At a special screening of "I Don't Know How She Does It," the new movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker based on Allison Pearson's 2002 story of modern working motherhood, it seemed like everyone in the room was a mom. You could hear the entire audience, myself included, sniffling when Kate Reddy finds out the nanny took her toddler son for a haircut, his first ever.
After the film, however, when the star and author came on stage for a panel discussion, we learned there were a few childless women there, who were, quite frankly, horrified. One reporter from Jezebel wondered whether Kate's experiences -- being snubbed by her young daughter because she's always traveling for work, finding out she has lice via text during a business meeting, singing "I love you a bushel and a peck" over the phone from a hallway on the umpteenth floor of a skyscraper - "were meant to scare us?"
"You should be scared!" Ms. Parker said. "I remember lying in my bed before my son was born and thinking 'I'm going to ruin him.'"
When I first read Pearson's novel, I was an unmarried 25-year-old and I discussed it with other pre-parents in my book club. We debated hypotheticals. Will we have children or not? Hold jobs or stay home? Advance our careers or coast? I participated in the debate, but really, the juggling act in the book sounded like a foreign country I'd maybe visit someday, but only with a detailed map.
Another question at the panel was from a newlywed. She wanted reassurance that it was okay to wait for kids, because she's enjoying all the free time she has with her husband. (The rest of the room sighed wistfully.)
"You should have fun now. There will come a moment when you recognize that you are ready, as ready you can be," Parker said.
My yep-I-do-want-a-baby moment was nine years after I first met Kate Reddy. I was going to a movie, holding hands with my husband. Happy. Naturally, I thought, "We're missing something."
Parker went on to say women who don't have children, women who are thinking about it, will relate to "I Don't Know How She Does It" because Kate's story is about "this desire to have a rich complicated life."
Complicated. It's the right word to describe being a working parent, but doesn't get anywhere near what it feels like. What it feels like is a little more like this: #!$#*!!?
And that, with all due respect to the filmmakers, is what I think about movie-Kate too. With only 90-minutes to tell her story, she is just enough of a mess to scare women who aren't mothers (but are thinking about it), but doesn't struggle quite as much as those of us who are (and don't have time to think about it). For my part, I slept four hours total last night, spilled coffee on my boss's desk this morning, and was late to pick my daughter up from daycare at the end of the day because I was writing about working parenthood.
If Parker is to be believed, she struggles too - though this was a tad hard to imagine given how impeccable she looked in a flowy, skin-toned strapless dress and trademark heels. When a moderator from Moms & The City, asked, "Don't you think working makes you a better mother? And being a mother makes you a better worker?" Parker laughed and said, "Well, sometimes I can convince myself of that."
And, when another mom in the room said we all need to find an hour for ourselves each day, Parker jumped in (with that high-pitched Carrie Bradshaw voice) and yelled, "An hour!?"
She even agreed that marriage sometimes takes a backseat to work and parenting.
"There's something about the school year. When it's just getting through the day, [thinking about] special snack, and 'Oh, I gotta order that thing online.' I find that partnerships are... weakened," she said.
Pearson said that "sometimes husbands get short-changed" and recognized that "I Don't Know How She Does It" might be birth control in easy-to-swallow movie/book form.
But, this is where she turned the whole thing on its head with three words: "Babies are best," Pearson said in her clipped British accent. "That's what I tell young women. I wanted [the book] to be an act of solidarity. The greatest thing fiction can do is say you are not alone with those feelings."
Sitting there, knowing that the movie-star mom in the room, right along with the rest of us, agreed that being a working mom is so much more feelings than complicated, I wanted to reassure these younger women too.
Because the version of me that sat in that book club baffled as to what life would be like with a career and a husband and a child has an answer now. And, Ms. Pearson articulated it.
"In the book, Kate tries to imagine a world without [her children], and she thinks 'It is like a world without music or lightning.'"
Right. I may not know how to do it, but I'm still singing - with my hair standing on edge.
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