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.


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.

The Road Not Taken: Part One

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by..”
– Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

As the rest of the country – make that, world – knows, snow fell here in Atlanta on Tuesday, and we didn’t deal with it very well. A lot has already been written about why, including the following:

1. We don’t have enough equipment to clear snow and lay down salt on the roads. But snow- and ice-storms are rare down here, so that makes economic sense, even if it’s sometimes maddening.

2. Schools weren’t closed ahead of time for the day (though usually, this is done at the hint of a snowflake, tiny patch of ice, or even just very cold weather). When classes were finally canceled, parents (and buses) got on the road.

3. Everybody panicked, and left work at the same time to go home.

Normally, I would have been at home writing, able to watch the snow fall outside my window. But that morning, I was in a town twenty miles away, signing copies of my novel, UNDERWATER. At noon, I headed home as flurries began, [luckily] stopping for gas first.

I didn’t panic, but I drove cautiously as the flurries turned into flakes, the roads became treacherous, and more and more cars appeared. I wound my way using surface streets I know well, instead of highways often congested in the best of conditions.

(Side note: I survived six winters up north, all of them while driving my kids around: one in Michigan and five in Kansas – where it’s flat. But Atlanta is a city built within a forest, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains; it’s hilly here.)

De toute façon, I did pretty well until I was 3 miles from la maison. The streets weren’t yet icy, and though traffic was becoming heavy, cars were moving. Then I got caught in a bottleneck of vehicles at a light, almost all of us turning right. After a frustrating period (I don’t know how long), I ducked into a neighborhood and came out of it a mile further along my journey.

Then, I came to a fork in the road, and had a decision to make. Both routes were equidistant from home, and both were hilly. My usual choice was the road on the left. I could see nothing but stationary red taillights on the right. I saw some on the left, too, but my iPad’s traffic app assured me that it was only for a short distance. So I took that road.

It looked like the road less traveled by.

Wrong. It was gridlock all the way, but as I inched along – literally – down a big hill, and then up the other side, I kept thinking, “It’ll get better!” *

At a certain point, I considered abandoning my car and walking. But that point was after I’d passed all side streets into which I could have turned to park. There was nowhere to ditch my car now (other than a real ditch), and I didn’t want to walk uphill in the cold, carrying my heavy bags. Inside the car was warm. I was making progress toward home at a turtle’s pace, but I was still making progress. And it wasn’t dark – yet – though it was getting colder.

My husband, who had taken the train home from his office hours earlier, kept checking on me. I knew he was considering walking over to rescue me, but what could he do? What I needed was for him to somehow remove the cars in front of me – or at least, get the one right in front of me to move forward. But where could that car go?

Nowhere, because the one ahead of him was barely moving. But that was better than nothing, and as I approached the turnoff for my neighborhood, I braced myself for its snow-caked and potentially icy streets. Without sliding, I made it up and down the steep hills and arrived at my destination just before six p.m.

I was grateful to be home, even though I’d taken a road well heavily traveled.

My view on Tuesday, for quite some time:

photo 5

Next Post: The Road Not Taken, Part Two (A different kind of road, but honestly, the one less traveled.)

* Indeed, my iPad app (incorrectly) showed that it would.

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