Choices. And Dork Power.

Cute W was out of town last night. This was a particular bummer because it was J’s birthday. They were both a little sad, missing each other. When we sang happy birthday after dinner, Cute W sang from speaker phone. Then it was time for cupcakes and bed for the girls, and Cute W was heading out to a bar to schmooze with colleagues. He was excited because this conference had him reuniting with an old friend, from our pre-kids, living-in-the-city era, when Cute W had a whole gang of whip-smart, super-motivated, and interesting co-workers. We rarely see most of them these days, so there was quite a bit of catching up to do. As the kids dove into cupcakes and ice cream, I pulled Cute W off speaker phone to ask how our old friend L was doing. She has twin boys just a bit older than J and a 3-year-old girl, and she still works full-time in Manhattan even though they’ve moved out to the suburbs. She leaves the house at 7:30 am and doesn’t return until 7 pm each day. They’ve got a nanny.

Holy cow. That just feels like a world away from me. It’s so strange to think that people who share so many other similar values would veer so widely, and so wildly, apart when it comes to parenting and general lifestyle. I try to imagine an alternate reality in which I spend my day attending meetings, poking at an expensive electronic device as I ride the train home, kicking off my heels and hugging my kids while they update me on their last 12 hours. I bet that my house would be much better decorated. And I’d be better groomed. But I can’t imagine that I’d be happier. I think I’d be stressed. But it’s not as if I think they’re crazy. Well, okay: that’s not true. It sounds crazy to me. But each individual choice seems sane, logical, perfectly understandable. The whole thing made me think about those small choices we make every day, and how they alter our paths and the paths of our families. Which reminded me of one of the Steve Jobs quotations that was floating around after his death: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward.” So we make little choices that feel right and then hope that we end up with a whole life that is right, for all of us.

I remember visiting with L’s family years ago, and L was laughing about how her kids wanted to listen to some sort of awful sing-along kids’ music in the car, and she’d insisted that they turn it off, roaring, “We are not the Beltramos!” When I heard this I was shocked. Were our two family cultures really so different? Were Cute W and I such stand-out, singing-silly-songs-in-the-car-kind of people? Seriously, were we? Are we? It made me think of the dorky couple singing show tunes in the 80s classic, The Sure Thing.* It’s true that at our house, we value dorkiness over dignity pretty much every time.  But I guess I’d thought that all of my friends were likely to to veer toward  dorkiness.
Nope: their dots were already leading them on different paths from us. So much so that it was an emphatic declarative statement: we are not you. And now each family thinks of the horrors of the others’ life (“The commute! The stress!” vs. “The drudgery! The lower income!”) and speculates about its splendors (“I bet she gets regular manicures. . . ” vs. “I bet she wears her pajamas all day sometimes. . .”).
Anyway, I was ruminating over all of this for the rest of the evening. Because supervising tooth brushing and washing dishes leaves plenty of brain energy for that sort of thing. I kept turning over the choices we make. Partly I was thinking that some days I feel like I’m thinking way too hard about a simple choice, and other times I make choices without a second thought. I sure as heck spent quite a bit more time researching every little move I made earlier in my parenting years. So it was ironic that later Cute W texted me about one of those parenting choices that I’d agonized over, choosing to keep J home for an extra year before starting school. Apparently he was debating this one with L over late-night drinks. So he asked me:

Why did we red shirt J?  And what is the age cut-off day?

This one made me laugh out loud. I’d spent months fretting, reading, Googling, and interviewing of friends and acquaintances (both adult and child) as we considered this. Cute W took the role of first mate to my captain as well as sounding board on this one. And by sounding board, I mean the guy who says, “Oh yeah? Okay. . . whatever you say, honey. . . uh-huh. . . .” I mean, how could he not even remember?  Which made me wonder: is this just a man thing? Or is it worse for couples when one mostly works outside the home while the other works mostly at home?  And, I thought, it’s all the more pressure for poor L, who presumably takes on all of these issues while also working full-time for a salary. How the heck does she manage that? I guess it’s a good way to while away that commute.

This also makes me think, though, of Michael Lewis’s article about Obama in Vanity Fair, where there was this really interesting part:

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting.

Huh! I thought. Michael Lewis, I, too, find shopping exhausting. So maybe that’s how L handles it: because she doesn’t have to decide on whether to ignore or cave to entreaties for an afternoon snack, or whether a jacket is required for the playground because the nanny takes those. On the other hand, I’ve managed enough office situations to know that paid work is full of inconsequential decisions and whiners, too. Seriously, it’s a wonder any of us mamas can function at all.




*I even looked for a clip of this scene on Youtube, but I couldn’t find one. But if you need an 80s movie fix now, here’s a clip for you.


  1. Claire

    I’m in hysterics about your husband forgetting the reasoning behind the red-shirting! I could see my husband doing something like that.

  2. @Claire, I know! But, honestly: it’s just as well, I guess. If he had his own strong opinions I’d have to figure things out and then convince him, too.

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