Ann Romney raised five boys. I’m sure that was hard. So hard that to be honest, I’d prefer not to find out myself. But at the same time, it doesn’t give her the same experience as having a job that gives you a paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with her choice. I actually happen to like Ann Romney. I’ve had a special place in my heart for well-coiffed well-coutured women who speak French ever since I fell in love with Jackie Kennedy. And like Jackie, Ann seems charming and classy and whether I like it or not, I’m sure she’ll be a huge asset to Mitt. But can we just stop pretending that her “job” is just like everyone else’s. As hard as being a mother may be, I just don’t see how only ever being a wife or mother while being supported by a husband qualifies you to give counsel on economic issues.
There are some things that you can only learn from supporting yourself on a paycheck. I know because I had to learn the hard way.
Growing up, I labored under the misapprehension that I knew what it was to work hard because I worked hard at school, my extracurriculars, or internships. I grew up wanting to go to a good college so I worked really hard. All the time. I thought that was tough. I told everyone how tough it was to go from ice-skating to ballet and to keep my grades up and study for the SATS and intern for a Congressman. And don’t forget, I had essays for college to write and volunteer work to do and summer programs to apply for. And every once in a while I would work for my Dad to make some money but I didn’t get any special treatment just because I was the boss’s daughter I swear. It was not easy to have so many things to I had to work hard at.
Then I got to college and I thought that was really really hard. Man, not only was I doing twice as much as I felt like I was doing in high school, but on top of that, my parents gave me a budget. Every quarter, they deposited a fixed amount into my bank account and that was all I was going to get. I noticed the price on things for the first time in my life. Who knew conditioner could cost $40? I would get annoyed with my parents on the phone because they didn’t seem to show much sympathy when I tried to explain how stressed I was. I never had enough time to sleep or exercise. When people with jobs told me they wished they could go back to school again, I told them it wasn’t like back in their day when all kids did was party. Sometimes, I had early classes that started at 10:00 cause I wanted to double major. And Student Government was a really big deal at my school and took up a lot of time. And everyone goes out Thursday nights and to the football games on the weekends. And I had to learn if I liked Midori Sours or wanted to join a sorority or if the guy I liked hung out at the Deuce. There was no coasting for me through college.
Right after college, I moved back home to finish my novel or screenplay or whichever one I decided to start first. It was really tough to decide which to write first so I had to spend most of the time exercising and tanning and “dealing” with college being over and luckily both my parents worked so I had the house to myself to get all my work done. But my parents didn’t understand how hard my work was. One day my mom came home and found me tanning topless outside by the pool, reading the New Yorker. She started screaming at me about how she and my father didn’t spend their entire lives working hard so that I could come home and lounge around tanning. I told her I was working but nonetheless essentially out of spite I scoured Los Angeles job till I finally got hired as a waitress and moved out.
And thus, for the very first time in my life, I was supporting myself with a job. I had had jobs a few times before, but they had always been for supplemental income. At first, I was really angry with my parents for not supporting my “art.” Didn’t they work that hard so that I could have opportunities they didn’t have? But then, I looked around at my apartment and felt proud of what I was providing myself. Unfortunately, then I went to work and hated my life. And then I found out what working hard really meant.
I quickly realized I hated waitressing and it hated me. In the beginning, I lived in fear of losing my job. Early on, I got a bad “shopper report,” as in a mystery shopper came in and gave me a bad score. As I sat in my boss’s office listening to him tell me why I was a bad waitress, I nervously ran through all the scenarios that were likely to erupt if I got fired that would eventually lead to me being evicted, living on the streets, and tap dancing on the sidewalk for money. I remember getting stiffed on a table for the first time and sneaking off to the bathroom where I cried because I didn’t know if I was going to make enough money for my car payment that month. Then there was just the general rudeness I had to take all day long. When you work in any service industry job, there will always be some people who will be complete jerks but worse than that, you have to fall all over yourself obsequiously apologizing for your stupidity to them, just praying to God that karma exists. (And although contrary to popular opinion, I never once saw a server ever spit into anyone’s food, I can’t say we never “accidentally” might have kicked a chair every once in a while.) When you go to an elite university, they do a great job teaching you many things. In fact, they even do a good job teaching you some valuable life lessons. But learning how to keep your mouth shut when people at your job treat you like an idiot is not one of them.
So even though, I had worked hard all my life up till that moment, “working” took on a very different meaning for me when I realized that if I lost my job, I might lose everything. My whole life up till that point, my parents had been trying to teach me the value of money. But in retrospect, there’s nothing they could have done. There was nothing they could have said that would have taught me what it all meant. All they could do, was what they did do. Kick me out with a college degree in hand, offer to keep me on the cell phone family plan, and hope for the best.
And I think we can all agree, thank god they did. I’m not saying any of this is any better than motherhood in any way. All I am saying is that from one privileged white girl to another, it’s hard to truly learn the value of money, until you have to earn it yourself. And that’s an experience that I just don’t think you learn automatically by being a mother with no financial troubles. And while being a mother may be the most important and valuable job a woman can have, it’s a different type of job from the one that ends every two weeks with a paycheck. And I don’t understand why we have to pretend that one automatically gives you an authoritative position on the other.