23 August 2010

Guest Post #3: The Big Three-Nine

S. is, I think, the first blogger I ever met, like in the flesh. She came to my house one day, and sat in my living room knitting a huge beautiful dark green afghan. Her blogging has gotten seriously sporadic, but when I asked her if she wanted to guest-post, she was all over it. Maybe this will be her jump start.

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The Big Three-Nine

Like Magpie, I frontload before big birthdays. When I turned 30, 9.33 years ago, my birthday fell on a Saturday—on Shabbat, that is—and I decided to spend the two years before that milestone buying a house, getting my first post-grad-school job, and preparing for my adult bat mitzvah. I also spent a lot of the year I was 29 listening to my biological clock. I was single then, and couldn't look away from the sense of lagging behind: my mother had finished her childbearing by the time she was 30, I hadn't started. Coming to terms with that took up a lot of emotional energy that year, but that was also the year I partnered off with A.

I'm making my way through my fortieth year now, and I'm not planning on doing anything so dramatic as a bat mitzvah to mark the turn of the next decade, but I do have a bit of the same sense that I'm not where I wanted to be by the time this number was looming, mostly because it's not as easy for me to pay my bills as I thought it would be. If my 20's were about meeting the expectations of my family and social class--college, grad school, job, home, partner--my 30's have been about coming to the end of those scripts and saying "oh, shit, NOW what?"

I married, I had the kid, sure. I put down roots. I also weathered a wave of friends leaving town for jobs elsewhere, took up a career that I never expected, decided the kid was going to be the only kid (rather than the first of several), and discovered that marriage is, well, complicated. A. and I are certain of our commitment, but there have been far more twists to these first ten years together than either of us could have guessed.

The years since Z. was born have turned our connection inside out, though, and I don't think we're alone in that. It's the thing about modern marriage none of us talk about enough: we expect our marriages to be egalitarian, or at least those of us who claim feminism do. When A. and I started dating, we earned roughly the same paycheck, but as with a lot of couples, when kids come along too many things had to give all at once.

A. and I have a much clearer understanding of how we balance each other now than we had before Z., and parenting together is the core of it, but the question of financial dependence has haunted our partnership since Z. came--I feel my dependence far more than A. does, which is too her credit, but that makes my awareness that there is a price to parenting that I'm paying in independence, and A. is not. And of course, parenting together doesn't mean parenting equally. I'm paying a price in time, too, as I'm working part-time hours putting in sweat equity to a business that is thriving and growing. Sweat equity, right: I still bring home no pay at all, while A. has a secure teaching job that provides us all with health insurance. There are many things to be grateful for, but during the summer, when A. is home and taking on the primary-parent role, I realize how cramped I feel the other 10 months out of the year.

Z. is five and starting kindergarten in the Fall, so I'll have a few more hours in my week to work. Even though she's been in day care since she was six months old, this feels like a new chapter for us. I don't expect to be paying myself before I turn 40, but I'd be okay if some of the extra space of the summer stuck around.

I'm not sure where the next decade will take me--if nothing else, my 30's have hammered that point home. You never know what's around the corner. But I'm glad I'll still be following Magpie on the journey!


Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

"coming to the end of those scripts"

I like that. I feel that way, too.

Anonymous said...

Ah, S. I'd love to sit down for a glass of wine (though not ice wine, Maggie. Super sweet way to get a horrible headache, IMO) with you and A. and Maggie and anyone else who cares to join us and solve the problems of marriage and parenthood and getting older without "making our mark" or something like that.

I remember sitting on the floor in our living room, crying to my husband that I had no friends on my thirtieth birthday. My early thirties were not great years in that I didn't have a clue where I belonged in the world.

When I had my first child at age 35, I left work, cutting our household income in half. Eight years later, my second is entering Kindergarten, I've been looking for a job for a year and I can't even land one that makes half of what I used to bring home. Dependence and equality do not truly co-exist - it's something we construct on various levels.

I am curious how you switch "primary" parenting. I mean, I get how you and your spouse might do it, but Z actually goes for it? My kids would have to make a huge adjustment that would probably take the whole ten weeks of summer - which says a lot about the different parenting styles going on in my household, I guess.

I think school should give you a lot of space. It does me.

Gwen said...

I'm just over 40, an age which once seemed impossibly old. But now I find myself saying, oh look! I'm less than half-way done! What will I do next?

Because I'm an optimist. Naturally.

Bibliomama said...

OH yeah -- it's impossible to know what kind of a strain children put on a partnership before you do it. I just turned forty and aside from sort of hating my body (for which, naturally, I blame the children) I'm really quite happy. Lots of friends, great family, taking courses towards a new career and still getting surprised on a regular basis. Despite this, I complain a lot. Hmmmm. Maybe complaining just makes me happy?

shrink on the couch said...

Perched on the edge of 50, I can say that it only gets better, aside from pesky ligament strains of unknown origin, because at this age you can seriously hurt yourself getting up in the morning.

S. said...

Hi, all! I was on the road on Monday when Maggie put this up (literally: I spent 7 hours getting from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania) and am only catching up with my reader today.

De, Z. has a terrible time with the transition in general so we've both learned to not take her snubs personally and we insist on politeness and apologies when she's rude. It's gotten easier as she's gotten older, so now we find the switch from school year to summer is fairly smooth because I tend to be around in the mornings so I ease them into their day. It's harder in the other direction because on our old, relaxed daycare schedule, A. left for her train before we woke up. It took about a month for Z. to cope with that switch...expressed largely in tantrums about getting out the door in the morning and ignoring A. or telling her to go away during the afternoon and evenings when she *was* around. But she's always bad at transition, so if things were "intensely horrid" in September they only ever improved to "frustratingly annoying," with periods of regression possible at any point in the year, but especially around her birthday. Fun.

The kindergarten schedule will mean we get up earlier and should overlap with A. in the morning, so I hope things will be easier now. This summer she's handling my increased hours at work beautifully, so I have high hopes.