A while back, when Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg first published her book, Lean In, I argued that the concept of using social media to bring women together in consciousness raising groups was terrific, but that Sandberg’s formulation was flawed. I’m excited to read an article in today’s Boston Globe that a domestic worker fighting to unionize at an area hotel has challenged Sandberg to lean into her cause. The only way we’ll make real change happen in this country is to work across lines of difference (race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion). Real change doesn’t just improve some peoples’ lives. It has a positive effect on everybody.
Excavating in the basement storage area this week, I unearthed “Lily, Max + Sam’s Day by Day Book, Volume I” (Mark’s titling), a.k.a. “The Book of Life” (my titling). Mark and I began recording in the book on October 22, 1992, when we brought our two-week-old triplets home from Yale-New Haven Hospital. We seem to have stopped keeping records on Friday, January 30, 1993 – the last page of the book and also the eve of the kids’ baby naming ceremony. If there is a second volume, I don’t remember it…or haven’t come across it.
On the sheets of this pad, we tracked each kid’s ins and outs. That is: what the babies took in…and what came out t’other end. Who could muster an oral report at 2 AM? Who’d remember by 4 PM? These records aren’t very interesting, except to demonstrate how often we were feeding and changing diapers.. The jottings – in my hand unless otherwise indicated – evoke what it was like to get premature triplets (who weighed about 4 lbs. each at birth, about 34 weeks gestation) from two weeks to three months old.
SONG LYRICS (what else to do during 2 AM feedings?):
The Baby Song:
Lily & Max & Sam / How proud of them we am / They roll around their eyes / And hardly ever cries.
Sung to the Tune of “If I Only Had a Brain” (Wizard of Oz “Scarecrow Song”):
I wile away the whiles / And burp away the miles / …if I only had a smile / I would laugh / I would chortle / I would giggle / I’d cavort-le / …if I only had a smile.
RUNNING COMMENTS (in my hand unless otherwise noted):
[Mark’s hand]: All Home
Max will be tall & rangy? Sam short & fine boned?
They’ll never forget each others’ birthdays. Sam will be a financial wizard in Hong Kong. Lily will be saving the rainforest in Costa Rica – giving speeches, and Max will be a truck farmer in N. California – all will conference call on Oct. 7 to wish each other a happy birthday.
Smelling Max’s head, I know that no matter how old the babes are I’ll always smell them and love them. I’ll always kiss their heads and think of their babyhoods.
Sam: easy lay of the burp world.
Max: champion Arm Wrestler? Symphony Conductor? Houdini?
[Mark’s hand] Sam: Now the monk of the burp world.
[my hand] 10 PM feeding – WPLR burp contest – looking for an 11-second belch – while we’re trying to squeeze out a little squeak from each baby.
Sam: A lesson in why not to prejudge your children.
Visit to pediatrician: Lily = 5 lbs. 1 oz. Max & Sam = 4 lbs. 14 oz.
Big-time spit-up day: Sam & Lily
Max’s arms are huge – so are his hands & feet. Could he take after his Uncle Tom? Hard Man II?
All the babes are fussing more, crying more, awake more. Their heads seem bigger, neck muscles stronger. Lily consistently awakens 30 mins – 1 hr. before feed times. Sam is awake much of the time now, cries until he is held and rocked and assured of a pacifier.
At the allergist, a nurse asked Mark what the kids were going to be for Halloween. Mark’s response: “Asleep.”
I just get tireder and tireder…took a long walk (for me) outdoors – leaves spectacular – 1st time I’d been out so long in months.
11/3/92: Election Day
(two “I Voted Today” stickers affixed to the page)
Got out of the house today: to vote, to the bank, to Macy’s, to the OB. Changed my purse (to match shoes?!) – and found that I had not used my brown bag since the end of March, when I found out I was pregnant. Inside: medical receipts. List of questions for Dr. Gutman, including, “How many fetal sacs do you see?”
By the time I got to the safe deposit box at the bank, where I locked away plastic ID bracelets from the hospital (Baby Girl A, Baby Boy B & Baby Boy C…), I wept in silence in the little private room. Time lost. Time gone. Babies gained.
11/4/92: Wed. Clinton wins!
Hard night. Lily screams, then won’t eat & falls asleep. Sam is still constipated! Max just chugs along, plays with his hands, moves his head. All babes gaining head control. Born 4 weeks ago today.
Max is really starting to track with his eyes – exciting! Sam seems more comfortable now that he’s pooped some. And Lily is determined, serious, earnest…a delight.
Lots of hose-type spit-ups today – M & L both. M constipated. Feedings run into feedings. Neither Mark nor I went outside today. Flurries predicted overnight.
Everybody had a bath, production-line style. Photo shoot followed.
[Mark’s hand]: Lily raises head! 5x! Joins Max!
Sam to pediatrician: wt: 6 lbs. 2 oz.!! Head 34 ¼; chest 32; length 19 ½. Got his HIB vaccine (barely cried, brave boy!). Dr. La Camera says all’s well, answers all our questions.
[Mark’s hand]: Max & Lily go to Dr.: Both 6 lb 3 oz. Lily 19 ½ in. Max 19 ¼ in.
[my hand]: Both get HIB vaccines. The big kids do great!
We took a walk w/ the triplet stroller – freedom! Sam moved his head well.
Friends babysit while we walk to cemetery & back! Lovely to be out together alone.
6 weeks old.
Mark goes back to work. (drawing of a frownie face)
Baths relaxed the babems – Max & Sam were comatose at 6 PM feeding…Lily was calm and able to feed. Three different people; three different levels of stimulation.
Wrote an article […] on design in Woodbridge. Felt great to be back in the saddle.
Sat on couch in British art center and read Beyond the 100th Meridian. Bliss.
Today, I had it all.
First snow. Dusting.
Trip to Dr. La Camera – Max (9 lbs. 7 oz. w/ diaper). Max has “intertigo” – horrible blistering – scalded area in groin – raspberry colored & horrible. Dr. La Camera prescribes ointment 3-4x a day. He is a Wonderful man.
Dr. La Camera calls just to check on Max, whose little groin looks much better. Long walk with w/ Max in sling.
Long walk with Sam. Max’s rash looks better.
Walked to Walgreen’s with Lily.
9 weeks old today. Sam is pushing up & moving his head; pushing off of my shoulder, reaching a little bit. Max pulls my thumb to his mouth.
Lunar eclipse – easily viewed from backyard.
Horrible disgusting driving sleet, snow & rain. Why can’t we live where there are eucalyptus trees?
Lily to Dr. La Camera: 8 lbs. 5 oz. DPT and polio. 20 ½ in. long.
Dr. La Camera says: OK to let the babes cry – will teach them they can take care of their own needs.
And what about us?
Very cold; more heavy snow. Awoke to sound of snow ploughs for 1st time this yr. Turned to heavy snow by 7 a.m. High winds. Veritable blizzard.
Walk w/ Sam in snow.
Nobody to help us during day or night. Hard. Horrible colic w/ Sam.
Max & Sam to pediatrician: Dr. La Camera says they’re doing wonderfully. DPT & polio.
Max: 10 lbs. 21 in. in length.
Sam: 9 lbs. 8 oz. 20 7/8 in. in length.
Sometimes, I think I can’t get any more tired.
Mark came home from the office with 102 degree F.
[Mark’s hand]: Daddy’s Back!!
Mark & I to E. Rock with Champagne. Climb E. Rock, eat Chuck’s Chicken Salad, drink Veuve Cliquot and warm ourselves in the winter sun. Can’t believe we’ve come through the last year so well. So blessed.
Pour the remainder of the bottle onto the rock in name of each of the kids, thereby “christening” the rock in their honor.
1st night of Chanukah.
Lily takes a shower with Mom!
Sam showers w/ Mom! Walk w/ Lily! Max smiles.
Max showers w/ Mom!
Play time: Max up most of AM & early PM. Lily & Sam up early PM.
Put boys on bed at night – dangle rattles near head – they are fascinated and agitated – Max more animated – and both boys intent on seeing.
Max: Guiness Book Record SPIT – even hits toy box.
12/26/92: Saturday, last night of Chanukah
Max showers w/ Dad – Lily & Sam w/ Mom – in AM.
Lily awake more or less from 1 PM 8:30+.
Lily smiles a bit & plays.
New Year’s Day
[Mark’s hand]: Walk kids for 30 mins. Cold.
Mark & I go out to lunch & to the movies: The Crying Game. Walk kids from 4 – 4:40.
Max rolls over! Flips from tummy to back!
Walk w/ kids – great weather.
Max is incredibly frustrated – wants to play, can’t do all he wants, can’t always flip over – howls in protest.
Lily just cries…because? Sam, too. Why?
Much screaming at night/evening.
Afternoon in library: how can I be the same person I was when last I sat in the periodical room at Sterling?
Out to firm dinner.
Max bathes w/ Dad.
Lily & Max to Dr. La Camera – HIB vaccine.
Max: 22 in. long, 12 lbs. 4 oz.
Lily: 22 in. long; 10 lbs. 3 oz.
Dr. La Camera says it’s time to add in semi-solids. Will switch back to a 4-hourly schedule, add rice, then applesauce, and hope the fussing dwindles. Also will begin to work on sleeping through the night.
[Mark’s hand]: Lily sleeps til 7:30!!!
First day with rice cereal – Lily HATES it and decides she’s never going on solids. Max says it’s OK but would be better with salt. Sam sucks his down eagerly, finishing it all, then licks bowl with tongue. “Spoon?” he says. “NO problem!”
Just imagine when they first taste raspberries, chocolate, asparagus, lettuce! Fresh green beans! The world is waiting at your feet, little babies. I hope you love it as much as I do.
Second verse: Lily changes her mind and sucks down cereal.
Snow. More sleeping through the night!
[Mark’s hand]: We wake everybody!
[Mark’s hand]: Everyone sleeps through (to 6 AM). No one cries.
Sam to Dr. La Camera: 12 lbs 7 oz…23” long!
We listen to Clinton’s inaugural address on radio in car on way home.
[Mark’s hand]: Everyone sleeps thru – No crying
Visits from Aunt Laura, Uncle Michael, Aunt Katherine, Uncle Chris, Cousin Emma, Grandad Klaus, Grandma Pat, Grandpa Jack & Annette. Friday night supper here.
family time, Feminism, Motherhood, Obama, Parenting, recreation, Work Family Balance 22.11.2013 No Comments
A long-time, much loved friend posted a question months ago, which I paraphrase: what do you think about parents who have the resources not to work outside the home and who know, from the get-go, that they will seek full-time employment because they want it?
My answer today is prompted by a piece I read on Politico.com this morning. Writer Michelle Cottle criticizes Michelle Obama for “Leaning Out.” Cottle complains that Obama has wasted her Ivy League education and career as a high-powered lawyer and that when, this week, Obama weighed in on an education system that leaves behind impoverished kids of color — especially impoverished girls — it was too little, too late. Cottle also criticizes the First Lady for choosing a public role that has emphasized traditionally “feminine” issues such as healthy eating and exercise. I am sympathetic to the complaint that Obama might have focused on less traditionally feminine topics, but I draw the line at the following: “Turns out,” Cottle writes, “she was serious about that whole “mom-in-chief” business—it wasn’t merely a political strategy but also a personal choice.”
With privilege comes personal choice. People with relatively large amounts of money and power, whether they are men or women, have options that at this point aren’t open to everyone. They get to choose the work/life balance they wish, and they are often — but not always — able to move into increasingly interesting public work as their children mature. This ability to lean in and out, in and out, over the course of a long life is precisely, as The New York Times reported, what many women want. Which way they lean? Doesn’t have much to do with whether they are “good” parents.
Michelle Obama, the most privileged woman in America, has had a choice. As a feminist, I respect her choice to give her daughters the foundation and protection they need growing up in the Klieg-light-glare of the presidency. I’d have respected her had she chosen to allocate her time and attention differently — to “work outside the home” or to take on something other than vegetables and exercise from her spot in the East Wing. But I would not have respected her had she ignored the implications for her daughters of her family’s choice to inhabit the White House for eight years and work in politics at the highest level.
Here’s the thing about having kids: most of them don’t raise themselves. Some children are relatively easy and uncomplicated. Others need extra medical and emotional support. All need attention.
The relatively wealthy are able to pay others to attend if they don’t choose to have the time to do it, themselves. They can enroll kids in good day care, pay private school tuition or buy homes in districts where schools have longer hours. They are also able to make their mortgage or rent payments if one parent chooses not to work or to work part-time. That the choice should appear to rest solely on the shoulders of women is wrong. That the choice isn’t available to all parents, all women, is just plain unfair. Rather than criticizing Michelle Obama — or any other mother, for that matter — for her personal choices regarding work, get out your bullhorn to increase access to the options currently only available to those of relative privilege so that all parents are able to give their children the attention they need.
This past June, I finished my work days by stopping at a pond for a swim at around 6:00. One evening, I noticed two different moms with their kids. Mom # 1 sat on the dock. She caught the rays off the water and periodically yelled at her children. Mom # 2 was in the water. She was talking with her kids, encouraging their diving and swimming, laughing with them. I have no idea what these moms were doing all day — whether they were at work, whether they had nannies, whether they were on vacation. The one I respected and admired from afar leaned in. In her spare time, she leaned in to her children.
And so, dear friend who I have known since our children were two, you have chosen to work full-time outside the home from the beginning. You have had an excellent mate. You’ve had the support of a warm, on-the-scene grandparent. You had access to excellent day care and child care. Your child was relatively easy to raise. And: in the almost 20 years I have known you, there has never been a time when you have not taken every opportunity to lean in and get “in the water” with your kid. I say: hats off to you!
I stayed up late last night listening to Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s Dilemma. The piece, produced with Jay Allison and Transom.org, is NPR reporter Kelly McEvers’s remarkable, hour-long audio documentary about her struggle to justify covering deadly war zones while raising a toddler.
McEvers’s choice – and her agony over her choice – is specific and universal. Not many of us civilians are in lines of work where a tenth of our colleagues have been murdered or killed in crossfire the past year. But most of us struggle with the complex emotions of wanting to succeed professionally in jobs we love and also wanting to be with our spouses and kids.
An avowed gung-ho thrill seeker, McEvers came to parenting late. As best I can figure, she gave birth to a daughter at about 40, the peak of her journalistic career. NPR assigned her to cover the Middle East. Her job got dramatically more dangerous when the conflict in Syria heated up. As the roll call of fallen journalists in and around Syria lengthened – Tim Hetherington, Marie Colvin, Remi Ochlik, Rami el-Sayid, Anthony Shadid, Ferzat Jarban, Gilles Jacquier, Mazhar Tayyara, Mika Yamamoto — McEvers found herself increasingly unhinged. She sought the counsel of a former war correspondent turned psychotherapist. He suggested she examine her motives and begin to imagine what life after covering war might be like.
McEvers shared her turmoil in 2011 with Cape Cod-based radio wizard Jay Allison, who encouraged her to keep a diary. The resulting piece is emotionally and intellectually profound. It’s also a masterful example of audio storytelling. McEvers used her phone to record her musings. She taped interviews with other war correspondents as well as a Canadian researcher running a study on journalists who cover foreign conflicts (*more on this last below). Ambient noise of shelling and machine gun fire, sotto voce comments about the disgustingness of tear gas, the chatter of McEvers’s daughter all provide an evocative sound bed for the heart of McEvers’s dilemma. “Should I quit my job?” she asks the likes of Sebastian Junger and Christiane Amanpour. McEvers knows, even as she asks, that the only person who can really answer is she, herself.
McEvers admits that the most difficult conversation she had was with Anna Blundy, the grown daughter of British war correspondent David Blundy, who was killed in 1989 at 44 by sniper fire in El Salvador. McEvers writes that she felt she was interviewing an “adult version of [her] own child.” Anna Blundy, 43, speaks as a grieving child whose father chose work over family. Blundy’s words defeat and deflate McEvers, until, somewhere around 26:30, she claims her right to follow her path. The decision, McEvers asserts, isn’t about her daughter. “It’s about me.”
And don’t we all – all of us women who want kids and career – find ourselves trying to figure out how much to give to “them” and how much to give to ourselves? Men may ask themselves such questions, but I don’t know many who would allow others to listen in so publicly. By the time McEvers reads the letter she’s written to her husband and daughter in case she is killed on the job, she has me in tears. Spend an hour with this documentary, and you will weep for all parents who have fallen in the line of duty as well as all who, day in and out, struggle to find the best way to do right by themselves and their kids.
*A NOTE on the explanation McEvers offers about the role dopamine plays in war correspondents’ career choices. She interviews Toronto academic and medical doctor Anthony Feinstein. Here is the summary of Dr. Feinstein’s work on his website: “Finally, Dr. Feinstein is involved in a series of studies unrelated to Neuropsychiatry but nevertheless of relevance to current issues within our society. The questions being addressed are: How are journalists affected emotionally by their work in war zones and what motivates them to pursue such dangerous occupations?” He presents his findings in Journalists Under Fire: The Psychological Hazards of Covering War (Johns Hopkins Press, 2006).
I haven’t read the book and am not familiar with Dr. Feinstein’s work, so I don’t know if McEvers reports his findings accurately. She says that Dr. Feinstein believes journalists who take extraordinary risks have higher levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine than the rest of the population.
McEvers is correct in describing dopamine as a substance that conveys a sense of wellbeing, but she’s off a little bit in her understanding of what high levels of dopamine may suggest. Most researchers have concluded that those who seek out risk and thrill crave more dopamine. That is, for physiological reasons, their bodies either don’t produce enough or don’t use well enough the dopamine they create.
If it’s true that war correspondents have more dopamine than the rest of us, it may be that their dopamine receptors are inadequate and that their bodies produce more dopamine to flood dopamine-hungry receptors. They may therefore gravitate towards putting themselves in the middle of battlefields to produce the dopamine they need to feel OK. Some of the best research on this topic comes out of studies on families that have high numbers of members with Attention Deficit Disorder. See especially the work of Russell Barkley, Ph.D. here and here.
Today, I did the second stupidest thing I’ve done in my entire life. I’m 51. That’s a lot of time to do stupid things. I am not going to tell you about the first stupidest thing.
I decided to run a few errands before sitting down to work at my desk this morning. I needed to get a move on it in part because I wanted to mail my sister-in-law the cake I made her yesterday. She had surgery last week. She’s going to be fine.
I don’t live out here in Wellfleet year-round. I’m lucky to be here for a few weeks at a time, and this year, I’m on the Cape for most of June. Unlike in Boston, where I mostly live, here in Wellfleet if I don’t get to my post office by noon, I miss express pickup for the day. My plan was to mail the cake and then zip out Route Six to the Transfer Station to drop off my garbage.
The Transfer Station is the fancy name for the dump. The Town of Wellfleet doesn’t provide garbage pickup. Some people pay for a private service to haul their garbage away, but most people just pay for a permit so they can make a trip or two a week to get rid of their stuff. I eat a lot of seafood when I’m here, plus I’ve got a dog, so my trash gets smelly fast. More, perhaps, than you wanted to know.
It’s a world class dump, so I don’t mind going. There are recycling receptacles for cardboard, glass, plastics, rigid plastics, and newspapers. There’s an area where you can drop trees to get turned into mulch – and you can buy the mulch, cheap. There’s a drum for used oil, tables for hazardous materials, spots to put old fridges, freezers, TVs, mattresses, and computer monitors. You have to pay to leave some of that stuff, but, really, it’s a terrific place because it gives everyone a chance to use and re-use thoughtfully. There’s even a Swap Shop, where people leave and pick up things like old fans, kitchen utensils, lawn furniture, you name it.
So, I mailed my cake, I got to the Transfer Station at about 11:30, and I put my plastics and bottles and newspapers in their rightful spots. I hopped behind the wheel of my car and backed towards the actual dump, a long, rectangular abyss where non-reusable, non-recyclables go. When things are hopping at the dump, a dozen or more vehicles could probably park side-by-side – that’s how long the trash trough is. I popped the trunk, ran around to get my bag, and heaved it in the air. And just as I saw the bag moving up and away from me in an arc, I realized that I had been holding my car key in my hand. Past tense.
No matter how much you want to, you cannot stop time. You can stand in horror and watch the consequences of an action unfold, but you cannot undo what you have set in motion. And so I stood there by the edge of the dump, my hands clutching the yellow metal fencing, and saw my garbage bag and my car key disappear. I did not cry. I did not shout. I just stood there, mind racing.
You won’t be surprised that the folks running such a world class dump did what they could to help me. “It’s Wednesday,” the woman who sits in the entrance booth to the dump told me. “Wednesday is anything can happen day.” She called a guy who fetched an extension ladder. The two of them called the bosses, who arrived speedily in their forest green Town trucks. A very nice man named Kevin climbed down the ladder and searched for my key in the vicinity of where I thought it might have landed. He could not have been nicer, but he didn’t find my key. Along with another Transfer Station Honcho, he pushed my car out of the way while I steered.
I was out of options. I couldn’t say the key was lost, because I knew where it was. But I couldn’t get the key, and I didn’t have a spare. The service guy at the dealership in Yarmouth told me he could order me a new key for $100, but it wouldn’t arrive until Friday, and even then, he couldn’t squeeze me in until next Tuesday. My car windows were open, as was the sunroof. It was threatening to rain. Again.
You know in a preindustrial society, farmers had lots of children so they’d have extra hands to help in the fields? I have three children. Though I have wished all were fully employed this summer, I got very lucky that one was home mid-day playing video games with his friend Nigel. My son Sam understood I was truly stranded. He did not make fun of me. He began driving the spare key from Boston to me in Wellfleet.
What to do for the two hours it would take Sam to reach me? I listened to other people talking:
“What’s goin’ on?” one man said. “Nothin’,” another replied. “Same, here,” the first guy said.
“Need a hand?” a guy asked another guy unloading nine milk crates filled with wine and liquor bottles. “Nah,” said the other guy, climbing around in the back of his blue pickup. He gestured towards his crates. “That’s what they call a standard load. It’s a shitload.”
The sky darkened. I worried it would rain, and the car interior would get soaked. And then, at 3 PM, I saw Sam at the wheel of the van, pulling in at the entrance booth. I could just imagine the conversation. “Where is my very stupid mother, the one who threw her key in the dump?” Sam would say. “Oh, that lady? She’s just been sitting over there in her car for two hours, trying not to throw away anything else important.” Yes, that would be me.
Sam unfolded himself from the van, all 6′ 2″ of him. He delivered the key, stretched, then let me take him out for a vanilla soft serve cone. I heard a bit about his internship at the radio station – the one he has to be to by 4:45 AM two days a week — maybe more than he’s told me all summer. And then he went on his way. He needed to get back to watch the Bruins.
It’s only the middle of June. I know it’s going to get hot at some point. The greenheads will hatch. We might even have a hurricane or two. And I will probably do more stupid things, but I hope none as stupid as the one I did today. Time will pass in enormous and miniscule increments, and I will not be able to do one single thing about it.
Many years ago, Lily and I toured the ancient city of Nazareth with our Haifa friends and their three kids. It was hot, so all the kids were eating popsicles. Lily finished her treat. She wanted to throw away her popsicle stick. She scanned the city street for trash cans. We walked a few blocks, and without a garbage receptacle in sight, she asked our friends what to do with her leftover stick. They told her to throw it on the ground. She protested: “That’s littering!”
A burst of Hebrew and laughter among the Israeli kids. Lily and I wanted to know what they found so funny. “If you leave a trash can,” one of the boys shouted, “they put bombs!”
Stupid, naive Americans. Even a nine year old should know better than to look for a sidewalk trash can. So you litter. Who cares? It’s better than giving terrorists an easy place to leave an IED.
Though Israeli friends didn’t laugh after the World Trade Center bombing, they again expressed dismay at our national naivete. Who would fly an airplane without locking the cockpit door? That, of course, is now standard practice on all U.S. flights, but El Al put that provision in place decades ago.
At 2:50 PM yesterday, I was working at my desk. I heard two very loud booms. I checked weather.com for thunderstorms. It never occurred to me that what I’d heard were two bombs detonating.
We don’t know yet how bombs wound up at the marathon’s finish line or where they were placed. Initial analysis points to on-street trash cans or U.S. Postal Service mailboxes. And we don’t know who perpetrated such destruction (although I firmly suspect this was yet another bunch of homegrown sickos).
There are any number of reasons to be furious at whoever planned and carried out the bombing. Number one, to me, is the inexorable slide towards a way of thinking that forces us to scan every landscape and imagine every potential encounter in terms of terrorism. If we didn’t know it before, surely we Americans now have to embrace an Israeli-style popsicle stick etiquette. We are getting hard lessons in conclusion jumping, even though we do not, with all our hearts, want to be enrolled in this particular school.
The Boston Globe‘s reporters provided brilliant coverage of yesterday’s bombing. Several writers referred to a “loss of innocence.” I’m not sure what is worse: having to let go of the assumption that the world is mostly a benign place — or having to grow up in a place where even children know better than to assume that loud sounds are thunder and public rubbish bins are for trash.
I can’t improve on Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times yesterday, Pom-Pom Girl for Feminism, in which she takes down Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Lean In will hit the shelves and its website will go live March 11, 2013. Sandberg wants women to think positively about moving up through corporate America’s glass ceiling. She’s pushing to get women meeting monthly in small groups, where we will empower one another “to explore topics critical to [our] success, from negotiating effectively to understanding [our] strengths.” Dowd complains that the wildly successful Silicon Valley exec “doesn’t understand the difference between a social movement and a social network marketing campaign.” Dowd, herself, is inclined to “lean out.”
But me, I’m in favor of leaning in. Closer.
I wholeheartedly endorse Sandberg’s impulse to get women in small groups to recreate a ’70s-style consciousness raising vibe. The issue — now and in the 1970s — is who belongs in the group. The single biggest problem with American women’s attempts to organize for rights over time, from the 1840s to the present, is its inability and/or unwillingness to consider class and race. Our contemporary women’s movement does not need another wealthy, articulate white woman encouraging increased dialogue among similarly entitled peers. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, Betty Friedan…not to take away from the remarkable achievements of these foremothers, but we’ve got to reconfigure our frustrations and rage so that we are angry on behalf of all women, not just ourselves.
None of us has time to rely on Trickle Down — not in our economic policies, and not in our feminism. Sure, women at the top and women in business generally need better strategies to negotiate for higher salaries and better promotions. But I don’t for a minute believe that by earning these bigger paychecks and securing higher-powered jobs, better-off women will be paving the way for the poorest, most disenfranchised women in the country. They’ll be paving the way for themselves.
If any of us needs a reminder of what women need, here are two, separate examples reported recently:
The Last Clinic, a powerful, short documentary about the one remaining clinic in Mississippi providing abortions
We need to pull together, to lean in closer, so that we are working to ensure that all women have what the richest of us have: affordable health care, day care, sensible parental leave policies, the choice to use affordable birth control, access to nutritious foods, safe neighborhoods, and freedom from abuse, violence, and fear. We need to unify as a group so that we achieve these goals. Then, and only then, will the tide rise high enough to lift all boats.
So, yeah, create a software platform that allows social media connections and the formation of consciousness raising groups. Write an algorithm that peoples these groups with members who aren’t like each other in at least three or four profound ways. Set up guidelines to help us tell our stories to each other. We need to listen deeply. And then? We need to get busy on behalf of each and every one of us.
Just a week left, now, until the winter solstice, and less than twenty-four hours until kids start coming home from college. Mark and I have had a pretty terrific couple of months in our empty nest.
Highlights of our time together: a day at The Big E (annual regional fair in Springfield, MA) to celebrate Rosh Hashanah; hearing brilliant banjo player Bela Fleck in concert at Berklee School of Music; making new friends at the Indian classical dance recital of the daughter of old friends; and babysitting our two favorite little boys. The humdrum has been terrific, too. We’ve watched TV together, talked over the newspapers at meals, gone out to the Cape for long walks with Amos. Was this what life was like twenty years ago, before we were parents? Maybe it’s even better now.
I wondered what it would be like to celebrate a holiday without the kids at home. We all gathered for Thanksgiving, and that was a complete treat. But what would Mark and I do when we weren’t doing for the kids? When it’d be just us chickens?
“What if we give each other a present every night when we light the candles for Chanukah?” I asked.
“You mean, like a pack of gum,” Mark said.
“Yep, like a pack of gum,” said I.
“Wrapped?” Mark asked, looking as if he were about to swallow an arsenic capsule.
“Wrapped!” said I.
Five nights of candles lit, and no gum, yet. My favorite gift from Mark so far? Two Lotto scratch tickets. I won twenty bucks! Mark’s favorite gift from me? Probably the flannel footie pajamas I found. They actually fit his almost six-and-a-half-foot frame.
A gift a night. Each night a gift, as we use this minor holiday to reclaim time, space, and each other.
In case you missed these beautiful photos, here’s a link to images of American Olympians with children. They are all photos of women.
Of course, I wondered how many Olympic men are dads…and why that’s completely un-newsworthy. The underlying assumption is that men, whether or not they have fathered children, are always free to pursue excellence. Women, on the other hand, spend their energy putting their children first. That they have time to become the very best at anything astonishes.
I actually don’t think that the goal ought to be to eliminate the surprise in being able to raise kids and reach for the stars. A better goal would be to spread the astonishment around. Some day, we’ll lift our collective eyebrows when anyone — male or female — raising young children is able to go for the gold.
I took a red-eye flight from California overnight so I’d be back in Boston today to take Lily to the airport. It mattered to me that I be able to have a few hours with her before she left for five weeks in Spain. And it really mattered to me that I be able to escort her to security.
I won’t be in Boston when Lily returns. Though that’s disappointing (because I won’t be here to hear the rush of stories when she’s fresh off the plane), it feels somehow far less significant to me than missing the send off.
Of course, I love graduations and celebrations of achieving goals. But even more, I love the feeling that I’ve done all I can to help my kids step out into the wide world with open eyes and hearts.
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