Friday, February 13, 2009

Questions from Mrs. Spit

Mrs. Spit was recently asked to answer five questions on her blog. Having answered them (in her usual thoughtful way), she then asked who wanted to be "interviewed" by her. I was one of the ones who signed up, and here are her questions to me (and my answers).

1. You work in banking, which is traditionally a man's world. How have you coped with this? Is it easier for younger women now?

I consider myself a writer (who happens to work for a bank), not so much a banker, per se. I work in the bank's public affairs/corporate communications department. I tell people that I really don't know a lot about any one part of the bank -- but I can probably tell you a little bit about a lot of different aspects of the business, and who you could contact to find out more.

My father was a branch banker for 30 years (with two different Canadian banks)(before switching to selling real estate at the age of 50), and I worked as a teller at a credit union one summer when I was in university (albeit in a pre-computer age when I had to handwrite pink debit & white credit slips for each transaction) -- so banks are places that I grew up around & feel comfortable with. You kind of absorb the atmosphere, like osmosis. ; )

My sister also worked for a bank for something like 17 years before they closed her unit & moved all the operations to Alberta, putting her & about 120 of her coworkers out of work. She now works for a credit union too. When we were growing up, we had to move every 3-5 years because of our dad's job, which we hated, & we swore up & down that we would never marry bankers. We now like to joke that, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, we have become the men we didn't want to marry. : )

Traditionally, communications/PR has been a pink-collar environment, and my department has always been female-dominated -- although men have always held most of the senior positions, & there are more men working here generally than there once were. Most of my immediate coworkers were women for many years. Only in the last couple of years have I had male colleagues that I work with closely. (At one point, a few years back, I did notice that three of the most senior positions in my department at the time were held by men, all of whom had at least three children each & a stay-at-home wife. Hmmm. Kind of gave me pause. We've come a long way, but there's still a long way to go.)

But yes -- although women make up more than 70% of the employees, have made great strides in breaking into the executive ranks, and while Canadian banks are some of the more women-friendly employers around in terms of benefits, etc., it is stilll an industry where men tend to hold most of the power. When I first started working for the bank, almost 23 years ago, there were very few female executives. I think there was one, maybe two at the senior vice-president level, & that was it; that was as high as they went. Today, 7 out of the 21 members of the executive team (executive vice-president level & up) are women, several of whom have children. (It wasn't all that long ago, maybe 10 years ago, that I saw my very first pregnant female vice-president -- & I remember realizing that was a "first" and getting a little thrill out of it. ) But there are still areas of the bank that are very male dominated & testosterone-laden.

I can think of a few examples of sexism that I encountered, particularly early on in my career. Never anything too blatant, but stuff that makes the younger girls go "Oh my God..." whenever I tell the stories to them. For example -- I showed up for work one of those first few weeks wearing pants, & one of the older women took me aside & told me, "We don't wear pants here, dear. What if the Chairman saw you?" Well, what if he did?? This was 1986, not 1926. Still, I knuckled under & went shopping. (The same woman told me that, back in the 1960s, the most senior woman in the Personnel Department used to go around with a ruler & measure the girls' skirts. Anything too short & you got sent home to change.) Around the same time that I was pregnant, 11 years ago, the dress codes began to relax and "business casual" became acceptable. Aside from occasional hot, humid summer days when I will wear a dress or skirt (sans pantihose), I don't think I've been out of pants since then. Much nicer in our cold Canadian winters!! (not to mention more comfortable)

I was at a banquet once, in those early years, & speaking with one of the older senior executives. He said to another older male executive, as I stood there, "This little girl here..." I think I was 26 at the time. I smiled sweetly through clenched teeth. I decided that since he was almost old enough to be my grandfather, I would forgive him, but if anyone younger than my father ever referred to me as a "little girl," I would speak up. Fortunately, that has not happened.

And I remember being at a meeting (not that many years ago) where I made an observation, & nobody said anything. About 20 minutes later, a guy said almost exactly the same thing -- & everyone laughed & thought he was brilliant. I practically had to pick my jaw up off the table -- it was something straight out of a textbook on sexism in the workplace.

I have never been hugely ambitious -- so it's not like I have had to cope with jealous rages watching men advance into more senior positions that I was lusting after. I'm ambitious in the sense that I like my job, want to keep it : ) and want to do good work. But I never aspired to be a vice-president, or anything like that. Particularly when I knew I wanted a family -- and even since I abandoned that dream. I like working for myself; I have never wanted to be responsible for other people (besides which, I am a lousy delegator). I suppose some people without children throw themselves into their jobs, but I like having a life. I don't think I'm lazy, but I just don't want to have to put in the kinds of hours that are expected of someone in a more senior position than mine. It's not worth it to me. But I am happy to see women who ARE ambitious and DO want to advance up the ladder do so, and get credit where credit is due.

Well, that's a long & rambling answer. Did I actually answer the question?

2. You have written so eloquently about how you struggle that there will be no one left to remember you when you die, as Katie is already gone. Have you ever thought of ways to leave your mark on the world?

Wow, this is a tough one, and yes, it's something that I struggle with. I believe we leave our mark on the world through the people we touch, particularly our extended families. Nobody will know or remember you better than your own child, of course, but I have many relatives in our extended family that I remember with love, & I like to think that I will remembered in the same way by others as well.

I hope that our two nephews will remember dh & me fondly when we're gone (they'd better, since they're probably going to inherit everything, lol) -- although I often feel that they are closer to dh than they are to me. They have the scrapbooks I have made for them (& I plan to make more) . I'm going to do one of me & dh and someday I'd like to write a memoir of sorts, just to tell my own story for anyone who might be interested.

Dh & I have also often said that if we ever win the lottery, or accumulate any good sum of money, we would like to establish a memorial fund in Katie's name, & through that, give money to organizations that support bereaved parents & do research into the causes of pregnancy loss & infertility. That would be a great legacy to leave.

3. You have been such a kind and welcoming person to all Dead Baby Mum's. What is the hardest part about welcoming new dead baby mum's?

It's always hard to welcome a new person to the "club" -- a club that none of us asked to join. Sometimes when I listen to their stories, the rawness & freshness of their grief is overwhelming. It both transports me back in time & makes me realize how far I've come in my own journey. Probably the hardest part is knowing there's really not much that I (or anyone else) can do to help them, except listen. We each must find our own way on this new path we've been thrust upon.

It's also hard seeing the parents get younger & younger -- a sign that time is passing on, & I'm getting older. I'm starting to feel that age gap a little more often lately. We had a very young (barely out of high school) unmarried couple come to group once (young enough that they realistically could have been MY kids) who had had a miscarriage and were keen to try again. Their parents were not in favour of the idea. I didn't/couldn't say anything, of course, but privately, I agreed with the mother!!

Dh & I have actually been talking about winding down our facilitating role later this year. We've been doing it for almost 10 years now & we're thinking that maybe it's time to let someone else take over. I've enjoyed it (not sure that's quite the right word...!), and it's only two nights a month (plus a few phone calls before each meeting), but it does take a lot out of you. And perhaps it's time for some new perspectives -- for the group and for us.

4. What is your idea day.

Do you mean my "ideal" day? Money no object? Well, I wouldn't be at work. ; ) I would sleep in. Go to the spa & get pampered. Have lunch or maybe afternoon tea with a girlfriend at a nice restaurant & then spend the afternoon shopping. Meet dh for dinner, & then a movie or maybe a play afterwards. Ahhhh....

Of course, an ideal day could also involve sitting on the couch all afternoon with a cup of tea & a good book or stack of magazines. : ) I'm pretty easy to please.

5. You've talked about worshipping at an Anglican Church in times past, and how it was too painful to stay. If you could change how the church responded to you, and to Katie's death, what would you change?

Actually, the church responded very nicely to us after Katie's death. The assistant curate who conducted the funeral service was absolutely wonderful. The minister was away at a conference in England at the time but came to visit us at home after he returned.

The pain came from witnessing the typical, everyday (well, every Sunday) moments that would seem perfectly normal & acceptable to anyone else, like watching the children return to the service from Sunday School, witnessing baptisms, seeing parents all around us with young children, seeing women who had been pregnant at the same time as me come to church with their new babies... and then get pregnant again... and again... I'm not sure how you could change or control that.

To be completely honest, pain over babies was not the only reason we gradually stopped attending church. For one thing, let's say that we didn't entirely see eye to eye with our minister on certain matters, & weren't entirely comfortable with the direction he was taking the congregation in. I tend to lean to the traditional (which in the Anglican church has usually meant a middle-of-the-road, "live & let live" attitude), & often found myself checking to see that yes, we really were in an Anglican church.

For another -- we started attending church regularly in anticipation of starting a family. We'd had a little difficulty finding an Anglican minister to marry us -- my parents had just moved & the local Anglican minister was not keen to marry a couple that (a) he didn't know well (b) didn't regularly attend church (c) wouldn't be a regular member of his congregation after the wedding (which ticked off my mother, who is about as faithful an Anglican as they make them & had already been pitching in to help out at the church from the time she & Dad moved there). (We wound up getting married by the (female!) Anglican chaplain in the chapel at the university where we met.)

I knew I wanted my children to be baptized -- & I knew that most ministers would not baptize your child unless you had attended their church for awhile. And I wanted my children to go to Sunday School, to know something about God and get a basic knowledge of the Bible and its stories. (Religious considerations entirely aside, Biblical literacy is so important to a deeper understanding & appreciation of so much of our literature.) And I liked the idea of continuing the Anglican/Episcopal tradition in my family for yet another generation.

So we started attending church regularly. And we enjoyed it, & got a lot out of it. I enjoyed the liturgy, the old familiar hymns, the connection to my own childhood memories. I still do, anytime that I do go to church.

But when the baby was gone -- and as it became more apparent that there weren't going to be more babies -- that particular reason for attending church became moot. Suddenly, it didn't seem quite so vitally important anymore. And, as described above, it was sometimes painful to be there.

Plus -- I'll admit it -- we are lazy. : ) Weekdays we're up at 5 & into the office at 8, Saturdays we clean & run errands. Sunday is often the one day of the week we get to sleep in & laze around the house, watching the Sunday morning talk shows, reading the Sunday papers & having a big mug of tea.

It's easy to make an effort -- to will yourself to get up early on a Sunday morning, get dressed up & go to church when it's "for the kids." When it's just for yourself, it's easier to make excuses & let things slide.

*** *** ***

This has been fun. Anybody else have any questions for me? Post them here in the comments & I will answer them in a future post.

And (a la Mrs. Spit) would anyone like to answer some questions FROM me?


  1. Great questions and answers!

    I haven't finished answering mine yet. Mrs. Spit can really throw a simple question that requires a complex answer. :0)

    I especially liked your answers to questions 2 and 5. As a person whose life has been "touched" by knowing you - I could really appreciate your words.

    Been a while since I've done any interviewing (I interviewed folks a time or two in my radio days) - let me work on some questions for you if you are game. 'Tis only fair if you agree to a few from me if I take a few from you as well. ;0)

  2. Thanks for such thougtful answers. I really enjoyed hearing them, especially the question about working in man's world.

  3. Great answers to those questions! And I can completely relate to your answer about your "relationship" with the church.

    And I love the concept of being interviewed by you ... I'd fancy a go at it!


  4. Great questions and very thoughtful answers.

    I always love to read your writing!

  5. I was thinking about something I read on Tash's blog today about how you google something and then you're plopped down in someone's life--and this is about #2 on your list. So many of us have plopped down in your life. Plopped down in Katie's life too. And it is no less real--all of us who are thinking of you and will remember you--than if it were a child. At some point, unless you have done something that goes down in history--Darwin, Lincoln, etc--the people who are remembering you will be gone too. So...I am someone out here thinking about you. And you have certainly made a mark on the world that way.

  6. I really like you insight on #3. You are a wise one and a wonderful example of grace to me.

    Good luck making and following thru on you decision about being a facilitator. It would be a big change for you, I think.

    I'd love to try to answer some questions from you!

  7. Wow. These are great questions and great answers. I liked getting a peek into your work life and your healing thoughts.

    As I was reading your legacy question, I realized that I don't really remember/honor my great-grandparents. So whether or not you have children, your shelf-life after death is, at best, maybe 50, 75 years?

    Not sure I'm saying that right.