International Women's Day: Be careful of what you wish for
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A few weeks ago, I asked my very pregnant daughter Marissa how long she was going to take off work with her new baby, Kennedy Rose, who is expected to arrive in early April.
"Three weeks," she said, matter-of-factly.
"Three weeks? How are you going to manage that?"
"Jeff's taking parental leave," she explained. "And I can work at home. It only makes sense because I make more money than he does."
It's true. Jeff works in the not-for-profit sector in a job he loves. He is also a French hip hop recording artist, and for that he works nights. Marissa toils in the high powered world of consulting with blue chip clients; she's something called a "digital strategist".
I smiled when I got off the phone. She didn't always take my advice, but she did listen one day when I told her to "be the man you want to marry."
That's the advice I wish I could have given to my younger self.
I realize, as I approach 60, that I have betrayed that young woman who thought of herself as an independent, educated feminist. Watching my mother work her hands to the bone after my father died, as she nearly killed herself lifting heavy machinery in 35 degree heat in a sweater factory, made me resolve to never be like her. Vera lived to be only 68, and spent her final days in the familiar pink ghetto of female poverty.
At Marissa's age, I was determined to change my stars. Three years later, I bought into the patriarchal dream and married a man 10 years older than me, an old fashioned man who expected me to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Because I loved him, and believed in him, I abandoned my personal ambitions and chose to be satisfied with the cushy life he provided for me, until he left me with three kids under six.
It was then, in 1992, I realized that I was no better than my mother. It was scary. I was exactly the same age as she was when my father drove his car off the road and killed himself. Eerily, we both had three kids, two boys and a girl, in exactly the same order, and with the exact same spacing.
My mother had died the year before Dan left me. Had she lived, she wouldn't have chided me for putting my eggs in that one basket, for not keeping up with my career. Vera left high school in Grade Nine, so she didn't have a lot of choices.
Instead, she would have told me sympathetically that I just had to get on with it; she would move in with me if that's what it would take, and help me with the heavy lifting. But of course, that wasn't in my stars.
Unlike my mother, I had no family social safety net. I had two brothers who lived hundreds of miles away, no other relatives. My mom had a gaggle of blood kin, including her mom and dad, my grandparents, who practically raised me until I was 16 while my mother wrestled with her demons.
When Dan left me, I was an orphan with no family choir to sing in, no team on which I could play. I was alone in the cold cruel city, shunned by the people who adored my husband, left to pick up my life and get on with it.
I had a leg up on my mother. I had an education, and a body of work. But that didn't seem to help me. I was weak, and often unable to bear the stress of more than a decade of being a single mother.
I didn't recover, not really. My kids were needy, so I worked piece work until I did what women from my generation and those past did -- I married again.
Why not? My career was in shambles. Recruiters must have laughed when they saw my resume, viewing me as an itinerant worker, going from job to job, not landing in one place.
I realize now that my life has turned out only a little better than mom's. I have a partner in crime who has a small pension and a dead end job. I still work piece work for low pay.
I don't even have the benefit of the full Canada Pension Plan because I didn't make enough money most years to pay into it. And if Scott dies, I won't get his pension because I wasn't married to him when he left his job.
So I'm glad that my daughter has heeded my advice. I hope she sees it as a cautionary tale. Women of past generations are well aware that unless they win the lottery, the men either leave or die.
Thankfully, she got a good education, and has a bright future ahead of her. Even if something happens to her husband, she's prepared. She has insurance, and a financial plan.
But there are snakes in every river, and rats in every cellar. Any woman with kids can have a tender underbelly, but she needs a titanium shield.
She needs to be a Steel Magnolia, not a someone like me who meets the world wearing Rose Colored Glasses.
Oh, one more piece of advice, my dear.
Be careful of what you wish for young woman, for you will surely get it.