The “War on Women” is NOT against Stay-at-Home Moms

I’m hearing a political ad a lot on Pandora, which is usually just annoying, but this particular ad really upsets me. And I don’t stand up on my soap box very often, mainly because I think everyone is entitled to their own opinions and generally have no desire to shout mine from the rooftops, but this particular ad incenses me.

A few weeks ago, Ann Romney, the wife of the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, was blasted by Democratic National Committee strategist Hilary Rosen for never having worked. The reality is that Ann Romney was (is?) a stay-at-home mom and raised 5 boys.

Now, I have one child and, yes, being a mother to just the one is hard work. I don’t dispute that. But I also work a full-time job and volunteer at The Boy’s school (often taking vacation days to do so) fairly frequently. (So frequently, in fact, that the mom of one of The Boy’s classmates noted, with some surprise as her son gave me a big hug, that all the kids seem to know me.) I stayed up with him during those earliest days, weathered (and survived) countless nights of teething fits, changed too many poopy diapers to count, and did everything else that goes with being a mother, all in addition to showing up at the office to do my (monetarily paid) job there.

Does that make me a better mom than Ann Romney? Does the fact that Ann Romney stayed home make her a better mom than me? Does it mean that one of us worked harder than the other?

Absolutely not, to all three counts.

Big Sis E is a stay-at-home mom. She’s raising my two nieces, shuttles everyone to their activities, maintains her household’s crazy schedules, keeps her (much larger than my) home spotless and running seamlessly, volunteers for multiple committees, and is insanely busy. And after spending a week witnessing her frenetic life, I wouldn’t trade places with her for all the money in the world.

But it still doesn’t mean she’s a better mom than I am, or that I’m a better mom than she is. We both just do the best we can with what we’ve got.

Here’s the bottom line: Ann Romney never earned a paycheck once she became a mother. It wasn’t because she wasn’t capable; it was because she didn’t have to. She had the luxury that many women don’t: the luxury of being married to a high-earner who could financially support the entire family. Was it hard work? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone would dispute that.

But this political ad, sponsored by a joke of a group called Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, doesn’t paint that entire picture. Instead, it relies on a single sound bite to make it sound as though the entire Democratic Party has something against stay-at-home moms. That’s not the case at all. The argument was based on the fact that certain benefits – for mothers, in particular – are on the line. Mothers with young children who are unable to afford adequate daycare would no longer be eligible for welfare programs because they would be expected to work. (And by “work”, they don’t mean raising your children. That only counts as work if you’re a stay-at-home mom by choice.) But if you can’t afford daycare, then you can’t earn a paycheck.

You know who’s really up in arms about the Ann Romney comment? Stay-at-home moms with husbands who are able to financially support the entire family and unwilling and/or unable to understand what life may be like for women on the other side of the tracks. So, really, Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee really ought to change their name to Concerned Wealthy Women for America Legislative Action Committee. Or better yet, Concerned Spouses of Wealthy Husbands for America Legislative Action Committee.

Because if you were really concerned about how all women – both rich and poor – were being treated, you’d listen to more than just the soundbites and think of more than just yourself.

Oh, and PS – If you’re really into soundbites and don’t have time for much more, here’s one from Ann Romney herself at an event earlier this week in Connecticut:

“I love the fact that there are also women out there that don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids.”

Yes, because we paycheck moms are really just a funny little novelty.

My trip to Covenant House (or Thankful for My Very Charmed Life)

On Friday, we had our Jeans Drive at work tied in with a Sample Sale. The Sample Sale is an opportunity to clear the product development offices of sample merchandise while making a little money for the department on the side. My second year here, our department head agreed to donate 15% of the proceeds to charity. This time, we agreed on Covenant House.

If you’re not familiar with Covenant House, you’re not alone. A lot of people don’t know about this organization. Until recently, I’d never heard of it. It began in New York in the 1970s and is now in several cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and myriad others. The organization helps kids get off the street – kids who may have run away, been kicked out of their homes, lost both their parents, aged out of foster care, or any other reason. They help anyone under the age of 21, and their goal is to either reunite these kids with their families or help them learn to become self-sufficient. In the process, they clothe and feed these kids, and offer them a place to sleep.

The Orlando house has 48 beds but houses upwards of 60 kids a night. It’s a very lean operation, and they rely heavily on the community to help pay for services and other needs. The kids who are under 18 go to local high schools, and the kids who have children of their own are offered help in caring for their children. It’s sparse and very basic, but it’s a warm place to sleep (cool in the summer), a place to get a hot meal, and a place off the street.

I spearheaded a Jeans Drive at work when I learned that this was the charity of choice for this Sample Sale. I scoured the site, looking for ideas and suggestions on ways to help the charity, and found the Jeans Drive suggestion. As it is, these kids (mostly teens, really) are practically adults and come to the center with little more than the clothing on their backs – and that’s usually threadbare. They’re in need of everything: casual clothing, professional attire (for interviews and the like), formal dresses (for the girls still in high school who want to attend dances and such), baby and toddler clothing (for their small children), baby bottles, maternity wear (for the girls on the street who are also expecting), towels, blankets, bed sheets, etc. When I read the list of things they need, I immediately started clearing out my wardrobe of things I haven’t worn in three years and am not likely to wear again, and I boxed up the bottles my sister handed down to me when I had The Boy – bottles he never used but are perfectly useful, nonetheless. When people asked me what kind of jeans to bring, I told them to bring all sizes: infants, toddlers, kids, men’s, and ladies’. In all, we collected 148 pairs of jeans. I completely filled my car with boxes Friday afternoon: 12 boxes in all. Moreover, we also had a check for $1,000 – much more than I imagined we would collect!

When we arrived at the center, we waited in the reception area for a few minutes while the Director of Community Relations was notified of our arrival. The center was incredibly busy; we later learned it was dinnertime and, naturally, mealtimes are the busiest times of day. I saw girls pushing strollers or holding the hands of children not much older than my own little boy, and it took everything in me to not cry. Finally, we met with Maria, the Director of Community Relations and my contact these past few weeks.

I told Maria that we brought more than just adult-sized jeans, that I there were some toddler and infant sizes in there, too, as well as some maternity jeans. I also explained that I included some formal and semi-formal dresses for the girls who were still in high school (Prom season is, after all, upon us), and some business suits for the older girls looking to get out into the workplace. I let her know there were a few baby bottles in the boxes, too, and a few other miscellaneous necessities, and she almost looked like she was about to cry. “So many people forget about our girls,” she said. “A lot of people take their maternity wear and baby items to women’s shelters, and that’s great, but they forget that we need them here, too.”

Looking around the facility, I realized exactly how blessed I have been my whole life – and how good my son has it, too. I’ve never needed to rely on the generosity of strangers to get by; I never wondered when or where I might get my next meal; I’ve never doubted that I was good enough and could accomplish anything I dreamed. I’ve never been wealthy in the material sense, but I’ve also never needed anything. I’ve always had marketable skills and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to college for my undergraduate degree (courtesy of Mom & Dad) and return to school for an MBA (courtesy of my employer at the time) without needing to take out gigantic student loans. I’ve always had a roof over my head, more than enough clothes to wear, and more than enough food to eat. I have a bed to sleep on every night and more than enough blankets to keep me warm when it’s cold. I truly live in a world of plenty – so much that I often complain about how much stuff I have cluttering my world.

It’s a very humbling experience, knowing how much you have and seeing others struggling to get by with so little. And to witness it in your own backyard is even more heartwrenching.

That warm, fuzzy feeling

Every few months, my department hosts a Sample Sale, which is really an opportunity to get rid of sample merchandise cluttering our offices. A couple of years ago, we began donating a portion of the money we collected from the sale to a local charity. Proceeds from the last sale we had went towards a family we adopted around the holidays.

We’re having another Sample Sale in February, and I had been wracking my brain trying to think of a worthy local charity. The problem, of course, is that I’m not very familiar with local charities. So, I farmed this out to others in the organization.

Well, our department head had the opportunity to witness Covenant House at work and suggested we adopt them as our cause this time. If you’re not familiar with Covenant House, they’re an organization dedicated to helping homeless and displaced youth and work to get these kids off the street. She sent me a link to their website, and after just a few minutes of clicking through it, I started to cry.

We don’t collect a lot of money from our sales and wouldn’t be donating much money, just a couple hundred dollars or so – hardly enough to warrant a big mention. But I noticed on their site that one thing all these kids need is clothing. Apparently, kids come to Covenant House with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and oftentimes, those are even threadbare. So, I asked if we could piggy back a Jeans Drive to our Sample Sale: Drop off a pair of jeans and get a free T-Shirt. It’s different, it’s not something we’ve already done, and it’s in keeping with our department’s focus (clothing).

I got the go-ahead from our department head and am so excited about this Jeans Drive, I can hardly stand it. I’m hoping to collect at least 50 pairs of jeans, though it would be nice to bring more.

Look for an update on this in a few weeks. If it works well, I hope we can make this an annual thing!

The recalls hit home

Last week, my husband woke up to see that some of Baby C’s toys were on the latest recall list. He woke me to let me know there were some recalled toys in our son’s bedroom, and it was next to impossible to fall asleep after that.

But, as Baby C’s toys are still very limited in scope and number, it was easy to fix and didn’t affect any of us too terribly. After all, he’s still of the age where he could care less if you gave him a plush block or a burp cloth. As long as he’s got something he can stick in his mouth and gnaw on, he’s a happy little boy.

This morning, I arrived at work to find an urgent e-mail from my boss’s boss (forwarded to her from one of our lawyers) asking for a collective list, by vendor, of everything we sell or have sold that is at least 50% metal.

That’s asking for a whole lot.

Since our databases don’t include information on material composition, I’ve now had to go to a few vendors and ask them to designate what, of the things they have sold us, goes on this list. “Why do you need this information?” they ask. “Because my boss’s boss is asking for it, and I’m on a need-to-know basis only.”

What’s amazing to me is that almost all our vendors are American, but our vendors’ sources are from all over the globe. I can only hope this is a proactive exercise and not a reactionary one.

My boss at work is easier to please than my “boss” at home

Allow me to submit the following points as evidence:

– When my boss at work needs something, she will call or e-mail and let me know what she needs. When my son needs something, he screws his face up and howls.

– When I don’t do a task exactly as my boss at work wants it done, she will sit down with me and offer constructive criticism for the next time. When I don’t do something exactly as my son wants it done, he cries until I get it right… this time.

– When I’m running late on a deadline or can’t get to something right away, my boss at work will often pitch in and help me, or she will help me re-prioritize. When I can’t get to something right away for my son, he will be patient for about 5 seconds before launching into a crying fit.

– When I’m a little late for work, my boss doesn’t mind, as long as I get all my work done. When I’m a little late coming home, I find my screaming son has already blown out my husband’s eardrums.

– When I sit down with my boss at work for a meeting that she calls, she focuses on the issues at hand so that we’re done as quickly as possible. When I sit down with my son for a feeding that he demands, he allows his attention to wander to prolong the session for as long as possible.

– When I need to use the restroom in the middle of a meeting, my boss at work quietly shoos me out of the room so that no one is disturbed. When I need to use the restroom at home in the middle of a feeding (or playtime or dancing around the house), my son protests and threatens to wake the dead with loud screams.

– When I’m on the computer, I’m doing exactly what my boss expects of me. When I’m on the computer at home, my son expects me to let him play with the keyboard and/or mouse.

– When I am quietly studying or contemplating something, my boss is often doing the same. When I’m quietly reading or am otherwise silent at home, my son will chatter non-stop to get my attention and engage me in conversation.

– When my boss at work is sick or just not feeling well, she doesn’t want to be around anyone and will stay home. When my son is not feeling well, he wants to be constantly held, so I stay home.

Really, Baby C is lucky he’s as cute as he is.

You know your boss rocks when…

– she responds to others’ attempts to dump more work on your desk with, “That’s not her job.”

– she responds to others’ requests for incredibly detailed reports that will never really be examined with, “That level of minutiae is counterproductive,” and further questions the requestor with, “Is this really necessary?”, “What are you planning to do with this information?”, and “How often are you really going to look at it?”

– she beams with pride when you tell someone that the information they seek is sent to them weekly/monthly, and, PS, here’s a hard copy of it

– her first reaction to an e-mailed attempt to throw you under the bus is to go to the offender’s desk and loudly defend your actions as coming from her direction (even when they always aren’t)

– she’s not afraid to tell people where to go and where to stick it

I love my boss. Can’t you tell?

Have soy sauce, will travel

One of the buyers came out of a meeting at the start of lunch exclaiming, “I can’t believe they didn’t pack the soy sauce!” It so happened they ordered out for sushi, but the restaurant left out that condiment.

“I have soy sauce,” I called. And, sure enough, I reached into my desk drawer and pulled out my little 5-ounce bottle of soy sauce. Sure, it was only half full, but that was more than enough for this group.

No one was surprised that I have soy sauce at my desk. I don’t think anyone would bat an eye if I decided, one day, to set up a small kitchenette in my cubicle (complete with toaster oven and portable burner). I think I shock more people by not having a food staple at my desk.

It’s almost a little unnerving.

Ah, now I remember!

Mondays are one of my busy days, but only after all the numbers have posted (usually after 11). I forgot that last bit as I was rushing around this morning, trying to get all my stuff together and get to the office early. Mondays, after all, are busy days. So, I left a fussy Baby C with my sister-in-law and father-in-law, and I hurried to work, only to remember there isn’t much for me to do until all the numbers are posted. Thankfully, I will remember this for next week, as that will be the first week I have to actually take Baby C someplace.

It’s starting to come back to me now, only very slowly.

My first week without Baby

I think it’s a good thing my first week back at work was a short week. For one thing, I’m exhausted today; I had no idea how much work was involved in washing/sterilizing/filling bottles and washing/sterilizing/packing breast pump parts each night would be. Add to this the other routine tasks (taking a shower, eating dinner, feeding/changing/playing with the baby), and it’s a wonder I’m even getting to bed before the hour hand on the clock goes back to single digits!

Work itself has been good. It’s taken me a little bit to get back in the swing of things, and I still can’t even say I’m there. Today I had a bit of a (welcome) break from my desk while I handled the money for our department “garage” sale, but the past few days have found me scratching my head at various times trying to remember how I used to do what it is I used to do! There was a lot of trial and error and troubleshooting on my part, I’m afraid. At least I had the good sense to check my work before sending out my reports to God and country, though.

Monday marks the start of a new fiscal month, which means I’ll be running month end reports again. Funny, when I left to go on maternity leave, I had just finished the month end reports for March. I think it was very considerate of Baby C to have waited until those were finished before joining us on the outside. At any rate, next week will be a more challenging week, and the week after that even more so, as I’m still scrambling to find people to watch Baby C this last week before day care starts (he gets his shots on the 12th, and day care doesn’t want him until he’s had them).

I don’t think normalcy will come back to my life (or calendar) any time soon.

Preparing for leave

I’m feeling really ambivalent about my upcoming leave. A part of me doesn’t want to go on leave, largely because work doesn’t really feel like work most of the time here. And yet, I have a feeling my priorities will completely shift in a few weeks as soon as I hold my son in my arms for the first time. And that’s probably why I’m having difficulty really preparing my desk for my maternity leave, because it’s not a 6-week vacation that I have coming up.

I have to prepare myself for becoming a mom!