Matt Lauer: The 1950s Called and Want Their Interview Back

Where in the world is Matt Lauer and his credibility?

Not only did he ask GM CEO, Mary Barra, some of the most ridiculously irrelevant work-life balance questions of a major car manufacturer CEO whose business is facing serious liability and branding issues, but he has come out defending these questions by saying, essentially, “hey Congress asked and Forbes asked, so I asked.”

Defending your stupid questions with “everyone else is doing it” is downright lazy and an insult to journalists everywhere. Try asking original questions, Matt. I know morning television isn’t always a bastion of serious journalism, but if you’re going to take the serious interviews, please stick to the serious questions. I’m pretty sure the employees at GM who might be worried about their financial future could care less about Barra’s family life. They are busy worrying about their own. I’m sure the families of victims who died or were injured related to faulty ignition switches aren’t worried about whether Barra can balance her home and professional life, but instead enduring the pain of loss and recovery.

Despite the fact that the work-life balance question is tired, insulting and simply never relevant to whether a person can adequately perform their job unless there is a proven track record indicating that it negatively has impacted job performance in the past, simply repeating questions made by government bodies and other journalists is unoriginal and perpetuating stereotypes of the very conversation his defense indicates could be productive.  What did Matt, hope would happen when he asked the same questions again? That Barra would break down, cry and exclaim, “Oh, yes, Matt, you are so right! What was I thinking? I need to rush right home. My experience and qualifications to help this giant corporation where millions work and depend on the salaries they earn be damned! My children and I thank you for pointing out the error of my ambitious ways!”

A productive question related to this issue could have referenced the earlier Forbes article and asked Barra if she thought it was fair women CEOs are held to that standard. He could have explored the issue that moms are questioned about the care of their children once they have a high profile job but men are typically not. He could have ingratiated himself to his program’s mostly female audience and referenced his own work-life balance struggles and perhaps regret at how his children only see his face before going to school if they tune in to The Today Show.

Furthermore, the tenant of the initial quote still, in no way, makes room for anyone to continue to question her competence or work-life balance struggles. Barra’s children stating that they will judge her on her motherhood is exactly what kids should do regardless of whether their moms are CEOs, singers, clergy, teachers, mail carriers or stay at home moms. I certainly didn’t care how my mom performed at her job as a paralegal when I was growing up and certainly wasn’t qualified to judge that part of her life. I was, however, qualified to tell you whether I thought she was there for me when I needed her, provided a safe, healthy and happy home for me and my sister and made me feel loved, secure and special. A child saying that they’ll judge their mom on being a mom in no way insinuates that this particular child thinks that she can’t be CEO and mom. It just says that they love their mom for being mom. Not being CEO. Leave the job performance reviews to the stakeholders and employees, please.

Can we finally state that being good at a job does not mean a person is not good at being a parent? These two statements are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps it’s because another man being named a CEO isn’t news and, sadly, it still is when a woman is named one, opening her up to questions a majority of men will never have to answer. No one questions what a male CEO is giving up as a father, let’s stop asking what female CEOs are giving up. Because we aren’t in their homes to know what, IF ANYTHING, they are giving up and what, IF EVERYTHING, they are gaining.

To be honest, I truly wish Barra had called him on it in the moment. Perhaps she’s used to having to answer the question and is numb to it. Perhaps she was thrown so off guard that she answered generically while her inside voice gawked in speechlessness. Perhaps she simply wanted to answer and move on to another question. But in my perfect world, I wish she had told Lauer that she was hired for this job because she was the best person for it. That yes, she is a woman and a mom, which isn’t specifically stated as a qualification on her resume. What is, however, is a long history of engineering and leadership positions at GM which allow her to uniquely understand and speak to the issues GM currently faces. That she was confident that her skill set, and not her anatomy, was recognized in her promotion to CEO.

It’s exhausting right now to be a woman in this country and hear the same questions asked that would never be asked of men. Until we can stop asking whether Hilary Clinton should run for president because her daughter, Chelsea, is pregnant (I’m sorry. Did I miss the debate in the last election about whether Romney would be distracted by his 20+ grandchildren?); or seeing the top related search for Marissa Mayer is not her biography or even net worth, but “Marissa Mayer hot;” or that we reduce the historical importance of Barra breaking the big car manufacturers’ glass ceiling by insinuating that her hire was simply to exude a softer image; then it’s going to continue to be an exhausting road for women.

So Matt Lauer I know one place you won’t be. And that’s on my television screen.

 

Cousins

This week, we have had the pleasure of hosting the hubby’s brother and his daughter, our niece, J for a few days. I am constantly amazed watching the little relationships between the boys and their first cousins. It’s that kind of immediate friendship, instant playmate. Doesn’t matter that there is an age difference. Doesn’t matter that they only see each other a handful of times a year. These relationships are built quickly and waiting for the next visit. It’s a mixture of awe and commonality. A bond that these little people seem to understand and model based on the grown-up relationships around them.

My own cousins were the best playmates we had during the summers my parents would send us to New England to visit my grandparents during the height of North Carolina’s heat and tobacco-scented humidity. We were lucky to have cousins around our age that lived next door to my grandparents and there were marathon games of hide and seek, waitress pretend play that always had us getting into trouble with Grandma for using the wrong curtains to play dress up in or using up the dish soap in our “restaurant,” intricate plays we created and performed, swimming and boating and rainy day movies. It didn’t matter that we only saw each other once a year or that we weren’t intimately involved in each other’s daily lives. It was that lightning recognition of family and forever friendship. Picking up where we left off. Always having each other’s backs because our names were inked in black on various branches of the family tree that hung in my grandparent’s dining room.

I’m reassured and buoyed today by the giggling and games and fart jokes that have been traded with the next generation of cousins. The desperation my 4 year old has for his older cousin’s attention. The satisfaction they all have when they succeed in making the other laugh. The compromise worked out as to what game they’ll play next.

It may be a few months before my boys see their cousins again due to our geographic distance, but I know that this visit will be the next touchpoint. The reference at their next meeting that will build the new games and jokes and fun. This cousin relationship dynamic is still new and fresh for my boys. It is expected and silly and evolving. It is filled with acceptance and love and excitement.

And even with a bit of hide and seek.

Find Your Food

The first week of no school was rough. This is the first summer in two years that I didn’t have work as a brief respite for a few hours a day each week. I really wanted to make my writing a priority and after week one, I hadn’t written a word that wasn’t a grocery list. The boys were at each other’s throats. I started the week with a low-grade fever and sinus pain. Things weren’t going well.

The second week, they were both in camps. (Insert sigh of relief here).

The first day the boys were in camp, I came back from drop off and managed to bang out 1700 words of the book project I’m working on and a draft blog post. I still had time to reward myself with lunch and an episode of Parenthood (ironic choice, no?).

I was amazed at how great I felt, how light, energized and happy after spending just two hours with fingers to keyboard. I felt fed and satisfied and inspired. I had to take a notebook to camp car pool pick up with me for all the ideas suddenly bubbling up.

It’s so easy to forget that creativity begets creativity, that your brain needs a workout as much as your muscles. And let’s be honest, every day parenting isn’t exactly a mental workout.

So, how am I going to ensure that when the boys aren’t in camp this summer, I’m still flexing my creative muscle?

First step is identifying what feeds me:

  • Writing – Whether it’s here, in a journal, on the book project, a letter/card to a family member or friend, I enjoy watching letters form words and words form sentences and sentences become thoughts. It’s not always easy, but it’s always rewarding.
  • Being Outside – When I get into a mood, often just taking a cup of coffee onto the front porch or ushering the kids over to the park for an hour can drastically change my (and their) outlook. Fresh air, natural elements, birds chirping. Plus, when we’re outside, we tend to be doing something active – playing, walking, hiking, running, kicking a soccer ball. Involving all the various senses of sight, sound, smell and feel outside can only serve to feed the creative parts of my soul.
  • Water – I’m an Aquarius and the water has always been my solace. The bigger the better, but without an ocean nearby, a stroll by the river or a hike to a waterfall or even throwing stones in the creek and watching the ripples all restore a certain balance to me.
  • Reading – Hi, my name is Monica and I am a bookworm. I feel unmoored and a bit lost when I don’t have a book to read. I love watching characters evolve, feeling myself pulled along with the story, seeing other authors so effortlessly craft a story. I read at breakfast, lunch, bedtime, carpool line, waiting rooms, whenever I can sneak it in. I don’t understand people who say they don’t have time to read. I don’t have time NOT to read. Even five minutes a day is enough to take me outside myself.
  • Driving – I’m not sure if it’s the open road, the pull of possibilities, but I tend to get most of my inspiration in the car. To clarify, I tend to get most of my inspiration when highway driving. Shuttling kids to activities and errands around town doesn’t leave me much time for inspiration, but long road trips or a commute or those rare moments when I’m riding out to an appointment alone – those moments are priceless for me.
View during a recent hike to my happy place in my hometown.

View during a recent hike to my happy place in my hometown.

Now that I’m more aware of how these activities feed me, I can work to incorporate them into my daily routines and, yes, with the kids. So we’re taking a few picnic hikes, visiting the local botanical gardens, going to the library. Each of these small activities with the kids are like small snacks for my soul. Certainly they don’t allow me the physical time at the keyboard to write, but they feed my senses, stretch my experiences and relieve the stress of breaking up arguments between the boys when we’re just at home building Legos and grating on each other’s nerves. This dedicated time with the kids exploring our world and things that inspire me also inspires them. I’ve watched them build rock collections on our hikes, marvel at tadpoles in a rock pool, discover new books and invent new playground games. Spending this time engaged with them outside the walls of our home also buys me a few extra minutes of quiet when we return as they rest or read new books or watch a movie.

Adjusting to this new schedule has been challenging. Seeing how much better I am at writing, mothering and living when I feed my soul has inspired me to take my inspirations seriously. And to take my kids along for the ride. After all, who knows how that inspiration might feed their souls?

So what feeds you? Is it crafting, cooking, hosting parties, volunteering, music? How will you feed yourself this summer?

 

 

Class of 1994

20 years.

Wow.

photo (25)

Class of 1994

20 years ago, I stepped out into the world, leaving high school behind and feeling so ready. Ready for adulthood, ready to spread wings, have new experiences, own this life I was so ready to live. I was scared and anxious, but excited and safe. College is a big step, but not one without safety nets – I still had a room at home filled with all my things, parents who were investing in my education, the comfort of the familiar routine of classes and the known expectation of success.

20 years later, success is self-defined. Safety nets are few and far between. Paths are more maze-like with dead ends and false turns. Bad experiences are no longer defined by bad grades, break-ups or fights with girlfriends, but by real experiences, real loss, real fear. I lived a pretty standard, semi-sheltered suburban life growing up where the worst thing that happened to me was a bad falling out with my best friend. Since then, I’ve lost close friends to death. I lived through 9/11 in D.C., passing the smoke billowing out of the Pentagon, walking by armed National Guard on the sidewalks in the following days. I’ve survived my own and my husband’s layoffs. I’ve stared down the crash cart in an emergency room. I’ve seen the darker side of people and how they can affect a person and a family for years with their actions.

But I have also experienced great joys. A marriage I am willing to fight daily for. A career that took me to Washington, D.C., and to challenges I didn’t know I could meet. Home ownership, twice over. A move to Atlanta that felt like a giant leap of faith. Two beautiful, boisterous boys that make me infinitely more interesting and happy and frustrated than anything else in life ever could. Friends and opportunities that I might not have recognized at 18, 20 or even 30.

So it’s a bit of deja-vu to find myself in the same position I was in 20 years ago this June – on the edge of new opportunities, excited and scared at the same time, leaving one thing behind but still believing that the best is yet to come.

As we were heading out to the reunion, leaving the kiddos in grandma’s care, my mom gave me a hug and said, “Now remember, what are you going to say you do?”

Drive my kids to camp?

“No. You are a writer.” It might have been the single most encouraging words of support I’ve ever received. She recognized this new life of mine and again, just like 20 years ago when she helped pack my bags for college, sent me out to meet it. Although it felt weird the first few times I said it – my writing life has always been a more private affair – by the end of the evening, it felt more comfortable. It felt more natural. It felt real. It felt good.

I am a writer.

As I caught up with classmates and met spouses and hugged people I’ve known since I was five years old, I felt more acutely the confidence I’d forgotten was there. Confidence in myself and all the facets of me as woman, wife, mother and now writer. Confidence that I am on the right path. That I have been on the right path. That it might have taken me 20 years to realize it, but whatever road I’m walking is the road that will get me where I’m going, wrong turns and all.

Under my photo in my senior yearbook reads:

Someday we’ll find it

The rainbow connection

The lovers, the dreamers and me

(Let’s ignore how admittedly cheesy it is that I quoted Kermit the Frog in my senior yearbook for now, okay?)

Merriam Webster defines connection as “something that joins or connects two or more things.” So it’s safe to say this journey we are on is the rainbow connecting the beginning and the end. And so far for me, this journey has been sparkly and scary high up and sometimes hard to see, but when you take a step back and admire it, it’s entirely beautiful.

So class of 1994, I’m happy to say that I’ve found it, or rather am continuing to find it. I hope you all are enjoying your own rainbows. Here’s to another 20 years.

Recycling Memories

A neighbor with two little girls is expecting a boy. Knowing we wanted to declutter a bit of our attic, I offered that she take what she wanted of our stuff. She left this morning with a slew of my boys’ clothes to outfit her little one. I thought I’d be more sad to see them go. Strangely, the parting was not hard. Certainly the sorting had been nostalgic as I prepared for her visit – this was our first’s first outing outfit, I remember the epic blowout at my brother-in-law’s house in that one, I loved this particular sleeper on both boys – but the letting go was strangely un-momentous.

Our family is complete. We’ve decided we are done. Although the smallness of the clothes I folded away tugged a bit at my heart and the what ifs of a possible third, I am quite content with not having to change a diaper or endure the sleepless nights or packing diaper bags filled with half our house just to make it through the contingencies of all that could happen during a small trip to the grocery store (a spit up, a poop, a need for snacks, a need for a distraction, a need to be worn instead of riding in the buggy…). I am thrilled to hold a baby, take in that intoxicating smell and then hand it back.

And so the clothes left, the rest headed to donation centers and I’m totally okay with it.

On the other hand, in our attic reorg, I discovered a bag full of my stuffed animals. The ones I slept with through my elementary school years or souvenirs from a family vacation. My parents had bagged them up for me when they moved out of my childhood home and they have simply been moved from one closet to another to our attic until I simply forgot about them. I took them out and remembered each story, telling the boys that this yellow bunny was the first gift my daddy gave me as a baby, that I bit off this raccoon’s nose as a toddler, that I slept with this gray bunny until I was in the fourth grade. We washed and dried them and now they are part of the boys’ collection. They are being played with again and loved on and snuggled under covers. I imagine their little Velveteen Rabbit smiles under the stitched-on expressions and find contentment in passing on a bit of my childhood to this new generation.

My "Andre" the seal from childhood. T slept with him last night.

My “Andre” the seal from childhood. T slept with him last night.

Perhaps the clothes didn’t hold the same memories. Or rather, the clothes held memories for me, memories of a babyhood that was so much more than the outfits they wore. I can’t give away the true memories – the way a song always soothed T in the witching hours of his infancy, B’s bright baby eyes tracking his big brother, the snuggles, the giggles, the tears – those are mine. But my children will have no memory of what they wore each Christmas or which pajamas were their favorites at a year old.

The clothes won’t create new memories for my kids, but passing on these animals stuffed with so many of my memories will create a new generation of memories to be passed along. Stories to be told, nightmares to soothe, bedtime story snuggles. Then, one day, they will be packed up into another box, passed from closet to closet to attic until perhaps, one of my boys will open it up, surprised and tell my grandchildren about the dalmatian puppy that their grandma got at Disney World and that he pretended was a firehouse dog when he and their uncle played hours and hours of rescue team.

So the clothes are gone. The stuffed animals staying. Now, if I could just figure out what to do with the rest of the stuff up there.

Check, please!

My 20th high school reunion is coming up. Gah. Besides the fact I think that makes me O.L.D. and I have my own reservations about going in the first place (senior year was not a good year for me socially. Long story. High school sucks for everyone, right?), I am, sort of, looking forward to it. Okay, I know it will be fun to see where we’ve all landed 20 years hence. 

So, in an effort to convince myself this will be fun and to put forth my best self, I bought a new dress for the occasion. It’s adorable. It makes me feel pretty. And shouldn’t I feel pretty before walking into a room full of folks that knew me before contacts and the mastery of a flat-iron? Yes. Yes, I should.

The problem is that two months ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice and would have plunked down some change for a new pair of shoes and accessories, too. I don’t shop much (hardly ever, really) and a little splurge would have been just enough retail therapy to boost my confidence going into this reunion. But think twice I am. 

The difference? Image

This time it isn’t my money. 

Having my own income was liberating for me. I enjoyed contributing to our family finances and knowing that my check could help cover B’s preschool tuition, the boys’ camps, date nights and the occasional frivolous dress. Now, I’m back to feeling guilty that I’m spending family money on myself. This wasn’t my money to spend. This is now money that should be weighed against the rest of the commitments our family has. 

And I hate this feeling. The hubby has never once begrudged me anything (mainly because I am not a big spender in general) and even urged me to go buy something for this occasion. He never calls it his money or questions how I use it. We’re certainly not destitute, but I take our demotion to a single salary again very seriously and try to do my best to work within our revised means. It doesn’t help that I’m finding this new writing life extremely wonderful and creatively satisfying, but also painfully slow and without a pay stub. I don’t like feeling as if I’m not pulling my own weight or that my dreams are more important so everyone needs to sacrifice in order to see them through. 

I’m still trying to look at this new time in my life as a gift, as the opportunity I’ve needed to focus on what I’ve always really wanted to do anyway – write. Instead, I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself. It’s one thing to look back on a moment and say, “yes, that’s when I finally was able to achieve my dreams” and quite another to look at the moment while it’s in your face and say “yes, this is the moment so you better succeed…NOW!” 

I want to be a writer, not just say I’m one. And for some reason, I feel like a paycheck for my words is the only way to validate that. I don’t know if this is my hang up or a societal one or a product of my approaching middle age or the fact that I’m an oldest child and therefore always prone to thinking more “responsibly.” Regardless, it sucks and I need to get over it. I need to stop worrying about whether this writing thing will pay off and simply focus on the writing. I know I contribute to the overall family in other ways and that one day I will financially contribute again. 

So at the reunion next week, when asked what I do, I will proudly state, regardless of whether anyone has ever paid me for a word, that I am a writer.

And I’ll say it in a fabulous new dress.  

 

Thank goodness we have boys

I can’t tell you how many times I have uttered the words, “Thank goodness we have boys.”

Anytime we’re watching a show where the parents are struggling with rebelling girls dating bad boys or I pass a children’s store with clothes I can’t imagine being appropriate for little girls or Congress again can’t pass equal pay for equal work…

Thank goodness we have boys.

Being a girl and a woman in this country is tough. There is fat shaming and photo shop, being sexual makes you a slut while trying not to makes you frigid, bossy is bitchy, breastfeeding is “dirty,” lesbians can’t marry but media makes girl-on-girl action the holy grail of male fantasies, you need to get your pre-baby body back stat. It’s truly never ending. Just take a gander at #YesAllWomen to see the truly ingrained misogyny of our country. It’s staggering. And it’s real.

Thank goodness we have boys.

And then I think I can make a difference. I have a responsibility to raise gentlemen. To raise boys into men who think unequal pay for equal work just isn’t fair. To raise men who don’t think mommies stay home and daddies go to work. To raise men who are equal participants in the household and have the skills – when they finally leave the nest – to do their own laundry, cook a meal, clean a bathroom. And beyond that, to raise men who support women leaders, can report to female bosses, are secure in a society where all members contribute different skills and that princesses don’t need rescuing unless they ask to be.

It’s a tall order. Particularly when you realize what they are faced with.

At our local grocery store, the magazine section is just past the check out. A few months ago, T, our seven year old, was checking out the car and baseball magazines as I paid. I could see him and all the available titles at his eye level and felt comfortable. As I walked by to collect him, he noticed the Sports Illustrated logo and went to move the plastic cover our store uses to cover up whatever they deem to be “inappropriate” content (whether this is a justifiable practice or not and who judges what is and isn’t appropriate is a discussion for another day). This particular cover was the swim suit edition. He peeled back the plastic cover to see the magazine as I tried to get out a “not for you” or “let’s go” or some other “please don’t look at that one” when he caught a glimpse of the uncovered bums of a topless trio and quickly covered it back up. His cheeks red, his head hung, embarrassed.

After loading the groceries in the car, I thought it might be a good time to address it. I tried to explain again about private parts (yeah, that whole covered by the bathing suit thing doesn’t work in this particular case) and inappropriate for kids but then didn’t want to shame the female body either and quickly realized through my blubbering that I had no good explanation. How could I explain what those half-naked ladies were doing on a Sports Illustrated cover when it had nothing to do with sports or celebrating women and everything to do with selling magazines? That those women’s bodies were put there simply to move a commodity? Oh, my women’s studies classes were rearing up with a vengeance in my head but all I managed to get out was that the human body is beautiful, it shouldn’t always be shared with the world and that if he ever had any questions about anything he saw that he should come to me or his dad.

Suddenly, raising boys in this environment that continues to perpetuate certain cultural expectations of women seems daunting. Dealing with it as a woman is insurmountable some days, but how can I ensure that my boys aren’t part of the cycle?

I don’t have the answers. But I do have the intention. I have the example. I have the husband who works hard at breaking down those boundaries within our own family. I have the boys who currently think the world is all rainbows and equality and theirs for the taking. I have the open-eyes to see that it isn’t all about women leaning in and onramping and breaking ceilings, it’s about everyone taking off the blinders to the misogyny present in our country and slowly but surely rebuilding our perceptions of what equality really looks like.

And I can start that at home. With two little dudes who like to help me cook and build Legos and run fast and to play tea party with their three year old cousin. I can make that difference.

Thank goodness we have boys.