Someone’s On Her Soapbox

My super smart, stylish, and successful lawyer mom friend (that’s actually what her gigantic business cards say) sent me this Atlantic article by Gwynn Guilford last week, and I luuuurve it. In a nutshell, the article lays out the clear economic benefits of keeping women in the workplace, and proposes that providing equal pay and more paternity leave – yes, paternity leave – may be the key to doing that.

This makes so much sense to me. It’s way easier (and cheaper) to return to work and leave your child at home with your baby daddy than to find other child care arrangements. Also, it’s super fun to see how terrified he gets the first time he is alone with the baby.

But offering more paternity leave raises difficult cultural issues. There’s still a huge stigma around men taking paternity leave in the U.S. For example: remember that poor Mets player who took advantage of the MLB’s paternity leave and missed two totally inconsequential games at the beginning of the season? Yeah, that didn’t go over so well, although I’m guessing his wife and child appreciated it. And then there are the obvious financial problems with taking leave. Apparently only about 14% of employers in the US even offer paid paternity leave, so taking time off is a usually a financial hit. And when men are making a dollar for every 78 cents a woman is making (IT IS TRUE), it’s much harder financially on the whole family for men to take several weeks or months off of work.

Guilford’s article in the Atlantic talks about the problem of childcare leave in Japan, which, compared to America, has got it pretty freaking good. In Japan, couples get 12 MONTHS of PAID childcare leave, which the couple can divide as they choose.

I will pause and let you collect yourself.

Now that you are done looking at real estate in Tokyo, here’s where it gets complicated. The Japanese government pays 2/3 of the parent’s salary for the first six months, and then ½ for the remaining leave. While this all seems “very equitable,” in practice it doesn’t work out that way because of–you guessed it–cultural stigma and the wage gap. In Japan, women usually take the first few months of leave (because childbirth and breastfeeding are hard), and men are stuck with the last part, where their typically higher salary is cut in half. The more leave the man takes, the greater the financial hit to the whole family. The result? Men don’t take much leave, and women take a lot. Duh. For women, then, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: Japanese businesses expect women will be out for a long time so they pay them less and don’t offer them promotions or management positions. And women aren’t getting paid fairly or offered promotions or management positions, so they stay home.

Sigh. It’s so complicated. BUT WAIT NOT REALLY. How about we just pay people equally and stop making assumptions about what moms and dads want based on outdated ideas about gender? As I may have mentioned, not every woman wants to walk away from a career as soon as she pops out a baby. Yes, I said pops out. And not every dad wants to ensconce himself in his office and leave the childrearing to the ladies. Yes, I said childrearing.

Exhibit A: the CEO of Pimco (a $2 trillion with-a-t global investment fund) said LATER to his job after his wise 10-year-old daughter presented him with a list of 22 important life events he had missed while working. The CEO said he felt guilty about his “out of whack” work-life balance, and who wouldn’t with his schedule? Every day he would wake up at 2:45am, which is the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, work like a maniac, and then go to bed at 8:45pm.

I mean. NO ONE, man or woman, should be expected to keep up that kind of routine for very long, unless you are in college and “work” is “eating cereal and watching daytime talk shows in pajama pants.” But it’s refreshing to see men talking publicly about the unreasonable pressures on parents to maintain demanding jobs while trying to be an involved parent. Men want paternity leave, and they want to have balance, too, and that has benefits for women, which has benefits for the economy as a whole. This is clearly not only a women’s issue, and finding the solution will involve both women and men.

That said, equal pay for women and mandated paid maternity leave are no brainers and would be a solid start to making meaningful changes. For example, did you know the U.S., Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea are the only countries that do not require some kind of paid maternity leave? And did you know that Lesotho is a country? Because, I’m not going to lie, I did not. But now I’m mad at it.

Which is why I was psyched to see Labor Secretary Thomas Perez say recently that it’s all kinds of ridiculousness that the U.S. still does not provide paid leave for new moms. And he frames it as, “We are not serving our women and our families well.” Yes – women and families. When we start to talk about this problem as a family one, and one that we all need to fight for, then maybe things will change.

Or we can just all move to Sweden and get 480 days of paid leave per child. PER CHILD! Hallå!

Slip Sliding Away

I am 100% sure that this amazing contraption would have kept me working happily at my lawyer job a whole lot longer. And by “working,” I mean making worker’s comp claims while I lay on my living room floor with a ruptured disc. It is a wooden human-sized hamster wheel, designed to keep you moving while you’re shopping online typing your super important work emails. Bonus: it also offers the chance of an unexpected faceplant into your laptop. If you work in one of those hip “no walls” office spaces, imagine the entertainment this will provide your co-workers!

Are there really people who are coordinated enough to type and maneuver a human hamster wheel at the same time? I can’t even imagine. After having kids, I lost any coordination I may have had, and that is saying something. For example, before kids I routinely tripped when boarding the metro during rush hour. Embarrassing? Yes. Bloody? Not so much. Flash forward to after I had my son, and my embarrassing stumbles turned into unintentional gymnastics. During rush hour, it was totally normal for me to slip and slide down the escalators during my commute, and not in a cool, rebellious way.

That is not me.

That is not me.

Once I slid down an entire set of escalators in a splits formation when my front leg slipped right out from under me. But that’s not all: while doing my sliding splits, a college-aged dude near me got tangled up in—that’s right—my breast pump bag, and I took him down with me. When we reached the ground, I untangled my boob horns from his backpack, pulled my shit together, and walked my bloodied legs onto the nearest train car. Where everyone promptly avoided eye contact with me.

But even in my clumsiest moments, I know that I’m still a badass, and here is why. When J was really little, I bundled him up and headed out during an ice storm because I was determined to have him in the voting booth with me while I cast my ballot for a lady president in the primaries. Because babies love voting, duh. I knew that, in between drooling and playing with his toes, he would appreciate the significance of the moment, and years later we could reminisce about what a formative event it was in his life.

We never made it, though, because I wiped out on an ice patch on the top of our front steps with my baby sitting on my hip. Instead of diving head first down the steps, I somehow twisted around in mid-air, wrapped my arms around J’s gigantic baby head, and landed on my back. J never even touched the ground. My whole body hurt, but I was so worried about my son seeing me freak out that I laughed and looked into his worried baby eyes and said, “Wheee, that was fun!”

For the record, it was NOT fun at all and I lied right to my little baby’s adorable face. But we were fine. For the next few days, I kept running over and over in my head how badly it all could have ended. I scolded myself for not being more careful, and for risking my child’s safety to do something he wouldn’t even remember. I felt terrible—until my husband pointed out my mid-air ninja maneuvers that had kept my son perfectly safe.

So, no, I may not be able to gracefully walk down stairs or, um, stand still on escalators like a regular person any more. But when it matters, I’ve still got some moves.

But that dude I ensnared with my boob horns might disagree.

On Nuggets and Ear Holes

I haven’t blogged here in almost a year, and I have no real excuse other than having to wash my hair, learning how to grocery shop (I am serious), trying to get some freelance stuff going, and just life. Oh life!

So what made me come out of my retirement, asked no one? Well, let me tell you. It is this article describing the “motherhood penalty” and the “fatherhood bonus.” Take a deep breath: after controlling for variables like hours, types of jobs, experience, and salaries of spouses, research shows that men’s pay increases around six percent when they have kids, and women’s pay decreases around four percent when they have kids. And, you guessed it, the majority of this motherhood penalty is because of “discrimination” and “a cultural bias against mothers.”

Mother effer. I wrote about some of this nonsense four years ago here and it’s hard to see where we’ve made much progress. But maybe this hard data—and giving the motherhood penalty a catchy little name!—will help. Maybe?

For one, it should answer questions about why women leave the workforce more than men after having children. No, it is not because our ovaries flip some maternal switch in our boobies, causing us to prioritize nap schedules and diaper changes above all else. It is because, for many families, after paying hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a month for childcare and then dealing with an actual monetary penalty in their paychecks, quitting may be the most rational choice. Throw in the stress of, say, pumping milk in a supply closet in between client meetings, or knowing that your daddy colleagues are getting high fives while you are getting eye rolls, and the decision becomes even more reasonable.

Also, maybe it will encourage supervisors to be aware of what messages they’re sending to their employees and what cultural biases they’re reinforcing. I’ve spoken with plenty of women about that intangible shift that happens in the office when they are preggers. Some of you know what I’m talking about: suddenly finding yourself out of the loop on projects you used to manage, supervisors assuming you don’t want challenging work anymore, people asking if you’re really going to come back to the office after maternity leave. I’ve talked with two women in different fields about supervisors who explicitly said they expected them to have one foot out the door if—IF—they came back from maternity leave. Sigh. I want to believe that these supervisors think they’re being supportive of a massive life change. But assuming that moms don’t care about their careers anymore isn’t supportive, it’s ridiculous. Also, um, discriminatory.

Speaking of that, I will leave you with this little nugget. Sorry, it is not Chuy from Late Night with Chelsea Handler, which I miss.

Picture from

Picture from

FYI, that is Chuy (a.k.a. Little Nugget) in a nudie suit swaying slowly back and forth on a swing while Sia, overcome with stage fright, sings “Chandelier” with her back to the audience and her shirt on backwards. It is the most confusing and life affirming thing I have ever seen on television.

I digress. Here’s my little nugget: this summer I was small talking with someone I’d just met while on vacation. Turns out he was a law firm partner. When I told him I had worked at a big firm and was taking some time off, he seemed sympathetic to my decision. And then he said, “Look, I hate to say it, but 30-something moms working in a law firm are the worst. They’re so entitled and think they should get treated like the men, and then they need all these breaks during the day and want to go pick up their kids early. It’s just non-stop drama.”

MOTHER. EFFER. I was enraged, and I am pretty sure smoke came out of my ear holes. But then I used my highly trained analytical thinking skills and realized something: that dude was old. Like, super old. And the fact that he was saying shit like that out loud to lady strangers shows some extremely bad judgment. He is (literally) the old guard, and his days of passing over talented women because he’s sexist (oh yes he is) are numbered. And then what will happen? Well, all of us more enlightened folks will take over, and the motherhood penalty will just refer to something else less devastating. Like when your skinny jeans don’t fit and your youngest child is 7—it’s not baby weight anymore, it’s the motherhood penalty. Or when you hear yourself yelling fancy shit like, “The next person who talks about diarrhea is sleeping in the woods tonight!” you guessed it; that’s the motherhood penalty talking. Sidenote: the fatherhood bonus is obviously balding, and cannot ever be used to refer to penis size. Just needed to establish that now.


The next time the jokers people in certain political circles start throwing around the terms “communism” and “socialism” when things aren’t going their way, I am going to think of the book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Because after reading that book, I now think that moms in North Korea making soup for their starving children out of tree bark and grass while praising their dear leader for his generosity is maybe a better symbol for communism and government interference than, say, providing universal health care. Just maybe.

Nothing to Envy was the first non-fiction book I’ve read in a long time, and it blew my tiny little mind. All I knew about North Korea prior to this book was that everyone is short and loves their dear leader, no one has electricity, and they all like to play with nuclear weapons. And yes, I learned all of that from a South Park episode and it is totally true. It is easy to dismiss the population as brainwashed and backwards, and to forget that they are humans who struggle to stifle their true feelings and hopes and dreams on a daily basis. Hearing a talented reporter describe the lives of people from North Korea who eventually escaped was shocking – and not just because their lives are so different from ours, but because they’re also so similar. They have jobs, and neighbors, and families, and just want to enjoy their lives. Granted, their definition of “enjoy” seems to always involve an accordion and fermented cabbage, but other than that, it’s really not so different than other people.

I finished this book right before our own government shutdown and I felt like it gave me a new perspective. On the one hand, WTF John Boehner. I mean, really. If this doesn’t solidify him as the weakest Speaker in a long time, then perhaps his copious use of self-tanner should. On the other hand, everything will probably be OK in the long run, and although my government can be totally ridiculous and frustrating and inefficient, at least I can say that.

And at this very second I could opt in to government health care if I wanted to. So there.

I am recently obsessed with North Korea, so here is a link to the book on Amazon, and here is a link to a cool slideshow from a photographer who has worked in North Korea. And here is a link to Dennis Rodman’s fan site, because he loves North Korea way more than me. And no, I am not getting a kickback from this book, although I totally would if I knew how to do that. And please oh please let Dennis Rodman start following me now (online, not in person, because holy shit that would be weird).

Don’t Squeal If It’s No Big Deal

Approximately four thousand times a day, I say to my kids, “Just worry about yourself.” For example: “Mom, J told you he was going to READ AND NOW HE IS DRAWING! He is DRAWING on PAPER with a PENCIL!” Um, OK, just worry about yourself. Or “MOM, L is doing ballet REALLY LOUDLY and in ballet you are supposed to land SOFTLY!” Oh my god, just worry about yourself, and for the record, you were doing the running man while making fart noises with your armpits earlier. Or “MOM, J just found your black eye make-up and is coloring in his eyebrows HUGE!” Sweet Jesus, just worry about yourself, and excuse me while I sneak up on him to take some video.

But now, thanks to the wonder of the intranets, instead of feeling frustrated when I say “Just worry about yourself,” I giggle a little. All because of this little jewel.

I wish I could have that little girl in my pocket and just pull her out when my kids need to calm themselves. She would totally handle them. Also, I can imagine her telling her dad, “Snitches get stitches.” Very soon. I hope he is ready.

And here is a more grownup and slightly more pleasant-sounding version of just worry about yourself. Kacey Musgraves was born about 2 minutes ago, sings “new” country music about trailer parks and gay marriage (I’m kind of serious), and reminds me of my Missouri roots even though she’s from Texas. I love this song – it is catchy, and sad, and lovely. Please enjoy.