Thursday, July 31, 2008

So . . . . How Is It?

I have answered this question, or some form of it, every day, several times a day, for the past two weeks. It's in reference to leaving the baby at day care and being back at work. What is the appropriate response to this question? "Oh, I'm miserable. I cry all the time. I miss him so much." Is that what people want to hear? I don't think they know what to do when I say, "It's fine." Very confidently. I always get, "Oh, I know it's hard to be away. I know you'll miss him, but it will get better." It's like they didn't hear me. I do miss him. I miss both my children during the day, but I don't spend all day thinking about that. Don't get me wrong, I think about them and how wonderful they are and how much I love them, but I don't wallow in guilt. Maybe you're thinking that I'm trying to make up for guilt by writing so much about this, but really, I am not. I am just so uncomfortable and puzzled by how to explain to people that (1) I am not cut out to be a stay at home mom and I am not ashamed of that and (2) I really believe my kids benefit from the day care setting they are in and from having a mother who intellectually challenges herself everyday and contributes to the community. Now let me be clear - I am not suggesting that women who stay at home do not intellectually challenge themselves or contribute to their communities. I am saying that, for me, working and sending my children to a day care that I love and trust is the best option for accomplishing that right now. That could change tomorrow. But I really want people to believe me when I tell them that I'm OK.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Community of Women

So, I just read a post about this essay on a friend's blog and had to link to it also. It's exactly what I needed.

AIDS in America

Anyone who knows me, knows that one of the causes I am most passionate about is HIV/AIDS. If you know this, you have also heard my rant about how AIDS in America has been largely ignored over the past 10 or so years, and in particular over the past 8 years by the current presidential administration. The AIDS epidimic in Africa is horrible and something we should all be concerned about and aware of, but it cannot be at the cost of ignoring AIDS in America. It's more popular for people to be concerned about AIDS in Africa because we focus on the images of the children who are acquiring it from their mothers and the orphans of those who have been infected with the disease. We don't attach moral judgment. In America, we've become complacent to the cause, we've convinced ourselves that there are drugs to treat it (we think everyone can be like Magic Johnson), and we judge the actions that often lead to it - (i.e., homosexual sex, promiscous sex, intravenous drug use, etc.). As a result, it's on the rise. I keep wondering when the mainstream media is going to start seriously talking about this problem. I was so happy to open up and see this. And in keeping with the female theme of this blog, here's a particularly shocking statistic from the article:

"AIDS remains the leading cause of death among black women between ages 25 and 34."

P.S. Here's another article. Read the comments at the end if you want a reminder of people's ignorance.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Women of Notre Dame, continued.

I said in my last post that I learned the importance of the friendships of women at Notre Dame. When I started law school, of course, I had women friends. But I was always one of those girls who was more comfortable around guys. I wasn't a tomboy, I just didn't like the competition among women. I trusted men more. This was ironic, considering my past experiences with men, but that's another post. Before I started law school, a very good friend, S., told me that my attitude about women and my declaration that I just didn't like being friends with them as much as men was basically bullshit. It was my own insecurity prohibiting me from experiencing the joy of women friendships. Soon after, I went to law school and met my future roommate of two years, and from there, an incredible network of women. I learned that S. was right and these women at Notre Dame were what I had been missing.

For me, law school was much more about self-realization than preparation for my future career. I arrived having graduated from a small Christian college where, for the most part, I maintained the moral code my mother and my church had instilled in me. Despite the fact that I remained relatively sheltered from the sorority girl, frat party, drunken binging experience that many college students have, college is still the place where I learned to think for myself and grew into a "feminist" and a "liberal" (the quotes are because I hate labels and because most feminists probably wouldn't consider me one and plenty of liberals might not claim me either). Law school, on the other hand, is where I experienced the rebellion that most 18 years olds experience when they go to college. This has made me the brunt of the jokes of some of my friends. One guy friend always says, "Stephanie is the only person I know who was 'wilder' at Notre Dame than she was before she went there." "Wild" is relative. My rebellion was pretty tame, but it was rebellion for me. And if it wasn't for the amazing women I met, I might have completely lost myself.

Each woman reminded me who I was in her own way. They let me be completely juvenile when I was way too old to be acting that way. They knocked me back down to reality when I became too full of myself. They held me accountable for my actions. They refused to let me be controlled by my insecurities and put the need for attention from men before the most loyal of friends. They challenged my faith and taught me about God - that the God of the sheltered evangelical upbrining of some of us and the same God of the similarly sheltered Catholic upbringing of the rest was so much bigger than either of the boxes we had put Him in. That strong, smart, independent women all had similar struggles. That despite our experiences with men, our differing models of marriage and our various families, we all wanted something better than we had known in the past, but reflective of the good we had taken from it. That we all were grateful for the women who had forged the way before us, but that we weren't sure if we wanted it "all." We knew, however, that we wanted the option of all of it.

I can't explain the bond I share with my women friends from law school. There are at least four of us in particular that can hardly bear the thought that we live so far apart from each other. I sat at a bar in Washington, D.C. a few nights ago with one of those women and discussed this over a few glasses of wine. My flight had been cancelled that evening and I couldn't wait to get home to my husband and children the next morning, but in that moment, at that bar, my heart literally hurt thinking about not having these women near me. We talked about everything from marriage to children to religion to war to the rights of homosexuals. And we talked about how much we missed those talks and the other girls and how hard it is to find that bond with women where we live in the middle of work, marriage and motherhood.

I think of one or all of these women every day. I find myself asking what one of them would do in almost every difficult situation I encounter. I remember a funny or touching, or even hurtful, experience with at least one of them on a regular basis. I am reminded of a lesson one of them taught me or of a favorite saying or a funny quirk more often than I could count. And my heart often breaks that I don't have those women with me every day, but most of the time, I am just overwhelmingly grateful for the gift of them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Women of Notre Dame

This month's Notre Dame Magazine celebrates women. It's late and I'm too tired to keep writing, but I learned about the importance of the friendships of women in my time at Notre Dame. More soon.

Back to Work

Today was my first day back to work after a twelve week maternity leave. After I had my first son, a paralegal in my office brought me roses on the day I returned to work. She said the day she dropped her daughter off at daycare for the first time was the worst day of her life and that she cried all day. I remember feeling really uncomfortable because I had not cried, and in fact, had dropped him off quite happily. He cried A LOT and I was really looking forward to having an entire day with adults.

Today I refused to feel guilty. For some reason, I was a little more emotional about dropping Trevor off. I think it has to do with how tough of a time he has had with his acid refulx and with the fact that he is much more attached to me than Jordan ever was. But even in the midst of the slight sadness, I didn't feel guilt. He had a great day with people who have taken fantastic care of Jordan since he was a year old. Jordan is so social, verbally expressive and adaptable, and most of the credit for that belongs to Bracktown Academy. I can't wait to see how Trevor's personality develops and how it will be the same and different from Jordan.

No matter how my career evovles over the next few years, I want my boys to see me as a strong and successful woman, but a loving and involved mother. For me, that means that I will have a career of some sort, but do whatever I can to stay connected with their lives and show them how much I love them. And to do that I have to trust the people I have chosen to care for them on weekdays. I am so blessed to have found such a wonderful place.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Before His Time

I was reading this post by a friend who writes for Skirt! magazine and I was reminded of my own grandfather and what an inspiration he was to me. Like the author's grandfather, he was loving and welcoming of all people. My mother often says that they never met a stranger and that it was never an unusual occurrence for a traveling salesman or visiting evangelist to be sitting at their dinner table. After he passed away, my sister and I were going through the cedar chest in the spare bedroom at my grandparents' house. We found two cassette tapes that appeared to be interviews with my grandparents from the early nineties. Apparently, a student from the University of Kentucky's Deparment of Agriculture was doing a research project and interviewed both of my grandparents. My cousin made copies of the tapes for all of us. I will never forget when I listed to papa's interview.

I had just moved back to Kentucky from California. Papa had died just a few days before I planned to drive back (Carl, my husband, was going to come to Kentucky two weeks after I did). Carl and I flew home for the funeral, flew back to California, and then I got in my car with my friend Courtni and drove back to Kentucky. Instead of coming straight to Lexington, I went to Casey County to stay with my grandmother who was heartbroken and sick. I first put the cassette tapes in my car when I left Casey County I was afraid it would be really difficult to hear papa's voice, but instead, it was comforting. What an amazing gift that we were able to have these tapes. The interviewer asked my grandfather about farming over the course of his life and because of that, I was able to hear the story of his life. There are so many priceless words on that tape. So many of the nuances of papa's personality shine through. I laughed at his quick wit and his stubborness. I marveled at the intelligence of this man who had only an elementary school education. And I was overwhelmed with love when I heard him speak of my grandmother.

I say he was before his time because when the interviewer asked my papa if my grandmother worked outside the home, he explained that she never did. He said that many of the women they knew had taken jobs in town at the local stores, but that they decided together that she would work at home, with him. He was very clear that the farm and the income derived from it were not his, but theirs. And that all the decisions they made regarding the farm were made together. They were a partnership - what was his was hers and what was hers was his. It was very matter of fact, very soft-spoken and very simple. He had no idea that he was making such a profound statement about his view of women and the progressiveness of their marriage. He was simply stating the way it was. No wonder he produced three daughters who each took very different paths, but are successful and independent in their own ways.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wife Swap

I have a confession. I am ashamed of it, but last night I watched Wife Swap. Now, I am not one of those people who rants and raves and claims to hate reality t.v. It's not my favorite and I mourn the death of the truly funny sitcom, but there are some reality shows I like and others that are just the proverbial train wreck. I can't stop watching. But Wife Swap has always appalled me. I think it's very strange and it seems to really encourage drama in families. I also think they do a poor job of manipulating the situations and of scripting (because we know they are all scripted, right?). Because of this, I've only ever made it through 15 minutes or so. Last night was different, however, because both families intrigued me. Both were Christians. One was an extremely conservative family with 5 or 6 children. The children are home-schooled and the mother teaches all of the girls to serve the men of the family. None of the children are allowed to date until they are ready to be married, presumably when they are out of college. The women are being trained to be mothers and wives and not allowed to think of being anything else. The other family is extremely liberal. The father is a former pastor and a devout student of scripture. He is a stay at home dad and does all of the cooking and cleaning. The mom is a career woman.

The interaction between the women and their "new" families was really interesting. I was almost more disappointed in the liberal family than the Bible-thumpers. I know the producers manipulated the interactions to make them appear more extreme, but I feel like the liberal Christians had less tolerance and more judgment than the conservatives. Don't get me wrong. I was appalled that the conservatives admitted to brainwashing their children and that they squashed their 13 year old daughters attempts to think for herself, but the so-called liberals simply were not willing to even consider that these people might just have a different world-view than them.

I think I struggle with the things that disappointed me in this liberal family. I preach tolerance, but often I am the most intolerant of those I am trying to convince to practice it. Frankly, the conservative family on this show seemed to be happier and have a better connection as a family than the liberals. I think some of it was false and some of it was the result of some broken spirits, so I don't condone or envy it, but I also didn't come away wanting to have the life that the so-called liberal couple had either.

The show was so extreme and I left sad that the world was not able to see two positive examples of the way Christians can differ in their world views, but still be respectful of women.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Affect Change or Move On?

I don't usually become involved with any organization or cause that I don't buy into. For instance, I have many friends who attend churches because they like the service or the pastor. They really don't know much about the theology of the denomination or movement with which the church is affiliated and even if they do, and don't agree with particular tenants, they don't really care. They go to get what they want out of the service, or the sunday school class, or some other ministry of the church and they don't have any internal dilemma with inconsistencies between what they believe and what the church teaches. I'm not critical of these people. I wish I were more like them. There is a church here in Lexington with a very dynamic pastor who I would love to listen to every Sunday morning. He is leading the church in some groundbreaking ministries to the poor and the church is doing some things with which I would like to be involved, but I can't go there. I know too much about their denomination. Several things bother me, but at the top of my list is that they don't ordain women. I simply cannot attend a church where little girls will never be allowed to fulfill a call to ministry. I cannot teach Sunday School, or give my money or frankly, even sit in the pews every Sunday morning because, I believe I would be condoning their doctrine simply with my presence. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't believe a perfect church exists and I don't agree with all of the teachings of the one I belong to. As a matter of fact, there are many, many of their teachings I don't agree with, but there are certain baseline non-negotiables for me and ordination of women is one of them.

Like I need to "buy in" to the teachings of my church, I need to "buy in" to the strategic goals and objectives of my workplace. And for the most part, I buy in to my current law firms plans, just as I did for my former firm. But, just like my church, there are things I don't like. For the area of the country we live in and the overall state of the legal profession, my firm is quite a progressive place for women. Sadly, the legal profession has not set a very high standard. After 7 years of practice, I am left wondering whether you can be a wife, a mom and a lawyer at a big firm and be successful at all three. Many times, I think I'm not and I just want to move on. I just don't know if billable hours and motherhood can co-exist longterm. But I'm not a quitter. When I am involved with an institution or process, I like to be part of making it better. So I serve on the diversity committee and read books about breaking the barriers for women in the legal profession and attend conferences on professional development for women lawyers. I make efforts to network and get involved with women's groups and I serve on boards and help charities so I can feel fulfilled outside of work and home. With all of that, I am left questioning whether it is worth it and wondering if it's time for me to move on.

I recently resigned from the board of directors of a fantastic charity that serves people who are affected by and/or infected with HIV and AIDS. I was the president of the board for the past year. The decision to resign was excrutiating and extremely out of character for me. This charity has been through rough times over the past few years and I felt like I was a part of bringing it through some of those times, but it required an extraordinary amount of time and energy. My billable hours suffered greatly and it quite possibly could have set me back a year for partnership consideration. (When I say I'm not a quitter, what I mean is I don't know how to say no and I'm not good as setting boundaries.) I wanted so badly to stay longer because I could tell they were on the brink of some fantastic change. I wanted to be a part of that and it was so hard for me not to feel like a failure for resigning. But it was time for me to move on. My heart misses it sometimes, but I have peace that it was the right decision.

What I don't have peace about is whether I can maintain my current career and be the mother and wife I am called to be. I hesitated to type that word "called" because I hate loaded religious terminology. I am not referring to some particular role that the church has defined for me as a woman, but I am referring to my own, internal calling - from God, specifically for me to be a good wife and mother and a professional who is fulfilled and intelectually challenged, but has not sacrified her family simply to have a title. Some would say that lack of peace is my answer, but I don't believe answers lie in the absence of peace, only in the presence of it. And until I find the alternative (not working is not a financial option and wouldn't bring me peace anyway) and I have peace about it, I won't have an answer. In that waiting period, I need to find patience.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Who is this woman?

Did this woman really exist? Or is she the equivalent of an airbrushed image on a fashion magazine - the portrayal of what someone wants women to believe they should be - an impossible standard . . . ?

From Proverbs 31:10-31

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

The First Post

I've been saying I was going to do this for some time - start a book, journal, blog, something about the tension of living in the implications of feminism. Of having it all, but not knowing what to do with it. Of reconciling what appears to be my innate need to be woman with the reality that I work in a man's world and that sometimes my husband and I have reversed roles - whatever those are. And now I find myself with two weeks left in my second maternity leave and about to go back to my 7th year of practicing law, where I will be expected to focus on making partner in the next year and I've decided now is the right time to start. I'm sure I'll have plenty of free time to keep this up. Of course, even though that was sarcastic, now is the time I need it most.

I am a mother of two - an almost three year old and an almost 11 week old. I practice in a large law firm in Lexington, Kentucky. Previously, I practiced in an even larger law firm in Southern California. I have been married for 5 years (well, sort of - we divorced about two years ago and annulled our divorce (only in Kentucky) about a year ago -I'm sure there will be more on that later). I grew up here in Kentucky, went to college in Anderson, Indiana, took a year off when I worked in advertising and sold cars, went to law school at the University of Notre Dame, moved to Los Angeles, met my husband, married and four years ago, moved back here to Kentucky.

I wrote the catalyst for this blog four and a half years ago. I've posted it on a friend's blog and shared it with several people over the years, but I've never gone any farther with it. Hopefully, there will be more than one post here, but here it is:

12/15/03 - I just got off the phone with my law school roommate. Every
time I talk to her, the theme is the same: how and when are we going to figure
out how to balance our lives as women? When will we no longer be the
bread winners? When will we get to have kids? Will we ever get to
stay home and raise them? Will we ever be as domestic as we would
like? Why do we feel guilty when we don’t have dinner ready, even though
we worked all day? Why isn’t our house clean? Why aren’t we super
woman like our mothers?

These are questions so many women of my generation
face. There is a lot of talk about how feminism has complicated
things. How we are all facing a crises of gender identities. I don’t
like to jump on that band wagon because I don’t want to be mistaken as
anti-feminist. I believe in the empowerment of women and I am inspired by
and deeply indebted to those who have forged the way for me to be independent
and capable of making my own decisions, of providing for myself and to be able
to choose whatever career I desire. I am moved to tears when I think of
how far this society has come in the treatment of women and of how far we have
to go. We are not yet there, but equality is in sight.

However, I am wrestling with the reality. I am living in the implications of
freedom for women. The responsibility. The choices. The tension. And the burning desire to be WOMAN is eating away at me. In my late twenties, I am finding that I have lost something very important – my femininity. And I have spent the last several months mourning that. I think marriage has been the catalyst for bringing my loss to light. My husband and I do not have traditional roles right now. We have been married for nine months. I am a lawyer in one of the largest law firms in
the country and I make a six figure salary. He is a student – going back to school to finish his undergraduate degree. And right now, he’s not working. I thought I would be OK with that – and so did he, but we’re finding out that neither of us are. He is struggling with what seems to be the innate need of man to provide and my biological clock is ticking so loud, I’m ready to throw it out the window. Never mind the guilt I
mentioned earlier. I still feel pressure to have a clean, put together house. To cook and bake and make sure my husband is well fed. To do his laundry and just take care of him. I don’t do very much of that – he does a lot of it for himself, and for me. I know that sounds like every woman’s dream, but for me, it’s filled with guilt.

Now enter God. I remember that in college, one of my favorite chapters of the Bible
was Proverbs 31. It describes the ideal woman. She cooks, cleans, takes care of the house, takes care of the kids, clothes the family, runs the household, and supports her husband. She is upright and pure – blameless before God. The chapter ends with the verse, “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” That woman always reminded me of my mom. And just as I wanted to be just like my mom when I was a kid, when I became an adult, I wanted to be just like the Proverbs woman – she was my biblical superhero.
Whenever I go home to Kentucky and watch my mom flutter about her immaculate house (you could literally eat off the floors), running errands, doing chores, going to work and taking care of me, my husband and my sister so that we don’t have to lift a
finger or want for anything – whenever I taste her delicious cooking or sleep in
her beds with the fresh sheets, or open a drawer to find everything organized, I
feel guilty. And like a failure. I’m not being woman enough. I haven’t lived up to my potential as a woman. I haven’t figured out how to be a true woman. My husband is missing out on having a GOOD wife. God wants me to be more feminine.

Lately I think my quest to find my femininity has appeared as a new-found (well, maybe a first-found) love of the color pink. I have red hair, and as a teenager, I didn’t think I was allowed to wear pink. It didn’t go with my hair. I think I read
it in a magazine somewhere. But, as an adult, I have discovered that not
only do I not care about those silly rules, but that I like pink. Really –
a lot. And I wear it. And I find myself wanting to put pink things
in my house or buy pink accessories. And it just dawned on me as I’m
writing this that this love of pink might come from my efforts to be womanly.

Now here I am, with two kids, my husband is out of school and even though I make more money for now, I don't consider myself the "bread winner." And we're back in Kentucky. For the past 10 weeks, I have been a stay-at-home mom (that's ending soon when maternity leave is
over), and I still don't have answers that are any clearer. I still struggle with the
tension. I have no idea how I'm going to work full time with two kids, but frankly, even though I love them more than life, I don't want to stay at home with them. Now, I struggle with the guilt of knowing that I couldn't survive with a newborn and a toddler at home all day. I wait until 5:45 to leave my house and pick up the toddler at the daycare just a few blocks away before the 6:00 deadline. Even though I'm home for these 12 weeks, I let him be at daycare for 10 hours. And my house still looks like a tornado went through the inside. The laundry isn't folded and put away and the dishwasher isn't loaded. We often eat take out and the toddler sometimes eats Chicken McNuggets two, or even three, times in a week. My mom and her immaculate house are now closer to me, so I have a constant reminder of how I'm not superwoman and I am confused about whether I even want to be. Despite the fact that I don't want to stay at home, I'm not willing to sacrifice my family for my career and I'm beginning to wonder if it's possible not to. I can't find anyone who has done it (taken the traditional professional path in their chosen career - i.e., no temporary reduced schedule, no delayed partnership, etc. - and truly not sacrificied their family), and as the prospect of partnership approaches, I don't know if I'm cut out to do what I need to do to make it AND to be the mom I want to be. So, this is the beginning of my sorting through that dilemma. I might be the only reader, or it might strike a chord with you. Feel free to share if it does.