Sunday, November 7, 2010

Are you talking to me?

If one reads enough of mother-oriented materials, a few common themes emerge: disciplinary problems, staying home vs. working, breastfeeding freely vs. bottle feeding without prejudice. One will also find that there are themes that are either rarely or almost never covered. Which boggles my mind because I am sure I am not the only going through these issues, but rarely would I find something in parenting blog or magazine on the matter.

But back to the recurring themes, because there's one that has been bugging me for far too long. I am sure you are familiar with the story: the alpha woman gets pregnant, alpha woman decides that her career is too valuable to abandon, something bad/terrible/sad happens or she sees the light and the alpha woman decides to slow down, reduces her hours/finds a job with more life/work balance and the alpha mom, her spouse and her offspirng are all happier than they ever were. Lesson learned: money is not everything, career is not that important, large house/fancy car are not equal substitutes for sanity, happy balance is the best.

Well, here's my beef with this story. I work, and I work full time. I work with all kinds of women, many of whom are moms. I have seen only one alpha woman that fits the description of the story in 12+ years I am in professional workforce. The rest of us? We are not doing it for kicks, or because career is so important to us, or because a 5 bedroom mansion is just too small for our family of four, or because that second Mercedes doesn't pay for itself, you know. We do it because we have to and more often than not we have no other choice.

Every time I read about suggestions to scale down the spending so that I can stay home or work part time, I want to grind my teeth. We don't buy, but rent. Eating out less would mean growing my own vegetables. Our case is by far not the worst. Most women work because their husbands' earnings alone wouldn't pay the bills. End of story. More ironic is that even with two working adults many people financially struggle.

And then I hear the famous line about working part time. Really, the best of both worlds, right? You work a little, make a little money, see more of your kids. Yep, agreed, the best of both worlds. If you don't need full income from your job. If your employer won't scale down or take away the benefits due to reduced hours. And here's the biggie: if this option is available at all. Most employers are very reluctant to allow present employees to scale down on their work hours. If they do, they often reduce the pay, but not the workload. In case of layouts part timers are often the first to go. And being allowed reduced work week requires constant negotiation and re-negotiation and living with the threat of it being taken away. And that's when one already works. Finding a new part time job with decent pay and working conditions is almost impossible.

But that doesn't stop these articles. And suggestions about making do with less. Or reminding us that children are more important than careers and the precious time we spend away from them cannot be made up later. And the first steps/words/milestones we miss cannot be done over. As if I or any other working mother wasn't painfully aware of that. Who are these people writing for? Some clueless, oblivious to their children's needs, insanely successful but still pretty dumb career women? If these people exist in nature, how many are there to warrant that many articles?

Friday, November 5, 2010

The origins

A few days ago I was passing by my Indian co-worker, Pinter. (Pinter is not his real name and he is not married to Sue Ellen Mischke.) He was eating lunch at his desk, but upon seeing me, motioned for me to come to his desk. Turns out he ordered a kosher falafel from one of the new kosher places near work. Somehow, every time someone non observant or not Jewish on the floor orders kosher, they feel the need to share this with me. I don't mind, I find it peculiar, but cute. Though I do feel somehow responsible if their meal does not meet their expectations.

This time, I could breathe with ease because we had a very happy customer. Pinter was widely smiling and asking me whether I had tried falafel from the new place. "It's very good,"declared Pinter. He described in detail the contents of his pita and commented on crispiness of the falafel balls. "It tastes just like falafel I had growing up." I had no idea that falafel was known in India. I was sure that the dish was of Middle Eastern origin, and also vaguely remembered a conversation with another Indian co-worker where falafel was mentioned, but as a newly discovered food. I was about to unleash all of my thought process on the poor Pinter, but something made me proceed with caution.

"Did you mother make falafel from scratch?" seemed reasonably safe.

"No, we usually bought it." How odd. I think his falafel was getting cold because I could sense the anxiety in Pinter's voice. But I couldn't let go. I had to find out which provinces in India were privy to the secrets of falafel making. Look, I never finished - ok, even started - War and Peace and must fill in the blanks in my primary education.

"Did it taste the same? Was it also in a pita?" I pressed on.

We got back on Pinter's favorite subject, I guess, though I am not sure whether it was his childhood or food, because all of a sudden he started reminiscing completely forgetting about the danger of the perfectly crispy falafel balls turning soggy. He described in great detail the falafel of his childhood, which oddly enough was very similar to the one he was eating right now. Then he seamlessly switched to other memories from childhood and finished with, "We were the only Indian family on the block." Waaaait a minute. What???

And then it hit me. I completely forgot that Pinter was born and bread in Boro Park, the heart of Jewish Brooklyn. He must've told me this a hundred times... Next time I talk to him, I must not forget that he lives in Monroe and does not commute from New Delhi... It would also be nice to bring the guy sufganiyot come Chanukah time. He must miss them like crazy...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I always suspected they weren't quite human

DD: DS, let dress up as people!
DS: Yes, let's!
Me: Aren't you people already?
DD: (exasperated) No, like different people.

Yep, that's what we have at home. Different species aka children.