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Naomi Schaefer Riley

Cold Comfort

"The conflict of modern motherhood."

It's Sunday morning. I've just returned from a week at my parents' house with my two toddlers. A great week, but work was shoved to the side since my husband was at home. Now, I have two book manuscripts and five articles I should be working on. I have blog posts to write, emails to return, editing to wade through, but instead I'm making lasagna for a friend. Why, my husband wonders, am I now running a meals-on-wheels program? Because the friend had a third child recently, and the other nursery school mommies decided that since she didn't really need any more clothes or toys, we should all just agree to make her dinner one day for the three weeks after the baby comes. It's a lovely thought, really, and I was glad they asked me. Making mommy friends is harder when you're a working mother, but it's also even more important if you want to know what's going on at nursery school. As I'm sprinkling on the mozzarella cheese, though, I can't help but think about Alison Pearson's novel I Don't Know How She Does It, in which the heroine tries to mangle her storebought mince-pies to make them look homemade for her daughter's school Christmas party. Who am I kidding? I don't have time for this. And, of course, my friend, who is also a working mother, orders her groceries online and is perfectly capable of eating takeout with her family for three weeks.

All of which brings us to the most important question in life (at least to judge by the number of words spilled on answering it): How much can one woman accomplish in one day? While blogs like Motherlode (at The New York Times) and The Juggle (at The Wall Street Journal) or even Mama PhD (at InsideHigherEd) purport to offer advice about how to manage the "work-life balance," they are first and perhaps foremost an exercise in exhibitionism (see above). Reading stories of mothers (occasionally a father's voice is added for a little color) who have full-time jobs while acting as their families' cooks, chauffeurs, tutors, laundresses, ...

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