One of my very best friends just received a tremendous promotion, catapulting her into a very high, very-six-figure salary range. I learned of this after she tossed me a perfect size-six pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps that she’d just received as a Christmas present from her boss.
“Here, take these, she bought the wrong size and I’m too embarrassed to tell her.”
While I inwardly chuckled at the thought of vacuuming in them – because really, where was I going in them? – I couldn’t help but notice the card of the Neiman Marcus personal shopper still in the box. Obviously had she returned them her boss would never have known. Hmmm…was I to suspect a little pity-present was happening here?
While I love her and couldn’t be more thrilled for her, it’s no surprise that such great news has caused me to reflect on my own personal state of affairs. Professionally, we worked together for a number of years (okay, truthfully, I hired her). Socially, we did happy hours. A lot. When I left our profession to begin raising a family she was beneath my middle management level, but in the past few years her ascent up the ladder has been both exciting and troublesome for me. My feelings fluctuate between “You go girl!” and “Hey, wait a minute, couldn’t that – shouldn’t that – be me?”
Making the decision to become a stay-at-home mother is one of toughest choices any woman will ever have to make, and granted, it isn’t for everyone. But standing by and watching a former colleague crash through the glass ceiling is pretty profound by any standards.
Foregoing a corporate career is not something I regret, but there are some amenities that I miss occasionally. Recognition is the biggie. I take my job very seriously and may do it exceptionally (er, most days), but not much gets noticed on a daily basis. On my best days, beds get made, kids get fed and I’m wearing make-up. On my worst, bills get paid (really) late, yesterday’s make-up will do, and there’s cereal for dinner. With reactions like “Captain Crunch? Cool!” my family clearly does not differentiate between my stellar or stinking days. There’s no promotion waiting down the pike for me, and no one’s going to take me out to lunch for acing the vomit virus that befell my toddler throughout the night.
It is a bitter, bitter pill that is swallowed each and every day. And there are constant daily reminders that the playing field is uneven. Routine phone calls from my husband throughout the day can set me off: out of nowhere I will suddenly become incensed that I must pick up his dry cleaning or bring in the garbage cans from the street. Do it yourself, dammit! I want to scream. Or during the course of midday check-in if I’m asked what I’ve been doing all morning I will stifle the urge to erupt into sarcasm (Scrubbing the effin’ toilets— what else would I be doing with a master’s degree?)
I am certainly not the first woman to question a life choice and I’ll be far from the last to complain about it. But as each year passes I just can’t help but feel the pangs of jealousy and insecurity bubble within me when the passing calendar months seem to mock me: Hello, February! As of today, you have now been home exactly the amount of years you commuted to work. Or worse, Greetings April, at the start of next week you have officially been OUT of work twice as long as you were actually IN work. Still worse, Happy Birthday August, now that your oldest child is a teenager, the suits in the back of your closet will forever be Halloween costumes.
Envy comes and goes for me. Some days I want to be thinner, blonder, tanner, healthier, even more organized than a friend appears. But some days I don’t care about any of that stuff at all. For the most part I am confident and self-assured. Why is it, then, that I always seem to care about my worth? And why must my worth be measured in terms of a fat paycheck or a great designer suit? That alone angers me more than being asked to make a meatloaf.
Not surprisingly, all my driving from schools to doctors to playing fields to play dates certainly allows time for introspection, and I believe a little jealousy is healthy for friends. It offers opportunities for genuine wake-up calls. While my friend’s lawn is looking rather lush right now, reflection has a way of putting things into perspective. When she tells me how much her heart hurts because she hasn’t seen her baby boy in two days because of work, I believe her completely because I know. And when I nonchalantly remark that I’m really not that busy with four kids and would love to take on some freelance work to help her out if she’s swamped, she pretends not to hear the desperation in my voice because she knows, too. Friends have that way of knowing.
Trading in my blue jeans for nicer clothes would be great, and finally having some disposable income would be even greater. But would I trade in my so-old- I-can’t-remember-where-it-came-from coffee mug for a fancy cardboard cup? Could I give up the sheer decadence of driving a child to school in my pajamas? Would I be able forego a Happy Meal for an expense-account lunch? Oh yeah. One day, for sure. Just not yet. For now, on the days when I am immersed in macaroni and cheese and picking Legos out of every hidden crevice in my couch, I am going to remain insanely jealous of my friend.
And then I’m going to make myself feel better by wearing my Manolos to the supermarket and wondering what my friend and I will get for Christmas next year.