“What if you wrote what you’d seen, the way people write about war? What if you wrote about what you were seeing about women and children, even though maybe it was hopelessly uncool and wasn’t the big male world?” Meg Wolizter, referring to her new book “The Ten Year Nap.”
The “hopelessly uncool” subject matter referred to in the above quote is motherhood – or more specifically, the “career” of motherhood, the matter of taking the role of mother so seriously that an intelligent, successful, upwardly mobile woman would walk away from all the trappings of a life in the corporate world and plan birthday parties instead of corporate meetings, arrange play dates instead of conferences, and read bedtime stories instead of legal briefs.
Ms. Wolizter has been skulking around her local diner, observing women in her very own Manhattan neighborhood who “opted out” of their heavy duty careers and “opted in” to spending time with their children.
With “The Ten-Year Nap,” Ms. Wolitzer decided that “women who weren’t necessarily leading lives of bold action could still be the subject of muscular fiction,” writes Mokoto Rich, in her profile for Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. The novel, which Rich defines as a “multicharacter meditation,” is simply Wolitzer’s way of capturing the nuances of characters who “happen to have children and happen not to work.”
Now, I haven’t read this book, but I’m certainly keen to do so. I myself was a woman who “opted out” of the career world in favor of being a “stay at home mother,” and I did so at a time when it was particularly unfashionable. Back in the late 1970’s, college educated women who did not pursue their chosen career were almost viewed as being ungrateful …after all, women had fought hard for the right to be taken seriously in the corporate world, and deciding to stay home was akin to giving up, saying it wasn’t possible after all.
The debate about this all rages on, and I certainly think it’s entirely possible to have a fulfilling career, and to be a wonderful mother who has a satisfying relationship with her children. But I have a feeling that Ms. Wolitzer has picked up on the same change in the wind I’ve been feeling lately – that young women are beginning to realize they’re missing out on so much, that even though their kids might be fine, they aren’t. In addition to being overburdened and harried by the demands of work and home -for let’s face it, women bear the brunt of inside the home tasks, no matter how many hours they work outside of it – they’re letting an absolutely fabulous opportunity slip through their fingers, a chance of a lifetime, really. After all, watching and supporting another human being grow from babyhood into an adult person, helping to shape their choices, and just enjoying their company for as many hours as you possibly can – how cool is that?
Of course, I can say all this from the perspective of almost thirty years, having a child who is now grown, and independent, but with whom I can honestly say I’m still very close. My son actually left home quite young, so, to a certain extent, our time together was somewhat truncated, particularly by modern standards. Which is perhaps why I’m now so grateful that I was here in the house every day, being so much a part of his growing up years.
And, of course, I’m not even taking into account the economic reality that most mothers face when deciding whether to work outside their home. Really, it’s such a shame that society doesn’t place more value on the work of raising people, because that’s what mothers do, isn’t it? – raise people who will one day grasp the future.
So, The Ten Year Nap is definitely going on my must read list. I’m excited to meet these women, and see what they’re thinking about all this.