I took an entire day off of work to host my book club last week (I work from home on small contracts, so no work means no pay). Since the book was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, in which the COO of Facebook encourages women to go for gold in their careers, and stop settling for less, this was ironic.
Two things occurred to me while I was stashing shoes under beds and spearing mini bocconcini with toothpicks: There’s no way Sheryl Sandberg could be in a book club, let alone host one. And secondly, the Cyndi Lauper anthem that I grew up with, girls just want to have fun, does not apply all women. So we have our differences.
But I digress. Back to the book.
I was prepared to love Lean In. Feminism just happens to be my thing, don’t let my SAHM status fool you. I’m quick to support anything that advocates more women in power positions and equally represented everywhere (I’m looking at you, government). But before you think I’m just another jaded housewife, jealous of successful women like Sandberg and her ilk, let’s get a few things straight:
1. I am a jaded housewife.
2. I am jealous of successful women like Sandberg and her ilk.
3. I would feel differently about this book if I was twenty-one year-old graduate of Barnard College, and about to start my MBA at Harvard (naturally).
Because unlike Betty Friedan‘s The Feminine Mystique, which was more universal in nature, Sandberg’s book is most applicable to women in privileged positions. Take, for example, her advice for women to take risks with their careers, like she did when she left Google to work for the then little known start up, Facebook. Perhaps that’s easier for someone who counts Arianna Huffington and Oprah Winfrey among her friends.
While it’s not Sheryl’s fault that she had the highest grades in her Harvard business class (and felt she had to hide them). Or that Larry Summers, the white house economic advisor, kept jobs open for her, in the hopes she would move back to Washington. Or that she rubbed elbows with (or was patted on the head by) people like Tip O’Neill. This was her experience, and it’s the only place she can write from. But her advice would have a softer and broader landing if her life wasn’t so charmed.
Yes, the woman is brilliant. Yes, she has worked hard for every inch of progress. But for those of us with resume’s that don’t read like a who’s who of Silicon Valley or People magazine, it seems full of unobtainable goals. If there’s one thing women don’t need, it’s yet another brass ring, dangling out of reach.
I love that she wants to improve the world. I agree it would be better with more input by women. She gives great advice about sitting at the table and encourages women to be more assertive. She advises women to ask for raises and recognition when warranted. And most importantly, she encourages women to continue with their careers after having children, even when the cost of childcare seems to override the decision. Ahem. All valid points. All great advice.
Where were you when I needed you, ten years ago?
Her many good points aside, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Sandberg’s shiny house is more like the diamond variety, consisting of Ivy League schools, complete with Gloria Steinem on speed dial. Comparatively, straw and mud huts require constant attention.
I wish I could tell you what my book club thought about Lean In, but I was outside barbecuing salmon when they had the discussion. So really, my book club is like the advice Sandberg dishes out: good in theory, but at the end of the day, we all need to eat. Sometimes, real life gets in the way.
This is not to say I don’t work. I work alright. I work day and night, weekends and holidays, with no pay cheque in sight. A bit like slave labour, but legal. It’s called Raising Children. Not to be left behind in these texting times, we even have acronyms, SAHM, SAHF, SAHP, or CEO when the mood strikes.
Lots of people have opinions about this job; but I’m not going there. Let’s just say I’m hanging them up – whatever they may be. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. Six years to be precise. But you know how the universe sometimes speaks to you? Well, now it’s screaming. Louder than the two-year old next door, which I didn’t think possible. It’s yelling at me by way of signs.
Here are one or ten signs that I need to get a job, depending on your attention span.
1. Garbage day has become freakishly important in my calendar, now ranking somewhere between Christmas and Labour Day. I know, it’s not a holiday, but it’s even better because it involves purging. And two men show up right at my door to help me do this – when else does this happen? Never, that’s when. (Note: those garbage bins are filled with stuff I’m sick of picking up. Bye bye.)
2. I’ve installed a water cooler in our house, and I find myself hanging around it, asking what my weekend plans are.
3. There is a glare on our television during the daytime that drives me insane when I’m trying to watch Orange is the New Black. While folding laundry, naturally.
4. I’m not done my bitching and complaining, not even close, but I’ve run out of people who will listen. Time for new material.
5. I used to have six hours of peace and quiet. Now I field about twenty texts from my children between 9 and 3. Mostly about their social calendars, which only serves to rub salt in my wounds that I have none by comparison. I was fun once.
6. Homicidal thoughts can’t be healthy. Purely mariticidal, I hasten to add.
7. Delivering their forgotten lunches and homework to school ignites me with rage that they have no respect for the work I do and the sacrifices I’ve made.
8. Complaints about my cooking fill me with rage that they have no respect for the work I do and the sacrifices I’ve made.
9. I’m developing anger issues.
10. The fact that I’m at number ten and haven’t even mentioned shoes yet, speaks volumes. Hello, mama needs a new pair of shoes? And then when I do indulge, that conversation. You know, the one where he says “Where are you going to where those? It’s not like you work.” Then I lose it. See number 6. Now you know the definition of mariticide.
I can’t find fulfillment at the bottom of a wine bottle. Trust me, I’ve tried. Time for plan A.
In your opinion, what is the absolute worst thing about being a stay at home parent? We’re venting here, so keep it negative.
While I am absolutely ecstatic that my kids are back at school and I am back to being productive (which may or may not involve Downton Abbey), I am not thrilled about the nightly ritual of making lunch. Also known as fruitless labour, since it involves assembling food that is sure to return uneaten.
There’s a law in my house: if I make it, they won’t eat it.
Yet, I persist. Not only because the school would call Child Services if I sent them without lunch regularly, but actually because I’m hellbent on hearing the words, “That lunch was awesome today, thanks mom!”.
To be fair, food is not my strong point. Knowing this, I frequently turn to them for help. So, what are the other kids eating for lunch that you would like to have? Apparently, those little bags of mini-Oreos are all the rage. No, I mean food that actually has a nutritious component? Silence.
Every now and then I get excited about an idea – buoyed by their initial response to a product. It may not have been super positive, but it wasn’t one of disgust, either. My enthusiasm inevitably sends me to Costco, to buy a year’s supply of the damned things, only to have them return in their lunch bags after school. I thought you liked Cheddar Bunnies? No, we’re sick of them now.
Swear words run through my head, vision of sugar plum-like but with symbols.
It’s beyond tiring. The natural peanut butter and almond butter they find disgusting. Putting grapes/carrots/orange slices/something healthy into little containers is futile. Putting anything between bread besides Nutella is useless. They’re sick of bagels. Going to the trouble of making a salad or wrap for them is like straightening my hair for the windstorm – why would I bother?
So, I don’t go all out with lunch. But old habits die hard, and I find myself wandering the aisles in the grocery store in the hopes that something will jump of the shelf, at the same time nutritious, inexpensive, and already prepared, that I can send to school with them, that will not end up in my overflowing kitchen garbage. I’m looking long and hard, but still haven’t found anything.
Whichever mother came up with the phrase “Let them eat cake”? – I totally get her.
It’s the generalization I have trouble with. And it’s always the summer. When was the last time you casually asked someone, how was your winter?
When people ask me tomorrow, on the first day of school, “How was your summer?”, as is friendly and customary, I’m momentarily confounded.
First of all, I have trouble remembering last week, never mind a two month period. Three months, if you want to get technical, but that hearkens us back to June and June is always a white-out . A cupcake laden, certificate wielding (best reader/runner/joker/slacker) month of gift bags of wine for teaching/driving my child/managing the team/feeding my family. Surely, June can’t count as summer.
Really what they mean is how was your July and August, the time since I last saw them. August was really only 4 days ago, if I need to break it down. I can get there, that’s not so far. July is a stretch, but August is doable. An image is coming – a soccer ball, a concert, sushi takeout. Okay, so that was the Labour Day weekend, not exactly August, but close enough.
It will do in a pinch.
My short-term memory aside, I couldn’t possibly summarize my summer in the three words it will take to past my acquaintance, so I leave it at “Great!”. Although not strictly true, there were moments of great, alongside those moments of frustration and wanting to clone myself.
Summer is never as idyllic as I hope. Or as simple as the name suggests. But it’s inevitable end is tempered by those three magical words.
Back. To. School.