Saturday, July 28, 2012

In defense of the running skirt

The ladies on one of my favorite podcasts, this week, quizzically mused about the running skirt/skort.  They seemed, at a minimum, bemused by the prospect of running in a skirt:

"When did skirts become work out gear?"

"I don't know, and it doesn't seem comfortable."

"Is it somehow an offshoot of tennis?"

"What's the point?"

"I ran a road race recently, and every time a woman passed me in a skirt I was like, 'Fuck, I can't let that girl pass me.  She's wearing a skirt!  That's not okay!' "

Oh, ye, of little chub-rub . . . .

So, here, my dear weekly Double X Gabfest friends, let me elucidate "the point" of running skirts.  Here's the one that I wear running, five to seven days a week:

This is the Brooks PR Mesh Skort II.  It is available in black, gray, pink and light blue.  I have it in all four colors.  It features little stretchy-pant shorts underneath.  There is a little pocket on the side of the right short leg and a little zipper pocket at the small of the back.  It is, in fact, incredibly comfortable to run in -- far more comfortable than your normal running shorts.

And why is that?

Well, for many of us who are not so blessed that we can stand with our feet together and see daylight between our thighs, regular running shorts bunch up in the crotch.  This phenomenon of running gear is the opposite of comfortable.  Your thighs end up rubbing together, and they get chafed.  You spend time you should be just running tugging your running shorts out of your crotch.  It's not fun to run this way.  It's not easy to run this way.  It's a little embarrassing to be constantly pulling at your crotch as you skip down the road.  Digging your shorts out of your crotch does nothing for your minute/mile time.  It is way more comfortable to run in this skirt because the little stretchy-pant under-shorts do none of this annoying crotch-bunching.  They stay in place half-way down your thigh throughout your run.  I have run farther and faster this summer because I've been running in this skirt.  (And I have lost more weight on account of it -- some running bodies are not yet perfect, but are actually chasing perfection.)

So why not just wear the little stretchy-pant shorts without the skirt apparatus over it?

Oh, slim-thighed friend, if you've got chub-rub enough to make crotch-bunching a problem, then you've also likely got a couple of little saddlebags hanging around your posterior too.  Nobody wants to show off those jiggly bits while they're running.  (And I'm going to guess that nobody wants to see those jiggly bits bouncing past them either.)  So the skirt gives you a little modesty when wearing your stretchy-pant shorts.

Plus, yes, they're pretty darned cute, especially when worn with a long-sleeved (yes, even in the summer, even in Texas -- it saves your skin) running shirt like this:

Running shoes like these:

And a running hat like this:

So lay off the running skirt, ladies!  I've lost 12 pounds and two jeans sizes while running in this skirt.  Sure, maybe I look like a middle aged mom as I run down the street in my skort, but, well, that's what I am.  But there is no denying that I am a happier runner because of this skirt.  See you at the 5K!  Catch me if you can!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012



Several months ago The Boy got sick.  The Boy got off of his sleep schedule, and we were never able to get him back to the old schedule.  The Boy, for several months, has been waking several times during the night.  Lately, he will be awake for, literally, hours in the dead of night wanting to play.

It's difficult not to love the fact that he wants to hang out with us.

Still.  We are exhausted.  My exhaustion culminated on Monday, July 23rd when I couldn't get a particular computer do-dad to work at the office and I burst in to uncontrollable sobs.  I'd only had about an hour and a half of sleep, after all. And it was not the first night of too-little sleep for me, The Working Dad, or The Boy.  I ended up going home for the day and sleeping, using way too many hours of my ever-dwindling leave balance . . . needlessly, really.

When we first got The Boy on a sleep schedule, we didn't have many tears.  I would simply put him in his bed and every time he stood up, I'd lay him back down until, eventually, he fell asleep.  Then I left the room.  Admittedly, this took a big chunk of the evening, but it would work eventually and we were proud that he was "sleeping through the night" around age seven to eight months.

But that was back when a night waking might go on for 30 minutes to an hour with a kid who was still learning to crawl.  Hours-long night wakings with an out of control toddler have literally been wearing The Working Dad and me out . . . weakening us to the point that we actually were getting sick.  It was affecting our ability to function at work and, indeed, The Working Dad and I were arguing in very irrational ways that I can only attribute to exhaustion.

Besides, the method we used before no longer worked with The Boy, now a toddler.  If you put him in his bed, he would scream, not merely stand up and look at you, but scream.  So in the last several weeks, we have employed a variety of ever-more elaborate techniques to get The Boy to sleep and those techniques had developed some bad sleep habits and associations for The Boy.  Those inappropriate associations needed to be corrected in order for him to be able to have a restful night's sleep.  He had become dependent upon, inter alia, The Working Dad dancing him to sleep to do-wop music, for instance.  This was untenable in the long run.  We needed a new way.

I had heard about the Ferber method, but had rejected it because I thought allowing a child to cry was cruel.  Plus, it hurts me to let him cry like that.  But desperation and not having any other answers led me to reconsider.  Also, at our last pediatrician appointment at 15 months, The Boy's doctor said that we might need to employ a little "tough love" to get him back into the habit of regular sleep.

So.  I bought Dr. Richard Ferber's book for Kindle.  We implemented the strategies set forth in Chapter 4.

It has been like magic.

The first night, The Boy cried for a little over an hour.  Here's how the schedule went down:

7:30 p.m. -- Bathtime.
8:00 p.m. -- Read books in The Boy's bedroom floor while listening to music.  This part was just lovely and so much fun.  The Boy, who is usually so rambunctious that getting him to sit still to read had been a real challenge, was very happy to sit in my lap and allow me to read several books to him.  (We listened to Rock-a-bye Baby, Beatles, by the way, which was a shower gift from a high school friend and college sorority sister.  Thanks, again, sweet friend who knows who she is!)
8:28 p.m. -- Music off, night light on.  Cuddles.
8:30 p.m. -- Bedtime.  Hugs. Kisses.  "I love you.  Night-night."
8:30:30 p.m. -- The Boy commences screaming.

I and/or The Working Dad went back to check on him, hug him, reassure him (but never lifting him out of the bed, per Dr. Ferber's instructions) that we were there at three minutes, five minutes, seven minutes, ten minutes, ten minutes, ten minutes, ten minutes and then . . . at 9:39 p.m., The Boy instantly fell silent.  Standing at his door, you could hear the deep breathing of sleep.  At about 10 p.m., I crept into his room to see him cuddling his lovey, sound asleep with his tushy in the air.  It was amazing.

He awoke at 12:30 a.m.  I checked on him at three minutes and five minutes, but he fell silent before the next seven minutes had passed.  At 12:50 a.m., I again went in to check on him:  sound asleep with his lovey, tushy in the air.

He awoke again at 2:30 a.m., but was silent again before we even made it to the three minute mark for the first check.  Around 4 o'clock a.m., it was the same story.

The Working Dad woke him at 7 a.m., his normal waking time, and he wanted to go on sleeping, even though he had had between 9 and 10 hours sleep that night.  This is a child who in recent days and weeks had been averaging 6ish hours of sleep a night.  (Kids his age need between 12 and 15 hours sleep a day. He was no where near getting that much.)

We are now on Day 2.  The evening ritual went down the same way as above, but this time, we waited five minutes before the first check.  The second check was supposed to be seven minutes later, but he did not cry again after the first check.  In fact, when I checked on him at the five minute mark, he was rubbing his eyes and he voluntarily laid down on his back to sleep.  He did not cry again.  I just crept into his room to check on him, and he is sound asleep.

I know that this method is controversial, and people think it is cruel to allow a child to cry.  Hey, I thought it was cruel too.  But The Boy is, we are told, among the easiest kids to put down for a nap at School.  If this is the case, then he already has the skills to go to sleep on his own.  It was The Working Dad and me, with our well-intentioned but apparently ill-advised interventions, that prevented that from happening.

(I will say this, though, I think that it is important to read the book, or at least heavily skim it, in order to understand what the sleep issues are and to determine whether your problem is merely bad habit, or something more serious.  It's also important that you understand the method so that you can implement it properly.  You might even want to throw in a call to your pediatrician if you're not sure whether it is a problem of habit or a health issue.)

Now, perhaps, it will all fall apart on Day 3, but so far, it seems to be working for us and we seem to be on our way to having a happy well-rested family again.  I will report back in about a week with our one-week results.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why Women Still Can't Have It All

Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a piece for The Atlantic Monthly entitled Why Women Still Can't Have It All.  I had thought to write a true, point-by-point response to it, but to be honest, it took me days (okay, weeks) to finish the six page article, and I just don't have time to read it again, and even a third or fourth time, in order to give it a considered and true point-by-point response.  I am, after all, a working mom whose job is not writing responses to other writers' essays.  (I do this sort of thing in my spare time for fun.)  But the article got me thinking about a couple of things and I thought I might as well type a few lines about those thoughts.

The article has gotten all kinds of backlash from all kinds of feminists.  Among other things, Slaughter suggested that women and men react differently to their children, which is at least part of the reason why talented, well-trained, otherwise ambitious women choose "softer" or "easier" career paths than do their male counterparts.  Ms. Slaughter  suggests that the difference in the way men and women react to their kids, is both biological and sociologically programmed.  In other words, girls are too different than boys.

This is, classically, antifeminist.  But I also think that it is at least a little true.  By way of example, I always feel guilty when I take a little time for myself and leave The Boy at daycare.  The Working Dad never feels that same guilt.  He told me that he feels that those little breaks make him better when he's with The Boy.  And he's absolutely right about that.  But I still feel a twinge of guilt every time I do it.  Some feminists don't like the admission that women and men are in any way different because it might lead us down the Larry Summers path that ladies' brains just aren't wired for math and science (I paraphrase).  And that's a fair point.  But Slaughter also has a fair point that we need to recognize that there are differences in the way the sexes react to situations.  The recognition, to me, is not a sign of capitulation or an acceptance that one way of reacting is better than another, but just that they are different.  In recognizing differences, we can begin to attempt to create a workplace that is friendly and helpful to both men and women.

And that's a point I want to stress:  we should strive for a workplace in which men and women can have "it all."

But first, what the heck is "it all?"  How are we defining that?  Because if we're defining "it all" as being the partner at a law firm who shows up to work the day after Christmas to get the call from a new client or the Night Creature who sends e-mails to associates at 2 a.m. when all good, sane people are sleeping (not that I'm thinking of any particular gentlemen I've known in my life, she said sarcastically), well, thank you very much, I don't want "it all."

And, in doing those sorts of things, these men did not have it all.  They had powerful careers that made them a lot of money and took them away from their families.  They left the care of their children to their wives while they pursued careers to the exclusion of nearly everything else.  One of these gentlemen once related that his kids said that they were going to put on his tombstone "He lived.  He worked.  He died."  They were joking, I think, but to even pose that sort of joke seems very, very sad.

"It all" is not having ultimate career success at the expense of one's family life and health.  "It all" is having success in both.  And we can all have that, men and women.

But it requires a recognition on the part of employers and society that both parents need support in being parents and employees.  Slaughter says, "Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family."  That's true for all of us.  Slaughter is right that there should not be "face time" macho.  Slaughter talks about flexible schedules and the ability to work from home as ways by which one might balance work and family.  But it's really not that easy.  How does a doctor, for instance, or a police officer, work from home?  Still, a recognition in these professions in which flexible schedules and telecommuting are not viable options that parents will be called away to the very important task of raising the next generation of citizens would help.

And even employers who offer the benefit of flexible scheduling -- in those sorts of jobs that can accomodate flexible scheduling -- often have restrictions on their use.  My organization offers "telework," which allows an employee to work from home up to two days of every two-week pay period.  I take advantage of the telework plan.  My telework day is every Wednesday.  Having a set day to telework does not offer the sort of flexibility that being able to work from home as life demands would offer.  But it's a start.

This sort of recognition of the reality of family responsibilities is needed for the family, for moms and dads.  I think that The Working Dad and I are lucky that we work where we work and have bosses who largely understand that we both will be toting the load when it comes to The Boy.  The Working Dad stays home with The Boy just as much as, if not more than (given that I barely have any leave after my pregnancy and maternity leave), I do.  I've written before about The Working Dad's contributions to our home.  It is not a question of me, the fabulous lady lawyer, getting ahead in This Our Man's World, but of our family forging ahead in a fashion that allows The Working Dad and I to have professional successes and personal rewards.  This is what our society and our workplaces need to come to grips with.

Feminism did not bring about the day of the dominant woman.  It has brought us companionate, co-equal marriages.  It has brought us to a place where men and women share the responsibility for rearing children and earning a living.  It has brought us equality.  Or at least, it approaches that equality . . . .  (I should note that I am aware that not all women are married and so this co-equal marriage thing does not apply to, let alone work to the advantage of, a single woman.  But I'm writing about my particular circumstances, which are that of a wife and mother.  I do not discount that society needs also to address the needs of single parents too. I'm just not "screeding" about that today.)

And I think that our feminist foremothers need to recognize that if we have equality in the home and in the office, that means that both the mom and the dad are going to have obligations and responsibilities in both arenas.  And those responsibilities are probably not going to allow either of them to be the Night Creature shooting out e-mails to harried associates in the dead of night.  We, both sexes, will have to compromise and sacrifice a little to gain the greater good of a satisfying work/life balance for both partners.

To me, that's having "it all."  Because if I had ultimate power and success in my career at the expense of my spouse's career, that would not be a mutually satisfying arrangement.  Likewise, if he had a triumphant career while mine foundered, well, that would not be nice either.

Now, to my last thought, which really does not fit with the foregoing discussion of "it all."

Slaughter observed that the older generation of feminists -- those to whom I owe quite a lot -- feel disappointed in women like me who check out of the high power/high stress jobs favoring ones that offer more flexibility and work/life balance.  My experience with this attitude is mixed, but Slaughter is not wrong that that attitude exists.

An anecdote from real life:  After a two-year federal clerkship, I went to work for a large law firm for which I still have great affection.  I have friends and valued and respected colleagues who still work there.  I worked there for between three and four years.  I tended to work 10 to 12 hour days.  I was single had very little time or energy for a social life.  We were extremely busy at work.  I was gaining weight at an alarming rate because I did nothing else but work.  I was extremely unhappy and burning out incredibly fast.  Maybe this was my mistake because I didn't set good professional boundaries, but I was a young lawyer in my early 30s and I believed in that whole face time thing.

The bottom line was that I needed a different life:  one in which I could do good legal work that I was proud of and still have time for regular exercise, hobbies, and even, dare I hope, romance.  I got my resume together and eventually found a position as a government lawyer.  I tendered my resignation.  I was 33 years old.

On my last day at the office, as I was leaving the floor for the final time, one of the female partners -- a woman 15 to 20 years my senior, who had spent most of her career as a single woman -- called after me, "Give us a call when you get married!"

I had no prospect for marriage.  I wasn't even dating casually.

Now, perhaps she was being sincere, but to my ears it sounded taunting and derisive.  It sounded like code for what she perceived to be my lack of ambition, as demonstrated by my checking out of that particular career path.  And I didn't even have the excuse of "but I have a baby at home."  I did this for me, for my health and for my sanity.

And anyway, why must our ambition be focused only on career success?  Can't we have an ambition to have a family someday?  Isn't that also valid?  And if it's not, how can you argue that women can have "it all"?  Isn't having "it all" premised on the idea that you can have a successful career and a satisfying home life?  And if it's not, then we've been lied to by the older generation.  I sincerely hope that is not true.

Leaving law firm life was the best decision I ever made.  I am happier and healthier as a result of the move and, in fact, I met my husband at the very job I left the firm for.

It is not failure to recognize that you want more in your life than 12 hour work days, whether or not you are a mom or a wife.  It is not failure to want to define yourself, not just by the terms of your education and training, but by your avocational interests, family life and friendships.  And, in fact, it is not failure or lack of ambition to desire to get married and have a family, nor is it failure to recognize that your current situation is a suboptimal path to attaining that goal.

I am ever grateful to our feminist foremothers for opening the doors and giving us choices.  When we, however, choose not to walk through any particular door, it should not be seen as failing to succeed or an abdication of power so hard won by the generations before us.  It should be seen as the exercise of a bona fide choice . . . a choice that really did not exist 40 years ago.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How to Put Your Wife Out of Business

Perhaps I missed this op-ed by Michael Lewis back in March of 2005 because I was, in fact, not at wife at the time.  But I heard it discussed recently on a podcast I listen to, so I decided to look it up.

You know Michael Lewis:  author of Moneyball, author of The Big Short, former bond trader, husband of Tabitha Soren.

Oh yes, that Tabitha Soren, the cuter, feminine Kurt Loder.

So that's what happened to her after MTV News:  her husband put her out of business.

But what does that even mean?  And is this the destiny of all working women?  And the secret goal of all of their husbands?

It's all tongue-in-cheek -- or at least I hope it is -- but Lewis offers three basic guiding principals to put your wife out of business:  (1) never mention money because she knows the value of it, having earned it herself, and she suspects that you may use your money-making as a weapon against her; (2) cushion her fall because she will suffer psychologically from stepping out of the spotlight of a dazzling career; and (3) lie a lot, mainly about the fact that their unemployment is temporary.  "The longer you have her believing [that she can go back to work whenever she wants and that demand for her skills is higher than it ever was], the less true it becomes."  It's a short essay and worth your time to read it.

Here's what it really says to me, though:  It's really hard to choose to be a stay-at-home-mom after being a very powerful professional . . . or even a semi-powerful professional.  And, indeed, women may suffer psychologically from the shift from, say, a seat before the Court to a seat before a highchair.  The loss of financial power can also be acute and, indeed, can be weilded as a weapon by some men against their formerly-working wives.  And, certainly, there is a belief among lots of SAHMs that they'll go back to work when the kids are older.  And I believe that some of these women harbor a secret (and probably well-founded) fear that their skills and professional usefulness are deteriorating while they are out of the workforce.

Love for your children is a powerful thing, but it is not the only thing.  I do worry about the women who want to step out of careers "temporarily."  I wonder how temporary it will really be.  For me, it has never been a question, because I never assumed I would leave work.  And that's partly because I like to work and partly because I feel like my skill set would diminish if I left the profession for a time.  There are lots of article about women having trouble re-starting their careers.  And if those article are worrisome to me, they must be terrifying for the "temporary" SAHM.

I also wonder about the concept that Lewis puts forward of the new sort of trophy wife.  Used to, the trophy wife meant smoking hot (by a certain metric), big boobed, empty vessels.  Lewis suggests that the new trophy wife has a Harvard MBA and that it is an accomplishment to acquire her brain and then ensure that that brain is not gainfully employed.  I wonder if some men really think that way.  Maybe men want to marry the Harvard MBA because she's more interesting to talk to than the empty vessel.  But it's still hard for me to understand why the Harvard MBA would want to quit work.  Why get the Harvard MBA if your career is going to be SAHM?

Anyway, as I said, the essay is very much tongue-in-cheek . . . but it tweaks, it disturbs, it rankles.  Just as, I'm sure, he meant it to.

And, P.S., Michael Lewis didn't put Tabitha Soren out of business.  She just changed the sort of business she was in.  Take a look her photography.