Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Silent Yell

It's not the yell that is silent, but the silence around yelling that I'm thinking about today. Last night I heard Devra Renner speak. She's the author of "Mommy Guilt" (one of the co-authors, actually, of this mom group effort). Guilt, Devra said, is like the vinaigrette that pulls together all the specific points of parenting, like breastfeeding, or how we get our kids to sleep. I'll add, and she'd probably agree, that guilt keeps us preoccupied and focused on small details, and makes it harder for us to feel empowered and confident and ready to ask for real social change to make our lives easier. I've blogged about it at the other blog. But here at Playground Revolution I want to raise a different question.

What intrigued me about Devra's presentation is that apparently, yelling is the number one thing we worry about, we feel guilty about as parents. No one wants to talk about it. When she asked our group what guilted us out, we answered with topics like breastfeeding, daycare, working outside the home, and things like that. We gave her the hot button issues.

These are all public issues. They resonate. We're used to talking about them. If we're on the right side or the wrong side we can feel self-righteous, and like we're holding up the world with our correct practices. Breast, bottle, home, paid work: each of these things have pros and cons, they're all more complex. And they are public. Yelling, on the other hand, is intensely private. Few people ever hear us raise our voices at our kids. It happens at home, or in the car. And it's hard to talk about, since aside from an extreme case, like yelling to get your kids out of the path of an oncoming car, there's no real reason for it.

I was touched by her comments. Even though I've read through her book, it didn't quite hit me that it was about yelling. I'm interested in what we're doing that keeps us focused on small detail when we need to see the big picture. In my family, I want to stop yelling, even if it's the smallest part of what I do. (Perhaps we should make up no-yelling charts to hang on the refrigerator, similar to the potty charts and clean-up charts we make for the kids?) It seems to me that the stress of being with our kids, the stress of responsibility, of all our different desires for them, and for us, adds up. I want to get that stress where it belongs.

What if everytime I felt like yelling at a child, I instead picked up the phone and called Rick Santorum's office, and Arlen Specter's too. These are the men who represent me in the US Congress. Redirect that anger where it belongs. Think about what would happen then? It'd be a start at incorporating an every day political practice into my life. And just think: I'd be happier, my children would be happier, and Rick's office would be annoyed and have to hear from me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Now I Remember

Life with a newborn/infant: I'd forgotten how tiring it is, how exhausted one gets, how much ongoing attention little ones need. All this time I've been racking my brain trying to figure out why we moms and parents can't get much change accomplished. As the mom of (formerly), just one child, and a school-age child at that, I'd forgotten. We're just too damn busy with the day-to-day. What will we do about this?

I'm about to do an online chat for mothering magazine:, if anyone makes it there.

And send advice for helping my five week old sleep through the night...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The New Year

Happy New Year to all. It's hard to believe that I enter this year with a newborn at my side. This little girl's a dream, I must say, and cooperative. She's resting next to me as I type, quite amenably, and I appreciate her willingness, since at 2 1/2 weeks she's a bit young for a babysitter, and I, her mom, don't feel like taking the same kind of career interruption I experience seven years back after her sister was born.

We parents face terrible choices. It's the obvious thing to say, but it strikes me all the more. It's not just moms. My husband took off the first two weeks after Amelia Jane was born. He held her, cuddled her, stared long and meaningfully at her. Then, January 3d it was back to work. He gets our eldest off to school, drives to work, returns home at 5.30, helps get dinner on the table, then helps our eldest get herself bathed and brushed, and listens as she reads before bed until they both fall asleep. It's 8.30 before he gets to cuddle with the squidget, as we call her. We can tinker with this formula. I can make dinner while he gets the baby, but you get the idea. There's not a whole lot of time left. And his schedule is rather flexible, as such.

It's the issues we all know, ad nauseum. It's just tough to be starting anew, and to see how nothing changes. We can be more creative with our time, and we will. We can learn to manage our time as best as possible. I can take digital photos and email them over at lunchtime. I can contort my body into all sorts of positions so I can care for the baby and type at the same time. I can face some of my assumptions about how early is too early to hire a babysitter (2 1/2 weeks still seems too early, even if I am ready to return to writing). But this is all in the realm of the private. If the upside of my free-lance life is flexibility, the downside's that there's no security, no paid time off for family leave. I taught a two-hour seminar on Tuesday; the baby was in a chest carrier, though I was offered the chance to hire a substitute, I decided to go in myself, as it was the last day of class and I wanted to be the one to tie all the pieces together. My husband works at a small firm without a family leave policy, and one that let's him be flexible about his time as long as he gets his work done. Still, there's a ton of work to get done, and it needs by and large to be done at the office. I know I'm not supposed to think about dads in Norway, dads in Denmark, dads in Iceland at this moment, dads who might get months off, with salary replacement, if they wish, dads who get family leave in a big way. I'm not supposed to dwell on the pain of living in a society that sends its fathers back to work so quickly. is it totally utopian for us to be thinking about a changed world that really supports us as we start our families and care for our kids? From where I sit right now, a newborn at my side, it seems farther away than ever.

When I realized last spring I was pregnant, one of the horrible thoughts I had was that I knew ahead of time the work-and-family struggles we would face. I could quote to myself the statistics on the income and status that mothers lose when they increase their family's size. What an odd position to be in. I've researched so many of the statistics about family life, about desires, about how so many of us want more hands on lives as parents than seem possible, given the work we do. It's hard, I must say, to see once again what it all looks like in our family life.