Every morning my alarm goes off at the same time. Lately it seems that’s when our local radio station announces an update on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story. In case you have missed it, Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year old in Sanford, Florida was shot and killed in February by George Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch group. Many people think that Zimmerman shot Martin because he was wearing a hoodie, which in Zimmerman’s mind made him look like a character guilty of a crime.
As columnist Sandy Banks wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “somehow the humble hooded sweat shirt has evolved from basic, everyday apparel to a sinister symbol of urban terror.” I lie in bed, thinking about how terrible it is that we have essentially created our own American caste system, or social order, based largely on appearance
Then I go about my day, which includes dropping off my daughter at school. At schools around the country, a line of cars pull up, and the working moms frantically inventory homework, coat, gym shoes, overdue library books, and launch each child out the door.
The stay-at-home moms, or the “Lululemon moms” as the working moms in my community often call them, seem just a bit calmer. Of course, not all of them wear Lululemon workout gear–in fact a lot of them might not even be able to afford $95 or so for yoga pants. Still, the reference to the “Lululemon mom” has become short-hand for what many working moms incorrectly assume to be a certain kind of person.
In reality, I don’t know anything about their lives except that they get to wear comfortable clothing when I am dressed for the office. I imagine that they are going off to exercise class (likely Pilates) which, with a personal trainer can sculpt your body to look like you did before motherhood, and if I had time, before I spent 20 years sitting at a desk staring at a computer monitor.
We imagine that exercise is followed by coffee with other Lululemon moms, some sort of grooming appointment (eyebrow wax, a visit to the hair salon, or a manicure–something working moms have to do on Saturday morning, if at all), followed by lunch with another mom.
Somewhere in there they attend a PTA meeting or some sort of charitable or neighborhood committee, or bake something for a bake sale. These are all things that contribute to our community. But admittedly a lot of working moms just don’t have time for such activities and leave it to the stay-at-homers, assuming they can much more easily schedule volunteer work.
How much further from the truth could this be than the assumption that a kid in a hoodie is guilty of a crime? Yes, some criminals may wear hoodies, and some moms wearing Lululemon may lead the life I imagine. But one of the biggest financial crimes in history was committed by Bernie Madoff, who when he wasn’t wearing a suit, sported tennis togs or golf attire – no hoodie there. And in fact, one of the moms in my daughter’s class drops her children off in Lululemon, but her next stop is the hospital, where she changes into surgical scrubs for her day as a prominent physician.
A lot of those moms may wish they were employed outside the home but can’t find a job, or can’t find one that would pay more than the childcare they would inevitably have to compensate someone else to perform. Or maybe they are in an abusive marriage with someone who controls them, won’t let them work, and belittles them if their body fat gets higher than that of a supermodel.
I thought of all this when the news broke recently about Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen’s comment that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life.”
I don’t know Ann Romney, but as a working mom, I don’t know how she found the time to raise five children. And by the way, Ann Romney has multiple sclerosis. Her life sure sounds a lot harder than going to an office, where someone else makes the coffee, and I know my daughter is well cared for by a nanny that is the closest thing to Mary Poppins in the 21st century.
As a Democrat, I am simply embarrassed by that comment. Rightly distancing himself from Hilary Rosen, President Obama came to Ann Romney’s defense, and the defense of all stay-at-home moms, saying that “there’s no tougher job than being a mom. . . Anybody who would argue otherwise, I think, probably needs to rethink their statement.” I am proud to have a president who is in touch with his constituents, regardless of political party or appearances.
I also feel privileged to have the job that I do and the ability to hire a nanny. Frankly, I don’t have the skills to raise five children.
We all have moments when we would gladly trade in our day for someone else’s. After days in mediation, or struggling to write a brief only to lose it when my computer crashes, I fantasize about life in Lululemon. But I also know that when my husband was sick and on long-term medical disability, if it weren’t for my job, we wouldn’t have been able to afford that portion of his treatment not covered by insurance. (See my post, “What My Husband’s Cancer Taught Me About Our Broken Healthcare System.”) Without my job, if we had paid for everything out of pocket, we likely would have lost our home, and our daughter would have had to be pulled out of the private school that connected us to a community of stay-at-home moms who cooked for us during the darkest months.
During the worst years of his illness, which I wrote about here, I did have a pair of Lululemon yoga pants. I was wearing them when I took my husband to the emergency room at 2 a.m., and for the next three days while he was in intensive care, following emergency surgery to eliminate the cause of his 105.7 degree temperature. I never wanted to see those pants again following that ordeal, only because of the memories they provoked. But dang, they were a comfortable way to get through 72 hours of Hell.
If I were a stay-at-home mom, I would live in daily terror that my husband’s cancer would come out of remission and we would lack the resources to manage the costs. Lululemon couldn’t reduce that terror.
We each need to eliminate the caste system we have created in our heads based, in great part, on what people wear. We need to understand that clothing means very little.
None of us lead the lives our appearance suggests. We each lie in bed at night with our personal terrors as to what life could be, or about what life is like right now, and whether we have the strength to get through it. Clothes and money rarely can make that go away.
Yesterday, I went shopping for a new suit for work. I tried on a fabulous looking ensemble that felt like I was wearing a cross between Spanx (a company run by Sara Blakely, a working mom who just joined the Forbes Billionaires list) and really comfortable pajamas. I asked the saleswoman what made this work outfit feel so good. Her answer: “We bought our fabric for that line from the Lululemon factory.”