Tuesday morning, as Diego assembled a construction site on our living room rug, and I blearily prepped coffee, David returned from a run.
He was AWAKE. Energized! And concerned.
“Have you heard about Buffy Wicks?” He asked, scrolling his phone, still catching his breath.
I hadn’t. I’d fallen asleep the previous night to David tracking the waning hours of the California legislative session, anxious about critical housing votes.
As I sipped my coffee, David explained: the Speaker prohibited our Assembly Member from voting by proxy. While a proxy system was available for lawmakers exposed to COVID, maternity leave did not qualify for this flexibility.
Apparently, a deadly virus was not a strong enough justification to protect a mother and her newborn. So, committed to her constituents, Assembly Member Wicks drove to Sacramento, and voted with her baby.
David was visibly upset. I was still processing. I hadn’t yet seen the photos, or listened to the video of a mother, masked, cradling her crying baby, urging her colleagues to take important votes. All I my sleepy mind could think: what day is it?
September 1? September 1, 2020?
I woke up.
September 1, 2020? On this day, in this year, a legislator in the most progressive state is not protected during parental leave?
This is where we are?
Suddenly, my memory jolted to a previous morning wake-up. Three years ago, the day before my own parental leave, I woke up to a different viral video.
#BBCDad day ignited endless discussions about working parenthood. At the time, the video thrust two conflicting images into the world: a professional providing an interview, and a father interrupted by his eager child. We watched one man experience both things, at the same time, and the world was stunned.
That day, Laura Owen‘s perspective on work/parenting hit me hard: “none of it can be compartmentalized anymore. It’s often when you’re trying the hardest to keep up this illusion, that it comes crashing down.”
48 hours away from meeting my own child, I wondered, how will I keep these two worlds separate? How can I offer myself fully as a mother and a professional?
I would confront this challenge from a place of significant privilege. With an understanding and generous employer, in a state with paid leave, my immediate needs were more than met. And still, I felt tremendously insecure about upholding the image of managing dual demands.
Lacking a visual example of what this actually looked like made the challenge all the more daunting. I’d watched colleagues pursue their careers, I’d watched friends wrestle through fog-filled early motherhood—but until I did it, I truly couldn’t picture the two together.
In 2017, #BBCDad reiterated that there was no public image for the convergence of professional and family life. Today, for those privileged to work from home, the two coexist in-person and on-screen, and the distinction is gone. This is not to downplay the COVID’s chaos and the damage to working parents. However, with this crisis, and the ensuing working-parenthood visibility, it feels like many are noticing what this looks like, and how hard it is, to fully commit to both.
And if we weren’t reflecting before, scenes from Monday night elevated the pressure to a new level. Tuesday afternoon, when I had a moment, I finally watched Assembly Member Wicks’ comments. This article says it best:
“It was if, for a single moment in the California State Capitol, the near-impossibility of the demands of new motherhood and work and pandemic living had converged in a swaddle in Buffy Wicks’s arms.”
In that moment, in a very public way, the illusion came crashing down, and people saw the tension. Assembly Member Wicks’ passion, as she advocates before her colleagues, is mighty. Almost as spirituous as her daughter’s cries, the cries Wicks tries to soothe throughout her comments. The sounds and the struggle are obvious, and for any mother, very familiar. She is trying so hard to do both so well. She does it, but it is not easy.
Pre-COVID, Diego and I used to swing by the neighborhood playground after daycare. I would sit on the bench near the sand, and dread the moment Diego would ask me to play. Like everyone, by 5:30 pm, I was tired, and just wanted to catch my breath.
Sometimes, Assembly Member Wicks and her older daughter would be at the park, too. I never introduced myself, far too shy for that, but I always marveled at her energy. Here she was, after a day full of demands I could hardly imagine, feet in the sand, smile on, cheering for her daughter as she zoomed down the slide.
The phrase “I don’t know how she does it,” is totally overused, but that’s what I thought, watching her energy, as I pulled myself off the bench to join Diego in the sand.
Today, I still don’t know how she does it. Assembly Member Wicks should not have been forced to vote in person, but, I’m so grateful that Monday night, she shattered the illusion of separating motherhood from career passion, before the Legislature and all of our eyes.