Friday, September 30, 2005

Change 1

This post gets a number. Change is what I'm pondering over, and I can't write, or even think, it all in a single post. Look for change, followed by many numbers. I'm often asked if I think real change for the situations women and mothers face is possible. At times I feel like a cheerleader: change must be possible, it has to happen, there's too many lives at stake. We women and mothers must be included in our nation's promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to it's citizens.

At other times, I'm not sure. I can see things getting worse. I think that the NYTimes article on college students last week was very much about representatives of a cohort saying that they've lost faith in the post 1960's american contract, that we can all have families and earn a living, on equal terms.

And last night at MotherTalk, the question that struck me the most was, what can we do. The problem is so large. And believe me, it's not like I have the answer behind my back and I'm just not telling. It's like anything: when you have a vision about how to make something, or make something better, but there's no explicit directions, and getting from here to there can seem a bit magical.

So, for the moment, some pieces, some attempts.

I'll be talking more with her next week, but when I spoke at Barnard a met a women who runs an executive coaching firm called Vital Signage. And check out this announcement on her website,

"New Practice Area: Integrating Livelihood and Motherhood

VitalSignage has started a practice for pregnant professionals and new working mothers. If your company is committed to retaining your high potential female executives and managers as they move through a profound life change, VitalSignage Coaching is your resource. With an emphasis on integrating livelihood and motherhood, the coaching program uses the multiple identities and roles of women to expand their leadership development and innovate the ways in which they contribute to the organization.
Contact us to find out more."

Sometimes change is big and loud and happens out in the streets, and sometimes it is quiet and persistence, and comes from a web in every direction, making it hard to track, hard to quantify, but it happens nonetheless. That's what I'm betting is happening. It needs energy. I'm going to start, and keep, tracking down small sites around our homes and schools and workplaces where change is happening, so send me info if you have it.

More to come.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

MotherTalk tonight

Any last minute, local readers: I'll be appearing with Andi Buchanan tonight at MotherTalk, 2026 Spruce in Center City, Philadelphia. Come and join us for good conversation about motherhood. See you there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Desperate Housewives, before the next one airs

There seems to be something in the air that propels me toward guilty pleasure TV on sunday nights. It could be HBO and the wonderfully vacuous Entourage, sadly post-season now. Or it could be Desperate Housewives. Which I do watch, though not religiously, but I'm glad I caught this one. Last spring I talked with a reporter who asked me what I thought of DH. My answer was that it wasn't good enough, and I mentioned that I would like the show to deal with Lynnette's struggles as a mother who had a big career and was now at home. I wanted more workplace angst, in other words.

Well, I got it. Sunday showed Lynette's husband at home. Of course, he's being set up to fail, with a back that just went out, but hey, my back went out with a six-month at home, and I was flat on the floor too, so I have sympathy. I do hope the show can let him be competent. Dads can hands-on parent as well as moms, and we don't need another stereotyped Mr. Mom dad who can't quite get it right. (By the same token, I'm glad that last night's premiere of Commander-in-Chief didn't let the female president's husband become chief of staff, and made a big deal of showing him the first lady's office, swathed in pink. Men CAN do what women have always done).

We also get to see Lynnette get a new job. She carousels back in, not without some flack. Of course, it's the woman who criticizes her in advance for having kids, and wonders whether she can do the job. We want images of female solidarity, but this image too, is quite real, and one of the places where mommy wars take place is not on the playground, but in offices everywhere, with women with and without children taking out frustrations on each other. I did love the segment where Lynnette is interviewed for five seconds by the big boss, who needs to leave early to catch a basketball game, putting to rest the idea that it's only parents who need special daytime hours off for their kids' needs. And the scene in which Lynnette diapers her baby and fast-talks a presentation on what the company's next steps should be is priceless.

So, comments: was the on ramp too easy? It's clear that she's taking a lesser job than she had; after all, she's the one with more knowledge and know-how. Is her on-ramp too easy to be a good, helpful image for mothers everywhere? Or is it helpful for all of us to have a TV image of a mom who gets back into the workforce? To see her business focus and smarts up against one boss who's petty and biased against moms, and another who respects her as he's heading out the door to play?

I say, keep it up and give us more. Yes, we need to talk about the difficulties of reentry, desperately. And we also need these public images and stories about mothers who move in and out of home and work, of moms who carousel as many of us do. Even, perhaps especially a popular TV show about a mom getting back in starts to shift the culture we live in. Go Lynnette. Get that husband of hers to the chiropractor and get him standing again.

Monday, September 26, 2005

NYT, finally.

Several people have asked me what I think about last week's NYTimes feature on Ivy-educated women who plan to leave the workforce or work part time once they have children. After all, I've made a recent career of reading the NYTimes and pointing out how poorly it deals with gender and motherhood. The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars is filled with this kind of analysis, and since its publication, many blog entries have followed that direction.

For those who have asked, my response is that these young women aren't insane, and they may not even be antifeminist, though the article poses them that way. We don't know enough from the article to say whether they are the vision of the new conservativism (though some may be, especiallly since in the last decade, we've seen very progressive moms on the blue-state side of things leave their paid jobs, stay home, or work part time. These young women may merely be pragamatic. They may be looking ahead to women ten years senior and saying, ah ha, this is what happens, especially in law, business, medicine and the other high prestige jobs they are headed toward.

Critics in, and at Slate respond in part by saying that this is a tiny subsection of our society, and that in fact more women and mothers than ever are in the workplace. That response fudges the numbers. More women/mothers than 20 years ago are in the workplace, yes, but a huge proportion of them are working part time, in other words, they're accommodating motherhood and work in ways that are often unfair, salary-wise. To say in the name of a feminist response that more women and mothers are working is to undermine the real support that many mothers need to find fair labor.

Near the end of Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, I write that what looks like a retro trending back to the 1950's may not be so. But what the trend of mothers leaving the full time workplace needs is a voice, is a framework that explains the real frustrations and the true structures that make it so hard for many moms to work fulltime. It needs a voice that says: things must change. It needs a vision.

Good thing we have Judith Stadtmand Tucker at Mothers Movement Online on our team. Head right over Judy's new post on the Times article, and let's all be glad we know someone with vision, and that she's focused her life so that she can share it with all of us.

Have a great day, and a great start to the week.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

What is MotherTalk?

Last January, Andi B and I learned that mother author Faulkner Fox was visiting Philadelphia with her son. Not content to just let her have a vacation, we asked if she wanted to participate in a book event. She said yes, and then Andi Buchanan and I, not content to just call a few pals, decided to start a movement (okay, I'm overstating a bit). An evening's not good enough, it needs a title, it needs continuity, even though we're busy, we need to start an institution that gathers mothers together for talk, food, conversation.

MotherTalk was born. A few emails later, was our sponsor. Now we have a new co-sponsor, Time Out, a new Philly-based organization that gathers moms for fun and a night out every so often. We've had several MotherTalks since then, as our author friends come through town on book tours or family getaways. And I'll be doing one next Thursday, September 29th, in Center City (see the right sidebar for details...)

What I love about MotherTalk is that we get to talk about real issues. There's something about talking at night, when mothers revert to grownup time, that's very special. Yes, there's a theme here, about reclaiming our evenings for inspired talk and vision. Moms get together. After the last one, in which Faulkner envisioned the end of mothers judging each other, and the start of feminist revolution, I wondered how many such gatherings would be necessary to really start the buzz, to start a cultural shift in which we know our issues as moms, and we have more strength to shoulder the confusing political and cultural times in which we live (front page NYTimes, anyone?)

MotherTalk has spread--there have been events in Oregon, in Seattle, and other cities. It's not proprietary, it's not something we control, so if you want to gather moms (and/or dads) together to talk (with or without authors present!), go ahead, send out an e-invite, make a yahoo group list for the next time, let folks in your neighborhood or city or state feel connected to us well-meaning, committed author-moms here in Philadelphia, and elsewhere around our nation, reminding ourselves that mothers and fathers everywhere are talking about these issues. Just let us know so we have a sense of what's going on. And talk, and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Right to Wear Dowdy Clothes

I stopped into the hardware store today to buy some concrete mix. Yes, this sounds impressive, really, though, only a small bag, having picked up an on-sale tether-ball set last week while shopping for presents for September birthday parties (it's the season of bowling parties for the turning-7-and-8-years-old set), only to realize later that one doesn't just push a tether-ball pole into the ground, one has to anchor it in a concrete base, set into the grass, making it a much larger project than I thought when I alighted upon the mark-down from 19.99 to 2.99. Perhaps this is why the set ended up in the post-summer sale bin.

Anyway, I stopped at Killian's, a very old-fashioned kind of hardware store where when you're visibly pregnant, the 70-something sales clerk asks if he can haul your bag of concrete mix to your car for you, and it doesn't seem patronizing, it just feels kind (actually, they'll do this even if you aren't pregnant, and I liked that no one raised an eyebrow at the possible incongruity of a pregnant woman asking for concrete). The cashier was very chatty, and sweet. She told me how nice it was to see a pregnant woman wearing something large, like they used too (she was probably in her fifties). I was wearing a rather large, black sleeveless maternity shirt. It was leftover from my first time around, fashionable seven years ago when my first daughter was born, the first Belly Basics maternity clothing foray into black. It came with maternity biker shorts, and was quite comfortable, and the whole outfit got me through a hot Atlanta summer.

Now, however, clothes for pregnant women come much tighter. Don't get me wrong. I'm walking around with my belly sticking out, swathed minimally in camisoles, and pants that come under my belly. I love the new clothes. But what struck me is how old-fashioned I felt today, dowdy even, with my tentlike covering. As we move toward better fashion for pregnant women, I also don't want to lose our fashion right to be dowdy, to wear big comfy clothes, to sport about in oversize shirts and leggings, to dare to look 1970's. I've seen bunches of newspaper articles lately that note the new, Brittany-Spears maternity wear. Next it will Manolos in extra-wide for pregnant mamas, I'm sure, and we'll feel thirty years out of date if we slip flats or canvas keds around those bulging, waterlogged ankles of ours.

After we chatted, and I turned to catch up with the clerk carrying my bag of concrete mix, the cashier half-apologized. "I hope I didn't pry," she said. I assured her it was all okay, that I appreciated the chance to talk about all this. In public. Sometimes older women with their long memories, are exactly who we need to be hearing from.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Check Out New Events

Check out the sidebar, I've just added some more Philly-are events this fall. I know, I can't say no, I just love talking about these issues and hearing what people have to say. I'll be at St. Joseph's University (St. Joe's to locals) on wednesday, October 16th at noon--a great daytime event if you're home with your kids. Watch for more details (room, etc) as they emerge. Plus, rumor has it that hoagies will be served. Religious universities tend to be sidelined in our discussions about women and social justice: I must report that of all our illustrious area colleges, St. Joe's seems to be the leader in real policies that help working mothers and fathers. I'm excited to visit and learn more.

And announcing another Philadelphia MotherTalk! Thursday evening, September 19th, 2026 Spruce St. in Center City. Details and rsvp to MotherTalk is new national phenomenon that brings women together in evening literary salons to talk with local and visiting mother-writers about the real issues affecting them as mothers and women today. MotherTalk started here in Philly when Andi and I realized that mother-author Faulkner Fox was visiting, and we wanted to set up an event for her. Good ideas spread, and MotherTalks have spread, with some in LA, Seattle, Oregon and other far away places. Think good food, good company, good conversation, and pass the word. These have been very popular and well-attended events, and a great combination of serious talk and fun.

On My Mind

So this is what's on my mind--how do we take all the thoughts of moms and dads everywhere, their love for their kids, their visions of a saner life of parenting, their frustration at the workplaces and government policies that make this harder than it should be, and move forward toward real change?

At the Barnard event last week, Lisa Belkin put it very succinctly: How do break out of the constant cycless of confusion, hope and disappointment that mothers in particular keep facing in our nation's history?

And me, I've been in so many rooms and discussions over the past five months since my book came out. I've listened to mothers in bookstores, living rooms, radio call-ins, library meeting rooms, and more, talk with great earnestness, and with anger. Yet as one mom said to me after a mother's salon in Maplewood, New Jersey: we talk about this all the time, and nothing changes.

After the Barnard panel, I woke in the middle of the night. The question going through my mind was: what if nothing changes? what if nothing changes, and all the frustrations stay the same? What if mother's american rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness aren't really our rights? What if we aren't fighting hard enough for them, aren't yet convinced that we have the right to something better, even if getting there is complicated?

Last night I had a most excellent conversation with Laurie Pettine. She's an activist with NOW, and she lives in Northern New Jersey with her children. We were both very tired, our talk began at 9 and went late. But it made me think we should always have our conversations about the future late at night. During the day we are so adult and practical, so aware of possibilities and their limitations. At night we feel like college students, up late solving the word's problems, sure we can.

Laurie has been working with NOW, baggage and all, on a Mothers and Caregivers Rights Taskforce. Yes, NOW. The same organization that's been accused in the past of not recognizing mothers and our needs. And the focus on this, the new NOW, apparently is going all the way up to the top.

But the real thing is, Laurie's enthusiasm, and her ability to think as an activist in a new vein, helped get me out of my fear that nothing can change. That we're all smart enough to talk about these issues, or write about them, but not able to think about how social change happens in this country, not able to get past the embarassment of putting a toe on the line.

Could there be a feminist movement brewing that includes the issues that mothers are facing?

Friday, September 16, 2005

In DC Next the JCC

For any friends and readers in the DC area--I'll be speaking next week at the JCC. The event's on Thursday, September 22. Contact me or hariet@dcjcc for more info. It should be a good event, most of these are, I've found, I'll be talking about parenting, mothers and fathers, work, desire, the usual, but also, what it means to start to become politically active about these issues, to reach out just a bit, in ways that fit into our lives, to summon the courage to make change that goes behind our nuclear families.

Mother Knot

Here's a link I've been meaning to send out for a while, to the interview with author Jane Lazarre on Mothers, about her book Mother Knot Still catching my breath from the NY trip, and promise to write about what an inspiring evening it was, in a room filled with Barnard alumnae and other women and a few men from the area, at the podium with three smart and inspiring writers. And ultimately it will become clear, too, why I've posted this interview, aside from the fact that I've always loved Mother Knot, and that I was reading it when I unknowingly became pregnant with my first child, all those years back (look for a post sometime soon called Jean Rosenthal's living room....). At the moment, however, if I can't clear my screen and desk of their many notes and reminders, I will never be able to write. So here it is.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Off to NY

Lots going on, but little time to blog....the story of everyone's life, and to avoid sounding like an addict trying to reform, I promise not to promise to blog more (but I do promise to write about my new fave self-help book, the one about how you can't make a difference if you can't find your keys, and how now most times I do put my keys in the same place all the time so my days are no longer punctuated by key-searches every time I need to drive my car.

I'm off to NY today, excited about doing an event at Barnard this evening with Cecelie Berry, author of Rise Up Singing: Black Women on Motherhood, Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness, and NYTimes reporter Lisa Belkin. I've been on a listserv with Cecelie, and she wrote a blurb for the back of my book, so I'm very excited about meeting her, as well as the others. And Barnard is a place I've spoken before, and where close friends work. The first time I spoke there my daughter had just been born, about 7 years ago. My mother drove in to help watch her during my talk, and several people asked me if she were the nanny. Since I've never had a nanny, and can't afford one, I was tickled, also sad that for most of us family isn't around to help. At the time I was living in Atlanta, so it was a rare moment that I was near enough to my mom for her to help out this way. Info on the event at Barnard.

I'm also meeting Isabel Kalman, of Alpha Mom TV, for lunch. She's the woman who was featured in New York Magazine several months back, stereotyped as classic socialite affluent hyper mom mom making her kid crazy, etc, etc, we all know how the stereotype works. I do have in mind to write an article called "In Defense of Affluent Moms," since these days, it seems the media only pays attention to wealthy mothers, and when they do so, the general lack of understanding of motherhood just gets disguised as more palatable critique of their upper class trappings. I've been able to look behind the article's bad press, and had the chance to talk with Isabel by phone, and also check out her channnel, Alpha Mom, on Comcast's On Demand, and I really like the segments, which are very down to earth, and quite helpful (thanks to Liz Lange on third trimester dressing and what to do when all your clothes no longer fit, I now know to just get a long black camasole to layer underneath my shirts when my belly button starts to peek out.) More on this later, but I think it's a good media outlet, and perhaps the relative length of video, and the release from the conventions of magazine and newspaper publishing is something that can be more helpful to mothers and fathers who want help and info for caring for their kids.

More later, must toss some toiletries and a change of clothes into my bag and head for the train.