Tag Archives: Smith

Finding the Key

11 Jul

DSC_0113Last year I wrote a Smith Voices letter, which praised the SAQ’s reporting on burgeoning careers, but wondered if they may print something to inspire me in my new career as Managing Partner of Household Affairs and Crisis Management, otherwise known as a stay-at-home parent. The letter generated some interesting responses, notably the assertion that motherhood was commonplace and did not deserve mention in a magazine that was intended to praise success. Motherhood as a commonplace profession is a sensitive subject and one that deserves its own space, but what captured my attention most about this response was the notion of success. By choosing to stay at home with my family, did I give up my chance at being successful or noteworthy?

Just this past week, while visiting with a dear friend from my hometown, this same discussion came up in conversation. We talked about my Smith Voices piece, the differences between men and women, the latest hot-topic book, Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg and finally about how Smith seemed to produce a different breed of women. He mentioned that he had always thought us Smithies to be a bit intense. He had visited me a few times in college and has continued friendships with some of my friends post-graduation so I feel he knows us well enough to make such a statement. Let it be known that this is a guy who jumps off cliffs for the fun of it and flies across the world to summit dangerous peaks so he knows a few things about intensity.

He’s not the only one to make such an astute observation. I think Jane Lynch explained this intensity the best in her 2012 Commencement Address, You are the women of Smith. You are fiercely independent, wicked smart, trail blazing, uber confident and shockingly entitled.” And it’s true. The moment we stepped foot on campus, we were told time and time again that Smith women can accomplish anything they set their mind to and that we are only capable of success. In other words, alongside the education we soaked up from the classroom, we were pumped full of confidence. Not a bad way to be sent off into the world.

So you can imagine, as I am kneeling on the floor of my laundry room folding a few dozen washcloths that are primarily used to clean up the urine artfully sprayed on our floors by my potty-training son, why the idea of success and whether or not I qualify as one, is still rumbling about in my head. Have I let my alma mater down?

I think not.

The intensity that my friend touched on (and that Smith cultivated) is still there. The desire to learn and master is still alive and well. I have simply chosen to channel this energy in a different manner than most of those triumphant women in the pages of SAQ.  I don’t think the fact that I quit a Wall Street job to live on a farm and spend the majority of my time outside digging in the dirt or that I find great joy in making my own jam surprises any one of my classmates. I am grateful to Smith in many ways, but ultimately it was the confidence drilled in me there as a student that allowed me to quit a promising career and explore a new life.

My definition of success has changed over time and it will probably continue to evolve but at this stage in the game, I can only trust that if you are happy with your days, you are most definitely a rock star. Honestly, what can be more rewarding and telling than the smile you wear on your face?


And the War Continues…

14 Jun

The Mommy Wars. The Parent Wars. Whatever you want to call it, they are still raging and destroying. A few months ago, I wrote a letter to my college alumnae quarterly magazine and they published it in the Winter issue. The next magazine revealed a really heartbreaking response. And here we are, Summer, and the discussion continues! There are TWO letters regarding my inquiry in the Summer Quarterly and a mention from the Editor about how this dialogue is “interesting.” The best note I have received so far was sitting in my inbox this morning from an alumnae named Anne. I have read and re-read it three times already today. I teared up, laughed and snorted a little all from one note!

I feel like a broken record (but I’m used to that – I have curious toddlers remember) but I honestly just wanted a little ditty (a column here, a mention there) about how other Smithies were raising their children. I can only imagine that a women’s college produces quite a few mothers – I mean, you do the math. Being that these mothers hale from a spirited and rigorously academic institution, I thought that perhaps a fair number of them were using spirited and rigorously thoughtful ways of raising their children. Just as the Quarterly highlights the extraordinary feats of alumnae in government or the sciences to inspire those practicing in these fields, why not also highlight the extraordinary mothers to inspire the young who may be searching for some higher meaning in sweeping up yet another pile of cracker crumbs or explaining for the one hundredth time what cows like to eat.

Aside from the notion that “motherhood is commonplace” and therefore not remarkable enough to deserve even an itty bitty paragraph on the side of the last page, I think I was more upset that a fellow alumnae who most likely went through the same exhaustive schooling as I did, sat on the same Seeyle steps as so many women before her and went out into the world with a boat-load of hope, motivation and can-do attitude only to find that it is harder than ever to fill out that “superwoman” costume, was doing what too many women in our day do – criticize, scrutinize and look away. Where is that support that we as women are built to give each other? Where is the love and understanding? I mean, give me a break folks.

The fact that Mommy Wars even exist makes me sad. (I am just going go with the whole “Mommy” thing here even though I know there are plenty of stay-at-home Dads out in the world. Sorry fellas) Working mothers think stay-at-home mothers live the high life and vice versa. It is like two ships passing in the night – no one is listening to the other side. No one is appreciating the other point of view. Perhaps I was naive to think that as Smith women, we would be above that, that we would have used those precious and expensive learned skills to listen, to assess, to empathize…to really support each other as mothers, as workers, as women. But here we are, criticizing and scrutinizing and all in 200 words or less.

I hope Anne doesn’t mind me quoting some of her note to me – I would love to just copy and paste the whole darn thang but want to keep most of it for myself – to pump me up as needed. So here is your little snippet: “The quote came down in my family (or in my head) as “A liberal arts education makes your mind a better place to spend the rest of your life.” That’s why you shelled out all those bucks and worked your ass off (I’m assuming) – as did I – not because we then ‘owe’ Smith or the world some amazing product – an MD, an internationally recognized work of art, a Nobel Prize, but because wherever life takes us – we bring good minds trained to assess, look for context, perspective… And when the outside experience sucks (as it will for most people at some time) or is mundane (as it is for everyone much of the time) our minds are not only better able to deal with the ‘out there,’ but have richer resources ‘in here’ to divert ourselves, steel ourselves, see beyond…”

Isn’t that just the truth?

Sooooo, can we all just agree that being a working parent sucks and being a stay-at-home parent sucks? Oh, is that too negative? Let me try again. Can we all just agree that being a working parent is the bee’s knees and being a stay-at-home parent is the cat’s meow? We are all doing what we feel we need to do so let’s pat each other on the back for sticking up for what’s best for us and our family. Regardless if Smith ever publishes something meaningful relating to motherhood, thanks to the responses I have received from various alumnae (along with friends and family), I am now more confident than ever that I am doing what is right for my family. And while I won’t get a promotion from my children or a raise from the household Gods, I get “paid” and “accolades” from the fits of laughter and hours of snuggle time. I know that right now, this is the most meaningful way me, myself and I can use this time.


Your Young Roots

11 Jun

I attended my 10 year (gulp!) college reunion a few weeks ago and I am having trouble really articulating what it meant to me. Where do I start? I guess I’ll start at the beginning…just a quick look-back.

I grew up on the west coast and knew I wanted to go somewhere completely different – western Massachusetts seemed to fit the bill pretty well. The land of quaint liberal arts colleges, full of New England charm. Mine was no exception. Founded in 1871, it has a long list of traditions and a pedigree to match. There was just a tiny difference between this school and most of the others – it was for women only. Now before you go bald scratching your head over that one let me explain. Well, actually, I can’t explain it. I didn’t really think too much about it until around November of my first year when I suddenly looked around me and not a man did my poor eyes see. Oops.

As it turns out, without the distraction of boys, friendships were stronger, studies were harder and overall, college life was an emotional roller-coaster much like any other school. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t fill out a transfer application to Stanford (more than once) but I never ended up sending it. I am so thankful that I toughed it out because this school gave me a gift I don’t think many others had the passion to give. Continue reading

Published…in my College Magazine

14 Dec

My Alumnae Quarterly magazine recently published a “Letter to the Editor” – here is the longer version:

Reading the Smith Quarterly gives me a certain level of pride but sometimes an equal amount of frustration. I feel so blessed to be a part of a community where there is a seemingly endless amount of inspiring careers and accomplishments to fan over. But in the past few years, as I have embarked on my new job as a stay-at-home mother, I cannot help but feel a tinge of underrepresentation. Where are the Smithies that chose to forgo or stall their career in order to raise a family? What are they doing to enrich their children and how? I know they are out there. They must be! I cannot possibly be the only one.

Raising a family is both a joyful adventure and an exhausting endeavor. There are days when you are an inspiring parent and there are days where you are simply a bleary-eyed babysitter, counting the hours until bedtime. Despite the frustrations of trying to explain to a toddler why you cannot draw on the wall or drink the water from the toilet, I could not have picked a more enjoyable activity to fill my days with. But there are times when I find myself questioning the importance of this new job. I attended a prestigious college where graduates are running companies, publishing books and saving lives. The Quarterly is the proof of this – highlighting the incredible accomplishments of these women. I cannot help but feel a little inferior as I kneel, in puke covered jeans and a stained T-shirt, to scrub my floor after my infant flung an astonishing amount of puréed sweet potatoes off his spoon. On the surface, my accomplishments sound a little second-rate: brushed teeth, put laundry away, made lunch, picked up toys for what seemed like 10 hours, changed diapers, coaxed toddler to nap, grocery store, etc…
I once made a sarcastic comment under my breath to a fellow Smithie about how my impressive education certainly panned out for me and she replied in only a way a reflective and intelligent Smithie would. She said: “It’s not what you do with your degree, it’s the experience you gained. You are an educated woman.” Wowzers.
In my urban setting, only a handful of my friends stay at home – whether by choice or not – and it can be a lonely occupation at times. Luckily, my generation has the easy access to hundreds of blogs and websites that are filled with creative ideas, encouraging remarks and helpful answers. It is rather comforting to have that community, both physical and virtual, to lean against. Through these connections, I am reminded that along with the tedious tasks of dishes and errand-running, I am helping to shape two wonderful little human beings. I am teaching them to empathize with others, to find the joy in a bucket full of rocks and sand, to challenge their strengths and to stretch their imagination. You then realize how valuable your contribution to their life really is. I believe that this is true for those who work full time as well as those who stay at home.
Our children are our future. How are Smithies using their creative forces and education to raise these next generations?

The Response that Blew my Socks Off

14 Mar

I woke up today in quite a dreadful mood – not sure why exactly – could be the lack of sleep this past week due to nothing in particular or it could be this nagging sore throat. In any event, hopping outside in the downpour to grab my mail only further exasperated my mood. There is was, a disappointing response to my recent letter to the Smith Quarterly:

“Regarding a letter writer’s plea for greater representation of Smithies who have embarked on “new jobs as stay-at-home moms,” let me suggest that the Quarterly is the wrong place to look. While becoming a mother is the most truly miraculous thing, it is also the most commonplace. What Smith prepares us for is something else- to make our unique contribution to this world. The Alumnae Quarterly is the place to read about the jaw-dropping, amazing things Smithies are doing to make the world a better place. It’s inspiring – if often a bit intimidating (we aren’t all destined to swim the English Channel or find the cure for something – myself included). In the lightening flash of twenty years, which is what it will feel like when the letter writer has successfully launched her children into adulthood, she will be glad if her only job was not “stay-at-home mom” – and the readers of the Quarterly will be fascinated to read all about it.”

Now, my initial response was quite emotional – I was sad and my feelings were hurt. Then, I just got mad.

The staying-at-home vs working is a constant battle for every family and especially women. No matter what we choose to do we will get flack from just about anyone. You stay at home? Yikes, doesn’t your mind go to mush? You go to work? Yikes, don’t you feel guilty? Well, actually, yes and yes. There is no right solution. There is no right answer. Mothers go back to work after giving birth out of necessity and/or desire. I was one of the lucky few who had a choice and I decided that I was going to be get more satisfaction and be of more use at home than I was going to be working outside the home. Now, was this the right decision? Some days it is and some days it is not.

If I had a job to go to every day where I was passionate about what I was accomplishing, I would feel that the benefit of me being happy and one hundred percent present when I was home would grossly outweigh the benefit of staying home just to stay home. Unfortunately, I did not work in a job that I felt good about. So I believed (and still do) that I would be happiest at home. This doesn’t mean I am happy everyday just as those who go to work have their good days and their bad days. There are plenty of days when my kids would probably be more entertained and taken care of at daycare but I like to think that the majority of our days we are thoroughly enjoying our time together. And that is the most important point – when the parents are happy, the family is happy.

The benefit of going to a nice college is that your resume looks good from the start. I learned early on in my short-lived career in the investment banking industry that pedigree is everything. I was one of the lucky ones (there I am again, happily in that bubble) who went to such a college so getting an interview at any firm I wanted was not an issue. I am actually pretty sure that I was hired at Goldman Sachs simply because I went to Smith. I was thereafter introduced to clients and prospects as “the girl who went to Smith.” This naturally meant that I was smart and capable and would not screw your accounts up. This is the downside of going to a nice college – in a sense you are pegged by the outside world for life. So when said “girl from Smith” decides to leave the solid resume, the promising future and stay at home with her kids, a lot of critics and judgements step in. I mean, who would trade pantsuits for making cardboard troll homes?  I didn’t need to go to Smith to accomplish that did I? Well, yes and no.

I gained an incredible experience from attending that school and am an educated woman because of it. This will transfer quite nicely to my children. But what I also gained was a sense of deciding what is right and best for me. I knew that the finance world was not the place where I wanted to be (did you read the recent NYTimes article about the executive that left Goldman? So right on.) Coincidentally I got pregnant shortly after making this decision so the natural transition would be to stay at home, raise my kids and figure out what DID make me happy and pursue that.
It ends up I like to work with my hands (I am the daughter of two artists after all) so I get a lot of satisfaction from building things, making things and cleaning things. I actually enjoy getting down on my hands and knees and scrubbing the heck out of my floor – because, look, now there is a nice, clean floor to admire. But that doesn’t mean I don’t also enjoy a brilliant novel or that I can’t argue my way through the latest piece in the New Yorker. There is such a thing as balance.
If there is one thing that Smith taught me, it is that I have the capability to be anything and to do anything if I put the work in. I have the final say in what makes me happy and what doesn’t. I have the power to manifest my own destiny. The reason I was so upset over the lady’s words was that I felt like she was belittling my choice to stay home and that I didn’t understand what would really make me happy. Well, it turns out that we all have different roles to play and different passions. So please excuse me for a few years while I find inspiration and joy from two little munchkins…we’ll see where that leads me.
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