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The trials of motherhood

Here's my dream job, a stupid pipe-dream fantasy career: After a few years backpacking through the South Pacific and bumming around New York, I pick up my things and move to a small, quasi-hip city, something along the lines of Boulder, Col. I ingratiate myself with locals, find an okay job, luck into a cheap-yet-chic apartment, recruit local sponsors, rent an aging warehouse, install some seats and boom--my own theater. It becomes a decent regional success, enjoys a substantial reputation and I live out my days directing plays, acting a little, creating theater and, as is often paramount in the mind of the aspiring artist, eating. Well.

I call this a stupid pipe-dream fantasy because it's impractical. It could happen, sure, but with substantial sacrifice and at a large risk of failure. Although the prospects and risks of the future have always intrigued me, I looked at it over this past summer through a different lens. I was a nanny.

I didn't call myself a nanny to my friends. I just "baby-sat a lot." Mornings with Jack and Kate two doors down, afternoons with Grace and Brenden two blocks up. I liked these kids. I learned their patterns and foibles and can dance blindfolded the intricate tango that is naptime. By the end of the summer, Jack, who refused to say my name our first week, called me to his crib so he could show me his boogers. Through tears and diapers, here's what I learned:

  1. Any kid will like you if you mention Harry Potter.

  2. If you let them have what they want, the world will not end.

  3. Taking care of kids is hard.

That third item seems obvious, but it's a fact we ignore. One night early in the summer, I was talking to my mother and asked her how she did it--They're cute and all, but how could I do this if I weren't getting paid?" I was tired. And despite the privilege of watching the next generation of America learn to get away with hitting their sister, I wasn't feeling exactly stimulated.

My mother's response wasn't one I'd considered.

"Well, if they're yours, it's different," she said. "Because you love them."

Love them or not, it's still thankless work. I didn't realize how thankless until I realized that I was surprised at respecting the mothers I worked for, women I'd previously written off as trophy wives. I'm fascinated that we only define workers as those receiving paychecks and that our economic models so wholly discount the work put into maintaining a home--especially when the one maintaining the home is also working a traditional job, as the majority of mothers do.

So I revisit my dream job, the warehouse theater one, and I look at it from two fronts. Running a theater, or starting any kind of business, is hard. It's tiring. Like child rearing, the product is likely not what its founder expected, and for all they know, it could do them in. How much could I love that job to give up everything? Could I handle that sort of operation with a child or spouse--hell, maybe both--in tow?

I don't want to consider that the answer to the above question could be no. Like so many of us at Duke, I want it all--the family, the fulfilling career and something to write off as a contribution to the world, something they'd profile in Duke Magazine. I'm not working for a Duke degree so that a snotty college kid can write me off as a trophy wife.

I feel like there should be a course on this at Duke--not an anthropological course where everyone reads "The Price of Motherhood" (although everyone should), but a practical class for the women of Duke: "How to Have a Career and Raise Children Simultaneously Without Losing Your Sense of Self or Having Your Neighbors Think You're a Bad Mom." I can already see the waitlist on ACES--although I don't know who would teach it.

Does Nan have kids?

Meghan Valerio is a Trinity junior and arts editor of Recess. Her column appears every third Wednesday.

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