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Sunday, February 27, 2005

A vacation from parenting

In the Newsweek issue that featured Oscar Confidential on the cover, there were interviews with a handful of actors that are up for Academy Awards. In that piece Kate Winslet (at least I think it was Winslet) said, "When you're a parent, going to work is like being on vacation."

I think that is a really interesting comment. As a writer, when I flex my fingers on the keyboard, it's like being on vacation from my regular job as a parent too. Writing is my escape, just as acting is Winslet's escape. It's not a bad thing to enjoy it, or look forward to it, and it doesn't make us bad or uncaring parents. Who doesn't like a vacation, even if it's just a mini, 20-minute vacation every now and again? Winset added that in her vacation "someone does your hair and makeup."

As a writer no one does my hair or makeup, not even me on most days. And perhaps a manicure would be a more appropriate way to pamper or prepare someone for a day in the life of this finger-frenzied profession.

Her comment just got me thinking about what things are treats when we are parents. There's no doubt that watching your child marvel at the world is a treat. But for parents, those moments of pure parental bliss are typically peppered between tantrums, and poopy diapers, and food wars. It sure isn't bliss all of the time. So needing an escape seems like a normal and healthy desire. And I guess that brings me full circle to why I'm here in the first place. Working and contributing feels good.

It's a healthy and constructive way to stay sane as an individual. When we have babies, that line between individual and extension of tiny new creature becomes blurred, especially if we're nursing.

When I think back to when I was working full-time, a vacation was a vacation from work. Sleeping in late, long walks at the beach with the dogs, dessert with every meal. That was a vacation. But now that I'm home, working is a little treat. It's a little glimpse into my former life. And I'm hanging on with all my might.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Who would go to NY in February?

Most sane people would avoid New York, New Jersey, Maine, New Hampshire and most of the Eastern Seaboard during the wintry months, unless of course you live there. Or at least most thin-blooded Californians, like myself, would avoid such cold places. (For full disclosure purposes, I did grow up in Buffalo and lived in Boston for five years, so I have much experience with the cold. I just don't like it).

Anyway, sometimes you can't avoid such climates. So the family is headed to South Jersey today for three days for a family thing, and then we head north into not-so-tropical NYC for four days. My nipples can hardly wait.

So for the next few days, Mother in Chief will likely be as barren as the maple trees along the I-90. I'm hoping for some Internet access, but I think it's as likely as 60-degree weather.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Child care isn't for chumps

I know a lot of people out there pooh-poohed Judith Warner's cover story in Newsweek, but if you just focus on the women pining for the "best camps," and the "right ballet class" for their kids, you miss a very important part of the article.

Jody over at Raising WEG did a thorough job of summing up the activity around Warner's article. Jody's round-up points to blogs that accuse the article of featuring "overparenting," "superparenting," and "mommy stupidity."

Many of those posts were so focused on those women trying to be super moms, like the anchorwomen who leaves for work at 3:30 am so that she can be home by the time her daughter is waking up. However, there were two points to the article: 1) Women are going insane trying to be the best moms possible, and 2) there is a problem with child care in this country.

Finding good, affordable, and reliable child care is a ongoing struggle for parents. During the winter, every day it snows is a craps shoot for parents. If a child gets a snow day or if a child is sick and needs to be sent home from school, what do working parents do? It often forces parents "to juggle a host of unpalatable options - stay home from work, bring kids to the office, foist them on the neighbors, hire an unfamiliar sitter," wrote Maggie Jackson, a columnist for the Boston Globe earlier this month.

Finding good backup care is the bane of working parents, and by some yardsticks the picture's getting bleaker. Although parents lose an estimated five to eight days annually due to child-care breakdowns, just 9 percent of companies offer backup care, down from 14 percent in 2001, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

We need corporations to be more family-friendly. And if it takes government tax incentives to make companies offer flexible hours, telecommuting, more part-time work, and on-site child care, as Warner suggested, then I'm for it 100 percent. We need affordable, quality child care, so that women can work and not have the cost of child care be more than what they can earn working. We need to offer part-time workers affordable health insurance benefits. That way they don't have to choose between working full time and getting benefits, but having their kids in daycare full time, or being at home with the kids, without benefits if their partners don't have coverage, or if they don't have partners. These are real issues that affect lots of women.

We can pretend that problem doesn't exist, but that doesn't make it go away. Women want to work. Women want to contribute. Even at-home moms (and dads) want to work and contribute. There were pieces of the article that were called out and attacked, but in the process, a lot of people missed the bigger picture.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Good feelings all around

There was a little spike in my traffic the past couple of days and since I've been slacking (a.k.a. trying to meet my deadline for the magazine piece I'm working on), I was a bit confused and self-conscious since there were extra eyes checking out my blog.

So thanks to Ann Douglas over at The Mother of All Blogs for calling me out as one of the new "treasures" she recently added to her blog roll.

Douglas is the author of a slew of books on pregnancy, parenting, and child-rearing, and more, including "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books", "The Mother of All Baby Books", The Mother of All Toddler Books, and several others.

Seeing the traffic numbers go up is a thrill in itself, but I'll admit that examining the data is one of the little pleasures I get from writing this blog. I'm always totally fascinated as to how people in Israel and Spain happen upon my writing. I know the Internet is viral, but it's still just so interesting as to how people end up here. So to the folks in Butte, Montana; Livingston, New Jersey; Independence, Oregon; Mililani, Hawaii; and Hinesburg, Vermont, and everywhere else... Welcome! I hope it feels like home.

I also wanted to thank Kevin Koperski of The Daily Writer for the mention as well. It's just so nice to not be alone.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Less time, even less money - not always

So often it seems that mothers get the shaft, especially when trying to make a part-time schedule work. As a result, women get a semblance of what they want or deserve. Mostly that comes by way of a smaller paycheck.

We already know that women earned just 77 cents for every dollar men received in 2002, even when we have similar education, skills and experience, according to the AFL-CIO. And when it to part-time work there is the extra disadvantage of "schedule creep," according to an article in the Wall Street Journal called "Making Part-Time Work A Little More Palatable," which was published on Feb. 18. For part-timers, schedule creep typically means that employees actually work more than they are supposed to and get paid less than they should be. "It's a big problem for people on part-time schedules in particular, who often find themselves working 100% time for 75% or 80% pay," wrote Sue Shellenbarger.

And this problem likely affects women and mothers disproportionately because they are more likely than men to be working on a less-then-full-time basis. Some law firms are at the forefront of combating this problem facing part-timers and women, especially because it is affecting attrition, and replacing employees who quit is very expensive. "Dismayed that a half-dozen attorneys who quit the firm one year were all women, McNees Wallace suspected that lack of flexibility may have contributed to the brain drain and vowed to improve its policy," said Helen Gemmill, an attorney with the 105-lawyer firm McNees Wallace in the WSJ article.

Instead of paying part-time attorneys less, (McNees Wallace) pays them more per hour. Part-timers with two or more years with the firm receive three-quarters pay for working two-thirds of normal hours. If working part-time helps keep them with the firm and avoid the cost of replacing them, 'you're still making money for the firm,' says Steve Weingarten, managing attorney. The firm also allows part-timers to progress on the partnership track at the same rate as full-timers. The quit rate among women attorneys has plunged, he says.

So now part-timer attorneys at some firms are at least getting paid for the hours they work, but it wasn't clear if the firms are working to ensure that these part-timers aren't working more hours than they are supposed to. Family-friendly companies, and law firms in particular, were called out as offering some of the best maternity leaves in Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For, when the list was published earlier this year.

Now we can only hope that more firms, across more industries, will follow suit and bring parity for part-time workers.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

24 hours disappears faster, faster

The crunch is here. My deadline for the 1,800-word magazine piece I'm working on is days away and I'm heading out of town for a week on Thursday. This means lots to do in not so much time. Sadly the blog gets pushed down the priority list. I'm no superwoman.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Maniacal Mother and the Madness of Blogs

Judith Warner's emotion-plucking piece in Newsweek spawned a flurry of postings. Some commiserated and empathized with, while others swore at her notions for why women are going insane as they try to find themselves in the slushy sea of parenting.

All the negativity out there surrounding this Newsweek article reminds me of the New York Times piece a couple of weeks back about Mommy blogs and how they are basically a bunch of self-absorbed parents writing about their kids. Well, now people are jumping at Warner's piece, because she is writing about women who choose to stay home with their kids. The key word there is "choose."

I relate to the article because I'm stressed and overwhelmed and wanting something that isn't easy to latch on to, but I don't relate to the keeping up with the Joneses part of it. I think there are so many valid points...our society just doesn't make it easy for women to be people and mothers, etc. Then again, a lot of the negative comments say that's what sacrifice is. That's what putting your kids first really means. I don't have the answers.

What I got out of it was that women everywhere are stressed out in motherhood. We've "surrendered our better selves--and (our) sanity--to motherhood." I definitely feel insane a good portion of the time. My kid goes to playgroup with his buddies twice a week. Lots of women I know cart their kids all over town to every type of activity you can pay for. But no matter which end of the spectrum you're on, there are stresses. Maybe people don't agree with them, but that doesn't invalidate the premise of the article: Women are often flailing in their quest to do what's right for themselves and their families.

Maybe I choose my insanity. Maybe I choose my depression. And maybe I choose to be torn over who I am and what it means to be a mother, a writer, a person, a wife. I know that my insanity and depression is not because I'm running my kid everywhere. And it's not because I resent my kid. I love being a mom, but I just wish that I could be a mom and also be other things too.

Anyway, Elizabeth over at Half Changed World did a great job of summing up some of the finer points of the article and pointing out some of the interesting blogs written about it.

I was hoping to read more of the comments--both positive and negative--but Technorati seems to be failing me and I'm too tired to keep searching.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Magical, Maniacal, Mythical Mother

Thank you Judith Warner.

Warner penned Newsweek's fabulous February 21, cover story called, The Myth of the Perfect Mother: Why it Drives Real Women Crazy."

When the issue landed on the table alongside my husband's cell phone and wallet, I scooped it up and was suddenly covered in a warm, reassuring bath of commentary that validated what I've been feeling and writing about; the plight of mothers. Thankfully Baby in Chief was already in bed or he surely would have been thoroughly neglected for 10 minutes while I powered through the article. And as I was reading, I couldn't help but shout out passionately. "Hallelujah!," and "Right on Sister!, spurted from my mouth after every couple of sentences.

All our lives we believed that having it all was attainable and worth attaining. Holding onto that notion has been the grown-up equivalent to believing in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. Like those childhood icons, "It" does not exist. So instead of finding "It" or making peace with "It," we end up feeling inadequate in so many ways. We also feel like failures, even though we have made choices that have brought us to where we are.

I have let myself down for not working (at a job or on another degree). I have let my kid down for feeling that being his parent isn't enough by itself. I have let my husband down because I don't have much to talk about outside of updates on our kid's latest accomplishments or what household projects I'm working on. I have let my dad down because I didn't go on to get my master's after getting my undergrad degree. I have let my sister-in-law down because I've become one of those women who worked just long enough to get married and have a baby. I have let my mentor down because I'm not contributing to my fullest potential. I have let a friend down for wanting to work when I don't have to.

It's one big game and I always lose. My family and friends don't think I'm a failure and don't think I have let them down. Each and every one of those failures lives only in my head. My husband is proud that he can give me the freedom to be at home and knows I'm a kick-ass writer, an amazing mother, and an overall fabulous person, with or without a "real" job. My parents know that raising a family is very respectable job. My sister-in-law knows I didn't have a baby so that I could stop working. My mentor knows I'm smart enough to find a job that compliments my job at home. My friend has a bit of sour grapes and loves me anyway. My whole family respects what I am doing as a parent, as a writer, as a woman, as a person. They all love and respect me. I wish I could manage the same for myself.

"Most of us in this generation grew up believing that we had fantastic, unlimited, freedom of choice," wrote Warner. But instead of being able to choose a path that takes us to where we are trying to get, we are instead "faced with the harsh realities of family life in a culture that has no structures in place to allow women--and men--to balance work and child-rearing."

As a result, we feel helpless, not empowered. We feel self-hate and depression. We feel that we have lost ourselves on our way to the playground. This "learned helplessness" can get chalked up right next to our giant, cumulative case of depression, which affects 30 percent of mothers with young children, according to the article. I'm actually surprised that it's not higher.

In all our hopelessness, we can't think our way out of our diaper bags. We are so focused on creating the best learning environment for our kids by reading to them, taking them to play group, art class, swim class, the park, Germ-boree, music class, story time at the library, and Little Wonders, it seems impossible to figure out how to change things so that our worlds become a better, less insane place to live. As we drive to our kids' activities, we realize our attempts to create the best environment for our kids is a toxic place for the parents. There is no time left for the parent to be a person.

"We need solutions--politically palatable, economically feasible, home-grown American solutions--that can, collectively, give mothers and families a break," wrote Warner. Yes! We do need solutions, real-world, realistic solutions! And Warner has a couple of ideas that we need to read, be inspired by, and act on:

• We need incentive like tax subsidies to encourage corporations to adopt family-friendly policies.

• We need government-mandated child care standards and quality controls that can remove the fear and dread many working others feel when they leave their children with others.

• We need flexible, affordable, locally available, high-quality part-time day care so that stay-at-home moms can get a life of their own.

• We need new initiatives to make it possible for mother to work part-time by creating vouchers or bigger tax credits to make child care more affordable, heath insurance available and affordable for part-time workers...

• In general, we need to alleviate the economic pressures that currently make so many families' lives so that mothers and fathers could stop running like lunatics, and start spending real quality time--and quantity--time with their children.

Hallelujah! And right on sister!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Promotion in the works?

City-Planner Friend and I had breakfast two weekends ago and had a chance to catch up. She managed to score a sweet deal with her employer to work four days a week after her maternity leave ended last summer. She's been very pleased with her arrangement, especially because she lives close enough that she comes home for lunch daily to squeeze in a little mommy-son time.

She has been in her job for a number of years and would like to advance in the department. Even though no promotion has been in the works, she's always wondered if she would decline an opportunity for advancement if it presented itself. She doesn't want to mess with her part-time job situation. Typically promotions--along with a bigger paycheck and a fancier title--bring more responsibility which usually equals longer hours. And she's been worried that any postive lateral move would have an equally negative impact her current arrangement.

Well, City-Planner Friend had a talk with her boss recently about a possible promotion. It's not in the works, but they were talking about career paths and where she sees herself headed in the coming years. The best part was that the current, four-day work week was not mentioned as being a hindrance to making a vertical move.

Perhaps when the time comes and details are being hashed out, it might be a problem. But for now, all is rosy in the city.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Feb. 14 is more than just Valentine's Day

In addition to being Valentine's Day, February 14 is also Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day.

Heart Defects are the number one birth defect, affecting one in every 100 babies, and is a leading cause of birth-defect related deaths worldwide. Sometimes a defect is diagnosed in utero, some are diagnosed at birth, and sometimes a diagnosis is not made until days, weeks, months, or years later.

The severity and treatment of CHDs varies. Some are mild and are monitored by occasional visits to a pediatric cardiologist. Others can be treated with medications or repaired with surgery or a cardiac catheterization. More complex heart defects, including the one my son Riley has, require several surgeries and will never be "cured."

What can you do? Donate to research institutions and organizations that provide support and financial assistance to families. Here are a couple I recommend:
Lucile Packard Foundation for Children: specify pediatric cardiac research and care

UCSF: specify pediatric cardiac research and care

The Congenital Heart Information Network

(I do not recommend the American Heart Association because only 25 cents of every dollar donated actually goes to research. And no one at the AHA has been able to give me an answer of how much of that research money goes to congenital or pediatric heart research.)

Friday, February 11, 2005

Not entitled to anything more than average

The pay gap is a tell-tale reason as to why women are not successful more often when it comes to penning family-friendly work arrangements.

One of the main reasons there continues to be a big pay gap between men and women is because men negotiate harder. During the interview process, men are more inclined to view offers as a starting point and negotiate hard to get higher pay, more stock options, a signing bonus, and more. Women are more inclined to ask for lower salaries initially and then accept offers at face value, or don't push for more.

Also, women often don't seem to see themselves as entitled as men. This human resources guide cites a study of MBA students entering the job market. It found that 71 percent of men said they believed they were entitled to *more* money than other job prospects. Seventy percent of women surveyed said they were entitled to a salary *equal* to other job candidates.

If women don't see that they should be entitled to privileges that others don't have or few people have, then they are probably more like to be deterred from pushing for a successful part-time arrangement. If no one has ever had flex-time, telecommuting privileges, or part-time jobs in their office, then it might be hard to imagine how they can break that mold and successfully negotiate part-time work.

The Boston Globe ran an article on Feb. 6, called "Knowing how to sell yourself is key to success," and I've been wondering if this could be telling as to why more women aren't successful in getting their employers to sign on for the whole part-time-work-after-baby scenario. Are we letting employers lay out their game plan and just accept it for what it is? Are we too willing to walk away when the boss isn't as receptive as we had hoped for? According to the Globe article:

People pitch for promotions, jobs, or salary hikes. But whether your pitch will land that job depends on how persuasive it is. So, knowing how to sell yourself is key to getting what you want...The single most important step you can take to get the compensation you deserve is to convince yourself of the value of your offering, which will empower you emotionally to negotiate from a position of strength and make that value clear and visible to the other party.

Perhaps women aren't as likely to pat themselves on the back and shine a light on the accomplishments they've made. But when it comes time to negotiate a baby-friendly work deal, shine away! This is no time to be shy. Keep in mind that "realistically, your supervisor is more concerned about the company's operations than your personal needs," according to Dr. Sears's 10 Tips to Working While Pregnant. So be ready to answer all the questions your boss is likely to have about how your old, full-time job will get accomplished in your new, part-time hours.

Women do deserve *more.* Now if we could only convince ourselves of that first.

Any success stories out there? Would love to hear how hard it was to get what you want and deserve!

Losing what we really need

I won't pretend to know a lot about government spending or how a bill becomes a law, but I do know that in order for the current Administration to figure out how to doggy-paddle its way out of a sea of red ink, it will be cutting critical programs that it deems not worthy.

On February 7, the Bush Administration announced the fiscal year 2006 federal budget. It's likely that family-friendly programs like food stamps, child nutrition, and early intervention will be negatively impacted.

To determine how exactly families will be affected by the new budget, the Center for Law and Social Policy will host its second audio conference, as part of its Family Squeeze series, today, February 11. Today's topic will be, "The Federal Budget: Implications for Families and States."

Federal revenues are falling and the deficit growing, but the Administration says it plans to halve the deficit within five years. In the absence of increased taxes, this is expected to translate into cuts in discretionary programs; it could also mean proposals to limit entitlement programs (e.g., Medicaid, food stamps, child nutrition). What are the key features of the Administration’s newly announced budget proposal? What are some of the implications for states? How do working families fare?

The one-hour audio conference runs from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm EST. I won't hold my breath that this conference will get any news coverage, but I just thought some of you would be interested.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A dad lets it all hang out

After pondering the challenges facing at-home dads, and the likelihood that there are striking similarities between their struggles and the struggles of at-home moms, Elizabeth at Half Changed World pointed me to what I'd been searching for.

Kevin Koperski writes a blog called The Daily Writer: Chronicles of a stay-at-home Dad, and he had a very informative post called, "Curbing Your Ambitionism" on Tuesday.

He didn't answer all of my questions that I wrote about Tuesday, but it certainly confirmed that the struggles are not gender-specific.
Sure, it's often difficult to watch friends rampaging up the corporate ladder or graduating with PhD's, devoting all their time and effort to work and education and, well, being single. But it helps us understand the value of 'free time', and it forces us to make the most of what little of it we have. By becoming more efficient, less dependant on sleep, more dependant on caffeine, we can accomplish much in so short a time. And as long as we progress, even if the increments are infinitesimal, we can be proud of our accomplishments. Because we have two goals now. One, to become successful in our careers, and Two, to raise healthy, happy children. If we succeed, those friends with their PhDs won't have anything on us.
Confirming at least some of my suspicions doesn't make my journey any easier, but perhaps I should take comfort in the knowledge that this struggle to find ourselves isn't just yanking women in a bunch of directions at once. This desire to have a bit of everything is messing with parents everywhere.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

This is never a good questions because no matter how much good news there is, we know that bad news is sneaking up and ready to pounce just when we're sitting back and basking in all the good-news glory.

I'll start with the good news anyway.

I've been hired by a local parenting magazine to write a fancy 1,800 word article that is slated to be the May issue's cover story!! I have four glorious weeks to cobble my free minutes into enough time to string lots of thoughts and pithy comments from an assortment of interviews together into one smashing piece. It is very, very exhilarating.

Moving on to additional good news. This magazine is also interested in another one of my brilliantly-thought-out story pitches. It just needs a bit more reporting before they are ready to sign on for that as well. If all goes well and I keep hooking them with my exciting parenting topics, then I may very well have my dream job--writing one splendid article a month with all the honors, privileges, and responsibilities appertaining thereunto. Not to mention a byline and a sweet, albeit small, financial token of their appreciation.

All this sure does nice things to the little ego that has been neglected so in recent months.

And then on to the bad news.

Finding enough time in the day to read all the blogs that I find enjoyable, comment on said blogs, digest the day's news, and then write up my own contribution to the blogdom is very time consuming.

I've been neglecting my husband, my household, my broken washing machine, my dogs, and I'm seriously cutting into precious sleep time. Even when I finally do get into bed (which has been approaching the 1 am hour on a semi-regular basis), insomnia has been my bed-buddy as topics I want to write about slosh through my exhausted brain.

So, yes, I am going to continue writing. I just don't know how I can keep writing daily, so I am aiming for four posts a week. This blog has been an amazingly therapeutic experience and if there was a way to force my boy to sleep three hours every afternoon, then I would power forward with daily scribbles.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

24-hour Daddy duty

I've been thinking about at-home dads. Many struggle with the same issues at-home moms are dealing with when it comes to self-identity and balance. Surprised?

I wonder if that balance is even more elusive for dads because they already face the extra challenges of overcoming stereotypes around men traditionally being the worker bees while women are traditionally the ones home with the kids. Or perhaps it is more acceptable for dads to want to keep working even though they are the full-time caretakers because they are already breaking that traditional work/family mold.

While thinking about these at-home fathers, it brings me back to a friend of mine (yes, it's Scolding Friend again) whose husband is an at-home dad...the only at-home dad I know.

It's been almost a month since my talk with her, and I keep getting drawn back into the same part of our talk. She told me that her husband struggles with the same issues that I write about (not giving up on what one does professionally just because we are primary caretakers). To overcome that frustration, he is trying to keep making art and holding art shows when he can. And she is very supportive of his goal that will hopefully find a balance between work and family. But it is silly and whiny for me to want to keep writing and working if I don't have to. Why is that? Of course men want to hang onto the working part of their lives. Women shouldn't work in the first place, so why would they *want* to work?

It is so messed up. The whole idea of what mothers and fathers could or should do is so ingrained in our society. Even though Scolding Friend says she understands my desire to work part-time, mostly she thinks it is ridiculous. Double standards all around, and I just guess it's still really bothering me.

Geeky Mom pointed me to a couple blogs written by at-home dads, and I've subscribed to them to get a man's perspective on finding that balance.

Elizabeth over at Half Changed World kindly pointed out that the daddy blogs that Geeky Mom pointed out are actually not "at-home" dads, rather they are academic dads juggling family and work. I am making an effort to find more blogs by at-home dads.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Hooray! Women are BIG losers

"For the First Time, Women Lead in Top Jobs." Woo hoo! Women rock. If you saw that headline as you were skimming the Sunday paper, you probably got a fuzzy feeling, thinking things are all worked out for the working women of the world. What a bubbling crock of warmed-over, misrepresented alphabet soup. You can string those words together, but it don't make it so.

That headline appeared in the Buffalo News last month. It was penned by James E. Challenger, President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting company that helps people displaced by layoffs find new jobs.

Challenger wrote that "women represented just over half of the 48 million employees in management, professional, and related occupations." Okay, what the hell does that mean? Anyone working in an office is considered a "professional," aren't they? Does the night manager at 7-11 think they are holding down a top job? And what exactly are these "related occupations?" Welcome to Vague-ville. Population: 1 moron.

Women earned nearly 56 percent of all post-high school degrees in 1996, according to data collected by the Gender Issues Research Center. More women are getting degrees and landing better-paying jobs. But I'm not sure it would lead me to the roof-tops hollering that women have finally reached parity. Maybe the headline should have read: "Women Lead in Random, Unspecified Jobs."

Eight paragraphs into the article, we finally get to the real news: "Women currently hold 16 percent of corporate officer positions among the nation's 500 largest companies, up from nine percent eight years ago." Maybe the headline should have read: "Women Hold Sliver of Top Jobs."

After writing that women hold half of the 48 million management, professional, and related-occupation jobs, Challenger wrote: "39 percent of all women are now in managerial or professional jobs, up from 24 percent in 1977. The proportion of men in such jobs has been stagnant at around 30 percent over the same 25-year period."

Women hold 39 percent. I thought they held half? And men hold about 30 percent. Hhhmmm, I'm no math wiz, but I'm pretty certain that equals 69 percent. So who is performing the other 31 percent of these types of jobs?? Maybe it's a herd of Fiffer-feffer-feffs, or the quick Queen of Qunicy's quacking quacker-oos.

This guy makes no sense. Plus, he is taking serious issues affecting women and white-washing them.

  • "At the computer, women are just as productive as men. bringing an end to outdated concepts like the glass ceiling." (Hello, six paragraphs ago, Challenger pointed out that women hold just 16 percent of corporate officer positions. Those are the ones on the other side of that ceiling!)
  • " particularly popular among women as it allows them to fulfill their roles as mother as well as that of corporate leader." (Challenger states that women account for about half of all telecommuters, so it's no more popular with women than it is with men.)
  • Women earn just $78 for every $100 men earn. "However, it will not be long before that gap entirely closes." (He says that when 25- to 30-year-old women are in their 40s and 50s making more hiring decision, women will see a major increase in salaries. So that's not long at all.)

If you'd like to call and personally thank Challenger for working out all these issues, his company's number is (312) 332-5790.

It was brought to my attention that this piece was part of a special advertising section in the Buffalo News (that would explain why I couldn't find a link to it online).

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Let's hear it for the girl

I am very excited to update you on PR Friend's concerns that her growing belly might hinder her business.

A few weeks back PR Friend started sharing the great news about her pregnancy with clients because it was getting tough to disguise her belly under baggy shirts. When the time came to actually say the words, this self-assured businesswoman with more than 10 years of PR experience fumbled. "I could barely get the words out. I was embarrassed, scared to tell them," said Kristen, who owns her own PR firm outside of Boston. "It was very awkward."

Kristen's business partner started joining her in meetings with new business prospects. The idea was that having clients see another capable person would help make her upcoming maternity leave as non-issue.

And great news! "Signed a new client last week after a face to face meeting," she said via email. "And had another meeting today where the belly was not even discussed by either party."

It could just be that she is in good company. The new client's CEO was just featured in a Boston magazine story on Generation X Dads. "So maybe I am in the right circle with this one," she added.

What a relief.

Friday, February 04, 2005

So damn serious

Last night Swamps, who says she is also trying to "find herself," commented that my blog is all too serious, and that I shouldn't be offended at having my day's accomplishments called cute.

"I just have to say you all are so serious!!! Goodness, all of this could be great fodder for a great comedic film. And what's so wrong with cute? Aren't our babies cute? Or maybe calling them cute trivializes their experiences, too. Has this ever been considered?"

For the record, I *love* being called cute, when it has everything to do with my outfit and specially coordinated lipstick. But when it comes to writing about a serious topic that affects a lot of great women I know, I don't find it cute. And a lot of women are serious about the identity crisis they are facing as a result of becomming at-home moms. Some women have slumped into depression (I certainly feel that way sometimes), as a result of doing a 180 on their lifes and become mostly invisible.

I think Geeky Mom had a great comment on the intimacy of home-work:
The home is an intimate setting and if the woman is in charge of the home, talking about what she does to manage it feels like talking about sex...Is your home neat or messy? Is your day filled with scrap booking or writing or playing games with the kids? People try to judge what kind of person you are by the answers you give and because it's within the realm of the intimate, they think they've glimpsed the real you. Which, of course, they haven't.
The real me is struggling with who the real me is. Am I a writer? Am I a mother? Am I freak? Am I an overly-serious curmudgeon? I'm portion of all those things, and as my insides fight over which is more important, I'm going to be confused and serious. If I sit back and pretend that everything is hunky-dorey, then I'm cheating myself and my son. I don't want to resent him because I gave up on who I am. I am his mother, first and foremost, but that doesn't mean I should forego other parts of my life. And I don't want to play the what-if game: "Games you can't win, 'cause you play against you," to quote Dr. Suess. What if I had pushed harder to find a job that would compliment my role as a mother? What if I could make parenting coincide with other things that make me an individual in the first place?

This journey will hopefully find all my pieces and put them together again. So, yes, I'm damn serious and determined, and I'm not apologizing for that.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Down with cookie cutters

Diversity is good. People are different. So why should we expect everyone to fit into the same cookie-cutter career paths?

Lisa Belkin had a column in the Sunday New York Times called, "Envisioning a Career Path With Pit Stops." It basically said that jobs need to be adapted to fit a modern society that acknowledges that men aren't the only ones who want to work and excel in a career. This would allow women (and men) to take pit stops along the way for maternity leave and child rearing and still be able to accelerate back into the workforce when they are ready.

This was a follow-up piece to the Lawrence Summers speech, and Belkin's biggest problem was with Summers' notion that if you work less, you get less. It seems logical on the surface. You pay less for a car, you get a smaller car (compact sports cars cost a lot); you pay less for an airline ticket and sit in coach (I've had a free upgrade before); you get a small dog, you end up with smaller poop (depends on what you feed it). Just like these ridiculous statements, on the surface Summers' comment doesn't "sound all that explosive, does it? And that is the problem."

A debate raged on this blog last month when I said that the biggest problems with the Harvard President's comments were the fact that people are expected to work 80 hours a week if they want to be successful. We don't have a cookie-cutter society, so I don't understand why we have cookie-cutter jobs and cookie-cutter expectations around what makes someone successful. Belkin wrote:
To help workers reach different destinations, we must revamp outdated roads - ones that do not work for more than half the working population. It means building a tenure track that does not create a black hole during the prime child-bearing years; it means assuming that child-care leave can last years, not weeks, and that systems will exist to keep workers up to speed while they are away; it means a partnership track not only for the young and tireless but also for the older and wiser; it means scientific research grants that allow for pauses - like maternity leave and child-rearing time.
I'm just excited to see this being discussed in mainstream media. Hopefully as more people--both men and women--read about it, the more everyone will realize the inequities, and push for change.

Then we'll have cookies in all shapes and sizes and our biggest problem will be deciding which one to eat first.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Am I cute or what?

The struggle to fill this unemployed void seeps into every facet of my life. I'm a women, mother, friend, daughter, wife, and none of those segments feel complete.

Maybe I'm just plain crazy, but it feels like this void cuts into my soul. Maybe much of what I feel is a supreme hormonal imbalance. Maybe it's insanity. Maybe it's dreaming a dream that just is not going to come true. Who knows. No matter what the reason, it's a hard reality to deal with, and so many women are struggling with not knowing who or what they are now that they are at-home moms. In our old lives, we were assigned to a category that could be summed up in a single, all-encompassing and satisfying noun. I'm a reporter. I'm an attorney. I'm a paramedic. I'm a teacher. I'm a student. I'm a therapist.

Now our sentences start the same: "I'm a..." And they still end with a noun. But this is a noun that makes people at parties sweat as their eyes dart back and forth as they plot their get-away. Our sentences ends with "mother." I'm embarrassed to admit it, but before I was on the receiving end of that behavior, I was guilty doing the same thing. Why are we programmed to think that mothering is not worthy?

In addition to not being worthy, I want to thank David Hochman at the New York Times for proclaiming that women (and men) who write about parenting are also needy. A couple of days ago, I responded to that article by stating that moms can't be needy because we don't have time. But I change my mind.

Yes, I'm needy. I need to walk the dogs. I need to do the laundry. I need to grocery shop. Sometimes I need to do things that have nothing to do with parenting or domesticity. I need to take a shower (at least occasionally). I need to stay connected with friends and family. For sanity, I need to stand outside every day and breathe some fresh air. I need to drink decaf instead of regular. I need to write. I don't need--but it sure feels good--to help friends, organize the house, donate old stuff, and just try to be a good and productive human being. So I guess I'm pretty needy after all.

Yesterday, under-employed Attorney Friend, who is currently a scrapbooking consultant, helped me start assembling a very sassy wedding album (even though I've been married for more than six years). In return, I'm teaching her some basics of vegetarian cooking, since she gave up meat last Fall, after reading Fast Food Nation.

The two of us had a very productive and satisfying day. At least I felt that I had until I told Father in Chief about our afternoon of scrapbooking and cooking. "That's so cute," he said. He is a wonderfully supportive and loving person and meant nothing hurtful by this statement, but that comment cut off my sense of satisfaction and tossed it into the garbage bin.

I don't want to be cute.

Calling my day's accomplishments cute trivializes my world. Just because my work doesn't involve strategizing about cool new technologies, life-changing gadgets, mergers and acquisitions, IPOs, or SEC filings, or any other job that could be categorized in the "not cute" category, doesn't make what I do trivial or cute.

Yes, I admit that I am being overly sensitive. Maybe I need some serious therapy to get out of my slump. Maybe I need a job. Maybe I need to try harder to find greater satisfaction in what I do as a parent. Whatever it is, there's no syllabus or map or instruction manual. And it sucks to be lost.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Figment of my imagination

Maybe what I'm looking for does not exist anywhere outside of my imagination.

It would be grand to write prose for a parenting magazine on a regular basis. To get one or two assignments a month. I would research, report, and write five to 10 hours per week when my son is sleeping. It sounds so glorious that I need to come to terms with the fact that this notion 100 percent fiction. This job does not exist, especially for a reporter who never had a paying job covering parenting issues.

Freelance Writing Friend (FWF) stayed with us for 24 hours between her trips to the wine country and London, and before heading back to her home base in Washington, D.C. Her trip was mostly personal to see if she'd like to move back to the San Francisco Bay Area (duh) and to squeeze a few stories out so that said personal exploratory venture could also be a business trip. Or at least not a totally money losing venture.

While she was here, FWF checked her email no less than 12 times in that 24-hour period, signed up with a faxing service so that an editor could fax her a copy of the page her story will appear on in the magazine's next issue, so that she could read it over, talked to said editor while trying to get dressed and packed for next destination, made contacts at a couple Bay Area publications and emailed her resume and clips, exchanged email with a different editor regarding 2,200 word piece she recently turned in, searched local writing job-listings online, and was generally stressed out on how hard it is to be a freelance writer.

FWF to MIC: So what would your ideal job be.

MIC to FWF: Exactly like writing my blog, only I get paid.

FWF to MIC: How many hours do you blog a week?

MIC to FWF: About 15 hours (includes reading blogs, research, and writing)

FWF to MIC: That's about how much time I spend each week on proposals alone.

MIC to FWF: Gulp... (followed by long silence)

Because I don't *have* to work, but rather I want to work, I am going to be choosy. I'm not just going to go after projects that don't interest me, just to get a by-line. Maybe my inability to unwillingness to do that will prevent me from getting what I be a part-time writer, who also gets paid occasionally, who also gets to have a by-line, and subsequently gains enormous self-worth.