From a Student/Mom to My Supportive Professors: Thank You

You never know what articles are going to really hit you until they do.  Just today I was browsing my Facebook feed when I came across this Huffington Post article:

Professor Comforts Student’s Baby in Class to Let Mom Focus on Studies

I almost started crying, which seems like a weird reaction.  The story is about a 33-year-old college student who, after her babysitter canceled, was forced to bring her 4 month-old to class with her.  When her baby became fussy, her professor picked up the baby and carried her around for the rest of class so that the student could focus.  It is, of course, lucky that the baby found the professor soothing, certainly, it’s possible that the baby could have been really unhappy with the strange person, but probably she was just happy to be bouncing around a little.  Babies are like that.

Probably this story resonated with me because I was also a non-traditionally-aged college student at 33 and I, too, have a child that I had to take to class with me.  For us, we were between the ages of 32 and 34 and 6 and 8, but it’s stressful no matter what.  My husband works a 9 to 5(ish) job, so I dealt with childcare.  In my first semester, I managed to schedule my classes so that I could get my son on the bus and off every day.  Even so, there were days that he was off school and I wasn’t.  That first semester I think I brought my son to two different classes.  He’s honestly pretty well-behaved, but being 10 to 15 years older than your classmates is stressful enough without having that underlined by the the presence of your child.  Even when the child is cute and well-behaved, the stress of feeling like a sore thumb when all you want to do is focus on class is a very uncomfortable feeling.  During one semester my husband and I worked out a schedule that involved my son being at his office on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, but it wasn’t really tenable for more than that one semester.

I was very lucky, though.  Never once did I have a professor who complained about my child being in class or tell me that I couldn’t bring my child to class.  In fact, in my very last semester, my child came to almost every session of my History of American Environmentalism class. It wasn’t intentional.  The previous year I’d had him in an aftercare program that enabled me to expand the hours during which it was feasible for me to take classes.  Unfortunately, a daycare center near my son’s elementary school closed down and caused an overload of the aftercare program at his school.  At the beginning of the semester I was left crossing my fingers to get called off the wait-list, and I dropped by my professor’s office before the first day of class to let him know that I was having a childcare issue.  He was so kind about the situation, and at this point I had been able to relax a little about the idea of having my son with me, that I felt a little better about it.

Really, there’s a much bigger story here about the serious shortage of affordable childcare in the United States.  Still, there I was.  As the semester wore on, we had to come to terms with the fact that space just wasn’t going to open up and my son would have to be with me, with a few exceptions.  A few times he had playdates with a friend (whose mom also happened to be a professor/friend of mine).  Mostly though, he came to class.

We shouldn’t have had to do that, but I’m grateful that – like the woman mentioned above – I had professors who were so kind and so generous with their classrooms and whose generosity went a long way toward lessening the stress that I felt in having to bring my son to class with me.  My professors at Penn State Altoona went the extra mile for me, and I’m not entirely sure that it’s possible for me to express how grateful I am to them.  And, although I knew before that I appreciated them, I’m not sure I realized how much until now.

 

 

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An Anti-Choice Holiday Journey

Oh friends…  Oh.  Friends.

This week I went to a family holiday party at a church and saw such a flyer I could hardly believe it was real.  I could just show you the whole thing, indeed you can skip to the end if you want, but what I’d really like is to take you on the full journey.

So there I was, waiting for my kid to get back from the bathroom when I looked up at a cork board filled with the usual flyers and one very special flyer for a movie night.

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It’s a Church Movie Event and the movie is called Sarah’s Choice.  I wonder what on earth she could possibly be choosing?  How can we know!?

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Look, it’s the international hand symbol for pregnancy!

Yeah.  Sarah is pregnant and she has to choose not to have an abortion through some really labored Dickensian plot devices.  Isn’t it clever that they call it Sarah’s Choice?  Here’s the IMDB movie synopsis:

Sarah Collins is considering an abortion. Before she makes her final decision, she is presented with three visions causing her to think about the impact on her future.

Sarah obviously needs some visions to help her consider the future.  How could a woman possibly come to the right decision on her own?

I found a full plot summary here (linked with Do Not Link).   So clearly  Sarah gets pregnant out of wedlock (only unmarried women consider having abortions…but not really)

Sarah decides to tell her un-motivated and immature boyfriend she is pregnant.
Oh no, are you telling me that her boyfriend is immature and irresponsible?!  I would literally never have guessed that.  And clearly Sarah’s “friends and coworkers pressure her to get an abortion.”  Sarah has zero agency.  She’s also got a friend who had an abortion and “while she doesn’t regret the decision it still haunts her.”
arrested development eye roll lucille bluth
And now for her three Christmas Carol-style visions that a lonely old woman at the family planning clinic told her she would have.  Well…they aren’t actually Christmas Carol style because they’re all of different moments in a theoretical future where she decides to continue her pregnancy and have the baby.  In the third vision this happens:
Sarah then asks Matt, “Are you glad we did it? Are you glad we got married?”  “It wasn’t like we had much of a choice.” Matt responds, “Oh we had a choice, and we made the right one.” Sarah looks endearingly at a Christmas ornament that says “mom” on it.
“It wasn’t like we had much of a choice”?!  For real?  This is the magical future vision that’s supposed to convince her to have the baby and marry her boyfriend?  “Well I knocked you up so I guess I had to marry you.”  I’m overwhelmed by the romance.
Maybe the best part, though, is when – as part of her third vision – she finds out that SHE IS THE LONELY OLD WOMAN!  Yes, that lonely old woman who told her she would have three visions of her future is her if she decides to have an abortion.  I’m not sure about the time-travel implications there, but…interesting.
It is at this point that Sarah “breaks down in repentance” and decides to have the baby.  You see, her dad died at some point and she had drifted away from god but now she’s so happy that her dad is in heaven and…wait…why is this suddenly about her dad?  Oh right, everything in a woman’s life revolves around one man or other.
What’s been amazing for me though is looking at the way that people who would actually watch a movie like this talk about it.  For example, here’s a line from the shortened plot summary:
Though raised in a Christian home, Sarah becomes pregnant by her boyfriend.
How is her being raised in a Christian home in any way connected her getting pregnant by her boyfriend?  I wonder if the reviewer is aware that Christianity is not actually a contraceptive.
Since I wasn’t going to watch the movie, I checked out the message boards for it on IMDB, which is where I found this gem…
What I want to know is what world is a 31 year old woman considered to be a young woman? I mean come on now. Aren’t there other actual young Christian girls singers that you could use for this part? Rebecca St. James is almost old enough to be a Grandmother.
If you think that 31 is “almost old enough to be a Grandmother” then we need to discuss the age at which you think most women are having children, because no.
And then…
Plus at her age who the hell cares if she is going to have a baby? I can’t see any reason to have a conflict. So what she is going to be a singer? I am pretty damn sure that female singers do that all the time. It sure doesn’t hurt their careers.

 

Nope.  At 31 you couldn’t possibly be conflicted about having a baby and having a baby has never hurt any woman’s career.  Never, not ever.

But let’s finish by returning to what is maybe the best part of it all.  Let’s look at the whole poster…

sarahschoicewithcircle

No childcare for the anti-abortion movie event.  It’s always nice to see how people who don’t want women to (have a right to) choose abortion support women who do have children.

When Comedy Punches Down: Parental Leave Edition

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I will start by saying that I’m a few days behind on this because I watch The Nightly Show on the day after at earliest because I don’t have cable.  Generally speaking I highly recommend The Nightly Show.  It’s a fantastic replacement for The Colbert Report and they do a great job.  …Mostly.  What I have observed is that Larry Wilmore and cast are excellent when it comes to issues of race.  They strike both hard and true.  On the other hand, there have been several instances when discussions of gender and/or LGBTQ issues got downright painful to watch.  This week contained one of those episodes.

On the Tuesday, August 11 episode, the big issue of the night was Netflix’s announcement that they would offer one year of paid maternity or paternity leave for new parents.  While initially feted as a huge progressive leap in supporting paid parental leave (just calling it parental leave from here on out unless I’m quoting someone), the other shoe quickly dropped when we discovered that this leave wasn’t going to apply to all Netflix employees.  And in fact that employees of Netflix’s DVD service (yeah, that’s still a thing) would not receive this benefit.  The Nightly Show did actually do an excellent job of jabbing at Netflix over this particular issue.

Where things started to steer off the tracks for me was during the panel portion of the show.  The guests that night were comedian Carey Reilly of notsoskinnymom.com, actress Regina Hall, and comedian/Nightly-Show-writer Jordan Carlos.  The panels starts off directly with the bang as Carey Reilly declares a year of paid parental leave “baloney”, following up by saying that especially paternity leave is baloney because “what did he do to get those kids?”  This is to say that men aren’t even remotely as physically taxed by the pregnancy/birth process and thus a father will not have “earned” a year off.  So let’s begin with this.

Having a baby is not a medical condition.  It’s not getting a growth removed, it’s having a baby.  It’s a thing that a certain segment of our population is built to be able to do if they so choose.  And yes, sometimes people have to/choose to give birth via c-section which in fact is a surgery.  Nevertheless, there is more to having a baby than recovering from the process of giving birth.  Parental leave is about being able to adequately bond with your child not to mention to figure out how the hell your life is going to work with another person in it who is dependent on you for every aspect of their existence.  This is a taxing process.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the parents of that child got to do that without having to tack it onto their pre-existing schedule like it’s an unspecified number of extra trips to the dry-cleaner?

The United States clearly does not have a culture that is accepting of the idea of longer paid parental leave.  Often what casual criticism like Reilly’s boil down to is “that’s not how I did it and my child is fine.”  Because we live inside the internet most of the time and the internet is full of people that want to yell at you about how you’re not doing your life right, most especially for…I was going to say women and moms but let’s just say anyone who isn’t a straight white cis man, we’re constantly trying to preemptively defend our (child-rearing) choices.

Although, in all honestly, lots of our child rearing choices weren’t really choices at all.  For instance, I stayed home for six years because I didn’t have a college degree and could not possibly have gotten a job that would pay for child care with more than gas money left over.  It didn’t make solid financial sense so I stayed home.  I didn’t stay home because I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  Honestly if someone gave me a year of paid maternity leave I’m not even sure I’d take all of it.  That’s not me not loving my kid, that’s just me being a human being that prefers work outside the home.

As the discussion progresses, Regina Hall asks if this hypothetical year of paternity leave is going to a “father” or a “baby daddy”.  In other words, is this leave going to some guys who just knocked a woman up but aren’t involved in raising the child.  So, let’s take a moment to figure that the way that your company is assured of your having a baby is likely via the stuff going on with your health insurance and so when you add another human being to your health insurance, you are probably involved in that new human being’s life.  If you aren’t involved, you’re probably not adding that person to your health insurance …et voila!  You don’t get a year of paternity leave.  Maybe there are other ways of going about this confirmation.  Still, my point is that there are likely forms to be filled out and due diligence to be undertaken.

Jordan Carlos then jokes that he’d like eternity leave because he loves his daughter so much he’d just like to hang out with her forever.  That’s adorable.  Then he makes a joke about being a progressive dad and says that he needs leave to be able to recover from the birth process.  That’s not adorable.

All this, by the way, is the first minute of the conversation.  One minute in and the general tone of the conversation has been set to: parental leave is the joke.

So we continue this discussion and Larry turns us toward the idea that an actress in the process of making her name would never step out of the biz post-pregnancy (let’s be honest, if she even got pregnant in the first place).  This was, I suppose, by way of wondering whether people would be afraid that someone would steal their work-thunder while they’re away.  And yes, this is a real problem for women.  One of the reasons that this is a real problem for women is that even though women are expected to have babies, we’re expected to do it in a way that is convenient for the rest of the world or face the consequences and women do all the time.  Imagine, however, a world where paid parental leave was an option for everyone.  Maybe you aren’t taking a whole year off, but you’re taking the time you need to a.) recover b.) bond and c.) integrate a child into your life.  Even if you’re adopting and you’re only doing b and c, that’s still something that families should be able to do.

And by the way, let me take a moment to address this aspect of the parental leave discussion, how about adoptive families?  Parental leave is definitely not about recovery time for parents who adopt.  It is certainly about bonding and integration and those are processes which take time and which we should support.

So the conversation moves briefly onto the way that women are penalized for having babies to which I wanted to scream at the television: THAT’S WHY WE NEED PAID PARENTAL LEAVE!!  We need leave that guarantees that you can have a baby and come back to work without fearing the loss of your position or employment.

Hey, do you ever wonder if single people, presumably here we mean people who don’t have or are choosing not to have children, think people taking parental leave are lazy?  *ahem*  Fuck those people.  I’m not in any way sorry to resort to swearing right there because that is simply an asinine thing to say, especially coming from Larry Wilmore who I’m pretty sure actually has kids.  Though Larry then goes on to refer to maternity leave as “a year off”.

Think for a moment about the implications of this statement.  Do you think stay-at-home moms are perpetually “off”?  They aren’t.  Staying at home is not for the faint of heart.  As I mentioned, I didn’t do it because I wanted to but because it was fiscally more sensible at the time.  It is mentally draining for an adult to be alone with children constantly.  You need other adults to talk to.  You just do.  Stay-at-home moms don’t have lunch hours.  They don’t have hours at all.  All the hours are your hours when you are a stay-at-home mom, which, by the way, is why it’s so important for men to have paternity leave because households where men take paternity leave are more likely to share house work equally.  Just because a parent isn’t at work doesn’t mean they aren’t working.  Even if you like cuddly, cooing babies you will eventually need a break for your own mental well-being.

Sloppy conclusion time: I’m disappointed in The Nightly Show because I think Larry Wilmore can do and has done far better than this.  There have been multiple occasions when the show has included guests that could be considered experts.  It seems logical to me that if you’ve wandered into territory that you find unfamiliar, it might behoove the show to call an expert.  In this case, they could maybe call someone from any of the more than 170 countries with some form of paid parental/family leave.  This episode was, for me, rage-inducing and painful to watch.  Do. Better.

“It’s the childcare, stupid” and office housework…

A couple days ago Matt O’Brien at Wonkblog dropped an article on us about the decreasing female workforce in the United States.  It’s a short piece (check it out here) but it delivers a mouthful.  He asks why it is that the female portion of the US workforce is dropping when basically everyone else we consider an ally or an equal is continuing to increase.  The answer is what many American women have been yelling ceaselessly for years: “It’s the childcare, stupid.”

Source: Council of Economic AdvisersSee, there it is.  Italy is on the mild decline.  But seriously, what is our problem?  Our problem is the United States of America’s need to shove its fingers in its ears and yell “lalalalalalalala” anytime someone wants to talk about social safety nets.  Affordable childcare should be a serious part of our social safety net.  These things are a genuine benefit to our economic stability.  Another benefit would be any guaranteed maternity benefits at all, but that’s a story for another day that I’m sure I’ll get to because pregnant women face discrimination all the frakking time.  We’re really getting women coming and going.

And this leads me to an article by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg from earlier this month in the New York Times in which she talks about women and office housework.   What’s office housework?  If you’re asking that question you’re either a man or you’re a woman who’s never thought about it because it’s too fucking depressing.  The cookie-baking, the party-planning, the behind-the-scenes assistance.  These are the things that we expect of women because women are caring nurturers and we want to do all this shit, right?  Wrong.  Okay, not necessarily wrong.  Sure, some women (even me sometimes) do want to do these things.  I love mentoring people.  I don’t mind planning things occasionally.  I even like to bake a cookie sometimes.

Here’s a fun example.  I’m a Democratic Party County Chair.  My male predecessor did not plan our annual fall banquet.  His wife and a committee (largely, if not exclusively women) planned it.  I got elected this summer.  Guess who was heavily involved in planning?  Me.  It wasn’t just me, of course.  I would probably have jumped off a nearby building had it not been for one of our committee members who is a teacher, political activist, parent, and overall badass super shero.  After the banquet I got a lot of congrats because it was so great.  Here’s the thing though – if I were my predecessor, I would have gotten those same congratulations even though I wasn’t actually the planner.  He’s a pretty nice guy and he probably would have pointed out that his wife did most of the work but that’s not really the point.  The larger point is that women also do these things in paid work situations when they are under no obligation to do so and they get no discernible benefit from it, other than not being perceived as not-a-jerk.

What’s the answer?  Well, affordable childcare and not expecting women to do all the extra work around the office.  How do you start though?  Next time Sheila (because now I’m taking a page from the Australians and using Sheila as my generic lady-name) can’t plan the office holiday party and you’re about to think, “(internal eyeroll) Sheila is such a jerk.” – instead try thinking “you know, Sheila is probably really busy.  Maybe next time” and then go ask a dude.