Sunday, June 24, 2012

Have Angst, Will Travel

As if I could not talk about the Slaughter article in The Atlantic. It's like someone got paid to express my angst.

I think Slaughter's article is good, but loses some of the best observations in a) her poor framing of feminism as striving to have a model, high-power career while raising happy children and a great marriage; b) forgetting that the "time macho" problem affects the physical and mental health of men as well; c) and failing to consider how single parents and same-sex parents conceive of the same overwhelming pressure.

And it is overwhelming pressure. My general experience as a working mother is filled with despair that I am half-assing it at work and half-assing it at home. Ideally, I let work happen at work and home happen at home, but even on my more successful days, the reality remains that parenthood does not have defined borders.  Only I can do my current assignment at the moment--literally, as I have no back-up in my section. Only two people can parent our small children and both of us are sitting in the same building all day. Husband and I have complete economic parity, and we are co-parents in the true sense of the word. This is good. We both would like to win the lottery and just stay home with our kids. This is unlikely. We frequently discuss the state of emergency the constant juggle feels like.

I'll be in Country A, you'll be in Country B. Who will have the kids? How much will that cost? I have to work late, can you put them to bed? You have a meeting, but I have a meeting! Who will pick up Child? How much do we owe Nanny in overtime?

This is something that every working parent deals with, as no matter what your profession or your marital status you have two opposing forces at all time: Your Income/Contribution to the Way the World Works, and the People Who Depend on You to Literally Survive. In some other places, you might have grandparents and aunt and uncles to help you, a village even, but not here.

Under no circumstances do I think there is a magical fairytale land where both parents have shining careers that result in Lots of Power while their well-adjusted children don't get thrown out of school or contract viruses and everyone rides unicorns ALL THE TIME. I think my colleagues with or without children who are helping aging parents or a sick spouse feel similar pressure. I do think, however, that we seem to have concocted a parallel fantasyland, where employees are beholden to their employer's needs above all things and shall never let real life interfere. Needs of the Service, and all. 

It's Are You Mom Enough? versus Are You Employee Enough?

At any rate, as you probably know from reading my hand-wringing, I haven't yet grasped the solution. Below is the original article and some of the responses it has generated (along with excerpts that had me nodding along).

"Why Women Still Can't Have It All" by Anne-Marie Slaughter (Atlantic)

"Can Modern Women 'Have It All'?" by Rebecca Traister (Salon)
We don’t lay the same booby traps for men. We don’t constantly quiz and evaluate and poke and prod and take their emotional temperature, asking if they feel fulfilled and happy, if they have everything they want, if their every youthful aspiration has been met sufficiently, if they feel that they’re measuring up at the office, in the kitchen, in bed.  If we did, we might find out that they – especially younger ones, increasingly used to sharing workplaces and domestic and familial responsibilities with women – also feel stressed, guilty, anxiety-stricken, unfulfilled, questioning. But it’s not likely that we would then use their admissions of discontent to diagnose a larger male inability to balance effectively, or conclude that they are not realistically able to maintain the dominance they’ve enjoyed for millennia because having so much power is a) bad for them, b) unnatural or c) impossible. We’d probably just blame their dissatisfaction on feminism.

Can You Have It All? Talking About the Atlantic Piece That Everyone Is Talking About (Slate)
Farhad Manjoo: Even though Traister argues that "having it all" is a straw man, I suspect that a lot of striving young parents—men and women—really do believe they can have it all, and are shocked when confronted with the reality. I certainly thought so. I thought that my wife could continue in her career, I could continue in mine, and that we could simultaneously be the sort of extremely doting two-parent couple who used to annoy me. But in our situation, for more or less exactly the reasons that Slaughter describes, my wife's career had to go on hold.

I Don't Want to Have It All by Doree Shafrir (Buzzfeed)
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend who's a top editor at a women's magazine. She has two small children, and she's finding it increasingly difficult to balance the hours and stress of her job with raising her kids. "I just don't think I want to be an editor-in-chief," she told me. "I never thought I'd be someone who said that — I spent my 20s working harder than anyone else so I could get where I am now. But now that I'm here, I see what I would need to do to become an editor-in-chief, and it just doesn't appeal to me anymore."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Area for Improvement: Motherhood

Husband is out of town this weekend and for the whopping second time in my life, I find myself handling two kids entirely on my own for more than just a night. Neither napped this afternoon, but I boldly attempted to attend the going away party for a colleague and his (really lovely) family. Boy is younger than most of the community's kids by a few years, and Girl until recently was the only toddler. I am the only full-time working mother.

I dread these things. I like my colleagues--and I've come to consider a number of them friends--and their families. A potluck gathering of families, especially on a weekend when Husband is gone, is the perfect stage to illustrate just how in adequate a parent I am. Our potluck offering? The remainder of last night's dinner (I quadrupled the recipe so I wouldn't have to scramble today). My kids? Un-napped. Me? Though I've been hacking away at this mother gig for almost four years, and I did it solo for 15 months, I am thoroughly untested. Handling one kid on my own seems like cake in retrospect. Handling two on my own is a rare challenge. There are a decent number of work nights when one of us puts them to bed alone, but most of the time I'm off work Husband is there too. One of us might disappear for a run, or a quick errand, or a night out, but for the bulk of our time at home there are two adults splitting the load.

A number of my colleagues have four or five children. I have two. This evening, as they watched me try to carry things and scold Boy for God-knows-what, Mothers of Five offered assistance. Of Five. They can manage five, and I'm a big sloppy mess with two. Husband pointed out that Boy is uniquely challenging at times (although he also told me he witnessed a kid punch his mom in the face in Stride Rite, so yea! we aren't alone), but the truth is out of his 12-14 waking hours, I am present for a whopping 4 of them on any given day. For at least two of those hours, I handle one kid and Husband takes the other.

Would I be better at this if I were home?

Mostly I feel for Boy. He's socially challenged anyway, but when you add to it that his mom doesn't know whether to be a helicopter or a Yes Mom given his age and personality, and that all the kids are older, and that he just didn't nap, it seemed like he couldn't do anything right. Either I was giving him The Look (the kid is holy unaffected by The Look, bee tee dubs), or he was surrounded by older kids telling him he's awful, or he was just annoying them by being a preschooler (which is inherently annoying to any seven year old). He just wanted to play and when I finally chased him into the car to go home, he lamented that no one was nice to him. He didn't understand that he really did have to share a bit better and listen when they said they didn't like something he was doing.

Would he be better at this if I were home?

We both bring so much anxiety to his social interactions that I imagine my fear is hamstringing him as much as his immaturity. My mother assures me that my older brother was the worst behaved preschooler out of all of us, and by the time he got into elementary school he was decidedly calm. A friend confided that there was a chunk of time when she just couldn't let anyone come to her house to play with her preschool-aged son because he would be too wretched to them. He grew out of it. Now I'm looking for the story of a mom who spend most of her waking hours in an office and somehow became just as good and instinctive and effective a parent as the one who didn't leave her daughter crying every morning.

Lest you think I am being a total Eeyore, I will share one anecdote from this morning that epitomizes why I so adore the current manifestation of my beastly son:

As I did squats or something similarly ungraceful, Boy asked what I was doing. "Getting in shape," I answered. He gave a somewhat incredulous look, and said, "Are you going to be a rectangle? Here! I can be a circle!" and made a more-like-a-triangle by sticking his tush in the air as his hands and feet propped him up. The kid is alright.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tattoos for Bureaucrats


Tattoo the Second. Unlike the elephant, this took more planning than walking by a tattoo shop and asking if they would, say, tattoo me.

About three months ago, I proclaimed over a lunchtime beer to a very tattooed friend and colleague that I too was a parent and a diplomat and I too wanted to have a secret that was awesome. Perfect, he said, I am finally getting my Estonian tattoo. You should come with me.

Wheee! I thought. This would solve so many problems. 1) He knew what he was talking about. 2) He had scouted the perfect local artist already. 3) I'd see how it works. 4) I'd score an intro to said perfect local artist.

I suffer from a chronic case of the Uncools. I want to be cool, I respect cool, but I walk in and just giggle my way through an obviously novice attempt at securing the cool. And by cool I mean the confidence in which one makes choices that make her happy without seeking the approval of others. When I first bought premium denim (pre-baby, naturally), I steeled myself for the experience by endlessly insulting my non-coolness on the way to the store. Don't screw this up. Don't let them know you are uncool. Don't act like you're cool because they'll know you aren't. Get in, get out. Do no harm! And I totally botched it. I acted like I was just awesomely prepared for this experience and look how great I look in denim that is premium! Doesn't premium denim just make it all better. Some people don't want to spend the money on premium denim, but I do! Let me in to your premium club. I am worthy!

This panic attack was largely brought on by the fact that I was not only aware of my general lack of coolness, but a recent newspaper article revealed that the owner of the place was known to turn people away who just weren't ready. He didn't turn me away, and after that trip I actually learned to shop there as a normal human being who was just, you know, shopping. But that first trip was terrifying.

This time I got to sit on a couch while my friend got tattoo number a million. Over dinner that night, he explained why the tattoo artist was so good and why he had picked him. I walked away with the shop's card.

Husband was totally behind me on this. Yea him!

I had been pinning tattoos I liked on Pinterest, but I needed to send the artist a number of photos and an explanation in my simplest English of what exactly I wanted. In no way was I going to try this in Estonian.

After a lot of consultation with the Home Team (Husband and Nanny), I sent about five photos of tattoos and other things, and explained which parts I like from each. I nervously awaited a sketch, and when it showed up, I thought for sure I would have to send back an email asking him to adjust some things as I wasn't even quite sure how I envisioned the final product. He was expecting that email as part of the whole process: I explain what I want, he sketches, I ask for changes, he tweaks, we agree, he sets an appointment and a ballpark quote. But when I opened his email, all I could think was:


As in no changes. Just add color.

Today, two months after our initial meeting, Husband accompanied me for my big day. I had my little elephant--one color, twenty minutes--but this was bigger. This was entirely custom and was going to take up to 3 hours.

The first 90 minutes didn't hurt, really. Not more than a slight scraping feeling. Once he started doing the color, my skin got a little angry, and the flower on my shoulder was quite uncomfortable, but at no point did I grit my teeth or hold my breath. I wish I had been so zen through childbirth. Two and a half hours later I could not wipe the stupid grin off my face. All the preparation in the world couldn't help me handle that moment coolly. I was just too thrilled with the final product.

So were the children, of course. Boy poked my arm (still bandaged, thank goodness) and declared it hot. It was hot. That was some seriously annoyed skin. Girl squealed "Bod!" (bird) and poked one of the birds. Poking, turns out, is not comfortable.

And as for the tattoo shop. Yes, the artist is very cool. He is quite confident in his choices and his appearance (which is rad: mohawk, piercings, tattoos, etc.). Turns out, he too is a parent of a small child for whom vacation is more work than just staying home and going to work.

I have at least two more planned, both of which could be hidden away when the time calls for it (read: work). It is truly an addictive experience: the sounds, the vibrating needles, the slight pain, the finished product. For those who ask the question that had always stopped me from getting a tattoo before, the answer is simple: when I'm old, I don't anticipate being a supermodel anyway. Might as well conceal those wrinkles and liver spots with some beautiful ink.

Happy Tattooing to all those who are taking a similar leap soon. I highly recommend doing so.