Monday, May 29, 2006

Book Review: The Myth of You and Me

I am still at the point in my life where it is a real luxury to sit down and read a novel for pleasure, so when I find a great book I want to share it with my blog readers. I want to recommend The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart, a captivating, kaleidoscopic view of truth and love that will be sure to provoke an interesting discussion among any group of women.

I am the type of person who doesn't always get around to finishing the assigned book club selection. I picked up The Myth of You and Me on my own and read it in one sitting. Other recently-hailed novels have failed to draw me in, but Leah Stewart's story presented an emotionally true to life tale, wrapped in the structure of an unfolding mystery, that kept me reading to find out what had happened. The story revolves around two best friends who were inseparable in high school and college. After college, something happened that caused them to break off their relationship. Eight years later, events are set in motion that cause Cameron and Sonia to seek each other out again.

The characters in The Myth of Your and Me are not always honest with themselves or others, but that is part of what makes the story true to life. Characters are kept apart by the unresolved gap between perception and reality. I think that each of us has a fear that it people really knew us, they wouldn't like us, and that current is present throughout the novel. Each of us has a guilty memory of a friendship lost due to mutual fault and failure to forgive. As Cameron and Sonia's friendship is revealed in facets, turned around as though viewed through a kaleidoscope, the story will provoke readers to re-examine their own personal events from a more objective viewpoint. Both characters are at fault for the end of their frienship, but perception of who has committed the greater wrong, at what price, shift as the full story is revealed.

It's refreshing to see a novel where truly shocking behavior doesn't involve overt violence, but consists of actions born of thoughtlessness and cruelty in a moment of anger, without thought for the consequences. How much do we want to punish the ones that we love? What is the cost to ourselves? Stewart provokes tantalizing ambivalence by challenging us to forgive her characters once we really know them. Can these characters forgive one another? Can we forgive ourselves?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Locke and Eko: The ultimate Stay-At-Home Dads?

It's been TV finale week, and I'm finding that I can relate just about everything in some way to Mojo Mom. I consider this one of my strengths, to "use everything" in my work. Some of the ideas I get are more flights of fancy than revelation, but hey, you gotta keep the wheels turning.

So I woke up this morning thinking about the Lost finale and realized that button-pushing characters Locke and Eko may have been the ultimate stay-at-home Dads. On the show, the two men spent weeks entering the code numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 into a computer every 108 minutes, then pushing the enter key to reset the 108 minute counter. Locke and Eko were button-pushing true believers, thinking their work was incredibly important, until Locke lost faith that the relentless task of minding the button was having any real effect. It was a crazy-making job for one person to handle, as you coudn't leave the hatch unattended for more than an hour and 48 minutes at a time, day and night. The previous hatch-minder Desmond, after living in isolation for 3 years, was about to kill himself when he heard Locke banging on the outside, giving Desmond hope that relief was on the way.

This week we found out what happened when the button doesn't get pushed: alarms sounded, hell broke loose, and the whole hatch was destroyed when electromagnetic forces were unleashed. Desmond managed to activate a fail-safe mechanism that released the energy through some kind of exposion, possibly saving the world, if not the hatch inhabitants.

I had to laugh when I thought about how much this was actually like being the parent of a new baby. You have to tend to the baby day and night. If you are lucky, she will sleep for 108 minutes at a time. Her wail alarm goes off until you "push the button" through feeding, cuddling, or changing diapers. Parents can feel extremely isolated, especially new parents who are home alone, and it's easy to wonder on a day to day basis whether what we are doing is really important, but in the long run, yes, raising happy, healthy children is a gift to the world. We rarely think of it in these terms, but the world would literally be devoid of human life within a century if we didn't do this work.

And if the Lost castaways had shared the faith that this work was important, and all contributed effort to keep the button-pushing station occupied, no one would have had to go crazy to get this relatively simple, vital task done.

What Dr. Ferber Said....

There's major coverage this week of the revised version of Dr. Richard Ferber's canonical text, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. To the doctor's credit, he was willing to revisit his stance that orignally opposed co-sleeping, saying that he was surprised that parents followed him so dogmatically. Ferber omitted the sentence: "Sleeping alone is an important part of [your child's] learning to be able to separate from you without anxiety and to see himself as an independent individual," and now says "What ever you want to do, whatever you feel comfortable doing, is the right thing to do, as long as it works." This provides all of us a good lesson that you should not let any one parenting text have too much weight on its own, and never let it over-ride your common sense and judgment.

I also want to point out that emphasis on "as long as it works" is crucial. Ferber's switch to a more accepting attitude toward co-sleeping is such news in itself that I am worried that parents will overlook the fact that the true test of any sleep approach is how well the whole family is sleeping, Mom and Dad as well as the baby.

My own mistakes can serve as an example of how things can get off-track. My husband and I co-slept with our daughter for 9 months, then transitioned her to a crib. But I continued to get up and nurse her every time a heard a peep in the middle of the night. During the day, I was exhausted from the chronic sleep interruptions. Our daughter was still waking up several times a night when she was a year and a half old. Finally, we moved to a new house, and the first night my daughter slept in her own room, with the door closed, I slept uninterrupted and woke up feeling surprised and refreshed. I said to my husband, "She slept though the night!" and he said, "No, Amy, you slept through the night," because I hadn't heard her in her new room. And guess what, she was fine!

By jumping up every time I heard a peep, even into her toddler year, I was literally training her to expect me to come comfort-nurse her and reinforcing the cycle. I hadn't had the heart to "Ferberize" her early on, or try any of the sleep training strategies I had been recommended. I was almost defiantly proud that I was rushing to her side at every opportunity. But the costs were high: I was a sleep-deprived zombie, and my daugter wasn't learning to self-soothe. Wherever your children sleep, there are ways to ensure that everyone gets a good night's sleep after the newborn era has passed. As the parents, it's our responsibility to make sure this happens.

My own parent trainer, Donna Erickson, always said, "What's familiar is preferred," and to this day I think that's some of the wisest parenting advice I've received. I wish I'd taken more of her sleep advice to heart at the time, but it took a lot of my own experience to figure it all out! There are many sleep resources to consult for specific advice. My favorite reference is The Sleep Book for Tired Parents by Becky Huntley because she presents several philosophies in a balanced way, and helps you choose which one would work best for your family.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why is Mojo Mom Writing about American Idol?

I'll be the first to admit that I've been watching American Idol for some mindless fun, not expecting to find any social significance, but now that the finals are down to Taylor Hicks and Katherine McPhee, I've found an unexpected link to my work with girls and women. All along I've wanted to like Katherine, but there's been something missing. She looks and sounds like she has the perfect package as a performer. Meanwhile, there's Taylor, looking kind of funny (a gray-haired pop idol? who knew?), dancing his goofy dances, singing his heart out and winning fans across the country.

While Katherine is undoubtedly talented, the 21-year old seems to be acting out what most young women do: how to be what everyone expects her to be. Gorgeous in a conventional way. Singing like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. Rarely did I feel that we were seeing a genuine Katherine performance. Maybe she doesn't even know what that would sound like yet.

As girls we are pushed to live up to a very narrow ideal: pretty, thin, sweet/sexy, a high achiever. Katherine has attainted that ideal, and guess what?--it's more than a little boring. Young women are faced with a no-win situation. 99% of us beat ourselves up for falling short of this standard of perfection, and the 1% who meet it are faced with hostility and jealousy from other women (remember "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful"?) and the hollow victory of living out the life that someone else has prescribed.

At age 21 I was in just about the same place as Katherine (minus the gorgeousness, voice, and national TV show, of course). I measured my value based on my college grades and my boyfriend's approval. Even when I did something creative such as write skits and appear on our campus TV station's comedy show, it was in a supporting role of the quintessential "girl." My boyfriend was even the show's host and I doubt I would have been there without him.

I moved on, broke up with my college boyfriend, and spent my 20's trying to figure it all out. At times life felt like a tangle of confusion, but I finally found my own identity, my passions and causes, and my sense of voice. My 30's have been a decade of blessing and growth. I used to think I was getting more mature because I had forgiven myself for the perceived mistakes I'd made when I was younger. Now I can look at those experiences (like not marrying the first person I thought I would marry) as necessary lessons, because as painful as they felt at the time, they taught me things that I am very glad to know now.

Growing older is definitely underrrated in our youth-obsessed culture. Passing the midpoint of my 30's, I finally feel like I've accumulated enough wisdom and experience to have something important to say. Rather than trying to pad my resume to fill one page, I have to decide what to leave out to pare it down. I've worked hard to succeed without the support of a major publisher, and I can look at Mojo Mom as a project that is truly my own creation. I may no longer play the ingenue role, but the blessing is that people are now more interested in my opinions than in my cuteness.

So for Katherine, I wish for her that she does not win the American Idol title, not because she is not talented, but because she would be too good at following direction to become a pre-packaged pop star. The world does not need any more Mariah-wannabees. Spending time struggling to create her own true Katherine McPhee would be much more interesting, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 Caitlin Flanagan, The Happy Hypocrite

I hesitate to give Caitlin Flanagan any more publicity than she already has, but editor-in-chief Joan Walsh has written an amazing critique of Flanagan and her contradictions. Her four-page essay The Happy Hypocrite is definitely worth reading in full. In fact it's finally gotten me motivated to subscribe to premium. Here's where Walsh is coming from:

"As the book's publicity machine gathered steam, it suddenly mattered very much to me what's true about Caitlin Flanagan, and what isn't true. Flanagan has come to feel like another publishing-industry hoax, not as fake as James Frey or J.T. Leroy/Laura Albert, but in some ways worse: a hoaxer who's using a great gift from the cosmos -- recovery from breast cancer -- to rail against feminism, evangelize for traditional gender roles, and to debase women who can't or won't make the same choices she did. So maybe we do have to get to the bottom of this one. Who is Caitlin Flanagan, and why is she writing this crazy stuff?"

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mojo Mom on WUNC's The State of Things, today

I will be appearing as a guest on WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio's show The State of Things today at noon. It's a live show so I am in anticipation right now about how it will go. The show will be rebroadcast tonight at 9 pm and will also be available online, either as a podcast on iTunes, or through the WUNC web site archives. So wherever you are, you can either tune in at 91.5 FM in North Carolina or go online to listen to it on "your time" if you wish.

This is a great opportunity for me as I am a big fan of the show and WUNC, so I am very excited to broadcast from their new studio in Durham.

Friday, May 05, 2006

I'm calling it: "The Mommy Wars" are over

I've been off my blog lately due to travels and family demands, but I've finally found a moment to sit down and make this call: as a cultural phenomenon "The Mommy Wars" are over. Done. Dead. Time to move on. There are still articles popping up on this topic, but they are starting to feel tired and recycled (like this recent article from A writing professor (Orson Scott Card, for those of you keeping score at home) once told my class that you should never stay in a given writing group for more than one year, because after that you have learned all that you will ever learn from that group of critique partners. That's how I feel about the entire Mommy War concept right now. This is not to say that any work referring to this topic is now irrelevant. A lot of important resources such as The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars by Miriam Peskowitz take a thoughtful and well-researched look at the underlying social issues and policies that control our lives. And while I found Leslie Morgan Steiner's book Mommy Wars to be interesting, I was more usefully provoked by Sandra Tsing Loh's Atlantic Monthly critique of Morgan Steiner's book. (Worth buying the May issue to read it.) I resisted Tsing Loh's message vigorously at first due to her article's title: "Rhymes with Rich: The Mommy Wars, Round 8,679" but when I read the piece all the way through I had to agree with Tsing Loh's point that privileged women need to channel their raised consciousnesses into work that benefits all Moms.

On the page facing Tsing Loh's feature, there was Caitlin Flanagan smiling face in an ad for her new book To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. So what to make of Flanagan? She is certainly getting a ton of media coverage and stirring people up by lobbing grenades of controversy. She is an undeniably talented writer, but after seeing her sell herself out at the cost of all her credibility on The Colbert Report, I decided that I no longer have to take her seriously. I literally felt like The Mommy Wars jumped the shark right before my eyes on the night on April 20th when Flanagan appeared on The Colbert Report. Here is a brief excerpt, in which Stephen Colbert, in character as a right-wing pundit, was trying to see how far he could push Flanagan's defense of her neo-retro position:

SC: Those were the golden days...the time you're talking about...I could have you lobotomized [if I were your husband], just by saying you were unbalanced..

CF: Absolutely

SC: Those are the days you are talking about, when women who needed money had to depend on their husbands, because even if their relationship wasn't good, they weren't independent...

CF: Right.

SC: This is the golden age you are talking about...

CF: Yes, it's an eternal golden age.

SC: So better for you for a woman to be dependent on her husband no matter what the situation is?

CF: Well, certainly you press the point when you put it that way, but...

SC: I'm trying to press the point.

CF: ....and you'll not find any refutation from me. More or less you're on target there.

SC: Really? (incredulous pause)

CF nods.

SC: You are a perfect woman.

CF nods and smiles: I've been told that.

(The Colbert Report, 4/20/2006)

So to really declare The Mommy Wars dead, we have to answer the question, What's Next? For activists like myself who have been waiting for an action-oriented vehicle to appear, the organization we've all been waiting for has finally arrived on the scene, just in time to capture the awareness that the media has created about motherhood and transform it into real social change. Run, don't walk to, created by Joan Blades, the co-founder of, and feminist writer Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner. Their new book The Motherhood Manifesto has jumped to #3 on and I say more power to them. I'd emailed them a few weeks ago to invite them to be guests on The Mojo Mom Podcast, and Kristen said they'd come on, but now I have a feeling that I'll need to get in line behind all the major media outlets. That's fine with me--I'll still be here to cover this story!

You can read my complete review of The Motherhood Manifesto on the book's page on This Mothers' Day, you owe it to all Moms to read it for yourself! And if you are wondering where to get all the energy and inspiration you'll need to propel you into action, I'll remind you that that's what Mojo Mom is all about.