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.

Happy Mama’s Day

Get ready for your new earwig. My husband has nearly redeemed his musical tastes with this video. One of his FB friends posted it (thanks, dude) and he showed it to me, and it almost made me forget that he occasionally listens to Ke$sha on full blast.

Is that amazing or WHAT? These are two Icelandic musicians from Of Monsters and Men, and the singer’s name is Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir. Nanna’s voice is haunting and childlike and makes that already solid MGMT song even better. Also, Icelandic is super complicated sounding. From my rudimentary understanding of the language, her name means she is the daughter of Hilmar, who is a blonde banana farmer. Which is weird because I did not know Iceland had many banana farms, but global warming? Probably.

Nanna’s sassy Amish bowler hat reminded me of a former musical obsession.

In junior high English class we had to write an essay about someone we admired and then present it to the class. I didn’t even have to think about it; OBVIOUSLY, I would write about Debbie Gibson. Because did you know she wrote her own songs, and performed live at all of her shows? This is particularly impressive, given the complexity of her lyrics (such as “Shake your love, I just can’t shake your love, shake your love, shake it!”), and the fact that she was a pretty crappy singer.

We kept our topics a secret from each other before our presentations, as if we were giving out highly competitive awards. So imagine how ridiculous I felt when I discovered that I was almost the only kid who did not write about my mom. Probably 90% of my classmates wrote about how great their moms were, a couple boys wrote about professional athletes, and I wrote about a teenage pop singer who wore neon jelly bracelets and oversized menswear while singing lame girly songs in mall food courts.

It wasn’t that I just didn’t write about admiring my mom that made me feel so awful – it was that the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I just knew that my classmates would go home and share their essays with their moms, who would weep with joy and lead more fulfilled lives knowing how much their children loved and admired them. And my mom would take one look at my essay and realize she was raising a borderline-obsessive nutjob. So I did not share my essay with her. I think the wall of Debbie Gibson posters and the Electric Youth perfume I bathed in daily gave her a pretty good idea of the depth of my feelings.

So now I think about Debbie Gibson when my kids don’t even seem to notice that I’m in the room, or when they don’t have any clue about the nine million things I do for them every day. Another mom told me once that you want your kids to take you for granted, to know that your love is there all the time, and to know you’re dependable and will be there when they need you, because otherwise they’ll be insecure and constantly jockey for your attention.

I get that now, and I think I learned that lesson from my mom. She had done such a good job of always being there that it freed me up to devote my admiration to superstars like Debbie Gibson. My mom’s love and support was something I wasn’t even consciously aware of — it was just constant and always there, and I could (and did) totally take it for granted. In fact, I bet if I had shown her my essay she would have been proud of me, or at least said she was. That’s what I tell myself to not feel like a complete ass, anyways.

So happy (early) Mother’s Day to my mom, who I admire for many reasons, but especially for letting me be my slightly weird self all the time and loving me in spite of it. Maybe even because of it.

Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

I haven’t posted for a few days because I’ve been very busy preparing myself for the Costume Institute Gala at the Met. In case you have been following actual news instead of celebrity “newz,” here are the details in a nutshell: every year a bunch of famous, beautiful people get dressed up in couture gowns and prance around on a red carpet at the Met in NYC so that people can take pictures of them. I have no idea what the point of it is. There is usually a theme, something like “Celebrating Self Absorption and Conspicuous Consumption.” This year’s theme was “PUNK: From Chaos to Couture.” Other than nose rings and mohawks, I don’t really know what that means, and apparently neither did Zooey Deschanel, because look:

That is her from the gala. She looks adorable, but I don’t think there’s much punk going on there. Instead of screaming, “I’m a bad ass who lives to defy society’s rules!” her seersucker dress politely announces, “I’m off for tea and scones with Barbara Bush. The older one.” But she probably didn’t have time to put much thought into her outfit, what with being the Boston bomber and all.

Also, I don’t know if her Tory Burch evening gown could possibly qualify as punk, but I’m sure that Ginnifer “With a G” Goodwin’s eyebrows are totally punk:

Which means that Sam the Eagle is the most punk Muppet.

Speaking of birds, a very small chicken pooped on me recently. I was chaperoning my daughter’s preschool trip to a farm, and one thing led to another, you know how it goes. I only mention this to say that, months ago, when I was dreaming about being at home with my kids, at no point did I imagine any scenario that involved having poop on me. When I told my husband this story, do you know what he said? Not “Oh no, that’s gross,” or, “Well, that’s wonderful that you were able to help on the field trip.” He said, “Do you think you have bird flu?” What am I supposed to say to that? The only right answer I could give is I don’t know, since I am not officially a doctor. So then a few days later, when the kids and I came down with totally normal colds, all I could think of was that fluffy little asshole chick pooping on me and cursing my children and me with the avian flu.

Luckily, we are all fine. I mean, except for the hypochondria.

She Was Not Comfortable

Am I the only one who thinks Reese Witherspoon’s recent arrest is completely adorable? I know, I know, DUIs are awful and there’s no excuse for getting arrested and being a dangerous idiot. But the way she apparently just jumped out of her car Elle Woods-style and all drunkenly defended her hubby? And even dropped the “Do you know who I am?” line? I kind of love it. I always admire a woman who can make a little bit of a scene. For example:

That’s my girl.

Don’t let the medical equipment and hospital bracelet worry you – she just had to have some follow-up allergy testing and is totally fine. But you wouldn’t know it by the way she was acting. By the time I took this picture, she had endured innumerable horrifying indignities, including: watching cartoons in the waiting room for 20 minutes; eating her favorite lollipops by the pound for most of the morning; and having a sweet, bubbly nurse draw three small purple marks on her forearm. OH THE HUMANITY.

After the nurse left us alone in the room for a few minutes, I asked my daughter how she was doing and, no hesitation, she yelled: “I am VERY UNCOMFORTABLE!” I asked her if something hurt, and she said no, she was just VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. And that became her mantra for the rest of the appointment. She told everyone she saw – the nurses, the receptionist, other little preschool patients who looked completely freaked out by her antics – that she was VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. And if she had known the words, I think she might have have followed up with “…and I’m PISSED that I’m here, and all y’all are lucky I’m only 3 feet tall because otherwise my sparkly little shoe would be up your fat ass.”

I was genuinely concerned that she wasn’t feeling great. But mostly I could not take her seriously at all because (a) her t-shirt has a picture of a dog wearing a tiara on it, and (b) …well, that’s pretty much it. I know I certainly never expected clients to take me seriously when I walked into a conference room sporting my “cat wearing stripper shoes” t-shirt.

Since my daughter was little, people have regularly commented on how “expressive” she is. When she was an infant that was clearly a euphemism for, “Holy shit, she has a lot of lungs.” But now that she’s older, I think it just means that, if you are within earshot, you will know exactly how she feels. At all times. Whether you want to or not.

I hope she is always this expressive, and that she always has a little scene-making potential in her. Probably because the only times in my life that I have made a scene were completely unintentional. For example, the first time I rode the metro in DC, I actually got on a crowded car at rush hour, made eye contact with the people standing around me, and SAID HELLO. I wish I was kidding. Coming from the Midwest, the idea of not saying hello to your fellow commuters was akin to punching them in the privates. And from my fellow commuters’ reactions that morning, I might as well have drop kicked some ball sacks. People glared at me and scooted as far away as possible, like I smelled really bad. I did not smell bad, and I was devastated. It took a solid week of commuting on the metro to scare that Midwestern politeness right out of me. Also, fuck you.

So I guess I’m saying: my wish for my daughter is may she always express herself loudly and be comfortable making a little bit of a fool of herself without worrying too much about the consequences. That is like a beautiful Hallmark card, isn’t it. And the footnote on that Hallmark card will say, “And may you also have your Hollywood A-list status and Oscar to fall back on.” Next to this cute little picture: