Early in 1998, I got a call from an editor at Sports Illustrated for Kids Books who wanted me to write a book about women athletes. I was thrilled — it was a dream come true to write about one of my favorite subjects for the book division of one of my favorite publications. But it was a dream come true at the worst time, because my daughter had just turned two and her baby brother was barely three months old. I had planned to ease myself back into freelancing, not throw myself into it.
“I’d love to write the book,” I told the editor.
I didn’t tell her I had an infant. She was 6,000 kilometres away. She’d never know I had other responsibilities as long as I met the deadline, which I did. What’s more, the book looked great. But the two-and-a-half months I spent working on it were a misery of sleep deprivation and stress. It took me nearly a year to recover.
I thought back to that experience earlier this month as I watched the elevation of Sarah Palin from the moose-hunting-hockey-mom governor of Alaska to candidate for vice president of the United States.
My gut reaction at her selection was disgust at the hypocrisy and cynicism I felt it represented. Republican nominee John McCain had spent the summer accusing his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, of being too inexperienced to run for President. Yet he had no qualms about naming as his running mate a woman who had spent less than two years governing a state with 670,000 residents, and six years as mayor of a city with fewer than 6,000.
When I heard Palin was the mother of five children, including a son about to join the military, a pregnant teenage daughter, and an infant with Down’s Syndrome, I decided that McCain’s selection wasn’t just cynical, it was, as a reporter friend of mine said, “an insane Hail Mary pass.” Mostly, though, finding out about her family diverted my attention from her lack of experience and made me wonder about her priorities. And that bothered me most of all.
I don’t like it when people judge me, and that’s a big reason I don’t feel comfortable judging others. But I can’t help wondering how Palin is going to balance the enormous responsibilities that come with being second-in-command in the U.S. with being a partner in a marriage with five children, most of whom are still at an age where they can strongly benefit from two available parents. If she and her husband can make it work, bully for them. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that’s typical.
Turning Palin into a role model for the modern working wife and mother is unrealistic and unfair to us mere mortals who can barely manage to get dinner on the table on time with two children, much less go out and bag a moose while running a state and parenting five.
I realize there are plenty of people who think women can and should be able to do everything, but given my experience and that of family and friends, I’m convinced that’s a crock of garbage. At least, the part about doing it all at the same time is. Nobody can do it all at the same time. That verse from Ecclesiastes, “to everything there is a season” – there’s a reason it’s endured for so many centuries.
My husband says the reason I don’t like Palin is that she’s a Republican. He’s got a point. But even if she were a Democrat I’d like to hear her take on foreign policy, and to date I don’t believe anyone has. That the Republicans have kept her locked away from the media, presumably to school her on everything from geography to world affairs, underscores my argument that she’s not ready for the job for which she’s been nominated.
I grew up in the U.S. in an era where girls couldn’t play Little League baseball or deliver newspapers. I should be thrilled that a woman is on a presidential ticket for the first time in 24 years. But I’d feel a lot better if that woman had been chosen because she was ready, not because she was somebody’s idea of a appealing piece of fruit, picked before her time.