City Paper is not for tourists
As Washington Post readers learned over the weekend, staff writer Brigid Schulte has a hectic life. She’s got two kids, a demanding job, and all manner of time-consuming chores that run her ragged throughout the week.
The grind, in Schulte’s words:
There was the Tuesday I flew in late to a meeting with school officials about why my son was floundering in fifth grade; I dragged along my second-grader, still in her pajamas and slippers because she had stayed home sick, and I kept glancing at my BlackBerry because I was in the middle of reporting a fast-breaking deadline story about a Chinese student who’d had her head chopped off. Then there was the Thursday that the amount of work I needed to do pressed like a heavy weight on my chest, but my heart just about ripped apart when my daughter’s big blue-gray eyes started to water because I had said no when she asked, “Mommy, will you please come with me on my field trip today?” I spent three hours in the woods with her — and my BlackBerry and my guilt over not being at work. I worked an extra four hours after she went to bed that night.
And so it went throughout the piece, with Schulte doing more and more stuff, like baking Valentine’s cupcakes till 2 a.m., or clearing the rocks from the kids’ closets, tidying, doing laundry, not to mention a bunch of other tasks, plus Harry Potter for story time. The stated purpose for airing Schulte’s life in the pages of the Washington Post Magazine was to challenge the obviously flawed conclusion of University of Maryland sociologist John Robinson that a woman like Schulte has 30 hours of leisure time per week.
Yet as I flitted from task to multitask with Schulte, I cared less and less about Robinson and more and more about Schulte’s husband. As in, Where the hell is this guy? I wasn’t alone. One of Schulte’s own colleagues, upon reading the piece, wondered, “When did Brigid get divorced”?
In the story, Schulte invokes the hubby just long enough to outfit him with a sharp elbow to the eye. Here’s how it reads:
One recent report showed that married working mothers were “more likely to do household activities and provide child care on an average day than were married fathers.” (If I didn’t already know that intuitively, the phenomenon certainly showed up in my diary: Saturday, 9 to 10:30 p.m., Clean up after 11-year-old’s birthday party while husband smokes cigar on back patio.)
“Husband,” here, isn’t some imaginary being. It’s Tom Bowman, the well-traveled Pentagon correspondent for National Public Radio. Now, if Tom Bowman is going to get slimed in the pages of the Washington Post, shouldn’t he get a chance to comment, a little space to provide his point of view?
Turns out he did. Schulte previewed a draft of the piece, and Bowman wasn’t elated at how he profiled. “‘Do you have to be so rough on me?'” he asked, according to Schulte.
They worked it out. “I wasn’t upset in any way,” says Bowman. “We’re still joking with our lawyer about it. Our lawyer said, ‘I see you are attacked in the article.'”
Writer and husband came to terms after Bowman suggested putting in a paragraph about how fathers do more around the house than ever. “She agreed,” says Bowman, referring a a passage in the story that references the emerging “androgyny” in mother-father workloads.
In that very spirit, Schulte says that Bowman “does a lot.” Though he certainly could have been a bit more helpful on the post-birthday-party front. According to Schulte, Bowman indulged in the cigar after having just returned from a monthlong reportorial tour in Afghanistan. So she cut him some slack.
But hold on here. Why shouldn’t Schulte have been the slack recipient? That’s the conclusion she appears to be reaching in retrospect. “Well, wait a minute—-you were a single mom for a month. Give yourself a break!” says Schulte.