Give Me Some Truth, Sarah

10/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"In life, there are always going to be trade-offs."

That's the advice I received from an old boss of mine, way back in 1977. I was newly married, working at a part-time job as a research assistant, and hoping for something better. Then I found out I was pregnant.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," I told my boss. What I wanted to add was, "I'm just starting out in the world. This is unfair. My husband and I are just 23 years old, and we're broke."

But I didn't say it. What difference would it make? The job was a limited one. Once I finished the research, I was going to have to move on.

"Trust me," my boss repeated. "You just have to make trade-offs."

Now, thirty-one years later, I'm probably the same age as my old boss was. I've been around the bend. So I have a question for Sarah Palin: what about trade-offs? Did you ever have to make any?

Because what life has taught me is that being a woman, raising children and holding down a job isn't a piece of cake. Some things have to give. Being there when one of them takes her first steps, for example. Yep, I missed that. Taking the kids to piano lessons in the afternoon. Most working parents have to miss that, but I didn't, thanks to the fact that I worked part-time. But if I'd been working full-time, the piano lessons would've had to go.

So would being a soccer mom. You can't work full-time and still get the kids to the fields for 4:30 practice. If you work on weekends, you can't make the games, either. And if the kids play those "travel tournaments"? You better earn a good salary, because those meals and hotel stays add up. Not to mention the uniforms and equipment.

Soccer mom, hockey mom. It's all the same. Not everybody has the luxury.

So, Sarah Palin, what trade-offs did you make? Did you, like me, go looking for child care for an infant, with your heart in your throat? Did you look in the classifieds and ask around for names? And did you, like me, go to one of the advertised homes, step inside, and find the house so cluttered that you didn't have a place to sit down?

("Do the children have a chance to play outside?" I asked that particular caregiver. "Sure," she said. "When we get around to fixing up our yard.")

Over the years, I did find good caregivers. One of them, though, was a trade-off. She was kind and caring, and that was a wonderful thing. But she let the kids watch endless TV, and she took them out for French fries to keep them happy. I told myself that there were worse things in life.

Then there was the financial trade-off. I never made a big salary, so childcare payments were a drain. But I could never bring myself to stay home completely--even if my husband and I could make ends meet without the extra income. When I went out to work, though, the childcare ate up such a big portion of my paycheck that it seemed all I did was make money to pay for the care I needed to make the money in the first place.

Every woman has her story. Every FAMILY has a story. What I have trouble buying, though, is Sarah Palin's story. For the Palin crowd, it seems like such fun! "First," she says, "I was a hockey mom. And then I was in the PTA...."

Who in the world starts out as a hockey mom? And then goes on to be mayor? And then governor? And keeps having children? And then--and this is important to all parents in the world--is able to care for them in the office, take them on business trips, and then charge the company (the government) for it?

I'm tired of Sarah Palin parading herself as the epitome of working motherhood. No one I know is able to have five children and not pay hundreds (thousands?) of dollars in daycare. And there's not a woman I know who's been able to take her infant to work and change diapers and breastfeed at her desk, no questions asked.

Only the Palin children and the children of 49 other governors get to live in swanky government housing if they choose, with all its percs, and get flown about on the taxpayer's dime. The only trade-off I can see them making is that they have to pose for photographs a lot more often than the rest of us.

It's about time Sarah Palin got real. So Sarah, let's hear about how you want to help families obtain good childcare. Let's hear you talk about better pay and better health care for the GIVERS of child care. Let's hear you talk about early childhood education. Let's hear you give encouragement and respect to women who work, day in and day out, without the luxury of being "hockey moms." Let's hear you talk honestly about trade-offs, because in life, we always have to make some.