Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Call Your Senator

I so enjoyed the hour I spent today on WHYY/Radio Times. The host and I chatted for about twenty minutes, and then the phones lit up with callers from both the local Philadelphia/Delaware Valley area, and from as far away as Virginia, and Colorado. At times in the past week or so I've felt depressed about whether change on behalf of women, men and families is possible, yet after today's show, and the wonderful callers, I was energized.

Moms called in with stories about leaving their jobs, about wanting to do more, but ending up as at-home mothers. Moms also called in to talk about part time work, or about getting back into the workplace, which we all know are favorite topics of mine, and these stories were inspiring. A teacher takes off three years, loses her teaching certification as a result, but then gets called back in as an administrator--a path she always wanted to take. And to make it possible, her husband became the primary parent. Another mom of older children told of her over a decade ago, she and a group of co-workers--they are accountants--together went in and requested part time work. They were succesful--I can't help but think of how much more powerful workers are in groups when we make requests--and they've been working part time now for 13 years.

Another woman called in who runs a small business in the health professions, and she talked about how she hires women--mothers, mainly--who want part time work and she pays them all benefits. It's a competitive field, she kept saying, and she has to do this, and does it happily. Some people called in about things I can't figure out how to change--like the guilt one woman felt about her 4 1/2 year old's five minute tantrum every morning at day care drop off--she works 4 days a week as a dentist---her husband called in to talk about this. But mostly I felt charged and inspired about the small changes we can make, about the continued conversations we can have. I was left with much to think about.

I also suggested my new favorite political act: when you're frustrated about family life and/or about workplace issues, just call any of your local elected officials, from Senators on down. Tell em what's going on. They won't start fixing stuff until they hear more from us, and how many angry complaints from moms and dads do you think political staffers will bear before telling their boss, and before said boss jumps on the band wagon.

Do you think our elected officials can ignore a bunch of parents making a fuss? i don't think so. Now pick up that phone, check the pages at the back of your big phonebook to get the numbers, and dial. And don't get derailed by feeling silly. I've called elected officials for much less weighty problems, like getting potholes fixed, and dealing with garbage pick up. And then tell me what happens. But people: they need to hear from us. And let's be idealistic for a moment. We elect them. We deserve to tell them what we think.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Tuesday's Radio Show

If anyone's interested . . I'll be on the radio tomorrow, Tuesday June 28th, from 11 am to noon. It's a live interview/call in show Philadelphia's "Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane," WHYY/91 FM, which is Philadelphia's NPR affiliate. It streams at Radio Times for out-of-towners.

And thanks for all comments, and welcome new visitors. I've just returned home from the final stretch of this spring's book tour. Though I'll continue with speaking engagements throughout the fall, I have the summer off, and I'm looking forward to a month where I can reflect and read and write, in other words, get back to what I love to do best. My daughter's in daycamp--she woke this morning bright and early, running around the house screaming "First day of camp! First day of camp! before flinging herself on top of me in bed." July--the extended month of July--is always a quiet month for me. The teaching and project writing I do during the school year is over, and usually needs just a few hours of tinkering here and there. July has been when I can really focus on writing. Last summer I was hunkered down writing the majority of The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars. I'm looking forward to this long, devoted month, to it's slower rhythms, to days that might begin with some weeding in the garden, a swim at the Y, and still have enough good hours to get some writing done. Personally, since I don't have a huge book project to be lost in the middle of at the moment, I'm looking forward to seeing what emerges.

I'll also be thinking about what I've learned these past few months, traveling around and talking with people about family life and how we need more support than we're getting. I've had inspiring moments--meeting people who shift their lives around because they want to make public change--and heard stories of institutions and businesses that are trying to make life easier for working parents, or for parents returning to work after childraising. But I am left with wondering how more change happens faster, and this is a big topic for me to think about, and for me to learn from others, in the weeks ahead, so send me your thoughts. Are we just stuck in all this? Could real change happen from all it's different directions? I wrote about acts of playground revolution in The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, but can we depend on these? Is it enough? Is talking and learning part of what we need to do now, to reassure ourselves that the problem really exists, that it's not just personal failure, to see how widely it's shared? What's next, where's the real anger, what's more?

Friday, June 17, 2005

In Time for Father's Day

Thanks to Rebel Dad for publicizing this media monstrosity: Meet Mr. Mom, a new reality show where mom gets a spa vacation while dad stays home with the kids. Now, I'm all for the spa vacation. Mothers all over America surely share my longing for a spa vacation. And no doubt, so too do fathers. We are all busy, and we are all tired, and we all could use a three hour massage and a facial, and someone to cook our meals for a day or two. Darn, I'd settle for a 1 hour anything at the day spa up the hill. The catch to this show: Well, first, mom has to watch a closed circuit TV rendering of her family all the while. If I get a spa vacation, the last thing I'd want to do is watch a TV camera trained on my home. How unrealistic: no mother I know wants to wreck her spa day like that. And that's because, well, there's no need to. Fathers are perfectly capable of childcare. This, Rebel Dad points out. Fathers know how to take care of children. There's no reason why should still be debating this one. End of story. And from a feminist mother's perspective, stay at home fathers are a woman's best friend. I know lots of mothers who are still able to work fulltime, with very little ambivalence, and without the extra work of packing lunches and daycare drop offs, because their partner is at home with the kids. I loved writing about at home dads in "The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars." I only wish I'd had the time to interview more, and to really find dads who are combining part time work with at home parenting, the way so many mothers are. I think these are the untold stories of american parenting today.

This is one of the primary things we all need to recognize for things to change: Fathers can parent as well as mothers.There is nothing biological or genetic about chidlcare, aside from breastfeeding. Nothing. And as my friend Peter likes to say, fathers make damn good mothers.

So in time for father's day: a salute to all fathers who actively care for their kids, whether they're at home full time, working part time, or working full time.

Last month I was interviewed for a profile in Literary Mama, and one of the things I wrote about was that dads too should get adjectives. Not to divide them from each other, mommy-wars or daddy-wars style, but an adjective that lets them combine their parenting lives with their working lives. I want to meet a dad at a party who tells me he's a working dad, just like I meet women who tell me they're working moms. Dads too should get some adjectives, some recognition of all the work they do.

So thanks Rebel Dad, all the rebel dads, my own dad, who took care of us and made us meals and raised us up right, my husband Rob, and to all the dads out there trying to figure out what a good life of work and parenting might be: happy fathers day.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Style, Style, and More Style

Just when we thought the pendulum was swinging toward the slacker moms, or at least to the great mass of relatively sane mothers in America, New York Magazine gives us cover story Alpha Mom , about a new Cablevision TV station that's set to give us the best, best, best new absolutely up to date research by experts to tell us how to raise our kids. No doubt there'll be a fair amount of air time devoted to how we should look, dress, do our hair, and accessorize our kids.

Is this what we mothers, fathers and parents in America really need? I don't think so. Thanks to yet another magazine for featuring a motherhood cover story on all the wrong issues.

Alpha Mom apparently is a former Wall Street broker who just couldn't continue her 80 hour a week job once she had kids. Now she works from home, almost as hard, but she has a nanny to watch her son, and her office is near where he plays, so she gets to work and be near him, and life is better. That's a good individual solution for her. However: how much better it would be if Wall Street and the financial industry in general had good jobs that require say 30 or 40 hours a week. Then Alpha Mom could have kept working, and we'd all be spared another media outlet aimed to keep affluent mothers very anxious and off-kilter, and of course, above all, to keep them shopping. Instead of the Alpha Mom channel, what about Political Mom Network? How's that for an idea? Cablevision contract, anyone?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Style Trumps All

In Truth Behind the Mommy Wars I write about how motherhood issues get bumped to the style section, when we should be front page news. The fashion of motherhood trumps apparently boring issues like the huge wage gap we face, or how hard it is to find decent part time work when we want it, or how little support most working mother get, or most any mother, for that matter. I write particularly about the New York Times, and how horrible this newspaper's coverage of motherhood has been, yes, the paper of record that's brought us "opt out revolution" instead of noticing how mothers get squeezed out of the workplace, and this spring introduced us to the awful phrase "issue fatigue" by which it meant that elite ny types are just tired of talking about mothers' frustrations. The rest of us still face them, of course, but urban sophisticates who control the gateways to media find them boring and fatigue-inducing.

I had meant to write a week ago about the newest NYT offering. They take away our female columnists, they don't cover our ongoing issues, but because the lives of socialite mothers are ever so fascinating, we do get a long article about super affluent mothers and the new, members-only gym for mothers and their kids, complete with spa services so that being a mom never means that you can't get a pedicure when you need one. To see the article you need to buy it from the archive, but here's the cite, just in case. Call me grumpy. I like a pedicure every so often too, but honestly, next to real issues like finding good daycare, affording it, more control over work conditions and pay, doesn't that pale? Can't we do our own toes after the kids are in bed at night? And thanks, New York Times, for once again showing us how little regard you have for women and mothers, unless that is, we've inherited huge amounts of money, or married very wealthy men. Thanks for putting us on the style page, that really helps us all, doesn't it now.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Part time work: A hard-won Victory in NH!

In The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, I write about Jonathan Baird, also known as my brother in law, and his efforts as a legal aid attorney. In New Hampshire, he's been working hard to make some changes in the law so that parents who worked part time and end up on unemployement, and who can't easily apply for fulltime work because they have kids and childcare issues, can still get unemployment. In the past, part time workers weren't eligible for unemployment benefits. In order to get them, you had to be willing and able to accept fulltime work if offered. This made life even worse for part time workers, especially those with very low incomes. First they lose their job. Then, they can't even get unemployment.

Well thanks to Jonathan Baird and his team of Legal Aid attorneys, in New Hampshire, all that has changed now. A new law has passed the State House and Senate, and will be signed by the governor. One thing that Jon taught me when we talked about these issues is just how much effort it takes to change just one little piece of the law, in just one little state of the union.

Jon reports:
After nine years of efforts and quite a few defeats, UI advocates in NH scored a victory in our Legislature yesterday. HB 170, a bill that extends unemployment benefits to part-time workers with child care limitations, passed our state senate. It had previously passed the NH House. The Governor will sign it.
This session we had two bills that addressed the part-time issue. One was a broader bill that would have covered all part-timers. The second bill (HB 170) was narrower but it had the support of our Employment Security as well as some business lobbyists.
The broader bill went down but it allowed us to look more reasonable with a bill that did not cover all part-timers and had a much lower price tag. HB 170 had some other housekeeping aspects and our Employment Security characterized the bill as a "housekeeping measure".
The NH Senate has a 16-8 Republican majority and has been very tough on many low income worker issues, including killing our fourth attempt in recent years to raise the state's minimum wage. However, this time, largely because of the lobbying efforts of the new Commissioner of Employment Security, we got a 15-9 favorable vote in the senate.
The bill requires workers with child care limitations to be available 20 hours a week in order to collect.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Lawyers and the Leaders

Yesterday I met with yet another group of lawyers, this one was Flex-Time Lawyers, LLC., they meet in New York and in Philadelphia, and the group's the brainchild of Debbie Epstein Henry (check out the Flex Time Lawyers, LLC website and tell your lawyer friends about it, it's full of resources). As one woman in the group describes her, Debbie is a radical feminist in a corporate logo. The women in the room, and it was all women, and the room was a conference room at Blank, Rome, a top Philadelphia firm. It was all glamorous enough to make we wish I had been a lawyer so I could hang out in beautiful offices. But as my neighbor Kevin, a maritime attorney, suggested later that afternoon, I might feel differently after spending 7 hours straight in the conference room, nice view and all, or after the fifth night running that I stumble home at nine at night. Anyway, in that room, with our nicely catered lunch, the women lawyers talked ruefully about the still prevailing notion, that good lawyers work all the time, and good mommies stay home. (Debbie had told me that just under 4 percent of attorneys nationwide work part time, so indeed, there hasn't been much wiggle room there.) In their different ways, the women attorneys in the room are trying options that resist that, some work part time, some work as inhouse counsel to corporations, some have their own small partnerships, and some are sticking it out at the big firms, for many reasons: the status and prestige, the salaries, and because they just don't want to be pushed out.

No one knows what to do with women lawyers. They're the symbol of feminism's success, aren't they, the ones who made it into the newly opened law schools, who trailblazed their ways into the old boy firms. And although leadership comes from all over, and there are many ways for us to be leaders--many more than we usually realize, I think--our women lawyers are in the pipeline to become our future politicians, and our future judges. These are among the women who will raise money for political candidates, and who will have access to capital, and who will know their way around city government and local powerbrokers, since that's part of what the large law firms do. Our women lawyers have both been icons, and anti-icons. People attack them for their work-family troubles. After all, from many a perspective, it's hard to feel too sorry for a woman who can work, earn a very good salary, and afford a nanny at home. At the same time, as I write in the book, the mommy wars are filled with class envy, and this gets in the way of seeing how our work/family issues are all connected.

I was really struck yesterday by the particular meaning of what these women face. One woman, who had recently written a book about women lawyers, called Woman-at-Law, said that one of the reigning issues among women attorneys is whether they can really wear pants. I believe that this an issue. But can we believe it, damn, it's 2005, and women in the professions are still forced to wonder wonder about the relation of skirts and success. On the happier side, another woman in the room had just earned parntership, and on a part time track (and she was wearing pants, too!). And insightfully, when talking about the mommy wars, one woman said that she thought that currently, and in a workplace setting, that the real on the ground mommy wars were between women working part time and those working full time.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Imperfect Serenity

Imperfect Serenity's the title of a book that my friend Eileen Flanagan is shopping around at the moment, looking for the right publisher. I've been lucky enough to read her manuscript, and it's very powerful and beautiful, a cross between a journal of quaker spirituality and a recollection of motherhood, all done with a political edge. For those who think the rightwing has a lock on religious talk, it's time to think again, and Eileen's work will help us to do that. Our daughters are in the same class at school this year, and I remember one afternoon, tallking with Eileen, about her work, all the kids around, as she looked up at me and said, "It's hard to find discernment with a four year old screaming in your ear." That just about sums up the book: how do you find an everyday spiritual path with children out and about, when so many of our models are of the singular man going off alone, or of silence, or retreat, or uninterrupted leadership. It's a great book.

And until it's published, all of us can have some access to her thinking, since she started a new blog called, eponymously,Imperfect Serenity (imperfectserenity.blogspot.com) which I've really been enjoying. Today's post starts: "Three converging activities have got me reflecting on how to practice the Quaker testimonies of Simplicity and Equality as a middle class parent: 1) we’re cleaning out our basement; 2) Bob Geldof is planning another rock extravaganza to help the poor in Africa; and 3) I’m reading God’s Politics by Jim Wallis." Go and enjoy; I know I learn much from Eileen everyday.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Brooklyn Reading, Thursday June 2

It's time to take the F train out to Cobble Hill to read at Book Court, 7 pm on Thursday, June 2d. Any Brooklyn readers? Any readers with friends in Brooklyn? Tell 'em to stop by so I won't be yet another lonely writer out on book tour, peering anxiously at the bookstore door.

And dear readers, I'll announce in a few days why I've been so lax with my blogging lately. Stay tuned!