Lean In, Lean Out, or Fall Over?

One of the most awesome things about being a white male is that I can write about minority issues or women’s issues with complete confidence, because I’m a white male and therefore automatically knowledgeable about such things. I’ve been told this is the very definition of entitlement, which is what I’ve been saying all along… I am entitled to write about the issues and experiences of other people in a knowing if slightly condescending way.

So… chick stuff.

In case you live under a rock, Lean In is the best-selling book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who is the kind of woman that other women line up to hate on.

It’s easy to see why.

If Sheryl underwent gender re-assignment surgery and became Shane Sandberg, he would be an alpha male. Ambitious, driven, professionally successful, great home life… men would be lining up to learn how he did it. Except he is a she, and when you say “she is ambitious and driven” it sounds like you’re describing Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct.

basic_instinct
Maybe not with the psychotic murderer thing, but you never know.

The point from Lean In as I understand it is that right when women should be reaching the prime of their career, they chose to step back. The reasons for this are varied but tend to center around expectations, both of themselves and what women feel others expect of them.

I have been in an interesting place these past few months because I’ve gone from being under-employed to un-employed to now insanely busy. Mrs. Nostrikethat has felt the impact as she has picked up all of the slack. Everything from 100% car pool duties to remembering to drag the trash cans out Thursday night. I have been able to lean-in precisely because I have a dedicated home team propping me up.

So how does it work in reverse?

Let me ask the question another way: if someone leans in, doesn’t someone else have to lean out?

I remember one incident from my recent past. I was with the client trying desperately to finish up a major project by the deadline. At the same time, I had made a commitment to Mrs. Nostrikethat to be home by 5:30 at the absolute latest so she could make it to her class. As the day dragged on, it became increasingly apparent that we weren’t going to get done in time to allow me to make it home. I was confronted with a choice: do I tell a new client while I am still in “trial mode” that “I’m sorry, I know we’re almost done, but I have to stop working right now and go home?” or do I bounce a check to the Bank of Wife and hope for the best?

I opted for the latter.

It wasn’t pretty.

I was late, she was late, everyone was grumpy. But the key point in this story is that I had the luxury to make that choice precisely because my partner leaned out and was already home with the kids. If I was a single parent I wouldn’t have that choice– daycares aren’t very forgiving when it comes to leaving your kids there all night. By necessity, I would have to lean out and “mommytrack” myself- take a less demanding, less visible job that had stable hours and less variability to the work.

Now let’s say that at some point in the future Mrs. Nostrikethat decides to relaunch her career. There is still roughly the same amount of work to be done. Milk must be bought, kids must be picked up from school when they’re sick, laundry must be laundered. She can’t lean out when she’s just starting to lean in again, so I have to be the one to pick up the to-do list for the family unit. No amount of time management skills will help in dealing with the variability that is children.

Until we as a culture collectively decide that long hours are not the currency of professional success nothing is really going to change for women, because the men in their lives won’t have the option to pick up the slack.

What do you think?

Cheating at life

One of the hardest things for me about being a parent is dealing with the idea that there are just certain things I can’t (and even shouldn’t) do for my kids. I didn’t realize just how strong the urge would be to jump in the middle of something they were doing and “help.”

I want to help them cheat at life.

Even by my standards this is a horrible idea. I still wonder, though, if I could give my kids the real benefit of my experiences, what would I give them?

Failures

When you’re a kid, life is really just a series of screw-ups waiting to happen. Sometimes I forget this, which leads me to ask the largely rhetorical question: “What were you thinking?”

I have failed atrociously over the course of my life; fortunately, the biggest Fails have happened well before the era of Social Media so they exist undocumented, save in the mythology of my old friends.

Note to old friends who may be reading this: I will be moderating the heck out of these comments. “Undocumented” is the key word here.

I wish I could rip some of these mistakes right out of my head, blow on them a  bit to dust them off, and then shove them Nintendo-style into right into their little brains.

 

For the cheat codes you still have to buy the strategy guide, though
you still have to buy the strategy guide if you want to get 100% complete

 

No, don’t ask that person out! Look what will happen! [thunk]

Beer OR Jagermeister, not Beer AND Jagermeister! Look what will happen! [thunk]

Watch out for that tree! [thunk]

 

Confidence

How is a kid supposed to know when they’re good at something or not, when they haven’t sucked at enough things to be able to know what being good at something feels like?

On the other hand, I have sucked at a looooot of things. Here’s a short selection:

  • I had an ill-considered foray into stand-up comedy my senior year of high school that resulted in the football team chasing me off the stage
  • I got fired from my job in gas station when I was 17. Fired. From a gas station.
  • All of 1997.

 

The first concert I ever went to see. Life lesson: a lot of your “firsts” are cringe-worthy 20 years later

 

I wish I could give my kids the feeling that no matter what, everything will probably be all right in the end, even if it takes a while to get there.

Resilience

Sometimes things aren’t all right in the end, though. Like a tree that’s been pruned by a 1976 Volvo, sometimes life comes along and takes a big chunk out of you and It. Never. Grows. Back.

Death of a loved one. Stricken by disease or injury. The world is full of stories of people who inspire us by not just surviving but thriving in the face of something life-altering. Even if you’re in really bad shape, you can get better.

 

Sometimes, though, you end up with a cool dinosaur shape
You might even end up with a cool dinosaur shape

 

Self-acceptance

I used to believe that if I ever ran away to a Tibetan monastery and devoted my entire life to mastering the martial arts and learning Ancient Secrets that I could one day become Batman. The fact that I wasn’t yet Batman was a matter of personal choice–I just didn’t exercise the option.

One day I groggily sat up, scratches myself inappropriately, coughed, and threw my back out. At that precise moment I realized that, like a cosmic odometer rolling over an infinitesimal probability, my chances of becoming Batman went from practically zero to exactly zero.

I am still coming to terms with the door closing on my once-promising career in the Justice League. I haven’t given up on the gadgets or the batmobile yet. On the plus side, I have realized there are an entire set of things that are not me, and I am totally fine with this.

My standards of dress have also loosened considerably

Appreciation

One of the things I never realized was just how good I had it, whenever it was being had. Consider:

When you’re a baby people feed you, ooh and ah over you, you can sleep as much as you want, and toes are a delicious and entertaining treat. It probably doesn’t get any better than this, but you’re a stupid baby and in a rush to be a “big kid” so you can do it all by yourself. STUPID BABY! GO BACK TO BEING A BABY!

When you’re a big kid your job is to play and learn. Sometimes things are hard–like the pavement, which you are always running into. If you make a mess of things, though, no one will really remember except your sister, because remembering all of your mistakes is what sisters are for. You still get fed with alarming regularity and you never want to sleep. Toes are not as delicious as pizza. You can’t reach the high stuff in the cabinets without climbing on the counter. If only you were a little bigger, a little taller, a little faster.

When you’re a teenager you don’t “play” any more (unless it’s video games or sports), but you do a lot of “hanging out”, which looks a lot like playing but is less lame.  Your parents claim they feed you, but you suspect they are lying liars because you are always hungry. You can finally reach the top shelf without having to climb on the counter, yay! You can also be tried as an adult just for having a girlfriend with high-strung parents, boo. Mostly, you just can’t wait to go to college.

In college you do less drudgery than you ever did your entire academic career and you’re entirely unsupervised. You are legally an adult but still mentally a child, with all of the rights and privileges that go along with making horrible life choices that entails. You are also broke and can’t wait until you get out of school and get a Real Job.

You finally land your first Real Job, only to discover that now you have Real Bills. You wake up dreaming of sucking on toes and book an appointment with your therapist because that can’t be normal…

Nothing says "I love you" like the gift of Social Isolation!
I should tweet that #weirdtoedream

Up Up Down Down…

I was swapping kid stories with a friend the other day and she was sharing an elaborate hoax she pulled off on their kids to get them to think they had school on a holiday, complete with a fake twitter account and everything, which was absolutely brilliant. This, I think, is the perfect metaphor for why experience has to be earned and not given:

Without the head start of old age, how the heck am I supposed to mercilessly troll my children?

50sdad1

 

What’s for dinner?

Aside from “your sister’s hot”, I can’t think of three words more contentious in a marriage than “what’s for dinner?” From personal experience, I have been nearly divorced several times over just for wondering out loud what the plans for dinner were.

It is, I admit, a loaded question. I am no stranger to kitchens or cooking… I probably prepare 2-3 of the family meals a week, by my own completely biased estimation. I do not, however, plan any of them. Therein lies the problem.

Food equals love

I keep hearing about the five love languages, so I googled it and discovered that according to wikipedia they are “ giftsquality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch“. I can tell you immediately that the author is clearly not Italian, because there would be a sixth love language, and that’s Food. You might be inclined to write it off as an act of service, but to me very clearly if you feed me you love me.

Sometimes this gets complicated. Via lovescott.com

I know this is dumb and I try to tell myself that just because my son doesn’t want to eat my experimental Indian kabobs he still loves me, but it does get in the way of otherwise normal social interactions. For example: this weekend.

I found myself in a rare situation this weekend where most of the family was out before lunch, so I started to make an absurdly elaborate lunch for everyone. When I was all finished I checked my phone, because by now it was getting late and I was getting worried, and I saw a text message.

We were starving, stopped for lunch, be home soon.

I was angry. Blindly, irrationally angry. I realized I was angry, and it was irrational, but I couldn’t stop feeling angry about it.

HOW DARE THEY REJECT MY LOVE.

At least that’s what it felt like. It felt like betrayal. She never stops for lunch. She must have done it on purpose.

Mrs. Nostrikethat arrived home to find me banging pots and pans in the kitchen sink, trying to clean up.

“Everything okay?”

“It’s fine.”

“Okay… because if that pan was a child I would be calling CPS right now.”

“… You stop for lunch and therefore rejected my love and I know it’s stupid but I’m upset and you asked and just leave me alone I’ll get over it after I get done cleaning the giant mess I made in the kitchen.”

“Okay… I’m just going to wait. Over. Here.”

Bordering on obsession

I will wake up in the morning and start thinking about dinner. In fact, I have been known to think about tomorrow’s dinner while eating tonight’s. I live to eat, and I’m lucky enough to have an inefficient metabolism. Consequently, I can still eat pretty close to whatever I imagine.

To me, dinner is a World of Possibilities! and therefore requires intense planning and commitment. I need to know if I have to take something out of the freezer to defrost, or do I have to marinate something, or will dinner magically be ready when I’m hungry? Anything could happen, it’s magic dinner time!

To my wife, dinner is a lot more like this:

Only with more box of wine. Image via takechargemama.com

 

Daily meal preparation is a grind. Especially when you’re cooking for children, most of whom would just eat hot dogs eight days a week if you let them. With three swimmers in the family I’m not even the loudest voice wanting to know what the plan is, just the one with access to text messages.

t2krh

It’s bizarre I know, but this is pretty much what’s going on in my head. With all of the uncertainty in my life, I like the predictability of knowing where my next meal is coming from, when it’s coming, and if I have to do anything to make it come on time.

 Salvation! (almost)

I’d like to add at this point before I go from “almost divorced” to “actually divorced” that not only is Mrs. Nostrikethat an accomplished cook, but she has delivered countless meals under pressure, and often single-handedly, to a less than enthusiastic audience. Despite there being a thousand and one different ways to cook chicken, it’s a moot point if none of the kids will even glance at one thousand of them. There’s maddeningly little room for creativity and despite both of our best efforts we tend to have 4-5 meals in heavy rotation with another dozen or so making regular appearances. The meal planning gets done when the grocery list is made and everyone always gets fed. Still, Mrs. Nostrikethat is always on the lookout for ways to make everything go smoothly, so we invested in a chalkboard.

For two weeks, it was bliss.

Right there, in the kitchen, was My Week In Dinner. It was amazing. Then this started happening:

chalkboard

So. Close.

Dinners are still happening, of course. Meals are still being planned and executed, usually by not-me. I clearly have no room to complain, but I do anyways because I’m a Man of a Certain Age and that’s what we do best.

Besides growing hair in all the wrong places. I am awesome at that too.

A parable

There’s a zen koan I picked up somewhere that’s stuck with me, probably because it’s about dinner.

The simple man wakes up in the morning, does his work, and wonders what’s for dinner. The complex man wakes up in the morning, does his work, and worries about the problems of the world. The enlightened man wakes up in the morning, does his work, and wonders what’s for dinner.

I thought at one point that I was overly simplistic. If we are to believe Ye Old Timey Folk Wisdom, two of a man’s three favorite things are supposed to be beer and food, and I would definitely self-identify with being a man. After some reflection, I don’t think I’m overly simplistic– in fact my problem is exactly the opposite. I have too much on my mind. In a world where decision fatigue is a real thing, I just want someone else to make the decision for me. I’m happy to help, I’m happy to do as I’m told, I just need to know because maybe, just maybe, enlightenment awaits.

Or meatloaf. Either way, I’m good.

 


 

This post is dedicated with all of my heart to Mrs. Nostrikethat, who gets to work early and stays late every single day despite hazardous working conditions and abysmal pay. I kid because I love dear. 🙂