Watching History

Today I sat mesmerized, by a part of a political convention I haven’t watched live in many years – the official roll call of delegates, at the Democratic National Convention. I watched the entire thing, all the way to Wyoming, when the roll call went back to Vermont, and Bernie Sanders nominated Hillary Clinton. With a rush of unexpected tears in my eye, I witnessed the nomination of the first woman for U.S. President by a major political party.

I was deeply moved as I watched our democratic process at work, hearing each state delegation proudly declare their accomplishments and unique attributes. “Home of the Cleveland Cavaliers,” said Ohio. “The state where the big choice is red or green (as in chiles)” said New Mexico. “Birthplace of eight U.S. Presidents,” said Virginia. I watched in awe as each delegation cast their respective votes for the two candidates, but then agreed on the party’s choice, a woman, for highest office in the land.

Last night I listened as First Lady Michelle Obama gave her remarkable, inspirational and powerful speech, a call to action, which demonstrated leadership, discernment, and wisdom. I recalled that, several years ago, when someone asked me to choose who, among any living person, I’d like to have lunch with, I answered Michelle Obama. I’ve always admired her intelligence, humor, parenting, and integrity, and thought her unique role in history would make for a fascinating (and fun!) conversation.

With all the chaos imbedded in this election, it seems that the historical significance of this week is being overshadowed by politics. It seems that younger generations of women may not appreciate how big a deal this really is. To think about the progress of change for women from Hillary to Michelle, leading to the opportunities now open to the next generation of women is remarkable.

Thank you to the women who paved the way

Thank you to the women who paved the way

I think about my mother, valedictorian of her high school graduating class in the early 1940’s. She received a degree, with honors, from the University of Michigan, with a double major in chemistry and biology. The only job she could land was a lab technician/administration position at Dow Chemical, junior to younger and far less educated men. She became so bored that she quit and joined the Navy as a WAVE. At Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI, she met my father, an OCS instructor. Within a year, my parents were married and shortly thereafter, when my mother became pregnant with my oldest brother, she was out of the Navy and her professional career was over.

I thought about my own career. During my law school days in the early 80’s, women comprised less than 30% of the student body. I was constantly asked (even by one law professor) how, as a woman, I planned to fit in any kind of legal (or otherwise) career with marriage and family. After I graduated, my first job was clerking for a judge at the Santa Clara County Superior Court. When I rode the elevator to my office on the 8th floor, older men (usually judges or other lawyers) would say things like “Honey, can you push 4 for me?” When I was conferring with judges and lawyers in the courtroom or chambers, I was asked to fetch coffee and make photocopies.

When I began my corporate career, there were few women in positions of power. The one woman in upper management at my firm had devoted nearly every waking hour to her career, giving up marriage and family, and she was tough as nails. She became an important mentor to me, and when I was pregnant with my son, she decided to make me a role model, fighting successfully for me to take a two-month maternity leave and return to work on a part-time schedule. All of this was perfectly legal at the time, but rarely done for fear of career repercussions. I credit her with blazing trails and opening doors for me, facilitating my successful career.

My mentor relayed stories to me from her career, and the sexism (both overt and veiled) she encountered. She was taunted, shunned from the “old boys network” where important client and corporate decisions were made, and relegated to menial work. She worked tirelessly, and tenaciously stood up for herself and her clients, developing a reputation for being “difficult” and a “b*&!” for behavior that would’ve been applauded as “assertive” or a “go-getter” in her male counterparts.

I see many similarities between my mentor and Hillary Clinton, who are about the same age.   My mentor was a whip-smart, organized, capable, stubborn, tough, thick-skinned woman, qualities she needed to excel in a man’s world. Although warm and funny with trusted friends and associates, her learned steeliness suggested a cold-heartedness to others. I suspect that many of the criticisms of Hillary’s personality also stem from the survival tactics she has adopted over the course of her long legal career and in the public eye. It takes a tough woman like Hillary Clinton to scale a mountain like the presidency.

So, today I pause to celebrate and savor the remarkable accomplishments of strong female role models on display in Philadelphia this week. Younger generations may find it unsurprising that we are on the cusp of electing our first female President, but that in itself speaks volumes to the great progress women like Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama have wrought in my lifetime.

Who knows? Maybe next year, after she leaves the White House, Michelle Obama will have time for our dream lunch, and we can compare notes, and reflect on our lives and the progress of women in this country, and I will personally thank her for her inspirational leadership.   After all, the message of today is, a girl can dream big, right?

Travels with Flat Monica

I have been neglecting my blog lately, but only because I’ve been traveling and having way too much fun. I particularly enjoyed a recent trip to the Big Apple with my new close friend Flat Monica.

Originally, the trip was conceived as an epic birthday gala for my friend Real Monica. We have a tradition in our book club of celebrating milestone birthdays with a special expedition. In the past, we’ve typically stayed closer to home in Southern California, but Real Monica decided, for her milestone birthday festivity this year, she wanted us all to visit Tracy, a book club member who moved to New York a few years ago.

We went about planning our trip, finding dates that worked for everyone, exploring various activities and shows, and coordinating travel schedules. Ultimately, three of us (in addition to Real Monica) committed to the trip.

A few weeks after we purchased our airline tickets, Real Monica announced she couldn’t go (it’s a long story). The rest of us conferred and decided (what the heck!) we would go anyway. Our imaginative and creative friend Kathy hatched the idea of taking Flat Monica (a takeoff from the old “Flat Stanley” craze I only slightly remember) and showed up with two laminated photos of Real Monica (now Flat Monica) for us to haul around New York City.

Flat Monica proved to be an ideal travel companion. She fit in our purses and backpacks, did not require travel costs, space, food or her own bed, went along with all of our plans, never complained or got lost, and, no matter what happened, kept the same smile on her face.

We had a ball planning, staging and executing Flat Monica photo shoots all over town and posting them on our group page. To kick things off, we filmed a video tribute of Flat Monica behind a pie with a lighted candle, while we sang happy birthday, ending dramatically as one of us (off-stage left) blew out the candle on cue. We photographed Flat Monica kayaking on the Hudson, enjoying two plays, listening to commentary on an architectural boat cruise, sampling rice pudding at a trendy eatery, and strolling through Central Park. In fact, at Strawberry Fields, in Central Park, we ran into two young men from Australia, one of whom was carrying a life-size Flat Mom (a photo of his mother) and we introduced and photographed Flat Monica with Flat Mom.

Some of the many Adventures of Flat Monica

Some of the many Adventures of Flat Monica

At one of the (Way Off-Broadway) plays, an odd affair involving puppetry and video, we took Flat Monica backstage post-play and photographed her with the star, a Flat Monica-sized puppet (he waived the “no touching” rule and put his arm around her). We took Monica to a 7-Eleven store on 7/11 and plied her with a free Slurpee, and then took her on a mine tour in New Jersey. And when we dropped our friend Sara off at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (where she was staying the following weekend while she visited her son) we photographed Flat Monica in the lobby with the ornate London-built clock and under the 800-thread-count sheets in Sara’s room.

Real Monica seemed to enjoy traveling vicariously through Flat Monica. And Flat Monica made a delightful portable companion, providing us with hours of amusement. All in all, I highly recommend taking Flat Friends along on travels, especially when Real Friends can’t go. Since I was the last to leave New York, I flew home with Flat Monica (in my carry-on, although I let her look out the window a few times, much to the amusement of the 8-year-old girl sitting next to me). As I now write, Flat Monica is smiling at me from the coffee table, and, since we had so much fun together, I’m seriously considering taking her along on more trips.