Ok, tell me if you think this conversation was as innocent as it seemed at first, or as fraught as I started to think it was an hour or so later:
(K and S are sisters-in-law (of each other, not me) and are both science professors with kids five and under. We went to college together, and we see them about twice a year, including this weekend at the megaplayground.)
K: So is Ingrid in preschool now?
Me: Well, our day care is a lot like a preschool. We found that the schedule and cost of a regular preschool just don't work for us.
K: Oh, I know, they're really set up for families with an at-home parent. Our son had to get dropped off at day care, take the preschool bus to preschool, and carpool back to day care for the rest of the day.
Me: I hope someday our kids will look back on this as the dark ages of work-life balance. The system really isn't set up for the way our lives work these days.
S: I know—it's ridiculous! Schools expect you to volunteer three days a week! I just want to tell them, "I don't have time for that."
K: I volunteered at my son's kindergarten this year. I actually think it's kind of important. I didn't just sit there and stuff envelopes, though. I came in and did science projects.
Me: You're really lucky to have such a flexible schedule. So many working parents don't have that option.
S: [artfully changes the subject]
It was only afterward that I realized how haughty and critical my comment probably sounded (even though I used my innocent, wide-eyed tone), and even later that I realized K's comment kind of irritated me. And then all the unspoken stuff started to seep out. Do ya like how I took the ostensible moral high ground, while actually doing sort of a mommy drive by at the same time? Also, the class assumptions? The implications about what kind of work is worth one's time and what isn't? The assumption that someone else—perhaps a stay at home mom without any scientific skills—will stuff the envelopes? My weird double-consciousness as a part-time working mom with friends in both worlds?
Am I extra enlightened for noticing all this and feeling gross about them, or is all that negated by my grousing publicly about my friends' take on things?
Sheesh. No wonder I'm so exhausted after a weekend of doing nothing but chat.