Sunday, November 19, 2006


Dear Friends:

I make this announcement with a sense of sadness: Playground Revolution is readying for hibernation. That means I'll be slowing down for a good long rest, and waking in spring with a new spirit and purpose.

I am starting work on a new book, which means I need to carve out time to write, and I need to be focused on fewer things. When I chalk up the tasks of my life, this is what I see:
a baby at home
an active 8-year old
a weekly seminar to teach
writing, correspondence and email
a part-time administrative job at a nearby university
a small business--MotherTalk-- that recently launched

not to mention:
a house
a yard that I love to till
a husband
a neighborhoodful of relationships

That's without counting my everyday share of the laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, and cleanup, not to mention the energy it takes to stamp down the mild dramas of everyday life. Writing a book about the labor of being a parent does not, no surprise, make that labor go away, even if it does help demystify it all.

Add my twelve hours of babysitting each week,
plus another nine of baby naps,
add untold late-night hours,
mix with my desire to spend afternoons with the girls;

Something has to give. Internet grocery delivery, my newest time-saver delight, helps some, as do paper plates. Still, I find myself needing to limit the sheer number of different things I do. I need to clear some space so I can focus on new directions, and so I can be calmer and happier with what's in front of me right now. In the two years of this blog I've published a book, birthed a new baby, and have experienced all sorts of personal things that haven't even reached the pages of this dear blog. To the extent that I've been part of raising political issues about mothering, parenting, and gender, I'm proud, and I look around now and see all sorts of people carrying on good work. I'm in good company, which also means I can take a well-deserved break.

Playground Revolution will stay open, should anyone wish to read through, search the archives, or otherwise muck around in what I've written over the past few years. If you're new to these pages, welcome, and enjoy.

My book The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars remains available almost everywhere, should you need my insights in book form. If you want to reach me, miriam at is a good way to get my attention.

If you sign in to (look to the right....), you're sure to be alerted when I post again.

The good news: I will continue to post 2-3 times each week at Everyday Mom, so in reality, we'll not be apart for long. Please, please follow me over there. It can be a bit hard to leave comments, but I'd love it if you did, just to know I haven't lost you all. Just follow the directions and it all works out.

Why there and not here, you might ask? Simply, because Everyday Mom is sponsored by Hyland Homeopathy, and they send me a check once a month. In my calculus of time and income, that's an economic reality that matters. I resisted refashioning Playground Revolution into an advertisement-driven, income-earning site. I wanted us to enjoy ideas without who-knows-what peering over from the left-hand column. I'm glad I did, but as we all know, good blogging takes time. I can't continue to keep up both with different content on each blog, so help me out and come on over to Everyday Mom.

When the political spirit strikes, I will blog at MomsRising.

About MotherTalk: Andi, Stacy and I are very excited about MotherTalk and the networks we are building. We've been organizing blog tours and literary salons around the United States, and Canada too, for authors of all stripes. We really believe in MotherTalk. Some of my favorite evenings over the past three years have been MotherTalks in DC and in Philadelphia. We love spreading MotherTalks, whether in the blogosphere or in a living room near you.

To add your name to our list of MotherTalk bloggers, or to our list of salon hosts, people who are open their living rooms to 30 friends and strangers and an author traveling through, for ideas and conversations that would not otherwise happen, write to me at miriam at We keep a MotherTalk blog that announces current and future tours, tells which authors we are representing. It will let you know if there's a salon coming to your neighborhood, and show you how to get involved. Help us spread the word and build community through books and ideas.

Please stay with me at Everyday Mom. Most of all, as I gather acorns and prepare for the Playground's winter sleep, I want to thank all of you for the sheer pleasure of your company, and for the happy luck of finding you in this huge world of ours. Thank you for the comments you've left, the emails you've sent, and the incredibly good blogs so many of you write, blogs that inspire and educate us, and which let us into your world. Thank you.

I really believe in the playgrounds, virtual and material, where we meet, talk, scheme, plan and envision. This work and play will continue for years to come. I'm so glad to be hanging out with each of you, pushing the kids on the swings while we think big and talk about the good future of the world.

Oh, and the revolution part. I've never been much of a messianist, you see. I grew up with tales about various European political revolutions and the supposed glory of it all, but that's never been my model. Personally, all that drama, all those people out in the streets standing in front of bulldozers and tanks...heroic, yes, but the next day? The moms are still getting the kids up for school, packing the lunches, still making it all happen. Where's the real change in that?

One of my mentors, Jean O'Barr of Duke University, impressed me with her vision of social and gender change that happens almost silently, apart from public view, in the backroom and the living room, in the exchange of conversations and the intangible flow of ideas, in the crevices of our families' rhythms, in the give-and-take of workplace relationships. Sometimes we see change in broad rallies and marches in the streets, sometimes through the judges in our courts and our government's new laws. There's change that's reported by our journalists and theorized by our scholars and discussed by all of us with our friends.

Change comes big, and change comes small, and all of it matters. Change enters the quiet corners of our lives and consciousness, until different sorts of decisions are made. Like that. This is the kind of revolution I've always imagined, the kind where you don't realize it's happened till you wake up one day and realize things are different, and you wonder how it all happened so quickly.

Let me end. Take care of yourselves, we inhabit our bodies and minds for a long time. Love your kids and your favorite people. Believe in the lives you are living, the witness to a better way that you are creating. Know that the legacy of gender can be changed. We've seen it happen before, and we are, I believe, in the long winter of making gender change once more.

Above all: don't forget to raise a fuss when a fuss needs to be raised. Bon courage, and know that we've all got your back.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Uproars about Breastfeeding

Last week, a woman was on a plane, child in tow. She sat in the last seat, next to the window, and breastfed her child. The cabin attendant, it seems, asked her to cover up with a blanket, and some series of exchanges took place which ended up with the woman being asked to leave the plane before take off. There's now a lawsuit, filed in Vermont, which is where the plane was headed. Vermont is one of the states that protects the legal right to breastfeed.

The MomsRising blog reports on this, and it's been all over several listservs, including the Mothers & More POWER loop. Breastfeeding, it seems, is the motherhood issue that time and again yields most easily to action. Perhaps it's specificity makes it easier to move to anger. In many cases, moms who know breastfeeding is protected legally in their state can allow themselves to get mad when they feel that a legally protected right has been trampled. It's easier to be outraged when you feel relatively protected than in some of the riskier acts of workplace insurgence. And often, there's a single person who has done you wrong: a barrista, a TV commentator, a cabin attendant. So many motherhood issues have such wide berth, and often no there's no specific person to blame, but instead, a wide network of attitudes and assumptions.

Because there's a history here, I'm posting here the pages from The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars about Maryland mother Lorig Charkoudian, and her focused anger and activism after a Starbucks barrista asked her to cease breastfeeding--and in an empty Starbucks, at that.

Here's from chapter seven, called, appropriately for this blog, "Playground Revolution":

... Small acts of change might look like Lorig Charkoudian and her fight to breastfeed in public. If Starbucks was once the literary staging ground for stories about overprivileged mothers relaxing after their morning gym routines, such tales took a markedly different turn at the Silver Spring, Maryland, Starbucks last July. Lorig was on a day off from her job as a mediator. She’d been visiting friends and running errands. At four o’clock she stopped at Starbucks to get a cold drink and a comfy, clean spot so the baby could nurse. Lorig and her child had settled into a chair in the nearly empty coffee shop when the barista stopped by their table and suggested she cover not just herself but the baby’s whole head, or take a chair into the bathroom and nurse there: “He suggested I take my baby to eat in the bathroom. No one should be asked to eat in the bathroom.

“I was stunned,” Lorig recalls. “I’d nursed her for fourteen months. I’d brought her to work with me for the first seven months, and nursed her in offices and conference rooms and meetings throughout the state. I’ve nursed her at church. I’ve nursed her at baseball stadiums. Only once was someone uncomfortable with this, and when he said something, we had a good conversation about it. I had heard other women tell stories about being asked to leave places, but it had never happened to me.”

Maryland is one of twenty or so states that legally protects women’s right to breastfeed with no restrictions or limits. Even if a woman shows lots of breast in public while she nurses, it’s legal and protected. “That’s the thing,” says Lorig. “Everyone assumes I must have been nearly naked. I wasn’t. I was covered up. All you could see was the baby’s head.” No one in the store had even complained—it turned out that a month before, a customer had complained, and the employees were now being extra careful to ward off nursing mothers.

“We try to keep our customers happy,” explained the Starbucks rep when Lorig asked to speak with the manager, and then the district representative, and eventually, the regional vice president.

“But what about breastfeeding mothers?” responded Lorig, and began a long discussion with Starbucks about breastfeeding and its virtues. The discussion was followed by letters to Starbucks officials—letters that asked, first, that Starbucks comply with Maryland law and train its employees accordingly, and second, that it adopt for its nearly six thousand coffee shops a nationwide policy that protects women’s right to breastfeed.

“It’s amazing to me now,” Lorig says. “But as committed to breastfeeding as I am, as surprisingly pleasant as breastfeeding had been, and despite how outraged I became, my first response, when they asked me to stop breastfeeding, was shame. It’s that sense of shame that’s the problem. When there’s shame associated with breastfeeding, women are less likely to nurse their babies or to nurse them as long as they want. Or they’ll feel cooped up at home while they nurse.”

When letters to corporate Starbucks yielded no response, Lorig wrote up a flyer for a Sunday, August 8, nurse-in and sent it round to all the parent listservs in the D.C. area. The nurse-in flyer spread, at the speed of many forwarded emails, around the region. “It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” says Lorig. She’d been involved in community projects in the past, especially on conflict resolution and mediation, but she had never organized a nurse-in. She found three other volunteers. With the help of a techie coworker they set up a website. They called print shops and asked how quickly they could print up stickers saying, “Can you drink that latte in the bathroom, I’m breastfeeding here.” Using examples on the Internet, they composed and sent out press releases.

Just before the nurse-in, Lorig received a letter back from Starbucks, apologizing for her treatment and telling her that Starbucks would set about training its employees to follow local law. Nothing was said about changing corporate policy. Though thankful for Starbucks’ small steps, Lorig felt that a company that claimed to be socially responsible should go further. Even Burger King has a nationwide policy, created in response to threatened protests a few years back. And, irony of ironies, the Starbucks Foundation supports and gives money to a breastfeeding advocacy group. The nurse-in became the launch of a national campaign to change Starbucks policy.
On the day of the nurse-in, the Washington Post, the local ABC affiliate, and the community gazette showed up to find nearly a hundred people gathered for the event. The Associated Press picked up the story from the Post, and Reuters reported it as well; news spread quickly throughout the country. Radio shows followed the next day, and Lorig appeared on CNN soon after. The debate raged in the Washington Post for a week, fueled by a particularly nasty style section piece that compared breastfeeding to picking your nose or farting in public, and follow-up letters, a political cartoon, and a supportive editorial.

It didn’t stop there, either. Kathie Sever, a clothing shop owner and mother in Austin, Texas, read about the nurse-in on’s list of action alerts. Excited, she sat down at her computer and sent a message about the nurse-in to her AustinMama listserv and included a link to, the homepage that Lorig’s techie coworker had drawn up. Within a few hours, four hundred Austin mothers read about what the Maryland mothers had done. So did Kim Lane, the editor of, who suggested online that the moms exercise their right to peaceable assembly and show support for breastfeeding mothers everywhere. Within days there was a nurse-in coordinator, a location, a time, announcement postcards, and stickers and handouts for the event itself. People emailed back to say they’d be there. Sixty people showed up at a Starbucks in Austin, Texas, as did the Austin Chronicle. The nursing mothers breastfed their babies. Others handed out flyers and talked to passersby. The Starbucks customers were receptive, curious, and outraged. They wanted a corporation that built its reputation and sales by being socially responsible to be truly responsive to mothers, too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Stuntmother on Dorothy Parker

I'm loving Stuntmother's post today mythologizing of Dorothy Parker, because we all need fab role models to help us summon our courage and get out there to do our stuff in the world.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Crossposted from Everyday Mom.

Post-election day, and this will be my memory forever:

Waking up, my husband, who's been up for an hour, tells me the Democrats have taken the House, and that two Senate races are still too close to call.

NPR is turned on.

My oldest daughter, Samira, ambles in, wearing her fuzzy purple PJ's, and heaves herself over me to cuddle from the other side of the bed. I tell her what's going on, and that our family is happy about the new political turn.

We start to talk about how Nancy Pelosi will become the Speaker of the House. I tell her what an important position this is. We've been talking over the past few days about Congress, the Senate, the House of Representatives, though it's still a bit abstract. I tell her that Nancy's from San Francisco, and that rings a bell of familiarity. I tell her how our country has never had a woman in such a singularly powerful position before, how we've never had a chamber of Congress run by a woman.

And I thought to myself: never by a woman who is also a mother, who is also a mother, yes, of five children. At 66--the age that many Americans dream of retiring by--Nancy Pelosi is at her peak and moving ahead. I and so many women I know who are in our middle years, who had careers that zoomed quickly and moved fast, and which we assumed would follow the usual path journeyed by men, by mythical men who keep moving ahead (as opposed to real life men, whose careers too, often falter in middle age), here's yet another example of a woman who had major caretaking responsibilities, and in a few months will be Speaker. This adds extra inspiration to me, and probably to others of us who wonder whether life's public options peter out after these middle, caretaking years, or whether second and third acts lay ahead for us all.

And then we roused ourselves from the comfy pile of pillows and blankets, pulled on some clothes, woke the baby (I'm here to report that miss 4 am can now be called SlumberBaby--she has slept through the night twice in a row...), and headed downstairs to make breakfast, pack the day, feed miss SlumberBaby, and in every sundry way, begin the new day.

There will be tons of specific political commentary, today, over the next few days and weeks. But here at home, what matters is the new sense of hope and possibility.

Monday, October 30, 2006


This is cross-posted from Everyday Mom.

Halloween is tomorrow. Our house is ready, the pumpkins, not yet carved, sit in a pair on our front stoop. We've dragged the box of decorations down from the top shelf over the laundry machines and picked some to air for a week. Faux cobwebs greet visitors to our home. A two-foot spider perches over our front door light. Frankenstein leers from a plastic sheet covering our only window to face the street.

We like Halloween at our house. It's fun. There are parties ahead of time. Trick-or-treating with neighbors. A local parade. It's among our few national traditions that bring people out of the house, and together in public space. My daughter Samira looks forward to Halloween all year. On Wednesday, you can bet that she'll start planning next year's costume.

I like it all the more because Halloween is now such a bugbear to conservative religionists in our country. When I grew up, our Christian friends trick-or-treated. Our Jewish friends trick-or-treated. Even the bad boys down the street trick-or-treated. No one's pastor or rabbi admonished them to stay home. Never.

What has happened in the intervening years? Halloween has been re-paganized. Not by actual pagans, who have gone on with their quiet ways, but by people who've been intent on moving our nation's religious traditions to the right. Now, it's become more common for religious American to demonize Halloween. For the first time, my daughter came home and reported that two Christian kids in her class aren't allowed to do Halloween. Friends whose kids go to conservative Jewish schools, too, report that Halloween's a non-entity, and tell me about letters from the head of school that explain why children shouldn't go door to door, or dress up as witches and vampires and ghouls. The move to make religion more religious, to detach religious life from the shared secular sphere, and to shore up the boundaries between religious practice and the secular, public world means that Halloween is no longer a shared American tradition.

So celebrate Halloween. It's a celebration I now see as political: a celebration of American childhood, of families getting together. It's a celebration of the traditions that connect us, and on happy terms. Yes, the commercialism is over the top. Yes, the stores stock costumes starting on Labor Day and it's ridiculous. Yes, the outfits offered for girls are horridly slutty. Make a decent candy policy so our kids' teeth don't rot, absolutely. But don't get hung up on the negatives. Slide around them, laugh. Find your own ways, enjoy what's "pagan" and secular and American and good.

See it from my daughter's bright-eyed perspective: the one night a year when you can stay out late with your friends, knock on everyone's door, and get a big hello and some candy.

With all that's going wrong these days, what can be better than that? I say, if anyone should stay home on Halloween, it's the mean ole bad boys (and girls) with their teasing, mischief and eggs. Get the Christians and Jews, and anyone else who's been in retreat, to come back to the Halloween street. It's about nothing less than saving our American spirit of sharing.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thursday Morning

Hey, I've posted over at Everyday Mom this morning, on everything from Kim Moldofsky's new blog at Austin Mama, to the President of Iran's suggestion that working mothers be paid full time, but be expected to work only half time, to this morning's decision in New Jersey to offer legal protection to lesbian and gay love and famillies (they're not calling it marriage yet, apparently that's for the legislature to decide. I tell you, I shed tears reading the headline story. It called up something very deep about our needs to be recognized as equals in our society. Off to work for me this morning, have a great day!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tracy Thompson: The Way It Isn't

One of my favorite mother-writers, Tracy Thompson, on the careers and household work conundrum, and on the awful waste of female talent we face. Who among us hasn't had that feeling of being "underused"? Click here.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And More

Yes, as the tagline goes, a mom's life is political. But a mom's--any parent's--life is day-to-day and at times wonderful and at times quite tedious. Right now in this mom's life, most daytime hours revolve as much around writing, working, and cleaning up as they do about caring for this cutie pie (and her older sister, too). Here's her pic for all to see.

The Antidote to American Parenting Competition

A few days ago ten-month-old Amelia stopped sleeping so well. She fussed. She woke at 4 am after lulling us into the complacency of 6-7 am wake-ups. She moved about in her crib. Cried and fussed and arched her back in disgust when facing sleep.

All very normal, I know. Babies get off their rhythms. And sure enough, she's starting to remember how to sleep again. This morning it's 8.30, and she's down for an early morning nap. It all works out, but slowly, and leaving very tired parents in the wake.

This short episode brought back the panic of the early months, as well as the years-long frustration of our older daughter's sleep patterns. When the baby was little, and her sleep at weeks 10,11 and 12 seemed to be getting worse, I emailed Ann Douglas, a parenting writer I've only met online, but whom I feel lucky enough to call a friend.

"What do I do?" I typed. "How do I make my baby sleep. Can you help?

Ann's response: An advance copy of Sleep Solutions is in the mail to you. But, she warned, there's no magic bullet.

How frustrating, I thought, in new mother angst. Just when you need some magic, it seems there's none forthcoming. But also, how correct. How nurturing and loving and supportive an answer. The best, really, that there is. Better than how-to guides that pose one answer, one regime, and you're left failing if it doesn't work. Ann Douglas is the author of the series of parenting books known as the The Mother of ALL Solutions series. She's very well known in Canada. In the United States, she's just beginning to be the parenting author of choice for those of us who are very tired of the What to Expect When You're Expecting books that provoke more fear than support. (And on that topic, check out the's TV critic Heather Havrilesky's recent LA Times Op-Ed, "Expect the Worst While You're Expecting".)

Last night, I pulled Ann's book from my bedside to leaf through it. I gleaned some ideas to help Amelia get her sleep groove back. "Sleep Solution #8" on page 110 was clearly written just for me: "Remain as Calm and Relaxed as Possible About the Sleep Issue." That's just the thing, Ann is concerned about us as parents, and about us, just plain. Stay calm, she reassures. It's all going to be okay. The book is filled with stories and advice from mothers, too, so it feels like going to the playground and getting mom wisdom just when you need it, as well as the friendship of other mothers. When so many parents feel judged as good or bad depending on whether their children sleep well, Ann Douglas offers an entirely different sensibility, totally outside the screed of American parenting competition.

So: Ann Douglas's Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler, for those who need it. The antidote to the fear-mongering parenting guides that are bestsellers in our country, from a friend up north.

(ps: Sleep Solutions is in the midst of a MotherTalk blog tour, though Everyday Mom is not an official stop. You can check another, with author Q and A at Mothershock.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Checking out the Dads

Crossposted from Everyday Mom.

Last night a friend sent me her proposal for a new book on dads and parenting. Like a good friend and writing comrade, I read quickly and sent her emailed chapter headings back with some thoughts and suggestions. After, I resolved to check in with my favorite dad blogs in the morning.

Here's what's up with the dads, aka in my world as the good dads, the blogger dads I like the best.

Jeremy at Daddy Dialectic has gone back to work, a move that's poignant and exciting at the same time. He writes so well and so honestly about the love of staying home with his son, about the economics of his family life, and about the politics of our nation at large. Whoever doesn't already think the public and the domestic are linked needs to spend some time on Daddy Dialectic (which has become a group blog, all to the better). As always, Jeremy finds the most trenchant links on politics, too. Thanks, Jeremy, for all the writing you do, for your decision to go public ala blog, and please, please keep writing to us.

Rebel Dad has promised to post everyday this week. He too has returned to paid work, and I empathize, it can be awfully hard to blog everyday when life is so full. The current post (sorry, no working trackback yet), is about how at home dad groups tend to be ephemeral: dads meet when they have tots and preschoolers, are tight, post a webpage, and time moves on, the kids start elementary school, PTA takes over, or they return to paid work. Life moves on. His iso wonderfully describes how fluid our lives are, and I always enjoy seeing the life I live narrated on screen.

Let's see. Another favorite dad blogger has been away for several weeks, but back in September published the most marvelous, must-read post, with the title "Raising Kids and Social Change" a post so honest, so right-on and so inspiring I resolved to link to it from everywhere I blog. An excerpt:

"The direct way [to bring about social change] involves a number of discrete elements. The first is that by spending time with our kids we show them through our actions that we are commited to them, that they are important to us. This gives them the confidence and psychological health to act on their principles in the face of a society that is hostile to those principles and values.

If we let our kids be raised by societal norms, we are doing the opposite of progressive, positive activism. Raising progressive kids requires being very proactive, being very involved in our kids' lives, talking to them from the earliest days about the values that we believe are important, about the changes that need to happen in our society, and living those values.

For me, the foundation or prerequisite to doing that was to be an involved father. First and maybe most directly, in the area of gender relations: if we want to bring about change in that area, we have to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

As a guy, I can thinking of nothing more subversive of "traditional" conservative values than the fact that I chose to stay home full-time with my daughter for the first two years of her life; that I chose to downsize career ambitions to spend time with my kids and to be more involved in their lives than I could have if I had followed my earlier ambitions. I understand that in many ways my ability to do this is related to my class privilege and educational background. Nevertheless, I think that exactly because of those factors, and the resultant fact that I had many other options, it is important for me to take steps to undermine gender hierarchies in the eyes of my kids as well as in my wider community....

Thanks for the inspiration. The definitions of politics these days have reverted back to that which is big, media-saturated, and backed by huge money. We forget that other things matter, that individual decisions about life still matter, and that gender roles--especially the very intimate ones of family life--need challenging every day, and every way.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Time for a Boycott

That's my thought after reading the icky James Wolcott review in The New Republic, titled something inane like "Mommies, Mommies, Mommies: Meow Mix." I won't even link to it, because, a, you have to subscribe to TNR to get to it, and b, because if all of us smart annoyed moms start clicking their website, they win, their hit numbers go up and yes, they win. Mother snark has become a tried and true way for magazines and newspapers to ride our rage and rack up sales. We must resist. Read a copy at a newstand, but don't buy it. Sadly, I've already been in contact with an editor at TNR who seems to think it was a fine piece, and funny. She didn't respond to my charge that their standard for journalism on women's issues is astoundingly lower than their standard for covering other issues in the magazine. She sidestepped it. Snark is clearly okay when it comes to us gals, especially gals with kids at their side.

It's clear they don't want women readers, that's for sure. No wonder their subscriber numbers have been sliding down.

When Seal Press gave me a contract to write Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, its status as the queen publisher of third-wave feminism made me feel like I should get three tattoos and several piercings.Perhaps move to Seattle or Portland, ditch my husband and become a single mom. I thought third-wave feminism was a club of cool girls to which one must be specially invited, and I hadn't been.

When my book came out and I was consistenly described as a third-wave feminist by reviewers I was pleased (oh my, I'm cool now!), and also surprised. At 40ish, with a PhD in women's studies and religion, I felt a bit old to rope onto the cool young girls. When Ms. Magazine was uninterested in responding to my book, but all the third-wave feminist magazines like Bitch and Bust reviewied it happily, I started to see the pattern. Daring to write about motherhood in a different vein, taking on a feminist vision that fiercely includes the possibility of motherhood, one which radically demands change in our workplace structures and cultural expectations makes one, clearly, a feminist of a different striple. If it helps to call that third-wave, or gen-X, or whatever the new pop terms are, well here I am.

It's very clear, too, that third-wave feminism has been sterotyped as being "about culture." That makes it easy for those who do politics in our nation to ignore it. It's a category thing. Culture is not politcs.

Except we know it all is. The matter continues because those of us who do third wave feminism in a political vein are even more invisible.

That's what struck me, reading the Wolcott review. It's not only catty. It not only made me want to defend wrtiers like Leslie Morgan Steiner of Mommy Wars fame, and Caitlin Flanagan both, because enough is enough. In the end, the political vision his review wants to defend is of a feminism that's thirty years old, and which sees nothing wrong with an American culture that allowed success only to the aspect of that feminism to work that would aid the American economy: getting women to work, and getting us to work more. Productivity rises because we're in the workplace. Profits rise when we women and mothers are in the workplace and paid low wages.

On The New Republic's side: I see their decision to go with snark as a clear choice. They know better. They know about my work. I had begun working on an article about family leave policy for them, until the editor who had at first been interested told me it wasn't, to paraphrase, snarky enough, there wasn't a storyline about women fighting each other. The magazine knows about the work being done by MomsRising and the Motherhood Manifesto. They clearly went ahead with an article that ignored everything that didn't lead back to an old fashioned vision of women and society, one that tells us to get to work, and doesn't demand one iota of change on the part of our workplaces, a vision that just tells us to be like men. Old, old, old.

Ladies, I say: Let's boycott this magazine.
Mothers deserve more than snark.
We deserve more than retreads of policies that haven't worked.
We deserve real consideration of the political issues we face as women and mothers in a society that still discriminates.

Boycott The New Republic.
I've already dumped my local paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, from home delivery, because of its Tarzan politics of motherhood. Why pay good money to have someone fling a paper onto my front yard that disdains women and mothers.

We don't have political power, clearly, yet. However, women and mothers make the majority of economic decisions in our households. If we stopped buying, if we tell others to stop buying, if we harnass our individual small decisions into something bigger than each of us, what might happen. Boycott bad media. Stop paying for it. There's more than enough news and views available online, fro free. Boycott. It's an old idea, but it's worked before.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Latest from Harrisburg

Here's the update on the attempt to outlaw maternal discrimination in Pennsylvania, a bright story about taking 5000 plus names to the state capitol, and a dim ending from a staffer who says the bill won't be voted on in committee this session. Here's the long update from the website, thanks to Cooper in Pittsburgh, and Kiki, of course.

The upshot: anyone stopping by the Playground today should email Todd Roup, the executive director for the PA Senate Labor and Industry Committee and tell him it really is necessary to bring the bill SB440 to committee this session, since he's told Kiki that it's impossible:

I'm writing, this morning, about how we even get to the point of taking political action, of picking up the phone, of having the conversation, of seeing ourselves as able to do these things, and seeing these everyday sorts of political actions as a normal, even normative part of motherhood. For now: let's just do it. Send the email. Say: We want you to bring SB 440, and end to maternal discrimination, to the Committee for a vote so it can see the light of day on the Senate Floor. We want this bill passed. Soon.

Just do it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A New Vision of Motherhood

Over at Everyday Mom I've been writing about what a motherhood identity that is policial and smart would feel like. The question came up for me this time around, because I've had trouble getting excited talking with other parents of young babies (Amelia Jane is now 9 1/2 months old). I'm friendly, and I introduce myself, but honestly, I'm really bored trading info about how old the kids are, and what they do, and whether they're in childcare or not. I do my best, and last time around, I loved mom-and-dad chitchat. I really did. I wanted to know all the details, I craved knowing what other babies were doing, and how their parents were managing. I made friends over and again by hearing and sharing these details.

This time, it's not enough, this lowest-commom-denominator talk that we do. I've been musing over what might take it's place. When Samira was young and I hung so many hours at the Lake Claire playground, my favorite was when someone would have caught the daily headlines and repeated them back to us at 4 pm as we gathered after the kids' naps. I loved when my friend Lisa would come by and tell what was happening in China. Yesterday, I ambled over to the excellent High Point Cafe. At the table next to me was a mother with a one-year-old baby (yes, we did the baby-age-trade) who was reading a magazine, a political magazine. Yes, this mother was reading The New Republic as she one-handedly helped her baby hold a bottle, and as she sipped coffee.

I was elated. Motherhood has long been seen as the opposite of all that is reasoned, smart and public sphere, and even in its current incarnation and association with well educated mothers, this hasn't changed. Any time we break that mold, any time we are active in our social worlds, smart, anytime we read something that isn't an insipid women's magazine, and yes, I really mean that, show me a mainstream women's magazine that really truly takes us seriously, we start breaking that mold. I'm on the lookout for mold-breaking, and I'm on the lookout for how we start to form shared models of motherhood on very different terms.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Isabel Kallman tells her story

About a year ago or so I wrote about the New York Magazine feature on Isabel Kallman and her Alpha Mom TV station on Comcast's Video On Demand. The article trashed Isabel, described her as a crazed Upper East Side Mom who was sending her child into early therapy and certain emotional doom. It sounds funny now, perhaps, but the article was damning and hurtful.

The article ran in June. Later that summer, my phone rang. A nice voice said "Hi, this is Isabel Kallman, from Alpha Mom TV." Thus began a long conversation, and a friendship. Turns out I had been one of the few bloggers not to rush onto the Alpha-Mom-is-terrible bandwagon, that I'd written something about how the story line seemed vaguely familiar of the scary moms described by Judith Warner's Perfect Madness, and that we should be carefully critical of media like this. Turns out, too, that the real Isabel is nothing like the monstrous woman described in the article. She's a totally great, smart, down-to-earth woman who is viviacious and friendly and generous. She wanted better information when she was pregnant and a new mother, and having some resources, a Wall Street background, and a brain for business, she went about creating an on-demand TV station for moms. When you take a look at Alpha Mom TV, you realize it's astoundingly focused and caring. I've joked that Isabel and her crew videotape $400 sleep consultants in NY, and then share the session with the rest of us in America. She works closely with Soho Parenting, and other groups. And she's thinking carefully about how to use alternative media to get the word out on good solid information about parenting. I tell you, when I went through pregnancy last year, with the horrid midwives who told me not to prepare ahead of time, and then left me alone the entire time I was in active labor (and much of the time before that, too), it was Alpha Mom's several segments on positions for labor and backlabor that were the only information I had. They helped. They were what got me through a difficult situation.

Count me, in other words, an Alpha Mom fan, and a fan of its creator, Isabel.

Now, many months later, Isabel is speaking out. After the trashing in New York Magazine, Isabel was contacted by all the morning shows. She could have gone on, told her story, made a big deal of it, started another episode of Mommy Wars fuss. But she didn't. That's not her style, not one bit. So check out her story in her words over at Huffington Post.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Letter from Cooper about Kiki

Hey everyone, here's a letter from Cooper Munroe, who's mad and is going to gather us together to get PA law changed so employers can't discriminate against mothers when it comes to hiring. Apologies in advance, This too-busy mom has no time to code the websites, so just click and copy them to get to where you need to be. Read on:

Hi Everyone,

We need your help, and vast reach, to get the word out on something very important.

At BlogHer I saw the documentary film, The Motherhood Manifesto, and through the film I learned that in Pennsylvania, where I live, it is legal to ask someone in a job interview if they are married or have children. Yep, dark ages. As you can guess, this hurts mostly moms and single moms. BUT - THIS IS NOT JUST IN PA!!! PA is one of 28 states that is in this predicament, and we, and the other states, aren't covered by the federal regs either.

Here is a list of states where discrimination is covered, and not covered, in employment laws (see the marital/familial status column): Pretty surprising, and it will be sure to piss you off.

Since BlogHer, I have been working with Joan Blades (co-founder of and others at, as well as women in Pennsylvania to help get legislation passed (it has been stalled in the state house and senate -- for 6 years!) that would make this practice illegal.

I wrote an article about it that ran yesterday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, please read it if you get a chance, it explains the problem:

If Pennsylvania can do this, it means so much to moms and families everywhere, and could create momentum for many critical issues involving moms and families, not just on this type of discrimination. PA could start a chain reaction, and we need to drum up some noise. has create a web page for this, and we have been blogging over there too: We have information, links to PA legislators' phone/email info and a petition. You don't have to be from PA to send a message that this is important.

It is especially important to get signatures on the petition, fast:

Anything you can do to get the word out would be awesome. So many times I talk about this people say, "I had no idea!" and that seems to be the biggest problem, the lawmakers think since no one is talking, nobody cares. From what I know about the bloggers, we can change that pretty quick.

Thank you!

Cooper Munroe
Been There, Been There Clearinghouse,

Monday, September 11, 2006

MomsRising's Kristin, on

Great interview with Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of and The Motherhood Manifesto.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

At Home Infant Care, now in Congress

Thanks to Devra at Parentopia for the alert on this bill in Congress now, introduced by Rosa DeLaura, on funding for At-Home Infant Care (AHIC). I wrote about AHIC in The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, from the perspective of how the women at WEEL in Montana had organized, lobbied, and made AHIC into legislation at the state level. How excellent it would be for families to have more support for staying home with infants if that's what they want to do.

Here's the press release.

Friday, July 28, 2006 (202) 225-3661

DeLauro Bill Offers Families Option of At-Home Child Care for Infants

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (Conn.-3) today introduced
"Choices in Child Care Act of 2006,” legislation that establishes an at-home
infant care program that will give thousands of working families the help
they need to balance work and provide quality care for their infant children.
The legislation gives parents the choice of using a state child care subsidy to
obtain infant care outside the home or of keeping the subsidy so they can
stay home and care for their child themselves without risking their family’s
financial security.
“When Congress passed welfare reform in 1996 it also promised to provide
increased funding for child care services and that it has failed to honor that
promise,” said DeLauro. “The result is that stagnant federal funding and state
cutbacks have left working families with less access as well as reduced
levels of assistance. As such, we must work to increase the federal commitment to
child care funding. But at the same time, we should provide parents with
more choices –– particularly at the earliest stages of life.”
Research shows that the quality of care-taking in the first months and years
of life is critical to a newborn’s brain development, social development and
well-being. In fact, 55 percent of women with infants younger than one years
of age work. Yet there is currently a severe shortage of safe, affordable,
quality care for infants. The number of licensed child care slots for infants
meets only 18 percent of the need. The shortage is particularly acute in rural
areas, and especially in rural areas with many low-income residents.
One obvious solution for parents who need affordable, high-quality care for
their infant is to provide that care themselves. Unfortunately, in many low-
and moderate-income families, having a parent quit his or her job or reduce
work hours to care for an infant is not financially viable. Doing so would
plunge the family into an economic crisis.
The bill amends the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to allow low-
and moderate-income parents the option of forgoing a state child care subsidy
for infant care outside the home and instead receiving a comparable stipend
to provide the care themselves while keeping the family economically stable.
“The time has come to restart the dialogue in this country about the
importance of federal child care funding,” said DeLauro. “One way we can do that is
by supporting parents who want to stay home with their infants.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Have Been a Blogging Idiot....

Because I accidentally deleted a comment from Karrie this morning, I had an unexpected discovery: my spam blocker has been keeping all sorts of legitimate and happy and very interesting comments off my blog. And I haven't had the time or energy to troubleshoot it, I just assumed people weren't leaving messages. Friends, I've tried to make right, hopefully pressed the right buttons now, and old comments should be filtering back on to their rightful entries. I've tinkered with settings, and it should all be good in the future, letting in the real people and keeping out the folks trying to sell me things. Thanks for everyone's thoughs, and good wishes, and inspiration.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I've been blogging about that Forbes thing over at Everyday Mom , and this is the final, final footnote, complete with a letter that Steve Forbes wrote back to my friend Becky when she told him what she thought about the Don't Marry a Career Woman article.

Other updates: children are healthy, baby is 8 1/2 months, school astoundingly doesn't begin until September 6th, that's only a half day and it's still seven days away, and I've successfully given up coffee once again, though I wouldn't say I've yet reached the zen/post-coffee state I'm waiting for.

Friday, August 25, 2006

MotherTalk is launching!

I have always admired women who can start their own businesses, who figure out the skills to earn money and be their own boss. I've finally done it myself, after all these years, with the help of friends Andi Buchanan and Stacy Debroff. MotherTalk is off and running. More info soon when it's not after midnight and I don't have a full day starting in just six hours, but the website is up-- with a blog, too. Stay-tuned to hear about our vision, and to get on board. Wish us luck!

That Forbes Thing....

I've cross-posted my thoughts on the latest attack--not even on parenting and families--but the very possibility of egalitarian unions based on love and desire and the chance of an intellectually stimulating chat with one's spouse, over at Every Day Mom.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ayun Halliday's MamaLamaDingDong tour stops here

First off, coming soon this week, play to win installment #2. Hint preview: will have something to do with learning how to do smart talk and hold an opinion with other women.

Second, and to the point of today's entry, this is Playground Revolution's stop on the blog tour for Ayun Halliday's MamaLamaDingDong, which is the batty title given to her book "The Big Rumpus" by its British publisher. I'm lucky enough to be on a secretive and mysterious writer's listserv with Ayun. That means every once in a while an email stretched full of her sixty mile an hour no holds barred prose appears on my screen, a happy treat for the day. And even though I'm about four days behind my work life right now (and that's a very generous assessment that anyone who's been emailing me with no successful returns will vehemently disagree with, for sure), let me slide into the wee hours of my day to blog about her book and spread the word.

I remember back when I was a new mom for the first time, as opposed to now, when I'm a new mom for the second time, in the olden days of 1998, and there was almost nothing to read from mothers about new motherhood. There was Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions. There was the lyrical Blue Jay's Dance by Louise Erdrich. If you were brainy and resourceful you could find Mother Knot by Jane Lazarre. That was about it. I know everyone thinks we're inundated now by mothers whispering out loud the tedium and love that rests in the details of ordinary life with kids, but a mere double handful of years back, very little of this was around. Mothers' memoirs hadn't been shortened into the chick lit diminuitive "momoirs." And the mom blogosphere didn't exist. Someone can remind me when blogs were invented, but I know we didn't have them in 1998.

All that's changed, and we have writers like Ayun Halliday (along with other fave writer pals Faulkner Fox and Andi Buchanan) to thank for that. MamaLama aka the Big Rumpus is jam-packed full of all the identity shifts of new motherhood, from the "oh, I can't take the baby to the actors' workshop, and stay up till 2 am painting the stage" moment of confusion, to the poignancies of figuring out how the hell to celebrate holidays with kids, surly cat, and multiple religious and non-religious traditions surfing through her home. We're told, you know, that we are tired of mother memoirs. Well call me old fashioned but I'm here sitting on the white couch, barely holding my eyes open, reading with gratititude Ayun's memories of Inky and Milo, of scary days at the NICU, weaning (and Inky's funny joke, see page 193), and whether to circumcize their son (hint: who knows more about the why's of circumcision, the 3d generation atheist Jew or the ex-Episcopalian who went to lots of bar mitsvahs?) The big picture: we need these stories, and though mothers' stories are everywhere on the internet these days, it is a big and needed treat to read them from those who know so intituitively how to craft gorgeously energetic sentences from the randomess of words.

Because I'm four days behind, I'm going to crib from some other bloggers' interviews with Ayun, in hopes that she gets back to me before I go to press, excerpts in which Ayun recommends tea time for mothers (who doesn't need a four o'clock snack and five minutes to read a magazine?) and in which, too, she suggests that writing is more fun, more rewarding, and more soulfully nurturing than housework. Thanks to these other bloggers who managed to get questions to Ayun ahead of time. I like knowing that someone is two days ahead of the game.

Excerpts from Martha Brockenbough's The Mommy Chronicles.
Martha; : What do you think moms who want to relax and have more fun and less stress should do? How do we let go of all the cultural expectations of motherhood? I figure anyone who'd let her kid keep the spare thumb has some pretty good methodology here.

Ayun: It seems to me the answer to the first question lies within the second. Mothers have more fun and experience less stress when they shake off the insanely high expectations with which Western society has burdened the office. The second the kid emerges from between your thighs, the pressure to measure up is immense, because you know you’ll be judged harshly if you don’t get straight A's in every single subject associated with child rearing. Well, who’s doing the judging? That’s what I want to know. Mothers-in-law aside, I’d say it’s primarily magazine editors, p.r. firms, and large corporations who stand to profit substantially from reinforcing the idea that we’re doing a shitty job. Other mothers can play a particularly pernicious supporting role, but my data shows that they’ll stop judging you if you refrain from overtly judging them.

A close friend recently had her first baby. She was a great help and comfort to me when I had my first baby nine years ago, but despite her ringside seat for that circus, the physical rigors and emotional rollercoaster of new parenthood still knocked her for her own loop. She’d seen that it was hard. She’d witnessed the limits, the fatigue, the frequent feelings of powerlessness, but that couldn’t prepare her for living through it her ownself. Motherhood is wicked-hard, particularly those first couple of years. New mothers need to seek out anything that acknowledges this, because it’s very easy to sink into the slough of despond, to feel that you’re the only one who’s feeling lonely, sad, unfulfilled, crazy, whatever…

... For mothers of older children, I recommend tea time. (I recommend it for mothers of all stations, but it’s particularly important for those old enough – or depending on how far down the road you are, young enough – to sass and demand and wear out your last nerve just by virtue of their existence. You know how kids get whiny and obstreperous when they’re hungry or tired? Yeah, well, mothers do too. Particularly Bitchmother, who is who I morph into at around 4pm, unless I take a little break to eat something, maybe read a magazine article, sit the fuck down…

MamaLama's being published in Britain, so my next excerpt is from an actual British blogger, Babymother:

BabyMother: First of all – how did you get to be a full-time mother AND write a book or three? (And HOW could you bring yourself to stay awake in your child’s naptime when you were pregnant in order to write? Yes, this is all a bit close to the bone)

Ayun: I am a very lax housekeeper, and have pretty much everything I need within a couple of blocks’ walk. Also, I was an unathletic only child, who spent many a sunny day, sitting in a tree, reading library books and drawing pictures of elaborate kitty cat weddings. Writing remains fun for me, a way to play with mental paper dolls. I’d rather do that than go shopping or hang gliding or some other activity that another might engage in to relax and reclaim some semblance of their pre-maternal identity. As for staying awake while pregnant, the second time around, when Milo was in the oven and Inky was two years old, I felt like I’d been embalmed! It’s the one time in our fifteen years together that Greg had no choice but to cook. We ate a lot of spaghetti and it’s indicative of just how embalmed I felt that I forked it up without complaint. Nap times were my cue to tap into some secret reserve of energy, a stash for my personal use. The minute Inky woke up, refreshed, I felt embalmed again.

BabyMother: No, please tell me you actually had a full-time nanny, cook, and wet nurse.

Ayun: Oh, absolutely! Also an in-house stylist and a personal secretary. They’re all thanked in the acknowledgments.

And here, as we round third and head home (can you tell I've been watching lots of Mets games lately?), Ayun, in with my last-minute question to her, to the self-proclaimed Queen of Heinie ,

Playground Revolution: Ayun, why do kids love bathroom talk so much?

Ayun: Bathroom talk? i guess b/c it brings us down to their level of helplessness and connection to bodily function. plus - f-u-n-n-y. What interests me is what various households interpret as "bathroom words". Like some close hip friends, who instructed their kids to call our beloved "Uncle Monkeybutt" "Uncle Monkey" b/c "butt is a bathroom word." I'm like, it is? Butt? They must have a chronic 5 year old user of the word "butt" to get that one stricken from the lex.

Enjoy the book.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

See the Christian Science Monitor on Pregnancy Discrimination

A good week for critical reporting on mothers and the workplace: here's Marilyn Gardner of the Christian Science Monitor weighing in on the rising number of successful pregnancy discrimination cases in the U.S. Favorite quote from article, from a woman who when she returned to work as a mother, was given a lower paying job, against her will: "I wouldn't have believed it if it hadn't happened to me." Read The Problem with the Pregnant Pause.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Mommy Brain-Drain on Wall Street

Hands off to the NYTimes article this Sunday about women who work on Wall Street. Yes, most of us don't work in the financial sector, and few of us live close enough to the NY Metro area to work on the real, actual Wall Street. Still, women in the big finance companies (as women lawyers) are one of the ways we talk about mothers, work, recruitment to high-paying jobs, and to workplace reentry. Plus, these companies are extremely powerful in trendsetting. That's why this article, which suggests that change is happening, that companies are trying to stem the mommy brain-drain caused by offering no flexibility to mothers might be changing. As always, I'd like to hear from women who are on the ground, to see what it really looks like.

Still trying to sort out my feelings about the NYT piece about Sesame Street's new girly-girl main character, who's out in front and loves queey, cute dresses too.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ghost in the House

Something to look forward to: MotherTalk is devoted next week to Tracy Thompson's new book Ghost in the House which is about maternal depression, and includes an honest account of Tracy's own struggles with depression, both before and during motherhood. MotherTalk is hosting a blog tour, and I'll have more info soon on that. I'm not an official stop on the blog tour but over the next few weeks I'll be chiming in about Ghost in the House. I read it last week, in the midst of everything, and it gave me pause, and much to consider. My friend Phyllis, struggling with her own depression, when I interviewed her for The Truth behind the Mommy Wars, told me that she thought most mothers were depressed, and that motherhood, with its repetitions, was highly depression-causing. That's something to debate, but the important thing is that for mothers, and I will add: parents, suffering with depression, there's finally a humane, full-length treatment of it that takes into consideration both parents and children (and our own parents as well), and does this within a context that recognizes the crazy culture of parenting we live in.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Play to Win #1

Back a long time ago at playground I blogged about my friend Liz. Liz runs an organization devoted to improving low income housing. She's very smart and very serious about her work. One night when a bunch of us were doing our usual political rants over dinner, she excused herself to go hang out with the kids. When she returned, she simply announced that she has little truck for political rants that go nowhere (except perhaps, to opening that next bottle of wine). She named a powerful local politician in our city, a man known both for hardball tactics and getting the job done. "He plays to win," she said. "We need to play to win, too."

Lately I've been wondering what it means to play to win. What would it mean to play to win, in an everyday, mom-world sort of way? I've decided to spend the next few weeks coming up with ways to win, and ways, playground-revolution style, that sometimes veer from the usual things we might think to do, or require more energy than most individual parents have. Getting ready to be politically active is about our personal moments, our readiness to be transformed, as much as it is knowing the right numbers to dial. If we're going to make a fuss, as I wrote toward the end of "The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars," we have some work to do to figure out the personal path toward public fuss-making. I'm putting on my thinking cap to come up with a list of ten ways, at least, that parents in our ordinary worlds can start playing to win, can start turning the tide of public opinion so that it values caretaking and caretakers. If you read and something sparks your imagination, well then chime right in.

Today is number one:

Be Friendly. Smile. Say Hello to People You Don't Know.

When you're out and about in your neighborhood and you cross paths with someone you don't know, squelch your shyness, put aside the cultural training that says to ignore people who come within three feet. Smile brightly. Say hi. You don't have to invite that person over for lunch. You don't have to chit-chat. You don't have to tell them your innermost secrets. Just say hello.

I know. It's hard. I can't tell you how many moms-pushing-strollers I've passed over the years and ignored, dads also, two ships passing in the night. What a lost opportunity, and one with political ramifications.

I've started saying hi. It's not always easy. I'm shy by nature. And pleasant friendliness does seem to be the opposite of the hip and cool parent model that's so pervasive these days. Sometimes the other mom or dad looks surprised. Sometimes she kind of ignores me, as if she's not used to this, and doesn't know what to do in return, and gets all nervouse and anxious. Sometimes, though, she smiles.

I've been trying this in stores, on sports fields, at the pool, everywhere.

I know. You're thinking this advice seems soft, girly, lady-like. Not at all like real politics. Here at the playground, though, we've learned that real change comes from people talking with each other, and you have to start somewhere. Be Friendly, Smile, and Say Hello is not just about spreading more joy and acts of kindness in the world, though that's a side effect, and important in its own right.

Because guess what, it's going to be very hard to talk about the mom-dad-and-family issues of the day without first saying hello. First off, how are you going to find friends and end parenting-isolation without talking? How are you going to ask that nice mom or dad you see at the swing set to join you in political action one day if you don't know their name, and haven't even exchanged the smallest of pleasantries, like "good weather we'?re having" or "how old is that cute child of yours?" How are you going to realize that they too, are annoyed at the way things are, that they're struggling with work, or with not working, or whateverm if you don't say hello and start the ball rolling.

I'?m serious. Think about the right wing and all the rather fabulous organizing they've done in the past decade or so. I may disagree with their politics, but they've been incredibly successful. The same way they stole tactics from the non-violent, lefty protest movements of the 80's, let's steal some back. Look at the politicized church communities they've rounded up in their corner, for example. Do you think they've done that by ignoring each other? No. At church, people say hello. People know your name, they know about your kids, and when it comes time for the pastor to tell you do get to the polls or call senators, or sign a petition ballot or do any of the many things that constitute basic political acts in our nation, you do it. Because they know your name. Because there's some kind of relationship.

Because someone, somewhere made that first step and said hello, somone began a conversation with the question, how are you doing?

We moms and dads can do that too. We must. Try it, and tell me what happens.

Network TV

Five o'clock on Monday, after spending the whole day with my post-day-camp 8 year old daughter, and the baby, who no longer naps very much, amid the terrible heat wave where even a trip to the pool didn't beckon over the pleasures of air conditioning, a producer from one of the networks called. I can't remember which, she introduced herself so quickly.

She had read my blog entry (the one just below) on the motherhood-is-boring article. Would I like to come on television and defend motherhood? she wanted to know.

Hello? Maybe they could send cameras to my house. Maybe they could watch me shuttle between children, hope the neighbor's kids would get home from camp so Samira could play, attempt to do laundry, give up because it's really hard to bend over with a baby in a sling, try to find two minutes to return a phone call, focus on a paid-writing task that would take but ten minutes were I able to sit down and focus. They could watch me give up on imagining what's for dinner, wonder whether it's too late to get anyone to invite us over, jot notes about emails I need to send that evening. For the climax they could watch me get the baby down for a nap--finally--and in my one free hour try to clean up a bit, finish that writing job, find someone to deliver my spring semester student evaluations to one of my workplaces, and put soaker hoses in place so I can water my garden more efficiently in this heat.

And then they could ask me whether or not I think motherhood is boring. In real life: there's a yes or no answer. We all know that. The producer knew it too. And even though as an author I'm supposed to be craven for any kind of media publicity, there's no way I could bite on this one. Not even for network TV and another Lincoln town-car ride to NY. Not even for the fab free make-over and hair-straightening. (I can tell you after June's experience with NBC/CNBC: the stylists at the major networks do know how to keep hair off the face and out of the eyes. They don't just use hairspray: they tease, and they have the most high-end hair irons known to humankind. They are the queens of hair control.)

In my utopian and politically-engaged world of the future, this is what happens. The cameras roll. They take in my day, ask me to comment on the whole damn ridiculous debate about whether or not motherhood is boring, and I get to tell them that we're focusing on the wrong question. They pay attention and let me have my say. They want to hear the smartest and most insightful points about motherhood, fatherhood and parenting. They ask probing follow-ups, like, "Miriam, what might better questions be? What would an important, productive and humane debate about parenting at this moment in time be?"

Back to real life. The producer realized quickly I wasn't her gal for the show. I repeated that motherhood journalism has much lower standards than most other themes, and that the same patterns have been repeated for fifteen years or more. I tell her how different the May/Mother's Day reporting was: that is was smarter and more politically and policy aware than ever before. I stress that that is the new trend, not this retread "is it boring or not crap." I tell her what I know. After all, how often do I have a network TV person on the other end of the phone? She does ask me for all my contact info. She says she does lots of parenting topics. They always come up. She'd like to keep in touch.

And that was that. Six pm. Baby in my arms, older child near by. My close brush with network fame. Dinner, alas, is still nowhere in sight.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Is Motherhood Boring?

Here's the latest that's circling around the mom-blog-and-listserv-world, a British article about how boring it is to be a mom. In a way, I don't even want to be continuing this discussion. In part, it's really important to challenge all the "I love being a mom and every minute is wonderful" celebrity dish that's being passed around--by mothers who have nannies and night nurses to help them through the day. But the tone, oh why does every article about motherhood these days have the same awful, petulant, "it's-all-those-other-moms-against-me,the-only-one-who-sees-the-world-as-it-really-is" tone. Oh, that's right, its the mommy wars theme, once again.

The thing that also bugs me about every new article about motherhood--unlike other sorts of politics, no one feels like they should pay attention to what other mothers, writers and journalists have already said. It's all about reinventing the wheel, getting a contract, finding an edge against others. We've already seen the motherhood-can-be-boring-and-annoying theme before. It's from the book Mother Shock, which says the same thing without the venom. In every other field of writing, the theme has to be new, but when it comes to writing about motherhood, newspaper and magazine editors lower their standards and keep contracting the same old, same old. Too bad for us.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Also blogging at....

The Hylands site is being moved, and that's where I do everyday blogging, so add to your list! That's where you'll learn things like that baby Amelia's been to the hospital this summer, and all sorts of day-to-day details of life, and comments about motherhood.

We've udpated the site so it's much prettier, and as important, we've stopped all the icky spam that was squirming its way into the old forum. I'll be building the blog roll there, too, so leave me a note here or there if you'd like your blog to be added. I'll also be pulling together a resource list, so if you have a fave online service or product or place, tell me about it and it'll find a home.

Keep me company. Come on by. Have a great day.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cross-blogging at Mom's Rising

The big news: I will be blogging and crossposting at MomsRising. I'm thrilled and feeling energized by it. I'm looking forward to working with the MomsRising team, with Kristin and Joan, and behind the scenes, with my editor from Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, the incomparable Leslie Miller who is now, among the many paths in her life, coordinating the Mom's Rising blog. Everything I write there will be cross-posted here, so check here, check there, either way will work.

Family-and-work rights

Andy, the spiritual leader and coach of Wild Things Girls Softball, teaches the mothers some throwing, catching and batting skills so we can play against our daughters in the annual Mother's Day mother-daughter softball game, the game that comes right before he gathers everyone under the shady maple and reminds us that mother's day is political. Because softball, all sports, our psyches and the history of gender can combine in such torturous ways, he shows us how to throw and catch, and then unleashes the most important tip of all:

We must never say we are sorry. When the ball drops because the other person can't catch--when we are most ready to say "I'm sorry" as the other person gives chase--we must stop ourselves. Break the habit. Convey our apologies for things we really do wrong, or when empathy is needed badly. But apologizing because someone else drops a softball: no way.

Thus, I will not break this round of blogging silence with yet another apology, but with a let's-hit-the-ground-running here's-what's-going-on update. Accompanied perhaps by a promise to stop by and post more often.

The baby has passed the six-month mark. She's wonderful. Enough said: she's quickly passing into the family privacy zone. You know how I feel, like her sister and dad, she didn't choose to have a writer for a mom, or her life splayed out for all to see. And me: I am starting a new book, details many, many months from now when I'm ready. It won't be on motherhood or family life, but don't worry, I'm still here at the Playground, giving the world a sane voice on the Mommy wars and some ideas for how we're going to make the world a better place for women, mothers and families, without sacrificing one or the other.

A current story I'm following: the new district attorney of Nassau County, NY. A woman, Kathleen Rice, runs and wins on a pro-choice, feminist, anti-corruption platform. Less than a year into the job, she announces the end of all part-time work for lawyers in the DA's office. I see this as a classic conflict between the new feminism and the old. Reproductive rights aren't extended into family-and-work rights, the right to have a job and some kids and some flexibility to make it all work out. We gotta be seeing how feminism includes both these things. Gotta be seeing that. I grew up in Nassau County, so I'm feeling particularly grumpy about this one. As is my mother.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Laurie Pettine, Mother Activist, Part 1

It's welcome back to me, I've taken many a week off from writing here, the usual combination of the limited hours I have these days for sitting at the computer. In that regard, too, my apologies to regular fellow-blogger-readers, I've been woefully out of touch with everyone's blogs.

In the month that I haven't blogged here, I've had some interesting experiences, some inspiring, others negative. I took part in a MotherTalk in NY, at the home of Isabel Kalman, the CEO of Alpha Mom TV, which was among the most energizing evenings I've had in the last few years. There, I was surrounded by fabulously interesting and energetic women who all seemed to feel able to do their work in the world, even if the pace was slower than they liked, who all were so clear and articulate about the challenges ahead. A negative, on the other hand, was working on an article for a national political magazine (and as the classy gal that I am, I will drop no names) which after several outlines and drafts, told me that unless I could tell a story about one group of mothers STOMPING (that's the exact word the editor used; I am not making this up, believe me) on the other, it wasn't really a good story for them. And this was the editor who told me she didn't like Mommy Wars reporting. Really.

I've been wanting to post this interview with Laurie Pettine for some time now. As I mentioned before, my new goal is to interview women and men who have become activists around issues that would mothering and parenting and fathering easier, and who think about this in truly political and structural ways. As I travel around, I hear people saying that they want to do something, and then sighing that they don't know how to begin, where to enter the political process. My hope is that by interviewing people who have entered the political fray, at all levels, that more of us can think of ourselves as confident participants in the politics of our schools, communities, states and nation.

Anyway, without further ado. I can't remember how I met Laurie. Probably online, but I do remember us finally getting to talk, very late on evening last summer or fall. It was one of those clarifying conversation where I began in quite a funk. After all, I had just published a book, and voila, our society did not fall on its knees and immediately commit to progressive change. By the end, I believed Laurie, that in working together and taking the longview, change could happen. I took notes during our talk, because I knew I would need a boost of encouragement, and I was right. I've often thought back to Laurie and her vision.

Laurie has been working with the National Organization of Women on their new taskforce on Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights. She has been central, as she works with others, in getting NOW to focus on Motherhood, and to pass resolutions like this one: "NOW values Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights," and getting the organization to put info about the politics of motherhood up on its website. She's been visionary in seeing what the power of an already existing organization that knows how to lobby and knows how to turn people out to politicians' offices can do for mothers.

I'll post part of the interview now, and the rest in a few days. Enjoy, and on behalf of all of us, a big thank you to Laurie for the work she's doing.

Laurie, you've been involved with NOW's new task force on mothers, caregivers and economic rights. How did that involvement start?

The National Organization for Women (NOW) under the leadership of NOW president Kim Gandy appointed six members to the Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights (MCER) ad hoc Advisory Committee in September 2005. This committee is the result of a resolution entitled “NOW Values Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights”, passed unanimously at the NOW National conference in Nashville.

We also have NOW-MCER task forces which serve different purposes on state and local levels. The state task force is working on legislation for programs like Paid Family Leave. We are also working with business leaders to promote work/life policies and raise awareness of the bias against employees with care giving responsibilities.

Our local task force is a community building effort--a group of feminist mothers and caregivers who gather together to discuss political/social issues. The NJ group, Morris Mothering NOW, was created as an answer to the traditional, apolitical culture surrounding playgroups and playgrounds. We focus on actions and events that speak directly to local needs.

I live in a very conservative part of New Jersey. Oftentimes I feel I can't be forthright about my politics. While NOW is a bipartisan organization, it has been quite vocal in its disapproval of the social and foreign policies of the Bush administration. As a feminist and a liberal I turned to NOW for a means by which to gather mothers who were concerned about the direction the country seemed to be heading -- worried about their family's safety and their own reproductive and economic rights as women.

NOW has been extremely supportive of all of this work.

Who came up with the idea?

I was aware of the growing “mother’s movement” through my membership in Mothers and More, MOTHERS/NAMC and Judith Stadtman Tucker’s Mothers Movement Online.

As for our “founding mother,” the credit goes to Mavra Stark, the president of Morris County NOW in Morristown NJ. Back in 2003, I sought out my local NOW chapter after I had my second child. I was looking for a feminist community of mothers who could meet during the daytime hours. Mavra gave the green light to the first Mothering NOW Task Force. We have as second Task Force at the South Jersey Alice Paul Chapter headed by Jennifer Armiger. Other NOW-MCER Task Forces are being developed across the nation.

In addition to fostering this new task force, Mavra insisted that I read Ann Crittenden's “The Price of Motherhood." In reading AnnĂ‚’s book I had the classic consciousness raising “aha" moment and was motivated to into action around these issues. It was clear that this suite of issues needed to be our platform. But, more than anything, we had to integrate with NOW state and national issues to make these programs a reality.

Mavra stepped in again, suggesting that we draft a resolution for our state NOW chapter as well as National NOW to urge the organization to rededicate efforts to MCER. Through the combined work of NOW membership on a local, state and national level and the full support and guidance of Kim Gandy (she’s a mother of two girls) and her board we are currently moving ahead with NOW-MCER actions, workshops and educational outreach pieces.

How did you start doing political activism?

Motherhood (sound familiar?!). I had dabbled in activism in college for ACT UP and working against cuts in arts funding. When I was in my mid-twenties I joined NOW. I didn't have kids yet, was working long hours in an advertising firm and felt isolated from my political self. I was seeking like-minded community -- a connection to the women’s movement.

When I became pregnant, I knew that I was going to be in a high risk situation due to a health problem. My husband and I came to an agreement. I gave notice and figured that I'd have to take it a day at a time, hoping I could re-enter paid work when I got through pregnancy and the first few months of sleeplessness with an infant. When my first child was eighteen months I became pregnant with my second child.

Then 9-11 happened and everything changed for everyone. Everything seemed to be spinning out of control, governmental lies piled up and it became achingly clear that health of our democracy was at stake.

My five year old knows that bending the truth is the same as lying. We are now witnessing the results of a culture of obfuscation and rationalization on a massive scale. Moms know better, that's why we need to get out the vote.

How did you get others involved?

The resolutions on the state and national level were big motivators. On a local level it was all about grassroots grunt-work - flyers, word-of-mouth, tabling, and articles in local papers. Talking with other organizations and building friendly coalitions on specific issues is key.

It was also pretty audacious to use the words "feminism" and "“motherhood" in the same sentence. For some reason, that really freaks some people out. But for the people who get it, I think more people will as all parts of this aspect of the women'’s movement grow, for them it's a natural.

How did you even get involved with a big national organization like
NOW, it seems so professionalized and impersonal?

Quite the contrary. These are real people fighting the good fight. Any grassroots organization that gives you the cold shoulder and doesn'’t jump up and down with joy when you volunteer is probably in it for the wrong reasons (or the person answering the phone is having a bad afternoon, so try calling again!).

NOW has been fully accessible, friendly and supportive. And if you don't get the response you need from one individual at a chapter (people have off-days), just email me at and we'’ll work to match you with a chapter.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mother's Day Round-up

First, the obligatory post on how Mother's Day began as anti-war protest.

Second, the round-up on mother's day coverage is that there's been a noticeable shift. This year's op-eds and features are much more political than anyone can remember. Several of us have been emailing around, and found these very good pieces in the Washington Post (and here's another from the Post), the Boston Globe, and the much smaller Newark Star Ledger. offers its own round-up, concurring: there's been a change.

The message is getting through.

Of course, the newspaper that comes to my home, the Philadelphia Inquirer alone, it seems, stood out for a ridiculous article about Mom CEO's and professional moms. These are not, as you might think, mothers who are smashing the glass ceiling and the maternal walls to real power in our society. No, they're mothers who are taking avid notes during a talk by a household organization consultant on how to redo their pantries and best structure their time. I too like well-organized closet, but this article is about three years behind the trend. In a season which saw a real shift to seeing motherhood in a public, political light, this old-style mom's-the-head-of-a-private-empire type of reporting really stood out. (Here's the link, so you can see if you agree. I've been advising people to write letters to the Inquirer: Inquirer.Letters at

Let's be clear. Given the wage gap, given the maternal walls we face, given how damn hard it is to have kids and rise to the top of the business world and gain come of that capital, economic independence and public influence, being a mom CEO is a very different thing than being a mother who's an actual CEO. Let's not erase that problem by referring to moms as CEO's or Chief Household Officers when we're not. It's one thing to devote part or all of our lives to raising kids and keeping a home together. That's fine. But that's not being a CEO.

Know how you tell the difference? CEO's get their own private airplanes. A black towncar drives them directly onto the tarmac. They have personal assistants clearing the way in front of them, and cleaning up in their wake.

See what I mean?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thank You Ellen Goodman

A lovely column from Ellen Goodman in the Boston Globe. May all the Mothers Day coverage be this good. Personally, I've had calls from several reporters, and for each, I must say, the tenor of questions really has shifted in the past year. The calls I took asked about big pictures for family life. Reporters asked about dads. They asked me to tell them about different kinds of mothers. They asked me to explain why despite mommy wars rhetoric, they observed groups of mothers being supportive and kind. They asked me about political futures for family friendly bills.

Are some of our points getting across?

Quite different from a year ago when I was asked to respond to things like the Washington Post's survey claiming that mothers are really happy.

I can say that this Mothers Day, the black towncar won't be driving up to my house and swishing me to the CNN studios, but it will be great fun nonetheless, especially since I have the Wild Things Softball club annual Mother-Daughter softball game to look forward to. And Saturday evening, I'll be doing a MotherTalk in NY, at the home of Alpha Mom TV's Isabel Kalman. If you're in NY, leave a note here for the address.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Marrit takes on AlternaDad, and the culture of money

There really is an alternative parenting scene, and alternative writing about parenthood, and I'm proud to be linked up with that. As Marrit Ingman, one of my fave alterna-writers reminds us, contra New York Magazine, the idea of alternative parenting wasn't and isn't all about having lots of money to afford all the toys. With her, I too wonder: when did 'hip' become synonymous with 'affluent'? When did hip become something I could no longer afford? When did hip stop being about rebellion?

Well, it's no news that Marrit Ingman is a favorite here at the playground, so run, don't walk, to her latest post "Reinventing the Neal," where she takes on Neal Pollack, aka AlternaDad, and claims
a) that he may have plagiarized some of her writing, and
b) that he clearly felt no need at all to read any of the many, many alterna-moms who plotted the way before him. Women and mothers are just so invisible.
c) He's wrongly making "cool parenting" into a competitive and judgment-driven sport. As Marrit writes, with her characteristic humanity and grace:

"Therein lies the problem for me. I simply don'’t tolerate pitting parents against each other. Not mothers against mothers, not fathers against fathers. When I meet other parents, I don't run down a list of how we're different and I am better. Alternative parenting isn'’t about being the coolest kid in the room. It's about coalition-building and rejecting the ready-made, not about bragging and slagging."

So go and read.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Andi Buchanan's It's a Girl

Since I've already done some book events with Andi on the It's a Girl tour, including one where I screeched the car into a nearby parking lot, plunked down twelve dollars, yes twelve outrageous dollars to park in Center City near the Barnes and Noble because I was already forty minutes late for the reading, having had one of those evenings--I'm still getting used to the mechanics of our two child family--where nothing went quite right, I'd thought I'd have out at my turn on her blog tour.

On her blog, Andi's featuring my essay in her book. Since I rarely write personal essays anymore, and that's what the book is about, I'll take the liberty of reposting both her excerpt from my essay, "Cheerleader." I wrote it to make sense of what was then Samira's passion for girly cheerleader things, my usual hunch to let things be balanced by my critical sense that things are not right, gender-wise, with the world. This episode, last year, coincided with my concern that she was not being taught math well. It also coincided with a series of discussions I had with her teacher about how in the morning free time, the boys in the class were playing chess and the girls were writing their names in bubble letters on white boards. In the end, the teacher made morning free time into something more structured so that all the kids learned similar skills in school. The combination of the disparity of learning and the genderedness of the skills being taught, with the girls' immersion in a culture where, as I write in the essay, even teen heroine Kim Possible has to fight bad guys and be a cheerleader too, left me angry, and searching for the best path for educating my daughter in how to be a girl.

Cheerleader, an excerpt.

If you ask [my daughter], she’ll tell you the best birthday party she ever attended was Jeannette’s. Jeannette’s mom and dad gave everyone shiny purple pompoms. Jeannette’s older cousin Sarah—a real live high-school cheerleader—taught the six-year-olds key cheerleading moves and chants. She belted out the cheers for all of Philadelphia’s major sports teams. She gave the girls pompom instructions. She even demonstrated the split where you begin standing, and you end with one leg bent in front and the other bent behind, arms held high, up, and out in a triumphal V—and of course, a perfect, full smile on your face. My daughter loved that party. She bounced home that afternoon, shiny purple pompoms in tow, elated, to tell me all about it. I watched as she showed off her new skills. I tried not to be the dour, downer mom.
A week or so after that cheerleading party, Samira’s friend Megan came home with us after school. The two girls scrounged around the dress-up trunk and emerged with—what else—cheering outfits. ...They jolted into the bedroom, where I was folding laundry, wanting to show me their outfits and their cheers.

“And mom, you know, cheering teaches us to spell,” Samira pointed out.

“That makes it good! We can spell Philadelphia—no f’s.”

I was not in a sporting mood. I launched into a mom version of the History Channel, telling them that cheerleading reminded me of times when girls weren’t allowed to play organized sports, when we couldn’t be at the center of attention except as smiling beauties.

My daughter and her friend are both daughters of feminist moms, and both daughters of writers. They’re used to their mothers passing down mysterious, impassioned fragments about the once-upon-a-time tormented life of girls—and then telling them why they can’t do really fun stuff, like cheerlead, or hang out at the mall (not a real possibility for them at six and seven, but something they learned from Polly Pockets). ... I imagine they’re used to hearing these strange ramblings from us every so often. Which isn’t to say they can make sense of it....

After the essays were in, Andi asked me to comment on it, for the blog tour. This, I remember, is what I typed out to her:

The funny thing is this: almost as soon as I wrote that piece, Samira changed. All of a sudden, blue became her favorite color, and then of course, orange, the color featured in all the kid stores this spring, and orange paired with blue denim, well that's the T. Samira had been taking swim lessons for several years, and this winter, joined the swim team at our local Y. She loves being on a sports team, and is developing an identity as an athlete: she swims, she plays soccer in the fall, and each spring joins up with Wild Things, our local girls softball extravaganza. When "Cheerleader" came out we read it together, at least the first few pages, after which Samira looked at me and said, "I liked cheerleading? How revolting."
After writing that piece I realized that of course I don't trust the gender values of the culture she's growing up in. How can I? How can anyone? I have decided to trust her, to trust the parenting that her dad and I do, and to trust that she's growing up surrounded by good adults. She's 7 1/2 now, and sometimes will surprise me by her criticisms of the images she sees around her. I've decided to step back, to model rather than critique, at least for the time being. She'll see billboard images of girls and women that make her feel uncomfortable, usually images that are too sexy for her seven year old soul, and say, "Mom, that's gross. Why do they put that there?"

My friend Dana notes constantly, and critically, that parenting turns people into gender essentialists, more convinced than ever that boys are boys and girls are girls, by nature, and with fairly rigid definitions. I strongly agree with her, and disagree with our tendencies to go easy, to pretend it's all okay and that gender roles, well heck, it's nature so there's nothing we can do about it. The gender-is-nature line gives up, and it absolves us from having to think about the results. It's all harmless we think. It absolves us from having to rebel, and one day, we'll regret that deeply, on our own accounts, and when we realize the limitations our kids, girls and boys both, will face. I think we can't discount the huge impact of the images they are confronted with, from day one; the messages we give them (how come I constantly here people call their boys "little man" and I've never ever ever heard a parent call their daughter "little woman"), whether these messages are more or less conscious. Untill we're really committed to looking at how we pull our gender system along, how we reinforce it with the smallest acts, then we're not ready to declare, with no scientific backing at all, that girls and girly and boys are boyish. We're turning back so much of the little progress we've made, and we're doing it as the generation who was raised to be different, raised to create a bit more space in the world to just be.

So that's my once-a-trained-feminist-theorist-always-a-trained-feminist-theoriest view of things. For a batch of beautifully written, and I can attest, well edited, personal essays (I loved Catherine Newman's on her daughter's chubbiness and her own, and Ann Douglas' on her daughter's eating disorder), take a look at Andi's book. Available from bookstores and the usual places online.