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Monthly Archives: May 2016

womens-running-early-track-raceComing to terms with being almost 30 is weird. I’ve always kind of felt 30. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’ve always felt like a grown-ass adult. Immature as I was in my late teens early twenties, I craved the respect people like my husband received from fellow adults simply because of the beard populating his general facial area – this was, of course, before I realized that kind of respect doesn’t come with age, it comes with a penis. But my whole life I wanted to grow up quickly. Skip the bullshit and develop the life skills that would take me from dependent child to strong, independent woman as soon as I could. But now that I’m here, I see that the ‘thirty package’ is a little more complicated than some fantasy about the meaning of adulthood. It’s easy to lag behind.

I’m turning 29 this year and I’ve had my first ‘career job’ for a year, my prospects are good, I’m making a respectable living for a young person, I’m married to a man who also has a good job, things are a-okay. But the thing is, of course, that I didn’t graduate from my Master’s until two years ago. My husband didn’t graduate from his Bachelor’s until two years ago. So while we’re doing just fine, at 28 and 34, we are playing catch-up. Everyone my age seems to have about four to five years’ experience. Everyone my husband’s age is on the eight-to-ten mark. But we’re catching up. And while now it feels like we’re all on more or less on the same page, the big life-plan making abilities of our friends are certainly more advanced.

I struggle to think of a couple that I know, roughly my age, that isn’t considering purchasing a house or doesn’t already own a house. To give you some context, house-buying is the Dutch equivalent of a very fucking serious relationship. People here don’t really get married, but they commit to one another financially. And that shit starts more or less once they get offered a ‘permanent contact’ at work. It’s one of these European labor laws that make it really hard for an employer to ditch you without a good reason and a serious severance package. This happens about three years into a job. It’s that decisive moment where they either fire you – because they don’t want to be stuck with you forever – or you get, basically, tenure.  Needless to say we are not there yet.

Renting a place in Europe also has its advantages. I’ve been sitting on this apartment for the good part of a decade and my rights as a tenant mean that the building owners can’t raise my rent by more than 2% or so at a time. In the last eight years, they’ve raised our rent by some 40 euros in total. In the meantime, the city of Amsterdam has become something of a playground for the upper-middle class. Salaries haven’t gone up by much thanks to the financial crisis, but real estate speculation has made every apartment in our area absolutely unaffordable to us. Our rent is relatively affordable and we live in a pretty fancy location, right in the city center. Meanwhile, virtually every young couple buying property now is moving fairly far out of the city center. But I digress.

Babies, properties, great savings, promotions at work, significant salary increases, that’s all in the future for us. And I swear I’m okay with that. I waited a very long time to be treated like somewhat of an adult; I can wait a little longer to feel like one. But the fact that thirty is knocking on my door makes this whole situation feel very pressing. Look, I had a quarter-life crisis. I know the drill. So I’m trying to have some ‘chill’ about the whole situation. Yet, try as I may, I can’t reinvent the societal meaning of the big 3-0. You know? These expectations are outside of myself. They’re just out there, floating in the world and waiting for us to meet them.

Sure, I can rebel. I don’t see myself wanting to own ‘property’ any time soon, for instance. We aren’t Dutch – not really, anyway. So buying a place would be rooting ourselves here in a very scary way. Plus, the role of banks in the deal makes me a little uncomfortable. Babies are for people who definitely want children and we haven’t quite figured out where kids would fit into our lives. I have enough friends with weird relationships with their parents to know that having kids for the sake of it seems pretty idiotic. Promotions and salary increases, too, come with experience. We are both so, so new at our career choices. So if I relativize the whole thing I can see why we are where we are. And yes, it’s hard to feel like you’re playing catch-up while everyone and their mother appear to be moving so much faster.

But maybe I’ve got this all wrong. Perhaps being an adult is about being okay with your own pace, values and life choices. And that, my friends, I can confirm.  

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dandelionYou know, I’ve always been the kind of person to take things very far. I’ve maintained toxic friendships until there was no other way but to cut ties, I’ve stayed in bad relationships until their sourness poisoned everyone involved, I’ve insisted on staying in jobs and academic environments that were clearly not doing my mental health or general development any favors, I’ve even stayed in one particular country for most of my life without ever having been entirely happy about it, the list goes on. It’s not one of my best traits, but I believe it comes from my need to see things through. I am from the generation where everything and everyone could end up in the trash: electronics, food, plastic, human lives… This culture of wastefulness has never quite sat well with me. So I stick with things. Like a hoarder. Until I can’t.

Eventually and invariably, once I reach my limit, I walk away without regret. No regrets and no forgiveness either. After a remarkable endurance of crap, I can be very ruthless. Once I’ve decided to remove myself from a situation I want it to burn, disappear, and pretend it never happened. I have no interest in revisiting the past. Especially the kind that made my otherwise strong self feel vulnerable. It can go to hell. And stay there.

But as you get older, the past has a way of resurfacing. Kids who made your life hell send you Facebook friend requests, school reunions organized by those same teachers who made you feel like a bad kid or really, really small suddenly pop up, step-people (the gender neutral term for the awful people your parents introduced into your life at one point or another) and ex-boyfriends are suddenly very keen to rekindle the friendship that never was. I call bullshit on the whole thing. I may have fond memories surrounding people who turned out to be appalling human beings, but I relativize them because I know that I’ve been through this before and those fuckers are not to be trusted.

Sure, I know what it’s like to be going through a weird phase and do things you regret to good people. I’ve ‘sinned’ too. I’ve been a hormonal, boy-crazy girl who ditched her friends because of some blonde skater boy – oh the proud moments. I know that it doesn’t make me fundamentally bad to have been a selfish asshole at 14, but I wouldn’t be dying to rekindle a friendship with me if the shoe was on the other foot. If you’ve been burned, it’s smart to stay away.

But as you get older and build up confidence and acquire a certain level of success – personal and professional – you can think: oh what’s the harm? Right? I mean, these people aren’t in any way part of your life. You’ve grown so much. You’re strong now. You’re happy. Don’t be so bitter. Throw them a bone, meet up. Go to the fucking reunion. Have drinks with an ex. Wear a cute dress and the man you love in arm and you’ll feel like a million bucks. But the thing is, if you’re still hung up about it, you won’t.

The issue with not partaking in the ‘throw-away’ culture is that, girl, you have a hard time letting things go. It’s easier to block it out, like a bad thought late at night after seeing a horror movie, than to face it. Not because you’re afraid or not strong or successful or happy enough. But because you’re a sensitive person. And you distanced yourself from people who make you feel bad not because you’re Elsa the ice queen of your friend group, but because it’s goddamned self-preservation. You don’t want to see these people really. You maybe want to find out that they’re not as successful as you. You want to Pretty Woman those motherfuckers. But maybe they are. Maybe life is so fundamentally unfair that they are successful as fuck. Maybe their whiteness and class privilege has handed them all the things you worked your ass off for on a silver platter. Maybe they’re miserable, as you secretly thought you’d want them to be, but all it does it suck you back into their lives. So from one sensitive person to another, I’m going to go ahead and give you some fantastic advice: unless you truly don’t care, don’t. do. it.

You’ve built yourself a fort, you’ve grown and blossomed, and you love who you are. Now relish in that shit, celebrate your life and let the past be in the past. You can thank me later.

laumamaAs a married twenty-eight-year-old, I have started hearing the age-old question that has haunted women of my age and marital status for all of human history: When are you thinking of having kids? It comes from a good place, I presume. ‘You seem relatively grown up, I like you, please make more people for me to like.’ That’s, of course, not entirely how it comes across. It’s the kind of pressure I never thought I would live to see. In our culturally-aware times where feminism is mainstreaming, I thought I would escape such expectations. But alas. I know quite a few mothers that are roughly my age. It mostly ‘happened’ to them, and granted, if it ‘happened’ to me at twenty-eight I most probably would just let it, and simply cope like the grown ass woman that I am. But my examples of motherhood – my mother and her mother – are not exactly something I could replicate. So how does one rear a child in Western societies like the one I live in?

You see, I grew up in Brazil. And Holland, sure, but I was brought up from a helpless tiny infant to a relatively independent eleven-year-old child in Brazil. And in Brazil, women like my mother had full-time jobs. Almost all if not all middle-class families in Brazil were two-income, two-job affairs. Mom and dad worked and hired someone to look after their kids. When the kids were little, it was not uncommon to have a nanny and a cleaner. Eventually, in most middle-income households, the nanny would be phased out and an incredible super-woman would have to cook, clean and look after the children. Until we left Brazil, this ‘other woman’ was an unquestionable fact of life. Living in or out, we had help.

My mother is a very well-accomplished woman. Her career is really stellar. And she did all of that while being as present, caring and involved in our lives as she possibly could. She would drive home from across town to have lunch with me and drive me to school every day. She was there whenever I really needed her. But her kind of professional success and accomplishment, her model of motherhood, my fulfillment and development as a child, none of it would have been possible without the other women, the surrogate mothers, hired to raise us. Erenilda, Marili, Marcinha, Tania, Marcia and many less memorable characters were the women who made my privileged childhood possible. Sometimes they were mothers themselves, invariably they were poor and working class women who sought employment in the private sphere due to lack of options.

My mother was a good boss on all accounts. She made sure these women were working on furthering their careers outside of our or anyone’s households – and many did. Long before a center-left government in Brazil made it mandatory for domestic workers to be treated like any other worker with rights, signed contacts, paid vacation leave and a decent wage, my mom made sure every single one of these women had that. She never let us order anyone around – a disgustingly common sight when I was child in Brazil was a tiny little tyrant disrespecting and humiliating ‘their (the possessive form used by the bratty products of class-societies) maid’, affirming their superior place in society and the household – and demanded that we did some basic chores like making our bed, putting our clothing and toys away, etc. I realize that to most people this may sound absurdly obvious, but in those days, my mom was a revolutionary for not allowing us to be awful.

As previously stated, almost all Brazilian mothers in my immediate surrounding worked. But their care duties and responsibility for the upkeep of the household was in no way diminished. Buying this labor in from other women, effectively outsourcing these now secondary duties of the household, was a ‘logical’ solution. My mother’s emancipation, as a highly educated divorced woman with two daughters and a family that lived seven hours away, was only really possible in the context where another woman was confined to her household. The private realm remained the realm of women. Poor women.

This two-working-parent model that I upheld as the absolute symbol of success, the success story of my middle-class family, isn’t one that I can live with. Or up to, really. I live in Amsterdam. Help don’t come cheap. My own mother had to learn a new way of ‘mothering’. Her mother was a stay-at-home powerhouse who raised seven kids, a few of their friends and took care of my grandfather’s parents. She stopped studying at nine years of age because her traditional Italian patriarch of a father decided that she had learned enough – her one ‘ugly’ sister, who he feared would not marry, was the only one allowed to study further – and made sure that all three of her girls became accomplished professionals. To this day when I call her, she asks when I’m getting my PhD. She wants another doctor in the family – medical or otherwise.

That life, my grandma’s life, was not a desirable outcome for women of my mom’s generation. They wanted all of it. But with no government systems in place and no cultural shift that divided household responsibilities between men and women, they were stuck in the impossible position of having to have it all. But all can’t be had with no help. So they bought help. And at my age, and marital status, with an ocean or two between anyone my husband and I are related to, I wonder how in the world I’m supposed to do motherhood in the way I grew up thinking I would do. Every mother I know in this country works part-time and has family help. I didn’t even know what part-time was until I was old enough to enter the labor market. We didn’t discuss professional sacrifices in our household. I’m sure there were many, but this was not the narrative we wanted to focus on. Success and family life that was compatible with it; that was our story.

I am not really ready to take such a massive plunge and start making humans any time soon. As far as I’m concerned I’m pretty young. And so far, I’ve done a pretty good job of not get knocked up. But, honestly, looking around me, I feel like when I do I’ll need to reinvent the wheel a little bit. This mother’s day, I’ll be thinking of Erenilda, Marili, Marcinha, Tania, Marcia and the other less memorable characters who made my privileged childhood possible.

Wishing for a society where motherhood isn’t punishable either by professional stagnation or by the unfair confinement of poor women to the private sphere.