Women don’t need middlemen

Posted Sept. 28, 2008, at 9:39 p.m.

Before I share my thoughts about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her role as Sen. John McCain’s running mate, I need to tell you how Dustin and I once made an offer on a house. Dustin was house-hunting in another city while I was in Florida with the children. He sent me digital pictures of the house he had selected, and then, before getting on a plane to come home, he submitted an initial offer to the real estate agent.

“This will take a few days,” he told me before getting on the plane. “But I’ve made an offer, and now we will go back and forth with the seller until we come to an agreement on the price and terms.”

Dustin is the kind of person who will negotiate right down to the last dollar, and he isn’t afraid to play games. (“Act like you don’t love this house and we will get a better deal.”) I’m of the belief that the world would be a much happier place if car dealerships put the actual price of the car on the window sticker and houses were listed at the dollar figure that the seller needed to get.

But Dustin is the designated house- and car-buyer in our family (he has even strongly urged that I not go to the car dealerships with him anymore), so I usually keep my mouth shut. What Dustin hadn’t accounted for this time, however, was that the seller of the house he had just made an offer on was a single woman. As soon as Dustin had boarded the plane, our real estate agent called with the seller’s counteroffer. She wanted X amount of dollars. Period.

“Tell her we can only pay X amount,” I said. “Period.”

Twenty minutes later, I had put a contract on the house.

When Dustin got off the plane that night, he said, “I really hope we get the house. It’s perfect.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, waving my hand. “I already put a contract on it.”

“But what about the negotiations? Did you make counteroffers in specific increments?”

“I didn’t make any counteroffers,” I said, ripping his frugal heart into pieces. “I found out what the seller wanted to get, and I told her what we could pay, and then we met in the middle.”

Two women had condensed what would have dragged out over several days and ended with the same result into a 20-minute transaction.

Whoever thought men are better at getting things done and getting things right must have been — well, it must have a been a man.

The news about Palin came while I was unpacking moving boxes and drilling holes in the wall to install a towel bar. I have three young children. Because my husband is in the military and now living away from us while he finishes his tour of duty in Pensacola, Fla., I am their sole parent under this roof. There I was setting up our house — a task that occasionally required wielding a power drill and biting nails between my teeth — and trying to continue my career as seamlessly as possible, all while feeding the children, folding their laundry and getting them ready for school, when out on the periphery I heard news commentators arguing about whether or not Palin is trying to be a man. Can she handle the responsibility? They wanted to know. What about her children? How can she be a mother and a vice president at the same time?

I’m sure glad no one asks these same questions about military wives, single mothers or anyone else who doesn’t stay home and bake cookies.

People don’t ask whether my husband can be a suitable father and service member at the same time. (Actually, in today’s world, when fathers are expected to be just as involved in their children’s lives as are the mothers, perhaps maybe they should be asking that question.) No one asks whether or not the single mother who works full time should stay at home instead. No one asks the female CEO whether she is making enough time for her children.

Regardless of your political preferences, the issues that Sarah Palin’s candidacy has brought to the table are shocking and disheartening. We all know that behind every great man there is an even better woman, and sometimes she is laughing. So just as I had cut out the middleman (er, husband) in the home-buying process with successful results, perhaps a woman in the White House might actually get something done — and raise the children, drill holes, make dinner and help her husband find his keys all at the same time.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Sarah Smiley’s new book “I’M JUST SAYING …” is available wherever books are sold. You may reach her at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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