Thursday, September 4, 2008

Would Sarah Palin be proud of me?

E got sent home early from daycare yesterday due to a high fever. I left work early and brought her home and we spent the afternoon together. She stayed home today -- with her Daddy. I returned to work.

Such is the balancing act of a two-career parenting team. We determined that for today my career took the higher priority. My commitments and responsibilities today, we decided, outweighed his. But conversely, if E remains home again tomorrow, it will probably be in my company while M tends to his career commitments. For tomorrow, I'll make myself forget the piles of work on my desk and the morning meeting I'll miss to concentrate on extra kisses and snuggles and couch&cartoons time, even when the 11th straight episode of Dora the Explorer will have me ready to start yelling at the television.

Did I do the right thing? In my mind, no question. I didn't hesitate to leave her in M's care, to leave her behind, to acknowledge that my career is a priority of mine, just as is my family. But I'm not running for political office.

I'm very uncomfortable with Sarah Palin as a politician. I do not like her policies on opening the ANWR to drilling. I emphatically do not like her aggressive stance against reproductive choice. But I do not care very much about Sarah Palin the mommy, and I am very uncomfortable with the prominence her motherhood choices are figuring in the discussion of her VP viability.

I don't think I would travel by plane while knowing I was in labor with a high-risk pregnancy, and I don't think I'd be at my desk three days after giving birth. I also don't think I need to know these details of her biography, but I do, because they're being incessantly rehashed. I also don't think she has any accountability to us for the circumstances surrounding those decisions. I believe she could give thorough care to a newborn in her office; babies don't need so much in the early days, do they? M's predecessor from the last position he held before we got married brought her infant son to the office with her for months. I would question whether in those circumstances she could give herself adequate care, but that's none of my business. And I might wonder if she could adequately address her responsibilities of the citizens of Alaska, but as a current and almost life-long resident of the East Coast, that's frankly not my scab to pick. Her baby, though? And her responsibilities to him? Those I'm sure she met. She had him with her, while she also tried to meet her other obligations. There is nothing wrong with that.

What I don't like, what I can't agree with, is why these mommy details are among the loudest points being argued against her. There are so many legitimate political and policy (or lack thereof) points to be made in her disfavor. To diminish her candidacy on the basis of these mommy details, though, it's bad for the entire canon of motherhood. It diminishes all of us.

I watched Palin's speech last night; I've been reading about her voraciously for a week; and I can't stop thinking about her. I can't stop thinking about Bristol. I do not know if she is personally anti-abortion or if she is keening to her parents' beliefs. I do not know if at 17, one can have a fully-developed sense of perspective on the implications of bearing a child and marrying its father before attending one's senior prom. (And by the way, what do you wear to prom in a town where the maximum temperature in June is 64 degrees?) I do know this: if 15 or 16 years hence, one of our daughters comes home and tremblingly confides a pregnancy to us, I hope I don't remember Sarah Palin or Bristol at all. I hope I'm not remembering Sarah Palin as the woman who successfully oversaw the disappearance of my daughters' right to choose the full spectrum of their reproductive destinies even after fumbling the lessons of abstinence-only curricula.

I can't let go of the feeling of agitation that Sarah Palin gives me. It's partly because of her ultra-conservative stances, and it's partly because the gossipy chitchat surrounding her mitigates the very real historic milestone she's crossing. But it's also because although she's a woman breaking new ground, she's not the kind of woman I wish for in her position. She doesn't represent me, and the love-a-scandal manner in which so many women are responding to her doesn't represent me either. I'm no politician, but I would like to see the politics focus back on politics.

And I hope that my toughest parenting decisions will remain those that can be solved or softened with kisses and snuggles and extra couch&cartoons time for many years. But even when they get more difficult, I'll balance as best I can. The juggling itself is good modeling for my daughters. So if Sarah Palin is to be the woman who becomes the groundbreaking woman candidate, let's praise that she does juggle, not critique how. I'd far prefer a woman candidate who will advocate for the expansion of our children's rights rather than the contraction, but if she's to be the woman who fills that ceiling-breaking role, let's not further deteriorate the situation by detracting from the critical conversation. We have inherited the canon of motherhood; now we must cradle it and strengthen it, not fray it at a thousand ancient seams. We have to do this for my daughters, and for all of our children.

It took me hours to write this. I began by typing with one hand while cradling my TV-watching feverish child who had missed me terribly all day. I stopped to nurse one child, feed and snuggle another. I resumed and stopped again to feed myself. I resumed and stopped again to nurse a child back to sleep. I either need to get up to go to work tomorrow, or face the even more tiring prospect of staying home with a sick child. These are the challenges of a working mother, of any mother. But I'm going to do at least one more thing before I sleep tonight. I'm going to engage in this political conversation one more time. I'm going to watch the McCain speech and start yelling at the television again. Pin It