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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Judgement-free parenthood for all

I guess I need to clarify my thoughts about being an at-home parent.

I'm thrilled to be at home with Toddler in Chief. I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to have a husband who makes enough money to support the whole family. That way, I can raise our son, and--in my free time--wonder what I want to do for a living when I grow up. In the meantime, I'm writing here, pursuing enjoyable freelance-writing opportunities, and re-living my childhood through TIC. I even applied to grad school last year (I didn't get in, but it was exciting during application process). I'm also contemplating joining a gym.

In my previous post, I wrote:
I know at times I have feared that other people might judge me because I've become one of those women who worked just long enough to get married and have a baby...I never intended to become that woman; it's what happened, but it's not what I set out to do. So now my job is to make sure that's not how my story ends.

And Swamps commented:
I guess what i don't understand is what is wrong with being a woman who works just long enough and then has a child? What, do they expect us to never work? or to never have children? Whoever "they" are. I am that woman. And if someone judges me, then i suppose it's their problem...

My point was this: I did not get married and have a baby so that I could stop working. I wasn't motivated to get pregnant by the idea of quitting my job. (although I have contemplated that scenario recently--and it really brought out some fangs).

And I don't care why other people get pregnant. People get pregnant for lots of reasons--right or wrong, good or bad--and in the end they have beautiful babies to love and to show the world to. That stuff doesn't matter to me and it's really none of my business. The only thing that matters to me is that people love and encourage their kids.

But for me, I didn't have a baby to abandon other chunks of my life. I want to feel fulfilled in all (or at least many) parts of my life as possible. Being a parent is just one aspect of who I am. I am a mother, first and foremost. But I'm also a wife, a woman, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and a writer. And if I'm not working on being good at all of those things, then I feel a void and that makes dislike my primary job.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Are we any different from women a generation ago?

An email from my mother-in-law got me thinking again about how my life might be different (or not so different) from women and mothers who were trying to raise their families decades and generations before me.

She emailed me in response to last Wednesday's post that criticized the NY Times for not filling out their story about college women who want to be at-home moms. My issue was that the story neglected to include the fact that moving from career to motherhood and back to career isn't all that easy. I also felt that it should have included elements that address how corporate America must evolve to retain women who have kids.

She wrote:
...As far as these Yale women are concerned, it sounds more like they grew up in the 60s...."When I grow up I will have 6 children and a handsome, perfect husband." The only difference being that these women were expected to go to college...but one wonders if progress has ever been made in women's expectations and the outcomes aye?...

Is the only difference between me and women a generation ago is that we were expected to get a bachelor's degree? I know at times I have feared that other people might judge me because I've become one of those women who worked just long enough to get married and have a baby.

I never intended to become that woman; it's what happened, but it's not what I set out to do. So now my job is to make sure that's not how my story ends.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

College women set on at-home motherhood

The NY Times ran an article yesterday called, "Many Women at Elite colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood."

It's basically a story about college women at Yale University who have already decided that when the time comes to have kids, they won't wonder about whether or not they should continue a career or take time off to be with their kids. "My mother's always told me can't be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time," Cynthia Liu told the Times. "You always have to choose one over the other." The majority of those college women surveyed said they'd choose family.

I wrote the following as a comment to Elizabeth's post at Half Changed World:

Two of the things that bothered me most about the article: 1) it did NOT talk about how moving in and out of the workforce isn't easy. It isn't easy to find a job that will let you drop to part-time after you have a baby. It isn't easy to take three, four, or six years off to have kids and then jump back in. These young women just assume it will be easy for them. These incredibly educated women plan to leave corporate America for a bunch of years while they raise their babies. This is what my group of mom-friends has already done, but we are just floundering, wondering if we'll ever get back in there in any meaningful way. But it does tell me is that this trend is not going away. And 2) It did not talk about how corporate America is going to *HAVE* to change and adapt to these women. Otherwise, I fear we are moving backwards. I fear that businesses will become even more hesitant (even though it's illegal), to hire women in the first place, especially women of child-bearing age.

I think it's great that these women know that they want to have kids early in life. When I was in my late teens or early twenties, the idea of having kids was about as appealing as dabbing rubbing alcohol on an open wound. So the fact that they know they want kids and that they want to be with those kids, they are at least a step ahead of me.

But fulfilling their expectations won't be easy unless our society learns to value motherhood. It reminds me of a piece that Miriam at Playground Revolution wrote earlier this week called, "On my mind." It's about how we're always talking about stuff, but nothing is really changing. And that really hit home for me. I commented:

...What are we doing? I'm always talking and writing, writing and talking about these issues that affect women/mothers in the work place, but really I know nothing about making any kind of change....

So to buck the trend of me just writing and talking about stuff, I'm giving myself a homework assignment. Assignment #1: I'm going to identify two people who are working on women in the workplace issues and see what I can do.

These Yale women might want to work and take time off to be with their kids and then head back to work along a smooth road, but unless some serious changes happen, it will probably be a lot bumpier than they envision. I know it has been for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Work changed the way I spend time with TIC

A couple of months ago when I was working on my freelance gig, something happened. Instead of fretting all the time because I was dropping Toddler in Chief off with the sitter two or three days a week, I felt great. And it was almost more fun to be with my yard-stick-sized buddy, when we were together.

Instead of worrying that I wasn't spending enough quality time with him, I changed the way I spend time with him--and I didn't even realize it until just recently.

I started making a conscious effort to have "quality time" with him. Not that I wasn't having quality time with him before. But before I was around all the time and I would drift into and out of his projects. He'd be playing and I'd come over and set up the wooden train track and then disappear. I'd come over and get out the crayons and tape up a clean piece of paper for the easel and then disappear.

A lot of that still happens--even though I'm not doing that particular freelance thing anymore--but I started being more conscious of my time with him and the activities we do together. Perhaps because I was conscious of the fact that there was less time with him overall?

When I wasn't working at all, we were just together all the time. But when I was working I had to think about when we were together and what fun things we would do together. This gets back to something I wondered about a long time back--do moms that work actually spend more quality time with their kids than moms who don't work.

I don't know the answer to that, and I'm not pushing one choice over another. But I'm just wondering, maybe the more time you're away from your kid, the more quality stuff you try to cram into the time you do have together. And when you don't work (at an official, paying job), the quality time is still there, but just spread out over a full day--between changing the sheets, cleaning paint off the rug, and trying to find a home for all of the photos trapped in my digital camera.

Although, it seems like the more experience I get at being a mom, and the older and more mischievous Toddler in Chief becomes, he is increasingly a bigger part of my regular daily activities, which in turn becomes part of our quality time. Giggling while I unsuccessfully try to fold the fitted sheets, helping pull clothes out of the dryer, taking his turn emailing Grammy and Grampy, and deciding I should get apples instead of pears, is becoming quality time because he can contribute in his own two-year-old way.

No matter what the reason, I like it.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Talk radio insults again

It only took six minutes to make me hate sports radio.

We took the train home from the San Francisco Giants game last night. But after that, we had a six-minute drive from the train station to our house. During our brief car ride, we tuned into KNBR 680 for a little post-game filler to remind us of the good stuff we'd just seen at SBC Park (The Giants won 5-4 against the LA Dodgers; and Barry Bonds hit his first home run of the season--career home run #704).

We heard two callers--who happened to be women--talk with host Bruce Macgowan about the game.

Not only did Macgowan comment on the fact that women were calling in, he made the lame comment "don't tell my wife"--not once, not twice, but three times in those few short minutes. His point was that women couldn't possibly be interested in baseball enough to call a talk radio show to discuss legitimate sports stuff. They *must* be calling because they are hot for him. Give me a break.

He was trying to be funny and tongue in cheek, but it came off as lame, male-chauvinistic garbage.

It made me think that NPR got it right during a Talk of the Nation program that responded to the ethnic slur made by KNBR Larry Krueger on August 3. It's not "sports radio." It's "white guy radio."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Warren Farrell and Lawrence Summers must be pals

I wouldn't want to be Warren Farrell's daughter.

Software Engineering Friend emailed me a link to Warren Farrell's op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times on September 5, in honor of Labor Day. When I first read it, I honestly wasn't sure what to think about it. So I've been sitting on it for a week, wondering how to respond.

Could it be? Do single, childless women actually earn more (117 percent) than their male counterparts, as Farrell suggests in his piece entitled, "Exploiting the Gender Gap." Does that mean women who have children choose to earn less money? Does that mean that once women voluntarily enter into a legally-binding relationship and spawn dependents, they consciously or unconsciously give up on themselves? He wrote that the statistic about women earning just 79 cents for every dollar men make is a myth:

There are 80 jobs in which women earn more than men - positions like financial analyst, speech-language pathologist, radiation therapist, library worker, biological technician, motion picture projectionist. Female sales engineers make 143 percent of their male counterparts; female statisticians earn 135 percent.

On the surface, that sounds encouraging. But the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. There are only 80 jobs out there where women earn more than men??!! That's disgusting. There are thousands of different jobs, so why should me earn more than women in just a handful of jobs.

Farrell went on to write that comparing the salaries of women doctors to male doctors "is to compare apples and oranges" because there are so many different types of doctors. He wrote that women tend to choose general practitioner roles and men tend to be surgeons. I believe his point is that surgeons typically make more money than general practitioners. And it is all fine and well to say that certain types of doctors earn more than others, but if you're going to argue that the reason women doctors earn less than men doctors is because of the type of doctor they are, then follow it up with data that suggests male and female cardiothoracic surgeons typically make the same salary. Or that male and female general practitioners generally make the same salary.

But he did not provide any such detail. I can only speculate that the reason he does not provide that kind of data is because it would still show sexist discrimination against women. That women who are equally educated, who work with the same job title, have the same number of years experience, at the same company earn less money than the men holding those jobs. That can only lead me to believe that Warren Farrell is doing his best to perpetrate a lie that makes women feel like they just aren't trying hard enough. Like it is their own fault for earning less money.

He wrote: "After years of research, I discovered 25 differences in the work-life choices of men and women. All 25 lead to men earning more money, but to women having better lives." But then later, he wrote: "However, when all 25 choices are the same, the great news for women is that then the women make more than the men." Unfortunately, Farrell doesn't really give us much insight on what those 25 difference really are. I'll be the most influential difference in his research is whether the person has a vagina or a penia.

MarkCC commented on Pandagon's blog about this article and the perception and reality of equality and salaries:

...My wife and I both work for the research lab of a big company. She's a lot smarter than me, and frankly, a lot better at being a researcher. And she's been a first-line manager for a year. But I make more than her. And not by a little bit.

What I've learned is that when *I*, as a man, do something like leave work early to go pick up my kids, I get credit for it: "Wow, look what a good, devoted father". When *she* does the same thing, people look at it very differently: "that woman is blowing off her work for her kids".

It doesn't matter what the reality is - the perception is that as a woman with kids will work less hard, for less time. And no matter how many hours she puts in, she'll never get the same credit as me, even though she's *better*.

Just as Warren Summers apologized for his remarks about women being less inclined to handle research jobs, I hope Farrell sees the error in his ways. It just seems that if we keep pounding this garbage into the world then people will start believing it. It even took me a couple of days to sort out my feelings. I don't want to get brainwashed!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bye bye doggies; bye bye guilt

We gave our dogs away. Call me lame. Call me lazy. Call me an exhausted mom who couldn't segment my life anymore.

I got a call from a woman in Glen Elyn last week who adopted our two beautiful Samoyeds, Randi and Mabel. They are thrilled to have them in their lives and we are thrilled that they found a permanent loving home.

While Randi and Mabel were our first babies--we adopted these luscious littermates in February 2000--Toddler in Chief’s health problems made life with dogs very hard. Dog germs are bad for TIC (born without spleen, along with heart defect).

Who knew that two 45-pound dogs could make so many piles of poop? And in addition to fouling up the yard, these dogs were especially germy. They loved--and were especially good at--finding, eating, and rolling in dead animals, or vomit, or animal feces when we'd be out hiking on the dog-friendly trails. And since they are so furry, these nasty and often aromatic remnants were ground into their fur. On those special and routine occasions, the dogs would be outside for days on end.

Before TIC was walking, we could keep him on a clean section of the rug and the dogs could be sequestered to another part of the house. But once he was able to get around and he could see the dogs, he wanted to be with them. And of course, the dogs wanted to be with him.

So, my solution was to drop the dogs in the yard when he woke up in the morning, and they were out there until after he went to bed at night. This wasn't a fun life for them and it was guilt-ridden experience all around. They wanted to be with their people and we couldn't be with them.

The dogs were taken in by the San Francisco Samoyed Rescue’s network a couple of months ago. They'd been living with a foster family in Brentwood, California, which is 55 miles east of San Francisco. Father in Chief drove them to this foster home one night after Randi broke out of the yard and was picked up by the police and ended up at the Humane Society.

But finally, two months after handing the girls into the rescue system, they found a home. I know we did the right thing, and I'm comforted by the fact that they will forget us long before we forget them.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The not-so-normal route to parenthood

Earlier this week Tertia wrote a post that hit so close to home that it helped me realize why I feel so sad whenever I hear about the birth of a baby.

She wrote about infertility and how her scars from her journey through infertility don't go away, just because she's (finally) had two beautiful babies. She wrote, "Infertility is so part of who I am, where I come from, the scars I carry and the way my life has turned out."

I never went down the IVF road, but her feelings about being envious of people who are able to get pregnant without much effort reminded me of our start. Our emotionally explosive, surreal, and unbelievable start that jolted us away from a normal birth experience, normal parenthood, and onto a road that we didn't even know existed: the road of a child with a heart defect.

There is a lingering sadness that I so often forget is a part of me. And it usually resurfaces at the most unusual times--when I get a birth announcement from a friend or forwarded through email. I hadn't been able to put my finger on this sadness. It just felt so horrible, so shameful. But it makes so much sense. These pictures of mother and baby make me cry because I don't have those pictures to lean on. I don't have those joyful times tucked away in my memory.

I am not joyful for these new parents--our friends--who are embarking on an amazingly fulfilling and simultaneously exhausting journey.

I feel total sadness. I feel jealousy. I feel anger.

And I'm ashamed to feel that way. Those feelings eventually subside and I'm able to feel the good feelings. I'm finally able to pick up the phone and express my true feelings--the appropriate joy and excitement. And while those initial feelings don't make me feel very good about myself, Tertia's comments were liberating. She wrote: "This might not be a particularly admirable part of my character, I am not proud of the way I feel, but this is who I am. I'm sorry, but the scars still linger."

My scars began in the delivery room and so when I hear of anyone having a baby, I start my gut-wrenching birth experience all over again. It's part of who I am, just as infertility is part of who Tertia is. As time goes by, I hope that I can tuck those scars into my memory so that I can liberate the more-appropriate tears of joy from the start.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Eating vicariously for two

It's already been established that every woman I know on this planet is pregnant with their subsequent baby. As a result, something strange and mysterious is happening to my waistline.

I'll readily admit that one of my favorite parts of being pregnant and the subsequent nursing-fest that ensued for nearly 22 months was all the food. The glorious food. The pastries and cakes and cookies and ice cream and cheese galore and heaping-helpings of everything--including seconds.

So now I'm surrounded by MILFy-esque women who are chowing down. They are looking gorgeous in their early- and mid-maternity beauty and they are feasting in the spirit of motherhood. They are feasting because their bodies demand it. They are feasting because if they don't, they'll be puking instead. And it's just not fair. So I've been indulging, just a little here and there.

I had given up desserts of all kind not that long ago for wardrobe-related reasons. But now that everyone is feasting, my will power has been ditched along with the spermicide in all of my girlfriends' bedside tables. It's as if my body is gearing up for a pregnancy that does not exist...unless my stomach knows something that the rest of my body doesn't know about.

In the meantime, I'm thoroughly enjoying the culinary delights that go hand in hand with pregnancy--without the pregnancy, without the morning sickness, and without the exhaustion.

But if I keep going at this rate, my skin will be glowing from all the fatty foods, my closet will be overtaken with my pregnancy gear, and my belly will be bulging--not with baby--but with good old-fashioned motherly flab.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The "Laziest Mother" award goes to...


I don't know what happens to my parenting skills whenever a grandparent comes to town. And I can only imagine what Toddler in Chief's grandparents must think of me whenever they come for a visit.

I am not normally a lazy parent. But when family is around, I deserve the laziest-parent award. My mother has been visiting for nearly two weeks and I'm getting lazier by the day. TIC asks for food and I ignore him. He wants help getting his cup off the table and I walk away. He cries for attention and I leave the relatives to their own devices to figure him out. I can't wait to get away, to fully ignore my child for days on end. It's like having a full-time nanny. And it's like the warm sun itself.

When TIC wakes up in the morning, I just let him cry until a someone goes to lift him out of his crib and change him out of his soggy diaper. I stay in bed for an extra 30 minutes. When I finally appear, I'm unapologetic.

I've even been honing my manipulation skills.

When asked if Father in Chief and I are thinking about another baby, I say: "if you lived here, then we'd probably already have another. It's hard when you don't have any family nearby." I've been trying to get my mother--along with any and every family member--to move here. I get so exhausted being the full-time parent without anyone to lean on, especially during business hours.

When I confessed this manipulation to Therapist Friend, she concurred. "If I had family nearby, I'd already have another baby," she said. "Shit, maybe I'd already have two more!"

And truth be told, this "special hands-on time" with TIC is a treat for the grandparents. And my laziness is temporory; it expires when we drop the relatives at the airport.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Is this the United States of America?

Last time I checked I live in the United States and I'm certain that Louisiana is part of the United States. I even just double-checked the map to be certain.

Yet, when I watch the destruction and devastation and death on television, you wouldn't be able tell. I am disgusted at the slow moving efforts that our government has taken to help the stranded people of Louisiana, who are starving and dehydrated and dying in front of us on live television.

Our government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to fight a war in Iraq, yet we can't even get together to help people in our own country. Is it because Louisiana isn't a top oil producer?

Instead Bush held a press conference with Former Presidents Clinton and Bush to ask the people of this country to open their wallets to help the efforts. I'm all for people donating money and I already have, but this country is so wealthy that we shouldn't need to wait for the citizens of this country to pay for some aid.

Where are the helicopters dropping food and water and medicine and diapers? Why isn't every working airplane taking necessities to Louisiana? Why isn't every available helicopter finding and rescuing refugees slowing dying on rooftops?

I heard on the news that Congress is going to get together sometime this weekend or early next week to approve an aid package. I don't understand why it is taking so long. It is disgusting that action wasn't taken immediately.

As we watch this unfold before our eyes, I hold my son and cry as these women hold their infants and beg for water and food so that they children don't die in their arms. I have written a letter to every one of my elected officials from President Bush all the way down my city's mayor and city clerk to find out what they have done to help.

This is inexcusable.

Find your elected officials and light a fire.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I'm so grateful

As hurricane Katrina's wrath dissolved so many of the lives that it touched, I can't help but be grateful for so many things.

While much of the time I'm stressing about my lack of career and that sometimes I use disposable diapers when I'm heading out of the house for long stretches of time, really it's all so insignificant.

I'm so grateful for my health, my son, my husband. I'm thankful for our families. When Toddler in Chief was born with his undiagnosed health problems, our family felt no hesitation to leave their lives behind so that we had someone to lean on. They did this again when it was time for his second open-heart operation. And they will do it again and again and again.

I'm so grateful for the love I share with Father in Chief. He is a rock. While I get frustrated at the long hours he works and the long bike rides he goes on to unwind, I know that he is solid. Our love is strong and he is an amazing father to our son.

I'm so grateful for our good fortune. We have a home and we have room to share for the times we are fortunate enough to have company to share our daily lives with.

I'm so grateful for the generosity of our citizens. So often we get lost in the sea of red state/blue state politics, but when there are times of need, the people of this country can be compassionate and charitable and selfless. On Dateline NBC last night, there were many stories of people helping each other through the flood and sharing food and gasoline, when they had little to give.

And our country has the ability to give. We did during 9/11, the Asian Tsunami and will again this time. If you are able to help the efforts and the people affected by Katrina, call the Red Cross at 1-800 HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669.).