I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the employability of mothers*.

Mothers Today

Most of the mothers I know are highly educated, with bachelor, master, doctorate degrees.  They have been successful in their fields and then they marry the man of their dreams and start having children.
Great!  Wonderful!  The beginning of a new era!  And the end of an old one.
Fetus at 21 weeks.
Image courtesy of abbybatchelder via Flickr.

Motherhood is so filled with love and tenderness and finding your emotional limits.  It's being overwhelmed and learning what to let go of.  It's 24/7.  Whether you're at dinner or at church or sleeping at night, you must be on duty: watching, teaching, refereeing, policing.

Of course, the working mothers I know beg not to be envied.  Every moment they are not focused on their job, there is guilt.  Every time they miss a school presentation or the chance to kiss and nurse a skinned knee, every time they don’t hear what their children are telling them because they’re on a call or desperately trying to take care of the home as well, there is sadness.

Some women start by believing they can have it all and are disappointed that they end up with neither a rewarding career nor a strong relationship with their children.

Problem #1: many women relinquish their careers or their career aspirations when they have children, because there are only so many hours in a day.

I decided at the age of eight to be an architect.  It wasn’t until college that I decided I wanted to be a mother.  I figured that I was smart enough to intermingle them.  At the very least I could teach a college class or two to keep my sanity.
Fast-forward ten years.  I’m done with school, close to finishing my internship, will be licensed as soon as I can finish the exams, and I’ve married the most wonderful guy.  Exactly one year after getting married, we find out that we're going to have a baby!

I had every intention of completing my maternity leave and then returning to work.  It was just a matter of finding a good daycare.  Some of the quite expensive daycares I visited were so terrible that I cried when I got back in my car.  I tried a part-time nanny for awhile, but she merely kept my sweet baby safe and fed: she spent the rest of the time texting and reading.  I loved that little guy so much it broke my heart that he was ignored.

Problem #2: a lack of affordable, caring, daycare for infants and preschool children

My employer encouraged me to return to work part time, but I found I could not do it.

My baby is now eight, and we have two more who are six and five.  I couldn’t be happier with my decision to stay home with them.  And yet… I miss architecture desperately.  More basically, I miss adult interaction during the day.  I miss the clear-headedness that comes with leaving the home, accomplishing defined projects, and being rewarded with verbal and financial praise.  I miss “going home” at the end of a day and leaving my work at work.

Do I just need to get a hobby?  Take a cooking class or start playing tennis?  What's the difference between a hobby and employment (not necessarily according to the IRS)?

Problem #3: even if they don’t need the money, mothers could use a break from the home.

1950s Housewife at the dairy counter.
Image courtesy of Tetra Pak via Flickr.

Eight years into the experiment, I find that elementary school (at least where I live) is not a sufficient daycare either.  The older kids get out at 2:30 daily and 12:30 on Fridays.  The kindergarteners get out at the same time but don’t go until 11:30 in the morning.  That’s a total of just more than 13 hours a week.  If you take out travel time, that leaves about 12 hours a week that can be spent at work, roughly twice that if all children are above kindergarten age.  But did I forget to mention all the holidays, teacher in-service days and sick days?  What about summertime and the two-week winter break?

And to be perfectly frank, I don't want to put my kids in "aftercare," the public school system's daily babysitting program. Thirty hours a week is enough for them to be away from home, and it's enough for me, too.

Problem #4: elementary school is not meant to be daycare either

Taranaki St. Free Kindergarten, Wellington -
Teacher with children  (Ref#AAQT 6539 A1524)
Image courtesy of Archives New Zealand via Flickr.
Some “family-friendly” employers have introduced flex-time for mothers and even fathers, the idea being that want the job done, and they don’t mind what time you do it.  Revolutionary!  Of course, this comes with the unwritten caveat that if you choose flex-time, you clearly just have a “job” and not a career.

Employers, to a certain extent, want to own you.  They want to depend on their employees to work when contracted (the standard 40), work when expected (the unpaid overtime), and work when demanded (urgent matters after hours).  They want employees to go where they say when they say to do what they say in exchange for compensation.   They don’t want the employee telling them when and where they will get the work done.  That’s a challenge to authority and ownership.

Problem #4: employers want to own you

Oh, and don’t get me started on the stigma of part-time work, which is obviously for high-school students and people who are too uneducated for a real job.

Problem #5: part-time work is perceived as being for the unqualified

I keep thinking that some forward-thinking corporation will wake up and smell the hugely undervalued, overqualified workforce that are mothers.   Provide quality part-time, flex-time, work-from-home-over-the-summer positions, and you get people who are more than capable and yet completely grateful.  No benefits necessary.  No commitment to provide a certain number of hours.

But with the economy & unemployment where it is now, I doubt anyone is even interested in being creative about finding workforce solutions.

Problem #6: it’s an Employer’s market

One possible provider is entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs make their own hours and thrive on flex-time.  They don’t typically have the funds for benefits or the consistent income to guaranteed a certain amount of work.  A sole-proprietor friend of mine who is a lawyer got stars in his eyes when we talked about the possibility of him hiring some knowledgeable part-time help.  Everyone’s got ebbs and flows of work: what if you could have professional help when you needed it, but not when you didn’t?

Solution #1: be a resource for entrepreneurs

I haven’t entirely forgotten the option of teaching a college class!

Solution #2: teach

Why not become an entrepreneur yourself?  No one cares if you get all your work done at midnight, and you set your own hours.  Of course, most people imagine a more-than-40-hours scenario rather than a less-than-40-hours one when it comes to entrepreneurial ventures.  But it’s still an option.  Just ask Timothy Ferriss .

Solution #3: become an entrepreneur

Laundress mural dated 1958, Wien.
Image courtesy of Metro Centric via Flickr.
I know several mothers who work part-time outside of their home.  Most of them have menial jobs that give them a mental break from the stresses of motherhood, but is completely unrelated to their field and is barely compensatory.

So why isn't someone totally excited to be offering that kind of work for women ON A CAREER TRACK?  The last time someone really tried it was Avon, but who wants to sell makeup door to door, really?  Better than doing laundry professionally (like they did in the 19th century), but not by much.

Solution #4: get a menial job

J.K. Rowling has shown us that even single mothers on welfare can write.  They can write books that change the way publishing works.  They have always written romance novels, but the options are so much greater now.
I may not be a huge fan of Twilight, but I still find Stephanie Meyer to be inspiring because she wrote in the middle of the night and then published when she had small children.  She persevered.

brion tomb, san vito d'altivole cemetery, italy, 1969-1978
by Carlo Scarpa. Image courtesy of seier+seier via Flickr.

Solution #5: write

Are there more solutions that I haven’t thought of?  What makes me sad about this list is that it’s a list that has not changed since the 19th century.  In 1850, women could teach, become entrepreneurs, get menial jobs and write books.  All the progress in the direction of "equality" has been to give women the opportunity to have careers like men.  Women who are mothers need something different.

Question #1: is feminism only for women without children?

According to one journalist, modern Parisian mothers appear to have a better handle on balancing motherhood with other aspects of womanhood/humanness.  See Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.  

Question #2: is it imperative or only because of cultural assumptions that a woman cannot be both a mother and a part-time career woman?

Question #3: who decided 40 hours a week was a good standard to apply across the board? Is it possible for employees to be incredibly contributory at a lesser number of hours?  

*Any part of this could just as easily apply to fathers as mothers: whoever is the primary caretaker.

update 2/12/14:


"Kashima controls Namazu with his sword"
1855.  Image courtesy of
国際日本文化研究センタ via Wikimedia.
In Japanese mythology, Namazu the
giant catfish causes earthquakes.

"1000 Earthquakes A Year"

Last week I was going through hundreds of old photos from my time in Japan, looking for a specific photo that epitomizes Wabi-Sabi to me.  Didn't find it.  Did end up scanning in about 100 images, though, which I can now peruse without unpacking an entire closet!

Came across several images of the undersides of ancient wooden shrines.  You can walk under the perimeter porches if you crouch down, to see the support structure.  It's insanely beautifully constructed and carved with decoration.  The footprint also gets smaller and smaller at the base where it intersects the ground.  

As one of the world's most tectonically active areas,  Japan has seen more than its share of earthquakes, and these old temples and shrines have sat undisturbed through all of them.

Buildings that Shake, Rattle & Roll

I was in Hiroshima during the Kobe earthquake, about 130 miles away from the epicenter.  It was early in the morning, I was still in my futon on the floor, and I could feel the building pulsing.  As I opened my eyes, the corners of the room were stretching plastically back and forth, acute....obtuse...acute...obtuse at SUCH an angle!
When all the shaking stopped, our building appeared to be undamaged.  Not even cracks in the plaster.  There was one building in downtown Hiroshima that was subsequently demolished due to to damage, but no other casualties.  Needless to say, I was extremely impressed.  
Kobe was not so lucky, as the intensity of the vibrations were far greater, but the point is that in Japan they build everything to withstand a lot of shaking, and they have done so for centuries.  

Admire an example of the gorgeous fastener-less foundation joinery that can shift with the tremblings of the ground, and support a most important sacred space.  That's what I call emergency preparedness!


Allison Drinkwater "Underside of the Temple" group 1995.
Note how some of the supports have shifted and are not even touching, being redundant.
After a subsequent quake, others may be redundant and these in use.
I'll have to check my journal for the name/location of this particular temple.


Allison Drinkwater "Miyajima" 1995

Ah, Japan...

Although it seems that a large number of Japanese youth still look to America for inspiration, there is a much smaller number of American youth who look to Japan.
Japoniphiles, perhaps?
Allison Drinkwater "Tori Detail" (1995)

I spent just over a year in and around Hiroshima when I was a young adult, and I am still mesmerized by what I saw there.  Some of what I learned was so different than my experience of America that it was shocking, some concepts were more subtle and difficult to define, others have grown in depth over time.

These are just three:

Small Acts of Kindness Bring Peace to the World

To show great hospitality, you must anticipate your guest’s requests.  Honor is shown by giving them the option of not having to ask for what they need.  OMOI-YARI is to “do the thought” of someone before they speak it.  Pass the butter when they pick up a roll at dinner.  See that someone is seeking a good parking spot and relinquish it even though you are closer.  Provide a light if they are taking cigarettes out of their pocket.  Smile if they are having a rough day.  In short, behave like a gentleman.
'Italian Gardens' at Ludwig's Palace, Germany 1981.
Image courtesy of Andrea_44 via Flickr.

The last few months, I’ve noticed what is almost a trend.  I’m loading groceries & kids into our vehicle, reprimanding for dawdling where there are cars and feeling utterly exhausted by the simple act of shopping.  And then, a kind gentleman offers to return my shopping basket.  Such a small thing, and yet lovely and memorable.  The first time it happened, I thought the guy was flirting.  (I guess I’m not used to strangers noticing the needs of a woman unless there’s an ulterior motive....shame on me.)  
Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park.
Image courtesy of moonlightbulb via Flickr

I should add that a few years ago, when I had small babies in the car, it was heartbreaking to leave the vehicle once they were secured for that small minute to return the basket.  And I became one of those inconsiderate people who didn’t return the basket, but left it to float in the parking lot until someone else returned it.  I’ve always wanted to be a person who left the world better than I found it, and there I was, cluttering the car park with shopping carts that little old ladies would probably run into.  
The small kindness was more than the sum of its parts: it was also saving me from being something I didn't want to be.

Imperfection is Better than Perfection

The main thing I don’t like about high Modernism is its perfection.  Not one hair out of place, surfaces that are impossible to maintain with use, exteriors that do not know how to weather well, interiors that look cluttered when actually lived in.

In Japan, there is a belief that perfection is not a virtuous goal.  It is prideful and vain.  Instead, the goal is WABI-SABI, where perfection is tempered with a purposeful element of nature or geometric imperfection.  It is almost a spiritual effort of humility: we know that we cannot create perfection, so we will not try.  

Again, the result is greater than its effort, because spaces defined by mathematical perfection cannot be ideal for humans.  Their beauty can be observed but not truly inhabited.  Wabi-sabi makes a space attainable, beautiful in ways that touch the soul.

Inspiring reading on the philosophies of Wabi & Sabi here. Wabi is the uncluttered austerity we so admire in Modernism; Sabi is the exquisite, textural patina of time.
For a multitude of images to communicate the idea, look here: I could look at these for days and days and days...  Though it seems that some think Wabi-sabi is merely the beauty of decay.  It is much more purposeful than that.

Originality At All Costs = Dishonesty

So many have been influenced by the aesthetics of Japan, there are too many to count.  One, however, was infamous for it: Frank Lloyd Wright.  He had a massive collection of Japanese WOOD BLOCK PRINTS that he collected on his travels (from the 1890s on), among other Japanese goods.  Japan’s decorative and architectural influence on him is astounding.  And yet...

There never was exterior influence upon my work either foreign or native, other than that of Lieber Meister, Dankmar Adler and John Roebling, Whitman and Emerson, and the great poets worldwide.  My work is original not only in fact but in spiritual fiber.  No practice by any European architect to this day has influenced me in the least.  As for the Incas, the Mayans, even the Japanese—all were to me but splendid confirmation” [quoted on page 27, Frank Lloyd: Europe and Beyond (1999)].

No doubt, he was a genius.  No one else could have done what he did with that influence.  But why genius has to go hand in hand with pride so often is a mystery to me.

Conclusion:  Lessons of Humility

The thoughts and needs of others are at least as important as our own.
Warmth in aesthetics is at least as important as cleanliness.
Admitting source material is not only honorable, but is a moral imperative.



Miyajima Torii. Image courtesy of Rog01 via Flickr.

What makes a place sacred?

  1. Is it sacred because of a sacred EVENT, like the appearance of an angel or a burning bush?
  2. Is it sacred because it’s a SOLITARY PLACE for meditation and communion with the Divine: where heaven and earth meet, like the top of a mountain or where water approaches land?
  3. Is it sacred because it has been SANCTIFIED by the worship and good works that happen there; like a synagogue, an abbey, a shelter, or even a home?

St. Peter Cupola + Baldachin.
Image courtesy of Allie_Caulfield via Flickr
I guess it can be all of these reasons and probably more that I haven’t thought of.

In Sacred Places, James Swan argues that many sacred spaces are characterized by an abundance of negative ions, reducing fatigue, invigorating us, and improving our respiratory system, making us less susceptible to colds & infections [Sacred Places: How the Living Earth Seeks Our Friendship, page 153].

So do we just physically feel fabulous in these places and interpret the feeling to be communication from heaven?  Or does God work within His own set of physical laws, using our hearts, minds and bodies to get our attention?  Feng Shui theory discusses chi (usually translated as “energy”) in terms of seeing, feeling, and sensing, so maybe we're not far off.

I’m Workin’ on a Building for My Lord

So if you’re going to build at a place that is already sacred, how do you go about it?   How do you dare impose what is manmade on what is Sacred without making it profane?  Of course, it has been done, and to great effect!  The toriis in Japan, the dome of the rock, the Acropolis in Athens, the original shrine at St. Peter’s tomb, enlarged so many times (into a basilica, a compound, a city, a country).

Mount Sinai. Image courtesy of Jesper Särnesjö via Flickr.
And if we are to build, shouldn’t we build in places where there is a good sacred energy/chi?  Of course, you’d want to do this without destroying the feeling of the place: wouldn’t it be nice if that were just a universal assumption?
I think of lovely sites that are built on with great sensitivity, responding to what is already there.  Some of these are later encroached upon by the invasion of sprawl; and, the environmental character that the newcomers hoped to share in is lost.

To the Lord Let Praises Be

according to the description from the Bible via Wikimedia.
Alternately, if you’re going to build a place that is to become sacred once it is in use, like a temple (again, I assert, even a home!), how do you go about it?
We have the biblical record of how Solomon was instructed to build his temple: the best materials from the best sources (sparing no expense), the best craftsmanship (presumably some of which was tithed), massive proportions.  A temple to impress the believers and the nonbelievers by its size and expense.  That’s the way they did it back then.

Holiness to the Lord

In a time of worldwide religions building in far-flung locations, is the approach the same?  Should it be?

Acropolis, Greece.
Image courtesy of VasenkaPhotography via Flickr.
Today, current architectural theory promotes using local materials, local craftsmen, and local vernacular.   Are gold and cedar appropriate to bedeck a sacred room in a location where these materials are unknown?  Or does this tell the worshippers that the path to God does not belong to them?
Even more complex, how do you build in the architectural language of an established religion while using the same architecture to invite cultures who are new to it.  I suppose it’s the perennial problem of missionary work, architectural or not, modern or ancient.

Mission San Juan Bautista. Image courtesy of HarshLight via Flickr.

A final set of questions:

  • Do you have a sacred place in or outside of your home where you like to meditate or pray?  
  • Is there a specific place you feel closest to God?  
  • What are the characteristics of that place (or are they impossible to define)?

Additional reading: 

Zessn Pinterest Board: Temples & Sacred Places
Wikipedia Article: Sacred Architecture
SacredArchitecture.Org: The Significance of the Church Building


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