Friday, April 13, 2012
What Ann Romney Did Not Say
I drink a cup of coffee, and out the door they go, bags of unleavened lunch in hand. The dog gets walked. I get back, drink another cup of coffee and straighten the kitchen. From there, I water our fledgling strawberry patch, and then gather up laundry for the six loads I'll do during the day. The laundry gets cranking, and after reading and writing a blog, it's off to deliver Meals on Wheels to seniors in my community.
After passing some time with both the elderly saint who runs the program, and getting to know the pastor of the neighborhood Baptist church that houses it, I come home. This is followed by more laundry, folding and sorting and prepping. That process is interrupted by the little guy, who calls furtively from his school to let me know that he's managed to leave his gym shirt at home.
Please, Dad! Can you bring it? It's next period! Please?
And so I hop onto my motorcycle (more efficient, dontcha know) with a gym shirt, run it by the school, and on the way back run an errand I'd been planning on running later. Home again means more laundry, and then the kids come loping down the street from the bus-stop. Sweet Mary and Joseph, is it that time already?
We review homework status for the day, and then I mow the lawn, after which I water the back lawn where the East Coast drought is making re-growing dog-destroyed grass a bit harder, and tend to the drought-sensitive dogwoods.
Then the little guy needs to go to drum practice, and so off we go in the minivan to a three hour practice, most of which I spend in Starbucks reading highfalutin' churchy books for my next paper.
The day included some down time, some work-related emails, and some study for an advanced degree. But mostly, I spent yesterday home-making. It's work, folks. I know, because as a part-time pastor with a full-time-plus working wife, that's at least half of what I do.
In defending herself against a bit of ill-considered political class snarkiness from a talking head who claimed she "hadn't worked a day in her life," Ann Romney was correct to say that that choice does not represent the choice to sit around on your behind all day. Homemaking makes for being a busy little bee.
It is, even in this driven and careerist era, a choice with value, and one that should be respected. In many ways, a more traditional one or one-and-a-half income household allows for a more balanced and gracious existence. There's more time to be present for kids. There's more time to get out and be part of the fabric of caring relationships that makes for strong communities. It is a good way to live, honestly. In saying this, I do not intend to devalue the efforts of two career families. But the more traditional arrangement...even if the gender roles are flipped...can make space for sabbath and life-balance in a way that two full time jobs does not.
I've been both places. I know.
What Ann Romney is saying is correct, and progressives should respect that choice.
But there is something that she is not saying.
The choice to stay home is not a choice all of us have the privilege of making. For many Americans, the choice to do what I do or what Ann Romney does simply is no longer an option. That's because while I'm not part of the one percent, I am part of the ten percent. We are, for the moment, reasonably well off.
If I did not work at all, we'd still be able to live a comfortable life from my wife's income. We'd still have health insurance. We'd still have dental, and be able to pay for the significant and necessary orthodontia my older son needs to repair the mess our genes made of his mouth. We could still replace a full set of car tires and not blink. Heck, we could buy a used car and not blink. We're busily paying down our mortgage, on a house we bought long enough ago that we're fathoms deep in equity. We can go on vacations.
Though our modest rambler and unpresuming cars might not tell it, I have the choice to stay at home because our family is upper class. It's an easy choice if you're comfortably well-off.
But for much of the middle and working class, that choice has become more difficult to make. It used to be that one income would cover things. Even factory jobs paid a good living wage, with benefits. If one partner in a marriage chose to stay home and care for the kids, a family could swing it.
But then those jobs got outsourced to China in the name of higher profits and efficiency. Those benefits got cut in the name of profit maximization, as holding companies like, oh, let's pick one at random, Bain Capital, captured the resulting profit at the expense of living wages for most Americans.
Salaries fell. Home prices soared. Suddenly working America was working three-and-a-half jobs instead of one just to pay the mortgage and the utilities. Not to mention those medical expenses from when little Tyler fell and broke his/her arm.
Making ends meet becomes an issue, and families are forced to choose between financial stress and life-stress, and often are forced to endure both. There are many parents who would rather not be scrambling to the daycare center late again because something came up at work, or scrambling to figure out how to deal with a kid with the flu when there just aren't any sick leave days left and you just can't afford to lose this job. But they don't have that choice.
They don't have that privilege.
And the choice to be a traditional family shouldn't be in the realm of privilege.