A friend was in town the other day and we decided, with spring approaching, it was time to go get pedicures. I had to ask my mom where she would go since this is not a regular occurrence for me. We found the shop tucked into a half empty strip mall. It was clean and decorated like a spa retreat, which we both appreciated. The woman who was working on me was very friendly at first. She asked about my family and told me about hers. Turns out she is a year younger than me. She has a ten year old and a six year old. She mentioned that she went to high school in California but is originally from Vietnam. After a while and a couple lulls in conversation, she said that she lives in a town forty-five minutes away from the shop where she works. When I asked her if she works there full-time, she said, “Of course. More than full-time. 60 or more hours a week.” Later, she described her one day off, Sunday, as the day she cooks for the week and cleans her house without help, usually going to bed after 11 p.m. only to rise early the next morning to get her kids ready for school.
My privilege is that my partner and I have decided that I don’t have to work right now. I get to stay home with our son, care for him and myself day-to-day. When he naps, I can nap or write or read or watch t.v. S comes home from work and helps take care of M, helps with cleaning and laundry and taking care of the dog. While we don’t live a lavish lifestyle, we have been able to choose our current reality. Sometimes I get waves of panic that in a year this won’t be viable for us anymore. What happens if we have another child? I often think to myself. Then what?
But for now, we are ok. While parenting is really tough and also more than a full-time job, it is a very different reality than someone who has to work for a paycheck. The privilege for me is the option to choose. I wonder how my life, my choices, my opportunities would be different if I wasn’t white and had not been raised upper-middle class in the United States.
Talking about this sort of stuff is hard. It was hard to sit across from this woman (who works her ass off for what I am sure amounts to not nearly enough money) while she painted my toenails. It was uncomfortable to sit there, literally looking down on her from the pedicure perch. I have thought of her many times in the few days since we met and while I can’t change her reality, I can be honest about mine. I think that is at least a place to start.