“My mother is currently associating with some undesirables who are attempting to transform her into an athlete of sorts, deprave specimens of mankind who regularly bowl their way to oblivion.”—A Confederacy of Dunces
“When I was 12, I rode my bike alone into the city, past the lumber mills, foundries, machine shops, barrel factory, and printing plants, along Washington Avenue and past a meatpacking plant where bare-chested men wrestled whole beef carcasses hung on hooks on little overhead trolleys along a rail and into the waiting trucks. I pedaled up Hennepin Avenue, past dirty-book stores, penny arcades, walk-up hotels, men slumped in doorways, to the magnificent old public library on Tenth across from White Castle, home of the ten-cent hamburger (“Buy ’em by the Sack”), and climbed up to the reading room, skipping the swimming lesson at the Y Mother had paid for so I’d learn to swim after cousin Roger drowned in Lake Minnetonka; but the Y conducted swim class in the nude and I was shy, so I went to the library instead and met the book that changed my life—transformed, enriched, diversified, turned it topsy-turvy too—Roget’s International Thesaurus, supplier of idiom, lingo, jargon, argot, blather, and phraseology that transformed me from nerd and nobody to visionary, sporting man, roughneck, bon vivant, and raconteur.”—There’s No Place Like Home: Garrison Keillor, on Minnesota
Spring is easy to love. All you have to do is mention the basics — flowers, new life — and you’re halfway to a poem. And fall’s publicist has convinced us that to dress in mudroom-chic attire and take a yellow lab apple-picking is the world’s greatest joy.
But winter, especially the days of late February and early March, is tougher. The season starts out quaint — holidays and hot cocoa — but ends as a yearly reminder that the planet doesn’t care if we die. I start tossing salt on ice like it’s my enemies’ land. By late January I curse Thomas Kinkade paintings, with their horse-drawn sleighs that never have to circle the block for parking.
Skiing saves some. Others go insane and pretend snowshoeing isn’t just walking. I feel for them. We all need something to transform our winter dread into excitement.
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”—Gone Girl
I read Lean In on my maternity leave, balancing the book on my nursing infant while my husband slept next to me recovering from his second brain surgery and his umpteenth round of chemotherapy for stage IV brain cancer.
I was riding the high of new motherhood, weathering the lows of Aaron’s cancer treatments and dog-earing more pages than not.
I’ve always been a do-er. In high school, I had a Palm Pilot. In grade school, I had a Franklin Covey planner. Since I could write legibly, I’ve kept a journal. I was on teams and in camps and going, doing, making whatever I could, whenever I could. Not because my parents pushed me in any one direction, but because I always felt the need to go.
I was fortunate enough to start and build my career under smart, capable women who were at the top of the food chain. I worked at several PR agencies in New York City that were owned and staffed by the kind of sharp, successful women you’re imagining them to be. I never thought much about a gender gap or my role as a female in the workplace because I never had to. And I’m lucky as hell for that. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Google it. It exists and my 13 month son probably already makes more money than me.
Now, the only thing cooler than liking Sheryl Sandberg is hating Sheryl Sandberg. “Lean OUT!” The detractors scream. “LADIES! You just can’t do it all!” We’re quick to characterize every working woman as some harried hybrid of a Cathy cartoon and a frazzled Diane Keaton in Baby Boom. The ad industry is begging us to just take some me time and relax with a delicious bowl of decadent, calorie free brownie goop that’s the escape we crave from a world that demands we run for a closing elevator door with a broken heel and an unraveling french twist, only to realize the meeting we’re late for is tomorrow! Women!
The point of Lean In isn’t that women have to do it all or be it all, but that we can do the things that are important to us, and to expect our partners to help us get there.
What’s so wrong with that? With wanting and deserving a marriage that’s a true partnership? I poked Aaron constantly as I read LeanIn because I felt so lucky to have the partnership she was describing: a guy who will split the household and parenting duties 60/40 so I can serve on the board of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association, run a few half marathons, work on some sewing projects, finish my book, stay late at work or spend time having brunch with some girlfriends. Oh, and do that while undergoing what’s now been 2 years of chemo.
Maybe that’s not important to you. And maybe you’re not running on all cylinders all the time. Maybe your idea of success is a part-time job that lets you be a full-time mom. Maybe it’s just full-time motherhood. And maybe it’s full-on world domination.
You know what I say to that? Good! Good for you! We spend a lot of time as women (and men who loooooove having opinions about women!) trying to validate our own choices by hating on someone else’s. Life is hard enough without that added layer of crap. So is being a mother. A wife. A woman in general.
I work because I have to, but I also happen to love my work. Loving my job makes me happy when I get home to my son. Loving my son makes me happy to go into work. I’m supporting our lives, I’m buying him diapers, and I’m hopefully modeling the behaviors he’ll seek out when he grows up and chooses a partner.
I work and I parent and I spouse (not a verb but roll with me here) and sometimes the lines blur a little bit. I reply to an urgent email after dinnertime. I work from my husband’s hospital room while he gets chemo. I negotiate medical bills between meetings at the office. And that’s life, it’s a little blurry and a little messy at times, but realizing when I get to daycare that I’ve left my son’s bottles on the counter at home again doesn’t mean that I’m a failure of a mother who has her priorities out of whack. And leaving for the office later than usual so I can drive my husband to work doesn’t make me a less dedicated employee.
Lean In isn’t about doing it all or having it all but I’ve found that I got there anyway.
I don’t do everything. I do everything that I want to do, and much less of the things I don’t want to. Yes, I still have to do my taxes and shovel my sidewalk (I actually love doing that, don’t hate me). I don’t invest time in people or activities that aren’t adding to my life, and that leaves a lot more time and energy to pour into the things that matter to me.
If you’re going to rag on Sheryl Sandberg for pressuring women to lean into their careers, rag on Pinterest for pressuring women into thinking that their daily lives need to be editorially perfect, that their baby’s first birthday will be a failure without a “smash cake”, that their husbands give a fuck about what they plan to put chalkboard paint on.
I went back to work after maternity leave feeling just a little bit braver and a little more confident. Part of that is because I pushed another human being out of my body so COME AT ME, WORLD. But part of that is because what I got from Sheryl Sandberg wasn’t some harebrained notion that I’m expected to do it all, but the validation that I can be brave enough to go after the life I want. And so can you, whatever that life looks like.
my very favorite think piece on LEANING IN, from one of my very favorite humans.