Tag Archives: education

I worked my tail off

I didn’t hear all of the Kavanaugh hearings, but there were two times when I was listening that struck me. The first was when Kavanaugh was asked about the word “ralph” in his high school yearbook and he explained that he frequently vomited because he had a weak stomach, back then and now too. The second time was when he vehemently stated that he had worked really hard. More precisely he said “I worked my tail off.”

This second one has stuck with me and makes me cringe. At a time when women earn 80 cents on the dollar as compared to men, and at a time when women face a glass ceiling because it’s worried that they can’t keep up with the workload, and when women are doing the majority of caregiving for the children and the elderly, this statement that he worked his tail off rubs me so wrong I cannot let it go.

I want to describe two people I know who have worked their tails off.

First, a professional colleague of mine who escaped Vietnam on a boat. As a teenager he was jailed and put in solitary confinement for years and he lost his voice from lack of use. When he escaped from jail at the age of 17, he dodged soldiers with dogs by hiding in a water tank as the soldiers and barking dogs approached. He fled, and unable to speak, begged a family for shelter. He escaped on a boat and at sea with no water he wet his lips with engine oil in order not to drink salt water, which everyone knew would accelerate dehydration and death. When he came to the United States as a refugee at the age of 18, a retired army officer on the East coast gave him a place to live and taught him English. Eventually he moved to Portland, holding down a minimum of two jobs, and sometimes three jobs. While working janitorial and restaurant jobs he got a degree and then a job as an electronics technician. But he had so much loyalty to his first employer that he continued to work at the restaurant on the weekends because they needed the help. My colleague worked his tail off.

My mother’s mother died when my mother was a few years old. My mother and her baby sister were found in a bombed out trench in WWII near their mother who died from injuries and sickness. My mother became a physicist. She immigrated to the US from Lithuania with my Indian father, me and my younger brother, two suitcases, and a handful of rubles. She went on to get her Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering when we were little kids. Then she worked at Ford Motor Company in Detroit, commuting 150 miles round trip each day. She got her third Master’s Degree in Computer Science when I was in high school, while working full time at Ford and commuting. My mother worked her tail off. And my father treated her as an equal.

My colleague and my mother, if they had been born as white males in America, and been afforded all the advantages of life that Brett Kavanaugh had, would have gone even farther than they did. If they had been white men they would have had a ladder put right in front of them, with instructions on how to climb it. Brett Kavanaugh and others like him need to acknowledge that their success is in large part due to the affordances they have been given, to the lives they were born into.

I’d like to see our government represent the people who really have worked their tails off, because the diverse women and men of this country who have worked their tails off are the ones who represent our values, and the land of opportunity that this country stands for.

p.s. I asked my mom to proofread this story. She responded “I feel like crying. Why are you writing all that stuff. Nobody cares.” And I said I would delete the story.  She returned with “I was 1.5 years old and my sister 4 months old. Keep it, this our story.”

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On Leaning In and Being Maxed Out

There have been books and articles in the news lately about working mothers being “maxed out” and also about women “leaning in” for career advancement.   This essay isn’t about me, it’s about my mom, and others of her generation- the early ones, who leaned in and for whom being maxed out seemed okay.

***

I was born in the USSR, and my brother was born in India.  My parents arrived in the USA with a 1 year old and a 3 year old, two suit cases, and some rubles, which were a nearly worthless Soviet currency.  My mother’s father gave her his life savings to pay for our plane tickets. We had no relatives or friends in America and neither of my parents had ever driven a car.

As soon as my mother realized her physics degree wasn’t going to make her employable, she enrolled in university to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering.  We didn’t go to daycare.  She dragged us to school and to computer labs and we played with boxes of computer punch cards while she did her homework.   We were told to watch TV so that we could learn English, and we were enrolled in school as soon as possible, which for me meant being younger than the other kids in my class.  The choices they made showed how much they cared about me and my brother, but their daily lives didn’t revolve around us.

And so it went on.  My mom cooked, and if we didn’t like what she made, we could use the microwave to make frozen pizzas.  Nobody was home when we got back from school, but we didn’t think that was weird.  My parents’ lives were about their kids, but not about always being there to attend to them. Somehow we got all the lessons- music, ballet, photography, art, even horseback riding- to make sure any hidden talents had an opportunity to flourish.  But I never expected that my parents would be there to watch me do sports or other activities.  Why would they be?

My mother got her third master’s degree when I was in high school, this time it was in computer science.  This was while she worked full time at Ford Motor Company.  Her career was marked by achievement, and scarred by blatant discrimination that was the norm at that time.  Despite all of this adversity, she never gave up pursuing her career.

There was only one priority in our household, it was simple- academic excellence.  My parents always said nobody could steal your education, it’s the one thing that is yours and can’t be taken away.  So we ate sugar cereal and microwave pizza and watched a lot of TV, and we were left alone most of the time, but we did well in school because we understood the importance of it.  It was the one thing our parents asked us to do well.

Lately there are new books and articles about women Leaning In to their careers, and about moms being Maxed Out, and I’d really love to know how my parents survived raising us while pursuing their careers, and without freaking out about it.

p.s.

I sent this essay to my lovable mother, and this was her short and telling reply,

Dear Ramune,

I think that somebody is making money brainwashing young people on how difficult it is to do natural and obvious stuff.

Love, Mom

Ford Ford rewards 2

moms grad pic

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