View from the fray

On fertility

My daughter, 15, recently told me that she’s glad that we were “poor” when she was younger.

“I feel sorry for a lot of people who’ve always had enough money,” she said, “because they don’t have any good stories. That would be boring.”

My kids have stories. Like … remember when we lived in that cottage in McGill, Nev.? Musta been about 600 square feet for the seven of us. Since we didn’t have doors, we hung up long swaths of fabric that we bought at the Sprouse-Reitz store 11 miles away in the huge metropolis of Ely (elevation: 6,253 feet).

We were young. I was fertile. My husband had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in meteorology and joined the National Weather Service. That’s how we ended up in Ely with five kids under age 8 living on an intern’s salary.

We lived in a four-room house behind the derelict Victory Club in downtown McGill. Using a cardboard box for a kitchen table wasn’t a huge problem, nor was cramming five kids into one small bedroom. My kids remember trips to the McGill Pool (a mud hole separated from piles of mining tailings by some cyclone fence) and hikes to the Frosty Stand for the best burgers and ice cream cones we’d ever tasted. We enjoy these memories as much as oldsters revel in tales of how they made ends meet during the Great Depression.

I’ve been thinking about parenthood and poverty and Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s latest book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children. The book, recently featured in a Time magazine cover story, includes the astounding news that women have a biological clock—that fertility starts dropping at age 27—and that a number of women who thought they could have it all have found out they can’t. So what else is new? The common myth goes like this: Women pursue the hell out of their careers, then wake up and find they missed out on mommyhood.

I did it all backwards. I combined a decade of childbearing, diaper-changing, food stamps, breast-feeding, garage sale- shopping and nose-wiping with the painfully slow acquisition of a college degree. Then, when the kiddies were all safely (ACK! But that’s another column) off in public schools, I went hog wild. I went back to school full-time, earned a bachelor’s degree, embarked on a series of demanding jobs and then went back to college for my master’s degree.

Unlike many, many women who have a hard time finding an understanding boss, I’ve found employers willing to compromise at every turn. I’ve worked from home, and I’ve taken advantage of flexible schedules. This tends to increase my loyalty to my employer, which increases my productivity.

It’s also exhausting, so I can’t exactly recommend it to everyone.

On the upside, my teenagers can all cook, clean and do their own laundry. They can feed the pets and take out the trash. (They don’t actually do all of this, but they know how.) Even better, because I was a young mom, they’ve got plenty of complaints about their early childhoods.

"You’ll have plenty of fodder, then, for when you get a psychotherapist," I tell them. "But you can thank me for that later."