One morning in the subway, a woman offers her seat. I politely refuse: she looks more exhausted than I am. She insists; I accept.
She introduces herself. Kate. We start chit-chatting. She looks slightly tense, but she has a friendly face, with a lipstick that’s way too red. She has a six month-old and a two year-old, so she says she knows exactly what kind of trouble I’m about to get into. She looks like she really needs to talk.
She is 42 years old, partner in a law firm. Capital market. I was a lawyer too. That makes us two common features. Two kids, lawyer. Kate is startled.
As most women in New York, Kate took six weeks off for each of her kids. She explains with a tense pride that since then, she has organised every aspect of her life. For example, a nanny comes in every day to prepare the dinner and set the table. Meanwhile, Kate gets to enjoy some time with her kids. She says “enjoy” like my parents said “go do your homework”.
She juggles between flights and business trips. She was in Chicago two days ago, she is about to take off again. She mentions her husband at this moment, shrugs. He is there for the kids while she’s away.
In the evening, when she comes back home, Kate gets to “enjoy” some time with her kids while the nanny is working in the background. Then she puts her babies to bed, and resumes working. She is sleeping on two hour-chunks, the baby still wakes up a lot. And no, she answers to my silent question, she won’t let him cry to sleep. It’s not even possible, Kate she is still breastfeeding. My face plunges into a visible “….????” She nods: everything is fine, she pumps in the office, and she freezes her milk before and during the business trips. Well, of course, she has to admit she is a bit sleep-deprived. And the eldest kid is a bit jealous (I understand “a nuisance”, but I think Kate wouldn’t put it that way).
In the morning, after her disastrous nights, Kate wakes up, puts on too much red lipstick, and goes back to work.
Obviously, Kate belongs to the category of women I should envy, not feel bad for. But she embodies so well the women I have gotten to know here, suffocating themselves through “do’s” and “dont’s” regarding babies and work, and control, that despite the ten years and probably hundreds of thousands of dollars between us, I feel like tapping her on the shoulder and telling her that it’s OK, you’re OK, just have one glass of wine, or maybe twenty, think about yourself for one second and don’t worry, you fucking rock.
We have arrived at Kate’s station. She puts her bag on her shoulder, puts her armour back on, and galops on the staircase.