Blogging on Beautiful Day in the OC with 4 Dogs/Brief Comment on Nannies, Working/Stay-at-Home Moms in Light of Ann Romney Brouhaha

 

Sunday night at Cafe Del Rey at twilight (Admiralty Way)

 

 

It’s a breathtaking day with a warm sun and pleasant breeze under the canopy at my friend’s backyard with her German Shepherd, not even 2 and 105 pounds, along with her three Italian greyhounds. My friend says I’m Baron’s girlfriend and he tackled me when I got here. He seems to think he is no different from the Italian greyhounds and has no compunctions about jumping up on the bed with me. Here we are before Wendy and I watched Californication in January when I was here for her birthday.

While we were watching Hank Moody indulge in yet another self-destructive rampage, Baron began to snore. We had to wake him up so we could properly concentrate on Hank Moody, with whom both of us are enamored. She says that this last season his self-destructiveness reached a whole new level. But circa Season 1 (which J and I have nearly finished on Netflix), I have hope for Hank. I was delighted when Hank brings his “ex-wife” Karen that concoction–the cheese dish from Long Island which is the only one he can make–though not surprised when things go awry, so that there can be no repeat of the kiss between him and Natascha McElhone, for my money one of the most stunning and interesting actresses on TV in my adult life.

McElhone is absolutely breathtaking and of course as a former size 2 my whole life, her body fairly me makes me swoon. But not enough to cut wine out for 2 months and do some sort of insane diet. I never had to diet in my life. I was careful since 14 years old about my eating, and danced, swam, worked out at a gym and did yoga by turns. But I am blessed with a good metabolism and thin, fit parents so I never in my life had to contemplate losing 10 to 13 pounds. I am finally over my cold and will commence swimming upon my return to Santa Barbara next week, along with weights. I will up my water and reduce my wine till Memorial Day. Every time I see her patrician bone structure, elegant jaw, mesmerizing eyes and ultra-thin, lithe figure in her cute jeans, I resolve to be a good girl.

Hilma was sort of a combination housekeeper/shopper/cook/nanny but we never called her a nanny because she is part of the family still with my parents after 34 years, though only about 3 hours a day during the week, and also because my liberal, trailblazing lawyer mom is far too conscious of language to have referred to her as a “nanny,” or God forbid an “au pair.” I find this a pretentious term though I knew plenty of girls who had one and now, many divorced New York men who had one for their kids. Even if it’s a beautiful Ukrainian or Eastern European with cultured tastes, I find it obnoxious.  Hilma is Guatemalan so it would have been both pretentious and inaccurate to call her an “au pair.”

I have often stood up for working mothers and nannies on Facebook (I have very conservative friends on FB).  In light of the Ann Romney brouhaha with that dipshit chick from the DNC, Hilary Rosen, who at the very least was born without the gene for tact (or commonsense), I thought I would say a few words. (No laughing from the FB peanut gallery; I realize my definition of “a few” is both variable and highly individuated.) First of all, in my world growing up with a lot of Hollywood people, lots of moms stayed home and there was no stigma at all. In the case of Gwyneth Paltrow, Blythe (Danner) was the breadwinner before Bruce got busy with St. Elsewhere.

My mom was a career lawyer whose only 7 months not working from 18 to 72 was in 1972 after my birth. For the record: my mom wanted to stay home a full two years but my parents couldn’t afford it with a new house and my father’s ketch, which brought him great happiness and which therefore my mother supported wholeheartedly.  One friend’s mother was a German professor at Cal State Northridge. Another was a top radiologist, a neighbor in the Palisades married to my nose job doctor and they were carpool parents. Another (the wife of Bob Schiller, an Emmy-winning writer of I Love Lucy, All in the Family and Maude) was a former state senator for CA going to the SCALE program at Southwestern Law.

SCALE was a controversial 2-year law degree whose fate is unknown to me but my father had nothing complimentary to say about it. Gary Goldberg’s wife, Diana Meehan (they were not married till Shana and I were in college, but together some 20 years) went back to UCLA for a Ph.D. in mass communications.  I confess I have no clue what this means, and no desire to learn, but I do know Sarah Palin studied it at one of her many institutions of higher learning, along with journalism.  But even moms who stayed at home tended to do some sort of nonprofit work (the more egalitarian way to refer to charity work).

Let’s put it this way: Hilma was one of the only housekeepers picking up for carpool in the afternoons. There were plenty of stay-at-home moms both in my class and the school at large. One girl in my carpool in the Huntington Palisades was Jewish. Her father was an allergist and her mom took care of her and her two sisters. They were observant, though they never struck me as all that invested in spirituality, which is sort of how it is where I grew up, where a bat mitzvah means next to nothing about your views, or even your parents’  views, of God. It was quite clear that after all the private schooling, the goal was for the girls to marry well (and they did).

So Rosen is a dipshit. This is beyond dispute. She has stuck her foot in her mouth repeatedly. And of course, staying at home to raise kids without minimum 20 hours a week of help IS working. I know career men and women who’d rather be at work outside the home 65 to 75 hours a week than take that on.  A family friend, very dear to me, is in his mid-60s and billed insane hours as a Wall Street lawyer: 2700 billable hours. I told him about a very good FB friend of mine I hope one day to meet though she doesn’t go to NYC all that much anymore and my travels never take me to North Carolina. She is a graduate-educated woman from the Northeast, one degree from an Ivy and another from an elite liberal arts college. She has no help at home. She cooks, cleans, sews, and home schools three girls under 8.

Without missing a beat, my sardonic friend responded thus: “I’ll take the 2700 hours.” For you non-lawyers out there, 2700 billable hours is obscene. It used to be 1800 and when the big firms (the world of “big law”) went to 2000 hours, it was a kind of watershed moment in private practice. This man went in at 9. New York lawyers start and end later and you do not make partner without a lot of dinner meetings with clients, something very difficult for women partners with kids at home, but that’s another long and interesting story for another day. He worked till about 8 (lunch was brought in or skipped, in keeping with Gordon Gekko’s mantra that lunch is for pussies), at which point he’d go have a good dinner and work till 11 or 11:30. On weekends he worked from home.

And this isn’t rote or mundane work. It’s high-pressure and high stakes.  Sometimes he’d leave at 8:30 on Fridays because we’d have dinner when I lived in his Upper East Side duplex in the 1992-3 academic year, when my Yale single was a closet my father said was smaller than the quarters of a single soldier in an infantrymen barracks in WWII. (“For this we pay 32,000 dollars?” I am old of course, so $32,000 seems manageable now, particularly for an Ivy!) But this is hardcore. The hours and pressure of corporate/private law (Sidley and Austin, O’Melveny and Myers, Skadden Arps, Akin Gump, White and Case and so on) are part of why a lot of women lawyers elect to go into government law, where they can still have a life and a family if they wish.

Now, it is literally impossible to be either a high-level government or corporate lawyer with kids and not have full-time help. And I feel very strongly that there is nothing wrong with full-time help. I had Jean-Marie, an Argentinian with a Castilian accent who spoke at the speed of light, which, come to think of it, may explain what everyone who speaks with me on the phone or meets me in person tells me: I can speak for multiple paragraphs without taking a breath. The same is true of my written correspondence and no one on chat fails to note the frightening velocity with which I eject words, both in Instant Message and wall comments.

My friend Rick Misch in Ohio, with whom I intended to go into the coffee selling business (Organo Gold before Dad got hysterical about the whole thing and therefore bought me out of my 500 dollar investment which included boxes of product) claims he can out-type me. There is no way in hell he out-types me but he may type as fast. My FB husband refuses to engage in certain arguments with me in writing; he says it’s just not fair or possible to point out just how wrong I really am because he can’t hold a candle to my verbal output.

Now, Jean-Marie (but we just called her Jean) was hilarious. She would tell me to go back to my room and change my clothes because at 5, I did not like my clothes to match: “Maria! Vete al cuarto y cambiate la rope! Carnival!!” I knew full well at 5 that you do not convert an imperative into an infinitive but I would say, “No quiero veter!”  Her response was always the same: “Cuando no!” When Dad would pack for business trips, she would say, “Señor Ordin, WHY you take-eh DIS?” Dad: “Because I wanna take-eh DIS!”

Jean left when I was five and we got Lydia (these were full-time Monday to Friday employees, not live-ins), whom I loved because she had a Lhasa Apso or something comparable, named Snowball. She lived by LACMA and occasionally I would go to her apartment and Mom would pick me up from there. Lydia was Portuguese but as I recall, spoke passable Spanish. This was the single most important thing to my father, who would not hire anyone who would not speak exclusively Spanish to me so that I would grow up bilingual. I am eternally grateful to him for this as I never opened a book for Spanish in school until AP Spanish Literature (Lorca , Unamuno, Borges, Neruda and Matute the AP authors in 1989) and it was an easy A from 7th to 10th.

Unfortunately, Lydia had a mysterious allergy to the 10 freeway: she got bad headaches but only when driving on the freeway. One would think that a woman taking a caregiver job on Westside might occasionally have taken the freeway around town and observed this strange phenomenon of the the freeway-induced headache. Apparently not. I had not grown too attached and mostly I was disappointed because I loved animals and we had none. I was not a stupid child who wasted my time on frivolous requests so it never even crossed my mind to ask my parents, at best indifferent and at worst hostile to pets, to ask for a dog. My father is severely allergic to cats so that was a non-starter.

Just before my 6th birthday, Hilma came to us. And whatever issues I had with my mother had less than nothing to do with the presence of Hilma in my life. Hilma is the best. We laugh so much now that I’m back in the house ten or eleven days a month to care for Dad. She is very Catholic and won a prestigious award from the Pope, complete with big framed certificate, medallion and a little thing in a box. The award is the highest honor a layperson can receive in the Diocese: Benemerenti. She has been at St. Basil’s three decades in various capacities. But in my year after 8.5 years of celibacy, I would regale her with stories of my first dating year in nearly a decade and we would roll on the floor in laughter. “Ay! Maria!” (She calls me Victoria most of the time but since I changed my name at 24, 18 years after she met me, it’s easy for her to slip back to Maria.)

I never once resented that my mom worked so much. She was home for dinner by 7 most of the time, barring a particular event or drop-by after work. She worked weekends, reading and writing from the boat, but I did not feel deprived by her investment in work. I was quite proud even at 6 of having a U.S. Attorney for a mother though of course on the playground when the inevitable “What does your mommy do?” arose and I told them, their response was often something like, “U.S. Attorney? Is that a studio?” Telling them Dad was a Federal Bankruptcy judge didn’t elicit much more by way of recognition or comprehension.

Truthfully, I just wanted equal time with my father when she wasn’t at work and for many reasons I didn’t get this, but it’s all in the past and I was best friends with my mother for most of my life, minus the ten years I didn’t speak to her except when absolutely necessary (doctors, insurance, money). I wanted her to handle my father differently and I wanted her to be more honest about family dynamics. I didn’t care if she was home at 3 or if she picked me up from school though of course the year she was at UCLA School of Law between jobs in 1982 I loved it! We’d play after school when she got home at 4 and that was great. My mother has never baked me a cake for my birthday and I really don’t care. She doesn’t garden or sew or do domestic things. I never felt she loved me less because all the stay-at-home mommies made such fabulous cookies or cupcakes. I was fine with Oreos.

And as I have written, I have absolutely no use for the pompous Dennis Prager when he has his social conservative/marriage counselor/happiness theorizer hat on. If he wants to talk about Israel or Judaism, fine. But his drivel about feminism in National Review earned him a permanent place on my shit list and subsequent pieces on similar themes have done nothing to redeem him in my eyes. I have said on FB that if you’re going to listen to a conservative on talk radio, listen to Michael Medved (apart from the fact my brother went to Pali Charter School with his little brothers or that he was Yale Law).  I do realize there is a big difference between a job and a career. My mother had a career. Unless you’re an executive secretary in a big firm of high-level government office, being a secretary (or a waitress) is not a career. It’s a way to pay the bills and I do know the statistics on single mothers and latchkey kids. But I can’t stand that man.

The female pursuit of a genuine career in a profession is not the reason America is a mess and this is the tone which underlies Dennis Prager’s pontifications on this subject. I’m not that political but social conservatives almost almost make me physically ill. Once in a while, they are so able to compartmentalize that insanity I can become relatively intimate with one on FB. But I thought I had one of those and she was cuckoo, as it turned out, obsessed with Santorum. She undertook a rash of deletions, even of college people from the Midwest (and she’s in her 50s). She’s nuts. And to judge by the people on FB who like Prager as a social commentator (not scholar of Judaism or Israel), that guy will never not irritate me. And he’ll make a shitload of money blabbing to people who would do better to go to Al-Anon and learn about personal accountability through the 4th Step inventory than listening to his conservative male version of Oprah’s bullshit about happiness.

One need not sign onto the Prager train to feel that Rosen was just stupid, thoughtless and disrespectful of the work of motherhood and even my very liberal father took a sort of “what the fuck is wrong with her” attitude. And the backlash against feminism seems to me unable to distinguish between the First, Second and subsequent “waves.”  Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf have about as much to do with each other as Chaucer and Charles Bukowski. I find Wolf a terribly annoying writer and not a great credit to Yale or its legendary English department! (Ed Norton and Josh Malina do Yale proud of course.)

And of course we all know that Betty Friedan was an intensely neurotic, conflicted, unpleasant person who forgot to hire an editor for her interminably long Feminine Mystique, the introduction to whose anniversary edition by Anna Quindlen pretty much summed it up. Still, it’s just too easy now to dismiss the important messages of that book about the myth of blissful domesticity. Women were stifled, many of them, and mopping the floor in pearls wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Moreover, women who did work outside the home were still expected to carry the full burden of household labor and any woman of 65 and over you talk to about this will pretty much say that it was indeed a cultural event whose significance no one my age can possibly begin to comprehend. Over and over I meet women in real life or on FB and if the subject comes up, they say they were teachers of some sort or worked in an office and the husband expected the woman to come home, cook dinner, clean up while he sat in the living room either reading or listening to the radio.  I don’t know if Friedan really did abuse her husband (when it was always thought to be the reverse) but yes, she had been affiliated with socialism (one reads all about her and the Communist Party) and she had money. I’m not all that interested in exposing Friedan as a hypocrite or a head case though she may have been both.

Part of why I do not involve myself in politics at a deep level is that I find it intensely irritating. None of this rhetoric on the right or the left helps anything. Daily Kos ran a piece about the Romneys’ income when he was in school. The headline was downright irresponsible. A stock his father had bought for his birthday at 6 bucks a share was sold in the 90s and yes, it was real money even at 6 but who gives a shit? I have no patience for reverse snobbery.

There may be real reasons to object to Romney but the fact he wasn’t poor is certainly not one of them, nor the fact that he (like me) went to an Ivy League school without working or graduating with debt. It’s not as though being poor and struggling with a job for 20 to 30 hours a week while trying to train the mind–which after all is the point of college or professional or graduate school–enhances one’s intellectual performance or social experience. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that high achievers in college and grad school who do have to work have a far less evolved social life and also fewer extracurriculars.

It’s hard to be a concert level pianist-in-training, get a 4.0 in a pre-med major, volunteer at a local elementary school, cultivate friendships, stay in good shape and work 20 hours a week, much less 30 hours. There simply isn’t time, unless you are some sort of prodigy or genius who can get the same result with half the work. I am also not interested in Ann Romney’s hobbies. A friend in DC posted that she is heavily into dressage. Not a poor person’s hobby.  I’d love to take one lesson a week and right now finding the 300 a month extra for that just isn’t in the cards. I do not, therefore, begrudge these happy, rich people their happy, rich people diversions.

And here the anti-feminist in me which horrifies my mother comes out. Men and women are different of course– anyone who claims they aren’t is simply retarded–and part of the difference includes life options. If it’s important for a good-looking, educated, nice girl to have money and she sees no way of achieving this herself, there’s this amazing thing called marriage. Also, if one wants to have a more upscale lifestyle, there’s a very obvious way to maximize the income one has at one’s disposal: don’t have kids. Single people can do a lot more by way of “leisure living” if they forego children. So if you are in your 20s or 30s and good-looking and smart and otherwise desirable and money matters to you: find a husband (who isn’t an schmuck) to take care of you.

Obviously, this was not my approach. For one thing, I was dead a decade in a catastrophic depression. I didn’t date for 9 years from 28 to 36, sort of prime husband-hunting years. But before that, if I had been motivated to do this I could have done so. Or after. I am lucky to have a modicum of financial security (not one which permits home ownership till I’m pushing 60, not in the places among which I shuttle in this peripatetic, nomadic existence I both live and love). But I studied English (and philosophy). I have often said that if I had known I would need to support myself, I would have gone to law school. I would have studied something marketable. Literature, philosophy, history and foreign languages are subjects you study only if you know you will have a roof over your head, food in your kitchen and the various types of insurance you need to survive no matter what happens to you in life.

So I find the class warfare and rhetoric exceedingly trying. And I don’t think any of it helps anyone. All it does is entrench either side against the other and create more hostility than already exists (which is of course considerable). I will post a full review of Cafe Del Rey in the Marina tomorrow, along with M Street Kitchen but leave off with a few pictures from each meal.

Before Admiralty and Washington.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chilled pea soup. Like vichysoisse but pea. Wonderful but small.

Carrot ginger of my dining companion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My friend had the grouper special and usually this is a dull fish but it was juicy, tender and flavorful atop a generous helping of Israeli couscous. Really fabulous.  I seem to be having a Reverse Midas Touch moment with spacing of text relative to pictures and it’s dinnertime and I hear the Starborough Sauvignon beckoning. I also include my pizza and post-dinner shot of the dress, Nicole Miller from the Cottage I’ve worn since Christmas fairly regularly with my first pair of non-orthopedic shoes in a year, the Tahari from Designer Shoe Warehouse in Hollywood I posted a few weeks ago. I just love them, 70 down from 140. Not comfortable but this is the price you (don’t) pay for cheap shoes or at least non-designer shoes. The Chanel pumps I wore to the Four Seasons Ali Wentworth book signing in DC last month were very comfortable.

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