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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Pushing, Leaning, Leading & Mothering

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climbingladder380x260_crop380wAn article posted to Facebook this week, titled Relationships are More Important than Ambition,” caught my attention.  “Well, duh,” I thought at first glance. Then I read a little further and was reminded that there are lots of speakers and writers today who are generating heated debate on this topic, summarized by the author, Emily Esfahani Smith, as, “Ambition drives people forward; relationships and community, by imposing limits, hold us back.” As an example, Smith cites Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg‘s best-selling book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”  Sandberg’s philosophy is that women need to push harder and be more assertive and self confident to get ahead. The author also points to Anne Marie Slaughter’s much-discussed article, published last year, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” in which she talks about the difficulty she had trying to balance her duties at the State Department with her responsibilities as the mother of two boys. Apparently, Ms. Slaughter, rather than adopting the “lean in” philosophy, is of the opinion that the male-dominated system needs to change to accommodate women who choose to work and raise children. Throughout her article, Smith profiles  Rod Dreher, a journalist who, as a boy, left his family and home in rural Louisiana to attend boarding school and never looked back. After watching his hometown community rally around his terminally ill sister and her family for 19 months before her death, he realized that while he’d achieved everything he wanted career-wise, he and his friends were alone in the world. Eventually, Dreher moved his family back to his old hometown, where he claims they are all happier than ever, stating, “Community is more important than a job.”

Reading the article, I began to realize that this is nothing new; it’s the same debate we women have been having with ourselves since we were liberated. Perhaps the newsworthy part of the piece is that a MAN began to have that internal debate and rejected his East Coast lifestyle for a slower-paced one in southern Louisiana.  He felt the need to connect with his family and friends, something he’d found lacking while working and traveling the world. He’s expressing a common conflict experienced by most women that I know. Based upon my experience as an attorney, I find myself siding with Ms. Slaughter’s premise that there are reasons why “women still can’t have it all,” and, in my humble opinion, the #1 reason is the fact that we have wombs in which we bear children. When I was working, I knew of no mother who, after giving birth to a precious bundle they’d carried for 9 months, was excited to leave their newborn with a stranger and  go back to work. All whom I’ve known have tearfully looked for acceptable caregivers, while feeling that they are somehow abandoning their children. I’ve never known a working mom who didn’t want to be home to have dinner with her husband and children, and I’ve never seen a mother who wouldn’t rather be at her child’s school performance than in a conference room taking a deposition.  I do have a friend or two whose husband has been lucky enough to be able to stay home with the kids. But, I think if you asked them, the moms would say they’d have preferred to be the one to stay home.

When I was working, I was in a constant state of conflict. I enjoyed my work, but I enjoyed being at home with my husband and children more. When I had to travel or work late, I was consumed with guilt.I still flinch when I come across an old videotape of my firstborn at age 3 or 4, dancing around the house, hamming it up, then stopping suddenly to look directly up at the camera, and ask, “Mommy, when are you going to stay home from work and play with us? Tomorrow, maybe?”  Even at my last job, when I had only one child left at home and she was 16, I felt remorse if I wasn’t home when she got home from school. And, although I’d negotiated a sweet part-time deal with a law firm, I still felt guilty about leaving at 3:30 everyday, and having to say to a colleague, “No, I won’t be in tomorrow to work on that brief,” because I worked every other day. Then, spending the next day at home, I’d feel bad about not being at my desk when I knew there was a case to get ready for trial. As a young attorney, it was difficult and demoralizing to watch my male counterparts receive invitations to partnership six months before I did. I wondered if it could be a coincidence that I’d given birth to two children and taken the firm’s full 3 months’ maternity leave with each. A couple of years ago, when the firm I was working for split up and left my part-time self in the dust, I was angry at first, but am now grateful. The conflict has ended and I’m enjoying sitting on my nearly-empty nest.

We’ve all known people who can be described as “ambitious,” but who will step over anyone in their paths to achieve their goal. I would describe them as “narcissistic, ladder-climbing, a–holes.” Then there are those ambitious people who work to help others or to feed their families and/or because they feel the obligation to use the gifts and talents the Good Lord gave them. I  have quite a few female friends who went to law school with me who are still practicing law quite successfully, and have managed to raise wonderful children. And, they didn’t do it by climbing over people, neglecting their home life and failing to make connections with others in their community. So, I think the link between simple “ambition” and “relationships” in the article is misplaced. I believe that there is a place where ambition and good relationships can happily co-exist. We women just have to work extra-hard to make that world a reality for ourselves and for our children.

“Relationships are More Important than Ambition,”  by Emily Esfahani Smith for The Atlantic, published on April 16, can be found at: www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/relationships-are-more-important-than-ambition/275025/

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Sewanee, Here We Come

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IMG_0003 My youngest has decided upon a college. She told us yesterday that she will be matriculating at The University of the South, also known as “Sewanee,” in Tennessee. This is the announcement my husband and I had been gearing up for since last spring when we started touring college campuses, perusing “guidebooks,” such as The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report,talking to counselors and interviewing other students. Over the last 12 months, we have spent, literally, hours, days, maybe even weeks, debating the pros and cons of approximately 8 – 10 chosen colleges in the U.S. My husband and I could spout facts and statistics about each of them. We have looked at everything from majors offered, to national rankings, to “Greek life,” to distance to the nearest airports. I have talked, prayed, thought and pondered until I felt I would cry from indecision. I have awoken in the night, thinking of these colleges, their curriculums, and their locations on the map, tossing and turning until the alarm sounded. Although this is our third child, this lengthy decision period has been a new experience for us; our oldest daughter decided to attend TCU in Ft. Worth by February of her senior year and never looked back. Our second daughter applied to only one school, the University of Texas at Austin, and was accepted early in her senior year. Our youngest daughter, however, has given the most careful deliberation to this question of anyone we’ve ever known, and has spent her entire senior year in a state of indecision. Trying to assist her, we have traveled to colleges across Texas, down the West Coast, and all across the South; some we’ve seen twice. Just last weekend, we went back to Sewanee, in an effort to narrow choices. Immediately after the trip, our youngest still wasn’t talking, despite my expectant glances in her direction.  But, yesterday, she ended the suspense and, finally, announced her decision. In a very matter-of-fact tone, as the night drew dark and late, and I was getting ready to turn in, my youngest came to my husband and me and said, quietly, “I think it’s Sewanee.” I, for a change, thought before acting or speaking, and glanced suspiciously in the direction of other family members. My oldest daughter gave me a look and shook her head gently, which meant, “Don’t say anything stupid, Mom.” My husband suppressed a grin. And, my little girl turned and walked away. I looked at my husband and whispered, “Really? Did she mean that? Is she going to Sewanee?” He smiled and said, “Yes; I think that’s a wise decision.” I was standing around waiting for fireworks, joyful celebrating, dancing of jigs, hugs, and all-consuming glee. Instead, everyone just went to bed.

As I lay awake pondering my daughter’s future, I thought about all the effort she’d expended to get to this point. This past year she’d attended SAT classes, spent months filling out applications, writing requisite essays, speaking with college reps who came to her high school campus, traveling to numerous colleges, not to mention the countless hours spent over the last four years studying, reading, writing papers, and spending Tuesday afternoons with her math tutor. After all that, she certainly should have spent all the time she needed investigating what institutions of higher learning had to offer her. I laughed to myself as I remembered my senior year in Cuero High School. My only two academic courses that year were English and Government. The rest of my day was filled with Office Aide, Drill Team, Choir, and Yearbook. I can honestly say that I think the most stressful I ever felt was coming up with a “Thought for the Day” during morning announcements, (part of my job in the office.) “Stress” was not in my vocabulary that year. I did not prepare at all for the SAT or ACT, and simply showed up when they were scheduled. (My grades accurately reflected my lack of preparation, I might add.) What did it matter? Anyone who wanted to attend the University of Texas or Texas A & M were welcome to “Come on down.”  I applied to only one school, Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas, thanks mostly to a good family friend who had invited me to come for a weekend visit.  I wrote a letter which I submitted with my application to S.U., stating that I wanted to major in Communications. The nice man in Admissions wrote back, “Dear Constance, We would love to have you, but we do not offer Communications as a field of study.” Oh well, I thought. That’s okay, and I attended Southwestern. I don’t remember discussing my decision much with my parents, and I guarantee you they weren’t losing any sleep over it. My, how times have changed!

The next morning when I awoke, I looked at my daughter across the breakfast table. Nothing. She wasn’t talking. “Bye, I’m going to be late for school,” she called. That was it. I realized that she’d made her decision; now it was time for me to make one. What am I going to do after she leaves and the nest is truly empty? Give me time. I’m working on it.

Supper Club

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ImageI love my Supper Club. These girls have been my friends since the beginning. Ok, maybe not THE beginning, but since the start of my adulthood. We graduated from college and law school together in the ’80’s and that’s when life began. We made a conscious decision to stay in touch despite our lives taking different paths. Some of us were going to work, some were getting married, some were doing both. We all knew that things were changing; we had obligations, and, while excited about that, we didn’t want things to change completely. So, we formed a club, and decided to get together over dinner once a month no matter what. And, now, 24 or so years later, one thing hasn’t changed. We still meet for dinner once a month. Sometimes we cook, other times we go out for dinner. And, occasionally, our husbands and children are invited to join us. Amazingly, they always seem happy to be invited!

In 1984 or ’85, (we can’t remember exactly), six of us, living in San Antonio, decided to form Supper Club. Five of us had graduated from law school together, and one was my best friend from college. We decided the rules were that we’d have a monthly host who would cook the entree, and the rest of us would provide salad, sides, dessert and wine. It was a beautiful plan and has worked flawlessly all these years. Eventually, we became a group of eight, then nine. I had the first baby, followed quickly by 24 other’s. Most of us got married, a couple of us got divorced. Two other’s suffered breast cancer. One of our children has married, with another due to marry in the fall. One of us has lost a child; several of us have lost a parent. Three of the “originals” have moved to Dallas, but they still come back occasionally for Supper Club.

Eventually, traditions formed. Every Christmas, we have a formal party with husbands in tuxedos and a white elephant gift exchange. Even some of the gifts have become part of the tradition. As a young attorney, I was given an icon of a  Filpino god from a grateful client, which I inserted into the gift pool one year. Now, he’s our mascot and is passed on from year to year with something added. An “Obama for President” sign, a miniature eye of God, some bells, etc. are now part of his attire. We used to drive across town with hot scalloped potatoes and a Christmas cake on our laps. Now, we splurge on caterers for the holiday fete, and toast with champagne while exchanging our White Elephant gifts.  By the way, the host is aware that the day following the party, she may find many a White Elephant gift left in or under her Christmas tree!

San Antonio’s annual Fiesta has always been a special time for our group. When our children were little, we decided to take them to the fabulous Battle of Flowers parade. We carried them, along with coolers of fajitas, salsa, drinks and juice boxes, to the stands at Maverick Park. After a year or two, I knew exactly which seats were in the shade and went to the Fiesta Store to purchase between 30-45 of them at a time. After a couple of hours of fun in the sun, we’d eventually trek back to my house where the kids took their first dip of the season in our backyard pool and the grown-ups enjoyed my frozen margaritas. It was such a part of our celebration that, when my youngest was in the second grade, and her teacher asked her class to write in their journals about the weekend, my baby wrote, “My mama had a Fiesta party. She made margaritas and then went skinny dipping in our swimming pool.” This was completely false. But, in her journal she added, “P.S. This is not a lie.” Her teacher gave her a big check mark with a smiley face. It was a LIE. Really.

Our Fiesta Parade excursions went on for many years, until we reluctantly admitted that the only people who wanted to attend were the grownups; our high schoolers had other obligations, like baseball games or proms. Eventually, our treks to the parade ended, but our Fiesta gatherings didn’t. Last week we celebrated another Fiesta dinner party. We all enjoyed favorite dishes, including my guacamole dip and frozen margaritas, Amy’s corn salsa and white sangria, Lee Ann’s green rice, Marlise’s shrimp & mango salad, Ann’s watermelon & feta salad, and Debbie’s Mexican cheesecake. Gail brought her deliciously decadent flan, accompanied by Hemisfair ’68 bunuelos.  But, this time was different because a reporter and photographer from the San Antonio Express-News were there to document every minute. It was nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time. Every time I cut into an avocado, or opened the oven, I heard the camera click, click, clicking. We were thrilled that the newspaper wanted to include us in their occasional “Supper Club” series, and we all talked at once trying to explain what we were about. Now, I’m waiting for the article to appear in Sunday’s paper. I find myself wondering what image the photographer captured, and what words the reporter wrote. I’m sure it will be good; but, I’m not sure that it will convey to the reader what each of us feels about our group. We are not just a “supper club.” We are a group of girls, now women, who have grown up together. We’ve been there for each other no matter what; to provide advice,  hugs and devoted support every month, without fail. We rarely see each other outside of our monthly dinners; we live in different segments of the city, our children go to different schools. But we all have one thing in common. We wouldn’t miss our supper club gathering for anything. It’s special and it’s rare; we are blessed.

Click on the link to see the actual article published in Sunday’s paper!

http://www.mysanantonio.com/life/food/article/Friends-and-food-4427902.php 

I am not a Tiger Mom.

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images-1My friends and I, who are moms of high schoolers, are all talking about the satirical opinion piece, “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me,” written by high school senior Suzy Lee Weiss and published in The Wall Street Journal on March 29, 2013. Young Suzy Lee is brave and insightful, while speaking her mind about the snooty admissions officers who decided she, and millions of other seniors, were unworthy to step foot on their beautifully manicured campuses. In her piece, Weiss pokes fun at the resume´ padding that occurs today, wondering what she could have done differently over the past 11 or 12 years, noting that she “probably should have started a fake charity.”  Reading this, I laughed out loud and thought this child might be my new idol. She was voicing the thoughts I’d kept pent up for the last few months as I anxiously waited for the daily mail to deliver various colleges’ verdicts on my daughter. Large envelopes propping up the mailbox lid were good; small envelopes were, generally, bad. But then, I read on. Was Suzy Lee also blaming her mother, I asked.  “Having a tiger mom helps, too,” she wrote. My mood instantly changed from giddy to guilty as I was forced to examine my own tiger-momishness, or lack thereof, and how it may have contributed to my daughters’ receipt of several colleges’ “small” envelopes.

The author, like my senior daughter, was the youngest in her family, and stated that she “…noticed long ago that my parents gave up on parenting me.” She gave the example that was similar to my youngest daughter’s experience; instead of being told to “Be home by 11,” Suzy was told, “Don’t wake us up when you come through the door; we’re trying to sleep.” When my two oldest daughters returned to the nest, they were flabbergasted by the perceived lackadaisical attitude their parents had adopted with regard to their youngest sister, who had no curfew and was allowed to skip one day of school to attend an annual music festival. “You would have never let us do that,” they cried. I was too tired to argue. Ironically, it was a comment made by oldest daughter to me that was instrumental in my new philosophy. After her freshman year of college, I asked her why she thought she’d done so well her first time away. She replied, “Because you and Dad weren’t there asking me about every test and every paper and making such a big deal about everything.” Oh.

Suzy Lee also points out that she was never offered piano or violin lessons; I required all three of my girls to take piano lessons, but only through eighth grade. Little did I know that college admission officers don’t care what you did in junior high. If I’d forced them to continue their lessons through high school, they could have included that on their resume´s. Suzy states that she was never made to pursue a sport. While I encouraged my girls to play sports in school, I never signed them up for club sports, which I now know is an absolute requirement if one hopes to step foot on a high school field or court. I also never signed my kids up for summer camp; they had two complete sets of grandparents who were more than happy to host each of them for a week or more every summer. They played outside, swam, spent time out in the country, connected with cousins, and generally had a grand time. I saw no reason to pay for them to do the same at camp. How shortsighted of me! If they’d gone to camp, they could have won awards and been leaders of their tribes by the time they were seniors. And, most importantly, that is the type of info that they could have included on their resume´s.

The author also admits that she should have been more involved in volunteer work, stating, “…As long as you’re using someone else’s misfortunes to try to propel yourself into the Ivy League, you’re golden.” It reminded me of the scene in “Legally Blonde” when the law students were introducing themselves and relating what they’d done over the summer. One, with holier-than-thou attitude, stated that he’d spent the last 18 months “de-worming orphans in Somalia.”  I’m afraid I failed my children in this department, as well. While my kids each assisted with a week-long Bible school at our church every summer, there weren’t many other volunteer opportunities that I found for them.  I figured their baby-sitting jobs, which relieved young, overburdened parents for very little pay, was similar to volunteering. And, it was teaching them something, too:  parenting is hard, and is not to be rushed into. It took some creativity to get this experience translated onto their resume´s. “Work experience: Served as mentor to several young children in my neighborhood on an as-needed basis. Assisted with construction of lemonade stands, arranged field trips to local museums, and assisted their parents with transportation needs.”  Or, something like that. Make no mistake, while I may have assisted in the drafting of their resume´s, I never wrote their essays or filled out their applications. I also never hired a coach to do this for them. Oops. I think a tiger mom might have done that.

As I conclude this self-examination, I realize that I, like the author’s mother, failed to achieve tiger mom status. But, Suzy Lee didn’t mention that her story has a happy ending; she was accepted by several Big 10 schools. Wow! All three of my children were accepted to good colleges, also. One of mine is even gainfully employed! So, I think I’ll stop feeling guilty and be thankful for all the happy hours my children and I spent together watching “The Hills,” and “Grey’s Anatomy,”  and taking real vacations rather than spending summers apart while they studied at SAT prep camps.

To read Suzy Lee Weiss’ essay, go to: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324000704578390340064578654.html?mod=wsj_valetbottom_email.