Thursday, January 29, 2009

Work and home angst in a difficult economy

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pretty staunch advocate of my working. When the kids were little many of my friends would feel guilty for missing out on circle time at nursery school or not going to gymnastics class with the kids. I (almost) always felt like going to work was the right thing for me and my family, and as long as I did not miss out of the BIG IMPORTANT kid things, then it was ok that I work. I do sometimes feel badly that I don't often see my friends and my husband and I rarely have quality time together, but I have not felt like the kids, or I, was missing out. This was in part because my job generally gives me enough flexibilty that I don't have to miss the BIG IMPORTANT things.

But now work is getting harder. And more stressful. And the stakes seem higher when everyone in our community is losing their jobs. Last week I had a real working mom conflict moment. My daughter won a big award at school and the ceremony was at 9am. Both my husband and I planned to be there. But at 8am I got a call that I had to be at work for a 9am meeting. Now, in a better economy, perhaps I would have said that I was unavailable. But in this environment, telling them I was going to miss a pretty important meeting did not seem like a good idea. First, I cried in private. Then, I very sadly told my daughter that I could not attend the ceremony. I explained that I really needed to go to work, that I want to keep my job, that the family is dependent on my job, and that I was very proud of her and that her dad would share the pictures of the ceremony with me.

I expected some tears. In the past when I have missed certain events, she definitely let me know that she was angry and that it was unfair that I wasn't available. Sometimes she would tell me that she wished I didn't work or that it was unfair that all the other moms were at school but me. But, amazingly, this time she understood. And while I felt badly for not being there, I was extremely proud of her for giving me a hug and telling me that it was ok, dad would be there, and she knew I had to go to work. And I again felt good about working, and having her understand that hard choices have to be made, and that those choices did not mean that I loved her any less, or was any less proud of her. We had two things to celebrate at dinner: her school award, and her growing emotional maturity. To me they were equally important.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Our Louse-y Holiday

Last week, my husband and I passed our first test in nit-picking. Not the metaphorical kind, the real McCoy. What you do so your kids can get an "all clear" from the school nurse and go back to class.

On December 25, while many parents were pulling presents from under the tree, my husband and I were pulling lice from our 4-year-old's hair. With no nuke-the-critters shampoo on hand, we were left to douse our daughter in conditioner and go follicle-to-follicle, hunting down each louse.

Our biggest challenge: convincing a pre-schooler to sit for hours so we could comb through every inch of her scalp. "So what mommy? I like bugs." A Cinderella DVD was the required bribe for stillness, high-pitched mouse songs oddly appropriate to the task at hand.

Hunched over ringlets, with crooks in our necks and tired eyes, my husband and I found ourselves smiling. "How primal is this!" Like cave-dwellers before us, we scouted out 40 little grey beasts (though we flushed our lice down the toilet, didn't eat them : -)). My ability to see the humor dimmed slightly on learning that my daughter's lice had colonized my head too.

I recall a day 30+ years ago when my little brother came home with lice. A mood of shame descended on our home as my fastidious mother faced down the army of icky little fellows and we all felt there had been some failure in cleanliness. There didn't seem anything fun about it.

While I can't say I'm hoping for more lice, it hasn't been all bad. After weeks of checks, rechecks and yanking suspicious items from each other's scalps, my husband, son, daughter and I have a new perspective on each other. And I having my husband patiently comb through my hair felt strangely calming - a kind of bonding we just don't do in modern life.

Maybe it helps to know that lice are not a report card ("They prefer clean, dry hair," a louse expert told me, "can't attach well to oily hair. Not much you can do except tell your kid not to share clothes or hug their friends - good luck until she's 12!") In this time of unexpected challenges, I'm going to thank our louse-y friends for reminding me that adversity is more fun when you face it as a group sport.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thoughts on Michelle Obama and 50/50

In Getting to 50/50, we talk a lot about the benefits to men of their wives working and earning money so that men can take risks and pursue their dreams. It seems to me that the Obamas are actually the best poster children for our 50/50 dream. They have both pursued careers, but often it was Michelle Obama making the bulk of the income for their family, while Barack was a community organizer, professor and public servant. Would he have felt more pressure to make money to support their family rather than follow these passions without a wife who participated in the breadwinning? I actually imagine that a key to his success was that she took care of the basics so that he didn't have to and could concentrate where his talents were best public service.

I actually know quite a few folks who would make fabulous public servants if they didn't have to maintain private industry jobs to support their families. Many lawyer friends would love to run for public office, work for the U.S. Attorney or join the Obama administration, but they have mortgages to pay that makes these changes very difficult. It would be great if working for the government paid more so this would be less of an issue. However, in the meantime, we can think about Michelle as the earliest investor in the Obama presidency. Clearly marrying Michelle was Barack's smartest career decision to date.