Labor Day started not as the day that the country breathes a collective sigh of relief as white jeans (aka, the bane of all launderers) and white shoes (aka, the hallmark of the ultra cheesy and/or the ultra chic) get stashed away for another year, but as a celebration of the labor movement in America. That the economic and social significance of the day has been lost in the sauce — ketchup, mustard, and mayo — isn’t surprising. With unemployment hovering a touch over 8%, it’s hard to imagine an esprit de corps, never mind how cute we all looked way back when, wearing our Esprit shorts on that last day of summer.
Times have changed, but the opportunities borne of hard work that America has always afforded actually haven’t — and I know that not from trite political ads, but from real life.
This past weekend I went to a party thrown by friends who embody the American dream. They came here a decade ago, leaving behind everything and everyone they knew and loved. While the husband worked his way up in business, the wife adapted to our totally foreign lifestyle, up to and including our society’s ridiculous idea that moms should do everything by themselves. Where she’s from, the government subsidizes childcare — not just for working mothers, but for all moms because… (insert incredulous gasp here)… being at home is hard work, too!
Their beautiful new house is a stunning testament to what can still be achieved here in the good ol’ U-S-of-A. The industry where the husband made his mark is video games, which gives me renewed faith that the hours my son spends playing Minecraft is time well spent. (Just kidding! But not really — a day without a justification is like a day without a Trader Joe’s 100-calorie dark chocolate bar)
Also in the house was a friend who’s lost over 40 pounds, another in the process of reinventing himself, and a ton of entrepreneurs, both men and women. Somewhere crotchety old people may gripe about how American get up and go has got up and went, but I don’t see it. I see a time when opportunity is elusive, business models are changing, personal goals are lofty, and nobody I know is resting on their laurels.
Hard work clearly pays off, but how much has a lot to do with the spirit in which it’s undertaken. For example, when I gave birth to my son, I went at it in complete fear and dread. Lamaze did nothing for me; all I remembered from class was a bloody, graphic video where the best line of the movie was uttered by a heaving, contraction-laden woman with a heavy Boston accent — “I prob’ly shouldnta had that steak ’n cheese sub.” And then she presented ample evidence why every pregnant woman should snack lightly and fully vegan, if possible.
That first labor, I screamed for the epidural when I was just 3 centimeters dilated, and proceeded to hold my breath while I pushed until I passed out. Seven hours later, my son emerged, but I was too spent to do anything but give the kid a weak smile. Although his conehead was adorable like Danny Aykroyd’s, Jane Curtain’s, and Laraine Newman’s in the classic SNL sketch, I couldn’t help feel I’d let my son down by allowing fear to trump euphoria, labor to feel like, well, work.
Ten months later, when I was pregnant once again, I vowed to have a much different experience the second time around. Lucky for me, my BBF was becoming a child birth educator, and she had just the trick to help me achieve my ultimate goal. She handed me an ice cube and instructed me to clutch it hard. No breathing allowed — I was to clamp down on it no matter how difficult it became, how much it hurt. I dropped the sucker in about ten seconds flat. Next, she told me to relax, think about how easy holding the ice cube could be, and breathe. No fancy breath necessary; just deeply and slowly. A minute later, and I realized that I could do this, as long as I didn’t panic about the outcome and remembered to exhale.
Thanks to my ice cube conditioning, Baby #2 came out quickly and easily. Of course there was some muscle memory (which is a nice way of saying my lady bits were already stretched out), but I did relax and breathe. When the doctor said, “9 centimeters!” I couldn’t believe I was about to have my daughter naturally! Then she added, “Take a deep breath, I’m just going to flip your cervix over the baby’s head.” (Note to OB’s: NEVER mention flipping anything, never mind a critical part of the female anatomy, during delivery). So I didn’t make it all the way without some pain relief, but I was close.
Close enough to be able to fully appreciate labor and giving birth for what it is: a profoundly moving experience.
Back to my friends’ party, where the most amazing thing happened. Halfway through the night, I met a guy who’s a composer and musician. He admitted that he used to toil in secret, in the cracks of the day around working his “real” job. But then he read my blog post that urged people to think about what they are and say it out loud — I Know You Are, But What Am I? — and decided to start saying strongly and affirmatively that his true life’s work is music. He is fueled by excitement and the love of what he labors for, and that makes all the difference.
While I was thrilled for him, it was the first time I’d met a Bitch’in Suburbia blog reader that I didn’t personally know, and moreoever he took something meaningful away from what I’d written. This is what I’ve been dreaming about since I launched this blog, which demands daily commitment and yes, hard work. Seeing my labor bear fruit filled me equally with joy and gratitude, and regardless of the fact there’s not yet a Bitch’in paycheck, I’m already feeling richly rewarded for what I do.
So if you see me nodding off in a hammock this Labor Day weekend, just know that even in my dreams, I’m still workin’ it. Hope you are, too!