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Tag Archives | working mom

Define “best and brightest”


I wrote this post back in the halycon days of Obama’s first presidency and well before “lean in” became a meme and not an athletic command.  I like to think that even with newborn Caleb strapped to my chest, I did a pretty good job at my job, but then I again, I was half-asleep most of the time, so I might not be the best judge. Outlaw Mama runs a great Friday series about women and work, which you might check out if either of those categories–a woman or a worker–pertains to you.

“Critics worry about academic insularity,” reads the title of an article in Sunday’s Washington Post online edition. It’s not quite a backlash – yet – but almost every day, it seems, there’s another little niggling worry posted somewhere about all the Ivy Leaguers making up Obama’s new administration.Sometimes it’s even one of the lead stories for the day.

Seems Barack has appointed people who went to really elite schools, like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford; he’s also appointed others who couldn’t quite cut the mustard and had to make do with such slacker schools as University of Chicago, University of Virginia, and MIT.

Frank Rich on Sunday sounded one such note of worry, pointing out that the phrase “best and brightest,” which David Halberstam used as the title of his book about Viet Nam, was intended ironically: a group of incredibly well-educated men (more about that in a minute) got us stuck in Viet Nam and couldn’t get us out. Other pundits on both the left and the right have sounded equally worried about what will happen when all these ivy-covered lefties find themselves in that most ivory of Ivory Towers, the White House.

The Post article comments that Obama’s team “lacks diversity in one regard: they are almost exclusively products of the nation’s elite institutions and generally share a more intellectual outlook than is often the norm in government.”

Dontcha just hate it when government is run by people who think? Of course, one needs to go back quite some time to remember when this was the case (and one wonders how to tag the Clinton administration – intellectual isn’t precisely the word that springs first to mind, alas).

As I read Rich’s column yesterday morning and then bounced over to the Post article, I couldn’t help but think about Governor Ed Rendell’s comment on Janet Napolitano’s selection for Homeland Security chief: he said that she was the perfect pick because she’s “got no life. No family. Perfect…” (See this link to The Christian Science Monitor for more about how Rendell unintentionally put his foot in his mouth about the precise conflict faced by women who want to have successful careers).

So Napolitano is perfect because she’s got no family and Larry Summers isn’t perfect because of all that Harvard in his background. Hmmm.

And yet, when I read the profiles of all the potential appointees that The New York Times has been running, I notice two things: I notice that many of these people are – gulp – my age or – double gulp – younger. And I notice that very few of the women on the list have children, while many of the men have several. I pointed this out to Husband, who said, basically “duh.”

Translated, this “duh” means what we all know but hate to say: to get to the spot on the career ladder where you can be chosen for a cabinet position is a tough climb under the best of circumstances – and those circumstances are rarely improved by having to lock yourself in your office every few hours so that you can use your Medela pump in some semblance of privacy (if, that is, you have an office and aren’t forced to stuff yourself and your pump into a stall in the woman’s bathroom and hope that no one mistakes that peculiar Medelian wheeze for you having a horrible asthma attack).  It’s hard to fast-track yourself if this is what you feel like:

mom_and_nursing_pup_600.jpgI know, I know, it’s better than it was, the times-they-are-a-changing, sure, okay. I know that song; I can even hum a few bars. But four years ago, right before Caleb was born, I was appointed to be the director of a program at the small college where I teach. This new position would reduce my teaching load from four courses a semester to two and I was thrilled – teaching four courses each term was killing me. (For the record: I am not a member of the academic elite. Academic, yes. But elite? The elite don’t teach four undergraduate classes a semester – one, maybe, but four? No freakin’ way). I was afraid to go on maternity leave because if someone else were appointed as director in the interim, I might never get the job back (no one wants to teach four courses a semester).

So I took a leave from teaching but not from administration and came to work with Caleb slung across my chest in one of those baby slings. And yes I locked the office door several times a day to nurse him. Students who came in to talk to me that semester were frequently startled by the sight of Caleb’s small hand emerging from the sling or by the sound of a deliciously timed baby fart, one of those long, rippling farts that you know is going to result in a diaper filled with what looks a lot like scrambled eggs.

Frankly? That’s about all I remember of the semester – Caleb wiggling and farting as I tried to help students choose their courses, review their transcripts, or talk about why they were flunking calculus.

I could get away with functioning in what was basically fugue state because – well, in part because I am not a member of the academic elite, and because college students are themselves functioning in a kind of fugue state. I’ve got no clue how more high-powered women juggle newborn hell with high-pressure jobs. Lots and lots and lots of child-care, I guess. And maybe a smidge or two of valium.

But here’s my point: what if we stopped worrying that all these Obama appointees are too intelleckshul (and let’s also notice, shall we, that most of this conversation about “too smart” centers on the men Obama’s picked to handle the exchequer). What if we started worrying with equal frequency – above the fold, as they say in newspaper-land – about why it’s so hard for women with families to climb that ladder? After all, an ivy-covered wall is still…a wall.

Continue Reading · on August 25, 2013 in family, Feminism, Kids, Parenting, Politics, teaching

The List of the Undone, Now Haunting A Household Near You

Mom-101 wrote a great post (she does that a lot) about the myth of “doing it all,” which is what people like to say to women (mostly) as a sort of compliment, as in “how do you do it all?” It’s a compliment that I sometimes think translates to “jeezuz you look harried/exhausted and why are you so freaking compulsive and maybe you should just relax and probably you’re not really that much fun to be around.” One of the comments on the Mom-101 piece pointed out that there isn’t really a gracious way to respond to that question. Either you say “well yes in fact I am superwoman and it’s hard for me to be in the room with you mere mortals” or you duck your head and mutter that in fact it’s all done with smoke and mirrors and no one should get too close or the illusion will be destroyed.

But reading the Mom-101 post and the many comments started me thinking about that list…the list of the undone. The list that when you don’t get all the stuff crossed off, you flip to a new page but you carry over the stuff that didn’t get done from the day (week, month) before.

The list of the undone.  Yes, that’s right: it’s the list that won’t die. It’s the bags of clothes, intended for the Salvation Army, piled so high in the closet there isn’t any room for my shoes. It’s the skirt that’s been at the dry cleaners for three months; the beautiful linen napkins someone gave us that we’ve used once and now they’re dirty and have been in the laundry basket for…a year. It’s the class project–a beautiful tapestry of kids’ drawings made by a parent in Caleb’s kindergarten class–that we bought at last year’s school auction..and that’s still leaning against the bedroom wall because it can’t get hung up without these special hanger-thingys and of course we don’t have them, so I’m waiting for the hardware store to magically discover that I need those specific whatchamacallits and deliver them. It’s been a year and I think any day now the hardware store guy is going to show up.  And there’s just basic stuff–the orthodontist consult I need to schedule for Liam; the physical I need for myself; the wild mop of curls that has blossomed on Liam’s head and that needs to be trimmed lest someone mistake him for some kind of urban poodle.

The list of the undone haunts me–and everyone I know has her own list that won’t die, that seems to breed under cover of darkness.  Sometimes I think it’s just that I’m a working mom and that’s why the list flutters around me in the dead of night when I’m supposed to be asleep–but the moms I know who are “just” at home have their own sharp-toothed lists, too. I don’t know that anyone who is “doing it all” is, in fact, doing all of it, at all. (Notice that I’m not even mentioning, not even for a moment suggesting, that the Gwyneth Paltrowvian mom-chums at Goop have figured out how to have it all. Notice that I’m not even suggesting that “doing it all” is helped immeasurably by having a rather large staff that includes trainers, cooks, housekeepers, and a nanny or two).

Are we doomed to be haunted by the undone? Is the only form of exorcism here actually to get all that crap done?

What’s on your list of the undone?

Continue Reading · on April 14, 2011 in family

Cookies versus Costumes…My Line in the Sand

My mom always made our Halloween costumes. Sometimes that led to bad suggestions (Mrs Olsen the coffee lady, anyone?) but mostly we ended up with versions of vampires, cats, bats, hobos (does anyone still do “hobo” anymore?), pirates, and so on. But as I remember it, we almost never got “store-bought” costumes–which explains, I think, why I feel so conflicted about the fact that this Halloween, the boys will be dressed in head-to-toe polyester (let’s stay away from live flames, okay, boys?); costumes that are pretty much devoid of originality and creativity.


The costume discussion started strong: Caleb thought maybe he’d be a dead Easter Bunny (skeleton suit, black bunny ears), then a skeleton pirate (skeleton suit, pirate hat); and Liam thought he’d create some wildly complex character out of some Japanese card deck–a cross between Mad-Eye Moody, a spy, and a ninja, but with a fedora.

Then mistakes were made. Each boy was taken to the costume store to find the components of these costumes…Caleb saw a ninja sword (five bucks) and that was that: all he cared about was finding some kind of costume that would let him carry the sword.  Liam saw the “Emperor of Doom” package and was entranced by a costume that had a medallion and a skeleton mask and a sword.

I tell myself “I’m a working mom, I just don’t really have time to make costumes…” (as if non-working moms somehow do have time whip up magical costumes with just a few waves of the glue gun) but my guilt at letting my kids wear such generic crap was not assuaged until I found myself at 10pm the other night baking both banana bread and chocolate chip cookies for school bake sales.

Crazy, right? Just go buy some cookie mix, or take some advice from the working-mom narrator of I Don’t Know How She Does It: in the opening scene of the book, she is gently smashing the crusts of store-bought pies in order to make them look like home-made, for a school bake sale.

So that’s it. I’ve discovered my line in the sand: store-bought costumes are okay. Store-bought bake sale items aren’t. Doesn’t mean I don’t feel twinges of guilt about the Emperor of Doom marching around in his shiny black poly-blend costume, but hey. Something’s gotta give–costumes, bake sales, getting my own work done (hahahaha fat chance)…At least they’re eating homemade cookies (whole wheat flour! no preservatives!) while they march around in outfits that, if they leave them on too long, will probably give them both a rash.

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Continue Reading · on October 30, 2010 in Children, Kids

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