It’s Not Rigged; You’re Doing It Wrong

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I spent a lot of time this weekend exercising my right to participate in the political process.  Our family attended a rally to get out the vote for Missouri statewide Democratic candidates, and I also made volunteer GOTV calls on behalf of Hillary for America to likely voters in North Carolina, Colorado, Michigan, and Florida.  I made contributions to some of our Democratic statewide candidates as well.  Missouri used to be a battleground state, but as the population has trended older, it has become a red state (BOO!).  So it has been a busy last weekend before the election and I suspect I will take some time off of work on Tuesday for some final volunteer efforts before planting myself in front of the TV at home to watch the results roll in.

We talk a lot with our eight-year-old son about politics and government, and are careful to model good citizenship and the need to critically evaluate candidates.  Like many parents, we are repulsed by the vulgarity of the presidential campaign, although we have allowed him to watch the debates and talk with him about the allegations.  He loved the rally on Saturday and soaked up the speakers’ referencing him and his friends as one of the reasons it is so important for us to be involved and active citizens.  He is most excited about getting to color in his Electoral College map of the United States on Tuesday night, a little tradition in our household for Election Night.

Anyway, I dropped off my son and some neighborhood kids at a birthday party this afternoon, and was returning home along a local highway when I noticed a large display on the overpass.  Specifically, I saw about five huge Gadsen flags and several large American flags, and a *yuge* Trump banner hanging over the side of the overpass.  The display certainly grabbed my attention, but on further inspection I noticed there were only three or four actual people up there monitoring it.  My knee jerk reaction was to cringe.  Ugh.

Upon further reflection, I thought, “What a waste.”  Think about it.  This is the last weekend before the election.  I doubt these well-intentioned activists were connected officially with the Trump campaign.  While the display may help bolster enthusiasm among Trump supporters passing below, it is not a good use of their time if they really want to help Trump win.  Elections are all about turnout, and the side that can get more people out wins.  To do that, GOTV efforts are critical, and while banners are nice, they don’t raise campaign funds or tell people when and where to vote.  Many critics of the Trump campaign operation have talked of the lack thereof, i.e., that there is no real statewide organized effort to get out the voters who will support him.  That is a critical error, and I wonder if his supporters understand that.  He complains about a rigged system, and many of his supporters talk about feeling like they have no meaningful voice with our political leaders.  It’s nice and all to hang a banner on a highway, but it doesn’t really move your preferred candidate closer to the presidency.  Do they not get it?  Or is it just easier to be angry and protest the system?

Perhaps these individuals are also doing other good work.   I don’t know.  And banners are fine, but the weekend before the election is go time for GOTV.  Missouri is going to vote Trump, so it won’t matter, but if Hillary Clinton wins, and Trump supporters wonder why, one of many reasons will be because the campaign’s organization was miserable, including GOTV, and they should blame their candidate, not a rigged system.

All that to say, make a plan, and GO VOTE TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8!  www.iwillvote.com.

Star Wars-Inspired Parenting

Star Wars Figures

We are a Star Wars family.  We own the original trilogy and the prequels.  My son’s room is filled with the Lego versions of an Imperial Star Destroyer, AT-AT Walker, Jabba’s Sail Barge, Rey’s Speeder, B-Wing Fighter, Poe’s X-Wing Fighter, and my personal favorite, the Millennium Falcon.  I own action figures from my childhood and of new characters from The Force Awakens.  My daughter has her own action figures and light saber.  My husband owns the Sphero BB-8 droid that he controls remotely from his phone, and the remote control Millennium Falcon that really flies.  We binge watch The Clone Wars and await each new episode of Star Wars Rebels.  We are dedicated fans, and Disney has made a lot of money off of us.  Of course, we have pre-ordered the digital and Blu-Ray copies of the movie (out today, April 1, and April 5, respectively).

We enjoy these movies as fun entertainment, but the movies and shows also offer Doug and I the opportunity to teach our kids valuable lessons about the world and how to live in it.

  • Heroes are ordinary people who rise to the challenges of their time.  This may seem to be a surprising lesson given that Luke Skywalker and other Star Wars heroes are blessed with a special power, e.g., to feel and harness a mystical energy called The Force.  However, the Rebellion is composed of numerous people from all across the galaxy who contribute in some way to the cause:  pilots, intelligence, military strategy, communications support, supply requisition.  Han and Chewbacca were smugglers who initially had no interest in helping the Rebellion, yet were drawn in by the commitment and willingness to sacrifice demonstrated by Leia, Luke, and the others.  In fact, the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, coming out in December 2016, is focused on the rebels who stole the design plans for the original Death Star that enabled the Rebels’ successful destruction of it at the Battle of Yavin.  According to what we know thus far about the movie, none of the characters in Rogue One are Jedi or are Force-sensitive, yet their contribution was critical to the Rebel cause.  (They’re also led by a women, played by Felicity Jones.)
  • Giving in to anger, fear, and aggression leads to misery.  We have our fair share of temper tantrums and  meltdowns around here.  Yoda’s warning to Luke that “anger, fear, and aggression” lead to the Dark Side of the Force is repeated in our household as a way to lighten the moment.  We also talk in calmer times about how it’s okay to have these feelings and to express them, but that it is not healthy to dwell or wallow in them, but try to channel the feelings into something constructive.  Otherwise, you inevitably worsen your situation.  Conversely, Yoda’s praise of self-control and patience is repeated by us as a way to help our kids make good choices.  If they find ways to take a breath, a break, or ask for a hug, they can avoid the spiral into a meltdown or tantrum that leads to additional bad choices.
  • The galaxy is full of various sentient life forms, all of which are worthy of respect.  In the Star Wars galaxy, Jedis and members of the Rebellion are members of not only different races, but different species.  In contrast, while not explicitly stated in the movies, Star Wars literature frequently references Emperor Palpatine’s prejudice against anyone serving in the Imperial Fleet other than humans.  The Force Awakens takes some additional steps in this area, with the three main heroes being a white female, black male, and Latino male.  We use these themes from the Star Wars universe to discuss prejudice and discrimination in our own world with our children, and emphasize the need to love and respect the people and living things of our planet.
  • Safeguarding our freedom is difficult in times of intense fear and instability.  It is no coincidence that Revenge of the Sith, the 2005 movie released in the aftermath of September 11, highlights this truth.  The Old Republic’s Senate, faced with a growing military threat from the Separatists, enthusiastically approves granting supreme executive authority to Chancellor Palpatine, who declares the beginning of the Galactic Empire.  Senator Padme Amidala’s stunned response: “So this is how liberty dies…to thunderous applause.”  Of course, Palpatine and the Empire proceed to enslave entire worlds and use a super-weapon to destroy Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan.  As our own nation and others face fears of terrorism from within and abroad, we see the rise of candidates (ahem, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz) who promise stability and project authority in a calculated play on these fears.  We speak with our children about the dangers of trusting too much in any leader to make any country great and repeat the lesson above about giving into our worst fears.  We firmly believe that our country will rot from within if we allow our misunderstandings and fears to isolate and punish innocent people who can be our allies.

Finally, I will share how Star Wars has inspired me personally, dating myself in the process.  My very first memory is of three-year-old me going to my hometown’s drive-in theater to watch the first release of Star Wars in 1977.  My brother and I were in the backseat of my parents’ car and I remember waking up from a nap as Princess Leia drew her weapon to defend against Stormtroopers at the start of the movie.  She has been my hero ever since.  In a play world dominated by Barbies and baby dolls, she was a female role model for someone who used her gifts to fight for freedom for others and against evil, with bravery, diplomacy, political negotiation, and if necessary, military force.  She was a confident leader who stood up for what she believed in.  Her example stayed with me throughout my childhood and inspires me to this day.  With the arrival of Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, I am thrilled that my daughter and son will have the opportunity to see a woman who is both powerful and loving, who has survived horrible circumstances yet is full of hope.  And I can say that the most emotional part of watching The Force Awakens for me was not (spoiler alert) Han’s death at the hands of his son, but the moment when Rey successfully calls Anakin’s lightsaber to her and raises it to battle Kylo Ren.  Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched Rey’s face, full of fear but resolute in her determination to defeat him and save herself and her injured friend, Finn.  A she, not a he, is the center of the hero’s journey in this new trilogy, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what happens in Episode VIII, due in theaters December 2018.

Star Wars Legos

 

 

 

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I recently finished Jay Newton Small’s “Broad Influence,” a book about how achieving a critical mass of women in a variety of public and private institutions is not only good for women, but the customers or stakeholders of that institution.  I highly recommend picking it up, and she references a library of recent books on women’s role outside of the home (Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Unfinished Business,” Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men“), all of which I devoured almost as soon as they were released.  As a professional mom to two young children, I clearly care about this topic, but I wish more men would read these books as well, particularly the men who still dominate the upper echelons of leadership in the private sector, all three branches of government, and the military.

I’ll save you the book reviews but relate my personal experience to this.  Before Sheryl Sandberg advised women to seek a mate who would be fully supportive of their professional ambitions, I made that a top priority.  My husband and I balance careers, his in health information technology and mine in civil rights law, that involve travel expectations.  We are both incredibly passionate about our children and enjoy being actively engaged in their young lives and education.  We are committed to an equal partnership in life.  And yet, I find that outside institutions undermine us and other couples seeking this balance in unhealthy and frustrating ways.

First, the relentless emphasis on productivity from individual workers makes a 40 hour work week insufficient for too many jobs, professional and otherwise.  As Slaughter noted in her book, far too many organizations operate on the assumption that there is someone (aka a “wife”) taking care of the personal needs of the employee and his or her family.  Someone has to manage the household duties, children’s activities and education, and extended family and other social obligations.  Yet the extended work hours in too many positions means that one or both parents cannot fulfill all of the non-work duties.  The ones fortunate enough to afford it can outsource much of this work with house cleaners, financial planners, nannies, carpools, and tutors.  Some are lucky enough to have retired grandparents to help with child care, chauffeuring, tutoring, and household tasks.  The rest of us muddle through, paying bills late at night, letting the house go, and sacrificing time as a couple to make up for the time lost with kids.  Organizations in the private and public sector are offering more flexible and part-time options for working parents; however, in most cases, promotion potential is negatively affected because supervisory or executive level positions are not offered with flexible, part-time, or job-sharing options.  As Slaughter indicates, research indicates people are truly productive for a maximum of six hours per day, yet the corporate expectation is often at least 10.

In our family, Doug travels frequently and often for multiple overnights, often with little notice or flexibility, particularly around the end of the business quarter.  When he’s gone, I’m running kids to soccer practice, taking leave when a kid gets sick, and navigating homework, bath, and bedtime solo.   He does the same when I am gone, but I have far more flexibility in scheduling my travel, fortunately.  I have successfully negotiated reduced schedules in current and previous work positions so that one of us is able to take kids to practices and help minimize the craziness of the dinner, homework, bath, and bedtime routine.  In my experience, however, staying “part-time” is difficult if not well ingrained in the organization due to the ongoing pressure to do more with less, despite the evidence regarding productivity and overwork.  We are hanging on to this arrangement for now.  However, I have had several friends recently leave wonderful careers because despite their employers’ attempts at flexibility, it didn’t function well enough in reality for them to continue.  This is a tremendous and avoidable loss for their organizations.  As Rosin points out in her book, the “soft skills” attributed to women in communications, organization, and relationship-building are increasingly in demand in today’s information and services economy, and leadership in these areas are sorely needed.

Second, our antiquated school calendar creates complications for families with two parents working outside of the home.  The outdated agrarian school calendar with an extended summer means that families agonize over the extra expense of child care or a series of summer camps for several months.   Teachers often spend the first month in the fall catching up students after their “summer slide,” especially for students who are already behind educationally.  The typical school day also does not coincide with general business hours, meaning parents have to find before and after school child care or reduce their hours to drop off and pick up children.  Again, in a time when schools are cutting recess and physical education to cram in more instructional time, wouldn’t it make more sense to lengthen the school day and build that time back in?  It would certainly require more financial support for school systems but it would be a worthwhile investment.

We are again fortunate to live in a school district that offers four weeks of free summer school with low-cost before and after school care at the site, and a school-sponsored summer camp that covers all but two remaining weeks of the summer.  You better bet I sign up for the summer camp quickly because there are limited spaces and they go fast.  My son’s school doesn’t start until 8:45 a.m. and I need to get to work by 8:00 a.m.  As a result, before-school care is a necessity.  Although I am sometimes able to pick up my son by his 3:45 p.m. dismissal time, because my husband is not and I sometimes am traveling or working extra hours, we also pay for after-school care that we often do not need.  The reason I am writing at this moment is because I used a vacation day to care for my son, whose school is on spring break.  Parents in my neighborhood who have kids in different schools in the same district have to deal with start times for kids that are two hours apart, making it hard for parents to ensure kids get to school safely and also get to work on time.  Not all parents work a traditional business calendar.  However, increasing the availability of before- and after-school care at schools and lengthening the school day is a necessity for contemporary families.

There are many more ways institutions undermine working parents, and the two I raise primarily affect working professional parents.  The troubles with shift work positions offered by companies like Starbucks and Wal-Mart are well-documented and mean that parents have trouble obtaining quality child care for their unpredictable and erratic work schedules.  Too many working parents work for employers who do not offer paid sick leave, meaning a child’s illness can lead to a parent’s termination or a loss of wages.  I could go on and on, but instead will encourage everyone to read the books I referenced at the beginning of this post, and think hard about the real economic, social, and personal costs we are incurring as a result of antiquated work policies that are based on a family model that is no longer the norm.  We can advocate as voters, employees, and leaders to make family-friendly institutional changes that will also improve work culture and, ultimately, institutional performance.  We can vote for and promote leaders who support these changes and actively work toward them.

 

 

 

I finally did it

So I’m finally creating a more personal blog.  I generally hate oversharing online.  I’m cautious by nature.  Why now?  I want my kids to read it someday and understand their impact on my life.  Also, while writing is a huge part of my daily professional life, it’s not the kind that gives you the freedom offered in this space.  I feel like I am supposed to do this now, to shine a light on these inner workings and see where they lead.  So here I go.

The title is a working title more than anything and inspired by my five year old son’s actions today.  It’s Thursday and my husband flew out very early, so I was taking both kids to school.  We’re almost to Alex’s school when he reminds me he was supposed to dress for “career day.”  I had forgotten.  He was wearing a nice sweater and jeans.  We’d planned earlier in the week for him to be an engineer or architect with a button down shirt, slacks, tie, and “blueprint.”  Feeling horrible that I’d let him down and not wanting him to go into school without a costume, I turned the car around to head home.  He asked if I would be late to work and I said yes but it would be fine.  He asked, “What was I going to be again?” I reminded him.  He said, “Well, I want to be a spy instead.”  Much more fun, and convenient, as I explained to him that as a spy he would need to blend in with his surroundings and look like a student.  I turned the car back around to return to school and said he was all set, but suggested he spend time in Kids Zone, the before school program, making a construction paper “watch” that included helpful spy tools like a recording device.  As we walked in, I questioned him about the change of mind.  Did he get the idea from another student?  Why the change?  He said it was because he knew he would not have to change clothes and I would not have to miss work.  I don’t really think he understood that when he suggested it, but maybe so.  Regardless, it brought me to tears that I managed to hold until I got back to the car.  This little guy, this big-hearted little man, showed me the grace I needed today.  I strive to be a professional mom who is very active in my children’s lives.  I successfully negotiated a reduced schedule at my job primarily because I desperately wanted to pick my son up from kindergarten and hear about his day before he forgets, as he tends to do. I wanted time in the evenings to review sight words and count by fives and tens and read and  color pictures and take walks and rake leaves and giggle.  We are doing all of those things and more!  But I forgot something important in his life today.  He was fine.  He showed me his “watch” as soon as he got in the car at pick-up and said the teacher loaned him a magnifying glass as an additional prop.  Completely fine.

Perhaps mom guilt serves some sort of evolutionary purpose but I’m trying not to let it overtake my parental journey.  Hold me accountable on that score, please?

As we said bedtime prayers tonight, I thanked Alex for how he handled me forgetting his career day and said it was an example of him showing me grace.  I explained that grace was when we showed kindness and love to someone who perhaps did not treat us in the best way or did not deserve it.  I explained that God shows us this grace every day because we all make mistakes and yet he forgives us and loves us deeply.  I think he may have drifted off to sleep before I finished.  Maybe the lesson wasn’t for him anyway.

Welcome to our journey!

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