Monday, July 31, 2006

Controversy over "My children bore me to death"

Last week's piece by Helen Kirwan-Taylor, "Sorry, but my children bore me to death!" is creating waves, but to be honest, I haven't heard anything here that I haven't heard before. Yes, raising children involves a lot of boring work. It can be back-breaking and mind-numbing all in one day. And yes, it's taboo to say so. I spoke about this in Mojo Mom, but the groundwork was laid well before that. Anyone who has read Susan Maushart's book The Mask of Motherhood will recognize this as well-worn territory.

Kirwan-Taylor is more blunt than ususal, sort of a Linda-Hirshman-of-mommy-confessionals I guess. There are days I've felt the alientation she describes, but I believe it's possible to enjoy many activities because they are important to our kids, even if they aren't our first choice. And yes, there is a fine line between child-friendly and overly child-centered. Mojo Mom is all about striking that balance.

I'd love to interview Susan Maushart for The Mojo Mom Podcast. I'll start reaching out to her when I get home from vacation. She's a terrific writer who is based in Australia, and I wish we heard from her more here in the US.

In the meantime, I can recommend The Price of Privilege to any Mom who is honsest enough to identify with some of what Helen Kirwan-Taylor has to say. It's a terrific new book for all of us, actually, and you read my detailed review on I hope to have the author Dr. Madeline Levine on my podcast as well this fall. I'm getting ready to gear up for the new season!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Mojo Mom Podcast with Ann Douglas

Just a quick note to let you know that we have a new episode of The Mojo Mom Podcast posted to and iTunes. My co-host Sheryl Grant and I take a break from our break to bring you a show about parenting survival skills for summer. The kids are out of school, routine schedules are trashed, everyone's staying up late--it's often up to Moms to provide a stable anchor during this hectic time. Sheryl and I share our woes and successes in keeping it all together during these dog days. Then, I talk with my friend Aparna, an expectant first-time Mom. We get Aparna's pre-natal perspective on motherhood, and we'll check in with her again in a few months to see how she's doing. Finally, I bring a seasoned parenting expert on board. Prolific author Ann Douglas joins us to share her wisdom about surviving and thriving throughout all stages of motherhood.

It's a show so big, it took us half the summer to pull it together! Listen in, and then join us again after Labor Day for the new fall season of The Mojo Mom Podcast.

Monday, July 24, 2006


PunditMom has an interesting post on Katie Couric's decision not to go to the Middle East to cover the violence there. As a single mother of two, it's a risk she's not willing to take. I echo PunditMom's support for Couric's decision. I'll be interested to watch Couric on CBS to see how the coverage develops and evolves.

I'm a NPR news junkie myself, for the most in-depth coverage of just about any story.


I woke up this morning after the weirdest dream ever (I'll spare you the details), and in my waking haze I thought about all the blog ideas I've had over the past few days that I haven't had a chance to write about yet. My computer desktop is covered with a dozen overlapping windows. I'm trying to find the opportunity to tend to my ideas, hoping that they are "evergreen" and will be relevant later in the week. I thought I'd coined a new word in my waking moments: Blogjam, the condition of being backed up with too many ideas to comment on and not enough time to write to one's blog.

Ironically, I think I got the image of a "logjam" from the insulting, guilt-women-into breastfeeding ads featuring the pregnant women competing in a log-rolling contest. That still stands out as one of the strangest choices to use as an illustration of risky behavior. It is a memorable if random and highly annoying image.

But back to "blogjam." I googled the term and it came up with a few entries, but to me it looks like the definition is still up for grabs in the larger culture. On, a slang dictionary with user-generated definitions, in 2005 Jody Reale proposed the definition: blogjam, an obstacle that impedes writing blog entries; writer's block applying specifically to bloggers.

So there are two proposed definitions on the table. They both relate to not getting the blog written, but for opposiste reasons. We'll see if the term gets any traction in either direction. I personally feel that my definition not only relates much more closely to a literal logjam, it is superior because we need a new word for the condition of having too much info to assimilate into one's blog, while writer's block applying to blogs is still....just writer's block.

I also have to link to one other reference, a highly amusing illustrated blog entry about the author's experiment making Peptol-Bismol Flavored Ice Cream in search of a tasty hangover cure. Who says there's no originality left in the world?


Motherhood breaks your heart, even when all is well

One of the best conversations I've ever had with a friend was the car trip to Pinehurst last March with my friend and podcast co-host Sheryl Grant. Our weekend spa retreat was a gabfest of the highest order, and I am really sorry our car trip coversation was lost to the ages. Too bad we didn't do a podcast from the road--it would have required a lot of editing, but some truly illuminating nuggets of wisdom came out of our discussions.

I am telling you about this four months later because this week I came across two things that brought back that conversation. The idea that was really crystallized on that trip was that motherhood is a spiritual journey because it creates a tender spot, a chink in our armor. Motherhood makes us vulnerable, and breaks our hearts, so that the pain of the world can reach us, as well as the tremendous love flowing to and from our children. I loved my husband a great deal before we had a child, and I loved my parent, family, and friends, but I never felt that incredible vulnerability and I never really understood unconditional love until I had a child. Motherhood continues to change the way I look at the world. That's why I want more mothers/parents/primary caregivers representing us as leaders. I want leaders that have soft spots, not just armor and masks.

This weekend I visited Pinehurst again with my husband to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We had a great time, and yes, we talked, but nothing like the verbal exchange that goes on between to female friends on a weekend away. (Digression--my husband's co-worker asked what you do at a spa retreat and the complete conversation went like this: David: So what do you do there? Michael: Chill. David: Chill? Michael: Chill.) Reveling in a few hours of free time, I picked up Anne Lamott's book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith and she had the greatest quote about being open and vulnerable to love and wisdom:

"There's a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, 'Why on our hearts, not in them?' The rabbi answered, 'Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.'"

I loved that. I've felt vulnerable but guarded lately, waiting for the latest set of cracks to burst open. My daughter and I finished reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo last night, and the floodgates opened. The book is a rather strange story about an arrogant china rabbit who is being owned and loved by a series of people. The story succeeds despite seeming to break many of the basic rules of fiction. The main character can't act, he can only be acted upon, though he does change the way he feels inside. The story evokes The Velveteen Rabbit's journey to become "real," though I haven't read that story in about 30 years so I can't compare them side-by-side. Edward Tulane learns to be vulnerable, learns to love, and yes, breaks and learns to love again. Throughout the story he loves looking at the stars. At the beginning he can just see them throught he cracks in the curtains if he is facing the right way. That image made me think again of the broken heart--the cracks let the starlight, grace, love, and healing in as well as pain.

So on a day when I saw Tiger Woods, one of our generation's greatest sports figures, break down in tears for his lost father after winning the British Open, at the end of the evening I was crying like a baby, choking out the last pages of Edward Tulane to my daughter, who patiently said "It's okay to cry, Mom," and brought me tissues to dab the streams rolling down my cheeks.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Urban Baby feature--Mothers Anonymous

Thanks to Broadsheet for the heads-up about the New York Magazine feature about the website Urban Baby.

I haven't had time yet to process and write the huge blog posting that is rumbling around in my brain, so I'll just post the links and let you read for yourself. The Urban Baby article is disturbing, but Emily Nussbaum's writing is amazing. Don't let the freakish photo-illustratons put you off. I encourage you to read the entire piece.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Egg-cellent advertising that's not all it's cracked up to be....

I was trying to gather the energy to blog today when I found a few things that came together in perfect synergy. I love it when that happens.

My friend Perri Kersh, a professional organizer also known as Neat Freak, is trying an experiment of buying only essential items for six months. I know there's a recent book by a woman who did this for a year, but Perri is trying it as a mother of two young kids. We all know how hard that is! She just started on July 13 and has a new blog, Enough is Enough where you can follow her experiences.

In Mojo Mom I wrote about how insane our mental environments have become, as we are bombarded with advertisements on a near-constant basis. I noticed a new one recently--now that North Carolina has a lottery, there are are new shiny, glitzy ads in the supermarket and other places. I swear I saw one on a stoplight pole (this is probably wrong in detail--I will try to find out where the ad really is that gave me this impression). More unavoidable mental garbage to process.

The process I call reclaiming your mind space is a challenge to mindfully consume stimuli in your environment, filtering out the noise whenever possible and letting in what is important or enjoyable. We have choices when it comes to broadcast media, but what are our rights to an advertising-free existence outside the media? A new frontier is about to be breached--one you've probably never thought of. The CBS television network is taking advantage of new laser technology to print advertising slogans on eggs. Yes, dear consumer, you'll be soon learning that their shows are "Funny Side Up." "Leave the Yolks to Us," they say. The image is indelible and can't be removed without breaking the egg, unlike, say, a sticker on a banana or a label on clothing. The New York Times reports that the company who developed the egg printing technology, EggFusion, sees the advantages of egg advertising this way--Consumers look at a single egg shells at least a few times: when they open a carton in the store to see if any eggs are cracked, if they transfer them from the carton to the refrigerator, and when they crack them open.

What's next, an animated image of Wilford Brimley appearing in the steam rising from my bowl of Quaker Oats, trying to sell me diabetes testing supplies?

I wish CBS would leave my breakfast alone. Dare I predict a backlash that will lead to articles headlined "Network has egg on its face?"

Sunday, July 16, 2006

20/20: What's New with the breastfeeding ad story?

Friday night's 20/20 segment on the breastfeeding ads was competently done, but I have to ask what was new in their coverage. I didn't hear anything I hadn't read in muliple online commentaries, including my own. In fact, what really struck me is something that Elizabeth Vargus didn't point out. When they showed the "pregnant women in the logrolling contest" clip, that the date on the ad was 4/14/04. These ads are over 2 years old. Where and when have they been airing? I had never seen the ads at all until "The Today Show" had their segment back in June. There is no doubt in my mind that the ads are taking the wrong approach. There's no excuse for using guilt or fear to get women to breastfeed, even if such an approach gets people's attention. But now that we've learned that the government has spent $2 million to create these ads, I am wondering how useful the continued media coverage is if there isn't any additional new information. At this point, aren't the networks just giving these ridiculous ads more exposure than they would have had otherwise?

Friday, July 14, 2006

TiVo Alert: Breastfeeding story on 20/20 tonight

Thanks to MomSquawk for alerting me to tonight's feature story about breastfeeding on ABC's 20/20 tonight. Elizabeth Vargus will look at the government-sponsored ads comparing formula feeding to the risks of riding a mechanical bull while pregnant.

The ads were over the top and offensive, as I wrote about last month in my posting Now they're beating us over the heads with our own breasts!

I can't wait to see what 20/20 has to say. Will it advance the discussion or just be the next round in the Mommy Wars?

I am always up for a good TiVo alert so feel free to send me a heads-up at and I'll post it to my blog if there is a must-see Mom story coming up.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

My new addiction is my old addiction. It's my favorite research tool and I don't know how I would have written Mojo Mom without it. I love independent book stores, but to write a non-fiction book, there is nothing like Amazon's selection and web of connected recommendations. And as the author of a book selling on Amazon, there is a powerful motivation to click on my book and see how your ranking changes day by day. (Katha Pollitt just wrote about her manipulation of her Amazon rankings in The New York Times, and sure enough, her book went up to #462 yesterday.) Checking your own ranking is the ultimate variable reinforcement. The sorrows of dips into obscurity and joys of waves of new interest combine to pay off like a slot machine jackpot when you turn around a downward drift, or reach a new high-water mark.

But my new addiction is a feature I've just added to my blog, the ClustrMap at the bottom of the right-hand navigation column. I am no webmaster, but I finally figured out how to modify my blog's template to add a Technoriati search box and a Blogroll. Last night while reading someone else's blog I came across a new feature I had never seen before, a world map that adds a dot for every visitor's location. I love that. I had created a similar map in real life to track my book sales--an actual map with pins that I keep in my office. That was a lot of fun, and I am instantly addicted to this new blog feature. Rather than just reviewing an aggregated report of the number of my site's visitors, the ClustrMap transforms each blog reader into more of a real person with an actual location. Just knowing that I've reached people on both coasts since the map starting counting has already made me want to write more. As a writer, I have plenty of ideas but sometimes I feel like I need to trick myself into putting in the time to write. I think every writer has days when we wonder if there is really anyone on the other end reading what we have to say!

Reader by reader, book by book, each one means a lot to me. Thanks for being there.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Backlash Journalism at its finest...I mean worst

Today was one of those days where I felt like I needed a book of inspirational quotes just to get up off the couch, but I've finally gathered enough steam to write in repsone to John Tierney's New York Times column, "Let the Guys Win One." [TimesSelect subscription required] His opinion piece speaking out against "the myth of" Title IX is a textbook example of specious logic used to promote backlash journalism. His oversimplified, sexist analysis is not only insulting to men and dismissive of women; Tierney also ignores the big picture of all that Title IX has accomplished.

Yes, I think it's time to revive the Backlash argument, that American women are still getting picked on by the media, 15 years after Susan Faludi's famous book. As I blogged about last month, I recently started rereading Faludi's work when Newsweek revisited and recanted its own so-called "Marriage Crunch" trend of 1986.

John Tierney's column was based on the premise that women are now doing better in college than men, so women don't need the incentive, coaching and involvement of team sports as much as men do. From that flawed premise, Tierney concludes that the effects of Title IX that limit the expansion of men's programs out of proportion of women's programs are unfair. He claims that he is not suggesting that sports are a panacea for male education problems, even though the rest of the column does just that. (Strangely though, he doesn't spell out exactly what he hopes will become of Title IX itself--modification? Eradication? It's unclear to me.)

Mr. Tierney seems to have an awfully poor memory for a columnist with such an esteemed position. His bio says he was born in 1953 and graduated from Yale. So he probably entered Yale around 1971, two years after Yale became coeducational (268 years into its 305 year history), and right before Title IX was enacted in 1972. Title IX is usually associated with women's athletics in college, but it's worth remembering that the act's overarching effect was as a civil rights law that prohibited sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.

It is difficult for today's college students to imagine a time when married women were denied college admission; most medical and law schools limited the number of women admitted to 15 or fewer per school; women living on campus were not allowed to stay out past midnight; college athletic scholarships for women were rare to nonexistent; and women faculty members were excluded from faculty clubs and encourage to join faculty wives' clubs instead. (See the Women's Equity Resource Center and "Title IX: 25 Years of Progress" by the US Department of Education.)

And back to sports participation--today we take it for granted that girls can play too. In 1971, before Title IX, fewer than 300,000 high school girls played interscholastic sports. Today that number is 2.4 million. (Title IX: 25 Years of Progress) These programs feed not only into college athletics, but Olympic programs and the rise in women's professional sports.

To get a more personal perspecitve on this, I talked to my own Mom, Ann Bohner, about this issue. She was fortunate to have the opportunity to play many sports in high school, but there were no intercollegiate women's teams offered at Grinnell College in those pre-Title IX days. She would have been interested in joining several teams, field hockey, swimming, track and tennis, if they had been offered to her. She may have even been talented enough to win an athletic scholarship. We'll never know. I can report that at age 64 she still plays a solid, competitive game of tennis. Here's her perspective:

"When I attended college in the early 1960s, there were no organized sports for women at my college and I was not aware of any programs in any college anywhere. It was generally believed that women weren't interested in participating in sports, that women were too 'fragile,' and sports were 'unfeminine.' Thank goodness these myths have been exploded and Title Nine forced colleges to come to grips with their unfair treatment of women. Since Title IX was passed, women have been enjoying the many benefits of organized sports in college - including increased strength and endurance, the satisfaction of acquiring a new skill, learning the importance of teamwork, and earning sports scholarships which had previously gone only to men. Let's keep up these opportunities for our young women and not go back to the 1960s with its rampant discrimination."

I can't predict which elements of Title IX's protection would erode if the statute was weakened now, and I hope we never do that dangerous experiement. Just because a law has worked doesn't mean we no longer need it. What John Tierney calls "special federal protection" I call "equal protection." While the law's precise implementation may need tweaking in ways I am not prepared to analyze, let's not forget the important strides women have made in a single generation under Title IX's civil rights protection. Thanks to Title IX, women of my generation have the luxury of assuming our place on the field, our opportunity to compete for athletic scholarships, the experience of team-building, and the accolades of success.

We are fools if we think that the potential for gender discrimination has magically evaporated. In this day and age I believe that each of us needs all the civil rights protections we can get. We forget the lessons of the pre-Title IX days at our own peril.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Flawed Philosophy of Linda Hirshman

Linda Hirshman set of a firestorm with her article Homeward Bound last winter, and now she's followed it up with a compact new book, Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World. I have written a feature article in response to the book, which is making the rounds for publication. (It's hard to know how best to get a piece out these days--I'd love to just post it on my blog but I am willing to wait a bit for a chance to publish before a wider readership. In the meantime, the waiting feels maddeningly inefficient!) But here on the blog I want tell you about a wonderfully revelant tidbit I came across in psychologist Daniel Gilbert's book Stumbling On Happiness.

Hirshman's thesis is that educated women are wasting their time spending years at home taking care of their children. She generally makes her case in such an irritating way that is hard to agree even with the few good points she makes. She frames her argument with the laser-sharp focus of a lawyer arguing a case before a jury in a sequestered courtroom, far from the real world. In this refined environment she defines success and a meaningful life and is therefore able to say that a stay-at-home Mom's life doesn't measure up. Hirshman, who has been a lawyer and philosphy professor, brings in Socratic and Platonic ideals to describe a good life that sounds a lot like being a lawyer and philosopher (how convenient):

"A good life, they concluded, would therefore include exercising the capacities that are uniquely human and enable people to live in groups. Those would be politics and philosophy, and enlightened people would display courage, piety, generosity, and prudence....By any measure, a life of housework and child care does not meet these standards for a good human life." (Get to Work pp. 32-33)

Who is she to make that conclusion about my life? Being a mother has taught me courage, piety, generosity and prudence. I believe one of Hirshman's prime flaws is a failure of imagination. Becoming a stay-at-home Mom was not a one-way street, and while motherhood has permanently altered my life's trajectory, it has not turned me into a brain-dead, uninvolved zombie. Neither are any of the other mothers I know. (Hirshman's descriptions of stay-at-home Moms who claim to enjoy their lives are particularly patronizing. When she speaks of deluded-by-happiness "homebodies, like the merry maid in the treetops with NPR on her iPod and a letter to her congressman in her overalls..." she could be describing me to a T.)

But don't just take my word for it when I say that Hirshman's lens is too narrow. I'd really like to refute Hirshman with this piece of Greek philosophy as quoted from Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness:

"You might be tempted to conclude that the word happiness does not indicate a good feeling but rather that it indicates a very special good feeling that can only be produced by a very special means--for example, by living one's life in a proper, moral, meaningful, deep, rich, Socratic, and non-piglike way. Now that would be the kind of feeling that one wouldn't be ashamed to strive for. In fact, the Greeks had a word for this kind of happiness--eudaimonia--which translates literally as 'good spirit' but which probably means something more like 'human flourishing' or 'life well lived.' For Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, and even Epicurious...the only thing that could induce that kind of happiness was the virtuous performance of one's duties, with the precise meaning of virtuous left for each philosopher to work out for himself. The ancient Athenian legislator Solon suggested that one could not say a person was happy until the person's life had ended because happiness is the result of living up to one's potential--and how can we make such a judgment until we see how the whole thing turns out?" (pp. 35-36)

Now that's a a refreshing change from Hirshman's insistence on wielding her philosopher's razor to divide the world into winners and losers on her terms, and long view I can embrace. My life's story at age 37 is made up of my experiences as a scientist, teacher, mother, writer, and entrepreneur. Changing an individual poopy diaper may not have led me to enlightenment but the journey of motherhood has changed my world view, and taught me that progress up the coroporate ladder (parter track, tenure track...) isn't the only way to value achievement. I am more patient, more grounded, and more fulfilled in my career than I was before I had a child. And yes, I am intertested in democracy, feminism, and women's leadership. I found Hirshman's book to be worth reading as an intellectual exercise, an irritating whetstone used to sharpen my own vision. For that I am grateful.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Back home from Japan: Re-entry shock

We're back from Japan and I am suffering from severe re-entry shock. We returned late Sunday night, and the first two days were all about the physical misery of jet lag. Just as I was waking up, we ran into July 4, which added to the confusion by throwing a holiday in on a Tuesday.

Today I felt ready to get back to work but when it came time to start untangling the mess of items on my to-do list I felt literally paralyzed by indecision. Where to start? I ticked off a few timely items, but now the morass of household duties combined with writing chores I am still too dazed to complete is staring me in the face.

This feeling is undoubtedly magnified by the fact that in Japan, the three of us stayed in a teeny hotel room, and while we were cramped and living out of suitcases, I didn't miss my other "stuff" a bit. Having maid service and eating out were also truly luxurious. Now that we are back, my big challenge for the summer is to come to grips with all the clutter that has accumulated in our home. Not much of it is true junk, but we bring in so much information into our lives on a daily basis that keeping up with it all is like drinking from a fire hose. One of the things I love about being a writer is that I have a good reason to read tons of books. I read more books now than I did when I was in college, thanks to my favorite store and research tool, But sooner or later something has to give on the bookshelves. It's time to face up to the choices of deciding what we need to keep and organizing it in a meaningful way. It's a privileged problem to have, to say the least, I realize. Still, I hate investing so much time into just getting things back to normal, but sometimes you just have to take a time-out from moving forward and dig in to clearing your workspace. If I am lucky, some clarity or insight about what to tackle next might emerge in the process. (Even while picking up clutter I am always on the lookout for a good multitasking opportunity.)