Last Wednesday, I managed to burn taco shells. I was trying to make dinner while talking to Alison Holt about the boarding project. Alison is also a working mother, so when I discovered the tacos, our conversation moved into the challenges of balancing work and home life and whether or not tacos counted as a home-cooked meal. (I fried the beef, shredded the cheese and even stuffed them with greens – organic no less! – so we agreed: that’s home-cooked.) Truth be told, I burned the shells twice. Do you know how hard it is to do that? My daughter just stared at the two cookie sheets sitting on the oven, with the toasted evidence of her mother’s failure, in disbelief. Twice.
On Sunday, I was out of the country on a Candidate Review of a school. It was Mother’s Day, and I spent it working. But I found a poem tucked into my luggage from my daughter Kathleen called “Super Mom.” I read and reread it; this time it was me who was puzzled – she’s a smart and honest girl, how could she possibly think I am a super mom?
As working parents, we are really in the business of making daily decisions on a case-by-case basis and then living with the consequences and hoping for the best. Some days, I am a better Mother than Executive Director, and some days, including some weekends, it’s the reverse. I think it is plain old hard work and we have to be intentional every day about priorities.
But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m reading A Singular Woman, the new book about the mother of Barack Obama, and I am intrigued by her decisions as a working mother. Janny Scott writes:
When people learned that I was working on a book on the president’s mother, the question I encountered most often was: “Do you like her?” Sometimes people asked, “Was she nice?” The line of questioning puzzled me: Why were those the first things people wanted to know? Gradually, it became apparent that those questions were a way of approaching the subject of Ann’s decision to live apart from her child. They were followed by rumination on how a mother could do such a thing. As many Americans see it, a mother belongs with her child, and no extenuating circumstances can explain the perversity of choosing to be elsewhere…. But Ann felt she had no choice. [Obama], who would enter high school the following fall, was flourishing at Punahou, which dispatched its graduates to some of the best universities in the country.” (pg. 157-8)
I admit to being intrigued – and inspired – by this mother who clearly valued her son’s education so much that she sacrificed day-to-day life with him. When I am in hotel rooms late at night, I often focus on the fact that working enables my kids to attend a great CAIS school. Similarly, many parents may feel they make a sacrifice for the sake of their kids’ well-being when they send their kids to boarding schools.
Rather than judge, I think we need to seek to understand the complexity of individual choices and admire the courage of those who make tough decisions in the best interests of their children.
Thankfully, my kids are able to look past burnt tacos and my many other motherly failings…. They must sense that I believe they can become Prime Minister one day.