Friday, December 24, 2004

Page Proofs, I

A little bit on me: I'm a mom, trained as a professor, once a fulltime, just tenured professor, who quit when my daughter was born. I now teach part time. And write. And parent. That's right, I quit and gave up tenure and a job for life, all because life is complicated. Or was it I just got mad that my university didn't have real maternity leave?

I was at a conference this past weekend, in Chicago. One of the panels featured a study that had been done on Jewish communal life and why women weren't rising to the top, to run organizations. It's a different field than mine, but the analysis, by Shifra Bronznick and Sherry Israel, was excellent. There's so much talk these days about mothers opting out, but that's not the way they explain it. they look instead to issues like, was there enough professional development for women? was there sufficient support and flexibility to accommodate family life? Their questions were so empowering--mothers who quit jobs still feel like somehow we've failed. Had we only been stronger, more competent, we could do the balance of work and family that others seem skilled at. Women who work hard and end up never reaching the top think it's about their skill--or lack of it.

Most of my book "The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars" is about the falacy of such things. That workplaces squeeze us out by not adjusting to our lives as parents. That many mothers who look like they're making it all work aren't--they're either hiding the effort it takes to keep kids and worklife going, or they have housekeepers or other help, or a decent job that really ends at five and doesn't have stress, or they're among the few and the proud mothers who are totally organized and efficient. The rest of us--we're just struggling, whether we're working fulltime, or at home, or trying to do some part time work, too.

In real life, the panelists were saying, it's that men are mentored and women aren't. Mentor women and we will rise to the top. Give us family flexibility and help us through those first extremely tough years, or welcome us back in after a few family-raising years off, and we'll do well.

In an earlier draft of the book, I wrote a prose-poetry chapter that kept giving reasons for why I quit my job as a feminist professor to be a mom. The reasons kept changing. They were many. I was mad, I was bored, I was tired of commuting to a city seven hours away each week, I was burnt out because I had to work so hard for tenure, I was enthralled by the idea of life at home with a young child. I kept going. A full chapter of all the reasons one woman quits out.

At the conference, then, I found myself telling a single version: I quit because there was no maternity leave. Because I realized I had worked my butt off for my career, and in return, that career didn't care a hoot about whether I had a baby and some extra needs because of it. The thing is, my university goofed. They had invested thousands of dollars into my research; had given me summer grants to study in Britain and in Turkey. They gave me teaching prizes, and when I received an outside grant, they matched the funds. Yes, they lost it all because they didn't have maternity leave policies for professors. Their policy book still assumed that professors were men (as if dads too don't need time off when a new baby arrives...). the secretaries did find a way to patch together some sick time for me, and if I remember, a dean offered me a faux-research leave--but I would have had to produce some new writing--during my child's first four months--and I needed to promise I'd return after. I had the good instinct to say no on both accounts.

All that work they demanded I do for tenure, they couldn't even offer paid family leave, on its own merits.

After listening to the panel, I've decided to contact my old workplace and see whether they ever changed their policy. Does a certain Florida university now offer paid family leave to professors? It may take time to figure out, but stay tuned.....

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Okay, it's serious

Yes, it's become a rather serious blog.

I didn't plan it that way. I thought I could pull off writing a happy cheery book-and-blog that still managed to give voice to the real problems facing women, and mothers in particular, and how we rarely get a chance to talk about these things.

I wanted to keep it perky. In real life I like to laugh. I like to joke, and I like to smile. When I first drafted the book, it was all in a first person voice. It wasn't supposed to be memoir, but still, I was the guide through the world of early motherhood and its social politics. I wanted to capture the fun of it all-you know, hanging at the playground, making new friends, watching toddlers do jellyrolls down a slow hill while miraculously avoiding all traces of dog poop. I wanted to show that one can be serious about the world and the need for change, and still care about how to make an excellent dinner party. The first draft even included a few recipes. The idea was to combine the daily practicality of life with children, of life as a woman trying to take time off from a career without ditching it all, with more philosophical ruminations of why it's still so hard to combine work and motherhood, why none of our options are excellent.

No one wanted to publish that version. it mixed genres, I was told by various editors.

In the meantime, a good book, a serious book, by a fabulous new writer who's rather fun over the telephone, as I discovered when I interviewed her for my book: check out Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner: The F-Word.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

really, this happened, or, domestic labor really was invisible

It's unbelievable, true, but here's what happened, just an hour or so after I wrote the last entry. The scene: a family holiday dinner, kids all around, siblings, great aunts, granparents. My mother in law spent all week preparing. Chopping for the beef stew. Grating potatoes for the latkes. Baking two cakes. Making her own apple sauce, which, I know, it's easy to buy very good apple sauce these days, but she loves making her own. She's 79, and this is the way she's always done it. She set a gorgeous table, two actually, one in the dining room for the adults, and put a cloth on the kitchen table for the kids.

After it was over, most of us adults were in the kitchen, cleaning up. My father in law was with his sister in the dining room. it turns out that though they've been married over fifty years, this is the first dinner party she's thrown that he ever helped out with. He was proud of his contributions, and he was beside himself: he couldn't believe how much work it took to pull the dinner together. For him it was one of those 'ah-ha' moments. As in, the floor doesn't sweep itself. The garbage I put in front of my house doesn't go away by itself. Dinner parties don't cook themselves.

He finally got it. And in his excitement, he said to his sister, a woman in her 70's who has spent many a week preparing many a dinner party, "You have no idea how much work goes into a dinner party."

The poor dear. He meant well. He meant to convey to the women around him that he finally realizes the extent of their labor, cooking all those meals he has so enjoyed.

His sister was furious. "You are so stupid," she said, losing her temper. "You are so stupid. Of course I know how much work goes into a dinner party. I've been making them all my life."

The rest of the apartment grew quiet. In the past I've been the one to raise my voice and quiet the place down, so I was glad to have some company in that regard. One time I had to yell at an older man who was harassing my daughter. I told him that if he didn't stop I was going to raise my voice so everyone would know. He ignored me, kept teasing my then-four-year-old daughter, I raised my voice and yelled at him to stop. All the relatives turned toward us, silent, until his wife ushered him out. He's never been invited back to a family meal.

"You don't know. Believe me, I know how much work it takes." And she huffed into the other room, repeating how stupid he was.

Now, name-calling aside, and they did make up later, there it was, clear as daylight, the invisibility of women's domestic labor. Over fifty years they've been married, and while he's been appreciative and admiring of the women in his life, he's never exactly realized--till now-- how much labor they performed.

housework is political

Today I'm thinking about the labor of everyday life. About what it takes to create a happy family life, and how many minutes, hours of time are devoted to it. Tonight's a big family hanukah party. We will all enjoy it. And my husband's mother has been cooking and freezing and prepping all week. The holidays have begun, and that means dinners to plan and prepare, and family to host, not to mention presents to procure. Last saturday, with a long list in hand, I took my husband with me to the stores in Chestnut Hill. I wanted him to be part of the process. In as natural a way as possible, I wanted him to realize the time it takes to buy presents, the way your throat gets dry after sorting through too many stores, the way you get hot because your coat's on, the tedium that takes over (okay, I've never been much of a shopper....)

I wanted him to see it, to take part, because I've gotten into the habit of doing all the present-buying for his family, as well as for my own. That's me wracking my brain to figure out what all the tween and teen cousins might like. It's horrible to admit that. Horrible, because it's just so gendered, so predictible, that women end up doing so much of the labor that keeps families going. When my brother married, his new wife took on all the responsibilities of his relations with his family. She's wonderful, but shouldn't he take responsibility? So there I was, realizing that the responsibility for

We mothers do too much work. And we rarely count it. It becomes the white noise of our lives. A few years back, when my daughter started fullday school, I began working again, and hired a housekeeper to stop by once every other week. I hadn't been aware of how much time it took me to keep our house clean until I saw him working, till I counted the hours that he scrubbed and dusted and changed linens. Housework is political, feminists of the early 70's knew that, but it's one of their insights that we've lost.

Monday, December 06, 2004


In the past six weeks of silence I finished the book, got sick again (writing can sure wear a body out), worked through copy edits and fact check, and the Truth Behind the Mommy Wars is now in production! Which means I can return to blogging much more regularly...

On my mind today. At the last minute, one of the many mothers I interviewed for my book told me how uncomfortable she felt with the several paragraphs I had written about her. I had used only her first name, but she decided she didn't want her name used. She wanted all details that could identify her deleted. She just plain felt uncomfortable with seeing herself in print. Her story was one of giving up her job when her daughter was born, of several moves, including one to a very glamorous European city, which I can't mention because I must respect her need for absolute privacy, and then returning to the US and working quite hard for severeal years to put herself in position for a new professional job. It's an important story that speaks to the problems that many mothers and fathers have when they take time off with young children and then look for new, decent work. It's the reentry problem.

She's not the only person I interviewed who wanted anonymity and privacy after agreeing to talk with me about the frustrations and joys of family life.

And I understand that many mothers don't want to raise a fuss, that we are afraid what others will think.

It's also true in my book that the fathers had no problem with using first names, last names, they wanted all the details in. they had confidence. Many, many of the mothers were more afraid. They wanted to talk, but became timid about speaking out in public. Which we understand. It's sad to see something I write about--mothers being timid about raising a fuss--played out so poignantly, and personally.

I understand that it can be quite horrifying to see oneself in print. We have relatively few models of literature about the everyday details of mothers' lives

Friday, October 15, 2004

Check Out

I've been sick, one of those weird virusy-flu things that seem to have hit this fair city earlier than usual this year, but here's a new post.

I want everyone to know about this group blog: MamasInk, at The mamas writing in are part of the MamaWriters group, and they include some of everyone's fave mama writers, like Ann Douglas, and Andrea Buchanan, and Ayun Halliday, and Katie Alison Granju, and Hillary Flowers, and Erica Lutz, and many, many more. I'm there too.

What I love about this site, well, beyond the fact that these mamas are damn good writers and make beautiful use of words and vision, is the example it sets. Of mothers working together on a project. Everyone could go their own separate way, do motherhood in isolation, and write in isolation, not trusting others. But this site, and the MamaWriters in general, have a broader, wider vision of women trusting each other and working together.

This vision we need.

And thanks to Anne-Marie at A Mama's Rant for her great blog about my blog. She's at, so stop on by. And one of these days I'll figure out how to do my links. Feel free, anyone, to send me advice!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Thanks, and Look What California's Up To....

Since I'm just getting in, I want to thank the other bloggers who are helping me learn lingo, do links, etc.--esp you, Danya! Almost about to happen are links to sites that are now linking here, so new friends, please be patient while I learn!

Back to parenting issues. Spoke yesterday with a delightful woman in San Jose who's among the first families to use California's new Paid Family Leave. Does everyone know about it? It's yet another reason so many of us want to live in CA, as opposed to, say, the gritty city of Philadelphia where I so humbly abide. Grit vs. glamour aside, the state of california now provides wage replacement for families who have just had babies, adopted babies, or who have to care for sick family members. The state will replace about 55% of your wages (up to a salary cap in the 60,000 range) for six weeks. Moms and Dads both. And mothers who give birth can also collect state disability insurance in addition (I know, it's weird to classify pregnancy as disability, but this is about real, material assistance....). That's major help. The San Jose woman I spoke with was able to cover her 12 weeks of family leave between the two programs. The stats tell us that most people eligible for FMLA can't afford it, so to have a state that makes family leave affordable is major.

One issue, though, is that not everyone knows about it, and like many things parental and child-related, affluent parents usually have the buzz before everyone else, so spread the word to everyone you know in California. Look here in the future for info on organizations that are doing action alerts in other states about this.

And here's the website if you're reading this and you're in California and you're about to bring a new baby into your family, or you have other reasons for needing some paid relief from work: the general link is, and for the secret/little-known disability pay after pregnancy, look at

That's all for now, have a pleasant night!

Monday, October 04, 2004

What's a Mother Need to Know?

What does a mother need to know?

That's the final question I posed today to Judith Stadtman Tucker, the editor and visionary force of Mothers Movement Online. It came at the end of a long interview. For those who don't know Mothers Movement Online (, check it out. It's an online voice for smart motherhood and for mothers who want to think about parenting in a social and political framework.

I interviewed Judy because the final part of my book talks about efforts to make social change, both DC and state capital policy and legislative action, and more grass roots efforts, too.

Judy runs Mothers Movement Online on her own dime, and through her own effort. It's not an organization, it's just her, and it's her fulltime unpaid job. Her desk's in the middle of her house, and her writing takes place amid her two boys moving through.

So what does a mother need to know? Her answer: "that motherhood takes place within a social context. It's not confined within your heart or within the four walls of your home. The expectations we have of mothers and the outcome of mothering are very much shaped by values, by how our society is ordered. Mothers need to know how to develop some critical awareness. This gives mothers the ability to step back and say, this is really hard, but it's not something I'm doing wrong....The most important thing a mother can know is, it's not all about you and what you do. There's a much bigger picture, a whole network of social conditions that affect the way we can mother."

Book news: my title has been changed. Good bye to Playground Revolution. Hello to "The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars."
It's a loss of poetry in the service of a literal description of the book's contents. It wasn't my idea. It came when my editor presented it to national book buyers at the presales meeting last week. Apparently Playground Revolution was too scary, combined with a gritty urban playground on the cover. I'm still in lost-book-title grief, but as Andi Buchanan, author of the amazing Mothershock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It, said, at least we get a kick-ass title for the blog!

I'm two weeks or so from finishing.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Starting Up

Hi, I'm Miriam Peskowitz, and I'm finishing up a book with the title Playground Revolution. Seal Press will publish it in May 2005, which is great news. Playground Revolution is about parents, mothers and fathers both, who are disatisfied with the alternatives for how to raise our kids and work for pay at the same time. Playground Revolution is nice and fun and warm, but it's also political. It's about the politics of parenting, not in an old-fashioned politically correct way. Not at all. I'm looking at the new ways that families are politicized, and the ways that mothers can think about the problems that ail us--like isolation, or overwork, or judgement, or anger, or even love--through a political lens. I'll also write about the process of getting new feminist ideas about parenting and family life out there in public.

This morning, for example, my husband called in after hearing the NPR report on "Security Moms." It makes me so mad. We've been through this with soccer mom, eight years ago. Seems every time there's a presidential election we mothers get stereocast into a new mold, as both parties vie for our attention. I know, I know, we're supposed to be mothers who are kind of liberal, maybe, but because we're really scared about national security, we'll vote republican, because we believe they will make our lives more secure. I don't think so.

I say, tell the pollsters, and the media, which is turning a pollster's creation into a new female stereotype: we are not security moms. Don't use us this way.

Have a great day, everyone, welcome to my blog, and tell me what you're thinking about.