Monday, January 26, 2009

The joy of work

I love to write about people who love their jobs -- particularly people who are pretty much doing what they dreamed about when they were growing up. One such person? Jonathan Gershenzon, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany. He grew up burying his nose in California's chaparral and, decades later, is still trying to figure out why plants smell the way they smell. You can read the piece, Making Sense of Plant Scents, at Scientific American.

Part of being a Core Competency parent is choosing work that you do best, and that other people cannot do nearly as well. This is never easy, but if you choose what you love best in the world, you're probably on the right track.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Baby Food

Jill Lepore has a fascinating article in the January 19 New Yorker detailing the cultural history of nursing and breast pumps. We all know that breastfeeding is best for babies. Interestingly enough, though, she notes, we have now decided to treat breast milk itself as the vital component of breastfeeding, not the cuddling, body heat, skin-to-skin contact and other things that makes it so fun for babies.

In other words, we now believe that pumping is the equivalent of nursing, and that being supportive of breastfeeding means giving women time and privacy to pump. Consequently, the workplaces deemed "breastfeeding friendly" are the ones with the most gold-plated pumping rooms, which doesn't really make sense. In reality, the most breastfeeding friendly companies are the ones that either pay for long maternity leaves, or have a culture where working from home or bringing your baby to work is no big deal. Some companies with lactation rooms, Lepore claims, go so far as to decree that babies are not allowed in there for a quick nip!

I bought a Medela Pump-in-Style in order to have a bit more freedom to come and go when I was nursing Jasper. My breast pump has been many places -- Sen. Harry Reid's office, for instance, and Delhi, India, where I had to demonstrate what it did for a customs official who no doubt thought "these white woman are absolutely crazy." But it was not pleasant. One of the reasons we chose Jasper's particular daycare is that it was my equivalent of on-site childcare. Less than a 10-minute walk away, I could pop over for (his) lunch.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Flanagan's Smart Home

I just turned in a review of Barbara Flanagan's Smart Home to I will post it when it runs. In essence, Flanagan lists the 98 objects she believes are necessary for a well-appointed abode. Why teaspoons, but not salad forks, make the list can certainly provide fodder for debate.

More broadly, though, Flanagan has her finger on the cultural pulse. Lots of people are looking for ways to pare down, scale back, and focus only on things or ideas that matter. The whole Core Competency Parent concept is about focusing more time on fewer things -- the things that actually bring joy and meaning to our lives. For most working parents, these are our careers (if we're in the right job), nurturing our family members (kids + spouse), health that comes from adequate sleep and exercise, and a social or community life that brings us joy.

Unfortunately, some of Flanagan's objects would quickly steal time away from these things. She believes in linen napkins, not paper towels. If you've got children, this soon creates mountains of laundry. She doesn't like non-stick pans because of the potential environmental problems of their coatings, but for me, any time not spent doing dishes is work, family, or leisure time gained. It is true that fewer objects take less time to manage, but why, why, do two of these objects need to be an iron and an ironing board? Either don't wear clothes that wrinkle or send them out. Life is too short, she notes, to bother with separate salad forks, but I certainly believe -- given that I'm not in the professional cleaning business -- that life is also too short to iron.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ernst & Young speech

I gave a presentation on the Core Competency Parent concept at Ernst & Young in Los Angeles this Wednesday. It went well and it is always fun to talk about these issues. What I try to tell people in these talks is that there are 168 hours in a week. If you break that down rather purposefully, then you can fit a lot in. You can sleep 8 hours a night, work 55 hours a week, spend more time with your kids than the average stay-at-home parent, train for a half-marathon, have two date nights a week with your partner, and still find time to volunteer or attend religious services. Phew! Sounds like a lot! But of course, with that kind of full life, there's not much room for things that aren't important, and so you have to be ruthless about getting other things off your plate.

If your organization would like to hear from me, and see a sample Core Competency Parent schedule, shoot me an email at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com. The speech can be tweaked for both women's groups and mixed gender groups.