Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nice to Meet You, Twitter

Oh, Twitter, how I tried to avoid you. I wanted to despise all of your micro-updates, the many Tweets that flitter across computer screens and cell phones. I did not need another time-suck in my life. Episodes of The Good Wife and Modern Family are calling me from my DVR box. The white kitchen floor has turned grey from the multitude of dirty shoes that have shuffled across it. New Yorkers are piling up by my bedside. I already belong to Facebook. Don’t you know I have a 19-month old son who climbs furniture and jumps?

But my class’s instructor said you were fabulous and asked me to get acquainted with you. So I opened an account. I chose a nondescript handle and password two days ago. Next, I tweaked my profile, posting a link to my blog and a photo of myself.

I poked around tentatively at first, only seeking out some the bloggers I follow regularly like Dooce, Girls Gone Child and Amalah. Holding my arrow cursor over the plus symbol, I added each of them to my feed. Fifteen minutes in, I was following more than a dozen Tweeters.

I kept clicking. You can be inspiring, funny, literary and career-focused. Not to mention musical with an interest in cooking. All of these are qualities I look for in a partner.

Taking you for a twirl, my fingers tap-danced along the keyboard, keying in the names of my favorite celebrities, writers and friends. All of my interests were coming alive in 140 characters or less. I consider our first date a success!

A few hours later, my cell phone dinged. I glanced down to see the Twitter icon – a boxed blue “t” – among my email messages. (Oh, you text right away!) And next to that icon was a name I didn’t recognize, but he was now following my Tweets.

My eyes narrowed and I recoiled in my kitchen chair. I want to be able to approve who gains access to my feeds. While my other relationship - Facebook - may have all sorts of pitfalls in security, at least I can have the final say on who can access my photos and updates.

Not with you, Twitter. That text was just another reminder that I shouldn’t be exposing everything to you. I need to show restraint, even though I’m tempted to divulge the minutia of my daily life. I can hear my mother’s voice: "Relationships need mystery!"

Since our first encounter, we’ve had a few dates. I’m considering the possibilities of going steady with you: a way to broadcast my freelance writing business; a new avenue to network; a stream of live news snippets; adult commentary when I’ve been alone with the baby all day; a hearty laugh.

So, Twitter, I’m enjoying getting to know you, but I’m not in love with you. Not yet. I’m not ready to make any long-term commitments to keep Tweeting after my class ends. But I may keep in touch with you. Some Tweets are just too good to resist.

Harrison, 19 months
(This picture has no relevance to the above blog,
but I couldn't resist.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Big Hug

(Apple picking with H, October 2010)

“Baby seals,” he coos. “Funny!” It’s 5am and my 19-month old son – H – is chattering from his crib.

There’s no soothing him back to sleep, no quick pop of the binky to send him back to bed.

My eyelids unfurl like spring leaves, allowing my eyes to adjust to the empty spot on the other side of the bed. Thousands of miles away my husband – Big A – is still snoozing in a king-sized hotel bed in Birmingham, Alabama. An iPod will ease him into the morning. He will shower in a pristine white tub and dry off with fluffy white towels. While watching the last night’s sports scores flash across a high-def TV screen, Big A will tuck his pressed shirt into his flat-front suit pants and pack a briefcase. On deck for this morning: A business meeting over muffins and freshly brewed coffee at a local bakery. Big A has been gone for four days – Florida, Texas and Alabama.

I shuffle to our bureau to swap out my pajamas. Holding up a shirt crusted with H’s graham-cracker drool from yesterday, I slide it over my head and pull on my black yoga pants. I brush my teeth and as I wipe my mouth, I realize the towel has soured overnight – one too many hands dried.

I cruise into the kitchen, dumping yesterday’s stale coffee and reloading the pot. Sippy cup of milk in hand, I creak open H’s door.

“Big hug,” he calls out, arms wide open. I sing, “Good morning, bubby!”

Today will be variations on yesterday: eating, playing, napping, running errands and cleaning H’s endless trail of crumbs, park sand and toys.

But there will be moments I want to capture like fireflies in a glass jar: the way H raises his eyebrows, his face splattered with black cookie crumbs, and asks for another Oreo; how he reaches up to hold my hand as he climbs our front stairs; the scent of his neck, damp with tears, as we hug away a boo-boo.

But four days into Big A’s sojourn from our family life, single motherhood has worn at my patience. When H squirms like a captured alligator during his diaper change, I fight the urge to pin his legs down. I want to snarl, “Not again!” as he drops green peas to a happy roll across the kitchen floor.

Bedtime. I exhale, closing H’s door as he sings himself to sleep.

Big A is due home tonight at 10. Each time I look at the clock, I re-calculate how many hours until he walks through the door. I check his flight status, willing the plane to go faster, pleading for no delays.

Tomorrow, we will wake up to the sounds of a creaking crib under H’s jumping feet and the refrain of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.”

Big A will get up, make the coffee and deliver the sippy cup.

I will dream an extra hour, shower and shave my legs, apply some eye make-up and blush. As Big A and H build a tower of wooden blocks, I will sneak out of the house and head to the supermarket alone, where I have time to caress plums and peruse apples. I will stop for a coffee on the way home and sip it in silence in the parking lot.

And when I come home, weighed down by bags of groceries, I will drop everything and open my arms when H calls out, “Big hug!”

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Lone Spider

I was hurrying down the old wooden stairs to the basement when I noticed her, just past the dusty window on the cool wintery surface of our porch.

My kitchen spiders are translucent and insignificant. This one looked like a root-beer jellybean, brown and speckled with white spots.

Her legs twitched swiftly back and forth, gathering silk to string from the corners. Beginning from the perimeter, she darted and leaped her way from anchor point to anchor point, leaving a shimmering thread in her wake.

No one interrupted the spider. She didn’t have any other creatures lingering about, begging for her attention – no caterpillars demanding payment or tiny spiders whining for chicken nuggets. She just built her web without being bothered. To the music of chirping birds, she created her masterpiece.

The web caught the warm breeze and flexed without letting loose from its anchors pinned to the wooden porch beams.

Up and down the stairs – four loads of laundry, washed, dried, folded. The spider remained in her web, triumphant. That night, the rain poured down and the wind whistled between the rows of houses. The trees groaned, branches scratched the windows and the downpour clobbered the rooftops. The 35-gallon rain bucket in the yard gushed over and puddles swelled.

The last load of warm laundry in my basket, I flipped the outside light on before heading upstairs.

She was there -- inching to the corner of the web for protection from the storm.

In the morning, light beaming through the kitchen window, I tried to bang out an email to a client, my 18-month old son – H –tugging at my shirt. “Out,” he said. “Mama, peas. Out!”

I squeaked open the door and he barreled down the back stairs. The chase was on, and I yelled, “Wait!”

Panting at the bottom of the stairs, he looked up at me, pointing at the door. “Out.”

I cracked the door, pointed admiringly to the web.

“Pretty,” he whispered.

Impossibly – raindrops glistened on the web, like some too-perfect illustration.

I glanced down at the wet grass, lamenting how many more loads of laundry I’d have to do after today. As H splashed in a muddy puddle, my BlackBerry buzzed. My work will have to wait.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cost of Motherhood

(Harrison at 6 weeks old, April 2009)

Six weeks after I delivered our son, my husband and I had the “talk” – not the one about when we would have sex again – the one about what we were going to do with Harrison once my maternity leave was over. If both of us worked, almost an entire salary would be devoted to childcare.

We had to choose who was going to stay home.

At the time, I was making slightly more than my husband, who had taken a step back in his career to change directions. I had worked for a Boston-based financial firm for more than 10 years, netting out to six promotions, dozens of raises and bonuses, an office with a window overlooking the financial district and several pairs ornately decorated shoes to glam up my work uniform of dark skirt suits.

My husband was quick to offer his stay-at-home-dad services. But I hesitated. Yes, my post-pregnancy hormones had me crying at the thought of leaving my son longer than an hour. But, I also had a hunch about my future reality in the workforce.

The only women in vice president or higher roles in my office were those without spouses or children. Graying middle-aged men filled the upper management spots. With a baby in my arms, I wasn’t seeing much hope for a long, profitable career to support a family of three.

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office backed my suspicions. Women are still lagging behind in holding management positions. We are making less than our male counterparts. And even worse, mothers in management roles are paid even less than women without kids in the same job.

The bottom line is simple: despite an increasingly level playing ground, women are not considered equal to men in the workplace. Each gender may have their own bathrooms – and mothers may be permitted to pump breast milk at the office – but at the end of the workweek, his paycheck is greater than hers.

When I gave my notice, my voice cracked. And before handed in my security badge, I glanced longingly at the photo that had been snapped of the 22-year old version of myself.

When I graduated from college, I thought that while barriers to my corporate success may exist, if I worked hard enough, I could surpass them. Studying the women’s liberation movement and being the daughter of a young, hard-working office assistant/part-time hippie taught me that.

What I underestimated though was that I was stepping into a workforce that – over the long term – valued my male co-workers more than me.

However, that fact became glaringly obvious as when I looked at the raw salary predictions for my husband and me. I worked in Corporate Communications as a writer; he was in sales – a male-dominated career – for a large mutual fund company. I was at the top of my pay grade; he was at the bottom of his. While my salary was higher today, it probably wasn’t going to increase much more.

Even if I didn’t have a baby, government-sponsored study after study has led me to believe I’m destined to make less than my male co-workers no matter how hard I work.

Women are making less money because we are still primary caretakers at home. Trying to integrate a family into a career means working less hours, being distracted when day care or nanny is calling about your barfing baby and – when your child care is not calling – wondering why you are at work and not at the park with your quickly growing child. All of this equals less pay.

As I write this today in 2010, it seems so ridiculous: My husband – by virtue of his gender and societal norms – has a greater potential to make more money in his career than I do. We have a better chance of owning a house one day, giving Harrison the opportunity to take music lessons and play on a soccer team, and taking a yearly family vacation with my husband keeping his feet planted in the corporate world.

Our decision ended up not being a choice at all. We fell squarely into the gender stereotypes that the report’s statistics re-inforce: a man’s work is monetarily worth more than a woman’s.