Thursday, February 24, 2005

Join the MotherTalk phenom

We're trying to get a certain New York Times reporter interested in the MotherTalk energy (see below) .... Untill it hits print media, if you want to be included on the MotherTalk list for future events, contact Andi or me. One person already emailed Andi from Rhode Island to say she's so hungry for this kind of talk between mothers--real talk, talk about change and improvement---that she'll travel all the way to our fair city of Philadelphia. Can we make Mother Talk into a Mom's Night Out cultural destination? Shall I turn my guest bedroom into a B and B to support my writing habit? Stay tuned!

Is it the first Mother Talk event, or a Consciousness Raising session, or Both?

Last week our pal Faulkner Fox, author of the wonderful Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life was in town. She read at the first ever MotherTalk session sponsored by Mother Shock author Andrea Buchanan was there too, and she blogged about it, beating me to it, and quoting my part of our long email exchange after.

It's all posted on Mama's Ink, our group blog.

Okay, if it's the end of a long day and you're just too tired to tramp over to another site, I'll copy it in here, but visit Mama's Ink some time (tag line: Enough Dishes Already,) and Andi's blog too.

"Mother Talk" salon evening

The salon evening the other night, "Mother Talk" with me, Faulkner Fox, and Miriam Peskowitz, was so much fun. My friend Maureen hosted it at her house, and about 30 women came. We milled around for a bit eating and drinking, and then gathered to talk about our books and hear Faulkner read a funny and thought-provoking paper she had given at the ARM conference about mother-judgement and feminism. I functioned kind of as a moderator, prompting questions or jumping in with something, but mostly the discussion just evolved on its own as the women there began talking. I didn't know which way the evening would go -- a lot of people who'd said they were going to come couldn't make it, and there were a lot of people there I didn't even know, or barely knew, and it was one of those things where I just didn't know until we started talking whether or not people would be totally put off by the conversation we were going to have.

But it was great. The discussion ranged from playground judgmentalism to how hard it is to be honest with your old friends vs. the honesty you can have with other mothers who are strangers, to what our work means vs. what our husband's work means, to what it feels like to always be the one initiating the conversation about ambivalence and motherhood, to people's reactions to our books... There was a wide range of opinion, and a real willingess and excitement to talk about this stuff -- it felt like one of those 1970s "consciousness-raising" meetings, and I mean that in a good way.

I checked in with Miriam afterwards, and she had this to report:

Last night was fabulous! I'm just settling down to think about Faulkner's talk and about all that happened last night. I would have loved to stay much later. Her talk was all about women talking, about moms talking honestly, and delving into what's intimate. I was thinking back to when I lived in Atlanta, and was introduced to the whole phenom of women's book clubs. No one ever read the book, but everyone wanted to be in a book club, or two, or as many as they could be. That it was literary meant it was okay to say to their spouses, Honey, you watch the kids, I have something important to do. It's more lofty than saying, Honey, I'm meeting my girlfriends at the local pub to bitch about life as a mother and wife. I even knew women who formed Bible Studies. They would invite me, even though they knew I was Jewish, because it wasn't exactly about reading the Bible. Like book clubs, Bible Study is a socially acceptable reason to leave the kids and spouse and head out to a bottle or two of red wine and the company of girlfriends. What husband could object to the Bible, or to The God of Small Things, or a rereading of Moby Dick?

What happened last night was extraordinary -- in the largest sense -- because it combined the excuse of getting out of the house with real thoughtfulness about what change, or revolution, would look like. With her writing, and with all of us there, Faulkner was able to create the consciousness-raising group she wanted. I think we need to keep doing these -- for any excuse -- our books coming out, our friends coming to town. Something important happened. Mothers were really talking -- and [the discussion] had a chance to get to structural issues, to something larger than the usual venting we do. There was Faulkner, sitting in a stranger's living room and talking about feminist revolution. It seemed historic. It seemed like what happened a million years and several decades ago.

My book begins by saying that we mothers talk all the time, but we don't really talk. Not about what truly matters, because it's just too hard. But last night we created the space for mothers to really talk. And I think we need to take this on the road. When Faulkner started to talk about revolution, in her calm voice and her perfect prose, I remember thinking, are we serious? Here we are in this lovely brownstone, in our own ways, well-coifed and stylishly dressed, articulate when we speak. From the outside, we look like all those privileged women the media always writes about. Yet there's Faulkner, saying the word revolution over and over and over again. Talking about Antonio Gramsci, and about how people can be critical of the status quo, and conformist at the same time. Faulkner's saying that word.

Revolution. I can't stop myself from thinking: Are we serious? Is she? Are we playing the part? Can we convince ourselves that we can do this? That we can stop critiquing other women for things that don't matter, like whether for the moment her kids are running wild because to save her sanity she's talking with another mom at the playground? Like whether she's feeding her toddler a Philly pretzel -- doesn't she know that it digests to sugar immediately, and sugar is bad, bad, bad?

As we're all saying to each other now, it's us moms we need to worry about, to figure out lives that are rich and rewarding and human. Revolution sounds so silly. So strange. So old-fashioned. And so feminist. Yet my eyes wandered around the room, and all the women were listening raptly. The hour was late but the room was hushed, attentive, even when Faulkner turned to Gramsci. Italian Marxists? At 9.30 after a day of work and childraising?

Can she be serious? Can we?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"Issue Fatigue"/Even Uma Thurman can't make the problem go away

Here's me, I send my daughter off to school and take five to browse through the trashiest newspaper articles I can find. In my case this means the NYT intrigue on A5 about why the Queen won't attend Charles and Camilla's wedding, and the Philadelphia Inquirer's article about Uma Thurman in her new flick.

Writer Hugh Hart is a sight for a tired mom's eyes. Stuck in the middle of the article, on E4 is where Uma's a mom who can't do it all, and who feels the same damn struggles we all do. Even movie goddess Uma can't get the rules of the game to change. She hasn't been working much, and she's divorced Ethan, too.

"I've just needed to be home. Having children flips the game from being about you to being about what you can create in a home and what your responsibilities are. Actually, my ex-husband said to me the other day that I clearly wanted to be a full-time mother and still wanted to be an actress, and that I kept insisting I could do both, but I can't. [My note to Ethan: thanks for the support; perhaps that's why the marriage is over.] So I'm fighting to keep my foot in the business and still take care of my kids--it's the big conundrum of my life."

Ah. I couldn't handle being a mom and dealing with the stresses and demands of a full-time professorial job. Now I'm working here and there, cobbling it together like a million or so other moms in America, doing our best to work and mother in a system that DOES NOT SUPPORT US.

In last weekend's NYT Book Review, Judith Shulevitz wrote a review of the latest motherhood phenom and said that we have issue fatigue. That's what she called it. Issue Fatigue. She claims that in her circles, mothers don't talk about this to each other anymore. It's passe. Issue Fatigue. Of the entire review, that's the phrase that stuck.

Issue Fatigue. Yes, I too am tired of talking about this. Mostly, I'm tired of living it. I'm tired of the struggle. I'm tired of making dinner every night.And I'm tired of being tired. Furthermore, I'm fatigued by earning really low wages for my work because I can't see a way to decently work fulltime, parent well and stay sane. And what really fatigues me is hearing versions of my story repeated by nearly every mother I know and meet.

That's what fatigues me. And you know what? I'm fatigued my a media that continues to present this as only about affluent moms from tony suburbs. I'm fatigued by reading the same old, same old. That's why Uma's brief tell-all helps. We read constantly about our celeb moms, and finally, the celeb moms are beginning to speak out. Because celeb moms too, want to work. At least a little bit. They want to keep a foot in the door. Just like, well, the rest of us more ordinary folk.

Issue fatigue. Can't we at least call it Injustice Fatigue?

Have a great day everyone.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Dads at the Cafe

I'm doing some work at Infusion, my neighborhood coffee shop. Some days I just can't stand writing at home, and I need the background buzz. There's a large group of moms with very young children in the back. When another mom comes in with a large stroller, everyone helpfully moves the chairs so she can join her friends in the back.

My friend Dave walks in, with his youngest son. Dave's not a stay-at-home Dad. He has an important job, as does his wife. His son is sick, and I was impressed that Dave had taken the day off. Statistically speaking, mothers are 70 percent more likely to take time off when the kids are sick (you can find these numbers on the New America Foundation's website). Go Dave!

Also, Dave brought his computer and was checking email via wi-fi while his son played at the table. I was writing about an event I went to last night, the first ever author's night sponsored by Author Faulkner Fox talked about judgment between mothers. I couldn't help but think about the casual judgments a mother would get if she sat at a cafe, with a computer, and a three-year old across from her at the table. Perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps I'm remembering one mean thing someone said once and making a generalization. But I don't think I'm entirely wrong. I think women get judged more viciously when we publically combine work and kids. More later on Faulkner's energizing talk on mother judgment and why it's a political issue and we need to stop doing it.

Meanwhile, while I write the reading group guide for my book's website, and jot down my thoughts about last night, take a look at Faulkner Fox's website and her book, Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Moms Talking

Hey, for a good bout of moms talking the talk of the day, post-Judith Warner in Newsweek, check out Chez Miscarriage.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Hip, Happy Housewives--Oh what have I done???!

What happened is my friend Janet emails and says, hey, there's a reporter that just called me and she wants to know about motherhood. For an article about Desperate Housewives. I thought she should talk with you.

The next thing I know, I'm on the phone with Sharon Jayson from USA Today, and for a half hour we talk about whether I think Desperate Housewives is good or bad for women (my answer: not as good as it needs to be). I tell her as eloquently and vividly as I can about the catch-22's mothers are in. We want to work, we want to take time with our kids, we want all these things and more (as the ole Lucinda Williams song goes), and we don't want to be penalized for them. I gave her stories. I gave her statistics. I tell her that I know lots of stay at home moms who find the housewife term fairly retrograde. In a moment of sisterly solidarity, I give her the name of a women in my neighborhood who sells "Housewife T-shirts," as in, housewives, value our labor.

The next thing I know, this is what's being paraded on the doorframes of hotels throughout America: USA Today, February 3d Hip, Happy Housewives. I'll leave the commentary to you. The good thing: my amazon numbers soared from 740,000 to 60,000, at least for the moment, and the book won't even be out till April. Thank you, USA Today readers!

More later. After telling her that it's not about domesticity, I need to go down and make some dinner.....

Friday, February 04, 2005

This is Unbelievable

A mother's work is never done. And now, it will be even more invisble in government statistics.

Just across my desk. It sounds tedious, tiny, and totally unsexy: the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has collected information on women in the workplace since the 1930's. They are the source that tells us how we're doing: how much we're paid, whether we work part time or fulltime or not at all, how these habits change over time. When I was writing my book, I often called the bureau economists to ask about trends on motherhood, family life, and work. It's unthinkable--it's eery, awful--to imagine this data disappearing.

And the timing. Just as the rumblings of a new feminist movement are being heard, a movement that focuses on motherhood, and work, and equity--ALL THE DATA WILL BE REMOVED. There will be no way to judge the progress (or the lack of progress) of women, mothers and the workplace if our govenrment refuses to collect this information.

So, dear readers, here's some more info, patched in from NOW's action alert, and the form for sending protest emails.

** Urge Labor Department to Keep Collecting Data on Women Workers
January 19, 2005
Take Action:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a division of the Department of Labor, has announced that it will stop collecting employment data on women. Please tell the BLS and your Members of Congress that this information is absolutely essential, and its elimination will ultimately lead to an increase in workplace inequality. The BLS claims that the decision to eliminate collection is related to the lack of demand for the numbers, but the real reason relates to conservatives' intention to downplay women's important economic role and the disparities in their pay, promotion and job assignments. By sending messages to your representatives and directly to the BLS, we may be able to stop this conservative move to "disappear" women.

Timing, as always, is vital. The comment period ends on Feb. 22 and we need you to contact the Bureau of Labor Statistics as soon as possible. We cannot allow the government to eliminate this important source of economic data that informs good public policy.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Women warriors

On sunday I did my first book event--before the book's even out. I brought along my copy of the bound galleys, and showed it all around, telling everyone that the currently gray cover will be glossy, bright white, and carried laong by a bossy red border! I was invited to speak to a group that hosts homeless families, and who had noticed the work/life balance issues faced by the poor moms and their kids. The group leader--an author herself--knows me and knows about my book. She heard that I write both about middle class and professional moms--and about poor moms too. I was glad to speak to a group that already makes these connections. They were a humane, impressive bunch.

After I spoke, the women in the group had their chance. It's chilling to hear women speak honestly about our experiences. One of the older women said that she thinks life is getting harder for women and for mothers. We're going backwards, she said. After the talk, another woman, in her young thirties, followed me out. She's the mother of a toddler, her family isn't rich, she works part time, but she loves being a mom, loves being with her son. It's the story I'm used to hearing. "We don't expect this," she told me. We don't expect that becoming a mother will so radically change how we work."

If times are bad, and they are, we need warriors.

One such warrior is Lisa Belkin, the New York TImes writer. This is the same writer who started a national discussion about work and motherhood with her October 2003 NYT Magazine article, Opt Out Revolution. Her column this sunday, Envisioning a Career Path with Pitstops was brilliant, smart, crystal clear: some women get a tiny bit of flextime during their days and weeks, but what mothers and father who want to parent need is flexibility over the life of their careers. Thank you, Lisa. We need to hear it. And we really need to hear that someone with a national platform like you do is willing to write these things, week after week.