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Monday, January 29, 2007

Distorting the truth

I still shake my head in bewilderment when I think about a story I wrote several years ago about a company that saw its stock rise 40 percent in one day based on a misleading press release. The company's spokeswoman told me, "We compared apples to oranges just to prove a point." Their point cost people a hefty load of money.

I know press releases are not often reflective of reality. That said, I'm really annoyed with a press release issued on January 16, by the Simmons School of Management (SOM). It was called, "Most Women Aren't 'Opting Out' of the Work Force, Simmons Study Finds: Women are Leading the Way to a New Career Model, Authors Say."

The SOM press release said the study examined how many women were leaving the workforce during different points in their careers, why they made certain career choices, and how they tried to manage a work-life balance. The take-away: positive. Just don't think that their sample was representative of women, or even regular college-educated women. The findings were based on "400 middle- and senior-level professional women from around the nation with an average of 20 years' work experience from across the business and non-profit spectrum, who attended the 2006 Simmons School of Management Leadership Conference in Boston."

Talk about a small slice of reality. But that was not all. The full study footnotes admit that their sample set was very skewed towards the positive findings that they reported:
The sample was described as "highly qualified women" who had a college degree with honors or a graduate degree. The SOM sample could be defined as "professional women who have chosen to remain employed full-time." Given that the U.S. Department of Labor states that 75% of employed women in 2005 worked full-time, the SOM sample over-represented these women. Given that 33% of women aged 25-64 held college degrees in 2004...[the] sample over-represented these women.

Women are not opting out of the workforce in droves, said lead study author Professor Mary Shapiro of the Simmons School of Management, in the press release. "It's a myth--based on a handful of anecdotes in the popular press about white, high-income women," Shapiro said. But based on their own skewed sample, are the SOM findings spreading a myth of their own? It too is based on a handful of anecdotes from white ("Given the expected demographics of the population from which we were drawing our sample, we recognized that we would have a small percentage of women of color to study") and high income (average salary: $116,000) women.

So which is a bigger myth? The opting out? Or the study findings?

The SOM survey cited improvements over a 2005 Hewlett and Luce study. For example, SOM said "less than half the number in our survey left the workforce temporarily." Since I don't have the H&L study to look at, it's hard to know if things improved that drastically in one year. If the sample sets were similar, this would be a big improvement. But if the H&L sample included a larger demographic, would there still be a positive trend?

I would like nothing more than to find out that women are getting more flexibility from their employers. But it is difficult to know what is real when press releases are perpetrating more myths. To be fair, if over time, this particular study finds that this particular subset of women is getting more flexibility from their employers, that is great. At that point, we can hope that those benefits trickle down to all women.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Making sense of ourselves

Here I am world. Hear me. Sense my presence. Feel my pain. Acknowledge my existence. Relate to my experience. Read my words. Remember me when I'm gone.

I was touched by Anna Quindlen's January 22, Newsweek piece called, "Write for Your Life: Wouldn't all of us love to have a journal, a memoir, a letter, from those we have loved and lost? Shouldn't all of us leave a bit of that behind?" Her essay was about the movie Freedom Writers and how a teacher inspired her students to write not for other people, but for themselves. She wrote that the kids "embraced a concept that has been lost in modern life: writing can make pain tolerable, confusion clearer and the self stronger." I learned this lesson when I was in high school, and it has continued to help me through the good and the bad that I have experienced--although the bad seems to fuel much more expressive prose.

The movie "is about the power of writing in the lives of ordinary people," wrote Quindlen. While I completely agree with the benefits of writing, I think Quindlen failed to recognize the importance of what is happening with blogs. This is why so many of us write. Most of us are just regular people with regular lives trying to figure it all out. We are putting pieces of ourselves out there for others to read, to relate to, to extinguish our own feelings of isolation, to reach out, to connect, to be. Through that desire, we ultimately are writing for ourselves, as therapy, to work out difficult emotions, to get through the pain of our own trials and tribulations, and to show that we are here. And even if no one sees us, there is proof that we existed through our words.

Our medium may not be those black and white composition notebooks or pretty journals. Our medium is the computer, the keyboard, the Internet. Ultimately, regardless of whether or not anyone reads our words--although we like it when people do--it really comes down to us helping ourselves.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Important things I learned while dancing

I had an opportunity to go out dancing with a couple of friends last Thursday. I paid for it dearly Friday morning. However, I learned two important things that night:
  1. Never, ever have more than one Long Island Iced Tea. Ever. It often seems like a good idea to have a second while the first one is making me an awesome dancer. But it's not. Trust me.

  2. Teacher friend--who landed a nice bruise on her bum after falling on the dance floor--shared some dancing words of wisdom with me: "If you don't fall down, it's because you didn't try hard enough." 
I must not have been trying hard enough on Thursday despite my several attempts. I still had a most excellent time.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Facing my wreckage

It seems like whenever I have time to write, I find that there are so many other really important things to do, like organizing the silverware drawer or scrubbing out the diaper bin. Ah, procrastination. I remember in college, my room or apartment would get a good one-over if I had a paper I should have been be working on.

Anyway, I'm feeling a bit blue because January is half over and I haven't done any actual writing on the book. There have been lots of blog posts, reading, but nothing on the book. Actually, that's not totally true. I have done some organizing of ideas and some editing here and there, but just not actual writing. It's hard to sit down to write because it's just such deeply personal stuff that focuses on really tough times over the past couple of years. I know I haven't really disclosed what my book is about, but let's just say it is a non-fiction book that pulls from personal experience.

As a result, this writing process sort of reminds me of picking up a nasty piece of old wood you come across when you're hiking in a damp forest. You're intrigued to see what's under there because there is always funky stuff under and old wet log, but it's often a bit disturbing to see the worms and fungus and centipedes and other grubby creatures that live under there. Some of it isn't pretty and it can make people turn away in disgust--just like the stuff hibernating in my brain.

I know I'm excited to write this book. It's a huge relief to have identified the topic and format for my book. But then there is the actual writing part, the part that involves thinking and working and pulling those emotions from my brain--those emotions and feelings I've so desperately tried to get away from--to the forefront. It's scary to go in and find out what is really in there.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New job, positive impact on stomach

It doesn't seem like it's been that long since Father in Chief left Yahoo to join family-friendly start-up JotSpot. It was a great move for our family because the company's culture was being defined by people who also have kids, who make their family lives a priority. This was a stark difference from Yahoo. There, FIC reported to people that 1) didn't have kids or 2) who left their kids for extended hours each day as both parents held big jobs with long hours. When I first wrote about it, I ruffled some tender feathers at Yahoo. To be clear, I never said that having kids with a nanny or in childcare for 10-plus hours a day was bad (although it's not the family life I want). I simply stated the facts: It's often hard for people who make those choices to understand the parents who don't want regularly scheduled 7 pm meetings. I touched a tender chord, apparently.

Anyway, the start-up life was grand. Father in Chief was able to do some work at home in the morning and have an occasionally breakfast with Preschooler in Chief. It was occasionally because PIC is a very late sleeper, often getting up after 9 am. FIC was also nearly always home for dinner and our regular evening routine. This is important to the home life we want for our kids, for ourselves. We want FIC to be an everyday part of our family life--not a weekend guest, a visitor who appears on special occasions, or someone who just kisses the kids long after they are asleep in bed.

But just 18 months later, he finds himself back at a big company. Google bought JotSpot last October, and our concerns of long hours, late meetings and unsympathetic managers have not materialized. Quite the contrary. FIC has eased into his new role without sacrificing our morning, dinner or evening rituals. Yes, there are and will be occasional late meetings or early morning calls, but nothing of any magnitude has chipped our family's foundation. No wonder Fortune Magazine named Google the No. 1 company to work for in 2007. And the fabulous, free, better-than-Whole-Foods-quality meals are a nice perk as well.

Monday, January 08, 2007

It only takes 15 minutes

I miss my husband. I miss talking with him, connecting with him. I miss sitting on the couch with our legs intertwined while we talk about our days--the mundane, the exciting, the regular stuff that is the bulk of our everyday lives. Sure, we have managed date nights here and there, but I don't want to be married only on the weekends.

During my first writing date with Aspiring Writer Friend, we talked much more than we wrote. Actually we did not write at all. That does not mean we didn't accomplish anything. We talked about writing. We talked about what we want to from our weekly dates. For her, she wants to flesh out ideas to turn into essays to submit to various publications. I need someone to bounce my ideas off of for my non-fiction book.

But that's not all. We talked about our pasts. We talked about our kids. We talked about our marriages. One of the things that came up was that it is difficult to stay connected with our spouses when there is a never-ending list of things to accomplish in our lives packed with play dates, trips to the park, and laundry. When Father in Chief comes home, we eat dinner as a family. Then it's medicine time, bath time, book time, and bedtime for the kids. We clean up, watch a bit of useless television, check email, and if we're lucky, we read for five minutes before succumbing to our exhaustion. There is so little time for ourselves. There is even less time for our relationship. AWF nodded as if I had just recited her life. Or at least it was her life until recently.

She recently initiated a new rule in her house. As soon as the kids are in bed, they sit together and talk for 15 minutes. No kids, no television, no computers, no distractions, no agenda. I immediately brought her simple idea home. The first night was horrible. We couldn't understand each other. We couldn't see each other's points of view. We couldn't hear each other. We fought. Probably because there was so much pent up stuff to talk about. It was a total failure. But we didn't give up.

We're only on day five, but I'm in it for the long haul. I want to be married forever and I don't want us to be strangers. You know, those old couples sitting in restaurants in total silence who ran out of things to say during the Reagan administration. This means we need to talk. We need to stay a part of each other's minutiae. What a simple and obvious idea. But when you have kids and jobs and responsibilities, it's not always easy. And maybe, just maybe, we'll eventually get to that other thing that only takes 15 minutes. One can dream anyway.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A moment of silence, privacy

There is no such thing as a leisurely pooh around here. When you live with a nimble-witted kid, potty time is no time for lingering, dawdling, or reading. There is also no such thing as a solo pooh around here. Any attempt at privacy is immediately thwarted. The door is opened to observe not only the process of elimination, but to actively participate in the flushing of elimination. This is followed by a serious of questions on the whereabouts of the toilet's contents when they are no longer visible to the spectator.

While Preschooler in Chief (formerly known as Toddler in Chief) was at his first day of school yesterday, something completely unexpected happened--I sat on the toilet with the door closed! I went in, pulled my pants down, and then realized I was alone--Baby in Chief was asleep and PIC was at school. I hesitated at first because a closed bathroom door seemed so kooky. But I overcame my reluctance, closed the door, and did my thing in total privacy. I even lingered with a magazine. I sat there for so long that my legs started to go numb. It was glorious and worth all the subsequent pins and needles.

If someone had told me about this lovely and unexpected side effect of PIC attending preschool, he would have been signed up ages ago.

Public potty time: this little nugget should be added to the list of things that never occured to me before having kids.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

It's all about me, me, me

Toddler in Chief started preschool today. Father in Chief dropped him off and I wasn't sad at all. Rather I'm quite elated to start this New Year in a new direction, and it's all about getting me out of my rut. Sure TIC is ready to be in a new environment with new people and new grown-ups and new toys. But lets face it, I'm ready to have him in a new environment with other people so I don't have to listen to his shouting and whining. He sure is exercising his ego recently and he's testing all the limits. So preschool is just the thing. It's a weekly 10-hour break--ahem, I mean quality pre-kindergarten educational experience--for TIC.

But that's not all. Another bonus of TIC being in school is that I'll get to have some one-on-one time with Baby in Chief. But moreover, the real bonus is some time for me, me, me. And it will not include couch time and a bin of Linzer chocolates.

I have bigger plans than that. I'm excited to hunker down and write while BIC is sleeping (oh joyful three naps a day!!). I even joined the gym, and it has a lovely childcare center for BIC. He tried it out today and found that napping in someone's arms while mom is out of sight is quite lovely. Yoga seems to be my kind of exercise. There some stretching. Then you lie on the floor with you eyes closed for a while. Then you do more stretching. More eyes closed. Aaaah. Or perhaps I should say: "Owww-uummmm." But I am very sore after all that stretching. I have not done any official exercising in a long, long time. Yes, the baby weight is long gone--breastfeeding is the best exercise on the planet--but my muscles are sadly neglected.

I even have a weekly writing date scheduled with Aspiring Writer Friend. Today is the first one. I can't wait! So me, me, me. It has been a long time since I have put me first for anything. TIC will be fine. BIC will be fine. And I'm not guilty at all. Then again, it's only January 4.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Good riddance, sort of

I couldn't be happier about saying good-bye to 2006. For the most part, it was an incredibly crappy year for the Mother in Chief household. Still, there were a few glimmers of goodness among the muck. So instead of dwelling on the muck, I'd like to point out a few goodies to be thankful for as I start 2007.

  1. Toddler in Chief survived his third heart surgery and long hospitalization.

  2. Our incredible families provided us with tremendous support through it all.

  3. I did not go into pre-term labor after I fell down the stairs when I was eight months pregnant.

  4. I gave birth to a healthy and fabulous baby boy.

  5. Father in Chief's company was bought by Google and he is happy at his new job.

  6. I visited my fabulous friend in Atlanta.

  7. I visited Grammy & Wayne, Grandma, Grandpa and others in Western New York.

  8. The worst thing Grammy & Wayne lost during a devastating, freak October snowstorm was an apple tree.

  9. I stopped hating my sister in law.

  10. My brother and mom who have been estranged for nearly a decade are starting to mend their relationship.

  11. Father in Chief did not break any bones or have any debilitating injuries following a serious cycling accident.

  12. I started writing a book.

  13. I donated breastmilk to a family who adopted a baby boy.

  14. We attended Family Camp, which is an amazing free camp for families who have kids with heart defects.

  15. My sister in law got engaged and is buying a house with her hubby-to-be.

  16. Grampy got a job writing grants at a non-profit in Buffalo.
This list is not complete, so please excuse my inadvertent omissions. Here's to the good overshadowing the bad in 2007!