Labor days.

It is Labor Day weekend, summer’s last hurrah. It’s the weekend many parents, mostly mothers, heave a sigh of relief. We made it.

As Motherlode’s KJ Dell’Antonia wrote back in June, the 104 days of summer vacation are a nightmare for working parents, particularly those with no extended family willing or able to help. It’s also the season when the conflict between career life and mothering life is perhaps most apparent.

Since the summer of 2007, the first summer my children were in regular school and not full-time childcare, I have done an annual bob and weave every year from Memorial Day and Labor Day, cobbling together camps, babysitters, days of working from home and the occasional actual vacation week to get us from the end of one school year to the start of the next. In this hot pursuit, I’ve had the good company of my friends, neighbors and fellow working mothers on our block, all of whom have children the same ages as my own.

Our crowning achievement was the block-camp summer, the year we each took a full week, or two (though not consecutive) to host “camp” at our houses for all of the children. Our children were all friends who played in the street and rode bikes and built Lego masterpieces. We, the parents on the block, were all friends who stood in the street watching for cars, who taught children to ride bikes, and who tried to muffle cuss words when our bare feet stepped on stray Legos left over from masterpiece-building.

One night in March 2009, sitting on someone’s porch drinking wine, commiserating over the challenge of summer scheduling, we hatched this plan: The parents on the block, seven of us in total, would each take a week of vacation to stay home and entertain our collective young crew. The parent in charge was in charge of everything during the week – the schedule, the snacks, the activities, the house rules. It was the ultimate in communal living, 2009 edition. One week of carrying the full load; six weeks of knowing everything was taken care of.

One week was dubbed Classic Summer, in which the kids swam and played games and read books on a loose but pre-planned daily schedule.

One week the children created a business (a lemonade stand), made money, created a dinner menu, took the wad of cash to the grocery and then cooked dinner for the parents on the last night of the “camp.”

My week saw creation of papier-mâché piñatas and an end-of-week fiesta dinner on the porch for which the children dressed up to show that it was a real celebration.

Bernard’s week involved combing the alleys, collecting found objects and making robots and art plaques using sheet rock mud. I still have that plaque, and the children still tell the story of that crazy week with crazy Mr. Bernard.

It was great fun; we even made t-shirts.

That summer, 2009, I worked for a woman 15 years my senior who had no children of her own. She had come to our company a few months earlier, in February, as the new CEO. She was a scientist, a feminist, a certified Myers-Briggs assessor, and held a master’s degree in organizational development.

In May she announced her plan to promote me to her new leadership team, handing me responsibility for directing the 80 front-line clinicians and community representatives. My new role would begin September 1, and I had the summer to prepare reorganization and restructuring. It was an enormous undertaking; at the time I had never managed more than four people. There was a lot at stake.

I asked what had led her to choosing me, what made her believe I could be successful. Her response included a surprise; she had been impressed when I told her about the block camp that the neighbors and I were organizing. On her leadership team she wanted a collaborative problem solver, and the approach I described for our neighborhood summer plan was, to her, a perfect example of my capabilities.

I mention this story because it is the one and only time, ever, when my work as a mother has been specifically, expressly connected – by someone else – as a complement to my work career and rationale for both more responsibility and higher compensation.

It has been my experience and continued observation that, in general, home-life is viewed as competition to work-life, especially for women, often by other women. Employers most often want to know which set of obligations will win in a pinch, and any indication that the company won’t come first can be career-limiting, with financial penalty to match.

That women, in particular, are assumed more likely to choose family first is one of the explanations for the continued wage gap, which the Association of American University Women predicts won’t be closed until 2059. As the theory goes, women who continue to work outside the home after becoming mothers will eschew logging 80 billable hours, take lower-paying flex time, job share, work only part-time, etc. in order to be available for their children. Time in the office equals productive time; time away from the office equals non-productive time. Productive time equals money.

While there are some small signs of progress in this area, they are few, far between, and typically limited to only the initial phase of parenting. Last September’s  Working Mother 2015 100 Best Companies for Women article noted that more companies were offering paid leave for new parents and that two large companies added provisions to pay for shipping breast milk home when mothers have to travel. Baby steps, I suppose, are better than nothing. But they are a drop in the bucket when it comes to supporting working mothers over the entire course of motherhood, which lasts at least 18 years per child, with 18  summers to survive.

Family-friendly policies are also often considered benefits that offset direct compensation; you make less money, but you have more time to do other things. While that might sound reasonable in theory, it perpetuates the idea that time=quality output instead of quality output=quality output. Give a working mother a goal to reach, a problem to solve, a task to complete, and I’ll bet you hard, cold cash that she gets it done in the quickest, most efficient, most effective manner – 6 hours, instead of 8, perhaps, so she can make it to the volleyball game at 5:30 all the way out in East Jesus, through the tangle of rush hour traffic.

But she probably won’t get paid as much as her male counterpart who’s in the office until 7:00, because he’s committed and she isn’t. Still in 2016; even on Labor Day; even though she made it through yet another summer.


Food | Week of September 5, 2016

Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde

Hot Honey Shrimp | Panzanella with Mozzarella and Herbs

David Tanis: Italian-Style Tuna Sandwich

Charred and Raw Corn with Chile and Cheese

BONUS: Frozen Rosé (yep, a rosé slushy for your Labor Day weekend; santé)

5 Comments Add yours

  1. jgroeber says:

    Another brilliantly gorgeous post. Just as I was walking the beach wondering who will ever see fit to hire me after so many years of doing nothing (or nearly eight years and counting of raising my four kids and running a household. Perhaps I ought to just finish that book already, right?) Cheers to you, hard-working mama, and to another summer well done.

  2. Michelle says:

    What a grand idea. I’d have liked crazy Mr. Bernard’s week.

    This is a hard one for me. Imagine how it would’ve felt to be there at 7 (or 8 or…) p.m. with the guys and still making less? Then, add on top of that Steve once being told: “You don’t need as big a raise as other people are getting. You don’t have any kids and your wife makes a lot of money.” But I have no doubt about your organizational and juggling skills!

    Bring on the slushies. Shoot, and I’m all out of rosé.

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