS I did something I had only dreamed of previously. I took out my iPhone, fired up my Kindle app, and PAID FOR an e-book to be delivered wirelessly to my phone.

It was Tina Fey's Bossypants, which I read from 2:00 am to 4:30 am on my tiny, glowing screen, eye strain be damned! My husband was confused when he read my Facebook status in the morning because when he went to sleep I wanted to read it, and by the time he woke up I had purchased it, read it and posted about it on FB. What an age we live in. I can ruin my husband's plan for my birthday with just the click of a button.

The book is, needless to say, a great read. I love Tina Fey...she's whip smart, attractive, self-deprecating and I think, a truly decent person. And the more I read the more I saw the things that united us. Once upon a time, I was a geeky, short girl who excelled at writing and theater, who developed a sense of humor as a defense mechanism, who consistently fell in love only with A) Gay men or B) boys who were only interested in me when no one else was around.

As I kept reading I started feeling more than a little...conflicted. As I previously posted in Career Girl, I made very specific, calculated decisions that led to my illustrious existence as a low-income midwestern housewife with a weight problem. I had two goals, and only two goals. Get married. Have babies. In that order. Check, aaaaand, check.

But as I read...I could see my life taking another path. I have been telling myself for years that all I wanted was to be a wife and mother. But maybe that's all I thought I could want? What was preventing me from at least finishing my degree? Why did no one tell me that I was obviously meant to major in English and then take improv classes at Second City? I'll tell you why. Because I would have just walked off, waving my hands in a dismissive fashion. People tried to tell me stuff like that ALL THE TIME. But I was THE most single-mindedly ambitious future housewife the world has ever seen. I spent my late teen years winning journalism awards, acting, and buying 1970s baby clothes at the Salvation Army. My early twenties were spent learning to cook for large groups of people, wearing 1950s housewife costumes while amassing a huge collection of vintage pyrex and lingerie plus  reading books like The Total Woman to prepare myself for a mid-century style matrimony. The result? People knew me as someone "cute" and "romantic." Very few people used the word "smart" or "talented."

In my fierce quest to people the earth, I had forgotten to be a person myself. I was a likable gal, to be sure, but the people I was closest to had no idea what I had given up. There is no telling what my future could have held. Fame? Fortune? I doubt it. But I could have one of those pieces of papers you are supposed to have, and I could have gotten some experience under my belt that would help open up doors later. The doors I didn't know I would want open. The doors that let you be a mom and work from home. Right now I can shimmy through the transom, but with some earlier intervention, maybe those doors could be automatic when pressure is applied to the sensor.

I vaguely expressed my existential crisis on Facebook and one of my friends reminded me that "There are trade-offs." Well, yeah. I went back and read Bossypants and noticed a few things that Tina Fey struggled with that I...didn't. And I remembered why I made the choices I did. There were questions I never wanted to have to ask myself, like "Do I stay at home with my child or quit my tv show and therefore put a bunch of good people out of a job?" I made a conscious decision to be poor so I'd never miss being rich.  Tina Fey was only able to breastfeed for 72 hours plus a few months of pumping, I've either been growing or suckling someone for the last eight years. And it probably has something to do with the fact that I've had nothing TO DO but grow and suckle people. Like I planned.

I calmed down a little after that. We are all moms, with kids we love. We have all made decisions. And EVERY, and I do mean EVERY decision we make, has a trade-off. We talk up our decisions to ourselves and others to buoy ourselves, to feel superior, to gain a leg to stand on. But at the end of the day we are a bunch of fallible people who make mistakes, and make great decisions, and usually a combination of both. I have no idea how it might have impacted my future if I had gotten that degree, or had some kind of ambition outside of breeding. I'm not going to waste another minute worrying about it. Apparently Tina Fey breaks down in tears about three times a year, fretting and fantasizing about how her life might be different. And she points out, so do her SAHM friends. And she says "We should be kind to each other about it." And she quite accurately surmises that "There are many moments of my work that are deeply satisfying and fun. And almost as many moments of full-time motherhood that stink like Axe body spray on a brick of bleu cheese."

So, one of us is a wildly successful actress, writer, producer, and mother. And one of us is homeschooling mom who excels at crockpot yogurt, nursing a child with a foot in her face, and pretending that someday she'll write a novel. But we are both smart, strong ladies who have taken ownership of our own lives, even when there are days when we wonder about the other side. And may I say, we both have GREAT taste in baby names :-)