I love Meg Wolitzer. Her books are just smart enough and just engaging enough to make for perfect summer reading. She writes women’s lives incredibly well.
The Ten-Year Nap published in 2008, follows five women friends, four of whom live in Manhattan and have ten-year-olds in the same private school. Again, each chapter assumes the voice of a different character. This book speaks very specifically to my situation (i.e., “stay-at-home” mother of a ten year old). All of these women, like myself, were raised to believe that they could and would have a fulfilling career alongside a blissful and vibrant family life.
You see where this is going.
Each of the main characters in the book ends up at home with the kids. Some happily gave up their careers, others less so. And now after ten years of living exclusively as parents, they are ready to move on.
But it’s difficult. It’s a whole 383-page book’s worth of difficult.
"You stayed around your children as long as you could, inhaling the ambient gold shavings of their childhood, and at the last minute you tried to see them off into life and hoped that the little piece of time you’d given them was enough to prevent them from one day feeling lonely and afraid and hopeless. You wouldn’t know the outcome for a long time."
This book resonates with my own situation and reading it brought me to the surface of my own ten-year-old memories about trying to make that life/work decision: do I stay or do I go now? Keep working or devote the lion’s share of my time to raising children? Every new mother goes through this. It’s complicated.
I was well on my way to a PhD in chemistry when I got pregnant for the first time. Just typing that feels so weird and foreign to me now. For better or for worse that life is irretrievably lost.
I worked right up until my due date and I had every intention of returning six weeks after the baby was born. My husband and I had already been married eight years. We would be a one-child family, and that child would fit seamlessly into our well-established lifestyle.
Are you freaking kidding me?
If I had gone back to work after six weeks, who knows, maybe the whole thing would have played out as planned. But my return to work date coincided with start of the academic summer. I’d had a difficult post-partum situation, so I decided to wait until the fall to return to the lab.
Of course by then I had fallen head over heels for the baby, and she had gotten used to having me around. My first weeks back to work and school, she cried all day at her daycare and I cried every second of my hour commute, both ways. That, my friends, is prodigious misery.
By the time I got to work on the morning of 9/11 the first tower had been hit. After I came out of my first meeting of the day (why were we having meetings?) both towers were down. I flew out of the lab, didn’t tell anyone I was leaving, and drove directly to my daughter. That was the beginning of the end.
I tried to work part time for a while, bringing my baby with me and nursing her on the fly while teaching three sections of Astronomy Lab to keep my grant money. But my thesis advisor went cold on me, and I eventually, somewhat reluctantly, gave up. The whole thing felt like way too much.
Very much like the characters in Ten-Year Nap, I never planned to be a full time parent of three children. That was never on my radar. And nor was it on theirs.
The women in this book meet every morning after dropping their children at school in a local coffee shop and they talk. The haze of parenting small children is starting to lift and they are making small forays back into their work lives. Though I didn’t feel any particular kinship with these ladies on a personal level (I am not the sort of person to sit around chatting in coffee shops about developmental milestones and family vacations, though I have, oddly, made a mini-career out of writing about these things), I totally understood the broad circumstances of their lives.
The book is a perfect summer read. It’s not too deep and not too difficult to follow. It’s just smart enough to keep your attention because the characters stay with you. I enjoyed my time with them and I wish them well, which is the best thing you can hope for sitting on the sand at the beach with a book.