The Backstory

July 9, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Uncategorized

I always wanted to be one of those women who had a garden. I envied the them going out in the mornings with their broad brimmed hats and baskets waiting to be filled. There was such a sense of history in that gathering of the food. It seemed almost primal, harkening back to when the men were the hunters and their women the gatherers. I usually thought about these things after passing some woman in her yard early in the morning while I was headed to grab my Starbucks and running, always running. The thoughts stayed with me, or anyway the yearning did.

Only I grew up a feminist. I wanted equality. Wanted…want. I had something to prove. We could do anything they could. I was raising a daughter after all. She deserved to know that her life needn’t be limited as her grandmother’s had been. She could be a judge or a Senator…(maybe not President, or at least not yet) But somewhere along the way I noticed we seemed to be trading the very essence of what it meant to be women. Feminism became a different kind of tyranny; career versus mothering. It wasn’t feminism’s fault, but the frailty of the humans trying it on. We pitted women against women. The intrinsic value of mothering and nurturing our babies could be hired out even to minimum wage workers. Our husbands didn’t have wives; they got partners instead. It was like some sort of modern law firm….different last names, an expense account, and equal billing.

The men too made trades. They got to share in the child raising and this was sweeping and good. But hired help made the homes and take out took over where supper used to be. Boys began to get shifted to some kind of new androgyny. They couldn’t be too loud or rowdy. We invented ADD and they had to learn to sit still. We forgot that those wild little boys used to grow up to be our hunters and our warriors. Desks were a poor substitute for the woods or the farm. Buying your daughter dolls seemed almost irresponsible. She needed to be in team sports to compete in he boardroom. What did you want to raise her to be… barefoot and pregnant?

I am forty-five years old. I have a different last name than my husband. And I am a hunter in our group. Our daughter does think she might want to be a judge. But she plans to raise her own babies. She expects to mother exclusively especially in those early years. Maybe later she can be a mommy lawyer and share a practice that represents women and families. She doesn’t believe that you can have it all. Neither did we. We took turns and we raised our own kids. Day care wasn’t right for our family. I wonder which mommies and whose babies it serves well.

When I was forty we moved to this place where life seemed older. There aren’t any strip malls or subdivisions. The houses are older than the country some of them. And the trees and the mountains are older than everything else. The Internet is spotty up here. Cell phones work on their own schedule. Blackberries are as rare here as chickens in the city.

It is here that I have planted my first garden. We have big fat bushes of basil and last week’s tiny little cartoon shaped peppers will be in salads by the weekend. The broccoli was cut this morning. The tomato plants are already over six feet high and they have hard little green fruit filled with promise. Behind it all there is a row of sunflowers….they are my backstory. They are tall giggly tangible reminders of this middle-aged flowering. It is a time of gathering..of picking up, sorting through, and putting away.

My grandmother, another one of those without so many choices, was a wife and mother. She had a huge vegetable garden and a house filled with flowers from her yard. She used to put up tomatoes, and pickles, beans, and jam. He husband fought in two wars and he made whatever money that she frugally saved. They house was filled with homemade curtains, and birthday cakes were made from scratch. Sunday dinner was at noon and the table sagged from the weight of all that food. My grandfather fished on the weekends and they played pinochle on Saturday night.

I am pro-choice in just about everything. But choice is a funny thing. Give somebody three and they will often make the best wisest choice. Give them thirty though and things get confusing. Nobody would argue for the limitations of the way things were. Only I just wish we could stop arguing for the limitations of the way things are. I am forty-five and I finally have a garden. This fills me up like no deal ever quite has.

My gram used to tell me secrets in her garden. She would always say how lucky I was to be a girl. “You are going to get to have the babies” she would whisper as we poked holes in the lid of a coffee can frog house. “It is a secret. We have to act like it’s a big deal or they will want to do it too and then who will pay the bills when they come due?”

Indeed. I hope my garden gets a whole bunch of frogs….


  • library lady

    Right on, sister! (I seem to revert to the 60’s with the greatest of ease these days.) We needed the feminist movement–we still do for that matter. But freedom for women has to include freedom from guilt and scorn for wanting to be mothers and homemakers and gardeners and frog collectors! Peace of mind and contentment is the true freedom–for either gender.

  • samantha r

    I think about these things all the time.I too think day car is practically a crime. People give their dogs better attention a d company than their kids these days in the name of two cars and big house.
    But we got sold just like our mothers got sold formula over nursing. Modern is often a poor cousin to tried and true

  • Rebecca

    When I was in college, I nearly got kicked out of a feminism class for asserting that if women’s lib gave me the right to choose, there was nothing wrong with making the choice to stay home and raise a family. They thought that I was missing an opportunity. I still believe that they were missing the point — and I’m bringing my daughter AND my son up to believe that, too.

    Beautiful, thought provoking post!

  • Swimfast

    Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was lucky enough to have had a career before my family came along. What I have learned is that women can have it all, but we do a disservice to ourselves and those we love if we try to have it all at the same time. Your daughter seems to have learned the lessons so many have missed. I like the analogy about our mothers being sold formula. Why are there so many people today trying to tell us how things should be? We need to listen to our hearts and ourselves. Thanks for a great post.
    Let’s see some pictures of that garden!

  • Kate

    Oh, the garden. I love to garden. And someday I will have one of my own. Here’s a funny. I always wanted to be the stay at home mom and raise my kids. I too, got in trouble in a class in college for saying that. In fact, a counselor told me that it had been years since she’d heard a woman say that that’s “all” she wanted out of life. I didn’t keep her as a counselor.

    The funny/sad part is that it didn’t work out that way. While some women are happily trotting out their careers-before-family, I’m trudging through my job (not a career, because I never wanted one) waiting for the husband and the kids to show up.

    So, in the meantime, I garden in pots and dreams and watch other people’s children chase the frogs.

  • akakarma

    Wonderful post addressing those ‘Paradoxes of Choice'(great book) that we all face. I reckon you’re right to say it’s there for men/boys too. I have to say that I am not a ‘career’ woman but do need to earn a basic non-McMansion living even in little old Vermont and my daughter did attend a pre-school and had a fabulous, quality experience that we were fully involved in. Being a special needs and only child she got peer contact that I never could have given her if I were home, me being rather an anti-playdate kind of gal(the word playdate makes me rather nauseous). I’m so happy you got to have the total garden experience that you were seeking! You’re Gram was so right about the babies!

  • Anonymous

    But El you did always seem to have it all.You guys raised your kids and after they were in school you went out and made piles of money and John took over the ferrying mid day parenting.
    You did what the other writers suggested. You had it all at different times.

  • Angela

    I love that we have the choice. I also love being one of those stereotypical stay at home moms. I would never have thought so when I was younger though. Great post!!!

  • Tranny Head

    Ok, so I admit it. I read this post a few days ago but I was too angry to respond. But I couldn’t just ignore it and I have to respond now.

    While I realize this wasn’t the purpose of your post, I was a bit disgruntled by the underlying elitism in the part of this post that states that you wonder which mommies and babies daycare serves well.

    I’d just like to say that my husband and I are both highly educated attorneys. But my husband is a public servant and I hope to be one, as well. As a result of our high level of education, we have loans we have to pay off and thus, while I may like the idea of staying home with my children, I won’t have that luxury. I will have to work to pay off our debts.

    While day care isn’t right for us (as we have a nanny share), there are lots of people out there who have no choice but to use what is available to them. Like single parents. Maybe daycare isn’t perfect, but it may serve those mommies who have no other choice quite well. Or at least well enough. Mommies do the best they can.

    Thus, comments like that of Samantha really burn me up because there is an underlying assumption that mommies who work are somehow greedy or are just trying to get a bigger house or another car. Well – maybe some are. But not all of us. Maybe women can’t “have it all,” but damnit I have to try. Otherwise I’d just have to work forever and never have the opportunity to have children.

    Anyway, good for your daughter for being able to stay at home with her children while they’re young. I, for one, would love to have that opportunity. But I know that while I may be able to take some time from working while they’re young, I’ll have to work some, too, to make ends meet. Why can’t we women REALLY act like feminists and support each other in our decisions instead of criticizing each other for our choices in whether to work or stay at home?

    And again, maybe I can’t “have it all.” But as a temporarily single mother (whose husband is currently on a tour of duty in Iraq) and lawyer? I intend to try and wish that we could all support each other.

  • E

    Wow and you should see the ones I deleted. This post generated a whole bunch of angry mail not fit to print. I deleted over half. One suggested she hoped one of my kids would suffer something really horrible to give me something else to think about….

    Thanks Tranny though for your thoughtful respectful comments.

    Look it’s my blog and it says what I am thinking about these days. And, like Samantha, I think a daycare culture is a crime against women and children. I do. It is my strong belief. Yes, there are people for whom there is no choice. There are widows and one income parents who must hire help. But there are larger numbers of the population who believe that hiring out a huge hunk of the parenting of their children is not only acceptable it is preferable. The hard trade helps them own homes, pay off debt etc., etc. But the real business of mommying, loving and tending cannot be hired. No one else will love my child during long absent hours. They may feed and play with them. They may keep them clean and maintain them. But love them like a mommy which is the most basic need a baby has they will not do. And we have created an entire culture that supports this other belief system. I think it hurts women and children. Babies need adoration. Security and love are as primal as eating and cleanliness. And if we hire somebody else to do it for most of their waking hours five days a week how can we think there will be no loss? It is complicated. Part time is clearly different, so are loving grandmas and aunties, and cerrtainly nannies beat day care centers.

    But I believe some choices preclude other choices.

    And the decision to have children pretty much trumps all else. How many adults would say gosh they wish they had been raised at a daycare as opposed to by their mom? Only those who started the game with bad moms would be my strongest bet. We are the only mammals in nature who hand off our vulnerable young to other unrelated mammals for care.

    I think that working against a daycare culture does support women. I believe that creating a generation of children who must bond to whatever caregiver they have that morning…(and in traditional daycares against which I rail there are multiple workers), creates a society of children unproperly bonded who exhibit behaviors most likely to earn them extra attention. In study after study daycare children have higher blood pressure and cry more easily and more often than even children in very low income low education households where the mother stays home. We do all get to make our own choices. But what we shouldn’t get is societal support for choices that are so obviously, objectively, measurably, hurtful to our weakest most vulnerable members.

    I favor abolishing all daycare subsidies. Instead I favor tax credits and federal loan deferments for families with a parent at home with children under school age. I also favor double salaries for military parents with children under school age, paying both the serving adult and the parent at home. Change is messy. And the children are not a voting block and do not have lobbying groups to speak for them. But just imagine if they did what they would say…..

  • akakarma

    I appreciate that you didn’t delete my post! That’s horrible that people send hate comments but doesn’t surprise me. I get your discussion and it’s fair enough I guess as an ideology but wonder at the reality of it. My husband stayed home after my maternity leave was up for a couple of years but then he longed for work. Since he is a paramedic and I am a Social worker helping seriously mentally ill people we are not working in positions where we would not be seriously missed if we dropped out. There are not enough people to do all of the low income things that need to be done and that is a social problem as well. Also, I reckon that if my daughter could vote she’d vote for her wonderful friends and teachers that loved her in addition to ourselves- altho I know we were fortunate in our opportunities. We and she made permanent relationships with other kids and their families and some of her former teachers/staff are still part of her life. We kind of lack close extended family within 5 hours so they have become our extended family. Sorry- hope that’s not beating a dead horse. I’m happy that you have had the life you want and am a huge supporter of right to choose, which is also a feminist value! 🙂
    PS- loved the thoughtfulness of your response and how you handled it all!

  • ILX

    illinois x said this is just another wonderful post showing introspection of a sort most of us are not capable of expressing in words. i am glad you are. i wish SSS were around to read your writing as she would be mightily impressed i am quite sure…

  • Tranny Head

    I just wanted to say I’m glad you didn’t delete my post, either! I can’t believe people sent you hate mail . . . well . . I can . . . but it’s still too bad!

  • ILX

    ILX said: I think Tranny Head suffers from the underlying elitism she accuses the writer of. She describes herself and her husband as both highly educated attorneys with loans to pay off and no doubt house and car payment in addition. Well, it is all about choices is it not? and I whole heartedly agree with the author that there is a real question as who daycare really serves best… certainly it has been shown by numerous studies that it is not the optimal situation for toddlers. But I guess if you want to be a highly educated attorney, have the nice car, nice house, have the loans that all that requires then, in other words you want it all and the kids come what on the list? third, fourth, HELLO…Let’s get real here: Tranny Head is an elitist and just feels guilty about it; your blog touched a sore spot. The sad fact is that toddlers are better off with their mommies at home and to do this requires great sacrifice. Perhaps you have to put off law school or you drive an old volvo (god forbid), and you live in an apartment (horrors). But that is what one does until such time as the children are of the proper age where they can flourish without Mommy present 24/7…Obviously this is not possible for everyone. There are divorced, single, and widowed moms, poor moms, etc. But in a two parent situation I don’t think there is any excuse not to have Mommy present in the very early formative years. When I was active in investment banking I worked with women like Tranny Head…they were horrible; a very few saw the light and took time off the raise their children. Tranny Head’s question right now is: Did it hurt their partnership prospects? Well, as I said earlier, it is all a choice…what is more important to you? Your children or your name on the letterhead?

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