Womanhood and Motherhood and the Possibility of Too Many Choices

It’s a cloudy, quiet Sunday in north Oakland. My husband slept in this morning after a long week of work and distance-cycling with his bicycle club. Our two cats woke me up early to feed them breakfast, but then went back to bed with my husband! So I had peace and quiet this morning, slowly chasing cups of coffee with cups of tea, browsing the New York Times and Facebook.

I pick up my mother’s old journal, and read this entry:

Tuesday, Sept. 8th, 1989

Camille & Lindsey are both ill.

Morning stuff — getting dressed, combed, etc. It’s wonderful that Camille’s arrival, dressed & brushed, gets my girls motivated to dress!

* → Dumbo video.

Mindy looked through some books & Lindsey got out pencil & paper during the video. Then both M & L ate some cereal & 2 pieces of cinnamon toast each. (This happened slowly, 1 item at a time — they are going to drive me crazy with all their eating / fixing / cleaning. I said KITCHEN IS CLOSED — I don’t know if this will work! 

I like that mom wrote things like this, between the details of our imagination play, and quirky homemade projects. I can picture this long-past morning, maybe it was overcast like it is today. I like that there is a record of every-day-ness. Of the potential banality of family life, of motherhood.

Today is a welcome morning for reflection, after a busy week. Two separate friends were visiting San Francisco from New York this weekend. One friend, Amal, is an energetic, driven 10th-grade writing teacher at a charter school in the Bronx.

Seeing her was a thrilling opportunity for education-talk. Amal and I connected through mutual friends in New York, gradually gaining closeness over years of crossing paths. But, since most of the time we spent together was at bars, rooftop barbecues, and house parties, we hadn’t had a lot of biographical chats. When we saw each other at a wedding this spring, she was surprised to hear that I had homeschooled. (See? This is a theme!)

Amal is the kind of teacher who critiques the system, working to question the assumptions of the status quo, but she also believes deeply in public education. She’s pro engagement with social media and talking to kids about being digital citizens, teaching things with relevance, bringing her charter school into the cloud, and updating systems of sharing.

We discussed this blog and my family’s unschooling experience. We discussed education as paradigm. We discussed who our mothers were, and how they filled that role, and being mothers ourselves in the future.

When I parted ways with Amal on Friday, I took the train into San Francisco to meet my other friend in town. Kris is 10 years older than me; we worked together for a while in lower Manhattan. She is a ray of sunshine and the mother of a very magical and precocious 16 month old, let’s call him “R.” One of Kris’s oldest friends from New York moved to San Francisco about a year ago and had just had a baby as well. So the visit was me, two beautiful new mothers, barely 40 years old, and their two baby boys, 16 months and 4 months old respectively. We ate soft-serve ice cream at the Ferry Building, and we strolled through downtown to Kris’s friend’s condo. It was such a dreamy afternoon, crawling on the carpet, barefoot, between a toddler and a four month old, all blissed-out with their sweetness.

Kris and her friend are urban, savvy women; they’ve worked, and partied, and traveled, and they have tons of style. I befriended Kris before she got pregnant with R, and it was a joy to watch her move through the pregnancy and the birth, watching her, her husband and son grow together as a family over the past year and a half. R is the kind of kid that makes your ovaries ache. He’s just magic! I don’t know how else to describe it. I have other friends with magical little ones, too.  Twenty-nine is that age, apparently, where half your friends are still living free, fast, single lives, and the other half are breeding, and you’re split between worlds and mentalities.

I told Kris and her friend that being around babies was incredibly seductive! But Kris’s friend, finding out that I just turned 29, gave me the advice to wait as long as I can… That I have all the time in the world. That there’s so much else to do!

I went home, got dressed up, and went to pick up yet another friend, this time a local, for a ladies’ night out. Her toddler and husband were both in t-shirts and underwear when I came by, geared up for a lazy dude-night in front of the TV. We kissed them goodbye and went to an art opening with great cheeses and rosé. My friend, her cousin, and I followed the art show with a round of beers at a pub. And besides for talking about art, we talked about having kids, and not having kids, and when to take the leap…

My friend had started her family at age 27, and she has been waiting patiently for a couple of years for people like us to get going on the mama-program!

The conversation of timing got a little emotional as my friend made the case for getting on with it, while the advice I’d heard earlier that afternoon continued to ring in my ears: “Wait as long as you can, there’s so much else to do!”

And now, it’s Sunday, quiet and drizzling rain out the window. The whirlwind of women and voices and choices this weekend are settling in for reflection.

We are making choices with what we do, and what we don’t do. I shared Barry Schwartz’s TED talk on the Facebook page this weekend, in which he examines the tipping point between choice and happiness, and too much choice leading to regret, self-doubt, and unhappiness. He says, “There’s no question that some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow that more choice is better than some choice.”

I look around, as an artist, and a “blogger,” and a feminist, and a wife, and a friend, and a daughter, and consider everything it means to be a woman today! And to be a mother. And to be yourself, in an era of open paths, and change, and choice.

What a time to be.