The Juggling Act Every day, working mothers scramble to do too many thingsat once. Today's summit on working family values looks for solutions -- before the balls start dropping.


When Cassandra Tancil arrives at La Petite Academy day care center with her two children, she looks like a woman in the middle of a list of things to do.

It is a breezy morning and she is carrying light jackets for 4-year-old Jillian and 6-year-old Evan and she is asking them to hang up the jackets, but while she is asking, she is doing it herself.

The children have already drifted away from her, distracted by their friends, a breakfast snack and a room full of kid-sized stuff.

She says, "Remember to put on your listening ears for the teacher," but the listening ears must still be in the children's pockets.

And if Cassandra Tancil isn't late for work, she is giving a good impression. But when she calls Evan and Jillian back for one last embrace, the day stops and she lingers for huge hugs and extra kisses.

When Tancil finally moves toward the exit, Jillian leans out of her classroom door and issues the only marching orders that matter on this chaotic morning: "Remember, mom. 4: 30!"

This is the place and the time in a working mother's day when her juggling act is most apparent, when all the balls are in the air at once. She is somewhere between mother and worker, turning her children over to another's hands and assuming a role for which she is paid.

Behind her is a sink full of dishes or unmade beds or an empty gallon of milk or an emotional blowup during the family's exit from the house. Ahead is a work day, a mad dash to the day care center before it closes, dinner, homework, sports practice, bedtime rituals and that old standby -- the 11 p.m. load of wash.

As a working mother moves from one world to the other, she hardly draws a breath.

"You never get out of the house at the time you'd like to," Tancil says later from her office at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where she is the clinical coordinator for the pharmacy department.

She lives in Randallstown, about 25 minutes from work, but the day care center where her children are enrolled is on the campus of GBMC.

"They don't want to get up. They are dragging. You try to hurry them and they get upset and then you have to deal with that.

"But my kids are pretty good. By now, they know the drill.

"Juggle? You bet I juggle," said Tancil, whose husband, Lucien, just finished getting his master's degree in health administration while working full-time as the operations manager at Liberty Medical Center. She has her doctorate in pharmacology.

"All my plates are spinning, but they are all full. They're not falling yet. I'm still keeping them up."

Because she performs the same kind of juggling act, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, lieutenant governor of Maryland, wife and mother of four daughters, is convening a summit on "working family values" today at the University of Maryland, College Park.

She has asked 100 leaders in business, government, academia, journalism and advocacy groups to spend a day hammering out solutions to the strains on working mothers that threaten the health and well-being of their families, and ultimately, our economy and our quality of life.

"Because this is something I face, too -- and I have a helpful husband, a staff and a somewhat flexible job -- I felt it was it was up to me to demonstrate that this is not a private challenge, but something that we as a state and nation must address," Townsend said.

"The stresses that so many parents face are not of their own doing but part of a larger challenge that we have to deal with."

The summit is titled "Solutions: Women's Juggle for Time," and that's what Townsend wants -- solutions.

"What I hope will come out is real answers," she said. "I want solutions. I want to know what business can do better and what government can do better and what communities can do better. And what individuals can do," said Townsend.

More working mothers

And, according to recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, 77 percent of mothers with school-age children are working. That includes 62 percent of mothers with children younger than 6.

According to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Census, 55 percent of new mothers returned to the work force in 1995 within 12 months of giving birth. In 1976, when the Census Bureau first began tracking the trend, the number was only 31 percent.

Besides juggling jobs and families, women must also contend with the disapproval of those around them. Polling data released last month by the Washington Post, Harvard Unversity and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds of the people surveyed said it would be better for the family if the mother could stay home and care for the children.

"I don't feel like I'm juggling. I feel like I'm treading water," says Christa Meyer, who has just dropped 3 1/2 -year-old Morgan and 18-month-old Hailey at La Petite. Both have been in day care since they were 8 weeks old.

She works in her family's business, selling educational equipment to schools, and her hours are long and erratic. Her husband is a 9-to-5 radiological engineer at GBMC, but he is often called out from their home in Timonium when equipment fails.

"For the most part, it goes smoothly," Meyer says after a final round of hugs and kisses at La Petite. "The children are comfortable here and that makes it easier on me. My husband is extremely helpful, but when you work for a family business, you just can't walk away. You have to put time into it.

L "But I feel like I am trying to play catch-up all the time."

There is no rushing Nicholas Fernandez right now. He is in the arms of his mother, Gail. He's sleepy and he's hungry and it looks like he is coming down with something. Fernandez holds her 11-month-old son until the day care worker, who is busy feeding other babies, can attend to him.

She doesn't mind the delay.

"It is pretty hard most days," she says. "If I left him, he would just cry. So I feel like I'm easing him into his day a little bit.

"I'd rather be with him. If I didn't have to work, I wouldn't."

Nicholas is the first child for Fernandez and her husband, Lorenzo, who owns and operates the Original Giorgio's restaurant on York Road. She is a senior accountant for GBMC and does the payroll for her husband's business. She also keeps the house running while he works long hours and she takes Nicholas to the restaurant in the evening so he can see his father.

On her way to La Petite in the morning from Carney, her brain is spinning.

"I'm thinking about errands, the grocery store, dry cleaning, family things, the business. Today, I had to go renew our business license at lunch time. It is always something."

Like Tancil, Fernandez isn't sure what solutions the lieutenant governor's summit can provide for her. And Joy Oakes would probably settle for someone who would stop at the grocery store while she picks up her boys, Sean, 6 and Michael, a fifth-grader, at after-school care in Arnold.

"I'm 'cooking' for the school picnic," she said to another woman in the check-out line. Oakes offered as evidence a bag of pre-cut carrots and a container of dip.

While Oakes is driving from work to the grocery store to Montessori International Children's House for the boys, she is also thinking about what she must do at her current home and what she has to do at the house to which her family is moving shortly.

Great organizers

"Women can organize anything in their professional lives because they have to organize everything in their private lives. Before I leave the house in the morning, I've made 200 decisions," says Oakes. She works for the Sierra Club in %J Annapolis; her husband, Thomas Cassidy, is a lawyer.

Melissa McManus is the director of day care for the Montessori school in Arnold that Oakes' children attend. She is 28 and married but she and her husband are waiting to have children. It might be because of the whirlwind she sees unfold before her each afternoon as mothers and dads from as far away as Washington race the clock and the Route 50 traffic to pick up their children before 6 p.m. or face cash fines as high as $50. A two-week banishment from day care is the penalty for multiple offenses.

"The elementary parents are in and out," she said. "They have to get their kids to sports or piano. They are more rushed because their kids are into more things."

"This is an adventure in timing," said Peter Archibald, there to pick up 8-year-old Jonathan, who has to get to his lacrosse

team's season-ending party.

Today is a good day for Irene Repka, who follows Archibald into the Montessori parking lot. Her daughter, Kelsey Rose, and her son, Riky, both have ball games, but today her husband, a physician, can watch one of the games while she watches the other. But only after she stopped home for their equipment on the way from work. It had been forgotten during the morning rush.

Rush to dinner

"I'm pretty tense most of the time," said Repka, who runs her own antique business, too. "By the time we get home, they are tired and whiny. They want to eat right away and I am under pressure to get this product -- dinner -- on the table."

After they eat, her children begin to relax, but it is unclear when Repka does.

"Can we walk while you talk to me?" asks Kathy Sanders, who arrives with her husband, Rod, at the Montessori House. Today, both parents are needed: one child has a team picnic and another has a school picnic.

"We have a theory of divide and conquer," she says. "Good thing we only have two."

Sanders, too, stopped at the grocery store for hot dog buns on her way to pick up the children, only to find that her husband was annoyed she hadn't bought his picnic contribution, too.

"But I had no idea I would actually see him," she explains.

The Sanderses operate their own business, Cygnus Instruments, and she is studying for a degree in literature at UM. Summer session begins the same day she and her husband are due to close on their new house.

"I've already e-mailed the instructor for the reading assignments so I can get them done before the chaos sets in," Sanders reports.

"Now that's organization."

Nope. That's juggling.

Families as workers

In a primer for the "Solutions: Women's Juggle for Time" summit today in College Park, organizers compiled the following statistics reflecting families and today's workplace:

In a September 1995 poll, 88 percent of individuals responding said they want flex-time scheduling for work.

According to a New Yorker magazine article from October 1997, parents of both sexes are spending an average of 10 or 12 hours less a week with their children than they did in 1960.

A 1996 poll reported that 42 percent of working parents are spending less time with their spouses.

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 1997, Americans are working more hours per year than they did 20 years ago. Women's hours worked rose by nearly 200, or 20 percent, from 1976 to 1993, while men's work hours increased by 62, or 3 percent, during the same period.

By 1995, more than 12 million eligible workers had taken time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which allows up to 12 unpaid weeks off from work for certain family emergencies. But only 10 percent of private- ector workplaces -- representing more than 40 million employees -- were covered by the act, a congressional report said.

According to a 1993 U.S. Census Bureau report, more than 8 million American families with pre-schoolers require child care. On average, the costs of child care consume from 8 percent to 18 percent of family income.

A 1996 industry report put the costs of full-day child care at between $4,000 and $10,000 annually -- equivalent to what a family might spend on tuition and board at a public university.

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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