Sam: “Do you have soppressata? Because that’s what I came here for.”
I’ve been on the planet for more than 47 years and had never heard of Huitlacoche. Yes, somehow, this past week I heard about it twice. There’s a word in semiotics that explains this phenomenon that I’m too lazy to look up.
Today is my birthday and my sister posted this photo of the two of us:
I feel like it deserves explanation. It was my wedding, obviously. We were young. So, so young. I was 24. Tracy had just turned 22. My dress had a long train that was bustled with what seemed like a bazillion little tiny hooks. This was later in the evening. Tracy had some drinks and was trying to refasten my bustle. My mother was trying to take a picture. She was saying “Tracy, look up. Tracy, look up. Tracy, look up.” She was hoping to get a sweet photo of my sister fastening my bustle and smiling lovingly into the lens of the camera.
Instead, she got this. Which is, I’m pretty certain, the most epic wedding photo in the history of wedding photos. I’m also certain that had Tracy looked up and smiled sweetly *that* photo would have been lost to the dustbin of history.
To this day Tracy has this photo framed in her house.
Last week Pamela Druckerman had a column titled How to Survive Your 40s. I like Druckerman. In fact, one of my favorite columns was a similar topic titled, What you learn in your 40s. But while the latter column mostly celebrated 40something, the former was much more of a lament.
I’m going to turn 47 next Wednesday. I have absolutely loved this stage of my life. When I turned 43 I remember thinking “This is the age I was born to be. I’ve just been waiting 43 years to get here.”
I’m not immune to bouts of vanity — my hair, which is nearly all gray underneath the dye I used to beat it into submission, is a perpetual torture for me. But I have not loved aspects of my appearance throughout my life, so this isn’t unique about 40s. And on balance I feel like the advantages of 40 far outweigh the disadvantages.
I’m more comfortable in my body than ever before. Yeah, sure, there are things that hurt that never used to. But I’ve never felt more comfortable with my physical being.
I more comfortable with my overall being, too. Self-awareness is never perfect, but I feel like I have a better understanding of who I am, what I’m good at, what I’m not good at, even what I like and what I don’t. And I’m more comfortable with who I really am, as opposed to who I think I’m supposed to be.
For me, 45 is greater than 25 by a factor of far more than 20. As I near 50 I’m not filled with dread. In fact, I’m excited. If 50 is even better — and I have good reason to expect it will be — I feel like I have so much to look forward to.
A recent New Yorker had a piece by Jill Lepore about a new volume of Rachel Carson’s writing.
Rachel Carson did not have children but she took care of several, including adopting her four-year-old grandnephew after the death of her niece. Some of her biographers have lamented the toll this caretaking exacted on her output. If only she hadn’t had that responsibility imagine what she could have produced, the line goes.
Let’s think about this critique for a moment. Carson published “A Silent Spring,” the book credited with kicking off the modern environmental movement. The book directly led to the passage of five major pieces of legislation, including The Clean Air Act and the The Clean Water Act and also led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s a lot of impact for one person to have.
Jill Lepore rightly pushed back on the biographers lament of her caregiver role, noting that ” caring for other people brings its own knowledge.” The “insight” that came with caring for both the young and elderly members of her family made her work what it was.
I like this point a lot because it does something that is rare in the media — it actually gives value to the caregiving role. The idea that caregiving confers skills, experiences and wisdom that is valuable beyond the work of care is something our society is remarkably reluctant to acknowledge.
I also think that this idea is that caretaking diminishes a woman’s output is just slanderous. Carson is one of the greatest writers of all time, if you measure greatness by impact on the world. It’s impossible to know if she would have produced more and even more impossible to know if it would have been as great, to Lepore’s point, had she not had obligations. The biggest reason her career was cut short was her untimely death from cancer.
I think this fiction — that only those undistracted by care can reach their full potential — does a disservice to men and women alike. It pushes men to suppress their desires to nurture and care and pushes women out of the public spheres. A life that has both elements — family and work, however you define either of those terms — is richer and, I would argue, more productive in the ways that matter most. Sure, single-minded focus on anything can be a strategy for success. But it is absolutely not the only strategy. And anyone that believes that probably achieves less than they could and lives a life that is less than it could be.
In a series on women’s ambition, The Atlantic asks “How Much Ambition Can a Marriage Sustain?” The question itself suggests that the answer is a fixed amount that get apportioned across two people in different ways — either equally or with one spouse having much more while the other has much less.
But what if this is the wrong question? What if the question, instead, is “How Can a Couple Build a Life They Both Love?”
The problem with asking how much ambition the marriage can take is that it treats the players like they are sitting across from each other on a seesaw — they can be equal, but then each can only go as high as the middle, or one can be much higher and one is on the ground. This seems like a uniquely unhelpful way to view marriage, right? But more importantly it treats three different states — equal, man up/woman down, and woman up/man down — as if they are the same. But is that so? Are all three of those states essentially the same?
I’d suggest they aren’t. The key reason we all discuss ambition as it relates to marriage is because of the oft-asked question “But what about the kids?” While many (though not all) people tend to believe it’s “okay” if Mom works there is belief that if both Mom and Dad are working all that time, that would be bad. That seems like a reasonable conclusion. But then it gets murky — is it okay if one parent works “all the time” and the other doesn’t? Does it matter which one? If one parent works “all the time” does that mean the other parent must not work at all to even the seesaw?
What’s interesting to me is that the research on the effect on children if Mom works is pretty clear — they do fine. There is some research on the effect of Dad’s career and it finds that kids do fine with a Dad who works a reasonable amount, but that Dad’s who aren’t around are missed (I know, right?).
If that’s true I think it fundamentally changes the question. Because clearly one parent around “all the time” doesn’t actually make up for one who isn’t around very much. And now we can ask, instead of how much total ambition can the marriage take, how much ambition in either parent can the family take?
For what it’s worth, I think the answer to that last question is “More than most of us think.” If you use your time with your family well and create wonderful and loving memories, those will loom much larger in the minds of your children than the missed dinners or a weekend away for business. Yes, there’s likely a limit to how much a parent can work and still be effective. But that’s true regardless of how little the other parent works, which means the marriage (and the family) can likely sustain ambition in both partners and turn out fine.
I’m starting a new series of occasional posts I’m calling “A Week In The Life.” My goal is to highlight weeks that I think illustrate work/life integration. The goal is not to pick “perfect” weeks. But weeks that highlight something I think is important or helpful in thinking about integration. I also want to highlight weeks that bust toxic cultural mythology around work & life.
What kinds of myths?
- Work only “counts” when it happens at certain places and times. This myth is common at many companies, but it is also a myth that many people have trouble letting got of too. Obviously some work requires us to be in a certain place at a certain time — waiting tables comes to mind. But plenty of work doesn’t.
- Working outside “normal” hours is bad (especially when mothers do it) but attending to life during the typical workday is good. Using evenings and weekends to catch up on work to offset time spent at school events, for example, is neither good nor bad. It’s just a way of managing all of the things you want to do.
Okay, so on to our week.
Sunday, January 8: The best laid plans of mice and men. Hebrew school was canceled because of weather so my plan to go to the gym was scuttled and I just went straight to the hair salon for a cut and color. My husband and kids picked me up after and we went out to lunch and then saw Sing!
Monday, January 9: It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. The trains were messed up badly. My normal 45 minute commute turned into a 2-hour-and-then-some journey. But the day got better as we scored a big win at work and I was able to get to most of the stuff I planned. I got home early, finished up a bit more work from home, then enjoyed tacos with my kids. Lovely way to end a day that started out rough.
Tuesday, January 10: Up at 4:30 am. Yup, you read that right. I had a morning meeting in Boston that requires a 7am flight. When I arrived I was able to make a quick phone call from the airport club and then get to my meeting. I was able to get home early enough to go to the gym and pick up my daughter from Hebrew school. These nights can be a bit nutty from a dinner perspective and everyone just kind of ate something and drifted off to bed.
Wednesday, January 11: A pretty typical workday, but I was able to slip out for a gym class at lunchtime. I stayed later than usual because I had a great evening activity. I got to be in a focus group for my favorite clothing brand, MM.LaFleur. So fun! Wine, snacks, and clothes.
Thursday, January 12: One of my commitments for 2017 is to get massages at least once a month. This is made easier by the fact that we have a massage therapist come to our office every Thursday. So I looked at my calendar and decided this Thursday was the best day this month. Such a great way to start the day! I spent the rest of the day getting ready for an event next week, including doing a practice run of my speech.
Friday, January 13: I spent the day with my partnerships director getting ready for our events next week. In the late afternoon I ran a training webinar and was able to duck out on the early side to pick up challah and rugelach. On Friday nights we make dinner special — we light Shabbat candles, have challah and enjoy the end of the week. It’s a lovely weekly ritual.
Saturday, January 14: Ah, the weekend! We all slept late. I took the kids to babysitting at the gym to give my husband some time, then he returned the favor by taking the kids out to lunch. We spent the afternoon watching Zootopia (for the fourth time …). Then, we made our own pizzas for dinner! Such fun.
Summary: A good week with a mix of intense work but also lots of well-spent personal time. Getting up at 4:30 for a flight wasn’t fun, but getting a massage at 9am on a Thursday certainly was.