Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Back from a long, jam-packed three days in Seattle, where I both talked about my book, and heard people's stories, most of my readings and events being times for us to talk aloud in public. Here are some of the more poignant moments, good and bad.

At a reading last wednesday night at Third Place Books in Ravenna, a new mother was there who had recently moved to the US from Vancouver. She was shell-shocked, not just because she was the mother of an infant, but because she couldn't believe the lack of support for mothers in the U.S. And she wasn't just talking about general, informal support. She was referring to solid things like paid family leave, and state-supported daycare. When a few days later I was in Vancouver and some of the islands of the coast, I found the same thing among mothers who had moved back and forth between Canada and the US--a sense of shock at the difference.

At a luncheon I did last thursday at the University of Washington Law School, I learned lots about how women in their twenties are doing motherhood. I was surprised, because when I was a graduate student, there were no women at Duke law school who were pregnant. Yet, things have changed, and women headed for a professional track no longer feel that to succeed they must put off childrearing till they've acheived professional success. I think this sense of entitlement will be part of what fuels change (and more on this, later). At UW, I learned that 10% of the students enter with kids, and by the third year, 20% of the students have children (this includes men and women). During my talk, someone referred to the remote room, and after, the organizer of the talk brought me to see it. When the new law school was built several years back, it was designed so that every classroom is high tech and wired for video and sound. On the second floor, there is a room filled with four stations, each with headphones and a TV monitor, where students can watch and listen to the lectures. So, if they need to breastfeed, or they have infants, or their daycare falls through, they can sit there, with kids, and still see and hear the lecture. There are two lactation rooms, one with a monitor, and plans are underway to install a hospital grade pump, so that nursing students need only bring their own tubes, and they can nurse quicker and faster than ever. There are some cribs, a small bed and toys, a refrigerator and some other kitchen appliances. What struck me is how easy it is to make student-parents feel welcome, and to do something so simple that immeasurably improves their lives. What struck me, too, is how it helps student-parents feel a sense of community and support, rather than the marginality and isolation they feel elsewhere. Kudos to the University of Washington Law School for setting such an amazing example.

Monday, May 09, 2005

A Wild Things' Mother's Day

Wild Things is the name of the girls softball league in my town. Lest we think that all interventions and change must be large and dramatic, let me tell you what happened yesterday. First, as we know, I got up early to be on CNN. Probably there's a limited ammount of times in a life that one can write a sentence like that, so let me enjoy it now. By ten-twenty, the black town car (yes, they sent a car service for me, again, not an everyday experience around here) had delivered my back home to my family. By dinner time we will have hosted a lunch for my in-laws, and I will have appeared at a wonderful Mother's Day bookparty and tea, and been part of a terrific discussion by activist women about motherhood.

At noon, however, we were off to Wild Things practice for the annual mother-daughter softball game.

After the game, Andy Lamas, leader of Wild Things, gathered all the girls, and all the parents, and had us sit down under a large shade tree. He passed out pages from the New York Times, pages that were filled with Mothers Day perfume and jewelry ads. Nothing wrong with presents for mom, he said. But why is this all we read about? Then he passed out red pages to everyone, and on the red pages he had typed Julie Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation, written in 1870, way at the beginning of Mother's Day, when the full name was Mother's Day for Peace. It wasn't always about jewelry, he told the girls. Mother's Day was once political. The moms wanted peace, too.

My daughter that it was silly, but after dinner, as her dad went upstairs to draw her bath, we did our after dinner sit-on-lap (will we do this when she's 18 and taller than me, I wonder?). She threw her legs over mine. The red page was on the other side of the table. Read it to me, she said. And we did. And we talked about all the things that mothers day can be, and how this day, and all of life, really, is both about us, and bigger than us, all at the same time.

So for all of us who need this memory to become a new reality for this year and all the years to come, Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation, 1870, with special thanks to Andy Lamas for all he does for girls, and for the example he sets for us all.

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender to those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the sumons of war,
let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God--
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
that a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
may be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

CNN--Sunday Morning at 9.30!

That'll be me, being interviewed by Betty Nguyen on CNN Sunday Morning, 9.30, so turn on the TV!

My line this mothers' day: give those mothers in your life flowers and breakfast in bed and a gift certificate to their favorite spa or store. Then go out and fight like hell so all of us can have paid family leave, an end to the 15% wage gap for mothers, better part time work opportunities with decent pay, grants for childcare if they need them, and an easier chance getting back into the workplace if they want to take time out. And health care for the family that's not linked to where we work.

This mothers day, let's make it real. And let's start telling our stories as mothers and fathers, and saying what we want.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Mother Talk, meet Mothers BookBag

I've mentioned MotherTalk before, and its dream of getting mothers together to talk about motherhood, and to see it in a more communal, collective vein, as part of a new consciousness raising. I've talked about my dream that we mothers and fathers get together and figure out what needs to be changed, and how to do it, that we raise our voices in public, that we love our kids, that we see the cultural conundrums we're in, and that we take the bull by the horns and move ahead.

That's where a new blog and idea comes in, and I want to help promote it: Mothers Book Bag. It's put together by A Mama's Rant, on behalf of the motherhood organization MOTHERS, as a way to get parents together, reading books about motherhood, and talking. Quoting Ann Crittendon, she describes it's intent:

"I'm thinking that we should encourage everyone out there to begin to organize themselves into book groups choosing books around mother's issues. In other words, instead of just having a list of books to read or books we recommend, why not have a book suggestion for groups to read and discuss, with a focus on airing their life experiences and hopefully brainstorming on how to improve things."

The site includes instructions on how to get a book group started, for those of us who like how-to's.

Since so much of the media on mothering doesn't want us to consider the politics of it, and so does want us to keep spinning in the same route, getting together on our own, whether under the guise of reading groups, CR groups, or both is our next step. It doesn't matter what we call it.