Because what my class of mothers consumes most is education. We know how precarious our world is, and how easily our children can fall out of it. We see the invisible line down the middle of the street that separates the good school district from the bad. We see the line that separates our Prius, hovering silently at the crosswalk, from the corner, where 50 lower-middle-class children wait for the bus. We see, at our Creative meetings, the line that separates state-college folk from Ivy alums. Clearly, the solutions for overwhelmed working mothers include either moving in with some kid-loving older relatives (but they’re Republicans! from Ohio!) or kicking it 1950s style by just letting their kids play with the other kids on the block. In my part of Los Angeles, this means going over to the Mexican-gardener neighbor’s house and jumping on an illegal trampoline with 11 children, five chihuahuas, and three chickens, as we did often enough when my kids were toddlers. But the gardener’s children were English learners, who would gradually (I was told) leach the vocabulary from my English-speaking children—and then my daughters would never test gifted, never have academically motivated peers, never get into the good college-prep classes …
So, like other Creative Class mothers in big cities, we band together with our fragile tribe of geographically remote, like-minded mothers (who, while friends, are also competitors for community resources—the last magnet application, spot No. 102 on the charter-school waiting list—resources of a dire, frightening scarcity never dreamed of in the 1950s). Weekends are a manic whirl of Kids’ Science Museums, Baby Mozart concerts, and laboriously educational “craft” days when, instead of dumping kids and going off for a 1950s-style hairdressing-and-martini break, mothers are expected to sit down and glue things with their children for seven and a half hours. (I remember decorating Easter eggs with the help of art-history books depicting glamorous Fabergé eggs. The refreshments, though, were still depressingly kid-focused—Domino’s pizza and juice boxes.) Today’s Professional Class mothers are expected to have, above all, the personalities—and the creative aspirations—of elementary-school teachers. But if you’re like me, you can’t compete with those seasoned professionals for whom child education is an enthusiastic vocation. My daughter Suzy’s kindergarten teacher, Lori, was the type all children fall desperately in love with. We are talking the high flutey voice, fluffy cotton-candy-like blond hair, pink glasses on a chain, hugs, rabbits, treats, prizes, songs, games, fun. (For God’s sake, I want a Lori!) Suzy devotedly made Lori love cards throughout the year (even for Mother’s Day), although truth be told, the next year, Suzy’s new mission was winning a sleepover with (and then leaving our family and simply moving in with) her first-grade teacher, Heather. And—yikes—it makes sense that kids bond so tightly with their teachers, as these are the women they spend their quality time with. I pick them up after four, when they’re collapsing into crankiness, and ferry them home—because what mothers do nowadays, most of all, is drive their children.
And for what? Why do we agonize? David Sedaris is one of the most successful writers of his generation, and his chain-smoking mother is known for drinking herself into a glaze and locking her five children out of the house on a snow day.
Which causes me to wonder gloomily: except as consumers and chauffeurs and anxious guardians of the middle class, why are mothers, today, needed at all?