Happy with the Job

There was a recently published article in the NYT profiled titled “ Mom: The Designated Worrier

In full disclosure, I haven’t read it, but I’ve seen a lot of discussion about it. (I’m breaking my own rule here, the one I established when Lean In came out: “I refuse to discuss this book with people who have only read critiques of it, and not that actual book.” That was a really good policy. I should probably take my own advice but then, I wouldn’t be here, so)

Anyway, I’ve heard a lot recently about “invisible work”, the things you do around your life that no one notices but that everyone needs: cycling out the kid’s clothes when the season changes. Packing for a family trip. Getting an oil change for the car. Whatever. The routine stuff that one person just does, unnoticed. Invisible work. Worrying probably feels like invisible work as well.

I like what Joanne Wilson had to say in response to that article and that concept:

I would be fully shocked if I came home one day and Fred had prepared a meal for the family.  It just wouldn’t happen.  I took that under my wing a long time ago.  Roles are good.  It makes for great partnerships.  Setting them up from the beginning is important.  Getting lines crossed and blurred can create frustration and resentment.  Truth is, it is like a company, everyone plays a part and roles become more defined as the business grows.

It is interesting seeing our younger friends get married and have kids.  They are the next generation and the lines are more blurred but at the end of the day the roles become defined.  You just have to be happy with your job description.  Someone has to be the organizer, someone has to execute, someone has to worry, someone has to pay the bills, someone has to etc, etc.  Just be clear who has what covered.

“Roles are good. It makes for great partnerships”. I like that. It’s not about one person doing the stuff the other person doesn’t want to, it’s about each person understanding clearly the work expected of them and of their partners… and feeling like the work they do is recognized and needed….and equitably distributed.

So What, Who Cares

In absence of actual content to blog, I’m going to take a page (…haa bad writing pun not intended) from the lovely and fabulous Lisa Schmeiser, a woman noted for not only posting articles on Facebook with follow on comments suggesting further reading to enhance enjoyment of the initial piece, a practice I find delightfully geeky and also one that lends itself to fairly robust Facebook conversations, but also the author of So What, Who Cares, a daily email newsletter that has three to five news or pop culture items with a brief discussion of why you should care. This is exactly the kind of hand holding I currently need to remain a somewhat well read and moderately interesting adult, so I recommend it enthusiastically.

Anyway, in the spirit of that (but definitely not in the execution because there will be no related intelligent summary of the below) please to enjoy some things I’ve found kicking around that I’m still thinking about:

  • From Avidly: “Essays That We, As Ladies Of Early Middle Age, Would Like To See Written*”, my favorite of which is “I Have Thoughts About the Revolution, But I Have Not Slept and Can’t Find My Other Shoe”, which is pretty much becoming the alternate title of this blog. Other favorites include:
    • Women Who Take Care of Too Many People and the People Who Take Care of Them, i.e. Other Women
    • “Plans to Murder my Ex’s Now-Ex, or, Alternately, Take Her Out for Drinks”

  • From Buzzfeed: If Hermione Were The Main Character In “Harry Potter: Hermione Granger and the Goddamn Patriarchy.” This was one of the most delightful things I have read in a good long while:
    • Even though she’d read that women are less likely to speak up in classrooms, Hermione gave literally zero fucks for socially mandated gender roles.”
    • Professor Snape: “Tell me, Miss Granger, are you incapable of restraining yourself, or do you take pride in being an insufferable know-it-all?” HG, Boss Witch:“I’ll take pride in setting you the fuck on fire again, how about that?”
    • When confronted, Dumbledore did what Dumbledore did best – Left teenagers to deal with everything.
  • A bit of a longer read: “The Plath Resolution”:

For the past year and a half I’ve been going to yoga every Friday morning. Before this I’d done maybe a handful of classes and every one had left me in a barbed, mutinous mood. It was uncomfortable! And crowded! And on a couple occasions a little like being in a relationship where you end up shouting things like, “Don’t tell me to calm down!”…One Friday last spring, I woke up in a foul mood. No reason. I just woke up a human gargoyle. I considered skipping yoga because there was going to be a substitute teacher but talked myself into going anyway. (“Those toes aren’t going to touch themselves you know.”) It was a grey, stuffy morning, and the entire drive I was thinking a stream of fuckity-fuck-fuck gargoyle thoughts. At one point I drove past a line of Bradford pear trees in bloom, and got offended by how ugly and dirty-snowball-looking they were, and thought, “FUCK BRADFORD PEAR TREES.”

  • Nothing I’ve excerpted above actually has nothing to do with the point of the article, so you should probably just read it. In addition to enjoying a mental script that feels similar to my own (“fuckity-fuck-fuck gargoyle thoughts” is going to stick), I enjoyed the main idea that there is always going to be this better version of yourself, this woman in your mind that has corrected for the things you hate, a woman who remembers to buy stamps and pick up dry cleaning and has organized cabinets and great handwriting and has never once, not once, Febrezed the clothes on her body before walking out the door, but that woman doesn’t exist, and really: that’s ok. It’s ok. It’s good to want to do things better, and it’s ok to not actually achieve that goal.
  • Along those lines, I submit to you a picture of me that I subtitle: “How DOES She Do It All??” Well, dear reader, sometimes She Does It All by having her husband Gorilla Glue her boot together and then clamping it down with food clips so the adhesive can set while she drives into work wearing mismatched shoes, muttering repeatedly to herself “Remember to switch your shoes. Remember to switch your shoes”
  • Also, I don’t know what’s going on with my overall look here; I can only assume I was trying valiantly to recreate my middle school self’s desire to perfect the Cindy Mancini hair sweep, while trying to cobble together an outfit that didn’t scream “Look, I ran out of clean socks and can’t find my normal hose, you’re not perfect either, ok?”

A Marginally Better Adult

One thing I’ve noticed since having a kid is that I’ve become marginally better at life in ways that are surprising to me.

I mean, it’s not like I was a fantastic failure at life before, but there was that time my husband traveled for a month and I needed four separate line items on a reminder list that highlighted, basically, “Check the mail.”

When my daughter was very young – three, four weeks – I noticed that I was amazingly more motivated to be productive. In the past, I might have idly thought “oh yeah, I need to do laundry”, but once she was born, the few hours of the day I wasn’t holding her (and those were so, so very few) I was ON IT. Laundry! Dishes! Cleaning! Shower! Shit got DONE in a way shit has never really gotten done in my world. Probably because when you have all the time in the world to do things, you never really have to do them now.

Now that she’s ten months old, I’m productive in a different way. I’m much, much better now at compartmentalizing my life. I can’t stay late at work: my daughter goes to bed between 6 and 7pm; if I want to see her, I need to leave work on time. Which means I have to be ON IT when I’m at work, I can’t procrastinate a hard task to the afternoon; by the time the afternoon comes around I need to be getting stuff ready for the next day, because I need to be LEAVING or I don’t see my child. There’s a few hours in the morning before work that she’s awake, and I don’t want to spend that time in the shower and getting ready, so I get up and work out before her (ok, let’s be real, most days I just get up) and shower and get ready so I can spend those hours on the floor with her crawling around, getting baby giggles.

Writing this out, it sounds ridiculous. Duh, Liz, get shit done at work. But it’s been a shift for me; I left work today “early” because my babysitter had to leave early. It was hard to shut down before I was “done” and leave. But I did, and then I spent the afternoon in full mom mode. Not on my phone scanning email while she played, but with her, phone somewhere else. (Ed note: when I was on maternity leave and home with her all the time, I didn’t mind to go to the gym for an hour, or multi task catching up on twitter while the baby was playing. But now that there’s only a few hours with her? I try to put the phone somewhere else. I don’t drop her in gym day care and workout. It’s the only time I get; I’m trying to be there. I’d feel OH SO DIFFERENT if my mom-mode time wasn’t limited to like, 3 hours a day.)

Once she was asleep, I slipped back to Work-Liz, back on my laptop, finishing the day. I had never really been good at prioritizing my time exactly where it needed to be. Now, with a baby that has no capability to adjust to my schedule, I’ve had to learn. It’s been good. I’m happier. I feel like a marginally better person, a more functioning adult. And while I know as I reflect on my first year as a mom I will of course think about all the amazing ways my heart has grown, the impossible feeling of smiling in a way that actually hurts because I’m so happy to be staring at this child, or tears on a Tuesday night because I can’t believe my luck and my happiness, but this feeling, this concept of understanding, finally, at long last, how to actually function in the world like a grown person, is one that stands out just as much.

Oh man, lots going on, lots to talk about, but an absence of prioritization to talk about it. So let’s just jump in:

I recently read somewhere an anecdote about a Google interview:

“I’m going to give you five minutes,” he told me. “When I come back, I want you to explain to me something complicated that I don’t already know.” He then rolled out of the room toward the snack area. I looked at Cindy. “He’s very curious about everything,” she told me. “You can talk about a hobby, something technical, whatever you want. Just make sure it’s something you really understand well.”

I thought about that story for days. I told it to my husband, and said “I swear, I’ve been thinking about this for 72 hours, and I have no idea what I would explain if I were in that situation.”

Now, my husband loves the inner workings of things. He’s a thing finder outer type person (that is a play on a Colbert Report bit where he called white Americans “Thing stuff havers” vs “Thing stuff wanters”; after that segment Mike looked pointedly at my shoe collection and goes “honey. You are a thing stuff haver” and I swear, we’re still laughing about it. And since the Colbert Report fills me with joy on any given day, the clip is below, even though it has almost exactly nothing to do with what I’m talking about.

(Embed fail! Click here to watch.) (My complicated thing is not, apparently, how to embed video clips)

Anyway! My husband: a thing finder outer type person. He doesn’t, as a completely hypothetical example in no way reflective of our actual lives, observe that the headlight in the car is out and make motions towards getting it replaced, he wants to know WHY the headlight is out (burned out bulb? Quirky electrical?) and then fix THAT, unlike, say, his wife, who more or less registers that the car is showing less light than previously but then files that away for action at a future time.

Hypothetically, I mean.

Anyway! Mike, without even really thinking, began listing off complicated things that I could explain in that interview scenario:

  • Ballistic coefficients and the variables needed to test for long range accuracy at altitude
  • Down force and its effect on helicopter lift
  • The relationship between cost, weight, and aerodynamics and its impact on F1 regulation and innovation

to which I could only reply “Ok, so that’s… things YOU could explain” and he goes “… oh. Right.” But I’ve got to have something, right? I’m a smart gal, there has to be SOMETHING I would be able to offer, yes?

We got there, eventually. Because of course, I can talk at length about any number of things; the problem is they feel simple to me, not worth filing under “explain something complicated.” That is one of my strengths, this is how I could teach statistics to english majors well and take reams of data and summarize what that data is saying in 5 powerpoint slides: I simplify complicated things.

So what would YOU explain? What’s the thing you know like the back of your hand, but would feel complicated to others?

Man, Robin Williams. It’s just so sad.

I’ve been thinking this morning of a scene from the West Wing – not a Robin Williams, clip, obviously (my brain just went on a delightful tangent imagining how much Aaron Sorkin and Robin Williams would have probably hated each other), but because it’s one of my favorite depictions of the exact thing to say to help a friend who is hurting.

I’ve never suffered from depression, but it’s touched so many that I care about. I’m glad they feel empowered to seek treatment for it, to seek understanding, to take care of themselves.

Last year the CEO of my company got on an all employee call and, on a call reserved for earnings and stock and corporate strategy, she instead spoke bluntly about the recent suicide of her nephew, her own history with mental depression in her family, and how it has impacted and continues to impact her life. She then reminded her employees – all 3,500 of them – that they have access to health insurance, which includes tools for managing mental health, and they should use them as readily as they would use the insurance to treat high blood pressure or diabetes, that there is no stigma in treating your health conditions like a health condition just because it is mental health. And then she encouraged us to be kind to one another, because you never know what people are dealing with outside the walls of the office.

She was, in a very powerful way, telling an entire company that she’d been down there before, and she knew the way out.

There’s no good wrap up to a story like this – her leadership and message were extraordinary, and I hope it becomes common, and not prompted by personal experience with suicide.

It’s just all so sad.

Being Here

I have a second cousin that I see these days mostly via Facebook. That’s not a slam on our relationship; prior to Facebook it’s fair to say I did not see her much at all, so in the scheme of things the current set up is quite an improvement.

I like the way she uses Facebook quite a lot; her status updates are mostly snippets and stories about her day and her job, and as a high school English teacher she has some great reflections on teaching teenagers today and I find her perspective on her work interesting. I always feel very calm reading her thoughts, and I’ve come to like her even more than I did before I knew her “Facebook version” self. Probably this is because her Facebook-version self is much like her actual version-self, but one that I have more access to.

I think maybe one of the secrets to my large extended family remaining somewhat close throughout the generations is that we seem to like each other more, not less, the more we get to know each other. And while Facebook can be a huge font for annoyance and highly depressing political yelling, I also think it’s been a nice treat for keeping close the ones that may be otherwise too far.

Anyway, recently it was her birthday, and she posted that she had heard a quote for Psalm 16.6: “My lines have fallen in pleasant places.” What a wonderful sentiment. I feel, recently, that the lines of my life have fallen in pleasant places. This type of feeling is certainly subject to ebb and flow, but it’s a nice place to be.

Along those lines, if you have the time to read something longer, I encourage you to check out my friend Arwen’s piece, “It’s Good Here”. Sometimes, it’s nice to be reminded that it’s important and right for us to be where we are.

 “It is good that you are here: I am the right wife for this husband, the right mother for these children, the right person to catechize fifth graders (a daunting job I’ve recently signed on for) and to support a person I love through a crisis and to live in this little house with this rowdy family. I belong here, this is my life, I’m right for it.

It is good that you are here: there are a hundred little joys in this life, and I am blessed to be the one who holds these little people and comforts them through their trials and witnesses their joys, blessed in my marriage and my friends and my family and in so many ways. This is a good life.

It is good that you are here: as tedious and tiny as it feels sometimes, this life is my vocation, exactly as it is. And things that make me feel sometimes like an outsider: not being a homeschooler, not having a baby or being pregnant; or (in alternate circumstances) having four (so many!) children and being one of those crazy religious people… well, those are the things that make me me and my life mine. I get to love those things, love being here, without apology or self-doubt.”

A few related things have been bouncing around my subconscious lately:

1. Joann Wilson, writer of the blog Gotham Gal, when speaking of her the push/pull of working while being a mom:

“I reached out to a friend of mine who definitely has the internal push-pull of staying in leaving or figuring out how to stay in under her own terms. As she noted to me it is so complicated. It is so damn complicated is right.

I have had that internal conflict for the past 23 years. I am quite sure that Fred has not had that conflict. “

And that right there is it: Her husband Fred didn’t struggle with whether to work or stay home; it was expected he’d work. So he did. The struggle – and the guilt – was left to his wife. To a lot of wives. 

2. A conversation with my brother regarding the Shonda Rhimes graduation speech, in which he mentions how hard it is – he wants to stay late at work, but he wants to go home and see his kid. 

I recently heard Shonda Rhimes’ Dartmouth commencement address where she talks about how she’s both a working woman and a mother and how she juggles it all.  Her answer: she doesn’t.  I know how she feels.  Prior to Hunter, I would work pretty late almost every night.  Now I like to see Hunter before he goes to sleep.  There’s a struggle between being doing well at work and seeing my family, and I don’t think there’s a good answer.  Ultimately, I’ll always be failing at one of them.  I’m having to get used to that fact.  It’s quite a change.


So at least things are getting better, if by “getting better” you mean “more of us feel like we’re constantly failing instead of just some of us.”


3. And to top my list of depressing yet still important readings, the CEO of PepsiCo on reality: 

My observation, David, is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers, they need you for the teenage years… What do you do? And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they’re aging. So we’re screwed. We have no … we cannot have it all. Do you know what? Coping mechanisms. Train people at work. Train your family to be your extended family.


In conclusion: it’s becoming clear that we’re all screwed. This is moderately comforting. 


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