A Little Boredom is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Our family was miserable for the first two weeks of summer this year, all because one of my children was generally disagreeable.  He completely forgot his manners, barked commands at everyone (including his parents) and practiced sarcasm on everyone he met (“Ice cream? Why wouldn’t I want ice cream?).  Finally, after putting up with attitude for far too long,  I regained my senses, looked at him and asked, “What is WRONG? WHAT is going on?”

He promptly burst into tears.

“None of my friends are at day care this summer. I have no one to play with. And I’m bored!”

Oh.

Is that it?

Here’s where I wanted to say something like, “Oh, suck it up, buttercup! Why, when I was your age I was bored all the time in the summer. And look how I turned out! No one ever died of boredom. ”

But no. What I said was “I understand it must be hard for you to not have your friends around you, but surely you can find some new people to play with for the next couple of weeks until everyone comes back…

…and no one ever died of boredom.”

It’s true. Boredom is one of the defining elements of childhood summers, like scraped knees and ice cream.   What child hasn’t sighed deeply and yawned at least once, when faced with the unbridgeable chasm between June and September? It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a kid at camp, at home, or on a never-ending roadtrip with your parents: summer is always, in part, kind of boring.

And well it should be. As Katrina Onstad states in her Saturday piece in the Globe and Mail, “boredom matters because it makes room for its contrast: the burning joy of being alive.”

I actually want my kids to experience boredom once in a while.  They need the room to root around in their imaginations, unfettered. They need time to daydream.  And they need the motivation to do so, and escaping boredom is the perfect excuse. We live our lives so quickly, with the rushing around from school to activities to dinner. What I wouldn’t give for them to have nothing to do but live in their heads, ride their bikes, explore everything from the woods to cracks in the ceiling, and slow down. If they end up complaining to me that they’re bored, I might be tempted to look at them, wink, and pronounce, “I hope so”.

Marcelle’s favourite: Put the Princess on a Punchclock?

Working mothers, we should all rage, rage against Kate Middleton.Apparently, by quitting her day job at her parents’ company, she’s let the side down. Let the sharpening of fingernails commence!

Here’s another woman of privilege who could be setting an example by maintaining a career,  but who has instead chosen a life of leisure. She has, as Katrina Onstad suggests in her Globe and Mail piece,  “[u]nwittingly stepped into the opt-out debate”; by leaving the workforce, Middleton has sided herself with other educated, powerful women (like, suggests Onstad, so many women who leave the workforce to raise their children) for whom work is best avoided.

Given that Middleton is 29 and childless, I question whether she stepped, or was pushed. And as a working mother, ask me if I care whether the princess works at paid employment or not. I’m too busy folding laundry at 11 pm to give a fig.

Middleton is one of maybe a handful of women across the world who live lives of such privilege that they, through birth or marriage, may hold the title of “princess”*. She is everything I am not: childless, wealthy, thin, and blessed with all the time in the world (okay, 10 weeks and 1 day, but who’s counting?) to plan a dream wedding. I vaguely recall trying to interview caterers on my lunch hour while planning my own wedding. I would have given my left leg (its absence wouldn’t have been noticeable; my dress was long) for the luxury of that sort of free time. And I didn’t even have David Beckham and Posh Spice on the guest list. But I digress.

Middleton is, in short, no role-model of mine. But in her defense, if three billion people were going to be watching MY wedding, I’d probably have quit my job to worry about the details, too. And if I’d signed up for a lifetime of travel, charity balls and hospital openings, I wouldn’t be too concerned with the contents of the want-ads.

But wait. Kate’s a modern princess! Why, asks Onstad, can’t Kate be a working princess, too?

Why not, indeed. And if she chooses to, now, or in a few years,  she should. But why should she? Did we miss the part where it was stated that she’s a princess? As in, a woman living a life of privilege bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the lives of any of the women I know?

Apparently, being a princess, with all that entails (and Diana knows, most of us wouldn’t want that gig) is not enough. No, Middleton needs paid employment as well, even if she ends up donating half of that to charity. Why she wouldn’t just do charitable work — like other princesses — isn’t contemplated. Onstat seems to been in possession of a crystal ball of remarkable clarity, such that she has managed to both predict Middleton’s future (or lack thereof) and condemn her to a life of banality in one fell swoop.  Let this be a lesson to working women everywhere: don’t quit your day job.

I suppose, if Middleton dies tomorrow, her epitaph might be: “Putative Princess. Expected to accomplish nothing else. Sad, really”.

But let’s be clear: Kate Middleton, for all that she embodies the new, common-touch royalty, is quite simply  no longer one of us, and her getting a job won’t change that.   Oh, she is unremarkable in some ways – caught up as so many women are, in planning what is often thought of as one of the most important days of one’s life – but right or wrong, her contribution to society will never be measured by how many widgets she can pack into a box in five minutes.

Nor, for that matter, will her husband’s. But no one’s asking him to get a job at Tesco.

As for Michelle Obama, Onstad suggests that she is yet another one of those “spouses of powerful men, who give up their jobs and recede”. I like to think, however, that she’s just biding her time. In the spirit of compromise.

It’s  worked for some pretty powerful women. One might ask Hillary Clinton how it’s working for her.

________

*June 2011 update:   In the interest of accuracy, Catherine, as she is now to be known, is not a true princess but is now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.  Still doesn’t change the fact that it’s unlikely she’ll be working anytime soon.

Put the Princess on a Punch Clock?

Working mothers, we should all rage, rage against Kate Middleton. Apparently, by quitting her day job at her parents’ company, she’s let the side down. Let the sharpening of fingernails commence!

Here’s another woman of privilege who could be setting an example by maintaining a career,  but who has instead chosen a life of leisure. She has, as Katrina Onstad suggests in her Globe and Mail piece,  “[u]nwittingly stepped into the opt-out debate”; by leaving the workforce, Middleton has sided herself with other educated, powerful women (like, suggests Onstad, so many women who leave the workforce to raise their children) for whom work is best avoided.

Given that Middleton is 29 and childless, I question whether she stepped, or was pushed. And as a working mother, ask me if I care whether the princess works at paid employment or not. I’m too busy folding laundry at 11 pm to give a fig.

Middleton is one of maybe a handful of women across the world who live lives of such privilege that they, through birth or marriage, may hold the title of “princess”. She is everything I am not: childless, wealthy, thin, and blessed with all the time in the world (okay, 10 weeks and 1 day, but who’s counting?) to plan a dream wedding. I vaguely recall trying to interview caterers on my lunch hour while planning my own wedding. I would have given my left leg (its absence wouldn’t have been noticeable; my dress was long) for the luxury of that sort of free time. And I didn’t even have David Beckham and Posh Spice on the guest list. But I digress.

Middleton is, in short, no role-model of mine. But in her defense, if three billion people were going to be watching MY wedding, I’d probably have quit my job to worry about the details, too. And if I’d signed up for a lifetime of travel, charity balls and hospital openings, I wouldn’t be too concerned with the contents of the want-ads.

But wait. Kate’s a modern princess! Why, asks Onstad, can’t Kate be a working princess, too?

Why not, indeed. And if she chooses to, now, or in a few years,  she should. But why should she? Did we miss the part where it was stated that she’s a princess? As in, a woman living a life of privilege bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the lives of any of the women I know?

Apparently, being a princess, with all that entails (and Diana knows, most of us wouldn’t want that gig) is not enough. No, Middleton needs paid employment as well, even if she ends up donating half of that to charity. Why she wouldn’t just do charitable work — like other princesses — isn’t contemplated. Onstat seems to been in possession of a crystal ball of remarkable clarity, such that she has managed to both predict Middleton’s future (or lack thereof) and condemn her to a life of banality in one fell swoop.  Let this be a lesson to working women everywhere: don’t quit your day job.

I suppose, if Middleton dies tomorrow, her epitaph might be: “Putative Princess. Expected to accomplish nothing else. Sad, really”.

But let’s be clear: Kate Middleton, for all that she embodies the new, common-touch royalty, is quite simply  no longer one of us, and her getting a job won’t change that.   Oh, she is unremarkable in some ways – caught up as so many women are, in planning what is often thought of as one of the most important days of one’s life – but right or wrong, her contribution to society will never be measured by how many widgets she can pack into a box in five minutes.

Nor, for that matter, will her husband’s. But no one’s asking him to get a job at Tesco.

As for Michelle Obama, Onstad suggests that she is yet another one of those “spouses of powerful men, who give up their jobs and recede”. I like to think, however, that she’s just biding her time. In the spirit of compromise.

It’s  worked for some pretty powerful women. One might ask Hillary Clinton how it’s working for her.

Not for Sissies

Katrina Onstad’s article about Kate Middleton is more snide than is customary for her.  I go straight to her column, now in the Style section of The Globe & Mail, every Saturday morning.  I’m looking for intelligence, wit and an uncanny ability to capture a trend or a moment in history with simple but precise gestures.  She usually delivers.

This column was a bit techy.  Why pick on Kate and William for not wanting to clean their toilets?  Surely that makes them more like us, no?

As for the whole princess in waiting game, it’s not for sissies.  It would be my worst nightmare to be in Kate’s shoes, cameras constantly trained on her every move, the tragedy of Diana’s life in the spotlight hanging over her.

However, as much as I take issue with her tone, and as much as I am certain that Kate Middleton has never an idle moment, I agree with Onstad’s premise: it is important for women not to opt out of the work force.  

Putting that argument in the context of the mommy wars is specious; Kate does not (yet) have children, so she is not opting out of the work force in order to be at home with children.  It was a mistake to put her decision in the context of so loaded, and in many ways, so fabricated a battle.  Mommy wars make good headlines, but it’s an argument whose battle lines I dont’ find fruitful.   Being at home with children is damn hard work, and it serves nobody’s purpose to denigrate that work by calling it an opt-out.

The fact that Kate Middleton is not a mother, however, is why it is even more important to stress the impact of her opting out of paid employment.  She has the time to devote to a career or a calling beyond being the woman on the arm of the future king.

Even though I don’t think this discussion belonged in the context of the mommy wars, the argument that Onstad cites resonates deeply with me:

Philosopher Linda Hirshman took [stay-at-home, opt-out mothers] on in her 2006 “manifesto” Get to Work. Her argument was only partially about how work can provide “human flourishing” or personal fulfillment (the usual reasons mothers work or don’t, after finances). Her real assertion was that a culture where women aren’t working sets back women as a group, reinforcing a dangerous social imbalance. Women remain financial dependents and unpaid labourers, while men earn cash and respect. Hirshman scorned “choice feminism” as a watery cop-out: Women unquestioningly supporting each other’s choices isn’t feminism; women working together for better social conditions for all women is.

I have three children, and I felt Onstad’s cry of “Get a job!” hit home with me.  One of the biggest shocks of motherhood for me was how crippling the sense of isolation and worthlessness can be.  I got to the end of one day last winter, and I miserably noted that my biggest challenge of the day, in fact of the entire week, was the simple logistics of getting three kids through snow to and from school.  I so desperately wanted a pile of papers to mark, lectures to prepare, an article to write: the kind of work I trained to do, the kind of work that feeds my soul and gives me an abiding sense of worth.   A pile of laundry, dinner to prepare and three kids to wrestle into pajamas was not the meal my soul needed.  Being at work is what I need to feel whole, and I am a better mother and citizen for it. 

As it happens, the work I do now is neither at the university nor being home full-time with the kids.  I am writing, working towards a book of essays on motherhood, and waging a daily battle with myself to keep at it because it pays exactly nothing.  (“Get a job!”)  And when I get into the depths of despair about not earning, I remember this post from Carrie Snyder, about the woes of the writer:

I continue to long for a practical profession. The friends I met up with last night are women close to me in age, whose children are now off to school, and who have chosen such interesting and practical directions for their post-intense-mothering lives. Midwife. Nurse. Youth counsellor. Hands on, directly affecting the lives of others in need, being physically and emotionally present, interacting, connecting, empathizing. With real people. In real time. In my work, I do an enormous amount of emotional empathizing, but with makebelieve characters. Gah! I am laughing and shaking my head as I write that. It seems like such a bizarre way to connect with other humans.

Kevin’s response to my morning whine of “I should be doing something practical!” was “strongly disagree.” He suggested I should take my attitude and join Stephen Harper’s conservatives and stop funding the arts and go live in a world where everyone wears grey overalls and does nothing but work work work. You can see why I married him.

I am equally moved by Onstad’s cry to get off my ass and get a job (you will note that she does not keep a blog and gets paid for all the words she writes) as I am by Carrie’s angst about a practical profession and by Kevin’s point that paid work work work is not all that makes a person valuable or a society livable.  I don’t want to wear grey overalls, but I do want the perks of the workplace: full citizenship in adult society, a paycheque, work that is all mine.  The kind of work that feeds my soul, whether it is teaching for money or writing for nothing, is a privilege, and I think it is every woman’s duty to give herself the gift of meaningful work.  For some that is being at home with children.  For others, it is participating in the work force.  For others still, it is unpaid or underpaid creative work.  But it really, really shouldn’t be to appear on the arm of a man.

Kate Middleton, Get A Job! (And Our Giveaway Winner!)

Never one to shy away from stating her opinions, Globe and Mail columnist Katrina Onstad, wrote on Saturday February 5, 2011 that princess-to-be, Kate Middleton should get a job.

Onstad argues that Middleton and Michelle Obama, along with “opt-outers” (a minority group of educated, privileged women who choose to play a supportive role to their high-powered spouse) are ultimately depriving themselves not only of compensation but contribution.

Needless to say, these are fighting words that have long fueled the battle between stay-at-home moms and working mothers.  The 4mothers have a lot to say in response to Onstad’s comments and will be the focus of February’s At Issue.

photo credit: http://www.people.com


Giveaway Winner:

We also want to announce our movie date night giveaway winner is Melanie!  Congratulations Melanie – we hope you will have a great belated Valentine’s Day evening at the movies.