Work / Life Balance

En route, Spokane to San Francisco, experiencing a bit of weather delay, and weather, jouncing along in seat 1A between clouds and moon.

Just finished James Wallace's second book about Bill Gates, Overdrive: Bill Gates and the Race to Control Cyberspace the sequel to Hard Drive : Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire. Wallace notes that Judge Sporkin read Hard Drive, and it provided him reason to not sign the consent decree that the Department of Justice had come up with after 5 years of investigation into Microsoft's monopolistic practices. (His inaction was overridden on appeal.)

But that's not what this week's column is about.

It's about children, and work, and what HP has termed "work/life balance." I was just visiting one of my children, and his two children, and now I'm on my way to work, in Palo Alto; squeezed between a short day of FTO and a chorus rehearsal Tuesday night.

Bill Gates is a little younger than me - about a month and a half. He's probably smarter than me, and certainly richer. My net worth is close to pocket change for him, for as important as it may be to me. But we both have children, and his little girl is about the age of my little granddaughter. My grandson's 3 months old this month, and his mom went back to work today after her maternity leave.

Jeanette and I stayed home with the kids. It was supposed to be just Piper, with Dane going to daycare, but Dane's been a little sick lately, and Mom took him to the doctor this morning before she went in - late - to work. After the doctor, she dropped him off at home, with Piper, in our care.

Taking care of a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old, when they're both a little under the weather is a pretty big job. Dane hasn't ever had any kind of food other than his mother's milk, and was not prepared for a change in delivery system. That it was the same stuff (albeit pumped, frozen and microwaved) was not a comfort. Piper had had some cold medicine the day before and extended her nap time and bed time both. Now it was time to pay the piper, as it were.

It was exhausting. Once I stopped pacing and the cab came and picked me up, I felt relieved to be off on my own again. Her 1:00 naptime had come and gone, and at 3 she was still resisting any slowdown in her activity. It took pretty much all of grandma's and grandpa's energy to keep up with those two. It made me think about how I could understand child abuse, and terrible things happening to children in the care of an au pair. How can you pay for work like this? You can't; it's a labor of love. The best you can do is get some kind of relief from time to time, for which grandparents (or aunts and uncles) and daycare are nice to have.

And yet this is it what it takes to bring each new human being into the world. Someone to resist exasperation, fight through the fatigue of not having slept more than a few hours, show patience when a reprimand seems warranted, understand that a little bump on the head that brings wails of anguish and cries for "daddy!" and "mommy!" is serious, but won't last longer than anyone can bear. It's easy enough to understand why you might want to hire this out. But you can't. You can't commodify it, you can't commercialize it, you can't forsake it in favor of "important business." How can there be more important business?

How many millions did Bill Gates make today? Who looked after his daughter?


January 14, 1998

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Wednesday, 20-Jan-1999 17:38:00 MST