Thursday, March 02, 2006

Working out

"Since the mid-1990's, the growth in the percentage of adult women working outside the home has stalled, even slipping somewhat in the last five years and leaving it at a rate well below that of men." So says an article in today's New York Times, which attempts to get at the reasons behind the downward trend.

"Most of us thought we would work and have kids, at least that was what we were brought up thinking we would do — no problem," one woman is quoted as saying, "But really we were kind of duped. None of us realized how hard it is." It seems that contrary to popular belief, the broad movement of women into the paid labor force did not come without a cost to the women, themselves...a cost measured in sleep, hobbies, socializing and relaxation. For example, it was reported that employed mothers, on average, worked at home and on the job a total of 15 hours more a week and slept 3.6 fewer hours than those who were not employed.

It's just not fair.

There was a time, when I was still a young mom with one young baby, that I had boundless energy for working full-time as a lawyer at an insurance company (which is not the same, by an means, as working full-time as a lawyer in a law's more of an 8:00 to 6:00 job than a 9:00 to 10:00 plus job) and coming home, changing into overalls (I am not kidding about the overalls) and a pair of sneakers and racing over to Carl Schurz Park with Brian to play in the sandbox and on the baby swings until the sun had gone completely out of sight. Then it was a quick walk home for a bit of dinner, a bath and beddybye, which often included a half an hour of my serenading Brian with endless verses of Willabee Wallabee Woo (an elephant sat on you). Sometime around 10:00 p.m., Brian fell asleep, and I often went into the kitchen to do something useful, like bake oatmeal teething cookies or pump some breast milk. It was a long day, to be sure. But I was driven to have it all and to do it all.

And I pulled it off pretty well, although New York Life didn't like it so well when I announced my second pregnancy. My due date didn't fit all that well into my boss's calendar, so he shipped me off to another working group that had a calendar that was "tailor made" to my due date, meaning that the busy time would coincide with my third trimester and be over by the time I was going to be out on leave. Needless to say, that didn't work out too well, and we nearly came to legal blows.

Luckily, though, the economy was super-flush at the time, particularly the technology sector, of which I was member in good standing, seeing as I had been helping companies make technology deals for roughly 10 years by the time I gave birth to Adam. So, it was easy to get scooped up by a very nice law firm, Squadron Ellenoff, to work part-time (four days, til no later than 6) in their technology transactional group. And I still had the energy to make it work, even with two babies under the age of three. Admittedly, there were no after-work strolls to the park anymore, but I was present for my kids. I could often be seen carrying one on each hip. I was a proud working mom.

And then sometime at the end of 2001, things started to wind down in the technology-deal arena. Work got slow. I got bored. Glassy-eyed, momentum-less, a-motivationally bored. I also happened to be growing a breast tumor (three, to be exact), so I guess I wasn't feeling all that well physically, either. My job wasn't in any kind of danger, I was told, but there was a great deal of anxiety in the office. There was talk of an acquisition. Our acquisition. We were going to be acquired by a huge law firm, and apparently we wanted to be. We NEEDED to be, if we were going to stay in business. And it came to pass that Hogan & Hartson acquired us, and things started to change. There was an employment contract, first of all. And it handed me more money than I even wanted. But it asked that I work more. It. Asked that I work more. No human being ever spoke to me. It was just a piece of paper, and there wasn't even any billable work for me to do to make that "work more" happen. And yet it changed everything.

The salad days were over. I signed my contract and went about my business, scrounging up work where I could but spending most of my days sitting around, and then coming home as exhausted as if I truly had doubled my workload.

I think that being diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2002 probably saved me from being made redundant, i.e., laid off, i.e., sacked. It's not that my immediate boss no longer liked me or my work. It's just that there wasn't anymore work to do. Andit was like I was fourth class on the Titanic. There were a LOT of people to save before it was my turn to get on the lifeboat - people who worked full-time, people who had families to support. Fair or not fair, I know for a fact that it matters. At least in some places.

So, a life-threatening illness became my lifeboat. And I could never really bring myself to put myself back into that fray, since as we all know, and as we all know even better from reading REW, part-time is pretty hard to swing in a law firm. In these days, it may be damn near impossible. If not completely impossible.

Teaching yoga has given me something to do to fill the mind and some of the hours. But in truth, it's been a bit disillusioning. For a non-competitive activity, getting the work is highly competitive. For a non-externally-driven practice, it involves a huge amount of external performance. And ultimately, it's a business. Shalas and studios and teachers alike, they all have to stay in business. The classes that I want to teach (daytime) don't attract the students that evening classes attract (I used to teach many evening classes, but it was sucking me dry of energy), and it can be quite enervating to teach a class with only two students in it. I didn't go into teaching yoga so that I could stress out over getting business and keeping business and making sure that my own practice meets some external standard.

And so I have cut back. And cut back. And I make no judgements about those who choose to "have it all". God bless them. I wish I could do it. I just don't have that kind of steam anymore. Maybe someday. I hope someday. As a wise former-psychologist wrote in a comment on my last post, the ideas must be churning there inside my subconscious. One day they will surface and things will fall into place. For now, I need to get on board with myself.

All aboard.


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Copyright 2005-2007 Lauren Cahn, all rights reserved. Photos appearing on this blog may be subject to third party copyright ownership. You are free to link to this blog and portions hereof, but the use of any direct content requires the prior written consent of the author.

About Me

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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