The Road Not Taken: Part Two

According to Alison Wolf, author of The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World, as a “graduate mother of four,” I’m an “extraordinarily rare beast.”

Not surprisingly, it’s a label that caught my eye. Having earned an undergraduate degree in economics, then taking several courses towards an MBA (the pursuit of which was halted, once I gave birth to twins), I’m not sure if I qualify in Wolf’s view as a “graduate” mom.

(But even if I don’t, I’ll say I do.)

For my first year of motherhood, I went back to a job I truly enjoyed and for which I was adequately (if not yet extremely well) compensated. It was the 1980s and the industry was IT: I worked for a software developer in Richardson, Texas. Day care was difficult to find (and hard to accept, after I visited the place). My solution: a nanny who arrived at my house at 8 am and left at 6.

Problem solved – for a while. I focused all my energy on my work, both in the office and at home. Of course, my husband helped; with two babies, he had to. But when he was offered a much better-paying position in a different state, I made a decision that Wolf says is rare for women with my educational background.

I took the road less traveled: I became a stay-at-home mom.

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Even with my husband’s new job, it meant downsizing; as we simultaneously dealt with a home that was “underwater,” our stress increased. Not everyone understood our decisions, but we came up with a financial game plan (à la Dave Ramsey), and over time, it all worked out. We learned to live on one income – also something rare, according to Wolf – but something that “made all the difference.” *

That income increased over time, and so did our financial stability. We’d always wanted four kids, and our wish came true: when our twin boys were five, their brother was born; three years later, our daughter arrived. [I’ve read that “three is the new two” – as far as the “right” number of kids to have – but for me, baby #4 turned a crowd into a party.** And, well, I like parties.]

Now, our daughter is in college; “the boys” are all in their twenties. The road I took – raising kids (and managing/running a household, with no “outside” help ***) – has ended, and I’ve launched a new career as a writer. Abandoning my professional track years ago had its consequences (many of them described by Wolf), but it’s also had its benefits: more time with my family, [perhaps] less stress, and a happy marriage.

[I’m not saying my marriage wouldn’t be happy, had I kept working outside the home; I’m just saying I didn’t, and it is.]

As for being “an extraordinarily rare beast” – well, I find that to be a little pejorative, even judgy. I never engaged in “The Mommy Wars,” other than to defend my decision to stay home. Wolf refutes a New York Times article’s reference to a group of Atlanta mothers (that I don’t know, but who resemble lots of my friends) as representing an”exodus of professional women from the workplace;” she claims it’s statistically insignificant. Really?

Some (but not the vast majority) of my other friends and relatives, with various levels of education and compensation, continued in their careers when they became moms, without missing a beat, or much of one.

They chose to take the other road.

My jury’s out on Wolf’s latest book. My mother kept working because she felt she had to (while her mother provided free child care), and my daughter just began her university education. [Due to the rise of working women], is the world really far less “equal” for her than it was for me, and for my mom? Must all educated professional women be “like” educated professional men? Are there no other acceptable options? And is there only one route to a “successful” life – no exit or entrance ramps available?

If so, de mon côté, I’m still glad I took the road less traveled.

* The last four words of  The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
** “Two’s company, three’s a crowd, and four’s a party.”
*** I did have “inside” help: my husband has always done the cooking.

Part Deux: 2 Literally-Asked Questions, and More

Here’s a few more of the questions asked at the Book Launch Party for my novel UNDERWATER, and the answers (and announcements) I wish that I’d should have given (and made):

En premier (first):

The novel is dedicated to my mother, Sally, who was a guest at the party. She knew how nervous I was speaking in front of the large group, and fortunately, she reminded me to announce the book’s dedication to her. I did, but here’s what else I should have said…

I dedicated the book to her because she’s been so supportive of my writing. Years ago, when I mentioned my idea of writing a book, I told her that I was thinking about writing a novel based on my year in France.

“Do it!” she said. “It’s not too late!” When MAKE THAT DEUX was published, no one was more proud of me than she was – and no one’s asked me more about the details of  UNDERWATER, and when it would be released! Thanks, Mom.

En second:

Several people named in the book’s Acknowledgments were in attendance at the party. But who (besides other authors) reads the Acknowledgments page?* So I wished I had recognized them, and explained how much they helped. From pacing and plot to the smallest story details, their input was invaluable!

Enfin (finally), les questions:

Where did you draw your inspiration from for this story?

I drew on some of my own life experiences when writing the story.

My husband and I were “underwater” on our first house in the late 1980s, before being underwater was cool. We moved across the country for a new job in the midst of a declining real estate market, a side effect of the Savings & Loan crisis. We had no choice but to (seriously) downsize and do our best – and to start all over again. No one came to our rescue, and one thing we learned was that it’s much easier to upsize than to downsize. Much easier.

But we did it. We lived not just within our means, but way below them, for several years. In short, we did “Dave Ramsey” before Dave Ramsey was cool.

More than a decade later, after building a new home in the Midwest, we left the area, again for a new job. We sold our house at a loss. Downsizing followed, but we recovered more quickly this time.

When I began writing UNDERWATER, I knew the premise, the protagonist, the villain, the storyline…and I knew the feelings of despair, desperation and stress connected with a house underwater.

I thought that I could write about those feelings through the eyes of fictional characters, and about the havoc that the situation wreaks in all of their lives.

What books have you read recently, and what do you like to read?

I read a range of fiction and some non-fiction, including biographies. I like everything from suspense to coming-of-age stories and romance. I also like historical fiction and classics. And I usually like anything set in France, which includes presque tout – almost everything – by Peter Mayle.

Earlier this year, I read Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and his book written for authors, On Writing (a bonus was an appendix of good books to read). Another great book I read was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

For the answers to some other questions about UNDERWATER, such as how I selected the title and characters’ names, see FAQ – UNDERWATER. 

* Take a look at my Acknowledgments page (it’s short!) to find out more.

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