It’s exciting to watch young women with the drive and focus required to become good leaders. It makes me wonder how they become who they are and where I went wrong.
Years ago, I ran for ninth-grade class secretary. I really didn’t have a good sense of what this office might be like, but it had a glamorous ring to it. I signed up to run and promptly walked downtown to the 5 & 10 to buy new nail polish, lip gloss and hairspray in preparation for my possible new post. The bubble gum I already had.
During the lengthy week-long campaign (this was no fly-by-night school contest), the race heated up. My cohorts and I made posters after school with leftover art materials. My competitor was a wealthy girl from the upscale side of the tracks. The day after my signs went up, she came to school with what could only be described as professional mini-billboards. Her folks had important connections. The local print shop was one. I told myself my homemade posters were cool, apparently another word for ugly. And although we were equally popular, meaning halfway between Everybody Hates Me and Vote For Me Ugh I’m Such A Loser, she had a fancy house and parents who were away a lot. Translation: She had great make-out parties that would never happen at my house, aka The Prison on Frank Avenue.
I was nervous, and pretty sure that the kids who said they’d vote for me were the same ones who showed up Monday morning with hickeys and hangovers and looking suspiciously friendly with her. OK, they were all wearing tie-dyed “Vote For Linda” T-shirts and sporting matching hair ribbons, which looked just ridiculous on the boys.
Two days before the election, my clever, hovering mother came up with a campaign idea. Today we might call it graft, but let’s not get into semantics. We bought cheap lollipops, and wrote a hundred tags: “Vote for Kathy. She’ll Make a Sweet Secretary.” It was a big hit. Unfortunately, the election bearing down on us, my opponent brought in the big guns. Her parents, with their fat wallets, had returned home and she handed out full-sized Hershey bars. And persuasive? I felt like voting for her myself.
The election upon us, she promised red Jaguars for everyone. I gave my simple speech in rhyme.
The results came in, and I won, proving just how stupid we kids were. I spent the year getting cramps in my right hand taking endless, pointless notes – and no one got a new car.
Things are more complex now. In business, politics, medicine, in nearly every field, women are usually well-dressed, energetic and manicured head to toe. It looks so stressful and exhausting. I mean, how does one eat a large chocolate soft-serve ice cream cone dipped in dark chocolate (I’m nothing if not accurate) while wearing a Nordstrom suit and still appear capable and in charge? This may explain why I relinquished my future as a leader long ago, and please pass the sprinkles.
These emerging leaders handle enormous demands with grace. I think it begins with the type of parenting they receive growing up. If you listen carefully, parents are no longer saying helpful things to their children such as, “Shut up and eat your peas.” They’re talking to kids like they’re humans. Where will this madness end? Cures for disease?
Loving parents all across America are giving their children every possible benefit of experience, training them like Olympic athletes in all endeavors. There are music lessons and football and craft-based clubs and Scouts, foreign language lessons and gymnastics – and that’s just Saturday mornings. It all starts to feel eerily like the sweatshops humanity worked so hard to change long, long ago.
In this new-age boot camp created by enthusiastic parents, I worry we may forget there is an essence of leadership skills from within – courage, instinct, compassion, intelligence –and from the simple things of life. (Note to self: Ask grandkids – still like Legos? Read books?)
As in most good families now, my grandchildren are involved in 12 hours of after-school activities in their community. Every day. On Sundays, Mom, Dad and kids have down time: 18 minutes total. For all of them. That’s a full 41?2 minutes each. But let me tell you – these terrific children are our future leaders.
If they can stay awake long enough.
Kathy Eliscu is a nurse and freelance writer who lives in Westbrook. She credits her way of looking at the light side of life to her mother, the late Marge Eliscu, whose “Coffee Break” humor column ran for two decades in the Maine Sunday Telegram