Friday, May 06, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Flashback Edition

After last week's long and involved weekend reading post, I thought I'd go for something shorter and lighter this week. Instead, I've got a bunch of unrelated links that reach back to earlier posts.

First I want to clarify that I did not mean to imply that everyone should send their kids to public schools. I really do think that this is a choice each family has to make based on the unique circumstances they face. I do think, though, that we should all at least consider public education, and if we look at our local public schools and find them inadequate, we should think about what that means for our supposedly meritocratic society. If I look at my local public schools and think that they won't give my children an adequate education, I don't think I can pretend that everyone in our society has the same chance to succeed.

Anyway, if you are interested in education, Bad Mom, Good Mom has two more good posts on the subject this week, one with more thoughts on testing and one with more thoughts on the practice of redshirting. They are, as usual, well thought out and thought-provoking.

I've written before about my thoughts on sugar and HFCS, most recently in a weekend reading post on food. Marion Nestle had a post this week about shenanigans in sugar politics. Apparently, the sugar people are suing the corn people because the corn people are trying to get the FDA to allow them to rebrand HFCS as "corn sugar".  Meanwhile, both of their products are at best empty calories. Dr. Nestle also tells the story of how the sugar folks once sued her. It is pretty funny reading.

Finally, I have some more links and thoughts about the many pressures on working parents. I used to read the Joel on Software blog fairly religiously- he has some excellent insights on software and start up culture. His blog has mostly gone dark these days, so I was surprised and pleased to see a new post in my reader. When I clicked through, it was a post about how important he thinks it is that the entire team eat lunch together every day. He argues that it makes a more humane workplace. I say maybe, maybe not. You see, most days I work through lunch, eating at my desk. It is one of the ways I try to squeeze a full work day in before I have to leave to go pick the girls up at day care. I don't have a lot of flexibility at the end of the day- if I'm not out the door of my office by about 4:50, I won't get dinner on the table on time, and our bath and bedtime routine will get messed up. For some families, that's no big deal. For our family, that often means a night of poor sleep. Happily, Petunia is outgrowing this stage, so soon this may not be such a big issue for me. However, it will still be true that if I leave at 4:30, my commute home will be roughly half as long as if I leave at 5:00 (20 minutes vs. 40 minutes).

At my previous company, this was no big deal. I scheduled a monthly lunch with my direct report (which, incidentally, we still do), and ate at my desk every other day. No one minded or thought that was odd. At my new company, I'm having to find a new equilibrium. My new group eats together most days. In fact, they go out to eat most days. I don't really want to spend my money that way or consume that many calories at lunch, but even if I did, my schedule just doesn't allow me to spend that much time eating lunch.  My boss and colleagues understand the constraints I'm under, and no one tries to make me feel bad for not joining them everyday,but I also don't want to miss out on all of the team bonding. I'm working my way towards a routine where I join them at least once a week, but that hasn't settled into practice yet.

I also came across a post from The Happiest Mom about hiring help, particularly cleaners. The post itself was an interesting reminder that household help used to be more common than it is today. But what really got me thinking (ok, fuming) was the comments section. In particular, the comments from "MamaMeYeah" really illustrate the way that working moms can get sideswiped from the political left as well as the political right. In this case, it is on the issue of whether or not it is possible to hire household help with out being exploitative. I've also seen sideswipes on environmental issues (e.g., the use of disposable diapers- most working moms decide that they don't have the time to deal with cloth, or their day care providers won't accept cloth) and food system issues (e.g., we should all make our own baby food rather than by from the big, bad corporations). I continue to be surprised by the fact that these sideswipes surprise me. I know that many on the political right think that all mothers should stay home with their kids. I continually forget that many on the political left think the same thing, if for very different reasons.

Speaking of the help that makes my life as a working mother possible... I'll close with a link to Amy Poehler's Time 100 acceptance speech. If you haven't watched it yet, you should. It is funny, and spot on about how the achievements of working moms (and, I would argue, working dads) owe a debt to the people who have made it their life's work to care for children- and also to the grandmothers, aunts, and others who help fill in the gaps that inevitably arise. I'm sure that there are attacks on this speech from both the left and the right. But I've made it a point not to go look for them.


  1. Really interesting links!

    Re: public schools. Our public schools are inadequate for our son precisely because they are relatively uniformly good public schools. Because they pride themselves on being such great schools they won't even discuss early entrance or acceleration, which would mean that in a year from now he would have to "learn" colors, numbers, letters etc. for a full year. The private school is letting him start early and doing single subject acceleration in math and reading, so it is a better match for him. But I don't think the local school system is doing a bad job for the average kid, it just does not do well for kids on the tails. (Actually either tail... our state is not very good about special education either.) The next town over has much worse schools on average but a lot more variety in what they allow.

    Down with guilt! And down with the idea that housework is somehow demeaning! If any job that some people don't like to do is demeaning then people would be demanding that nobody hire an accountant at tax time. And if more men were house cleaners, it would probably be considered a pretty prestigious job. Nobody seems to complain about folks hiring landscapers. Down with the patriarchy!

    Go Amy Poehler!

  2. Woo- some of the comments on the Happiest Mom post really started to annoy me. I was almost tempted to post myself, but I'm going to watch Johnny Cash at San Quentin instead. I think that will be more rewarding!

    Happy weekend!

  3. What a great speech!

    When I was growing up we had this amazing cleaning lady - after she'd retired (not sure what she'd worked at) she got really bored and decided that since she loved cleaning she would just advertise. She used to come to our house once every two weeks, she would clean for a couple hours, then there would be tea and cookies, and then she'd finish the cleaning. She was totally awesome and knew everyone in the neighbourhood, the news sort of worked its way around. She was really specific about exactly what she would and wouldn't do, that she needed an afternoon tea break (company not required but appreciated) and was a wonderful model of a working woman. She had found work she enjoyed, she earned respect by doing it well, and she got to meet lots of new people.

    I think hiring the right people, and treating them respectfully is the best way to raise your kids. I know that dropping E off at daycare is easy when I see how much she loves her teachers and how much they love her. And it is fun to have these extra people in your life who also love your kid!

  4. @nicoleandmaggie- it is a shame that your public schools are so inflexible. One of the (public) options we're considering is a Spanish immersion school, and one of the nice things about that is that it wouldn't matter if Pumpkin knew all the subject matter they plan to cover in Kindergarten- she doesn't know Spanish!

    The problem of educating the "tails" is a tough one, but I think we need to figure out how to do it in public schools. But of course, you can't be expected to make your own kid suffer while that gets figured out- so yeah, I can see why you'd choose a private school.

    The point about landscapers is a good one. I don't remember if Ehrenreich has anything to say on that. I'm done with that discussion over at the Happiest Mom, or I'd go say something about it.

    @zenmoo - I think you are right. Johnny Cash would be far more rewarding than arguing with random internet people.

    @Today Wendy- that cleaner sounds awesome! Our cleaners have been an interesting group of people, too. We've had an Italian exchange student and the British wife of a military guy as well as a few Americans.

  5. Anonymous8:09 AM

    In my field of study, the Nickel and Dimed book is not thought very highly of. The general consensus is that it's a well-off woman playing at being poor who doesn't actually understand the full picture. It is sensationalist but not science.

    Some of the illegal working conditions she reports on are terrible, but at the same time many of the other things she does and reports on are filtered through a lens that is both condescending and unrealistic.

  6. I was fuming about some of the Happiest Blog post comments. I have a cleaner. It makes me happy. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it and I don't feel the need to be able to write a dissertation on class and economics in order to justify it. Even if I have all the time in the world and want to hire a cleaner because I simply don't like the work (true right now, while I am on mat leave) who cares? My cleaner is happy she has a job (which pays remarkably well, in my humble opinion), my husband is happy, I'm happy, Revenue Canada is happy since we are remitting payroll taxes. Who is unhappy about this situation aside from some people who really have no vested interest?

  7. Cloud, thank you for your very thoughtful engagement in the discussion at my blog. I was honestly amazed at how the topic blew up--I didn't realize the topic of hiring housecleaning help is so much more loaded than the topic of hiring other kinds of help, which to me suggests our culture has some pretty deep-seated issues with giving women a "pass" on housework. It's especially weird to be because while I've seen a lot of at-home mom vs. working mom debates, generally the anti-working mom side poses it as a "what's best for the child" issue. In the housecleaner issue, there's no second human being to use as a reason for Mom to get away without doing all the work herself, so the argument either becomes "It's bad for the housecleaner" or "You should do it all yourself just because I said so."

    The logic falls apart so easily, but logic doesn't always seem to be a strong enough weapon against these ingrained ideas, does it?

    I wrote a follow-up post, but I think most of us have already said it all in the comments. I just wanted to go on public record having acknowledged the ethical issues.

  8. Um, please excuse the dozen typos I made in that post. I really can write correctly, I promise. :)

  9. @Megan, I'm sorry the comments section of your post turned into such a melee! The "using a cleaning service is exploitation" thing is actually a pretty common complaint. I agree that it is related to our deeply buried cultural ideas about what women are supposed to do with their time.

  10. Anonymous7:00 AM

    I just "wandered" over here from The Happiest Mom. Your comments on the help issue were very good and I'm subscribing to your feed because of it! Glad to have found you!

  11. On the subject of eating lunch together, the company I worked for in NZ had a really strong 'morning tea' culture. A good 70% of the company would take a 15 to 20 min break at 10am to go to the staff cafe where there would be brewed coffee and pots of tea (and cake about once a month). The culture was very much 'fill the tables as you go' - occasionally a bit dull as a grad if you ended up sitting with the senior managers, but it was generally a good way of keeping in contact with people across the company and less time consuming that going out for lunch. Then, at 10.15 - it was back to the desk! It was a great way to structure your time and I think improved productivity.

  12. The comments on the Happiest Mom post got me pretty riled up--and I don't even have someone coming to clean. But maybe it's because my husband's mom did that when she was a single mom to pay the bills, or because I have a handful of relatives who make their living cleaning houses that I get so irritated by the holier than thou attitude. This is not slave labor here. This is an exchange of money for services--business. Ugh, I'm getting all worked up again.

    As to the lunch thing, yeah I gave that up forever ago. I work during my lunch break, either on work work, or one of the myriad things I do in my "off" hours, or on those household management things that have to happen during business hours but that can't happen at work (making dr's appointments, getting the oil in the car changed, calling the insurance about a billing snafu). When my kid was little, I pumped. I am lucky that that has never come back to bite me, but if I worked in a company where it would,I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to last at that company.

  13. As I wrote in a comment elsewhere to Meagan, people get worked up over hiring housekeeping help (when we don't get worked up over having our oil changed, or not growing our own food) because we have deep-seated issues that women's work should be done for free. Apparently, even Barbara Ehrenreich believes this. Go figure. Cloud- interesting about the team eating lunch together. Sounds like you're working out a good compromise with doing it 1x a week. Any way your husband could do the daycare routine one night so you could maybe do 2x? Or you do a little work from home after kids go to bed? I'm just constantly reminded that with jobs, the social aspect shouldn't be important... but it is.

  14. Thanks for the links! I hope to check them out, but you know how behind I am in the world of the interwebs!

    I will not get into the debate on housecleaners. You already have heard how I feel about it. I love the point that nicoleandmaggie made about landscapers and what Ginger said, "This is not slave labor here. This is an exchange of money for services--business." Exactly!

    Lunch with the coworkers is tough. I used to miss out on so many lunches with a different team. Luckily, my team for the last 4 years has been on the same page as me: mostly we bring in lunches, ocassionally we go somewhere close in some group to buy lunch and bring back to our desks to eat, and rarely we go out together for a team lunch.

    I and a few of my teammates regularly need to get outside of our basement cubicles, so we tend to go across the street or around the corner for a coffee or a snack around lunch or in the afternoon. That does wonders for the camaraderie, and for our mental health (did I mention the window-less basement cubicles with guest visitor bugs?).

    But it is all such a tough balance! Man, it's hard to do it all!

  15. Just found your blog via Grumpy Rumblings and I really enjoy your posts about working motherhood. I'm not a scientist but the issue obviously affects us all. I often think the whole Working vs SAHM debate and working mom guilt would be put to rest if we women (and men) banded together and demanded better maternity leave policies. I think maternity leave should be at minimum 6 months after the child is born (to give moms the best chances of breast feeding) or up to a year like in most European countries. If I could have stayed home for a year, I would have ZERO guilt about returning to work, and I think a lot of women who did stay home might have made different choices if they could have stayed home longer before having to make that big decision.


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