In 1995, I made a lot of money. I made a lot of money every year for 10 years running, from my Georgetown graduation in 1985 as a litigator and a law professor. Then, in 1996 I gave birth to my third child. I’ve barely made a cent since. My husband, family and friends might fairly say, “She’s not worth a dime.”
But I beg to differ. I do deliver. I deliver tender.
Tender used to be real currency. There was Mrs. Borden who wrote newsletters for her church – I doubt she got a dime for it. But her church had a heck of newsletter and, as a kid, I noticed that writing for her community made Mrs. Borden very happy. Too, there was Miss Bates. She led my Girl Scout troop as an assistant but she was the center of my young focus. I had no idea as a junior scout what Miss Bates did for a living but I was certain her most important work in life was helping me through Emergency Preparedness Challenge. I have to mention Mrs. Rich, too. She gave everyone of us a huge hug and a Hershey bar when we showed up to read the Bible with her. There were a lot of these women in my life as a child and teen.
Something happened, though, after Betty Freidan wrote in 1973, “For women to have full identity and freedom, they must have economic independence.” (Feminine Mystique, p. 370). No one really noticed (except Erma Bombeck) that Ms. Freidan had a rather nasty, angry attitude and was unpleasant to be around. But Freidan’s call to the paycheck reverberated and, of a sudden, the payback of not being paid became devalued.
It was no good, we heard, to work without pay.
I got that. I pursued that. It made great sense to me and I pitted myself, chest to chest, with male peers. I beat a lot of them. Ha ha! I had a much bigger paycheck than Marc and Kent and (fill in the blank) for years. That was just swell. But not swell enough, it turns out.
I don’t discount the money women earn. Absolutely not. Many women today simply must earn money to support their children, subsidize family income and help failing parents. Many women today must earn money because the man their children call “Dad” doesn’t send a penny their way. It’s a serious reality and, in such cases, a paycheck in tradeable currency is nonnegotiable.
But there are some of us – I am one – whose earnings within the family became more critical to my measurement of self success, than actually necessary for family sustenance. One time, we used my annual bonus to design a deck we did not need and never built. Another year, my earnings went to scale up our vacation - but I remember the funny things the kids did, not the fluffy towels or room service.
Still, that paycheck said I was successful.
I knew the depth of this measurement that first year I did not make a bi-weekly deposit of hard dollars. That first year, when nothing was “Paid to the Order” of me, I suffered. I fantasized about the government paying mothers or the school giving salaries to Room Parents or winning a lottery. I considered opening a consulting business or consulting part-time as a legal researcher. I longed for my paycheck.
I felt demoted and devalued.
It took time for the payback of tender to kick in. One day, a young woman at my son’s preschool chirped, “How did you cut ‘911’ numbers out of American cheese? That was perfect for this week’s lesson in getting help with emergencies!” Another time I had time to leave a message for my 6 year old daughter at her school, “I have found Wiggles the Beanie Baby. Don’t worry. He’s resting after his night out by the swing set.”
Oh yes, I know. These are silly fleeting moments – like cartoons watched on a Saturday morning where Roadrunner gets flattened again. But, with time, I realized that what seemed frivolous and fleeting from the working world, built the foundation of family and memories that outlast and outshine my very best court case.
No one, another woman once pointed out to me, writes on her tombstone, “Great Lawyer and Trial Attorney”, but everyone would love to have “Loving Mother” or “Best Friend.”
I had a lot help transitioning from real money to tender. I read every word Erma Bombeck ever wrote. I talked to women who worked long, loving days for no pay. “These are teaching moments that call upon your head and heart,” one experienced mom explained. “There’s nothing more satisfying than the payback on caring for others.”
I’ve come a long way. It’s tender, though, and not a currency easily understood, especially today, when women are literally pummeled into a male model of measuring success, sometimes by their own spouse.
Here’s how that goes:
Me: “I am going to write for Catholic Womanhood, dear. It’s a new site at Catholic News Agency.”
Husband: “Oh great. What does that pay?”
Husband: “If it’s worthwhile, the market should pay something. Right?”
Me: “It does pay, honey. It pays tender. I promise to deposit every dime of it to your account.”
So I do – and we are, both of us, richer for it.