Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"Making Time"

The book I read while Bob and I were on our lovely Colorado trip (was that a month ago?  or just a dream, perhaps?!) was Making Time:  Lillian Moller Gilbreth--A Life Beyond Cheaper by the Dozen" by Jane Lancaster.  I read Cheaper by the Dozen as well as the sequel, Belles on Their Toes, for the first time back when I was in junior high, and I loved the books.  They were so funny!  They definitely made life with a big family seem so totally fun, and I would have told you I wanted 12 kids for sure had you asked me then (although when I was a much more mature high schooler, I realized it would be crazy to have more than say 4, which to me WAS a big family . . .)  Somehow I read about this book a few years ago (amazon reviews, maybe?), and I requested it for a present.  I did receive it, and then it sat on the shelf because I just didn't have time to read it.  The trip to Colorado was a perfect time for some pleasure reading, however, so I took it along and started reading it on the plane.

I was fascinated by it.  I finished it a few weeks back, but I've kept thinking about it, and about Lillian Moller Gilbreth, who is the mom in Cheaper by the Dozen.   We really have a lot in common, and I felt a real kinship with her.  I wish I could have met her!

First, some details about her that most people, even ones who read the books, don't know about her.  In the books she was mentioned as part of the "motion study" team, always trying to figure out the most efficient way of doing things, and they talked about her visiting factories, but that part of her life was definitely glossed over.  I had no idea that she was such a well-respected academic herself!  She received a master's in literature from UC-Berkeley before she even met her future husband, Frank.  She met him in Boston.  He had never gone to college, but he was interested in workplace efficiency, and Lillian became interested in that as well.  She got her first PhD from Brown in 1915 in industrial psychology (first one ever granted because it was a totally new field), already having 4 children.  She and Frank started a "scientific management principles" consulting business, where they worked on "time and motion studies" to make factories and businesses run most efficiently, and she worked right alongside him.  Because of her psychology background, she was able to help convince workers that these new ways were better for them, and she really pushed for better working conditions and incentives, since she was more interested in the "human element", rather than just the technical benefits of efficiency.  They developed the concept of "ergonomics", really, as well as the discipline of industrial engineering, a subject dear to my heart, since my sister-in-law and niece are both industrial engineers.

Lillian always deflected any praise away from herself and towards her husband, so it wasn't until after Frank died on June 14, 1924, that people started realizing that she was actually the one who had written most of the many books they had published.  She was able to keep running by herself the business they had started, and she also became a professor of industrial engineering at a bunch of prestigious universities.  She was awarded a boatload of awards and impacted our lives in dozens of ways that I don't think anyone really realizes anymore.  For example, she conducted a ton of research to help determine the most efficient way to set up a kitchen (the whole "work triangle concept" came from her), as well as the best standard height for stoves and sinks.  She came up with the idea for shelves in the refrigerator door and the foot-pedal trash can (something I appreciate very much!), and dozens of other things we just accept as common-place now.  She also worked to develop methods for physically-handicapped people to do common tasks.  She kept teaching and consulting until she was 90 years old, and she died when she was 93.

So . . . wow!  All that is amazing, but what I was really interested in was her family life.  She actually bore 13 children--her second child, Mary, died of diphtheria when she was 5, and Lillian also delivered a stillborn child for her 8th child--but there were only really 11 kids, although Frank and Lillian always referred to them as their "dozen".  Now here is where the bias of the author really shines through.  I have no idea about the author at all, except after reading the book, I have the mental image of a feminist spinster who definitely doesn't have any children of her own.  Through the whole book, the author is clearly astounded that anyone would ever *really* choose to have so many kids, even though Lillian herself says in many of her own writings that from a young age, she wanted a "strenuous life", rather than the life of ease she had grown up with.  Lillian was the oldest of 9, so she was used to a big family and for being responsible for a lot of younger kids.  From the get-go, Frank had wanted "6 boys and 6 girls", although Lillian later wrote, "This seemed an easy undertaking to a person who had practically been an only child, but was a little appalling to the oldest of nine".  It seems from her later writings that having a big family was definitely a part of their scientific management experimentation, as they wanted to see if there could possibly be "one best way" to manage a big household and raise a lot of kids.  After Frank died, though, a lot of his more regimented ideas went by the wayside.

Lillian was pregnant within 6 weeks of their marriage, and she continued to have babies pretty much every 15 months.  Now the author gives a few other reasons for Lillian continuing to produce these children, the last of which is "a sheer love of children".  The most insulting reason given is basically, Lillian was just too prudish to ever discuss birth control.  I find it hard to believe that such a strong, intelligent woman working in a man's field, in such an equal partnership with her husband, was just too delicate to ever bring up the subject!   More likely, as the author grudgingly alludes to, she just didn't like birth control and didn't want to use it.  I can relate!  I think that even for someone who was used to a lot of children, and knew what a lot of work they were, Lillian had children because she really did love each and every one of them.  There were several quotes throughout the book that show how much enjoyment Lillian got from her kids, and how much she enjoyed having them around her.  Plus, Lillian said herself that all the children were "planned", and the timing was so that during her "unavoidable delay" of post-partum recovery, which back then meant several weeks of lying in bed, she could proof galleys for whatever book was getting ready to be published, since that was a job she could do in bed.  The weirdest reason given for why Lillian and Frank had so many kids was that they were into "positive eugenics".  The book says, "Rather than calling for forcible sterilization of the less 'fit', they applied their theories to themselves and produced their own large family.  They also wanted to demonstrate by means of their family system that is was possible to rear and educate many healthy children, and do it economically and efficiently, while leaving time for the mother to be professionally active."  I can tell you very honestly that we did not have 10 kids because we thought our genes were somehow superior and because we wanted to demonstrate the superiority of our system of raising them!  Haha!  We were much less deliberate about the whole thing, and here is where we differ greatly--we have all our children because we believe God blessed us with them, in His perfect timing.  And believe me, we are very thankful for His grace as we raise them, since we know for a fact there is nothing remotely superior about any set of 2 sinful parents raising a bunch of little sinners!

It was also very interesting to consider Lillian's daily schedule and how she could accomplish so much.  She had help!  Live-in help!  (And I don't mean her kids, LOL.)  As the book says, "She neither cooked nor cleaned, and although she scheduled much more time with her children than most women who work outside the home usually manage, she had assistance with the children during the hours she spent on her professional work."  I can't imagine not cooking and cleaning.  Just not cleaning would be great!  I actually enjoy cooking, even in the vast quantities I must produce right now.  But I am constantly behind on cleaning, and one of my biggest frustrations is that I can't even get all areas of the house clean enough at once to get an estimate for a cleaning lady to come once a month.  If one just happened to walk in, she would run the other way screaming, or even worse, charge us a fortune, since at least some parts always look like a disaster area!

Ha, that reminded me of another part of the book.  In Cheaper by the Dozen, they describe this great big house in New Jersey that Frank bought for them, and that was where they had the foreign language victrolas in the bathroom, and all the charts, and so on.  I was hoping to see a picture of the house or something, but after all the kids were on their own, Lillian moved to a little apartment--and she had the house torn down!!  She said it was in too bad of a shape to ever be sold.  Well--I guess I can identify with that sentiment too, LOL, although I'm sure that was a drastic step.  Too bad!

As Lillian got older, she did more with simplifying household management.  She started to sound like me though, cautioning against using "sterling silver standards where stainless steel would be more appropriate".  She was not a fan of silver flatware as a wedding gift, because then the bride would feel obligated to get nice china, linen, etc. to go with it.  Her conclusion:  "The homemaker who holds a job has to be especially careful not to cling too hard to a set of standards that dates back to the time when the lady of the house was always at home and moreover had servants to help her."  Amen!  I would consider homeschooling to be a full time job, especially at the high school level!

The last thing that I found particularly interesting was the her kids were never interested in dishing out dirt on their mom (much to the disappointment of the author of this book, I think).  All she could get was that eventually Jane, the youngest, who was only 2 when her dad died, lamented her mom's "physical and emotional distance".  The author of the book says, "Most of the Gilbreth children, however, seem determined to put a positive spin on their upbringing."  I don't think she could ever believe that kids might possibly have enjoyed growing up in a big family.  It is telling, however, that none of her kids had very big families--Martha, who married last because she stayed around and helped raise the youngest kids for her mom, had the biggest family, 4 kids.  Lillian ended up with 30 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren when she died in 1972.  Their family system was more along the lines of the Duggars, with the older kids each being responsible for a younger kid, and it was a big responsibility since the older kid had to get the younger kid all ready for school each day.  I don't think we have as much of a reliance on the older kids to help parent the younger ones.  The older kids are pretty busy with school and extra-curricular stuff at this point anyway.  Honestly, the biggest thing I took away from the book is that I need a cleaning lady!

I really enjoyed reading about her and her family though.  It was all just so interesting, and like I said, I really related to her.  There's a story in this book about a train trip she took to California from Rhode Island to visit her family.  She had 7 kids, ages 11 down to 11 months, and it was a nightmare.  Kids were sick, she was 7 months pregnant, and it was a long trip.  She had planned to get the kids all cleaned up before meeting her parents in Oakland, but her brother met them on the train in Sacramento, and found diapers everywhere, crying children, and just a scene of general chaos.  Lillian was mortified because she was trying to convince her family that "she had made the right choice in marrying her 'strenuous' husband, that she could cope with the children, and that Gilbreth, Inc. was prospering."  That was not the impression she gave, and boy, could I feel for her there, having been in  situations like that before myself!  The book also quotes a letter she wrote to Frank during one of his many business trips, saying, "I know I have made a million mistakes, but anyone would who typed against the clatter I do."  Ha!  I'm right there!  And another time she forgot to enclose something, so she wrote later, "It isn't any wonder I do strange things for I work in the midst of confusion all the time . . . and the children rampaging all over the place and asking a hundred questions a minute."  Good to know my kids aren't unique, and really it did encourage me that such an accomplished and brilliant woman could struggle with the same day-to-day issues that I do!

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