Grace

A funny thing happened to me last year.

I was having a down week. The kind of week where you think, “I know! I’ll {insert bad idea here}! It’ll be great!”

At some point during this week — a dank, depressing fall week — I got this crazy idea to try to call my ex-boyfriend. We had dated for 6 months in Seattle, and I was a long time getting over him.

I’ll call him Fred. Fred had a lot good qualities. He was, for example, helpful. If you’re moving, he’s your guy. Need a ride somewhere? Ditto. He was not, however, the most supportive guy on earth. Once, after I played at an open mic, he said, “A little flat, but overall, not bad…”

I later explained to him that this did not really work for me.

Fred was getting over a long-term relationship in which each partner had been quite critical of the other. He had improved. He had gone from massively shooting down new ideas to minimally shooting down new ideas. Or maybe just refraining from most comment.

This was progress, I realized. But after the relationship ended, I also realized, Not Good Enough. Towards the end of our run, for example, I played a show — a revue called 12 Minutes Max. 2 hours of mostly adequate performances, and a few good ones. I was the best one there; that’s why they had me close.

Fred sat through 2 nights of this to support me. But then he ruined it all in one instant. As patrons of the sold-out show came to praise me and ask for my autograph, Fred said, “Good job! You have this…sort of…self-deprecating thing that people seem to really like for some reason!”

…that people seem to really like for some reason?

It was after we broke up that I decided; in the future, all men I date must think I am a fabulous singer and performer. None of this, “Well, he’s so supportive in other ways…” — no. This is who I am; if you are into me, you must be into what I do.

And you know what? The guys I’ve dated seriously since then — they have thought I was fabulous. So there.

Anyways. In spite of my epiphanies, progress, etc. etc., once in a while I still missed Fred. Good, old, critical Fred, who found fault whenever I said something cute, witty, or funny.

So, one evening when I felt particularly weak-willed, I called up Seattle’s information number and asked for Fred Bissett. Not that common a name. They found one, and suddenly, there he was, picking up the phone. He answered. I felt scared. “Fred? Hi! It’s..um…Sofia! I know this is sort of out of the blue, but I just wanted to call and say hi…if it’s a good time…is it a good time?”

He said yes. In fact, he sounded pretty happy to hear from me. I was surprised. I asked him what he’d been up to lately. He said, “No…I want to hear about you.”

Well, ok! I took a deep breath. I told him about Austin, about starting my career as a singer-songwriter. About all the experiences I’d had. Whenever I told him something, he would always say, “Really! Wow! That is *so* interesting!”

I was surprised. This was a new Fred. His voice sounded pretty much the same, but there was a warmth, and a sense of love, that hadn’t been there before. He seemed so eager to hear details of my life. Every time I told him an anecdote, he said, with genuine surprise and pleasure, “You know, I’ve never heard it said just that way before.”

I continued on. I told him about my activism, about volunteering for musical events that supported peace movements in Austin. I told him about going to Molly Ivins’ funeral. Each time, instead of talking about himself, he asked me, with eagerness, to continue.

I was amazed. It was like a whole new Fred! In fact, I was falling for him a little bit over the phone. I thought, he must have had some kind of enormous shift in his life, to be acting like this. Things could never have worked out with the old Fred…but this man . . . hrmm.

Finally, after about 15 minutes, I insisted that Fred tell me about his life.

“Well, ” he began. “I’m a Jungian therapist.” I was shocked, but before I could say anything, he continued: “And I have to confess; I know a lot of Sofia’s. When you first called, I thought you were someone else. But I think . . . I think you have the wrong Fred Bissett.”

What?!? I was absolutely perplexed. How could this be? I asked him — why did you . . . talk to me for so long?

“Well, to be honest,” he said, “you’re just so interesting to talk to! You have this…charming, interesting way of speaking. And all these unusual observations that I’ve never really heard expressed just that way before. And . . . yes, it’s just a genuine pleasure talking with you! . . . I hope you find your Fred. Because I tell you one thing: he’s missing out!”

I hung up the phone, in awe.

I had found the right Fred, after all.

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Sofi Epiphany of the Day

A few months ago, I was sitting at a cafe, and met a young woman. She was about 19 or 20, and she had two children. They were currently with their father, so she was getting a lovely bit of time to herself.

This young woman seemed very calm, and was obviously a good mother. She was speaking very eloquently about her children, what they needed at each stage of development, etc. Yet, inside of me, I had this voice in my head: Two children by the age of 19? Not by accident, but by choice? She’s doing it wrong, she’s a Bad Mother.

I thought about that judgment. I’ve spent a lot of time in very judgmental environments: New York City, young professionals, Harvard students and Harvard graduates — these are not a live-and-let-live kind of people. There are Rules for things, and right and wrong. So let’s take a peek at the conversation I had in my head:

——

19 with 2 children? How irresponsible. What a bad choice. And she seems like she doesn’t have a lot money, either. Sure, she’s sweet and loving to her children, but how long will that last, once economic reality sets in?

What should she have done instead?

Well, someone in her position should obviously wait. She should go to college. Graduate school.

Will that be good enough?

No! Graduate school is no time to have a child! She needs to embark on a career! She needs to make a living! So that she can provide her children with everything they need!

Well, if she’s in such a high-powered career, it will take her a long time to get established. When should she have kids?

Probably not until she’s 35 or 40.

But that’s at the end of a woman’s fertility cycle. She might have problems, or she might even be infertile!

There are new technologies. And she can always adopt.

And once she has her kids, how will she possibly be able to take time off to raise them?

She can take a few months off. Maybe get her hours reduced to only 40. But really, she’ll need to hire some help. That’s just one of the many perks of earning a good salary!

In other words, she’ll pay a nanny to raise her children for her, because she’s too busy to do it herself. Tell me, what kind of nanny should she get?

Well, she’ll need someone young…so that she has the energy to run around after little babies. And someone who has a calm temperament — and is very interested in the children’s welfare. Then, of course, there’s the question of cost…much as we’d like it to be otherwise, we can’t really pay a Nanny a whole lot of money. So she’d probably have to be someone from a lower economic level…

——

After going through this whole Q&A session in my head, I realized that society judges poor young women when they dare to raise their own children. But it doesn’t judge those same poor women when they’re working as nannies, and raising rich women’s children.

The whole area of career and childcare is so messed up in America. I know I’ve had a feeling of paralysis when I think about career, much of my adult life. Part of this is because it is extremely hard to keep on in your career once you have a child. Why — for example — go to law school, work hard, start a career as a lawyer…only to find, 5 years into your career, that you have to make a humongous, life-changing choice, that you want to stay home with your baby for a few years? That you might be throwing your career away forever?

In this situation, looking ahead to the future which includes motherhood, there’s the “better not to really try in the first place” option. We never talk about that. We discuss — occasionally — the women who face obstacles in terms of combining career and family. But we never talk about the women who are sure they want kids, and quietly take less career-oriented, dead-end jobs, for their whole adult lives, because they’ll just have to quit them eventually anyways, and why bother?

Something’s got to change.