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Jewish World Review March 30, 2004/ 8 Nissan, 5764

Suzanne Fields

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The return to the hive: queen bees and their unexpected choices | It's a truism of our trade that when the newsmagazines discover a trend, it's usually a trend well spent. But Time magazine might be on to something real, important and lasting.

The cover story makes "The case for staying home: Why more young moms are opting out of the rat race."

And many are. I see them in my neighborhood in Washington, bright, attractive young women getting together at mid-morning for coffee, pushing baby carriages with the morning newspaper or the latest book (and usually not a novel) tucked in with the baby's bottle and an extra diaper. When I eavesdrop on conversations, I discover they're talking about finance, politics, a movie, a new play or a gallery opening - as well as husbands and children. Stepford wives these women are not.

It's a phenomenon observed not only in anecdotal evidence; it's a phenomenon attracting both sociologist and statistician. The racks at Borders and Barnes and Noble overflow with new books about it, with facts full of import for the economists, the sociologists and particularly the politicians, who have barely digested what they think they know about soccer moms.

The younger moms most likely to drop out now, if dropping out is the right word for it, are white, over 30 and college-educated, just the women whom feminists imagined would never return to the kitchens, family rooms and bedrooms of their mothers - or their grandmothers.

These are, in fact, just the women most tempted to stay on the job, the women most likely to be missed. They're often middle managers, and occasionally even the managers closest to the top. By one professional survey, one in three women with master's degrees in business administration have left full-time employment to return to the hearth. The comparable figure for men is one in 20.

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"We are now the workaholic capital of the world, surpassing the Japanese," sociologist Arlie Hochschild tells Time magazine. What these women have learned is that in life on the cusp of the third millennium you can have it all, but you can't have it all at the same time - if by "all" we mean both high-octane career and the simpler pleasures of being there when young children are most unreasonable in their demand for Mommy's full-time attention.

So they're going home, with the intention of returning one day when the kids are older and demanding in a less constrictive way.

"Homemaking," scorned over these past three or four decades by the politically correct as something that should have gone out with bustles, buttoned-up high-top shoes and smelling salts on the fainting couch, is suddenly no longer out, but definitely in.

We even have new words to describe old, once-familiar things. "Cocooning," the making of cozy nests presided over by wives determined to protect their husbands and their children from chill winds blowing in from the cold outside, has given way to "hiving." Hiving is turning the home into a beehive, a busy place of domestic industry presided over by a queen bee ready to deliver a nasty sting to anyone who attempts to disturb the peace and serenity of her hive.

The Wall Street Journal surveys the new housewares that make life inside the hive more fun, or at least less inconvenient to the queen bee: Toastit Toaster Bags, to make grilled-cheese sandwiches without leaving "muss" in the toaster; Snap-Saver No-Brainer Containers, with lids that snap to the bottom of the plastic cups to help a forgetful mom to remember where she put them; and the disposable Scrub 'N Flush brush to keep the toilet squeaky clean.

If this sounds like a slide back to the '50s, that much-maligned decade when a woman was thought to need help to remember where she put both lids and kids, a walk through the mall reveals ample evidence. Blenders and food processors no longer suggest restaurant kitchens, but come in the pastel colors - shocking pink, lavender and peach - that recall the "color-coordinated" refrigerators and stoves that were the pride of what the feminists shudder to remember as the Paleozoic Era.

I haven't seen a mixer or a food processor in "avocado," the signature shade of the '50s kitchen, but one is surely on the way.

But this is mere trivia in the wake of another of those sea changes that have buffeted us about over the past few decades. No one thinks we're actually sliding back to a future when women will be kept pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen.

But the freedom of choice wrought by the feminists who burned their bras (so to speak) for these new stay-at-home moms, has led to unexpected choices. A growing number of young women who have the freedom to decide have decided that career can wait, and the delicious early years of their children's lives can't.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS