BRONXVILLE, N.Y. — I'd been working on this theory, building up a head of steam like some old freight train. I was just about ready to start whining on paper about how working moms take advantage of the moms like me who choose to stay at home. How we, the stay-at-home - or leisure - moms, are in fact the village it takes to raise a child, especially the child of the working mom. We fill in for the field trips, we do the carpooling and last-minute pickups when someone gets stuck at the office. We are the glue that holds it all together.
I had all sorts of jokes to make, at the working mom's expense. I figured, hey, she has a job, she can afford a little ribbing. My stay-at-home-mom friends agreed with me, too. Clearly we two groups of women get along about as well as the Jets and the Sharks in "West Side Story."
Then Susan had to go and mess everything up.
Let me tell you a few things about my good friend Susan. To begin with, she's smart, funny, and she and her husband, Gene, are doing a first-rate job of raising a great kid.
Susan offered to take my kids to the mall with her daughter and buy them all dinner at the food court. She was going to the mall to buy a going-away present for a summer intern at her office. Yep, that's right, Susan is a working mom with a very big job at a very big company. So Susan was doing what most stay-home mothers do for each other - helping out another mom, unasked, without expectation of reciprocation.
She wasn't making a grand gesture, just a kind one that enabled me to sneak a little more writing time in my very nice but overcrowded day. Suddenly my high horse seemed like a pretty low pony.
There's a schism between moms who work and moms who don't. (Yeah, I know, we're all working mothers, but you know what I mean - the ones with paychecks versus the ones without.) And we've got to bridge that schism.
This sea change in me got me thinking about all the times some mothers who stay home still find time the opportunity impose on other stay-at-home moms like me, without giving it a thought.
Then I thought about all the juggler moms I know who somehow manage to get to their afternoon work meeting and still be on the bus for the morning field trip to the ballet - working moms who lie about where they are, risk their jobs, to be with their kids.
I've long been aware that the way the world works, women are made to feel they've made the wrong choice no matter what they do, or don't do. If you stay home, you're not fulfilling your potential (as if potential can only be filled in an office situation). If you work, you're missing out on raising your child. Well, some women have to work, and that's all there is to it.
I have very strong opinions about women staying home to be with their kids until they go to college. I see this as, if not my job, my commitment.
But Susan made me realize I'd forgotten something very important, even essential - that before we were moms, we were sisters; that women are supposed to support each other. That's what feminism is all about, supporting each others' choices even if we don't agree with them - and especially if we don't agree with them.
Obviously, I feel the best choice a woman can make is to stay home with her children. But that doesn't give me the right to be self-righteous. We often have to make choices of necessity - usually economic.
Many women would love to stay home with their kids, but can't because either they're single parents or they need two paychecks to make ends meet.
Many women don't want to stay home with their kids, and to be honest, those are the women I have a problem with. No one put a gun to their heads and said "Procreate!"
Somehow, someway, someday soon, we've got to learn to talk about the money. It divides the women who can afford to stay home with their children, and those who simply can't.
But there's another, more insidious, side to this cash-flow problem we're all in the throes of.
There's a money obsession gripping this country like an ill-fitting shoe (see "Survivor" or "Big Brother," or better yet, don't), that makes people think they need these overburdened, fast-track lives that often leave their children in the dust.
It's too easy to shrug it off by saying, it's the culture, as if one were referring to something that lurks over there somewhere.
People, I have seen The Culture, and it is us.
But maybe just the fact that Susan and I are such good friends, even though we're in different camps, as it were, is proof that things are not so grim.
If the Jets and the Sharks could learn to get along - and after all the dancing and rumbling, they leave the abandoned playground as friends, remember? - then maybe all of us moms can play nice too.
*Madora McKenzie Kibbe writes from an office in her home - which makes her a working stay-at-home mom.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society