The good & bad of Hepcat’s job

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Break out the Proseco! Hepcat’s got a full-time job with a computer start-up in Manhattan. And Smartmom could really use a drink, because she’s still reeling from the changes this has brought to her household.

Not that she minds having him out of the house during the day. For the past three years — since his job at the Huge Computer Giant was outsourced to a software company in New Delhi — Hepcat’s been working from home as a freelance photographer.

Luckily, Smartmom has an office in The Montauk Club. Otherwise they would have ended up not speaking to each other (except at couple’s therapy).

Well, Hepcat took up a lot of space both physically and psychologically when he set up his digital photography studio —complete with computers, printers, scanners, cameras, backdrops, strobe lights, and stacks and stacks of computer and photography magazines — in the living room.

Hepcat would get very agitated if anyone sat near the $9,000 digital camera he left out on the green leather couch, or if Smartmom so much as touched one of the prints temporarily drying on the Noguchi coffee table.

To say that there was some territorial strife would be a vast understatement. But Smartmom endured it because she supported Hepcat’s professional dreams and she knew that he was making some gorgeous pictures. (Smartmom loves artistic men, especially those who cook — and Hepcat sure can cook.)

Clearly, having him around was an Excel spreadsheet of pluses and minuses. Back when he worked for the Huge Computer Giant, Hepcat was stuck in his Gaphattan cubicle around the clock. He missed his wife and kids, and he missed having a job with healthy boundaries. Meanwhile, Smartmom had put her career on hold to do the Mommy Dance — and was not enjoying herself very much.

Well, all that changed when Hepcat was outsourced. Now he was home 24/7 and finally able to take part in all aspects of the domestic life of the family, including Food Coop shops, drop-offs and pick-ups at PS 321, and frequent trips to Staples for the tri-fold presentation board needed for Teen Spirit’s science projects. He was even willing to police his son’s nightly attempts to feign complete ignorance of homework assignments.

In other words, Hepcat became a viable co-parent. Even in Park Slope, that’s a somewhat utopian thing. Most of the dads around here work in Gaphattan and don’t get home until after 7 pm. Some are rarely (if ever) seen at school or on the Avenue — Smartmom calls them Mystery Dads. Many of her friends complain that they too feel like single parents during the week.

For a neighborhood that professes to be so politically progressive, Park Slope’s got a long way to go, baby. Most families are fairly traditional when it comes to the work/family balance. While it’s not suburbia 1963, there is more traditional gender role-playing than anyone wants to admit.

During the week, Tall and Lanky’s husband, a bond trader, is simply never around. He leaves the house at 6 am, goes to the gym and works until the wee hours. Mrs. Kravitz’s husband sometimes sleeps overnight at his busy Web design firm when he’s on deadline, leaving her at home to wrangle her brood of two.

Smartmom knows that having Hepcat around for the last three years was a gift to her family — even if he can never remember OSFO’s teachers’ names or which day Teen Spirit has his bass lessons. And it was a financial disaster. But who needs a savings account anyway? The benefits in terms of shared family time and the sense that both parents were actively involved in the daily life of their children was huge.

So when the job offer at the Start Up fell on Hepcat’s head, he was a tad ambivalent at first. “What, is he crazy?” Diaper Diva yelped. “Of course he should accept the job. How else will you ever afford to buy a house in … South Sunset Park?”

But for Smartmom and Hepcat, it wasn’t that simple. Hepcat had spent three years establishing himself as a freelance photographer with a growing list of clients and a drop-dead portfolio. He’d also grown used to the after drop-off latte at ConnMuffCo, sushi lunch specials at Yamato, and some of the other perks of working freelance in Park Slope (if you can afford it).

But the health benefits, 401-K, stock options and paid vacation time won out. Smartmom and Hepcat may be artsy, but they’re not stupid. (Teen Spirit will be off to college in three years — if he graduates from high school, that is). And living in nouvelle Park Slope, Smartmom and Hepcat both need to make substantial amounts of money to afford even their modest lifestyle.

Now that Hepcat is working, Smartmom has her living room back. She can come home in the middle of the day and not worry about distracting Hepcat. But she also misses calling him on her way home and hearing him say, “Wait’ll you taste what I made for dinner.”
The kids miss him, too.

And Hepcat liked working in the quiet apartment (quiet, that is, before 3:30), came to appreciate chatting up the moms at dismissal and even enjoyed picking up the free range boneless chicken thighs at the Food Coop.

But that was then, this is now. Here in the People’s Republic of Park Slope, Hepcat and Smartmom are living the traditional “Father Knows Best” lifestyle (“Teen Spirit, get daddy his slippers...”) for health benefits. This was a couple that said it was going to be different — a feminist household with two professional artists at the helm.

But you don’t have to be an artist or a rocket scientist to know how hard that is to pull that off. So now with Hepcat back working 9 to 5 (actually more like 9 to 7) in the city, Smartmom is back to wearing all the hats — freelance bread earner, cook, domestic diva, nurturer-in-chief, nurse, social secretary, homework cop, kids’ shoe shopper, after-school car service, birthday party planner...

What year is this again?

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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