Carolyn Milazzo

23 posts

Making Her Mark

A few months ago, I was going through a tiny Will Smith jag.

After the song “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” (I know, dumb title, dumber song) came on the car radio, I came home and wanted more Smith. I’ve always loved the song “Men in Black,” though I’ve never watched the movie. I then played “Miami,” Smith’s tribute to the city’s tropical climate, fancy cars, lavish homes and beautiful women.

As “Miami” blared, my 16-year-old daughter came into the kitchen. “I don’t like the way he’s talking about women,” she said. “He’s just talking about what they look like. That’s wrong.”

Yes, he was and it is. I wasn’t paying attention the lyrics, which are pretty tame by today’s standards. But she noticed. And though I’ve never discussed objectifying women with her, I’m happy she’s aware of it and knows it’s wrong. Like most teen-agers, she gets a lot of information online. This was one time I wasn’t upset that she spends too much time on her laptop.

But I thought about it, and realized that I’ve dropped the ball discussing women’s issues with her and my 20-year-old son. I realized if I don’t bring up the way things were and are, who will? I shouldn’t depend on others to do my job. I think I was suffering from a bit of complacency like a lot of women today.

Fortunately, March is a good time to change because it’s Women’s History Month, 31 days devoted to recognizing our struggles and accomplishments. Originally launched 40 years ago as National Women’s History Month, the designation expanded to include the entire month of March in 1987. This year, International Women’s Day is Thursday, March 8th.

Women’s organizations, colleges and universities, schools and public libraries are hosting speakers, workshops, essays and poster contests to mark the month. Organizers say this year is particularly important because of the #METOO and #TIMESUP movements. The issue of college date rape is also hitting close to home with the trial of a former Yale student accused of sexually assaulting a classmate while she was intoxicated. Though many colleges and universities are addressing this issue, it remains a deeply troubling problem nationwide.

I plan to seize this opportunity to discuss women’s issues with my kids. I may even bring them to one of the many events being held this month. Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live is hosting three conversations with prominent Connecticut women from very different backgrounds.

In the Making Her Story series, host Lucy Nalpathanchil will ask each about the journey that led to her success in business or non-profit work. The series opens tonight with Teresa C. Younger, who has served as President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the oldest women’s foundation in the United States, since 2014.  The event (reception 6 p.m., followed by talk at 7 p.m.) is at Gateway Community College’s Curran Family Community Center, 20 Church St., New Haven. Tickets are $10.

I’m also going to tell  my kids about growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, and the inroads feminists made for us. I didn’t burn bras or march – I was only in my early to mid-teens at the height of the movement – but I do have my own stories. I entered Wheaton College, an all-women’s college (now co-ed) at a time when colleges and universities were still “going co-ed” and grappling with the transition.

People often ask me if I played golf in college, but I didn’t because there was no golf team. This wasn’t the exception back then. Women were treated like second-class citizens. We were paid less than men, barred from joining civic groups like the Rotary Club, and blocked from certain jobs.

I grew up in an era when men and women were treated differently, particularly in sports. I’m old enough to have watched the original Battle of the Sexes between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973. I’m old. Heck, I’m old enough to have played tennis against Patty Ann Meyer, one of the founding members of the Virginia Slims Tour. She can still beat me with one arm tied behind her back, but you get the point. We are not that far removed from those days, but people have short memories.

My husband was part of the first co-ed freshman class to enter Williams College in the fall of 1971. During his four years, the ratio of men to women was 3-1, and it took years for the classes to even out. Though many feared that going co-ed would lead to the admission of women with inferior academic records, the opposite was true: most of the women admitted during the transition were highly intelligent and more studious than their male counterparts.

Did they have a point to prove? Absolutely. As any hiker will tell you, it’s a lot easier to navigate blazed trails. Take a look at some of the activities planned this month. There’s a lot to celebrate, but many trails that still need to be marked.

Carolyn Milazzo is blog editor for CT-NOW.

 

 

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Why Paid Leave Matters

Matt Laufer with his mom Jane Miller Laufer in a recent Facebook post.
Jane Miller Laufer is in crisis mode – again.
Nearly 15 years after her son Matt was paralyzed in a devastating car crash on Interstate 95, Jane is by his side as he battles acute respiratory failure. The condition causes a build-up of fluid in the air sacs of the lungs, preventing proper exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen.
For nearly eight months, Jane has worn two hats: devoted and loving mom to 38-year-old Matt and registered nurse/case manager for her gravely ill son. She’s where she needs and must be, but it’s been a huge emotional and financial strain on Jane and her family.
She’s living apart from her husband, Dan, and the couple have put their fledgling women’s clothing business LuLaRoe on hold. After exhausting 16 weeks of unpaid family leave time and paid benefits, Jane, 59, recently resigned as a full-time registered nurse to care for Matt. She pays Cobra for her health insurance.
“It’s been a huge financial strain,” she said.
 “I’m exhausted physically, but more so emotionally on this roller coaster ride of good days and bad days,” she said. “Matt’s diaphragm, although not fully paralyzed, has atrophied over the years. He has chronic end stage respiratory failure. Slow, steady decline is anticipated. Matt’s need for continuous care will remain unchanged. At some point, he most likely will choose the option of hospice, but currently, he wants to try to enjoy whatever quality of life he can.”
Jane is a staunch advocate of paid family leave in Connecticut, saying that four months of unpaid leave is woefully inadequate when dealing with a chronic health condition. She supports caregivers being eligible to receive up to one year of paid family leave.
Though anyone can find themselves in the sudden role of caregiver, studies show the issue affects far more women than men.
About 66 percent of caregivers are women. The average caretaker is a 49-year-old woman who works full time and provides up to 20 hours of unpaid care to her mother. And while men are also caretakers, women provide 50 percent more time caregiving than men.
NOW’s Connecticut chapter supports paid family leave, which is being considered under a proposed state law. NOW-CT believes paid leave would give caregivers financial security during medical or family emergencies.
In Connecticut, employees can take up to four months of unpaid leave for a medical or family issue, such as an illness, accident or the birth or adoption of a child. But a proposed state law would provide a minimum of 12 weeks of paid leave for people who stay home for family or medical emergencies. (For a rundown of the proposal, see below.)
A handful of states currently provide paid medical leave. CaliforniaRhode IslandWashingtonNew Jersey, and New York –  and the District of Columbia – have laws that provide paid family leave laws.
A public hearing on the proposed bill in Connecticut is at 2:30 p.m. March 8 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. Bill supporters are urging residents to attend the hearing to share their stories with legislators.
Jane said having to worry about losing her job was an additional burden while caring for Matt. She said she was filled with anxiety about quitting her nursing job, but had no choice.
If she couldn’t provide round the clock nursing care, Matt’s only option would be admission to a nursing home that accepted patients on ventilators. Jane said that was out of the question.
“There is no way I was going to put my 38-year-old son in a nursing home,” Jane said.
The Laufer’s life changed permanently in May, 2003, when Matt was paralyzed in a car accident while driving to work on Interstate 95 in Fairfield. With traffic at a standstill due to an accident ahead, Matt sat in gridlock in the center lane. Glancing in the rear view mirror, Matt saw an 18-wheel truck barreling toward his car. The truck struck with such force that it pushed Matt’s car beneath an 18-wheeler ahead of him, pinning the car beneath the trailer bed.
Matt’s injuries were catastrophic and permanent: six of seven neck vertebra were crushed, paralyzing him from the shoulders down. He was a paraplegic at age 23, but determined to live as independently as possible. After living with his parents for two and a half years and being cared for by Jane, he moved into his own house, where he lived with the help of aides for his basic needs.
His health took a sharp downward spiral last August when he was hospitalized for acute respiratory failure. A tracheostomy tube was inserted to create an opening in his airway, and he was placed on a ventilator. Jane said the disease is slow and progressive.
“I feel fortunate to be able to provide the care that my son requires,” Jane said. “But the hardest part about being a “Nurse-Mom” is knowing that the outcome will not be positive for Matt in the long run. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.”
 
BY THE NUMBERS:
Below are highlights of the proposed Family & Medical Leave Insurance Program being considered in Connecticut.
REASONS FOR TAKING LEAVE
●A serious health condition
●The birth or adoption of a new child, or foster care placement
●To provide caregiving to a family member with a serious illness
●To serve as an organ or bone marrow donor
●To care for an injured service member
●For issues associated with domestic violence
COVERAGE
●Must work for an employer of two or more
●State and municipal employees who are covered by collective bargaining contracts can opt into the program through the collective bargaining process
● Self-employed people may opt in
● Includes job protection for workers who have worked for an employer for at least 6 months and 500 hours
ELIGIBILITY
● An employee must have earned $2,325 in the highest earning quarter within the five most recently completed calendar quarters
● Earnings may be with multiple employers
● Workers may use leave for the reasons defined in CT’s FMLA with the addition of caring for a sibling, grandparent or grandchild, a child of any age and any other individual related by blood or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship
NUMBER OF WEEKS
● Employees may take up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. An employee can take two extra weeks if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy that results in incapacity
● The waiting period before using leave is 7 days
WAGE REPLACEMENT
● Employees will receive 100% of their weekly earnings, up to a cap of $1,000/week.
Source: Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave.

Carolyn Milazzo Murphy is blog editor for NOW-CT.

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My New Gig

 

Momma’s New Gig

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                                                          CT-NOW President Cindy Wolfe Boynton blows me a good luck kiss.

Momma’s got a brand new gig.

My friend and former editor Cindy Wolfe Boynton asked if I’d take charge of the National Organization of Women’s Connecticut chapter’s blog. I’m handling its content so Cindy can do other things, including running for state representative, teaching college courses, leading CT-NOW, advocating for adoptee rights, being a wife to her husband Ted, and mom of two young adult sons.

I’m sure that’s not all she’s doing, because she’s one of the busiest people I know. She wrote a play about her mother’s battle with Parkinson’s disease, has written a couple of books and leads a quirky walking tour called Spirits of Milford that visits famous ghosts sites.

She’s someone you want to be around because she’s on a mission to make the world a better place. Years ago, she asked me to sit on a committee to collect gifts, clothing and throw a Christmas party for residents at the Beth El Shelter, Milford’s homeless shelter. She also got me involved in a movement to open adoption laws in Connecticut so adoptees born before 1983 can access their original birth certificates. Cindy’s an adoptee, while I’m the mom of two adopted children.

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My favorite Maltese Eli.

She’s a person who sees endless possibilities instead of obstacles. When Internet trolls took potshots at her for supporting Hillary Clinton, and entering the race for state representative, she kept their ugly comments on her Facebook feed. When I asked her how she deals with unkind remarks, she shrugged. “People can be so cruel. I guess I just let it roll off my back. I learned that from Linda Bouvier, my editor at the Milford Citizen. She didn’t let anything bother her.”

When I reminded her that Facebook is not a newspaper and she has the right to remove such comments, she looked as if it had never crossed her mind. She is the rarest combination of big-hearted yet tough as nails. I’m hoping a little of her resolve rubs off on me. I still remember every nasty remark anyone ever said to me when I was a reporter.

“So, what’s up? What are you doing, sitting at home writing blog posts all day?” she asked. “What’s the story with your blog? How did this whole thing come about?”

She’s always had the impression that I’m pampered, like a Maltese with a tiny ribbon in its hair with a jeweled collar and leash. And I suppose by some people’s standards, I am. I was lucky to stay home with my kids, but I know what it’s like to work and scrimp. I put my husband through law school on a $12,000 per year reporter’s salary. We qualified for free blocks of federally-funded cheese, and I bought paper towels one roll at the time.

I explained my blog is an outgrowth of my inability to find a job after being a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. I have a part-time job and volunteer, but my blog is my baby. I write every day, though 75 percent stays in the draft bin. I don’t make a dime off it, and I like it that way. If you want to ruin something, make it your job instead of your passion.

I blog to share my thoughts and take on life, to work out things that perplex, amuse, interest or move me. I don’t have an axe to grind. I just want to share my stories, and for you to weigh in if you’d like. I love feedback. It means you’re paying attention.

Like a lot of things in her life, Cindy has a great vision for the CT-NOW blog. She’d like to feature stories about women facing issues because of their gender. I wracked my brain for women who could be profiled over the next few weeks. And then I realized that I could have used CT-NOW when I launched my job hunt two years ago. I’m convinced I was dismissed as a job candidate for positions well beneath my pay grade because I’m a woman over 50 (OK, over 55, but who’s counting?)

I suspect I was a victim of sex and age discrimination, that when people looked at my college graduation year (1980) they thought, “Why is she applying for jobs when she’s nearing retirement age?” Job hunting at this age is humiliating. It’s even worse when the neighbor down the road tells you she’ll put in a good word, and you still hear nothing.

I believe that age discrimination is becoming as big a problem as sexual discrimination in this country.  Sally Koslow wrote a brilliant piece on this subject last summer in her piece entitled, “Hire A Woman’s Your Mom’s Age” in the New York Times. Reading her piece was one of the first assurances I had that I wasn’t a complete loser, that other women had tread similar paths and survived.

As my accounts to Indeed, Monster and LinkedIn sat woefully silent, I was flooded with news about new college graduates landing jobs for well over $100,000. I was happy for them, but dispirited and depressed. I found myself regretting my decision to stay home with my kids, and urging young moms to keep a foot in the workplace lest they never work again. I was haunted by the expression, “Out to pasture.”

At cocktail parties, I’d tell everyone that society has no respect for stay-at-home moms, that we’re viewed as second class citizens who spend all day watching TV, nibbling on bon bons and spending our husband’s (or partner’s) hard-earned cash. A part of me believes there’s still this perception, that we’re lazy and took the easy way out.

I’ve heard of women who have penned novels at kitchen tables, and painted murals while their kids were sleeping, but these are superwomen. Most of us just want to put up our feet and watch a TV show or read a book without being interrupted when the kids are finally in bed. At least that’s my goal.

Women need to realize that we’re all in this together, that when one woman is discriminated against, we all suffer. Over dinner with two couples, a woman I went to high school with complained about stay-at-home moms looking down on working mothers.

My former classmate is a divorced mom who worked full-time to support her two children. Despite her job duties, she made a point of attending school events. One day when showing up to a field trip, a stay-at-home mom glared at her and announced, “Oh look who showed up. Doesn’t Mrs. So & So look nice in her fancy boots?”

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? And sometimes it feels like we just can’t win. We’re all doing our best – holding down jobs, taking care of kids, parents, the house and the dog, and trying to carve out time for self-care. But the self-care more often than not goes out the window. Just ask any woman who plans to hit the gym after work, and has to skip it because of dinner, the PTA meeting or the book report due the next day.

I’m convinced that women hold the power to do great things if we unite and take more active roles in changing things. It’s easy to sit back and criticize, quite another to put yourself out there to affect change. I’m convinced mothers must take the lead in ending school shootings. Organizations like the Sandy Hook Promise are doing great work, but they can’t do it alone. We need to get out there and make our voices heard.

PB233269 (1).jpgCarolyn Milazzo Murphy is blog editor for the National Organization of Women-Connecticut chapter. She is a freelance writer with more than 30 years experience in journalism. She writes the gsandwich.wordpress.com, and is active in many community organizations. She can be reached at carolyn.milazzo@gmail.com.

 

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