On the evening of May 22, 2017, Lynne Polvino was immersed in the chaos of living with two young children. And as her husband was yet to arrive home from work, the New York native had to deal with tasks totally solo – including the matter of helping her daughter with her homework. But when Polvino managed to take a look at the six-year-old’s assignment, she became absolutely furious.
Polvino, her husband, Jesse, and their two children, Hazel and Jasper, reside in Queens, New York. And although Polvino originally comes from Fredonia – over 400 miles away from New York City – her career path makes living in the Big Apple a better fit. Why? Well, the mom works in the world of publishing.
Yes, Polvino has been employed by children’s publishers Clarion Books for almost two decades now – most recently as a senior editor. Prior to this, she was also at a literary agency for a few years. And given how long Polvino has been in the business, it’s somewhat safe to assume that she likes what she does.
Furthermore, when the busy mom can spare a minute, she plays bass guitar in a band. And, of course, both Polvino and her husband devote as much time as they can to raising their two kids. But like many parents, the editor finds juggling the demands of work and home life a difficult thing to accomplish.
In fact, when speaking to Today in 2017, Polvino explained, “I’ve had so many moments where I’ve felt that I wasn’t doing either thing – work or motherhood – very well.” Nevertheless, her job was something that she enjoyed, and she was adamant that she wouldn’t sacrifice her career in order to concentrate on her family.
Indeed, the New Yorker told Today, “I love what I do, and I’ve been doing it for a lot longer than I’ve been a mom. So, there was never really any question in my mind about whether I’d keep on doing it when we had kids. It was more a question of how.”
And so, on that day in May 2017, Polvino found herself taking multi-tasking to the extreme. Not only was she tackling parenting two young children alone, but she also had to prepare the family’s meal and help her eldest with her homework.
To make matters worse, Polvino told Today, her son had been bombarding her with an “endless stream of questions and demands.” Still, despite this chaos, the frazzled parent settled down to help Hazel with her assignment. Then, once she had read through the worksheet, anger boiled inside her.
But what was it that had annoyed Polvino? After all, on the face of it, the simple writing exercise seemed an appropriate task for a first grader. While reading the story provided, Hazel had to fill in any gaps with appropriate words chosen from a list on the sheet. However, it wasn’t the assignment itself that bothered the mom.
Instead, Polvino was perturbed by the narrative of the story. You see, the tale depicted a young girl called Lisa describing how she felt about her mother returning to work after some time off. And not only was the protagonist frustrated by her mom leaving, but her dad also had to fix breakfast – which, the story related, “was not too good.”
And while everything is resolved in the end, since Lisa discovers that her mother will be waiting at home for her after school from now on, the whole set-up of the story left a sour taste in Polvino’s mouth. The mom of two wasn’t about to let the seemingly sexist message that the homework conveyed go unchecked, either.
As a working mother herself, Polvino was both infuriated and offended by the gender roles depicted in the assignment. And she explained as much to Today, saying, “I mean, what decade are we in, anyway? In this day and age, we’re going to tell kids that mothers working outside the home makes their children and families unhappy? That fathers don’t normally do things like cook and wash the dishes?”
And although Hazel didn’t appear to be upset by what she had read, Polvino herself was concerned about the impact that the homework may have had on other working moms and their children. So, the editor took matters into her own hands and constructed a new narrative based on the original.
And Polvino’s adaptation of the story painted a very different picture. There, Lisa was delighted that her mother was returning to work. Furthermore, Lisa’s dad was on paid paternity leave and had everything “firmly under control” – not to mention the ability to make a “very good” breakfast.
But Polvino didn’t stop there. Instead, she took to Facebook to share her frustration at the stereotypes portrayed in her daughter’s homework; the mom of two even uploaded her own version of the tale to the social media site for comparison. And, to date, Polvino’s post has garnered thousands of comments – some of which have come from other parents who supported her stance.
In addition, several commenters on the post congratulated Polvino for pointing out the rather retrograde flavor of the original story. However, not everybody agreed with the Queens resident’s take on the assignment. One individual even went so far as to call out the editor for having a “sexist agenda” of her own.
Regardless of the reaction on social media, though, Polvino chose to take things even further. But while she may have been tempted to send Hazel back to school with the alternative worksheet, the publishing professional adopted a rather more diplomatic approach. Instead, she got in contact with her daughter’s teacher.
Then, in an update on her Facebook page, Polvino shared the teacher’s response. The mom explained that her daughter’s tutor was grateful to Polvino for raising any concerns with her. The teacher also vowed that, in the future, she would thoroughly check all worksheets before assigning them.
However, Polvino called for more drastic changes. In the Facebook post, the editor added that she felt public schools should have more funds allocated to acquiring suitable materials for classes; the classes themselves, she argued, should also have a small number of children in each. That way, Polvino explained, teachers could concentrate on helping kids learn rather than spending time “weeding out offensive decades-old worksheets.”
Despite all this, however, Polvino told Today that the whole debacle prompted her to remember that although it may be difficult to be a working mother now, all the moms with jobs who had come before her were real pioneers. “I’m so grateful to them for paving the way,” she declared.