Sunday, September 15, 1996
Just what's a good mom worth today?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

And now, ''the mom thing'' becomes a political bomb. This has already been a neighborhood bomb, pitting working mothers against women who choose to be full-time moms. ''Do you work outside the home?'' we have learned to ask.

This lesson was lost on Hamilton County Recorder Eve Bolton. Challenger Rebecca Prem Groppe, she says, is just a stay-at-home mother. ''Surely, she doesn't think being a mom is a job,'' Ms. Bolton said. ''That's supposed to be a love thing.''

Well, of course, it is a love thing. And it's a hard work thing, if I may say so. Anybody - male or female - who has been at home with a child knows that you return to the office to rest up.

To be fair, Ms. Bolton is certainly not afraid of hard work. She teaches government and history at Wyoming High School, an excellent and demanding system, and the National Association of Counties twice this year cited her success in streamlining the recorder's office.

Mice and sticky fingers

She told Enquirer reporter Anne Michaud that when she took office in 1992, the recorder's office was a mess: ''People were stealing from cash registers and had live mice in their drawers.'' She said one man kept a can under his desk for, ah, purposes of elimination. She says she has been responsible for cleaning all this up. I admire that, but mice, inappropriate toilet habits and sticky fingers are standard household hazards.

Maybe the problem for Ms. Bolton and for many other people is that it's hard to put a price tag on ''the mom thing.'' It's easier to see the value of being a county recorder. You get about $50,000 and all the mice you can find. Besides that, her teaching job pays another $50,000.

Wouldn't you just know that help fell right out of the mailbag and into my lap? A letter from the Professional Domestic Institute promises training for ''household managers - butlers and personal assistants, serving today's homes and families.''

The Columbus firm offers eight courses of study. Tuition is $1,200 per course or $4,800 for the whole shebang - or, as it is known around the institute, the Professional Management Course.

For instance, you can start out with the household manager - butler class, including personal standards, family psychology, correspondence, record keeping and household inventory.

More advanced courses teach menu planning, special dietary needs, low-fat cooking, kitchen organization and selecting quality foods. In other words, grocery shopping for finicky kids and a husband who is trying to drop 15 pounds before his high school reunion.

A price tag for moms

Well, here is the good part. The course materials also included a section on what graduates might expect in their pay envelopes. There's a careful warning that the quoted salaries do not include benefits or bonuses, which will come as a surprise to exactly zero stay-at-home moms.

Pardon me if I sound a little biased, but I've never had a job I thought was as demanding as being a mother and housekeeper. And, by the way, this is a job that often is done in the evenings when a woman comes home from a lesser job as, say, vice president of a bank or chief financial officer of a big company or TV anchor.

Anyway, I just looked at the jobs that seem to apply to the moms I know: baby sitter, nanny, house cleaner, maid, cook, household manager. I ignored the jobs like major domo, who apparently has servants to do the scut work, only providing ''continuity of staff, service and coordination between all properties.''

I concentrated on basics, such as ''responsible for the family's meals, cleanup and organization of the kitchen, procurement of equipment, supplies and food.'' The institute suggests this particular service is worth $24,000 to $60,000 a year. Minimum charge for the total mom package is $153,660. It costs $438,720 for the deluxe.

So, it appears to me that ''the mom thing'' is really not so very different from ''the work thing.''

Except for the love, of course.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.