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.