Sunday, September 25, 2011

How Anyone Does It...

One of the most interesting things about reading Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode column a few weeks ago, and Stephen Holden’s review, both in The New York Times and both in one way or the other about the movie, I Don’t Know How She Does it, was their discussion of what’s changed in the ten years since the book was a best seller.

Belkin notes the adaptations the movie has made to be more current, especially with regard to parenting. There are the changes in technology (the instant communication provided by a BlackBerry); the “kinder” portrayal of men (whose roles and desires in the work/family balance have evolved she suggests) and then the new ending –spoiler alert--in which the main character creates a version of having it all that is, arguably, more reflective of 2011.

Stephen Holden’s film review, in contrast, is about how the movie “seems stuck in the past.” The film’s star, Sarah Jessica Parker, in his description, embodies both Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw and the movie’s main character, Kate Reddy, in a case of what he calls “Parkeritis”.

The condition is fatal only to a film, evidently, and means the star brings with her the ethos of an era in which “Ms. Parker was in her early 30’s, and well before Sept. 11, two wars and a major recession dampened American exuberance.”

We are, Holden makes clear, no longer in the glory years.

But, by Belkin’s account, as mothers and wives and women with jobs, perhaps we finally are.

What has happened in the past ten years?

I can’t speak to the book or the movie, but I was interested in hearing the marriage historian Stephanie Coontz interviewed last May. Looking at what she described as longitudinal studies of women, both working and stay-at-home, she says the mommy wars are over.

What really matters is that a woman is doing what she really wants to do, and that her employment is one that is “high quality.” Kids are happier if a mother is happier, and those two standards were seen as protecting a mother from unhappiness or depression.

Over the past five weeks, I’ve moved from stay-at-home mom to full-time working-outside-the-house mom.

My husband takes the kids to school, a seminary student walks our dog, teachers fill our girls’ days with purpose, and a college baby sitter rounds out dinner and bath time on evenings when I take my night class.

I Don’t Know How She, or for that matter anyone does it.

Right now, it takes a team.

In Holden’s review of  I Don’t Know How She Does it, he criticized Parker for bringing too much of her former character and spirit to her current role. It’s probably a fair critique for him to make of an actor.

But I felt bad for the person, mother, and working woman behind the critique.

Throughout our transformations, we, unlike a Hollywood actress, don’t have to completely reinvent ourselves, or pretend that whatever we’ve been doing for the past ten years (staying at home, working outside of it) never happened.

Maybe that, in keeping with Belkin’s more optimistic view of the way things are now, is another good thing about being a parent in 2011.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Diamonds are forever but the little prongs that hold them into place are far less eternal. Two of mine gave out about a month ago, breaking off cleanly from the side of my engagement ring and taking with them the half-moon diamond that had hugged the exalted sapphire to their side. I would have searched my car, my house, and every blade of grass between the two had I not known, in my gut, where the diamond most likely was: the isle of Manhattan.  We’d just returned from a weekend in the city, an urban haystack for the most expensive needle I could have lost.

I am not sentimental about objects but as I’ve tried to get this little diamond replaced, I’ve had to face the fact that it had symbolic meaning.

My husband, Tom, pulled that diamond, and the ring of which it was a part, out of his pocket on September 15, 2001. 

Five nights before, on September 10, I had been finishing up work on a story during my stint at CBS NEWS/48 Hours. I was in Florida and needed to get back to New York City but my plane in Tallahassee had mechanical problems. A call to Tom and I got a pep talk.

I flew on to Atlanta.

The next flight, if I could get on it, would get me into New York late that night. I was tired and superstitious, and considered staying in Atlanta and catching a flight early the next morning.

Tom convinced me to get home as soon as I could.

I remember several details about that flight home to New York on September 10, 2011. An unusual bomb-detecting wand at security in Florida, the cockpit door the pilots had left open until we were practically taking off, and the raucous, intoxicated atmosphere on what felt like a party-plane that I rode from Atlanta into Newark in the darkness of night.

And I remember a feeling of relief when I finally saw Tom and his shoebox apartment, and the little fish in his aquarium we’d just given names to.

 The next morning I took a cab across town to my apartment and dropped off my bags. I needed to go downtown to my old voting precinct to vote in the mayoral primary.

I don’t know if it was the obligation I felt to get to work on time, or the lessening of pressure I felt to fulfill my civic duty that came with the distraction of falling in love, as I’d been doing that summer, but I never hopped the train downtown to vote that morning.

At 8:46 am, I was in an office building at West 57th instead of somewhere south of Canal Street.

The next weekend we’d intended to head to Washington, DC to see my folks.

We stayed in New York instead. And, somehow, on that Saturday, September 15, made our way past suits of armor and tapestries and up to the top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After days of feeling the erosion of everything that was knowable, Tom took me to a place that was a reminder of what was enduring.

The atmosphere in New York was still heavy with a grieving, mystified uncertainty.  But Tom took out the ring and asked me to marry him, with a sense of calm, that was then, as it is now, unshakable.  

So, my little diamond, the rebel who has broken free from the trio of stones that have sat together for the past decade, it seems you have returned to Manhattan.

You’re a silly thing to miss, especially on a day like today. But, for me, and perhaps other husbands and wives who've felt stronger because of the love, glimmering or internal, that their spouse has given them, you’re a good thing to remember.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Stirred But Not Shaken

The garbage truck that made a special Saturday pick up in advance of Labor Day only made it half way down my street; it was apparently  too full or overtaxed to finish the job. House after house had stacked the curb with black bags and torn up, water drenched carpet, warped furniture and other objects from basements that had seen too much of Hurricane Irene.

We lost power at 2:59am last Sunday morning, a fact announced quite loudly by my six year old who seemed kinesthetically in tune with the weekend’s storm, and marked by a stove clock that stopped ticking when the power failed.

August had come in like a lion and out like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Thunderstorms, an earthquake, and finally a hurricane. The last, of course, being less of a surprise thanks to meteorologists who were following its path.

But waiting for Irene to arrive felt a bit like closing your eyes and asking for a punch. Who knew when or where or how intense it would be when it finally came?

I prepared by going to the store three times, each time somehow forgetting the essential characteristic of nonperishable food, particularly what the prefix “non” suggests. I am accustomed to snow storms when having a gallon of milk on hand is a boon, not one more thing that inevitably gets poured down the drain.

I shouldn’t cry over spilled milk.

We were somehow spared what others were not. Perhaps having our roof leak and then our basement doused with water from a sewer line failure three weeks ago fulfilled part of our quotient of August angst.

We know some who still don’t have power; we’ve read about a local man who died by being swept into a sewer from rushing water and a rescue worker killed after an attempted recovery of a stranded vehicle. We see others, perhaps half of our neighbors, who after getting a foot or two of water in their basements are throwing out water-logged memories. Daily commutes have been detoured; trains to New York suspended.  And, then there was the tree we saw stretching its way across Main Street, holding on by its deep roots lest it finish its fall into the house it had looked out on for probably the last hundred years.

We spent our 36 hours without power listening to a battery operated radio, reading books by windows, paying bills by candle light, and trying, in vain, to explain why the nightlight in my three year old’s bedroom would not be working.  I fell asleep wishing I’d had a shower, but happy to hear the sound of voices outside the window, neighbors chatting on porches instead of isolated in front of their TV’s.

When the power came back, I retrieved a voice message from our water company warning that power to the treatment plant was still down so we were to limit our use to only essential needs. Seeing someone’s sprinkler system shooting water onto an already drenched lawn a few hours later, I had to think our pre-programmed gadgets had not gotten the message.

But we humans had. By natural disaster standards, we had gotten off easy. But experiencing the fringe effects of an earthquake and hurricane within the same week has been a reminder that we live on a planet not only a street.

There is sedimentary evidence of hurricane action in New Jersey from the year 1278, and, it turns out my region has not only had small earthquakes before, we had one earlier this summer, according to a story in my local paper.

 No one seemed to notice.

 I think the past few weeks have stirred us to a new understanding.