Thursday, June 28, 2012

Didn't We Almost Have It All? Oatmeal Cookies

About a year ago, Esperanza posted a response to an article in The Atlantic entitled "How To Land Your Kid In Therapy."  It was, in short, a piece about telling our children (and our parents telling us) that they (we) can have it all, and the fallout when they realize that they (we) can't.  At the time, the post really resonated with me, not because I ever told my son that he could have it all, but as a professional who had just recently become a stay-at-home-mom (temporarily, I thought), I found myself wondering whether it really was possible for women to "have it all," and what that really meant, anyway.  Esperanza concluded that we are encouraged to want too much, and that we need to learn how to be satisfied with what we have; I wasn't entirely satistfied with that answer, but I've been mulling it over ever since.

This week, The Atlantic's cover article, entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," went more or less viral.  In it, Anne-Marie Slaughter talks about her decision to step down from a position at the State Department in order to prioritize her family life, and what she thinks would need to change in order to make "having it all" a real possibility.  Though it focused, I feel, mostly on how the dilemma played out for the working mother,  responses by other Atlantic writers offered additional perspectives on the conversation, suggesting everything from "the problem isn't women, it's about the pressures of elite jobs" (I disagree) to "women who whine about it make us all look bad" (I also disagree).

I do agree, though, that there is no such thing as "having it all."  Because in addition to a problem of labor relations (because workplaces really are not very family-friendly as a rule, to anyone, women or men), which is potentially correctable, it's a fundamental problem of definition: not our definition, but the definition that someone created for us.

What is "having it all"?  Is it reaching the top of your field, sitting in the corner office, controlling the finances and having all of the decision making power?  Is it having the perfect family with 2.5 children who attend all of the right preschools, later getting into Ivy League schools?  Is it having both of these things effortlessly?  According to whom?  Is full time parenthood even compatible with a family-friendly workplace?  Maybe it is, but I don't think that it's possible to spend 24 hours a day at work AND 24 hours a day at home.  That's just not good math.

The other day, I was at my annual ob/gyn visit, and was saying something morose to my midwife about not being able to lose the last few pounds of baby weight.  She looked me square in the eye and said, "well, maybe that's just where you're supposed to be right now."  I must have looked surprised, because she continued: "You're healthy.  You exercise.  You eat well, and you allow yourself indulgences.  I'm not unhappy.  You shouldn't be, either."  It's not a matter of being happy with what we have, or "settling," but adjusting our scale so we measure ourselves, and not someone else.

Bessie Stanley, in 1904, published a short statement that is often misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson in a slim volume of collected words of wisdom from readers of Boston's National Magazine.  You've probably heard it somewhere before.  It goes like this: "He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has enjoyed the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; and whose memory a benediction."

I'm not saying that we ought not to strive or to achieve things.  If you read this blog enough, you'll know that I'm about as feminist as they come without the bra-burning (I draw the line at panty hose), and that I think that the glass ceiling is still very real, and needs breaking.  Slaughter makes some important points about workplace attitudes and policies that need adjusting, not just for mothers, but for the sanity of all working parents and non-parents.  I'm just suggesting that the achievement is not the same for everyone.  Maybe some people (fathers included) can be great at having a high-pressure job, and they can come home and eat family dinners and be present for their children.  They should be given the opportunity to do so.  It so happens that I think I'm a better parent when I'm working outside of the home, though I know now that I need to be home for dinner, and at night; that I don't want to be the president of anything.  It's true, I probably wouldn't sing as many songs or talk to my kids as much as another parent, but they will probably not turn out to be cretins.  (Well, they might be cretins, but it won't be all my fault.)  Maybe that will be my "all."  Still: that is not everyone's measure of success.  And that we ought to stop pretending there is a single measure, and looking down our noses at everything else.  Because if we can, if we are encouraged and given every tool to achieve what we feel is important (and I'm talking about all of us here, the blue-collar workforce as well as the white-collar professionals), and not what someone else feels is important, then we will have it all.

These are for Keiko, long overdue.  I promised her an oatmeal cookie recipe, and I'm finally posting, in the middle of CSA season, no less, when I ought to be posting about chard.  (Don't worry, that's coming.)  Keiko is a great example of someone who has come up with her own measure of success, and continues to change that measure as her goals change.  I really think that the "Fertile Life" she describes may be as close as we can come to "having it all."  Which is something, in principle, I think we can all aspire to.

Have you read the article, and what did you think?  Do you think it's possible to "have it all," and what would that mean for you? How do you measure success? 

Oatmeal Cookies

1 1/2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 c. flour
1/4 c. dark raisins
1/4 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
6 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 c. packed brown sugar (I used light)
1/4 c. sugar (or sub evaporated cane juice for both sugars)
1 egg
1/2 t. cinnamon
4 T. dark raisins for topping
4 T. golden raisins for topping

Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium bowl, stir together oats, flower, raisins, cranberries, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.  Combine dark and golden raisins for topping, and set aside.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add egg, cinnamon, and vanilla; beat until combined.  Gradually add oat mixture and mix well.  Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls, about 2 inches apart, onto two baking sheets.  Place 1 mounded teaspoon of raisins on top of dough.  Bake until cookies are golden brown but still soft, 12-16 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes on sheets; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
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  1. What a timely post. Now that I'm in my thirties I'm constantly battling myself about how much I can do. Full time work, full time school, full time hobby... how do kids fit in? Do I want kids? Can I handle kids? We put so much pressure on ourselves to succeed beyond capacity. We all need to chill and eat a batch of those delish cookies... :)

  2. I also read that Atlantic article (thanks for suggesting it) and I have to admit, I spent much of the article thinking, this has nothing to do with me and my life. Because I am one of the those women who lacks ambition, I guess, because I never had ANY desire to move up the ranks of anything, to become anyone high powered or influential. I just didn't have any aspirations to do that, and I never did, and I truly doubt I ever will. And I'm fine with that. It's a relief, really.

    I do have aspirations though, and I still believe that the chance of me achieving my goals is very, very slim. That has nothing to do with me being a woman or a mother and everything to do with how much money is required to live and how little money is available in writing. I cannot follow my dream, at least not in the way that would give me the greatest chance of success, because, at the end of the day, I have to feed my family. (Maybe it does have something to do with being a mother, as that limits me financially).

    But, I can do what I love, which is write. And I am very lucky that that is the case. Many people don't even have that.

    I think that you're right, that we have to change the measuring stick to reflect our reality and not someone else's. But I also think it's really hard to know what you want, without using other people's lives, and happiness, to guide you. We look to others to see what works and what doesn't for them, it's hard for us to realize that doesn't necessarily mean it will work for us.

    I thought being a mother would complete me. It didn't, and only after becoming a mother did I realize what I really wanted to do with my life. I don't think I could have figured it out before, not just because I was so all consumed with becoming a mother, but also because that piece needed to be in place for the other pieces to fall into place.

    So sometimes it's hard to fashion that measuring stick for ourselves, because we don't know ourselves well enough yet, so we look to others to know what we should want, how we should measure what we have and what we've accomplished.

    I am about to spend five days with three friends from college. Each of our lives have traveled unique trajectories but there is one thing they all have in common that I don't: they've all spent their 20s pursuing intense careers that require incredible amounts of time, give them a certain amount of status and make them feel accomplished and proud. Their jobs are an integral part of who they are. I am the only one who picked a job she doesn't really like or care about. And I'm also the only one who wanted kids and now has one.

    I don't ever measure my life against theirs and find it lacking, because I know I never wanted the careers they have. But sometimes I wonder if they don't have other things that I want, like incredible financial security, opportunities to travel, professional admiration and a feeling of accomplishment. And while most of the time I feel very secure in the life that I've made for myself, sometimes I wonder what they think of it, if they pity me for the choices I've made, for not having what they have. I doubt they do, because they know this is what I want, but my point is that it's hard not to compare, because what we have is all that we know, and what is around us is all that we can measure it against.

  3. I got cut off! Sorry this is so long!

    I don't know if this is making any sense. I guess my thesis statement is this: we shouldn't define "having it all" by anyone's standards but our own, but sometimes it's really hard to determine what our standards are. Do I really need to own a house to be happy, or is that just American propaganda? Would a raise make me feel more financially secure or would I just keep wanting more? Is writing a blog fulfill me as a writer or do I need to get published to feel I've accomplished anything this field? I don't know the answers to these things, so I don't how to fashion my measuring stick. I just don't.

  4. I think you CAN "have it all," but it's at varying times during your life, and it's not without sacrifices, and it all hinges on your definition of what "having it all" means.

    My "all" used to include corporate success, the traditional way - work hard, earn my promotions, eventually running a business. Except that over the past 13 years I've looked at CEOs and thought, you know, I don't really WANT to work that much.

    Parenthood has changed my definition, for certain. Since having my son, I've had this burning desire to BE there when he gets off the school bus every day. I'm working more part time, but I need to scale back even more when he gets into school in order to make this happen.

    But my new definition of having it all is very simple: be there for my son and husband, run marathons and half marathons, and do something for work which allows me to do these things.

    I liked the article, though. When I left my public accounting firm after the birth of Lucky, I heard a number of people lament the dearth of women in top management. The reason why is simple - and you said it best. "Because workplaces really are not very family-friendly as a rule, to anyone, women or men."

    In the U.S. anyway. Our country makes it hard for everyone to "have it all" by the definition created.

    Still, though, women CAN have it all. It just has to be a simpler definition, and the structure that works for your life.


  5. I read the article the other night. I do believe that we women that were reared in the 80's were told, and led to believe that we could have "it all." A great, high powered career and a quality home life. I just do not think that it is true. The American work place is NOT family friendly. Women do not get sufficient leave and once a woman returns to work full time, the demands of work leave little room for a quality home life.
    I wish that women could be deemed successful and compensated in a manner that can make a difference for their family by working part time. I wish that men and women were not frowned upon for leaving early to get their child off the bus or see their play. It seems to me that is you work part time or leave early, you are deemed "soft", not committed. And I think that that is just screwed up. Not committed? To what? To whom?
    I do not have it all right now. Not by a long shot. I want more. I would love to work two days a week. But in my field, as far as I know, that is a pipe dream. So, I have to change my field. Maybe do some community college teaching, some online work. But it is not what I planned. But that is OK. I broke my plans. I changed my course. Feminism allowed me the ability to be highly trained. Maybe that is what having it all means to me. To have that tucked away. That power to take care of things if need be. When I want to. But unfortunately, my husband works inhumane, highly unfriendly hours. So, for now, the skills are tucked away.
    OK, I am totally rambling. I am so hot and tired.
    Can we have it all as we were told? No. I just don't think so. I think we, men and women, need to reevaluate what it all is. And I think that the American work place needs to redefine it's definitions as well. And I think we need to stop thinking so deeply about it. And stop judging each other. If a woman wants to work. That is her choice. If she wants to be home full time, that is her choice. One is not better than the other. True feminism is about women being able to make that choice for themselves, and respecting other women whom have made different choices.
    And what about the women that have no choice? The women that have to work insane, long hours, just to make ends meet? What about the African American women that have been working long hours out of the home for decades? Centuries? Where is their voice? until we consider them, and ALL women workers, true feminism has not been obtained.

  6. Sorry for the typos. If ,not is ,and its, not it's.

  7. Another great post.

    It's interesting: where I live, after having kids, it seems one of the adults will often become the caretaker and it's solely based on income and potential. And so there are women who are the main breadwinners. In my case, my husband had that greater potential while my job required the same long hours as he had without the higher income. Childcare is INSANE for twins: higher than my salary. My career had huge highs and big achievements, and I'll be honest. As I frump around trying to get the kids to eat broccoli or peas, I remember the time I coached an extremely powerful executive on what to say to the media and I marvel at that girl's chutzpah. She seems a different person.

    But I guess we don't have to have it ALL at the same
    time. Sometimes we have the soul-stirring job and no friends. Sometimes we are isolated by being a SAHM. Sometimes we have love and no job. It's maybe all a journey and we get a part of the "all" along the continuum but shouldn't expect the all to merge in such a way at one moment in time.

  8. Achievement is such a relative concept, isn't it? And so is living well. For some, it has to be the top of everything: the highest income, the largest house, the fastest car. Reaching the "top" of one's profession. But so often the people who have it "all" (or who claim to) are the least happy. Moderation is so undervalued.

    I missed the article but heard her interviewed on NPR. Will have to search it out.

    (Oatmeal cookies - my favorite:)

  9. Hear, hear about Keiko defining her own scales.

    I wonder if this is a new thing, in human history, to think -- even expect -- that we can have it all.

  10. My thanks for this post and your recipe is long overdue. A fantastic post about a concept I over which mull on a daily basis. In a lot of ways, I do have to redefine what having it all means in the moment, as every moment is changing from the next.

    Can't wait to try out this recipe - I've been telling my husband that for as much as I love oatmeal raisin cookies, I've never made them before. I will totally post about the experience over at my blog - hopefully this week, cuz I've had a hankerin' for some tasty oatmeal raisin cookies :)


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