How Rep. Katie Porter—Congress’s Only Single Mom—Is Making It Work in Quarantine

Jennifer Siebel Newsom
·10 mins read

Last fall, in a time that seems worlds away from the one we live in now, I wrote about my experiences parenting as both a working mom and the wife of a governor—California’s Gavin Newsom. My experiences were unique, to be sure, and yet the struggle was universal—parenting was seen as my burden and, yes, my husband’s “adorable hobby.”

In a world that feels almost entirely different now—a world of Zoom meetings and distance learning, with essential workers putting their lives on the line and with unemployment on the rise—this particular imbalance has yet to be set right. In fact, the disproportionate burden we place on women to be both breadwinners and caregivers (plus teachers, Zoom schedulers, in-home nurses, and therapists too) has only become more substantial.

I am incredibly grateful for my family’s good fortune during this crisis: We are in good health, with a roof over our heads, food on the table, and job security. Yet I still feel an enormous burden in these trying times, and some days are much harder than others. As I often do in times of struggle, I have turned to my girlfriends and women I admire to give me strength.

With that, I asked some incredible women from California to share a day in their lives with me so that I might share them with you too. These are women who inspire me, struggle just as you and I do, and give me hope by simply doing their best to carry on.

First up, here’s how Representative Katie Porter, a freshman Democrat who represents California’s 45th District in the U.S. House of Representatives—and happens to be the lone single mom in Congress—is spending her time in lockdown, in her own words.

7:30 a.m. I wake up and wade through my email. Because half of my staff works in Washington, D.C., and I have colleagues in every time zone in our country, I start each day with dozens of emails about letters and legislation that Congress and my office are working on. Living in California, I feel like I am already three hours behind, trying to catch up, before I have even had breakfast.

8:55 a.m. Where are my children? Why are they still asleep? Their failure to get up before I start my first call means that I am destined to be interrupted and will have to supervise making beds and putting cereal bowls in the dishwasher while on a call.

9:00 a.m. My first event of the day is a conference call with my colleagues in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I take the call in my kitchen while drinking a bottle of Starbucks cold brew, which I was aggrieved to learn costs almost more than my usual to-go iced coffee but does the job of waking me up. The kitchen is a bit of luxury real estate in my house, because there is no separate office or study. In fact, I had to kick my daughter Betsy out of the kitchen desk so I would have a place to work from home.

10:00 a.m. My colleagues are still talking and this call was supposed to end. I have already spoken, and even managed to get in one comment with a trigger finger on *3 or #1 or whatever the magic code is to be recognized in the queue. So I hang up, because I need to help my daughter figure out Google Meets as today was the end of spring break—and the start of distance learning.

10:47 a.m. Yelling is coming from upstairs. Not a good sign. I leave the rest of my email and decide to see what is going on. Per usual, the brothers are teasing Betsy—or at least that is her perspective. They have taken her American Girl hostage and are demanding a ransom. She is in full meltdown, and the boys are supposed to be “in school” right now. Upon asking, it seems Paul’s first class of the day is not until 2:30 (!!!) and Luke, my teenager, just turned off his video so his teacher could not see he had left the room. I deliver some accountability—or at least leave them making beds, getting out of their pajamas, and being quiet enough that I can head back to my kitchen desk.

11:15 a.m. Ack! I am finally able to get on a Zoom video call with Bonnie Erbé for her PBS program To the Contrary (15 minutes late), where I talk with her about the COVID-19 response and my bill that would make it easier for working parents to run for Congress. One of the hardships that I see during the pandemic is a lack of information about what Congress is doing to help.

11:45 a.m. I head straight into a phone interview with the L.A. Times about the urgent need for rigorous oversight of the $500 billion fund administered by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. This is one of my top priorities, as I was on the front lines during the foreclosure crisis and saw how Wall Street got help overnight while homeowners struggled for years. I work on this issue in some way almost daily.

As I’m doing the interview, Betsy is having a minor meltdown because she is using my Chromebook for her homework and is not able to figure out the shift key to create the symbols I used to create the elusive “strong password.” She helpfully suggests that I just write the password with a Sharpie on the keyboard (um, no, but tempting).

12:15 p.m. My turn for a minor meltdown. My staffer Jessica calls from D.C. to request that I print and sign something and send it to her. I ask her to just use the .jpg image of my signature, noting that I just got Betsy back on the computer upstairs. She explains that the Clerk of the House is “adapting” by allowing us not to have to hand-deliver bills to the House floor, but they insist I sign by hand. I point out that my imaged signature is identical to the process of my printing and signing and sending a picture. She agrees, then tells me that I need to do what the Clerk wants anyway. I am destined to lose this one, at least in the short term, so I make another foray into Betsy’s room to negotiate use of my own computer.

12:30 p.m. This is the time on my calendar set aside for lunch, but it’s also time for me to review documents that my staff have sent me, look through my email and texts again, and try to read the news. It is also time to fix the kids lunch and clean up from that, so in the end, they have PB&J and baby carrots. I have a BeVita cinnamon biscuit thing, which promises “four hours of steady energy”—a claim that I will put to the test.

1:00 p.m. I join the House Democratic Caucus conference call. The most common thing I hear on these calls is “I think you need to unmute yourself!” The second most common thing is “Can you all hear me?” It’s an understatement to say that some of my colleagues are struggling to use technology to adapt during this pandemic.

1:30 p.m. I was supposed to have a call with my staff to talk about a podcast I want to launch, but this was doomed to be taken down. First, the Caucus call will inevitably go 90 minutes despite being scheduled for 60, and second, I have had no time to organize my thoughts about the podcast. I have more ideas than time, and my schedule is typically filled in every hour of every day, so when a call runs long or I have something personal to handle, it can really throw everything for a loop. (My scheduler is an optimist; I am a realist.)

2:20 p.m. Yikes! An email from the school that my eighth grader has a Zoom meeting at 3 p.m. As I head upstairs to convey this news, I try to get my fifth grader to pick up a few Legos and get ready for his 2:30 school Zoom call. I think to myself that there is no way I could ever do what my scheduler does, as I can barely manage my kids’ Zoom calendars, much less my own.

2:30 p.m. I start editing a draft report my staff wrote that digs into public data of the Trump Administration increasing exports of PPE during the first part of 2020. I review every letter and report that comes out of our office, which is to say that I spend a lot of time trying to get millennials to stop using words like impacted and ensure and accessible. If there is one thing I have learned in my first term in Congress, it is that these kinds of words obscure the hard realities that we confront. As in, “Congress must ‘ensure’ that PPE is ‘accessible’ to ‘impacted’ workers” boils down to: “Workers will get sick and die if Congress does not pass a law—and enforce it.”

3:00 p.m. I have another conference call—this one with my colleagues on the Financial Services Committee. I take detailed notes as these calls are always “members only,” but my staff and I are a team, and much of my job is gathering information [and bringing it back to them].

4:15 p.m. Betsy is back in the kitchen, asking me when are we going to make cookies (I struggle to remember when or why I would have promised that). I tell her “just one more minute” as I am reviewing a lovely message from constituents who were stuck in Peru in March and were able to get home to Orange County and are expressing appreciation to my district staff.

4:40 p.m. The chocolate chip cookie baking begins. My teenager refuses to participate, but the younger kids and I have a good time. And the cookies turn out great, and because they have oatmeal they are definitely a health food. (At least they are good for our mental health.)

6:00 p.m. I barely finish cleaning up from cookies when my teenager strolls in and we engage in our deep conversation of late: “Mom, what is for dinner? And can I buy something for my guitar online?” Answer is potato corn chowder, and we will look into the purchase if you help me cook. He wanders back upstairs, and I start peeling potatoes while ignoring the dinging of my phone.

6:15 p.m. I get my middle son on his Zoom meeting for virtual rank advancement with Boy Scouts.

7:00 p.m. The soup was a hit. Nobody complained, and I had only one pot to wash. I return to editing documents, reading briefings, and replying to emails, trying to focus over the kids’ watching Clone Wars.

8:45 p.m. Bedtime for my kids. My daughter is angling for a book, but I cannot deal with reading more, so I sing her The Gambler, which is the only song whose lyrics I can always remember.

9:45 p.m. I review the email from my chief of staff listing invites, legislative requests, constituent engagement, press opportunities, staff updates, and the like. The tick-tock for tomorrow comes in, and makes me decide to get sleep now because I’ll need it.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom is the first partner of California, the founder of the Representation Project, and a filmmaker. She wrote and directed Miss Representation, The Mask You Live In, and The Great American Lie.

Originally Appeared on Glamour

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