Tuesday, June 26, 2007

(parent . thesis) The 4-Hour Workweek, for parents

One of my favorite things is to tell parents about non-parenting books that will be interesting or helpful to them. These crossover hits can cover any topic. For example, Made to Stick is still one of my favorite books of 2007, as it can help us all be better communicators.

Now I hope you'll surf on over to my latest posting on (parent . thesis), my new CNET parenting & technology blog, to learn how the hot new book The 4-Hour Workweek can help you create the life you've always wanted. You'll love seeing flexible work bring presented as a brilliant business tool, rather than a favor to busy Moms!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reaching youth's escape velocity

There is something transformative about a woman reaching age 36. I feel like 36 is the point at which a woman reaches the "escape velocity" to go beyond the stereotypes of youth. We are sold youth as a good thing, but the limitation of being seen as a cute ingenue who isn't taken seriously is something that I don't miss. Only in my mid-thirties have I been able to grow beyond a girlish stereotype into my own self.

Two cultural touchstones make me think about age 36 as a powerful and sometimes dangerous age. First there was the Daphne du Maurier novel and Hitchcock film adaptation Rebecca. The story's protagonist is a nameless, naive girl who is swept off her feet by a mysterious older Englishman she meets in Monte Carlo. He is drawn to her because she is a blank slate to write on, a pliant piece of clay to be molded.

Woman: Oh, I wish I were a woman of thirty-six, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls.
de Winter: (Laughs) You wouldn't be here with me if you were...please promise me never to wear black satin or pearls, or to be thirty-six years old.
Woman: Yes, Maxim.

He says this in a joking manner but we find out later that Maxim's first wife never reached 36 because he killed her.

I used to be drawn in by the romance of the "second Mrs. De Winter's" subsequent adventures, but now that I am older, I am much more interested in the mysterious Rebecca, Maxim's first wife who was magnetic, wild, manipulative and deceitful. Her spirit, her singular name, hold a spell over the household after her death. We find out that Rebecca knew she had terminal cancer and goaded Maxim into killing her in an attempt to destroy him as well. (Let's save the moral analysis of Maxim and his devoted second wife for another post.)

The second cultural milestone is the example of Princess Diana's real-life tragedy, perishing just after she reached her 36th birthday. I think many of us had the sense that the newly liberated, single Diana was about to launch into a glorious next act of her life. The portrait session by Mario Testino, five months before her death, showed a side of Diana we had never seen before. Her English rose beauty was taking on a glowing maturity. I remember thinking at the time that it would be so interesting to see how she redefined beauty as she aged. But even as she exercised her newfound independence, she put her trust in the wrong men to keep her safe and paid with her life. It's as though her story couldn't survive for long outside the bounds of the fairytale princess myth.

Diana was 7 years older than I, which might not sound like a huge gap, but when she got married, I was just about to turn 13 and it seemed like our lives could never intersect. So it is a bit surprising to realize that from here on out, I am living an age she'll never experience.

I still don't feel old but I am starting to feel emboldened. Beyond youth lies knowledge, courage, even wisdom, one hopes. I don't know too many women in their 30's or 40's who would jump at the chance to be 25 again.

Gaining courage is still a work in progress. I marvel at the ability of men to claim power and authority regardless of their actual expertise. I have had the chance to see women do an exercise where women are asked to fill in the blanks for the statement "I am an expert at... because...." and it's not easy for many of us.

Today as I write this, my confidence is really being put to the test. As I mentioned yesterday, I wrote a (parent . thesis) CNET blog posting about the possible child abuse risks associated with giving low-cost laptops to kids in the developing world. I thought I was raising an obvious, common-sense concern, but I am being lambasted by a significant percentage of commenters. The piece was picked up by Broadsheet on Salon.com and the haters came out there as well. I feel agitated, upset, and a knot is twisting in the pit of my stomach. I feel very strongly about this issue and confident in the validity of my position, but the negativity spewing out still hurts. It really sucks to think that someone would accuse me of having a fear-mongering agenda or that I was self-aggrandizing rather than bringing up a topic in a thoughtful way. But I have to get beyond that reaction to keep writing.

So now it's time to call on that internal reserve of courage. I am looking for my mojo recharge and directing all shields to full power as I summon the energy to continue following the advice of wise woman and Gray Panther founder, Maggie Kuhn: "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."

The full context of Kuhn's quote is even more challenging. I think it will take me a few more years to be ready for this kind of courage:

“Go to the people at the top—that is my advice to anyone who wants to change the system, any system. Don’t moan and groan with like-minded souls. Don’t write letters or place a few phone calls and then sit back and wait. Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind—even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.”

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Welcoming (parent. thesis), our new parenting & technology blog on CNET

As my work as Mojo Mom has continued to evolve, I have become even more interested in parenting as a joint project, in additon to the topic of motherhood on its own. I have learned a lot from my husband Michael and his approach to fathering. We'll never be the same, so it's not that we try to copy each others' styles, but we have both come to appreciate the complementary nature of our strengths.

So when the technology news website CNET.com approached me to create a new parenting and technology blog as part of their new topical CNET blog network, I jumped at the chance. I signed on and recruited Michael as a co-author. His 20 years of experience in the software industry informs his perspective. Together we'll cover both sides of the the mothering/fathering, Mars/Venus, techie/humanities points of view. I think it's great that through our work together I have become a tech news journalist and he has become a parenting writer. We received a nice shout-out on InfoWorld.com from fellow CNET blogger Matt Asay, and it was great to feel welcomed in to this community of writers.

I invited Michael to suggest a name for the blog, and he came up with (parent . thesis). This is a multilayered pun based on the LISP programming language--definitely something I never could have come up with.

On (parent . thesis) we'll cover the latest news and musings about life raising kids in today's 24-7, hyperconnected world.

Yesterday I wrote a post I am really proud of, examining the child exploitation risks inherent in the distribution of "$100 laptops" to children in the developing world. It is sad to consider that this potentially wonderful technology has a dark side, but when you give video-enabled, networked computers given to kids, especially those who live in a culture that is not even familiar with computers, it's a crucial set of issues to think through.

This aspect of safety and security has not been adequately adressed by the organizations who are already beginning to distribute the computers. It appears to me that they need to take a major step back and add a common-sense parenting perspective to their UNIX security point of view. This is an important story that now has a chance, through CNET.com, to reach an audience who would not typically read parenting blogs.

I hope you'll stop by (parent . thesis) and read what we're talking about. And I'll still be here as well, writing as Mojo Mom.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mamasource: Connecting Moms in your community

Friendships are a lifeline for all women. It can take time to develop real-world relationships, especially as a new Mom, so while we are searching for those connections, the internet has provided valuable opportunities to join virtual communities. There are so many sites to choose from that it can be overwhelming to know where to start.

I was recently introduced to Mamasource.com, a new online hub for Moms that has several distinct advantages. First, it's organized by geography so that you can connect with people in your local area, and get local recommendations for pediatricians, Moms' groups, family outings and the like.

Second, the site is ad-free (aside from member recommendations) and therefore won't clutter up your mind with dancing widgets on every corner, trying to get your attention to refinance your mortgage. This is truly a relief now that even many "highbrow" sites are using these annoying animated ads.

Finally, you can ask questions and get answers from other members. The local focus is valuable again for this feature. The main downside to this was that I saw a number of posted questions that were more suitable for a doctor or other professional's advice. Any significant advice you get online should be verified by reliable sources.

Mamasource is new and depends on users to invite friends to join in order to generate critical mass. The more women who populate this online network, the more valuable the knowledge base will be. So if you are a new Mom who wants to increase the connectivity among parents in your area, give Mamasource a whirl.

You can read what other Moms are saying about Mamasource by visiting the other stops on the MotherTalk blog tour.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Nominate your favorite cause for BlogHers Act

BlogHers Act
My friends Cooper and Emily from Been There are helping launch a new BlogHer initiative: BlogHers Act. The goal is to identify one signgle global cause that the 11,000+ bloggers in this community could impact by working on it collectively for a year. You can nominate an issue by blogging about it yourself. Just tag your post with "BlogHers Act" and they will find you. Or, if you leave a comment on this post nominating an issue or project, your idea will be counted as well. Write quickly because the deadline for suggestions is this Friday, June 15.

A second aspect of this project is to identify the top four issues that women online want the Presidential candidates to address in order to win our votes in the '08 election. This is also a very worthy goal but I am going to focus on the "making a difference on a single global cause" initative.

I am involved with a number of causes, so I had to think about what could capture the imagination and interest of the entire BlogHer community. One of my themes as Mojo Mom is to help women discover their strong and opinionated voices, and this seems like a natural fit for BlogHer.

To that end I would like to nominate Catherine Orenstein's "Op-Ed Project"as the yearlong rallying point for the BlogHer community. Catherine (aka Katie) makes a compelling case for more diversity on the op-ed page. Noting that between 65 and 75% of unsolicited op-eds come from men, Katie has created training that teaches her students exactly how to pitch and write a successful op-ed. She trains men as well as women, but many of her classes are offered through the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, which teaches women the skills they need to claim a place in the the public spotlight.

I was blown away by my recent experience taking Katie's day-long seminar. Even strong and accomplished women may have never thought of publishing an opinion piece before. Feminine socialization is a factor. "Nice girls" don't make a fuss, and even powerful women can have difficulty claiming their authority. Katie teachers her students how to push beyond that feeling so that we get our ideas out there. When she asks students "What are you an expert in?" she has never met a man who says he isn't an expert in anything, but women regularly answer this way.

You may be thinking that we already have an outlet through blogs, why do we need to submit op-eds for publication? Katie encouraged us to think about the audience we could reach through large publications: influential decision-makers who are unlikely to find the Mojo Mom blog would read me if I were in The New York Times. I would like us to spend a year using the writing skills we have developed to make a concerted effort to create new pieces for visible placements, and tracking the results of our participants.

What cause would you like to see the BlogHer community take on? Post your comments here to nominate your best ideas!

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Protection vs. pampering? I'm not yearning for the "olden days"

Last week at our classroom potluck, a group of parents was talking about how much more freedom we had when we were kids, compared to the protected lives our children lead. Remember when we could run loose in the woods? Ride in the "way back" of the station wagon? Do skateboard stunts without helmets or pads?

I struggle with the balance between protection and freedom every day with my almost-8-year old. Around her age I could ride around my whole neighborhood on my bike, with friends or on my own. With my daughter we're not quite to the "run outside and play, be back by dark" stage of life yet. Kids need life experience and yet they also need protection. Achieving this balance is the challenge and paradox of parenting.

But lest we get too nostalgic for the "good old days," I was reminded this week of the sanctioned cruelties that were visited on children as recently as the 20th century. It wasn't so long ago that children and wives were classfied as property. Adults could punish or abuse children in any way they wanted with little fear of reprisal. These dangers are still present in our modern society, but they are much less accepted, at least in the United States.

The June 7th episode of The Diane Rehm show presented one of the most interesting, morally conflicted topics I have ever heard--a story that reminds us how bad the "good old days" really could be. A social worker from Memphis, Tennessee named Georgia Tann did more than anyone before her to popularize adoption in America. She made it "respectable" for families to adopt, breaking through the eugenic myth that no one would want to raise a genetically "inferior" baby born of a poor mother. But, Tann's methods were cruel, amoral, and criminal. From the 1920's to 50's, she stole babies, raised the children in orphanages where they were routinely tortured and sexually abused, and then sold them to families. All this was done under the protection of the corrupt political machine operating in Memphis at the time. Our modern approach to adoption is still influenced by some of the effects of Tan's crimes. The secrecy surrounding adoptees' families of origin, starting with their falsified birth certificates, can be traced at least in part to the fact that Tan had to hide the fact that she had kidnapped babies in order to "fill the demand" for adoptable children, and had to hide them from birth families who were still looking for them.

I haven't read Barbara Bisantz Raymond's book yet, The Baby Thief, but I plan to. I am always fascinated by untold history and the effects on modern society. The older I get, the more I appreciate investigative journalism. Bisantz Raymond is herself an adoptive mother, and she seems to be in an excellent position to grapple with the conflicted realities of the history of American adoption.

A final thread to weave into this story: My daughter loves the Roald Dahl book Matilda. She had read it at school and asked me to read it to her again at bedtime. We are currently 2/3 of the way through. She is drawn to the story of a child's magical empowerment in the face of adult authoritarianism. I cringe at the descriptions of the abhorrent parents and abusive headmistress. Fortunately (from the perspective of a parent looking for relief as she reads it out loud) the worst mistreatment is told through the kids' rumor-mill, which helps distance the tale with the hope that some of it might be a playground exaggeration. But as I heard the descriptions of the mistreatments of Georgia Tann's orphans, who were tied up closets and abused, I realized that perhaps Roald Dahl's tales of Miss Trunchbull's torture closet, "The Chokey," covered with bits of broken glass and sharp spikey nails, were not as unrealistic as I had hoped. I hadn't understood the attraction of this book to begin with and now am really hating it. I can only wonder what Mr. Dahl's experiences at boarding school were really like. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a much more effective transmutation of chilhood angst into literary magic. To me, Matilda is an all-to-literal reminder that the good old days don't deserve the nostalgia we are tempted to bestow.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Mojo is Ambition

I wish we Moms talked more about ambition. We are raised to be such nice girls that if we knock on a door once and no one answers, we usually go away quietly.

Last weekend I had a fantastic opportunity to turn that socialization on its head. I attended the Woodhull Institute's Raise Your Voices writer retreat. Far from a touchy-feeling creative writing session, this training got down to the business of teaching us how to get our work included in the public dialogue. We learned about book publishing from Naomi Wolf, op-ed writing from Catherine Orenstein, and magazine feature writing from Kristen Kemp.

As these powerful women shared the inside tips that taught us how to get over the barriers that keep amateurs out of the inner circles of publishing, I sensed a bit of reluctance on our part. Did we really have the chutzpah to scale the walls rather than meekly wait outiside for someone to answer our polite knock? Think about other typical experiences in our lives. If you apply to a college and get turned down, you don't go. If you interview for a job and don't get an offer, you let it go. That doesn't work in the publishing world. You have to be willing to do what it takes to get heard, even if you have to "bug" people in the process. You can't wait for an invitation--you have to make it happen yourself.

It takes a driving passion, which is one of the best feelings in the world. If you have something you need to say, then keep honing your craft and getting your ideas out there in any way you can. When I had the idea for Mojo Mom, I first submitted my proposal through the traditional publishing route. I queried agents and they all had the same basic feedback, "It's a good idea but you aren't famous enough." I knew sitting around waiting for their approval wouldn't build the platform they said I needed, so I kept writing and decided to publish independently. Good thing I didn't wait, because as Mojo Mom came out, so did Perfect Madness and a whole wave of books grappling with modern motherhood. I was able to catch that cultural moment by going ahead with my book and blog even if the New York publishing world hadn't heard of me yet.

The world needs your leadership, and your voice. Find a way to be a player. I highly recommend the Woodhull training. With course titles like How to Write to Change the World you know you'll both be challenged and given the tools to meet your goals.

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