Leaning In, Cleaning Up

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Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In wants to see a world where women run half of all businesses and men command half of all households. That’s equality, she says. Clearly she hasn’t met my husband. I shudder to think of the disaster we’d face if we turned the household over to him. He’s the first to admit that he couldn’t do my job.

Sometimes I think my darling husband plays dumb just to get out of the mundane tasks. It’s remarkable that he can’t tell the difference between clean and dirty dishes in the dishwasher. His solution? Don’t unload those in question and just stick the newly soiled items in, then rerun the machine. Imagine this Harvard grad with a Master’s degree unable to discern washed from unwashed? He earns the big bucks for solving tricky business quandaries and yet he is stumped by the dishes.

My gender doesn’t make me more qualified for this role. My efficiency does. I have always been able to multi-task. And I’m pretty darn good at it. I work from home so that I can tackle everything that needs to be done: client calls often happen while laundry is folded; emails are sent while the sheets are dried; medical appointments are scheduled while  aforementioned dishes are sorted. And my loyal companion, Roomba, roams all the while. Meanwhile off the deck in my home “office” I gaze out towards all the things I’d rather be doing.

So, unlike Ms. Sandberg, who suggests that women are filled with self-doubt about whether they are good enough to succeed in the work place, I question why someone–namely me–who has so much potential isn’t enjoying promotions and paychecks?

The path that I have selected is far from lucrative. And needless to say my sabbatical isn’t contributing much to the household’s funds–yet. I am currently dabbling in several projects–some may pay off, others not so much. My latest labor of love is trying to entice agents with my children’s book creation. It’s a quirky story that celebrates unconventional dreams and plays with traditional gender roles. Thus far it hasn’t fetched any takers.

Doesn’t anybody realize that if we want to affect change we have to engage conversation with the youngest audience? As the leader of the household I see this—not the omnipresent chores–as my real job all day, every day. It would certainly be nice if the COOs rolling in millions would capture the attention of youth instead of aiming to teach old dogs new tricks, like doing the dishes.

Brave Boy

Motherhood gives rise to various lose/lose situations over the years, with fashion responsible for more than several of them. Surely you can name instances of blaming your mother, “You never let me me wear what I wanted” as well as “I can’t believe you sent me out of the house like that.” My own recollections include Doc Martens (the former) and a certain Dorothy Hamill bowl haircut (the latter). Other questionable trends you might recall with nostalgia span feathered bangs, leggings with scrunchy socks and acid-washed denim jackets. And at the root of each missed opportunity and every regrettable outfit was your mom.

Just for a moment, though, let go of that hostility and step into her Keds shoes. It’s harder than it looks to guide your children through a world of constant and harsh judgment. It’s even harder on those of us whose kids have unconventional predilections. As a mother of two children who are each in their own right out-of-the-box thinkers and doers, I’m ever balancing my conflicting maternal instincts– one of which urges me to protect their vulnerability and the other to nurture their individuality.  To this end, Halloween is particularly stressful.

Spooky in origin, Halloween is actually a creepy night when wallflowers will transform themselves into Slutty Snow White and mansie-pansies into suave Magic Mike. Others perhaps are dripping with gore, or feigning super power.  People let loose, celebrating not who they are but who they could be when inhibitions disappear. They explore the other-worldly on a night when all limits are off.

Or are they?

Some lines just shouldn’t be crossed, such as when Prince Harry emerged as a Nazi. That was simply dumb. Others are more innocent. Cue my son, who makes a darling Merida this Halloween season. If you haven’t seen the movie Brave, you must, if only for the animation of Merida’s wild, fiery hair. Ironically, this was my son’s big draw to the character but now he doesn’t want to wear the defining wig. Herein lies the conflict. Clearly he is a boy in a dress, but with the wig, it’s less obvious. Protected by the wig his gender may go unnoticed as he parades around his new 1,000+ person school, complete with preschool-aged kids up to high school seniors. Without the wig, all bets are off. He is a boy in a dress.

Personally I have no problem with this. I am a woman who prefers to wear pants. This too used to be criticized and jeered– and not so long ago. It now sounds so silly doesn’t it?   I wish you’d all agree that pants and dresses don’t determine our worth as individuals, but that’s a naive request. For some reason not all of us are there yet. Articles celebrating gender creativity appear from time to time, each of which resonates profoundly. The most recent of note, from The New York Times Magazine (August), poignantly highlights boys wearing dresses.

Like several articles before it, this tells the stories of children living life unconventionally and parents supporting them unconditionally. Wouldn’t you do that for your child?

My mother thought she was doing right by the bowl haircut. I can assure you that it was wrong. So very wrong. Time will tell whether my purchasing the Merida outfit will be valued or resented. For now, what I can say with absolute certainty is that there are things much more twisted on Halloween than a boy in a gorgeous turquoise dress. Funny how if we are so concerned with what a child’s disguise implies about his or her future behaviors, decisions and lifestyles, that we condone– celebrate even– the blood-lusting, weapon-wielding, terror-seeking figments of horror portrayed by the conventional boy’s costume. I’d take unique over depraved any day. We witness too much violence in the world already. What we need to see more of are the awe-inspiring characters who encourage us all (and I write this in my best Scottish Princess voice) to follow our heartsto write our own story.

So when you see him, my brave boy, this Halloween give him a cheer. And maybe even an extra piece of candy for his mom. She deserves it.