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Frederick official's comment that a woman's place is in the home creates uproar
This has been Terry Smith's domain throughout their marriage; she always stayed home to care for their children, and that suited her just fine.
And if a mother wants to work?
Paul Smith pauses. "Well, I think of Barbra Streisand. Boy, has she got a great voice, and I'm glad she shared that," he says. "So, for someone with that talent, I would hope they would do both. But the singing can wait a little bit. You've got a very narrow time when the children are young."
Smith's youngest daughter, Christine, 14, sits at the table, her geometry book open, doing her homework. Christine wants to go to college and become an elementary school teacher, she says. "Then I would like to find a husband, have a big family and stay home and take care of them, like my mom did."
Amanda Haddaway, a member of the county's Commission for Women who has debated Smith on the airwaves, says that the commission respects the choices the Smith family has made about work and child rearing. But in intimating that mothers staying home is the best option for everyone, Smith crossed a line, she says.
"There was no framing of his comment to say that 'this is what worked for my family.' It was more of a blanket statement that 'this should work for everyone,' " Haddaway says.
The furor started when Smith sought to explain his vote to cut $2.3 million out of the county's Head Start program for nearly 300 toddlers in low-income families. At a public hearing last month, he told a group of tearful Head Start parents that marriage and staying home with children was not only the best option for raising them well but would also "decrease" the number of kids that the government would need to provide for.
Another commissioner, Kirby Delauter (R), chimed in that his college-educated wife, who could have gone out and gotten a good job, "gave that up for 18 years so she could stay home with our kids."
The Head Start parents felt they were being chastised and quickly vented their outrage on social media and over backyard fences.
"They were sitting up there telling parents, 'This is what I did, and I turned out great, so this is what you should do,' " said Head Start social worker Trista McAleavy, who testified at the hearing and has since lost her position because of the cutbacks.
Elizabeth Sprague, 31, is one of those Head Start mothers. She lives down the highway from Smith in a townhouse crammed with pink Barbie houses, balls and plastic toys. She has four children ranging in age from 2 to 11. She is married - but one day her husband, a disabled Army veteran, decided to leave and go back to Texas. He visits once a year.
Sprague, whose dream is to be a college English professor and teach the classics, has found herself variously on welfare, working at a cosmetics counter and as a bank teller to try to make ends meet.
But when the cost of child care quickly outstripped her earnings, and the heartbreak of never seeing her children sank in, she quit and has been struggling to make it on food stamps and the $1,700 a month she gets in child support. When the children are asleep, she works at an "Internet marketing job" trying to place click-on ads on social media sites. It nets her a few hundred dollars a month.
For Sprague, who is, in a manner of speaking, Smith's ideal of a married mother staying home with her young children, Smith's comments were beyond frustrating - not because she disagrees with him, but because he is disconnected from the reality of her life. "I wish it were as simple as, 'Go get married,' " she said. "But it's not."
As the sky darkens, Sprague calls out to her 8-year-old daughter, Collette. "Jelly bean! Come in the house!" Collette wants to be a vet when she grows up. She also wants to be a mommy, Sprague says, and the girl is matter-of-fact that she'll be able to do both.
Collette, huffing from a long afternoon playing out in the cold, wrinkles her nose. "Marriage," she says, "is gross."