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.