The XX Factor

The Worst Thing You Can Ask Tina Fey

What’s the worst thing you can ask Tina Fey, whose preschool-age daughter has just brought home a book with a giant cartoon witch on the cover called My Working Mom ?

“How do you juggle it all,” people constantly ask me, with an accusatory look in their eyes. “You’re screwing it all up, aren’t you?” their eyes say. My standard answer is that I have the same struggles as any working parent but with the good fortune to be working at my dream job. Or sometimes I just hand them a juicy red apple I’ve poisoned in my working-mother-witch-cauldron and fly away.

Click here, and you’ll be treated to a delicious abstract of Tina Fey’s “Confessions of a Juggler” from the current New Yorker . The abstract alone is fun to read:

PERSONAL HISTORY about the writer’s dilemmas as a working mother. … Science show[s] that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty. The baby-versus-work life questions keep the writer up at night. She has observed that women, at least in comedy, are labeled “crazy” after a certain age. The writer has the suspicion that the definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore. The fastest remedy for this “women are crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. That is why the writer feels obligated to stay in the business, and that is why she can’t possibly take time off for a second baby, unless she  does , in which case that is nobody’s business.

Although that third person rendering does add a nice touch of the mentally deranged to Fey’s words, the words themselves are well worth the price of admission (in this case, springing for the physical or digital edition of the magazine). I’m not ruining it for you when I say that you will never read a more accurate description of the 4 a.m. natterings of the sleepless working mother of an only child than Fey’s. (Key reason to have a another kid: “what if she turns on me? I am pretty hard to like. I need a backup.”) Or when I say that only Fey could tease out my full sympathy for her dilemma while at the same time copping to living the dream, and admitting that hers is a pretty nice problem to have.

Does the witchy working mother (“it’s hard having a working mom, especially when she enjoys her work”) abandon her cauldron to give her daughter the baby sister she wants, or does she sweep aside her guilt and ride out her career moment, cackling all the way? If Fey has an answer, she’s keeping it under her hat. But beyond the glamour and the specifics (and the witch jokes),  the one piece of useful advice Fey hears from inside her “anxious, stunted brain cloud” is one that might help every working mother put down whatever piece of guilt keeps her strung out at night. “Either way, everything will be fine.” Sounds about right for Fey. Let’s hope it works for the rest of us.

Photograph of Tina Fey by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.