Gloria Steinem – not to mention cold hard facts – tell me that women get more radicalized as they get older. Well, duh! That’s because when we’re young, we are certain the world is going to fall at our feet. But it almost never does. Worse, we find ourselves falling more than we ever imagined and far more than is fair. Lord, pick me up already. I’ve been waiting some time now.
When I was 4, I asked to play bank with my father. I told him, “You be the teller because I’m the president.” I was supposed to get even louder than the the middle schooler who rallied her classmates to start recycling, the high schooler who was MVP of the debate team, and the college student, who served as news editor at the university’s independent student newspaper and was undeniably determined and fearless. I was supposed to be a millionaire journalist by now. (When the laughter dies down, I will admit that, yes, my older self realizes this is an obvious oxymoron. Ok, ok, get your giggles out.)
Still, the downward trajectory of my bank account is the least disturbing part about my present as it compares to my past and what I believed my future would be. I have been silenced. Some of it is my own intimidation. After graduating college, my voice was drowned out by the authority all around me. I wouldn’t share my opinions as freely for fear of upsetting superiors, who signed my paychecks and controlled the future of my career in many ways. That was my bad. I should have yelled louder than that noise. But I didn’t. I found myself getting quieter and quieter until one day I found myself mouthing the words with nothing coming out. When that happens, the ink runs dry, the keyboard quits.
I kept telling myself as long as I was able to write for a living that nothing else mattered. But the words mattered, my lost voice mattered. Instead of settling for whatever money I could amass, I sometimes should have been fighting to write about stuff for which I cared, stuff that mattered more. While I tried to help other young women interested in writing and editing, I should have been a better role model by having the bravery to share my opinion more.
This is not to say that money doesn’t matter. Let’s face it, you need the green stuff to survive now more than ever. You can’t pay your bills with the words on the page unless someone else is willing to pay you for that. We all know how little people want to pay for words nowadays. Yes, I should have been louder and stronger, but I don’t feel badly about having gotten paid for honest work either. In other words, don’t get me wrong, I’m not apologizing for worrying about being able to afford life, including health insurance and caring for my son.
There it is. My son changed the game on me. For one, the money has had to become more important. Kids cost money and anyone who tells you different never tried to raise a child to become a well-educated, well-rounded adult. You don’t have a chance at living the sweet life without enough money to pay your bills and come out from under the fog of debt. I’m looking at you, publishers, who won’t pay professional writers their due. And $.01 per word doesn’t count, by the way.
But my son made me a mother, which is the quickest way to getting ignored. Amazingly, as someone emerges from your body – one of the great miracles humans will ever witness – you become completely invisible. I was afraid to tell my editors I was pregnant, and I had the luxury of waiting until nearly the eighth month to tell them because I work from my home office. I could feel my importance deflating, and it’s not really because your attention has to turn to this little creature who relies on you for everything. It was, in large part, because of the reaction people have to mothers in the workplace, even if you’re working remotely.
As long as you keep up your 24-hour work schedule and never mention the baby and they never hear him crying in the background, you’re safe. But it’s hard to keep up that lie. What results is invisibility, and it ain’t no superpower. In the United States, unless you get caught breastfeeding without a cover in public, no one will even look at you, let alone listen to what you have to say. Far too often, you watch your career crumble, especially when you compare the cost of child care to what most mothers actually earn.
At the very same time, my son was growing up and he himself was silent. He had a speech delay and did not start talking until he was almost 4 years old. Once I recognized the problem, I had no choice but to find my voice again. I’m still working on it. But he needs me to be his courageous advocate. A friend of mine recently told me something I already knew but needed to be repeated; she said, “You have to stand up for your child because no one else will.” I need to speak up about his education, his care, his future. I have to talk and my words must be clear and loud, so he will be able to talk. The luxury of silence is no longer. Maybe you can relate.