Early this morning, nursing Moira for the second time in three hours and thinking about how ugly three o’clock can be when you have to be up at five-thirty, I started to feel pretty nostalgic about those days in my early twenties when eight hours of contiguous sleep was actually a thing. Once the baby was full and satisfied, I laid her down to sleep, and soon thereafter greeted my old friend Insomnia — ah, the peculiar conundrum of sleep deprivation meeting the chronic inability to fall asleep. I read a book for a hour and then, just as I’m starting to drift off, a bomb detonated in the region of Moira’s diaper.
In my desperation to grasp those last 90 minutes before getting up for work, I turned to my peacefully dozing husband and made a quiet plea: “Please, honey, would you change her?” And he, perhaps sensing my tenuous grip on sanity, pried himself out of bed to go don his hazmat suit. As I finally fell off to sleep, two things came to mind: “I am going to need some very strong coffee today.” and “Thank you, sweet baby Jesus, for my husband.” And what’s more: when the alarm went off 90 minutes later, that man got up out of bed again to go make the coffee. Bless him.
That got me thinking about my previous post on motherhood and stay-at-home parenting. Yeah, I would still prefer to be a stay-at-home (or mostly-at-home) parent, and because my husband is supportive and hardworking, I might even get to do that someday. But there are a lot of parents can’t even dare to dream of staying home to care for their kids, because they’re doing it alone. They are the Alpha and Omega of their households, the beginning and the end, the Only. Single parents are the real heroes.
I’m thinking specifically of my sister, who is raising her young daughter on her own. Her baby is growing up fabulously, and my sis gets to take all the credit for that because she’s doing it all — all the work, all the parenting, all the earning. I cannot fathom supporting Moira on my own and doing everything that she does. People like my sister deserve an all expenses paid vacation with a nanny to watch the baby (babies) while Mom or Dad downs some maitais, because Christ, if a little sleep dep is making me feel crazy, I can only quiver in fear as I consider what single-parent families go through on the daily. I’ll just go ahead and amend the statement I made earlier and say this: yeah, being a working parent is tough, but being a single working parent is way tougher, and I commend you! Way to kick ass!
Since I’m calling this the Real Sarah C. Experiment, why don’t we get real? Ok, here it goes:
Yeah, I know. That’s fuckin’ gross. I’m sorry.
That’s my left thumb. And I did that to myself. And it’s not just one poor digit, either. All the fingers on both my hands look like that.
Because I am one sick puppy.
My nail biting habit began innocently enough as a kid. I was high-strung and anxious and, well, my mom bit her nails, so I probably learned it from her. (From you! I learned it from watching you!) But since my anxiety was likely linked to the stress in my household, as things on the home front got worse, I internalized them more and acted out accordingly. I found that after biting my nails down to the quick, I could really get in there and tear out those rough skin tags with some stainless steel tweezers and nail clippers. And hey, if you’re going to do that to your fingernails, your toes could probably use some grooming, too. And since we’re quickly developing an obsessive compulsion to smooth out everything on our body, let’s start nibbling those pesky tastebuds off of our tongue because, ew, gross bumps.
By the time I was twelve and my parents were going through an ugly divorce, I could spend an hour each night in the mirror, biting my tongue and watching the blood and saliva drip from my mouth. If I found a rough edge on one of my fingers or toes, I’d spend another hour clipping, tearing, and biting until I was satisfied that there was no more work to be done. It was like shoving bamboo shoots up my own nails, a form of torture I’m pretty sure is only used by really bad people.
For all intents and purposes, I had gone from a nail biting habit to an eating-myself-alive habit, and to my eternal shame, it continues to this day.
I don’t even know that it’s still stress related, really, because nothing really seems to catapult me into these actions. I’m compelled to tear at myself for reasons that I can’t track down or source out, and I really don’t want to hurt myself, but I just can’t help it. It’s usually when I’m not occupied with a task that I find myself going for my implements of torture, because idle hands and all that. So I try to distract myself, keep my hands busy, but the need overwhelms my sense. I’ve tried a number of different preventative measures over the years — my grandmother’s favorite was Apple Bitter, that stuff that they use on dogs, on my fingertips. She also tried to bribe me with money, but that didn’t work either. When I was a teenager, I started using press-on nails, which served a dual function of keeping me from biting and making my hands look less nasty. I was a smoker for a while, which refocused my oral fixation on something other than my own tongue, but in the end, was a much more harmful alternative. These days, I do what I can, but I’m unsuccessful a lot of the time. Mostly, I just let myself go, and then wonder why I’m punishing myself this way.
Bringing other people into my little rituals helps, if only to shine a light my nonsense. There’s nothing like a look of disgust and incredulity from someone you respect to snap you out of a self-harming behavior. William is especially really good at redirection — he doesn’t preach or make me feel ashamed. He just reaches over and takes my hand and asks me to stop hurting myself. I can’t really say no to that kind of sincerity. Truthfully, it comes down to having a witness to my behavior that gets me to stop, think, and reassess. My hanai mom, Susan, and I were just talking about this the other day: an obsessive compulsive knows that their rituals are nonsensical and potentially harmful, and will likely keep them hidden from other people in order to protect their sanctity. An important step toward healing, then, is to make the ritual known to others who can, not police your behavior, but make you aware of it. I guess I’m testing that theory now by making the whole damn world (well, anyone who is listening) a witness to my illness. Let’s see how that pans out, shall we?
In a recent post on Street Leverage (available here for your reading pleasure), Darren Byrne describes the “Unwritten Rule” of sign language interpreters: one should not correct, impugn, or otherwise question the working interpreter’s translation, even if it is gruesomely apparent that the translation is “not working”. Mr. Byrne goes on to compare “fake interpreters”, like the one that recently made such a splash at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, to qualified (read: credentialed) interpreters who struggle to understand and be understood by the Deaf. He writes that the betrayal of the community by the qualified interpreter is more damaging than that of the fake interpreter because they are a member of the Deaf community, a hearing person allowed access to an exclusive world. In detailing his experiences as an audience member during an interpreted event, Mr. Byrne describes his feelings of trepidation (should I intervene to clarify the message or just grit my teeth and bear it?) and discomfort (here I am, an interpreter and a hearing person, and I know the working interpreter is dropping the ball). Ultimately, Darren comes to the conclusion that it is time to rewrite the “unwritten rule”: if you, as a qualified interpreter, witness one of your working colleagues failing to accurately interpret the message, step up and say something.
This post really made me think. I am not a particularly seasoned interpreter, having only been working for four years or so, but even as a student interpreter, I experienced that uncomfortable (and sometimes smug) feeling of witnessing a working interpreter fumble the message while in the hot seat. Sometimes I could sympathize (Man, that seemed like a really difficult segment to translate). Sometimes, I felt superior (Ha! I totally understood what they were saying — if that yahoo can get certified, I’ll have no problem!). Most of the time, though, I wasn’t even paying attention to the interpreter, since I know sign language and I can get the information first-hand, no need for translation. That being said, I think that the suggestion that non-working interpreters are obligated to interject when they witness a failed translation is a dangerous one, for several reasons.
First, who hasn’t been where that interpreter now sits? You can be the most credentialed, qualified, native-like signer in the world and still get it wrong sometimes. Who am I to judge, sitting in the audience, observing the process from afar? I’m not in the hot-seat, sweating bullets trying to keep up with a signer who, maybe, isn’t from my region, isn’t a great public speaker, isn’t an accurate fingerspeller — whatever. There are a lot of external reasons an interpretation might fail, and many internal reasons, too. We are human, after all, and in any profession, you get people on the job who are having an off-day. Luckily, for sign language interpreters, most jobs aren’t life and death — no one’s going to die or go to jail because I missed that segment and have to go back to ask for clarification (parenthetically, it should be noted that I do not interpret in judicial settings or in emergency rooms). If, at the end of the day, I can say to myself, “I did the best I possibly could to faithfully represent the message, and took responsiblity for any misconceptions,” then I can sleep that night. I think we should extend that professional courtesy to our fellow interpreters and stop coming down on one another for the thing that we all fear most: that we are simply not good enough.
Interpreting is a very cliquish profession. We all have our little groups: people I like to team with, people I refuse to team with, people that don’t like to team at all; interpreters I’ll hang out with socially, interpreters that I will hide from when I see them in the supermarket; CODAs, SODAs, PODAs, and people who just stumbled upon ASL and fell in love. We don’t always love one another with the kind of solidarity and compassion that minority groups are known for. Instead, we quietly judge one another, critique each other’s performances, and measure our own work against that of our colleagues. It’s hardly an environment conducive to solidarity. And I can imagine no better way to further segment our community than by standing up in the middle of a lecture or other public arena to correct the working interpreter’s interpretation. That poor interpreter, regardless of how much or how little they have been trying to successfully translate the message, will be mortified (and if he or she is anything like me, completely emotionally wrecked forever) and will lose trust in their community and in their peers. Their is no professional respect or courtesy in an action like that.
I understand that as interpreters we wear many hats. We are cultural liaisons, mediators, mentors, educators, and advocates. Sometimes there is a conflict of interest between those roles. After all, how to I responsibly advocate for my Deaf friend and colleague when I see that his message is being skewed by another interpreter — an interpreter who is also my colleague, and therefore also deserves my courtesy and respect? I believe there is a more gentle approach to take, and maybe some need for manners. For example, what’s to stop you from putting the power back where it belongs — into the hands of the Deaf individual? You could easily approach your Deaf colleague and let them know that you understood their message differently from the way it was represented by the working interpreter. Empower them to take it from there. It is something much different, after all, to receive criticism from the Deaf consumer than it is from another interpreter. In my mind, the Deaf consumer is not trying to condemn me or my skills, they just want to understand and be understood, and that is my job as the working interpreter. As such, I will gladly make any necessary adjustments in order to accommodate their needs.
One could also choose to politely hold their comments or critiques until there is a break and then approach the working interpreter to discuss their linguistic choices. Again, this is a difficult scenario to turn into a win-win situation, but maybe if we handled one another with kid gloves, we could give and receive feedback without coming across as pedantic or becoming defensive. If, for example, you approached during a break to commiserate with the working interpreter (“Oh, wow, I got to hand it to you — there were some tough concepts being thrown around there…”), the working interpreter may feel safe enough to open up about their struggles with the message (if they feel they had any). The working interpreter might even feel relieved — “No need to try and cover my tracks today. I can admit that I was struggling with the message, discuss it with another qualified interpreter, and maybe add a few more linguistic tools to my toolbox.” This fosters a culture of openness and acceptance among interpreters, where we can learn from each other and benefit from one another’s experience. If they don’t open up, well, then, at least you tried. Some people can’t or won’t take constructive criticism, and that is an entirely separate issue in the interpreting profession. Either way, this is certainly more appropriate that ripping the interpretation out of the working interpreter’s hands in the middle of a lecture.
Finally, to address Mr. Byrne’s initial feelings of “it isn’t my job to correct the working interpreter, but gosh, if I don’t then who will?” let me say this: you are exactly right. It is not your job as an audience member who happens to know sign language and happens to be an interpreter to interject if the working interpreter is failing to represent the message accurately. That is a job for the team. That is one of the primary reasons that we have a standard of team interpreting in our industry — two heads are better than one, and all that jazz. Two interpreters (or more) means that you have two minds working to translate the same message, represent it conceptually and accurately, and deliver it successfully. Hopefully, you get to work with a team who is not only receptive to constructive criticism, but who knows how to provide it, and who doesn’t spend their time in the off-seat zoning out or picking their nose (that, too, is a whole ‘nother issue in interpreting). In the ideal team situation, the on-interpreter can turn to his or her team for a feed when they miss something or quickly receive and deliver a correction if they initially got the message wrong. This eliminates the need for comments from the peanut gallery.
In the grand scheme of things, sign language interpreting is a fairly new profession, and one that is still struggling to garner recognition and respect outside of the Deaf community. Sniping at one another fails to add credence to our profession and devalues the work that we do as a whole. You don’t have to agree with your colleagues, but it helps if you treat them the way that you want to be treated (good advice for anyone in any walk of life, really). And I don’t think that Darren Byrne or any other interpreter, no matter how brilliant or skilled, would appreciate being called out as a failure in front our their friends, coworkers, and community members. Live and let live, and be good to one another, y’all. It’s the only way we’ll be able to make it to the next level.
First day back to work after eight weeks of maternity leave. Allow me now to say something really unpopular. Not for the easily offended. Seriously, if you fall into that “righteous indignation” category, just look away. Ready? Here it goes: Being a stay-at-home parent? Much easier than being a parent that also works full time. There, I said it!
And here’s why: I know that being a stay-at-home parent is not easy. Being someone’s full-time primary caregiver is grueling work, no matter how you cut it. But being a working parent is harder (in many cases) because not only are you responsible for all of the same things that the stay-at-home parent is, but you also have to be a five-day-a-week road warrior and an office-maven. It ain’t easy, y’all. Maybe it would be easier if I hated my job. Then I could just blame my job and be like, “Stupid, lame job! I hate you!” and not feel bad about not wanting to do it. Alas, this isn’t the case. I love my work and find it very fulfilling. I wish I could do both at the same time.
Instead, I spent most of my day adjusting to my new surroundings, unpacking my office, and catching up on my clients. My company moved into a new space while I was gone, and while the new place is awesome, it came with some less welcome changes. For example: my new PC came with a wireless mouse. A wireless mouse that does not ‘mouse’. I think my productivity does a sharp nosedive when I have to spend five minutes every half-hour shaking, cajoling, and doing voodoo over this infernal device in order to click things on my computer screen. Yes, Mr. Wireless Mouse, you are a pretty slate color. Very sleek. But give me my ol’ Logitek roller-ball mouse any day — that bugger actually plugs into the CPU, so I know when it’s connected. Another new addition to my office: a high-tech phone system. Guys, I had a hard enough time with the old fashioned model — the one with twenty buttons and algebraic button combinations to unlock tasks like transferring calls and forwarding to voice mail. How does a touch screen, LCD version with 50 buttons improve that scenario? I’m not even going to try answering the phone today. Forget it.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad day, aside from missing my girl. I was not prepared for how difficult the transition back into the work force was going to be. Moira and I had a good cry over it last night… well, she cried over gas in her tummy, and I cried over going back to work. At least we were crying together.
My anxiety has been slowly building for weeks, but started to manifest as fits of mania in the last 14 days or so. Mania can be great for the stay-at-home parent, by the way. Man, does the house get clean n’ sparkly when you’re dancing around like the Keebler elf. Less fun, though, is when mania manifests as anger or rage because… well, shit happens. Even less fun than that are the crippling lows that follow periods of mania. The cost of which is too high to pay when you have a little person to look after. Thankfully, it’s easy to put that burden down when Moira is in my arms. In a quiet office, though, with few distractions and even fewer babies, it is much easier to ramble down that dark pathway in my mind that dead ends in a great, creeping void. That is a country I am never eager to visit. I feel blessed, though, that after wandering through that desert all day, I came home to a child — the balm for my soul. There is such peace in her presence. Too bad it can’t be bottled and administered throughout the long day.
Allow me to personally set the women’s liberation movement back 60 years: I totally want to be a stay-at-home mom. Call me the anti-feminist, say I’m being prosaic, whatever. Because if I had said “I want to be a career woman and never have children” I’d receive the same amount of criticism. Not that much has changed since women came out of the kitchen, it just that now we have more than one unfair archetype to compete with. I had this thought at our recent holiday party. Nicole was so excited to receive a Kitchen Aid mixer for Christmas (And why shouldn’t she be? That thing is the kitchen gadget to end all gadgets.) but upon expressing her elation, she immediately became apologetic: “I know that sounds very un-feminist of me.” But why should she, or anyone else for that matter, feel ashamed of being “un-feminist”?
Women’s lib has done a great deal for the fairer sex, and I’m grateful. I like that I get to vote and have (ostensibly) the same earning and career potential as a man, but in the last fifty years since societal expectations for women shifted away from the home, a new prejudice has taken root. Now, it’s not only career women who are criticized for their ambition, but home makers, too. A woman with a family who holds down a full-time job is just as likely to have her motivations questioned as the woman who chooses to stay home with her children. Not to mention the side-long glances that women get if they decide not to have a family at all.
In my experience, having gone to college, gotten married, and started a career before starting a family (cheekily termed the “right way” of doing things), I’ve run into every passive judgment out there: “Oh, so, you’re not going to graduate school right after you get your BA?” “Wow, you got married young.” “You better hurry up and make some babies!” Oy vey. This is, in fact, a very popular trope in movies, TV, and books: the working mother, the stay at home mother, and the I-don’t-want-to-be-a-mother. The maiden, mother, and crone of our generation. In the movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It”, the class lines are fairly well drawn: you are a working parent struggling to keep up or you are career mommy, spending your days either at the gym or barefoot in the kitchen. As Sarah Jessica Parker’s character tries with dubious success to be everything for everyone, the viewer realizes that this is what society wants — a successful career person, who never misses a play date or soccer game. She keeps a functional and beautiful home, and makes sure her man is satisfied, all the while mastering the art of French cooking. But, no pressure.
We also laughed lovingly as Sex and the City’s Miranda made the awkward transition from career powerhouse to fumbling single parent. The coworkers at her firm sneered when she made her son a priority, while her housekeeper shook her head in disappointment when Miranda had to tend to work obligations. Moms just can’t win.
I still remember the look of utter disdain my senior advisor gave me after I told her I was getting married after graduation, a look that clearly said, “another smart woman lost to girlhood fantasy.” She actually seemed a little offended that I had decided to put graduate school on the back burner (a decision that had nothing to do with getting married and everything to do with a serious case of senioritis), as if it were her potential I was wasting and not my own. In telling her the truth about my decision, I hadn’t given her an answer that she wanted nor one that she respected. Neither did I answer satisfactorily when asked by my family how I feel about going back to work now that my daughter is 7 weeks old. I was honest: “It sucks, and I’m depressed about it because I already know that I’m going to miss her. I wish I were able to stay home with her full time.” The sort of half-smiles and indulgent glances I got after that admission made me feel like I was lacking the proper enthusiasm. Might they have been happier with “No, no, I’m not sad to leave my child in the care of others! I am thrilled to go back into the work force and make lots and lots of sweet, sweet money! Pass the seared baby seal.” Because it is, for many, about money — if women want equal treatment, they should be equally financially responsible, not dependent on their husbands to pay all the bills. For me, if the world was perfect, I’d go back to work part-time — you see, wanting more time with my child is not a ploy to avoid the work force or shirk my financial responsibility. Yeah, I’d love to be a stay-at-home mom, but the pay is terrible.
My husband is sympathetic to my plight, but alas, doesn’t really understand. (He, after all, didn’t become a mother when our child was born: see this blog post.) When I first admitted how increasingly despondent I was feeling as the date of my return to work loomed, he chuckled, “Yeah, if I had had two months off of work, I wouldn’t want to go back either.” But that really isn’t it. This isn’t like the kicking-and-screaming tantrum you once had as summer vacation ran out and you were once again relegated to the toiling primary school masses. Becoming a child’s primary caregiver is not an easy occupation. We all know there’s a great deal of work involved — unpleasant, dirty, smelly, frustrating, back-breaking work — so clearly, it’s not a lack of work ethic that I’m talking about here. It is a change in attitude, a shift in my passions, a new calling. Some where along the way, I woke up and I was Moira’s mom, and no one is going to do that job better than me.
I made this perfect little person, carried her in my womb for nine months, gave birth to her, and have spent the last eight weeks devoted to her every need and desire. And now I’m expected to just hand her off to someone else and trust that they will do as good a job as I would do. And I’m one of the lucky ones — I am blessed to not be a single parent, as many working parents are, and my daughter isn’t going to day care with a stranger, she’s going to be either with her father or with a family friend while I’m working. This ought to alleviate some of my anxiety, but it doesn’t. There are 168 hours in a week and I will be away from my child for nearly a third of that time. That’s not a vacation from parenthood, as some may suggest. That’s torture.
Very few people understand why a successful, educated person would want to stay home to raise their children. Won’t you miss adult conversations? Don’t you want to do more in life? You mean, more than nurture and educate my kids? I achieved a lot in my early twenties and I’m proud of those accomplishments. But there is more pride in seeing my baby girl smile up at me in joy than in any academic commendation or career accolade.
Admittedly, this isn’t the case for all mothers. Among the Widows, there’s a pretty even divide amongst the moms that work in the work place and the moms that work in the home. And as is often the case, we sometimes want what the other has. Lady M, for instance, had her first baby in the middle of her college career, and now with number two on the way, sometimes wishes she could focus on her education and her career rather than mommyhood. Still others have confided in me that they were relieved to get back to work after their babies were born, as the din of the office became a haven for some much needed quiet. To each their own — I’m not here to judge. I wish we could all say that, but as I mentioned before, when it comes to the motherhood versus career-woman dichotomy, everybody has an opinion, even if they’re not aware of it. From my professor who wrote me off after I married, to the kept women that sneer at a mom trying to balance home and work obligations, we all seem to lack insight.
As I type this one-handed on my iPad with my daughter asleep on my chest, I am dreadfully aware of how many moments like this one will soon slip from my grasp. Some women struggle because they want to discover who they are outside of motherhood. I am struggling because I want the opportunity to discover who I am within it. And in the end, whatever you choose, or whatever you have to do, we should respect each other for the obstacles inherent to the path we have chosen. Mothers can only overcome the Good Mother, Better Woman archetype if we support each other. (Except those mean, holier-than-thou types. They just suck.)