New Health Care Bill – Nursing Help for Moms?

April 7, 2010

I heard an ad for a talk show on NPR that I didn’t get to listen to saying that one of the provisions in the new healthcare bill is for employers to provide nursing mothers with a place and time to pump milk.

Really? Is this true? If so – hooray!

This issue has come up for a lot of mothers here in Charlottesville – scrambling to express in a broom closet on a break – hooking up to pumps in a car – getting derided by bosses for asking for a facility… men whose mothers obviously did not nurse them…

If you know anything about this, let me know – and let’s spread the good news!

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Ode to UniTaskers Everywhere

August 25, 2009

Stanford did a study and found multitaskers are less productive!

Now, “working moms” tend to promote themselves to the workforce as being ‘cable ready’ with the multitasking abilities employers seem to crave like candy these days – so why, you ask, am I joyous about this study, which might be damning to those of us who have to Do Everything All the Time?

Because I think multitasking is often a sham. Very few people really do it, and very few people really do it well.

Usually, multitasking means:

– I’ve got a good excuse for forgetting something

– I’m too busy to deal with you

– I can’t prioritize

– I’m not focused

– I’m disorganized

– I don’t know how to say No

– I’m reluctant to hire enough staff, so instead I’ll make one person do everything

– I believe that stress is a way of life and I’m willing to put myself and others through it

These days, if you use a computer, you’re a multitasker. You have ten tabs open, you’re Twittering and Tumbling and Fb-ing and emailing and maybe even working; you’re deleting all the Forwards of cute cuddling animals from your inlaws while you discuss the peanut policy at your kid’s preschool on the phone while you instant message your office mate about the toilet paper missing in the bathroom while you scribble a dinner recipe on your calendar.

But if I were an employer, I would want to know if, counter to what is now the norm, can you focus and do one thing at a time and do it well? Can you be thorough? Can you complete a task?

I personally am one of those people who can get lost in a novel that I’m writing or reading, get wrapped up in a daydream or idea that I’m developing, get honed in on a job task I’m finishing, and burn the green beans on the stove and not notice my toddler is peeing on the floor and totally miss just about everything else. It’s a curse – and a gift – that I have that kind of ability to concentrate amidst chaos. One that I don’t tout to prospective employers, because it sounds antithetical to the multitasking they desire.

But sometimes you need to be able to switch gears from one to the other.

So I say – if you’re a true multitasker, awesome.

But if you’re really a better unitasker – be brave. Admit it. Own up to your truth. And cite this study if you need to for proof that not being great at multitasking doesn’t mean you’re a poor worker.

Now being a  mother… I need to learn to put the book down when I’m cooking…


Working Remotely: Bah humbug, Starbucks

June 19, 2009

Have Laptop – Will Travel: That was my mode yesterday, made possible by my current freelance status.

Landed at a Starbucks in Alexandria, assuming I would grab some coffee and access the web, begin work – because you know, here in Charlottesville, most coffee places have wireless – free wireless, mind you –

Silly me. Starbucks not only required me to purchase my online time – but when I moved closer to Old Town Alexandria, which, as a town, has free wireless throughout, the Starbucks there STILL required a person to pay – a propriety situation, of course – if I were an AT&T customer, I would have been fine –

Running around the streets of Alexandria trying to find a signal with my laptop, I felt as anachronistic as if I’d been striking up fires and blowing smoke signals – there was something too ridiculous and insulting about paying for something inside that was free outside –

It was pretty annoying. And strange. Those futuristic commercials showing slovenly, hip teens lounging on park benches watching music videos on their iPhones make connecting to the web look so effortless – in reality, the competing networks you come across, access restrictions, crossed signals – well, some of the frustration can push a person to long for a good match, some twigs, and a blanket…


Still Drinking Coffee

July 2, 2008

It’s almost 8:30, and I’m still drinking coffee. I’m soooo tired. I’m soooo stupid.

This is worse than college: I stay up all night, I regret it the next morning, but then I do it again.

All because I am desperate for a couple hours to myself.

Which are crucial. Not enough – and often, I still am not totally relaxing – I remain “interruptible” – Ariel Gore in her book The Mother Trip provides the insight that mothers are constantly interruptible, but we need time to be uninterruptible – it was really helpful to read her words and know that my constant feeling of being on call, on high alert, just ON – 24 hours a day – is not because there’s something crazy about ME. It’s commonplace, it’s hormonal, it’s motherhood.

It’s hard to explain to others that only when my kids are sleeping – and I know they’re asleep for at least half an hour, solid – can I come close to getting absorbed in something else – yoga, intimacy, writing, things that only have a benefit when you’re fully present and not leaving one ear perked like a satellite dish toward the children’s room.

Of course, by the end of the night, when they are finally both truly asleep – usually 10 p.m. – the last thing I feel like doing is yoga, intimacy, or writing. I want to veg. I want to watch bad television. I want to sleep. I want to read cheesy blogs. I don’t want to engage in anything that requires me to be thoughtful, soulful, or energetic. I have nothing left to give at that point. My body has been a source of nourishment, caring, and entertainment since 7 that morning – it wants a break.

So my relationships are suffering – long distance ones, that require phone calls – close ones, that require quality one-on-one interaction. Not to mention, my relationship with myself. Of course, the last thing I need right now is to grow distant from the ones I love. Again, Gore advocates for mothers to make time for things like sleep and meditation and sex – but god, it’s hard.

Sleep is so boring. And meditation and sex – though both can be reviving – require focus. Can I just chill with the Netflix for a good 48 hours? With some ice cream and vino, while someone gives me a massage, does my nails, trims my hair, takes notes for me when a thought of worth actually does crop up, a little crocus amid the weedy landscape that is my untended brain?

If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Gore’s book and her site, hipmama.com. I don’t think I am at all a “hip” “mama” but it’s nice to know hip mamas exist out there. Mothers are not just saggy, docile, vapid yuppies in ill-fitting jeans driving SUVs badly. They are cool and creative and spiritual and sexual and intellectual and responsible for the human race’s various incarnations. They are not a sub-group for political pundits to try and buttonhole, nor are they a ‘they’ to be tapped and targeted by marketers.

More on that later – probably on my new blog…


When Did Work Start to Suck? (or has it always?)

April 18, 2008

Toddler and I at Hoos Brews today, the place empty, and she starts asking me for a real-time play-by-play of everything the kind woman behind the counter is doing – “Emptying the soup bowls,” I say, diligently. “Scooping ice cream, I think.”

“What she doing?”

“Making a smoothie, maybe.”

The woman notices, and erupts: “Enjoy your childhood, because this is work, and it sucks!”

“Yeah,” I say, sympathetically. “To kids it seems like so much fun.”

“You just wait,” she says.

And so I start thinking about my daughter’s play activities – imitating cleaning, imitating cooking, making things, pretend shopping… her playtime is all about going through the motions of what I do, what adults do, most of it perceived and experienced as drudgery… rote, boring tasks…

But what makes domestic chores burdens – and what makes a job feel like compulsory torture?

Part of it, I think, or most of it, is the compulsory piece – the fact that you have to shop, you have to clean, you have to Bring Home the Bacon, to survive – you don’t really have much of a choice. Most jobs require that you follow someone else’s rules and procedures, subverting your own ideas and questions, your own style your own imagination your own rhythms to a hierarchy that often doesn’t seem to deserve its power.

Would working in an ice cream/coffee shop be fun if it was play time? If you could do it fearlessly, lovingly?

Would your job be fun if you didn’t have to do it everyday? If you could do it your own way?

Or is it that people tend to be doing jobs they don’t like in the first place, at all, ever?

Because I don’t think the answer is that things are “hard.” Hard work that you love, that you find challenging and rewarding, can be a heck of a lot of fun. I loved studying for the SATs, for instance. I liked mastering the analogy portion of the test. I also enjoyed sweating while swinging a hammer to help build latrines at a women’s music festival. I also loved writing papers in school, having to think out hard issues and find the right words to explain and clarify my points.

On the other hand, I hate doing financial paperwork. I hate data entry. I like the challenge of typing fast. But I don’t like having to be on time to a 9-5 job. I like when I get to question how things are done and develop new, better ways to do them. I don’t like when I have to go through the motions someone else invented that feel slow and redundant.

Meaningful, engaging, fun work that makes one feel like a whole, worthy, respected, happy person – what does that require?

Why does my two year old love sweeping and mopping and I hate it??? And what do I do to reclaim my joy for the mundane and to help my child retain it as she ages?

Answer me, people!!


How Much in Touch Would You Want to Be?

March 4, 2008

I had the baby! And now I’m back.  So here’s  the question that got me blogging today: Would you, if you could, wear a device – like a bracelet or necklace – for each child or loved one that showed his or her heartbeat (they would be wearing sensors, of course)? So that you would know at all times that the individual in question was alive? (So you didn’t forget them in the car, or worry about the schoolbus going over the creaky bridge…)

The idea popped into my head today as my daughter went off to daycare, leaving me at home with my four-week-old infant –  I was thinking of working mothers –  the separation anxiety we often feel when leaving our kids to go to  work. But really, if such a thing existed, anyone could make use of it. And maybe some people would find it comforting. But others might find it crazy-making, evidence of total anxiety… What do you think?
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A President Who Mandates Balance: Never Gonna Happen

October 15, 2007

So, this article, “Presidential Candidates Ignore Working Mothers,” says some things I agree with, like “the person who gets my vote will not relegate topics such as family leave, flexible work schedules and affordable childcare to the political back burner called ‘women’s issues.'”

Yes. If there were a candidate who didn’t do that, I would be quite happy.

In fact, I think anyone who stops calling anything having to do with families and children “women’s issues” is going to get a big kiss from me, right off the bat.

But I’m cynical. I don’t think we’re going to get a presidential candidate, female or not, who has the energy – let alone the desire – to help us all get flex time and cheap daycare when there’s issues like Iraq and global warming to be managed.

Yet, the personal is political – and the political is made up of the personal. Everything ties into everything else. Our culture as a whole is schizophrenic with regards to how we think of people in general.

Like, I was waiting for my lunch to heat up in the microwave at work today, and I was stretching around in the ‘kitchen area’ while waiting… and I knew, as I did this, that it was possible that I could get in trouble for not behaving ‘professionally’ in the workplace. Of course, anyone with a little humanity would forgive me a little stretching – and not just because I’m almost six months’ pregnant.

But we don’t think of ourselves as human beings with bodies and emotions that need attention. Our idea of proper adult behavior, both in and sometimes out of the office, are all about slicing off everything but our very censored mental skills. It’s capitalism, and we’re the cogs in the machine.

Yes, some companies are more generous than others. And the two women who caught me stretching by the microwave were kind and not punitive. But at the base of it, our culture sees us first as expendable workers, second as valuable human lives.

And so, issues like work/life balance and childcare aren’t going to matter until it starts to hurt companies in the only part of them that can hurt – the part where the money comes in. And how that’s going to happen… well, it’s not going to be by presidential decree, unfortunately.