Is Vacation Homework Training Our Kids To Be Workaholics?

Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

My family and I took a trip to Miami for February break. We did something we don’t always do, which is we decided to really try to max out our time in Florida. Meaning we took an early flight out on Saturday morning and weren’t schedule to come back until Sunday afternoon.

It’s worth noting, before I go on, that this vacation scheduled stands in contrast to Europeans who tend to take two-week “holidays” — as often as three times per year! — and many of them book the travel such that they are just barely skidding into work on Monday morning. Work to live, as they say.

So it’s safe to say I was feeling a bit dismayed when my 11-year-old daughter, a sixth grader, came home in a flustered panic with a collage project that was due the Monday after the break. Are you kidding me? We rushed to print out pictures since it wasn’t really practical to try and bring this kind of project on a trip.

And I found myself wondering — does homework during a school vacation teach kids to be workaholics? Many Americans bring their work with them on family trips — you see them on laptops by the pool, on phone calls at the beach. We both praise and lament this state of affairs in our typically schizophrenic way. Is all this frantic work-work-work good for us? Almost certainly not. So why can’t we give our kids a break for a week?

By the way, I think work done over the summer is a totally different ball game. Of course I think the fact that schools close for three months of the year — when the majority of parents work — is insane on its face. We’d be far better off if American schoolchildren had year-round school with regular breaks that were real breaks. There be no need to worry about skills eroding if school vacations where only a week or two at a time.

But even in the current reality, there’s no reason to give projects during regular one or two-week long school vacations. Maybe they can learn a more valuable skill — how to relax!

In The Room Where It Happened

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The cover editorial in today’s NYT Sunday Review asks “Who Is Going To Save The American Family?

That’s a loaded question if ever there was one, and the editorial is written by a conservative woman who has predictably conservative answers. The decline of the American family is the fault of feminists. By sending women into the workplace we’ve created a “two-income trap” where families can no longer survive on one income. And this is a problem because, you see, men want to be breadwinners and women want to be caregivers.

The two-income trap is real, but what the analysis is missing is discussions of what has caused men’s wages to fall. It’s not women entering the labor force.

But the piece is also missing any discussion of how women would gain true economic and political power within a system that is bifurcated by gender. It’s all well and good to say that being a mother is “the most important job in the world,” but that doesn’t change the fact that women are underrepresented, relative to the population, in all spheres of influence. Yes, of course this means political power, where despite significant gains in 2018 (notably on one side of the aisle) women are still less than 50% of elected representatives and we’ve never had a women president. (Despite many qualified female candidates, 2020 isn’t looking great for that to change.) But I also mean power more broadly. Women hold fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 spots. Most estimates put women at 15 to 20% of C-suite positions. Women of color, of course, have even less access to power.

Does that matter? I saw “Hamilton” on Broadway last night. My favorite song, by far, was “In The Room Where It Happened.” It is sung by Aaron Burr and it’s his lament that he was not in the room when Hamilton and Jefferson made a deal to move the capitol to Washington, D.C. He reprises the song later, when he’s running for President, because he wants to be sure he’s in the room where it happens.

Women need to be in the rooms where stuff happens. Where laws get passed. Where corporate decisions get made. It matters. Nancy Pelosi remarked that when she first ran for Speaker it was Democratic men who asked her “who said you could run?” They pleaded “Just tell us what you want and we’ll do it.” Um, I don’t think so.

Does this mean we need to turn every American woman in a corporate wage slave and every American family into stressed-out hamsters running on a never-ending wheel of bills? Of course not. But there are plenty of proposals that would support all families and also support women who want to participate in civic and corporate life. And, by the way, policies that would support men who want to play a greater role in the lives of their children.

It strikes me that we are at a point in our cultural history where we could start to think different about our economy, family life, and gender roles in ways that would open up a lot more possibilities for everyone. Harkening back to the ideas of Phyllis Schlafly isn’t the way forward — it is literally the way back.

Why Is This Schedule “Crazy”?

Photo Credit: Rugile Kaladyte for The New York Times

As a working mom I’m pretty obsessed with other people’s schedules and routines. So the headline Sarah Sellers and the Craziest Schedule in Running caught my eye. It’s the story of the young woman who came in second in last year’s Boston Marathon and also happens to work 30 hours a week a nurse anesthetist.

It is certainly unusual for someone to be an elite athlete and work near full-time hours. But is it “crazy”? The evidence that it is: She gets up at 4am to run on the days she works (she generally works 3 days a week in 10-hour shifts).

But putting aside the early wake up for a second, let’s do the math. If she works 30 hours as a nurse and puts in another 40 hours of running/training that’s 70 hours. I’m guessing she doesn’t actually work out 40 hours, but I’m throwing in time spent getting massages, foam rolling, stretching, whatever else she needs to do to be an athlete at that level. I’m probably still over estimating, but let’s go with it since, for some people, elite running is their full-time occupation.

Now, let’s say she sleeps 8 hours per day, that’s another 56 hours per week. Let’s throw in another 21 hours per week for the stuff of life — housework, eating, grooming, etc. That’s 3 hours per day, likely more than adequate given that neither of her jobs requires the elaborate grooming that a woman with a corporate job might have and she doesn’t have children. That leaves her with 21 hours per week — 3 hours per day! — for whatever else she wants to do. Read, knit, write, paint. You can do a lot with 3 hours per day.

Yes, the days she works at the hospital sound long. A 10-hour day is long no matter what else you are doing. But the other 4 days of the week sound — again, to quote the Times story — “downright relaxing.” (I see that snark, NYT.) But they do! She does hard workouts on Thursday and Friday, does a long run on Saturdays and doesn’t run at all on Sundays. Presumably if she found the early wake ups on Monday through Wednesday that terrible she could trade at least one of them for runs on Sundays. I’m going to trust that it works for her.

Look, the truth is that the average American watches 35 hours of TV per week. A point that Sellers hints at with this quote: “Nothing against full-time runners,” she said. “I honor what they do, but it seems like they have a lot of Netflix time.” What’s crazier — continuing to build her medical career or watching 30 hours of Game of Thrones?

Savor the small moments

The small moments are the big moments. Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

One of my favorite books 2018 was How to Be a Happier Parent by KJ Dell’Antonia. One reason I loved it so much was her gentle reminder that, for most of us, the stress and strain we are feeling are part of a life we chose. Her advice is to stop what you are doing from time to time to notice a moment — and ordinary, not-perfect-but-good-enough moment — and remind yourself “Oh yeah, this is it. This is what it’s all about.”

It can be a random Sunday night — sitting at the dining room table, reading the paper, listening to your daughter work out math problems with your husband, helping your son wipe up the juice he spilled on the table. Yup, this is it. It’s not even close to perfect, but it’s pretty darned good.

Quit Your Job When You Aren’t Getting Better At It

Growing in your career is like achieving new levels of fitness. When you stop getting better it’s time to move on to something new. Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

I am a huge fan of The New Yorker Radio Hour on WNYC. If you love the New Yorker and you love public radio, this show is ear candy. This week’s episode featured a clip from Chris Hayes speaking at the New Yorker Festival. I’m also a huge fan of Chris Hayes — I’ve watched his show since it debuted and love the podcast he recently launched, Why Is This Happening?

The interviewer asked Hayes how long he’ll keep doing his nightly MSNBC show, All In With Chris Hayes. He began by saying “definitely not forever” because there are other things he wants to do in his career, but also noted that he’ll for sure do it through 2020. But his explanation for how he’d know when to stop was so interesting to me. He said it was basically “a learning curve question.” It would depend, essentially, on how long he felt he was still getting better at it.

There are lots of ways to know when it’s time to quit a job. But lack of personal growth is probably one of the most important to recognize. When you stop getting better at what you are doing it’s time to go try something different. If you want to do big things, stay on the steep side of the learning curve.