Working Mom – Making the “Right” Choices? A Look Back.

               Female lawyer working in office

A Chanukah gift from my sister arrived yesterday – a book called “Becoming Grandma” written by the TV journalist, Leslie Stahl. The timing of the gift was impeccable as my husband and I just returned from four fun, albeit diaper-change-filled, days taking care of our two grandkids while their parents spent a few nights away. I saw the author’s photo on the cover of the book – and was reminded of a draft blog post (see below) I wrote but never published. I’m still not sure if it was Leslie Stahl who had the seat next to me on the plane that day in 1990  – but seeing her photo prompted me to revisit the choices we make as working moms (and for some of us, working grandmothers.) And to think about the consequences of these choices.

Looking back, I still wonder if I made the right choices. Maybe Leslie Stahl or whoever she was on the plane wonders too?

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Life presents many choices – and one of them is whether or not to read a women’s magazine on a an airplane.

Some years ago when I was a Young Mom I took a late afternoon shuttle flight from New York City back to Washington, DC. I was returning from a business trip, traveling solo. A rare thing in my Young Mom days.

On the plane I found a seat and glanced to my right. My seat-mate was a Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person. I no longer remember her name.

Immediately I thought, “Here’s my chance.” 

I will make a casual but clever remark which will lead to an intelligent conversation with another adult (defined in my Young Mom days as someone who (a) did not wear diapers and (b) was not related to me by marriage –  a successful, talented woman, one who loves the news, all things media, as much as I did – and still do.

Or – I could just flip through the pages of The New Yorker magazine that I had brought with me on the plane –  and the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person will no doubt look my way, see me reading an Intellectual Magazine and initiate a thoughtful chat.

We would likely end up conversing all through the flight and as the plane taxied to the terminal, we would exchange business cards and talk about getting together in a week or two.

But being a Young Mom I had also brought another magazine on board with me.

Should I open up my women’s magazine and catch up on my Young Mom required reading such as: “10 Tips for Tantrum Free Toddlers”- OR should I stick with the New Yorker?

 I chose “10 Tips for Tantrum-Free Toddlers.”

About ten minutes into the flight the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person looked my way and glanced at the magazine on my lap.

By then I had moved on to “8 Exciting Easy Recipes for Week Night Dinners.” She turned her well-coiffed head and ignored me for the rest of the flight.

So I never got to find out if the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person and I would have hit it off. Probably not.

In my Young Mom days I always felt like I had dual personalities – a Mom at home and a Lawyer at the office but never the twain shall meet. We were advised to low-key the Mom thing if we wanted to be successful at work.

A young partner at my first law firm once “helpfully” suggested to me that I should reduce the amount of kid-related decor in my office.  Too many photos of my kids and their crayoned pictures sent the message that I cared more about spending hours with my family than billing time for my clients.

Why was it, I wondered (although I didn’t dare say this aloud) acceptable, if not outright admired, for men to show off their Dad sides? If a male lawyer in my office decided to leave early for soccer practice, he would be lauded as a “family man.”

Funny, isn’t it, how the term “family woman” doesn’t exist?

But if I had to do it again – reflecting now on 30 plus years of working mom status (where is my badge?), I’d probably make the same choices. The office display of family photos and kiddie-drawings. Leaving mid-day to go to the school play. Not missing a school conference.  Taking criticism from certain of my male law firm colleagues when they “caught” me by the elevators, exiting the office at 6:30 p.m. and asking – “taking a half-day, Nancy?”

And not feeling guilty about reading a women’s magazine on an airplane, no matter who had the seat next to mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Careers, Law firm life, Lawyers, Men vs Women, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Reading, Women, Women in the Workplace, Working Moms, Working Moms, Working Women

2016: Your Year in Review

 

 

2016 review banner - text in vintage letterpress wood type block with a cup of coffee

If you are on Facebook, you recently received your unrequested, but they sent it anyway, FB-produced personalized “Year in Review. I watched my short video. Cute enough.

But, even though FB earnestly prompted me to do so, I resisted the urge to share my “Year in Review” for friends and family to watch on my FB page.

(And if you are not on FB, you are not alone. My husband, JP, has a FB page, but rarely checks it.  A very smart and technically-able man, as I’ve said in this blog before, he finds FB incomprehensible. “I just don’t get it.” he will say. What’s a page? What’s a news feed?  And most important – What if I don’t want to “friend” someone in return? Sadly, JP is far too kind not to “friend” someone back, even if that person is someone who he never talked to, but who may have had a locker near his in high school. That’s what happens when you are my husband, the still-popular-to-this-day president of his senior class. So not my problem.)

Which is one of the reasons why I did not share my “Year in Review” on my FB page.

One thing I’ve learned this year – in my own self-produced, virtual “Year in Review”  – is that no one is as interested in you as you are.

(grammatical correctness? Unsure. But feel free not to scold me. My 93-year-old Dad has that role covered.)

But you take my point. You care more about your quotidian details than your friends or family do.

For example: One day you leave the house thinking your hair looks hideous. No one cares. Next day you leave the house wearing extremely old yoga pants. And you’ve never taken a yoga class. No one notices. Once this fall I dressed very quickly and wore a casual shirt inside-out. (it happens.) Then someone did notice. A very nice younger woman sweetly and non-judgmentally pointed it out to me in a supermarket aisle as I was selecting among the apples. I slinked back to my car, slid down in the seat, reversed my shirt and went back inside to finish my food shop. Life went on.

So on the point of your own “Year in Review”, the only person who really cares how your year went is you. Your husband/spouse/partner/child/best friend – trust me – they really don’t want the details.

And you may not remember the details.

More and more as I get older, I find the details, not only mine, but those of others slipping away. Like when a good friend who lives on another coast calls to update you on a significant event in her life and you listen to her very closely, but you cannot for the life of you remember anything about her significant event.  Was it her brother-in-law who suddenly got very ill a few weeks ago  – or her sister-in-law? Once the conversation has begun, it’s too embarrassing to ask your friend for a refresher. So you listen harder and hope that you will pick up the thread as she continues to talk. Thankfully, she seems not to notice. She probably experiences the same problem.

My self-produced “Year in Review?” I was hoping you would ask. One way to measure it is by the number of times I had to visit a hospital in 2016. Three times total. 2x for sad reasons. 1x for a very happy reason (our second grandchild is now nearly ten months old.)

I think the ratio of 2 sad-purpose visits to 1 happy-purpose hospital visit reasons per year is probably about right for someone who is nearly – not quite but counting the months – inching up to Medicare.

More of my 2016 numbers:

  • One brave new venture (applied to, accepted by a grad school M.A. in Writing program. love going to class, doing the homework and learning to write fiction.)
  • Two grandchildren thriving.
  • Three vacations taken.
  • Four times we thought about selling our old house – and didn’t.
  • Five weddings of the adult children of friends.

You, too, can personalize and self-produce your own ” Year in Review.” But my advice is not to dwell too much on 2016.  Look ahead to 2017 – because 2017 promises to be a rather eventful year for everyone. Politically, if not personally.

What was that famous quote from the wonderful old movie “All About Eve” – ironically starring the aging Bette Davis as an aging actress dealing with the take-over efforts of her younger, competitive actress rival?

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Bumpy 2017, here we come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

December 12, 2016 · 8:59 pm

10 Days Later: Not The “New Normal”

election-signs

 

I told myself that I would not – would definitely not – write any kind of post-election blog post. However, if you are reading this post now, I must have changed my mind. But I will keep this short.

After nearly 10 days of reflection, I have a three-fold mantra – –

1. Change Happens.

2. We Can Deal With It.

3.  It’s Not the New Normal.

No matter which “side” you were on before the presidential election on November 8th, you may still be in shock. Shock that your candidate won – or shocked that your candidate lost.

Either way – see #’s 1, 2 and 3 above.

What did “we” learn from the election results?

That “we” who have always lived inside the Washington, DC bubble had no clue how people in other areas of our country were feeling – or what they were really thinking.

My husband’s family is from Detroit and we visit there, so I knew the U.S. economy was not sailing along on a wave of prosperity everywhere. But it did come as a surprise to me that so many voters felt disenfranchised and wanted change — especially since that promise of change arrived in the form of a bombastic, erratic and narcissistic candidate who seemed to say aloud whatever (often outrageous and deeply offensive) thoughts he was thinking.

I may be in the minority here – but let me go out on a (hopeful? delusional?) limb, I don’t think that our POTUS-elect really, deeply, truly in his inner soul actually believes in the anti-minority, anti-women, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant horrific statements that he and his followers uttered during the course of the campaign.

I think instead that he developed as his campaign took off an uncannily awful instinct to appeal to the lowest common denominator that exists in all of us – some of us more than others – that makes us fearful of people who look differently, who act differently, who make more or who have more than we do.

And once he realized he had this appeal and that it could be used to swell the size of his “base”, it was like a vote-getting spigot he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – turn off. Which led to some very ugly actions and words.

How can this spigot be turned off? That will not be easy. But it is what we must do going forward.

Just this week we’ve seen signs that bigotry and hate speech are still rising up. In the middle school in the town next to mine, swastikas were drawn on the wall of the boys’ bathroom. In a middle school! And racist slogans were written on the wall of a nearby church.

This CANNOT become the “new normal”.

I believe that people of good faith will always be in the majority, whatever political party is in power, and that they will loudly condemn and take actions against these hate speech and incidents.

I may still be in election-shock but I’m looking towards the long-term. Living in/near DC since my long-ago law school days, I have seen many administrations come and go. None like this, of course.

But this too shall pass, as my wise husband likes to say. And while it is passing – as quickly as possible, please – I plan to speak out – maybe even more loudly (which is already pretty loud) – against evidence of anti-Semitism (because that hits me most personally) and against bigotry of all kinds.

Change has happened. We can deal with it. So long as we do not – EVER – let the spigot of hate that bubbled up during the campaign become the new normal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boomer Learning From Millennials: Lessons From a Fiction Writing Class

Head Library - flat concept vector illustration

do know who Beyoncé is; I want to state that from the outset. I may not be familiar with all of her songs or videos – but yes, I know what she looks like and that she is a famous singer/songwriter.

What I did not know was that a recent politically themed skit I saw on TV ( a funny, IMO, take on Mr. Tangerine Man) on “Saturday Night Live” was meant to be a parody of her Lemonade video.

Missing out on current cultural references? Yup, it happens often as we get older. But so – thankfully – does an appreciation for the different perspectives that come from being able to study with people of different ages.

There are eleven students in the “Techniques of Writing Fiction” class I am taking this fall at JHU. Perhaps half are under the age 35. The very nice young man who sits to my left in class listened to me patiently the other night as I fumbled to describe the SNL skit. He turned to me and said, “Oh, you mean the skit that was the parody of the Lemonade video?”

I laughed, pretending that I had known all along about Beyoncé and the video reference. I’d like the younger students in my class to think I am culturally au courant but I’m sure they recognize that I am not.

But I do enjoy being around the 20 and 30-somethings because of the perspectives they have. Not only their outlooks on life, but how through the lens of their experiences and age (or lack thereof?), they offer up unexpected interpretations of the stories we read for our class homework.

Last week one of the assigned readings was the classic “But the One on the Right” by Dorothy Parker, a short story published in The New Yorker in 1929 (and no, I was not alive in 1929.)

It’s an interior monologue of a woman of a certain age who is purposefully seated by her hostess at a formal dinner party with the intent to entertain the known-to-be boring man to her left.  “We can stick him next to Mrs. Parker – she talks enough for two.”

The dull dinner companion likes to discuss each course of food as it is served. Yes, they both like soup. The fish course is fine too. He and Mrs. Parker disagree on the potatoes, but return again to a shared admiration of cucumbers. All the while Mrs. Parker is gulping down wine and wondering how more enjoyable the evening might be if she only she could talk instead with the seemingly more attractive man seated on her other side, who ignores her throughout the multi-course meal.

I won’t ruin the end of the story for you; it is well-worth reading.

I laughed aloud at the Dorothy Parker story, enchanted by her writing. The droll inner thoughts of a sophisticated older woman who implies she’d rather be happily cleaning her bureau drawers at home than be forced to be out in polite but terribly dull company. It rang true to me, having been at many parties stuck with an uninspiring conversational companion. Or two.

One of my younger classmates did not find the story the least bit humorous. To my surprise, she saw the narrator as a lonely and sad older woman.

Another homework assignment was to read a more contemporary, prize-winning writer, an Egyptian-born, Sudanese author named Leila Aboulela, who writes about identity, migration and Islamic spirituality. In her story titled “The Museum,” a young Muslim woman from a well-born but now struggling family in Khartoum comes to very cold Northern Scotland to study statistics in an unexpectedly rigorous graduate school program. Anxious about doing well in her studies, she falls under the unwilling spell of a smart but unpolished Scottish fellow grad student who is attracted by her exotic background.

Again, I won’t ruin the story for you; it also is beautifully written.

I was captivated by Ms. Aboulela’s main character, Shadia. Her straddling of two cultures reminded me of my own days in a small, 100 person graduate student program, half of us, like me, from the U.S. and half of us from other countries. I probably was not as culturally sensitive as I might have been to my own foreign student classmates back in the 1970’s.  Maybe filtered through those memories is why I found Shadia such a sympathetic character.

A younger student in our class totally disagreed with me. She thought Shadia came across as arrogant and selfish.

Is it odd that I find these classroom discussions so exhilarating?

We read the same words, the same stories, the same fiction, yet each of us interprets meaning so differently. In my suburban home-town book club, we also read and share thoughts about what we read, but we are a group of similar-aged women of similar backgrounds. Our discussions are, dare I say it, not quite as exhilarating.

Kudos really to the younger students in my fiction grad school class who are opening my eyes to what I am reading, who force me to pay attention, to acknowledge that what I perhaps think is the correct understanding of a story may not be the only way of understanding it. Diversity, differences, making me think about what I am reading – and what I am hearing from others. A good lesson to apply to the rest of life. Perspectives should always enlarge, not narrow, as we get older. I may even get to like Beyoncé yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Book Club, Books, Communications, Education, Reading, Women, Writing

New Beginnings and Better Endings

rosh-hashanah-food-apples-and-honey6

 

You don’t have to be Jewish to love the tradition of dipping apple slices into honey.  This Sunday night we celebrated the start of the Jewish New Year – a/k/a Rosh Hashanah (rosh = head; ha = the, shanah = year. thus endeth my Hebrew lesson.)

The custom of dipping apples into honey is to express our hopes for a healthy, sweet and fruitful new year. Since I’m way too old to be the fruitful in the biblical sense, I will settle for a sweet and healthy new year instead.

Unfortunately, the new year in my family has gotten off to a rocky start. My friend Liz reassures me that if your year starts off poorly, it can only get better. I am relying on her prognostication abilities.

Let me also take retract what I just said about not expecting this to be a fruitful year. Not in the sense of producing human offspring (now that would be a miracle) – but in the sense of producing another kind of product. You see, this fall I returned to school. Not just “taking a class” but I made the leap to  formally enroll – with the photo student I.D. to prove it – in a university graduate school program to “pursue” (such a lofty word) a M.A. in Writing.

I am thrilled to be back in school.

If only there had been a high-paying career called “student” where I could have earned a salary to go to class, do homework diligently and study hard for exams, I would have done that instead of becoming a lawyer. Studying is something I find fun. Learning is even better. And wow, am I learning.

The class I am taking is called “Techniques of Fiction”. What, I can hear you say, there are techniques involved in the writing of fiction? Yes there are. Moving right along in the syllabus from character, setting/place, plot and structure to scene v.s summary, point of view, voice, dialogue and description – and I am loving every classroom minute of it.

The great irony is that while I am taking a course in the writing of fiction, my real life seems to be blurring a bit into the territory of fiction. Or what I wish was fiction (e.g. events that really did not happen to me.)

My fabulous (she really is) professor told us that it is acceptable to steal from your real life to write fiction.

That seems like cheating to me. Although right now it seems appealing to base a short story or novel on deeply upsetting real life events where you get to change the way the characters behave, modify the plot and write a totally different ending. That would be a form of therapy, I guess.

But I don’t view writing fiction as therapy. I am taking this Fiction course in order to learn a craft, to become very good at it and to produce work that other people will want to read because it is well-written, not because it is an endless, Nancy-filled, woe-is-me-story.

We all have our problems, don’t we?

If you had looked at me last Saturday night when my husband and I attended the wedding of the daughter of a close friend, when we were dancing to every song the d.j. played, raising our hands in the air to the music and pretending we knew the words, you would likely have never guessed we were going through such rocky stuff in our non-dancing lives. The photos taken will no doubt prove I had a big smile on my face.

And I bet others on the wedding dance floor who were also smiling were doing so despite whatever personal difficulties they are enduring.

So here’s to a sweet, fruitful and healthy new year for all – whatever you celebrate – and also to the reading and writing of fiction.

Now back to my homework.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Family, Female Friends, friendship, Holidays, Jewish, Mental Health, Midlife, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Writing

NEW BOOK: “Parenting Through the Storm – Finding Help, Hope and Strength When Your Child Has Psychological Problems”

 

No, I did not write this NEW book – but I wish I had.

Or, to be precise, I wish it had been written when we first needed it – say, about a decade or so ago.

But, I am VERY happy to let you know that this book is now available in the U.S. and I had a small (very small) role in making that happen.

Parenting Through the Storm” is written by Canadian author, Ann Douglas – an “award-winning parenting writer and the mother of four children who have struggled with a variety of psychological problems – and are currently thriving.”

(Lucky her, I say to myself – re-reading the last clause).

Lucky me too because Ann Douglas contacted me last year to ask if I would assist her in customizing the original Canadian version of her book for American readers.

Big issue there, as you can probably guess, is that Canada has a rather (understatement) different health care system than we have here in the United States. While much of Ann’s amazing guide focuses on parenting  – and is written for parents wherever YOU live – to help deal with and find support for the stress that comes with raising a child, teen or young adult with mental health struggles, many of the topics covered by the book – for example, topics such as:

 

  • Obtaining a Diagnosis
  • Starting Treatment
  • Advocating for Your Child
  • Working with Your Child’s School (& College)

 

.. the information and advice for these subjects needed to be modified to reflect the (IMHO, sad) realities of how mental health care works (and doesn’t) within the U.S as well as the way we do things in our educational and legal systems.

Working with Ann to customize her Canadian-audience book for American readers was a wonderful experience. Can you tell how proud I am just to be mentioned in the Acknowledgements and to be quoted on young adult and college-related mental health on a few of its’ pages?

NOTE: This blog post is NOT meant to promote Ann’s book in any commercial manner. I’ve not been asked to plug it nor do I get any financial benefit if you purchase it. I just admire the heck out of it and am thrilled it is now available here.

What makes it special? It is a nuts-and-bolts guide but also a how-to-help-yourself-guide. Ann addresses not only the specific “What do I do now?” questions –  but also gives solid advice on how to take care of yourself at the same time. And if you don’t practice self-care as a parent of a challenging child, believe me it won’t go well for you or for anyone in the family.

You may not need this book – but my well-educated guess is that you know a parent (or a grandparent!) who does. Or will some day. One in five children and teens are affected by mental health struggles. These kids hurt – and so do their parents.

Please share the news of its’ U.S. publication widely – and if you are the one “parenting through the storm”, as Ann says, you are not alone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, College, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Moms, Parenting, Reading, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

Overheard – and Understood: “Syria” at the Hair Salon

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I always enjoy going to get my hair cut – but likely not for the reasons you may think.

Although I adore my fabulous hairstylist and champion colorist, Katie (who is guiding me through the just-started process of letting my for-years-dyed-brown hair go “natural” – a story for another blog post – although if you see me on the street and notice my blindingly obvious rapidly-growing-in white/gray roots, do feel free NOT to comment) –

Wait, where was I?

Ah, yes, I was talking about one of the reasons I like going to the hair salon.

Because of the excellent eavesdropping opportunities!!

NOTE to the wise: I have very good hearing – and if you are sitting next to me at a restaurant, on a plane or at the hair salon – I will be able to listen to your conversation. Apologies in advance.

There are often some wonderful tidbits of life to be over-heard.  That perhaps will make their way into this blog in a slightly-disguised fashion – or into a piece of fiction that I write (this fall I am taking a graduate school class on “Techniques of Fiction”).

Yesterday at the hair salon a woman came to sit in the next chair who looked familiar. I glanced her way several times and realized that yes, she was the wife of a lawyer with whom I once worked. Or more accurately, for whom I once worked. Because I knew her –  although I’m pretty sure she had no idea who I was – I tried my hardest NOT to over-hear her conversation with her stylist.

I failed.

I learned (not to my surprise) that Lawyer Wife (a) is still happily married, (b) travels to nice places (c) has adult kids doing well and (d) has grandchildren.

Lawyer Wife wasn’t bragging or being snobby about her contented-sounding-life. You probably also know people who, from the outside anyway, seem to have fewer problems than the rest of us.

After Lawyer Wife’s hair was finished, she left the salon. I was not yet done because trying to go from having dyed hair to letting the white/gray grow in is a more arduous process than I had realized. Involving significant use of those crispily-irritating, little silver foil squares to highlight the few non-white/gray strands that are left to make the quickly multiplying white/gray strands less noticeable. If you have questions about this process, let me refer you to Katie.

The woman who followed Lawyer Wife into the chair next to me, let’s call her Attractive Middle-Age-Woman – started to tell a story to her stylist about one of her adult kids, or maybe it was about a niece or nephew. Sadly, I couldn’t quite hear every word of Attractive Middle-Age Woman because as she began to talk, my own hair was being blow dried, which hindered my ability to eavesdrop.

(I did briefly think of asking Katie to put her blow-drying of my hair on pause so I could better follow the interesting conversation of Attractive Middle-Age Woman, but decided not to do so, knowing that Katie, quite the stickler for salon etiquette, would not be amused by my request. And I like to keep Katie amused.)

From what I could hear above the noise of the loud blow-dryer:

The adult child that Attractive Middle-Age Woman was discussing had “issues” – he or she was troubled,  a source of distress to her family.  Another member of the family kept asking questions of Attractive Middle-Age Woman about the troubled adult child which her mother was reluctant to answer. This member of the family was rather persistent, she kept “probing for pain” (as a psychologist I once heard at a lecture describe it.) Finally the mother of the troubled adult child told the other family member to stop asking questions, explaining something like this:

She’s like Syria, get it? A messy situation of long-standing. Lots of conflicts, brief flare-ups of peace, but mostly ups and downs. Too many factions involved trying to figure it out who don’t have effective solutions. And it continues on and on.  Painful. Sometimes I don’t want to be asked or talk about it. It’s hard enough to have to live through the situation without being asked questions that have no good answers.”

At this point, Katie had stopped blow-drying my hair and was applying the finishing touches, whirling me around in my chair so I could admire her lovely results. I had no choice but to pay the bill and leave the salon so did not get to hear the finale of the Attractive Middle-Age Woman’s conversation.

But wow, how I identified with her analogy of her adult child’s situation to a constantly war-torn nation.

There are times when I do feel like talking about the young-ish adult in our family who causes us major concerns, and other times when I get angry if family and friends do not ask questions – and do not offer to help — but there are also many, many times when I don’t want to answer any questions!  Similar to the ongoing conflict in Syria, a trickily difficult situation with no clear solutions.

My Message to Attractive Middle-Age Woman:

———if it seemed like I was eavesdropping, yes, I confess I was. But particularly because what you were talking about resonated with me. I so get your analogy to Syria. And likely others do too. It is hard enough to have to “live through it” without having to answer questions.

That is one of the reasons it is so soothing to escape to the hair salon. To have your head ministered to by hair wizards like Katie. To try to forget all about your Syria while your hair is being washed and your head massaged. To admire the results and have people tell you as you are leaving how good your hair looks.

A brief and welcome respite.

Which is (one of the reasons) why I like going to the hair salon.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Communications, Law firm life, Lawyers, Mental Health, Parenting, Talking, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health