Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The whole thing's on Literary Mama

Well by midday Thursday it will all be up on literary mama, but you'll see it here too. The very first personal attack on me, kind, nice mama-writer. Jen of Toronto wrote a response to that American Spectator piece (see below), and at the end linked to my response. The author responded with a slightly incoherent but very mad rant back at Literary Mama and at me. She called me a bad feminist, a weird Internet feminist. Oh well. LM decided to go ahead and publish it, and give me a chance to respond, which I did.

I'll post it all here, but let me sleep on my response, and get it up in the morning.

One thing I'll say, she accuses me of sour grapes, which for the life of me I don't understand. At what? And of lack of generosity because--listen to this-- I gave her over an hour of my time, despite her lack of focus and her hostility. Hey, she's the one who ended up with a writer's fee for the article, and I'm just typing away at my free and unpaid blog. Some of my closest friends don't get an hour of coffee with me for weeks at a time, as I try to pack all my work into a six-hour day, so she should in fact be kind of grateful, I'd think.

Monday, November 28, 2005

One Tired Mom....

Oh, I've been ignoring the Playground recently, and I do apologize. I've been so tired--I'm now 16 days away from the official due date, so we all pretty much know I'm sleeping whenever I can, and walking about in a grumpy daze the rest of the time. And the roofers are still here. And they always seem to be hammering just outside my window... And my pre-labor-and-delivery to-do list doesn't yet have many/enough dents in it. I'm doing the work I'm paid for: my course gets taught, my Hylands blog gets written (you can always visit me there, though it's not as political or media-oriented as Playground Revolution), my talks are delivered. And that's about it. Apologies, dear and gentle and appreciated readers.

I will of course let everyone know when the child is born. Or even, when I go into labor. It all depends, as we know.

Several of you emailed me privately to ask about my diaper bag solution. Well, honestly, I was up in Chestnut Hill two weeks back, erranding for an hour, when I walked into the Pacific Leather shop. Me, with my ratty black leather pocketbook bought in Chicago while visiting my beloved pal Rachel several years back. The outer pocket was in decline, and the lining had already ripped in several places, though you wouldn't know it from the outside. And we all remember my favorite organizing book which suggested that my keys always be in the outer pocket so I know where to find them? Well if my keys and cellphone slip around everywhere in the depths, then what's a trying-to-be-organized mom to do?

Anyone who knows me knows that what I'm about to tell you is highly unusual. I swept myself into Pacific Leather, which despite its name is filled with gorgeous clothes. I walked through that small shop to the back where the leather lives. I picked myself out two handbags, one in svelte black, and other a sage green suede with leather detail (imagine: preppy Chestnut Hill meets the Sundance catalogue, but it works). I went right to them, tried them on my shoulder, and beelined to the counter with my credit card. I didn't check for markdowns. I didn't wonder when the winter sale might start. I just bought myself those bags and took them on home to be part of my family. I love my new handbags, they make me very happy. The diapers can go in a canvas tote. This mom evidently needed some good looking bags for herself. When we come up short to pay the roofers, we'll all know why.... but there you have it.

And the latest media check, no links sorry (I'm just too tired). More on how the New York Times apparently hates families, the latest update being the Judith Warner piece in the Week in Review. One Chicago shopkeeper asks kids to use their indoor voices and now we have yet another family trend of the rudest children in civilization. Huh? How about how there's no infrastructure for kids and families, no indoor play areas, not enough rec centers for when it's cold out? How about some articles on really polite kids? Good families? Or at least, a family trend article that actually uses data and evidence in a fair and sane and balanced way?

Can anyone explain why the NYTimes hates mothers and families with such a vengeance? Or did they just hire the same trend marketing folks I wrote about in "Truth Behind the Mommy Wars," the ones who advise media and advertisers to keep at us because then at least we get mad and pay attention.

The Linda Hirshman piece in the American Prospect is getting emailed around, and got a spot on AlterNet. More tendentious lies, as in: the workplace changed enough. Oh, please. I was interviewed for that piece, and totally distrust the author's assumptions and her willingness to be honest and truthful. I'm so exhausted by ideologues. Her database: three weeks worth of couples who advertised their June weddings in, yes, the Sunday New York Times. She's trying to find a book contract for this, god help us all. And she's a scholar too, she should know better about how to use evidence. Enough, enough, enough. We've got a whole country out here trying to make ends meet, and this is the crap we get, again and again and again.

Off to pick up the dear girl from school. Love yourselves, love your kids.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Here's Us in the Philly Inquirer

We woke up this morning to find this article about Mother Talk in the Inquirer! I think it really gets how gatherings of mothers, and we can expand this to fathers too, can be both serious and political, and really fun and light too. You know I adore good reporters, so kudos to the Inquirer's Julie Stoiber, herself a mom of two who works part time.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Another Great MotherTalk

Last night's MotherTalk was wonderful, set off by Marion Winik, reading from her new book, Above Us Only Sky, and Andi Buchanan reading from her new book, It's a Boy. I moderated, which mostly meant I got to sit next to these two fabulous authors and bask in their glow.

For me the evening was about moms getting together, it was also about realizing again and again the power of the personal essay. When writing becomes so personal, when good writing becomes so personal, it takes a 180 degree turn. We may think it's narcissism, we may think it's about something so narrow it only pertains to one person's experience, but there's the turn, waiting to surprise us. Just when we think it's just about the particular, the writing flowers and it's about the biggest broadest expanse of human life. It's breathtaking when it happens.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's a Boy: My Stop on the Andi Buchanan Virtual Book Tour

Yes, it's a boy! That's the title of Andi's new book, and I have a copy right here, and it's wonderful. Reading the essays feels like hanging out with good friends, on one of those days where everyone is emotionally centered, the kids are in the other room, and the words flow beautifully from our mouths.

Many of us bloggers are participating in this virtual book tour. As a fellow author, I know that store book signings can be the most fun and fabulous thing we do--when people show up. I also know the particular pain of driving for three hours, showing up, meeting a semi-hostile manager, and then watch three people show up. This happened to me one gorgeous Saturday afternoon in DC. The manager made sexist comments about how if I'm a mom maybe I can help them clean up their bathroom (I'm not making this up, I couldn't make this up, and their bathroom grime was truly disgusting). Three women showed up, including an old friend. I took everyone out to a coffee shop next door. So I'm thrilled to be part of this new thing in the world, the virtual book tour.

Well we can't have Andi here, but these are the almost-next-best-things. an interview with her about the book and an excerpt from the end of her introduction (for the (click here the full intro, or most of it).

Andrea Buchanan,
It's a Boy
Seal Press/Avalon 2005
In January 2005, as I was working on compiling this book, the president of Harvard, Larry Summers, gave a speech he would find hard to live down in the coming months. Speaking at an academic conference to an audience of scientists and engineers, he posited that "innate differences" between men and women might explain why women are underrepresented in the sciences. Not sexism, nor bias toward people who bear children, nor even the cultural consensus that women are worse than men in math and science: The defining fact that is keeping women from reaching the upper levels of the scientific professions was, in his mind, "aptitude," which he directly tied to gender.

A month later, a study published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found that while there was a slight "gender gap" between male and female rhesus monkeys in performing certain tasks involving spatial memory, these gaps disappeared when female monkeys were given training appropriate for the tasks on which they were being tested. The researcher said, "It is important to note that in the rhesus monkey, we only find the sex difference in spatial memory, not other cognitive domains." She went on to conclude, "A lot of times researchers will just interpret any kind of sex difference as evidence for a rigid, biological difference. This study really does tend to argue that the difference is biologically set, perhaps, but that it's also really easy to change if you work on it."

In March, just a month later, researchers who sequenced the human X chromosome discovered that females are genetically more varied than males. "It turns out 15% of genes [in females' second X-chromosome] escape inactivation altogether, each of which now becomes a candidate for explaining differences between men and women," said Robin Lovell-Badge, of the National Institute for Medical Research, U.K. "Moreover, another 10% are sometimes inactivated and sometimes not, giving a mechanism to make women much more genetically variable than men." Reports of this discovery found it hard to resist gendered language, as evidenced in the purple prose of the Washington Post, which breathlessly announced, "She was slow to reveal her secrets, but the X chromosome has now bared it all."

It seems surprising to me that even now, in the twenty-first century, we are still divided between science and anecdote when it comes to our basic assumptions about gender. In his speech, Summers mentioned his own toddler daughters as an example of how, even as young girls, females seem to be instinctively nurturing, saying, "I guess my experience with my two and a half year old twin daughters who were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to each other, look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck, tells me something." On the surface, this story seems to confirm gender expectations—proof that even given "boy" toys like trucks, girls revert to the kind of nurturing play typical of females. But I could counter this with an anecdote that subverts gender expectations: A few weeks ago, over breakfast in a restaurant, my two-and-a-half-year-old son Nate took one of his toy cars, put it underneath his shirt, and cradled it on his belly, saying, "Oh, my baby!"

What can we conclude from this?

I think the safest thing we can conclude is that our expectations are flawed, and that extrapolating theories about gender from isolated facts or even anecdotes is risky, at best. All questions of whether men and women are from wildly disparate planets aside, the range of what is "boy behavior" and what is "girl behavior" seems to be fluid, flexible, and highly specific to personal experience. The stories of the mothers and sons in this book are reflective of that. They are personal and specific, dynamic and multifaceted, and grounded in the day-to-day experience of living with boys—some of whom play "car crash" with trucks and some of whom turn trucks into babies; all of whom deserve to experience the full range of human emotion, which knows no gender.


Read more on Andi's Mother Shock blog where she's been writing each day about the different essays.

Regular Playground Revolutionaries will know that I feel awfully lucky to live her in Philadelphia near Andi, and that she's become a pal. last night we were on the phone. She was talking about the book, and how three years ago she didn't know any of the contributors. Now, she counts many of them as friends. We talked about how it wasn't clubby or cliquish; it's not like she knew all these women writers from high school, or from her neighborhood. Rather, a testimony to the true support and friendship that flows around the community, if we can call it that, of moms (mostly) who write about motherhood. I wanted to pass that on.

So read a bit, and enjoy. I'll be seeing Andi tonight at MotherTalk (scroll down for details), where I'll also meet the fabulous Marion Winik, whose new book, Above Us Only Sky, is also quite wonderful, but more on that in the next few days.

Update: roofers still here. Imagine rhythmic hammer noises as you read. And dim radio playing Beatles songs. They brought a radio today.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"Why Can't Men be Like Women?"

Over at the other blog/forum, Rx: Chat, the one I get paid to write and attend to each day, I wrote about Nandini Pandya's essay "Why can't men be more like women?" currently posted on Mothers Movement Online. I found it charming, especially after my experience this morning, the fabulous sleep in, where my husband proved himself as competent as I at getting our daughter off to school. In fact, because he gets up earlier, she got to school with more minutes to spare than usual and was quite happy about that. And he's been the one to make all the arrangements to pick her up at her grandma's this afternoon.

We know from many fathers, including and especially those who are at home, or in other ways are the primary caregivers, that men can be as good caretakers as women, so it's just the sorry state of our culture that insures we need to constantly repeat this. So check out the other entry, and Nandini's article.

And I promise tomorrow, the story about St. Joe's....

Sometimes the Playground Revolution Begins at Home....

I am still sick, the roofers are still here, hammering outside my office window and yelling things like, 32-and-a-quarter, rip cut, followed by a loud sawing sound, and then the noise of the special machine they rev to pull things from the ground up to the roof.

But this matters less than the fact that this morning my husband woke my daughter, made her breakfast, packed her lunch, made sure her teeth and hair were brushed, and drove her to school. Usually I'm on single mom duty in the mornings, as he leaves quite early for work. This sick, highly pregnant woman was able to sleep till nine.

Later in the day I'll post another entry, about the woman who wrote to me after seeing the article about my talk in the St. Joseph's paper. But for now, I'm just enjoying the fact that I got to sleep later, something that doesn't happen often in mom-world.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More on the Iceland Women's Walkout

Sometime in the last month I heard myself tell a group of mothers that our issues weren't ones to march over, that much of our work can be done behind closed doors. After, I wondered if that were true. Actually, I wondered if I hadn't directly contradicted the positions I take here. It's always easier to be more visionary in writing, for me, anyway. In person, don't we often speak to the crowd, encourage people to start where they are and move from there. I remember my visit in March to Durham, NC. A woman executive from a large pharmaceutical company told me that she wanted all the women at her company to strike for a day so that men would realize how much they do and stop taking it for granted. Her tone was serious, but she also said it would never work, that women wouldn't go along with it, they'd be too afraid for their jobs.

So we need models of what this looks like. Each day I get more reports from moms in the workplace. It's not getting any better for us out there. Where's the political and cultural pressure going to come from to prevent us from losing ground, especially when we not only want what we got in the last women's movement--access, but this time around we want more, we want the workplace to shift its values to accommodate parenting and caretaking.

In the meantime, Alda from emailed me to give me more info on the walkout (I do love the blogging/internet age we live in, and the info that gets past our borders of language and nation). I'm going to repost those here.What amazes me is the support the women got, from their government, and from their workplaces. Can we ever imagine that happening here in the United States? We must begin to talk more, to have more difficult conversations, convincing friends and coworkers that our issues really matter. That's the first step toward change. Enjoy the report from Iceland, here are excerpts, for the entire posts, and her fabulous blog, go directly to Iceland Weather Report .

It's Women's Day Off
Today, 24 October, is Women’s Day Off here in Iceland.

On this date 30 years ago, 25,000 Icelandic women walked off the job to call attention to the importance of their contribution to society. Many also took the day off from the household chores. No cooking, no cleaning, no laundry, no women’s work. Instead they headed downtown in droves for an outdoor rally and general all-round celebration of strength. Women’s Day Off has been celebrated each year since, but rarely with as much energy as it is set to be today.

One woman who was faced with a particular conundrum on this day 20 years ago was then-President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir [the world’s first democratically-elected female President]. Icelandair stewardesses had gone on strike the day before and all Icelandair planes were grounded as a result. The government was in an uproar and on the 23rd they drafted legislation to order them back to work. As with all Icelandic legislation, it had to be signed by the President [the Head of State] for it to become law. President Vigdís was put in the difficult situation of having to choose between signing the bill and incurring the wrath of the general female population, or not signing the bill [which she would have preferred, she has said] and facing a governmental crisis. Apparently the all-male cabinet had whipped itself into a frenzy just at the possibility of Vigdís not signing, and ministers were already threatening to resign. [In a later interview she said she had marvelled at the fact that no-one had actually asked her if she would refuse to sign the bill. Which I think is pretty hilarious, really, seeing as they were prepared to flush their careers down the bog.] Anyway, in the end her very diplomatic solution was to wait several hours to sign, or as long as she possibly could, which allowed her to make her point without absolute mayhem resulting, yet giving women the feeling that they were heard.

… Because a recent survey shows that women in Iceland – despite their supposed independence and autonomy – still earn a mere 64.14% of men’s salaries. [If overtime is factored in, it works out to 72%.] At 2.08pm women will have worked 64.15% of a normal 9-5 day..... (More at Iceland Weather Report .)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Happy WDO
One of the great things about being part of a small nation is that when something is going on, you really feel part of it. The spirit of the event permeates everything, everyone gets caught up in it, and an enormous amount of energy is created. It’s sort of like the feeling you get at a rock concert – very energizing.

Such was the spirit of yesterday. Everyone seemed to get into it – young and old, male and female. Even though it had a serious undertone, there was, on the whole, a sense of harmony. There were no militant speeches or hateful declarations or resentful victimization. Nobody felt threatened. Instead there was a sense of a collective effort and agreement that things are not as they should be, and change is needed.

As predicted, most women nation-wide stopped working at 2.08pm and headed downtown, or to some central meeting place in their respective towns. The protest march in Reykjavík was supposed to be from Hallgrímskirkja church down to Ingólfstorg square, but by the time the rally was to begin – and the square was packed full – there was still a throng of people stretching to the place where the march had begun. It is estimated that around 50,000 people were in town – mostly women, but also a lot of men...(Again, for the full post, and to experience Iceland Weather Report and its wonderful writing for yourself, head over to Iceland Weather Report .)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

MotherTalk Philly, Nov 17th

Tomorrow I will blog about why everyone seems to believe that pregnant women can never under any circumstance take any kind of medication, my current pet peeve, developed during these past three weeks of the cold-from-hell that finally turned into bronchitis. But that's tomorrow when the hour is earlier and I have more energy.

Tonight: an invite/e-vite to the next MotherTalk here in Philadelphia, the salon that Andi Buchanan and I host. We'll be featuring her new book It's a Boy and Marion Winik's new book Above Us Only Sky. Here's the e-vite, with RSVP list.

Join us if you can, and think about doing a MotherTalk wherever you live, with a live author, a local blogger or journalist or writes on mom-issues, or just a group of mothers getting together to talk about the combined joys and frustrations of motherhood, especially the social and political ones. There is a low rumbling of moms (and dads) being upset with the way things are, and with the lack of real support for balanced family life in our nation. I hear it, and I hear parents asking me how to act on their concerns, how to do the things we do in a democracy when we need to make our voices heard. So email your friends and invite them to a MotherTalk at your house. You can even patch me in by speakerphone if you need me!

Oh, and here's the new website/blog Andi and I set up for MotherTalk announcements, if you want to help spread the word.

ps--thanks to everyone for diaper bag suggestions of all kinds!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Diaper Bags

Gang, it's time to get personal. No politics today. No media analysis. No stirring calls to action for a better parenting future. Only a much more pressing question from a nearly-nine-month-pregnant woman.

I need advice on diaper bags.

Yes. There are too many out there for me to choose from. I'm overwhelmed. So send me your suggestions. Nothing too fancy, with room for anything I might need, with decent style. Friends, I need your help here. Parents with younger children, tell me what I need.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Martha on Maureen

Readers of Truth Behind the Mommy Wars know that I'm not a big fan of Maureen Dowd's (although there is an occasional column that really hits the mark). Thanks to Andi B for this reference to Martha Brockenbaugh's blog Mommy Chronicles and her fab response
In Defense of the Bake Sale
for getting it right. Plus Martha's a great writer, so enjoy her writing.

Also today, a new friend forwarded me her response to a reporter. The reporter was seeking mother/daughter pairs where the mom had worked full time and the daughters were now at-home moms. Part of this new friends' response was to push the reporter beyond the easy explanations that so often appear in the national press: "The stay at home daughters you interview will likely state that they wanted to spend more time with their children than their own mothers spent with them, but I hope you ask these daughters what measures their previous employers took to accomodate their new families, and whether they were able to find quality, affordable child care for their child if they had to return to work."

As Martha at Mommy Chronicles asks, who will tell these stories, give voice really to what happens in our families, the way I tried to do in The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars. As a very pregnant mom who's tired these days,(not to mention, still sick with that damn cold/virus), I'm writing much less than usual, and feeling a bit insular. I appreciate these pals who are out there writing and speaking out, talking truth. I thank and applaud them.