What if I’m Just Here to Pour Your Coffee

Yesterday I found myself listing all the things I’ve made and done over the last 7 years. I started this list not because I was particularly proud, or couldn’t keep track (although it IS getting harder to do.) I listed them because I was terrified they wouldn’t be enough. It’s a real fear, now that my children are all finally in school. I am terrified that I am going back to the same space I was in 7 years ago.

7 years ago I was waitressing, 7 years ago I was pouring your coffee. 7 years ago Chicago was the purgatory between my previous life as a cubical slave and my future life of big adventure. I’m equally terrified and feel incredibly guilty when it seems that taking the time to stay at home with my children was not the adventure, but just what I did while I waited for it. What if my children have begun their autonomous lives, and I’m still just… waiting.

I tell myself that this is irrational, that this feeling of panic over my own autonomy is normal if slightly unjustified. After all, I’ve done so much in these past 7 years. I tell myself all stay at home parents go through this when their kids go to school, my children are not leaving for good, they’re just leaving for 7hrs a day, 5 days a week… But this month, these last few weeks, have felt like a slow motion free fall. No longer anchored to playgrounds and playdates,  I am left struggling to make sense of the silence.

I have kept myself busy. I marketed and produced a conference and community, I’m days away from launching Where are the Women with Marian, I’m in a hotel room in Portland preparing to speak at an entrepreneur conference, I’m planning another RVSX excursion, and planning new classes and events for the CWDevs community. Despite all this, I feel like I’m standing still. Without the normal constraints on my time, without the tug on my sleeve or demand for a sandwich while I take phone calls, all this action feels like atrophy.

What if, after all this time, I can’t function without the freneticness? What if my hustle was just a way of keeping sane through the routines of parenting small children? What if breaking my day into those tiny pieces of attention was exactly what my creative brain needed? When I mention this confusion of time and pace, my friends tell me to slow down, take a breather… but these are my childless friends, my friends that haven’t been waiting 7 years for their lives to be even remotely their own. These are friends that don’t understand that the constraints of full time motherhood that made my accomplishments seem extraordinary last year, are no longer there, and I may just be ordinary, after all. What if I slow down and find I’m just “waitress”, what if this last 7 years of waiting didn’t count, what if I’m just here to pour your coffee?

Yes, I Feel Guilty About Dropping Off the Corporate Ladder to Raise My Kids

Since Ann-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was published, there has been an ever-increasing buzz online about workplace flexibility and how businesses and employees — women, in particular — are managing . This debate is nothing new; parents have been struggling with how to do their jobs well, spend enough time with their children and spouses, and take care of themselves for many years. Nowhere is this struggle more apparent than the leadership and boards of business, and while I’m not the only one to express “Have you read Ann-Marie Slaughter’s piece?” fatigue, it is still totally a real issue, and if you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably had more than a few exchanges with me about the future of work and family. What I probably haven’t shared is that I feel a ridiculous amount of guilt for not holding onto that ladder leading up to corporate boards and corner offices. I love my little family, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I let down career women everywhere by doing what women historically do, I chose my family over my career.  I wish it didn’t have to be this way.

When a woman is primarily responsible for the care of children and home, it can be difficult for her to take on increased responsibilities at work. And though men have increased their domestic responsibilities in recent years, women still bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities, and although my husband would gladly debate that, especially since I’m organizing  Pitch Refinery and running Where are the Women and CWDevs all at the same time, it’s still true for many women, even if my truth is hotly debated.  Add on top of that an inflexible work environment and it becomes clearer why women are not rising to the top of the career ladder. I dropped out of corporate structure as soon as I knew I wanted a family, because really, what’s the point of having it all if I am too exhausted to enjoy it?  And as Slaughter discusses in her piece, her job in the White House required long and inflexible hours. Slaughter left the White House to return to her job as a professor at Princeton University — certainly not an easy job. However, she was better able to control the way she worked. Had her job in the State Department been more flexible (a stretch even to imagine!), perhaps she would have been able to stay. If jobs like Slaughter’s — prominent positions in government, c-suite level positions, board memberships — were more flexible, perhaps we would see greater advancement… and holy hell, imagine how many women (and men) would advance in their middle management careers if we gave them some breathing room, where right now there is no flexibility and no time to make the “extra effort” at work or at home.

I’m not telling you anything new, and problems of workplace inflexibility affect men and women, but outcomes in career achievement point to the fact that for women, the results of workplace inflexibility have a much greater impact on their advancement. Despite the fact that women outpace men in graduating from college and compose more than half of the workforce, women hold only 16% of board positions at Fortune 500 companies and 14% of c-suite level positions at Fortune 500 companies. Like me, women are leaving the workforce before they reach these levels in their careers; too often it is because they cannot take on increased responsibilities at work while having time to raise their families and care for themselves. My guilt about not pushing through the glass ceiling and helping to change the ratio is real, I am built to succeed, I love solving problems, but for this particular problem, no solution was the right solution, so I picked the best one I could find, which was to drop out of the corporate arena and do my own thing, and it was a hard one to make. Now, maybe I’m no catch to begin with, but I’m not the only woman who has made this decision. Businesses are going to continue to lose some real talent if the way we work doesn’t change. Businesses want women to succeed; businesses need women to succeed. But women’s advancement will continue to stagnate until businesses make a concerted effort to change the way work gets done, because right now many of us feel damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. I know there are multiple women and men starting small business that work around their schedule, me included, but this kind of change needs to be systemic to really see any traction, and for that we need to come up with solid solutions.  For those of you willing to add your voice to solving for x (xx, xy) check out the next paragraph and join the conversation happening at The Center for Women in Business’s Idea’s Exchange. Those of us who feel guilty for letting go of the ladder can’t change the past, but we can change the future of women and families everywhere.

The Center for Women and Business at Bentley University is exploring the ways in which American businesses can better attract, retain, and advance women by structuring work in a new way. We need to be ready to take on global challenges, and businesses will be hard-pressed to achieve success without a diverse workforce that includes women at all levels, and as long as women are pulling double duty at work and at home, we’ve got to talk about balance. As part of its work, the CWB is hosting an online Idea Exchange, beginning July 17. Men and women are invited to participate in this forum to discuss ways businesses can improve work to better retain and advance women, and better serve everyone, whether they are raising a family or not. We have a long way to go, but many businesses want to change the way we work for the better, and that’s good for everyone.

Thank You For Being Alive, Mother Fucker

My husband went for a guy’s weekend with his friends, they take a trip together every year. It gets increasingly more complicated for them to get together as they build careers and make families. I mostly give him my blessing, it’s important for men to keep their male friends after they get married. I read a paper about this once, how men drop their friends after marriage but women don’t, anyway, I think it’s important to have a support group outside of your marriage, friendships that don’t depend on so many details…

A few of these trips have been bachelor parties, which of course, is unnerving, but manageable.  I have to trust that as long as my husband plays by the house rules and doesn’t do something he will regret for the rest of his life, these things aren’t anything to worry about.  I did NOT feel this way about bachelor parties when I was pregnant and nursing, back then, they were most definitely off limits. You can blame it on the hormones of pregnancy if you like, but it doesn’t invalidate the way I felt.  That’s the funny thing about marriage, as it matures, as the hormones and feelings work it out, the house rules change, if just a little.

Our calendar says that my husband’s flight home was last night, I remember him telling me he’d be home in time to help take the children to school in the morning, but… he wasn’t. I called his phone but there was no answer. I had to decide between denial, worry, or anger to get me through this morning. I chose the first as my exterior expression while the other two ran through my mind in the background, setting fire to every senario. I rented a car to try delivering both children on-time to their schools (which are across the city from each other, and start within 15 minutes of one another.) This is so much easier when my husband is home, weekday mornings don’t work well without him.

On the way to the car I found a four leaf clover, a common mutation I am told, not that lucky at all, but I held onto it for a while, just in case. I opened the door to the rental car and the alarm went off. The car wouldn’t start. While the rental company tries to fix it, it becomes apparent we’re going to be late for at least one child’s school. We leave the car broken and beeping, I left the four leaf clover in the front seat, it was an accident, I considered retrieving it, but left it, telling myself it meant something to find luck and leave it in a stalled car. One child made it to school on time, one child stayed home with me. The fires of worry and anger in my mind are too mentally exhausting to withstand the bus trip and necessary school office interactions to sign the kid in as tardy. I’ve already pictured every ditch my husband’s body might be found in, there is no way I could walk into that school office alone without the weight of thinking I might always be alone bearing down on me.

After 8 hours of wondering what happened and twice as many connections to his voice mail, Mr. Pierce picks up the phone, relief washes over me. “Where are you?” I ask. “Venice Beach.” he says. “I thought you had a flight home yesterday.” I say. “It’s tonight.” he mumbles. “That’s not what you told me and that’s not what’s on the calendar.” I say. “Well, it’s tonight.” he says. “Thanks for being alive, mother fucker.” I growl in anger before hanging up the phone.

Somewhere in Venice Beach is a man half awake, probably hung over after a long weekend with his best guy friends, the ones he hardly ever gets to see. In his fog he’s probably wondering what he did to deserve such a pleasant 6am wake up call, he’s probably wondering if the house rules changed while he was snoring. But if he’s smart he’ll realize love is an unfeeling bitch at the other end of the telephone line, a really… lucky… bitch.

 

 

 

Sleepless

Twenty years ago…

When I was 14, my dad was sent to fight someone else’s war.  Saddam Husein’s army had invaded Kuwait and the US military had acted swiftly and decisively to protect Kuwait with “Operation Desert Shield” which in turn became “Operation Desert Storm” and my father fought the storm on the front lines.  My parents broke it to us kids by surprising us  after school with stories of The Christmas Bunny, a confused rabbit that hid Christmas gifts for us throughout the house.  As soon as we could shrug off our backpacks we were tearing through our house in search of misplaced Christmas gifts. My six foot four father pranced around the living room extolling the virtues of the Christmas bunny in a falsetto voice, while my mother, calmly, and with no hint of emotion in her voice, told us that my father was shipping out in a few short weeks, that he wouldn’t be home for the holidays.

I would like to tell you that at 14, my heart broke upon hearing the news, I would like to tell you that I was not so self absorbed in my teenage fog that it consciously registered that my father was going off to risk his life for total strangers, but I can’t. Continue reading Sleepless