Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

March 26, 2014 by

Being That Girl—Plus Three

http://www.flickr.com/dmhergert/

http://www.flickr.com/dmhergert

“Are we on vacation?” asked my 3 year old suddenly—and gleefully—during one of our many housebound days. I could have construed his question as a very sweet one. After all, the last two and a half months have been almost entirely devoted to playing Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride and card games, to building puzzles and baking muffins, to watching “Brave” on the couch and “Frozen” in the theater, and, once, to a short bout of sledding (after a long bout of wrapping ourselves in layers of winter gear). Then again, it could be construed as a delusional question as many questions of 3 year olds are (but five minutes earlier, he studied the Greek yogurt with honey I set before him and asked gravely, “Will it taste like shawarma?”).

Actually, the last ten weeks (but who’s counting?) of snow days, snow days, no power days, potential snow days, holidays, weekends (I know those pop up regularly, but they seemed to have popped up more often than usual recently), and illnesses ranging from vomiting to diarrhea to vomiting and diarrhea to colds with fever to ear infections, have been (in my less than sweet opinion) the antithesis of vacation. When I chose to parent my three kids alone for half a year, I hardly could have imagined what was to ensue. I thought I was staying stateside for a logical reason: my husband’s job in England began in January, and it seemed to make sense that the kids and me—as I teach–finish out our school year without disruption.

Though if I’m honest, there might also have been a reason we could call ideological. When I moved to New York at twenty-two, I spurned the singles’ ghetto of the UWS and found a fabulous SoHo apartment at Prince and Sullivan that allowed me the luxury of standing in the shower, taking my razor off my sink, and propping my foot on the toilet tank to shave my leg. In fact, I could even lean over ever so slightly and turn on the kettle while I shaved so that I could have hot tea when I emerged from the bathroom (which wasn’t much of an emergence; the bathroom was essentially in the kitchen). The apartment had an impressive five windows (though they faced directly onto another building, and no rays of light ever indicated daytime), and was, as I was proud to tell all, a “real one bed room” (almost 300 square feet—in generous real estate terms).  I was proud for another reason: mice and waterbugs aside, I was living there alone. Somehow it bothered me that my mother had gone directly from her mother’s house to her husband’s house (her husband’s house –even I thought about it in those oft-repeated terms!). Where was the chance to have a room of one’s own? To play Marlo Thomas on That Girl? Sure I ultimately married the guy I fell in love with on my year abroad at Hebrew U, but I didn’t do so until I had played my role as single girl in the city and played it hard.

You can’t know what you’re capable of—daily activities like cooking and laundering and taking out the garbage, and less frequent activities like nailing a mezuzah the right way on the door post and putting together IKEA furniture—until you have to do them on your own (admittedly in the case of the IKEA furniture, this was where I learned to rely on the kindness of strangers/neighbors—but even Blanche DuBois’s lesson had to be figured out alone). There’s tremendous satisfaction in this notion of “self-reliance.” Trust thyself. And maybe, just maybe, at 39, after 10 years of marriage, and 8 years of shared parenting, I wanted to know that I could still manage on my own. Only not quite on my own: this time with three kids.

As we’re only a third or so of the way into my plan, I’m not yet sure I’ll survive it. Or that any of us will. It’s tough on me and my marriage and the kids. But now that the polar vortices are (must be!) over, I’m working really hard to think like my 3 year old: this is a vacation from my usual life. We think of vacations as fun, but they’re not all fun; there’s less of an infrastructure to the day and a lot more planning, preparing, and navigating. Sometimes you have to speak a foreign language. Often, you end the day exhausted. You might drink more than usual. But when you look at your pictures in the years to come, you forget a lot of the painful parts and remember that this was a time that you tried something new. And it was a time that changed you.


  • A G

    I love the way you reflect on this. And at the safe distance of reading about this on the internet, it has been important to me that you did this. I think it’s wonderful for people to make choices that make family first, but thinking of your self (note the two words there) seems not just ideological but existential. If family choices never revolve around individual persons, then all anyone can develop is their joined self. But I want you to be able to iterate from you to family-you. Even if you decide that you could have achieved more, total, by making a different choice, I would not believe that choice as much if you went straight to it. And although we’re friends, my point is not that you should have my approval. I mean that I have genuinely derived meaning and pleasure from your choice. I believe it has cost you and I don’t mean to be glib. But many of our mutual friends seem to me always to have made the practical choice, the choice that acts, still, as if daycare has to be deducted from her income. I respect those choices one at a time, but they add up to something a little creepy for me, and I’ve loved seeing you at least delay that while you figure out what you most value. So I respect you and I also thank you if that’s not so selfish that it ends up disrespectful.

  • Diana

    Hi Karen, now I’m even sorrier I didn’t come out today to keep you company! But I’m also glad I didn’t give you my New York cough – California lungs are not up to this freezingness. Gee whiz, it is COLD!