We were talking about our day in the kitchen last night, when my husband mentioned that it was Take your Child to Work Day, and a couple of his co-worker had brought a child along to work with them.
Interesting, I said.
I didn’t hear about the nationwide celebration of the day because I’d gotten up early, packed three children and three bags of accessories into my battered van, and headed out to the farm for a photo shoot which, for once, found me on the opposite side of the lens than usual. Instead of shooting I was shot, high on a wind swept ridge with my hair whipping in the wind. I was wearing a summer dress, vintage boots, great big earrings, an armful of bracelets, and a baby in a sling. The wind was cold and it was a long climb up that hill with three small children, a fashion photographer in tennis shoes, and a stylish magazine editor from the city, but the whole crew had more or less cheerfully followed me through mud and cow, pig, and chicken manure up the steep hill to take my picture where the ridge met the sky. It was too cold up there to take more than a few shots, but hopefully I’ll look halfway decent in the June Issue of Whirl Magazine.
I know the baby in the sling will look great. She always does. In fact, she’s a big part of the reason we were up there on that hill in the first place.
A couple weeks ago I strode into a meeting in a real magazine office downtown, complete with glossy covers on the wall, exposed brick, and fancy lighting. It was the perfect opportunity to do something I’ve always longed to do, which is wear pleather pants to a business meeting. I was also wearing a five month old baby, dressed for the occasion in a fetching vintage outfit. I tucked her into the sling, threw a glittering printed scarf over her, and sailed into the meeting wearing bright lipstick, smelling like French perfume… and nursing a baby.
I was lucky. They loved it. It was bold, it was interesting, it was different- a six foot tall woman in pleather pants wearing a baby and representing a farm? Perfect for their monthly Style File feature.
Taking your baby to a business meeting is definitely different- but with this baby, I’ve done it over and over. I could never have done this with my first, but this is a peaceful little one, and I’ve gained a much larger degree of competence and grace and confidence in my ability to care for a very small sleeping baby worn against me while having an important conversation, which is what meetings are for. That’s why I keep scheduling them. There are conversations to be had! Deals to be made! I have to be there in order for these things to happen, and my baby needs to be with me in order to have her needs met. I’m not taking a stand on an ideological level but trying to address a practical need for all concerned- and you know what? The short term presence of a smiling baby in an office generally brings delight.
So, weeks later, there we were, children and chicken manure and chill wind, shooting for the Style File. Finding something different, something edgy? Well, that’s fashion! So said the sweet Style Editor who cheerfully clambered through the muck holding the hand of my five year old. She also asked me some interesting questions after we’d begun to warm up, settled into a booth at the Sandwich Shop.
Who inspires your style? Who are your style icons?
It was a tough question for me, so I opened a book and showed her a picture that has been inspiring me lately.
I love this picture. I love it because the prints are fierce and the woman is strong and the child is sleeping. I love that there are mountains in the distance, because this is how I feel in my life right now. I feel like my broad shoulders are carrying my children forward in life on a great adventure, climbing towards distant mountains, visible on the horizon but not yet known.
I do not believe that work must be separated entirely from children, kept in a separate place where children can visit once a year. I do not believe that caring for my children is not work. I am disturbed at the nature of our current conception of work/life separation and what it means for women, and men, and children, and the greater society.
On a farm, and for most of human history, work and family life are intertwined. While of course some tasks are not appropriate for children, they are a part of the work life of the farm from an early age, and they provide valuable assistance and gain self respect as they begin working. Small children want to work! They want to do what their parents do, and especially as they grow, to exile them to a life devoid of exposure to anything but rigidly structured and enforced play is a disservice. This may simply mean allowing your child to help sweep the floor or fix a bike- or you can go whole hog, tie a baby on, put on your pleather pants, and head to a business meeting.
Taking children to work is inconvenient. It’s embarrassing, and it can be maddening- but I’m going to keep doing it, because it’s hugely rewarding and so important. There are mountains to climb!