By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Toshiko Hasegawa and I have something in common, even though we are from two different generations. We are both “crazy moms” perhaps!
A few months after Hasegawa gave birth to a baby girl, she declared she was running for office. Hasegawa, executive director of Washington State Commission for Asian American Affairs, is running for the Port of Seattle Commissioner. If elected, she will be the first Asian American female in history to hold the seat. But she won’t be the first female commissioner with a baby. Former Commissioner Courtney Gregoire had young kids when she ran and won.
While some think Hasegawa is bold, no one should judge any woman who wants to create an unconventional and meaningful path for herself. In fact, Hasegawa didn’t see her baby daughter as a challenge.
“I see it as the reason (to run),” she said. “She becomes the fire in my belly.”
No one would say anything to a man with little kids who runs for office. Society expects women to be the sole family member to bear the most, if not the sole, responsibility to raise the kids.
I am not running for office. But I have done things that would make most moms roll their eyes. People think of me as a publisher. Yet, I am more proud to be a mother than a publisher. When I had my firstborn, my parents and in-laws begged me to quit my teaching job, stay home, and take care of the baby. My mother believed that being a housewife meant a good life for a woman. I tried, but I failed miserably. After I succeeded in my business, both my late mother and in-laws were immensely proud of me.
I did quit my job though. After two months, I went back to school to begin my master’s degree at the University of Washington. While finishing the degree, I was pregnant with my second son. When my kids were 3 years old and one-and-half years old, I started the Seattle Chinese Post, and a year later, the Northwest Asian Weekly. I managed two full-time jobs simultaneously, thanks to my husband’s support.
We working moms are doing men a favor—liberating them as they are no longer required to be the sole breadwinner of the family. It takes enormous pressure off the men’s shoulders. A dual-income family means the family lives better, and has the opportunity of setting up their emergency fund.
A girlfriend of mine went back to work just because she didn’t have $700 decades ago to open an investment account for her three children. Now, those investments paid off, turning them into gold.
I always felt I could have done a better job in both. This guilt thing affects women more than men, and it is just not fair. Once I convinced myself that perfection was never my goal, I lived comfortably with all the choices I have made. And to hell with what people think! I wouldn’t be content with my life had I did one and not the other. The fact is, we are not “crazy moms,” just passionate working moms, trying to make a difference in our society, while rearing our family. Hasegawa has a list of things she wants to accomplish at the Port.
Working moms adapt easily, make tough decisions fast, and have good instincts about their children. One example was when my oldest son was 5 years old, he had a tummy ache. My mother-in-law, who had raised seven children, was visiting us at the time. She put some tiger balm oil on his belly while I was working in the office. Perhaps she thought my husband was home, and she didn’t need to inform me. When I went home, she reported the pain to me quickly. One glance at my son’s agonizing face, I knew it was serious.
“He needs to go to a hospital now,” I demanded. Immediately, my husband and I drove him to Children’s Hospital. The doctor found out it was appendicitis, his appendix had burst. He needed an operation. I was grateful that my husband listened to me.
What are the lessons for families with working moms?
Before I had kids, I loved to entertain friends at home and hosted big parties. One friend wrote in her diary that she had three dinners at my apartment in one year. But after having a family, I never invited friends to my home. I prefer to entertain in a restaurant, so the stress of cleaning and preparing before and after a party would be minimal.
I don’t want to worry about friends seeing my messy home. My home is my sanctuary, where I can relax and run the way I please. Books and papers are all over my kitchen and dining table. My sofas in the living are my napping spots.
When I first embarked on my newspaper venture, I wanted to do everything. One word of advice to young women who want to thrive—don’t rush. You have a whole lifetime to achieve your goals. You just do it in different phases of your life. Take time to enjoy each phase of your adventures. Sometimes, you need to slow down.
One thing Hasegawa did that I wish I had done was hire a part-time nanny. My husband and I were pretty much on our own, without hiring extra help. It was stressful. A lot had to do with our tight finances when I first started the business. When I went to classes for graduate school, I took my son with me. Although my son was quiet all throughout class, my professor was not pleased. He made a face when I brought in my son on a stroller. I don’t blame him. I was late to class. In fact, I was late for most of my appointments when my kids were little. I couldn’t help it. Forever, I am grateful that my husband took care of the baby when I studied at a University of Washington library. By the way, he also paid for my master’s degree.
Men should do housework
I was fortunate that my husband never complained about doing housework. It might be common for men to share in a more equal marriage partnership today. Decades before, I witnessed men not doing their share.
The world today is much more open than our generation. Househusbands and stay-at-home dads are much more acceptable these days. My younger friends, husband and wife, are splitting their parental roles. The wife takes care of the baby in the morning, and the husband takes his turn in the afternoon so she can have some time for herself.
A village of women
It takes a village to raise kids, said former Sen. Hillary Clinton. My village for raising my own kids consists of several women. First, my late mother-in-law stayed with me right after childbirth to take care of my babies and me. She taught me how to bathe and feed the baby, and other valuable experiences.
My late grandaunt became my nanny when I started the newspapers. She stayed with me for three years until my youngest son turned 4 years old. If she didn’t suggest the arrangement, I would never have been able to start my journey as a publisher.
Once, my mother came to Seattle to help me when my husband had to go back to Hong Kong to take care of his family.
And all the great women who worked at the Calvary Lutheran Church and University daycares where my sons attended. There were no male staff working in the daycares during my sons’ enrollment. I salute all the women who made a big difference in our lives.
People assume that working moms neglect their children. My kids learned responsibilities and independence at a young age. They are wonderful human beings, and they never felt that they had been deprived growing up. My sons have a lot of respect for strong women because they have been looking up to me as their role model. When they were little, they thought I was the head of the household. It’s healthy, especially for sons, to view their parents as equal partners and a team rather than one being more important than the other. Perhaps, the right description is not “liberal sons,” but sons who have a broader understanding of family dynamics and healthy relationships.
Ask my sons and they will tell you that I was not always home, but I always made it up to spend quality time with them during weekends. We often had interesting discussions during dinner. We were always at their concert performances, debate tournaments, and other school activities.
The washing machines, Pampers, etc
After my baby was born, the large amount of laundry virtually broke our two-year-old washing machine. Babies and little kids need to change clothes frequently as they get dirty easily.
Imagine if washers and dryers didn’t exist, I would have had to wash all the dirty clothes by hand, and I would have gone nuts. When I was 12 years old, I washed all my family’s clothes with my bare hands and hung them afterwards to dry. It was one cold winter. The experience was grueling. The washing machine and dryer are saviors for modern women. Before the machine was invented in 1937, women had to do all the laundry by hand. They wouldn’t have time for anything else.
Also, I was grateful to have Pampers. If I had to wash all the soiled pampers every day, I would have lost my appetite to eat. Thank God, I had those tools, which liberate women today.
Parenthood is both challenging and rewarding. I would not have changed my kids for anything. Happy Mother’s Day, especially to working moms who hold on to their dreams!
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.