I am months delayed in the first recipient of today’s highly sought after Wired Momma Working Mom Hero Awards series but better late than never, right? First, some context. Earlier this summer, pretty much all of us read and talked about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in the Atlantic Monthly on “Having It All.” Some agreed, some disagreed, some of us were pleased she used her platform to raise the importance of the struggle we all face to manage work and family life – even if we found Slaughter herself self-righteous and annoying (cough, cough).
Whatever the case may be, I struggled to put my finger on exactly what bothered me about Slaughter’s essay, no matter that there were parts of it I enjoyed and agreed with. Something was still gnawing at me. Until I read a piece in the New York Times way back in June honoring Nora Ephron. You guessed it – she is today’s first award recipient, posthumously of course, of the Wired Momma Working Mom Hero Awards. The reasons to honor Ms. Ephron are, of course, endless. Do you have all day?
I mean – the scene with Meg Ryan mimicking an orgasm during “When Harry Met Sally” and Ms Ephron placing her own mother-in-law in that scene to be the woman asking to order whatever Meg’s having – isn’t that right there reason enough to love her and honor her?
But it’s her wit, wisdom and common sense that appeals most to moi. In Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times piece I mentioned above, Stanley mentions Slaughter’s piece and references a commencement speech Ephron gave to Wellesley graduates in 1996 where she said the following: “Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.”
Right there. She says it all. She is exactly right and in those few sentences, she also addresses the very thing about Slaughter’s piece I couldn’t put my finger on – quick taking yourself so god damn seriously. It’s annoying. And self-righteous. And unrealistic. That is exactly what bugged me this entire time.
Instead, Ephron nails it with her common sense advice to embrace the mess, embrace the complications, to be realistic about life and her own self-deprecating humor in noting she’s had four careers and three husbands. For anyone following along, one of the qualities I admire most in WM Working Mom Hero Award recipients is they tend to discuss their mistakes, their failures and move on. I admire this in a person because, again, it is real. It isn’t about perfection at all, quite the opposite, it’s about realistic approaches to life.
Following Ephron in today’s Awards ceremony (isn’t it a fancy ceremony) would be intimidating for pretty much anyone – except probably today’s other winner – and this particular woman is long over due for the award. Like Ephron, she is also, personally, one of my favorite and most beloved public figure moms; successful professional and overall star – she is none other than Michelle Obama. Now, you might not agree with her or her husband politically, but I challenge you to not find some thing useful in some of her recent parenting rules. I also challenge you to not absolutely adore many of her great outfits and her steadfast effort to fight childhood obesity and promote healthy, active living. But that aside, let’s focus today on specifically what she’s done to earn today’s award. It’s really what she said and frankly, I believe she meant it.
First – partly what inspired my reaction to her words was something I witnessed on Friday morning. I left the gym around 7:02AM and on the corner by the gym were four teenage girls. They were standing there waiting for the school bus. Wanna know what they were doing? Every last one of them? They were TEXTING.
It had everything in me not to knock the phones out of their hands and tell them to get over themselves and TALK TO EACH OTHER. They weren’t even standing close to each other. Each one was strategically positioned a substantial distance from the other, totally engrossed in their cell phone. Who were they texting at 7am? Some girl at a bus stop three blocks away? What the hell? Now, don’t get me wrong. Rewind the clock back to 1991 and give me a cell phone and crazy rabid dogs would have had to rip that thing out of my hand. I would have had
No matter the time of day.
That being said, I also pretty regularly got in trouble for talking in class (and passing notes to my friend Sara Teater), so I feel confident that I would have had plenty to say IRL (that’s In Real Life for anyone hoping to never learn teen acronyms. I secretly love acronyms but I hate emoticons. Teen moi would have over-used emoticons, however.) In fact, as a teen, my freshman college roommate, Keeley, deliberately avoided me in some lectures because she knew I would talk to her the entire time and she actually wanted to listen.
Back to Mrs. Obama. I absolutely couldn’t stop thinking about these obnoxious teens texting at 7am when there were live teen girls standing next to them that they could have been gossiping with. I was struck by the reality of it. I was consumed with what I needed to do to make sure my girls don’t end up like this. Sure, they can text, but I so badly want them to want to talk to a human being when there is one standing next to them. Especially one their own age. Look, I’ve been to conferences on raising good cyber citizens, sat through lectures on raising kids with technology and already plan to implement the whole “cell phones charged in mom’s bedroom every night by 8pm” regimen that so many others employ. But in case you missed this from Mrs. Obama, here’s the parenting rules recently covered by Jodi Kantor in the New York Times:
- “When the girls go on trips, they write reports on what they have seen, even if their school does not require it.”
- “Technology is for weekends. Malia may use her cellphone only then, and she and her sister cannot watch television or use a computer for anything but homework during the week.”
- “Malia and Sasha had to take up two sports: one they chose and one selected by their mother. “I want them to understand what it feels like to do something you don’t like and to improve,” the first lady has said.
- “Malia must learn to do laundry before she leaves for college.”
- “The girls have to eat their vegetables, and if they say that they are not hungry, they cannot ask for cookies or chips later. “If you’re full, you’re full,” Mrs. Obama said in an interview with Ladies’ Home Journal. “I don’t want to see you in the kitchen after that.”
Okay – something tells me she lives by those rules and doesn’t bend. This isn’t to say that I’ll be quite as strict. On some level, if I’m going to preach no technology but for weekends – should I also live by that one a little? So I’ll figure some variation on that one but I am quite intrigued by her decision to choose an activity for the girls and make them understand what it feels like to do something they don’t like and still improve. I respect that about her and think too often, our kids are overly coddled and catered too. Just the other day I let my first grader pick her two after school activities. She chose art and science. I really wanted one of her two activities to be either French or Spanish but she objected and I conceded because I felt art and science were perfectly solid choices.
Would Mrs. Obama have wavered? I know that learning a language at a young age is the ideal time to do so. And why am I letting the 6-year-old pick – she isn’t paying for it? No one ever said it was a democracy chez moi. So why did I cave and not push the foreign language as one of two activities?
Maybe next session, I pull a Mrs. Obama. Her logic is solid, in my opinion.
So, while there are myriad reasons Mrs. Obama earned the WM Working Mom Hero Award today, I’ll stick with her recent list of parenting rules. I am certain she actually does lives by them. It’s refreshing to have a first lady in office with younger kids and hear her speak so openly about how she’s raising them. Say what you will about parenting today, and by no means am I generalizing enough to say that American parents are alone guilty of this, but we coddle our kids. So many of us do. And to what end? Until my kid is texting her way through a foreign language class she never wanted to take to begin with?
Not under my watch.
Famous last words?
I hope not.
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