Monday, April 16, 2012

Ann Romney is Not My Sister

Ann Romney is not my sister. Well, that's a little harsh--we're both earthlings, after all, and I do care for her as a member of my human family. But I feel no kinship with her based on the fact that we are both stay at home moms.

I'm satisfied with our arrangement, and until recently I thought she was, too. As a matter of fact, I suspect that she's even less inclined to bond with me than I am with her. Of course, one of the few things I can afford that she can't is the luxury of saying so.

So imagine my surprise when I recently learned that I was supposed to feel personally insulted when Hilary Rosen made her solid point in a clumsy way by saying that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life. "Like fun she hasn't!" I'm supposed to cry out in my indignation. "We stay at home moms have the hardest job in the world!" Our president wasn't born yesterday--Obama was politically savvy enough to say that of COURSE all mothers work. Ann Romney works just like Ann Durham did. Another more accurate way of putting it might be that Ann Romney works absolutely nothing like Ann Durham did, but I'm sure it's fair to say that they both put their blood, sweat and tears into raising their children.

Is it the hardest job in the world? I have my doubts about that. I subscribe to the apparently unpopular belief that it is probably not as difficult as, say, coal mining. But there's no denying that it is relentless, and the money is just awful. I could point out that most of us have no outside help, and that despite her fourth-born son Ben's very sweet defense of his mama, you can bet your boots she had domestic help for every one of the many non-childcare related tasks most of us parents do for ourselves. But I won't do that any more than I already have. Do I think what I do is harder than what she did? Yes. But that's just a guess. True, my husband and I do our own laundry, cooking, cleaning and sometimes even mow the lawn in addition to caring for our children. On the other hand, she has more than twice as many children as I have, which isn't for the faint of heart. I know she worked, and getting into a spat about who works harder is silly--it's not quantifiable and it doesn't really matter. The fact is that she has every right and every reason to be proud of raising five happy and healthy sons. They aren't my speed, but they're great if you like that sort of thing. Which Ann Romney probably does.

Still, Rosen's point is valid. Ann Romney has neither the life experience nor the work experience to advise her husband on much of anything. There is no reason to believe that she has any complex understanding of economnics--if Mittens doesn't want to hire someone who actually knows what they're talking about, he might as well do it himself.

While discussing this with a friend, we both acknowledged that even if we're not a part of the 1% like Mrs. Romney is, we are probably part of the 20%. Globally, we're probably doing even better than that. I'm not throwing myself a pity party when I say that I have to worry about a many, many things that Ann Romney never did--that I can't afford to ensure that my children will be able to pursue any path they want is probably the most champagne of my problems. I won't lie--the fact that I know having the mental space to worry about it is a luxury doesn't make it bother me any less. There are also more legitimate worries--I know if the right catastrophe were to hit us at any moment, there's a chance we would not ever recover financially.

Part of the reason Ann Romney's "job" doesn't look like work to me is because the amount of time I spend worrying about money feels like a second job, and I can't imagine what it would be like never to have to think about it again. It's much more exhausting than laundry or childcare, so being able to clear that much mental space sounds like a permanent vacation all by itself. On a good day, when they are at their sweet and delightful best, being a mom to my kids is hard only because I'm fretting about money while I'm doing it. Yesterday, for example, was lovely. I took my daughter, Bean, to dinner and a play. Only she got "dinner"--a six in sub that she was very pleased with. It was the end of my husband's pay period, and that sandwich cost me my last penny (it's okay - I'm not keen on Subway). The play was less enjoyable because I wasn't confident we'd have enough gas to get home, and it kept gnawing at the back of my mind. But whatever. We're still better off than vast the majority of the earth's population, and we'd be doing better still if we weren't financial idiots. I know that.

Why don't I relate to Ann Romney? Because for me, the hardest thing about being a stay at home parent is that it's financially risky. Another thing I have more of than Ann Romney does is company. When I'm lying in bed in middle of the night, eyes wide open, thinking about being 75 years old, living in a cardboard box and eating cat food because I've lost so much time in the work force, there are legions of parents doing the exact same thing. It doesn't matter to me personally if social security is solvent or not--I haven't paid into it in eight years and counting.

All of us, including the Romneys, knew damn well what Hilary Rosen meant. This has nothing to do with the myth that there's a mommy war on and Ann Romney and I are supposed to be on the same side, and everything to do with the fact that she is not qualified to report back to her husband on what the people are concerned about. Ann and Mittens are the adults here, and unlike their five thin-skinned sons, they are perfectly capable of standing up to a little punishment. They aren't fragile, and they know exactly what they're doing. Having her parenting criticized was, according to Mrs. Romney, like an early birthday present. The only way she could prove to me that she has even a hint of a clue would be to admit that she doesn't.