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Zero Oxygen

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I was amused by Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in The Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All," and the interview with Hillary Clinton in the most recent Marie Claire in which she comments on Slaughter's piece. Although Hillary was apparently misquoted, calling Ms. Slaughter a "whiner," she certainly was not laudatory of the thesis Ms. Slaughter put forth about woman in the workplace. It reminded me of a piece I wrote five years ago, still apropos today, that I've reproduced below. For family women in the workplace, I contend that a balanced life requires a divorce (an amicable one), a global business, a non-traditional sport and a sleepless elite family pet to keep mom company. Here's how it can work.

"A balanced life." Hmmm. Oops -- almost dropped my laptop in the sink! Better pull that email back up.

I'm sitting in the business-class lavatory on an Air India plane. My laptop battery died just two hours into a 12-hour flight (is there anything worse?). The electrical system in the seats is dead, and the only working outlet is in the bathroom. Luckily, the incredible flight crew has said that, short of an E. Coli outbreak on the plane, they'll let me sit in the bathroom for the next eight hours so I can work. Ahhh, the perks of business class.

So, I'm opening an e-invitation to participate in a panel titled, "Can women have it all? Models of work/life balance." A glowing, overly-complimentary personal note accompanies the invitation. Am I the model of having it all?

Let's examine. I'm the CEO of an emerging pharmaceutical company discovering and developing medicines from the rain forest. I have a subsidiary in India and significant business relationships in China.

I gave birth to three fabulous children:15, 17 and 20; and am the mother of two Jack Russell Terriers named Snickerdoodles and Coco.

I travel 50 percent of the time and we have no live-in help, yet my children are never without at least one parent. I work 70- to 80-hour weeks (don't let anyone tell you that you can run an entrepreneurial company in less), yet I exercise daily and -- most importantly for my psyche -- when I'm in town I spend a couple of hours each day doing activities with my kids.

Here's the secret: First and foremost, get divorced. To raise the bar, though, you must get divorced amicably from a man who will accommodate you getting the children whenever you're in town. When I got divorced 14 years ago, I felt a lot of guilt about not being with my children 100 percent of the time because of the separation. Compounding that was the guilt I had about being away from them when I was traveling for work. But because my ex allows me to have the children the moment I'm home, without the bounds or constraints of a child custody schedule negotiated by a divorce counselor, I was able to closet those demons years ago. Not defeat, mind you; just closet.

Now, how do you pull off those long hours and be a participatory mom when you're at home? Working mothers of the world: Praise globalization. I start my day at 4:30 a.m. with London, then move on to California business hours, and, at the end of the day, I do dinner, books and bed with the family before India and China wake up around 10 p.m. our time -- with Snickers and Coco constantly by my side.

Finally, the kids have to accommodate as well. Of all the sports and activities my girls could have chosen, thank god they didn't pick soccer. The soccer mom thing after school was just not going to work. They chose figure skating, at which they are spectacular. We're on the ice by 5:30 every morning. We've established a fabulous family-bonding ritual of walking a yawning Snickers and Coco into each of my daughters' rooms to wake them. Then off to the arena (only five minutes away, which is perfect) for an hour and a half of energizing, childhood-obesity-fighting jumps and spins set to music. Plus, the cold wards off wrinkles! We're done before the California office even opens.

Divorce, accommodating ex-mates, a 24-7 global business and early-rising children. Can one really have it all? You have got to be kidding. I'm as balanced as my laptop on this sink -- one bump, and down the toilet it goes. On top of everything, poor Snickers and Coco are starting to exhibit symptoms of long-term sleep disorder and deprivation. Recently, I found their keys in the microwave... when I was looking for mine.

I can provide further proof of my requirements for women to have it all. In the last year, my ex has descended into the realm of a pariah and deadbeat dad. Having it all has become remarkably more difficult, though, as Hillary points out, resources can help significantly when building networks and support systems for working mom.

I suspect Hillary would agree with my guide to having it all. My guess -- she's a member of the sleepless elite as well.