A week ago today, I stumbled out of a screening for the movie Motherhood that threw me into a funk that lasted three days. (Granted, I was already on the precipice, and I was getting a cold, so perhaps I was vulnerable.) In it, Uma Thurman plays Eliza, a Manhattan mom who struggles to get everything she needs to do done in one day: Walk the dog, feed the kids, shuffle the car in a daily ritual known as street parking, shop for her daughter's birthday party to be held that evening, see her best friend, take her younger son to the playground, pick up the cake, decorate the apartment and, somewhere in there, make a deadline.
To a certain extent, I felt validated watching Eliza whirl like a proverbial dervish, trying not to screw things up. That's the story of my daily life, except my deadline's not a blogging contest to get a job, it's a job that helps put food on the table. But I also felt depleted, reminded once more of everything it takes just to sustain an existence that sometimes feels woefully fragile. (Eliza and her husband aren't rich, and their home is, like the apartments of my friends and neighbors, cramped to the gills.) Aren't the movies supposed to offer an escape?
Don't get me wrong: I am grateful for my life. I live in a city that allows me to strive or hide, depending on the day. I have friends who are kind and interesting. And I have a family that keeps my heart, and days, full. But of late, when I look around at my friends, many of whom seem to be juggling as fast and as hard as me, I think: Why? What for? It just seems as if no matter how hard we work, we don't get as far anymore.
A friend who once wrote for all the big-name women's magazines goes from one underpaying freelance copywriting gig to another to help make ends meet. She'd like a permanent job, but—and you've heard this story before—no one's hiring. And she's brilliant! Her husband has a creative job in marketing, and he makes decent money, but after taxes and rent and expenses for their three kids—what we call essentials, not dining out at Nobu—it's still a stretch. Another woman I know is an academic, her husband's in technology. But after childcare—and she doesn't get much, seeing as she's with her kids whenever she's not in the classroom—and, again, reasonable expenses, there's not much left.
Suze Orman would say, Watch your spending. And believe me, we have. My husband and I go on a date maybe once a month; the cost of babysitters tacked onto a $12 movie ticket (apiece) plus dinner is prohibitive. (Sometimes, we just take a walk for an hour in Central Park.) We eat out only once a week, and it's usually pizza or inexpensive Chinese. We brown-bag lunches, don't own a car, and walk everywhere if we can. The last purchase I made was a coat, and only to replace the five-year-old one I had with a ripped-out lining. (My copywriter friend hasn't shopped for new clothes for a year.)
Some people I've vented to say it's because we live in the city, that the cost of living is sky-high. But they don't understand. Our work is here, and if I had to commute the cost of gas, or monthly train pass for me and my husband would pretty much get rid of the savings we'd see by moving to the burbs. Plus, our kids are in crazy-good public schools here. And is the only solution really that we move?
I worry about my retirement, I worry about college. And I suspect BurbMom does, too. You see, this isn't a city versus suburb argument. Whether you live in an apartment building on the Upper West Side or a house in a leafy hamlet, life these days feels tenuous at best. Where are the well-paying jobs? (Not in journalism, at least, for which BurbMom and I are trained. Not in academia, as my friend is discovering.) Where's the reward for hard work and years of schooling? Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?
Here's a trailer: