Friday, August 31, 2007

Link roundup

I'm going to play link wrangler today:

U. S. News & World Report has a cover story on "The New Mommy Track"

and also an interesting list of "The Most Overrated Careers."

The New York Times talks about the upsides and downsides of flex time at IBM.

Research from NC State University, reported on Clive Thompson's blog collision detection, shows that men in unmarried couples do more housework than married men. I'll be sure to come back and write more about the implication of creeping inequality and traditional gender roles that comes with marriage.

And finally, I've really been getting into writing on my (parent.thesis) blog at CNET, and I hope you'll check out the important safety message I report in my recent post, "Is your school's web site revealing too much?"


Monday, August 27, 2007

School's back!

I have a lot to write about this week but I had to start by saying that SCHOOL IS BACK in session here.

If you have seen High School Musical 2, you'll know the first scene where the kids count down the last few minutes until summer vacation starts, and then break out in song and dance when the moment arrives. I kept envisioning that scene playing out in reverse this morning as parents celebrated a return to normalcy.

We had lots of fun early in the summer, but by the second week in August we were as lifeless as the vegetation drying up in the 100 degree heat. It was too hot to play outside, and most of our playmates were out of town. Even my daughter said, "This was the worst summer ever!" I didn't take that too much to heart, because I have noticed a trend that if the last three weeks of the summer were boring, then kids will say the whole summer was boring. This was true even of my neighbors who took their teenagers to China!

But I am happy to be back at my desk, digging out from about 1001 emails I need to write back, piles of paper that you don't even want to know about, and reveling in a chance to plan my fall.

The sensation of freedom comes from not having to be accountable to anyone for my time during the day. I felt guilty all summer trying to write while my daughter was home. That is never a comfortable fit for us. Most of the summer, when I had a break, even a "break" to work, it had a definite and short time limit associated with it. I am a creature of habit and I am happy to report that I love my normal life, no extended "breaks" required.


As a final summer fun suggestion, I wanted to say that if you haven't seen the movie version of Hairspray yet, you should really catch it before it leaves the theaters. I didn't think I would like it, but I loved it and so did my parents, husband and daughter. It was exuberant, joyous, and the music was fantastic. We bought the soundtrack right after we saw the movie, and we've been singing and dancing to it all summer. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky rocks the house as the heroine Tracy Turnblad, holding her own among the incredibly talented cast members.
I think 7-year-olds are obsessed with disguises and reality, so just deciding which hair was real and who was wearing a wig really intrigued my daughter. She couldn't get over John Travolta as Edna Turnblad. I showed her Grease the other day and it blew her mind to try to put together a hot teenage stud and an overweight, shy, age 50+ woman (who finally channels her inner mojo!) as the same person.

And yes, High School Musical cutie Zac Efron costars in Hairspray as well, as the sweet teenage heartthrob. Even if you are completely burned out on all things HSM, don't let that stop you from seeing Hairspray. It's too much fun to miss!

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Mojo Mom on "The Nanny Diaries"

The new movie version of The Nanny Diaries might as well be called The Feminine Mistake: The Movie. (Next I am waiting for a musical version of Perfect Madness.) I was more interested in Fifth Avenue Mommy Mrs. X than I was in Annie the Nanny. Could Laura Linney do for Mrs. X what Meryl Streep did for Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada?

Not quite, but it was because the material didn't lend itself to it. Laura Linney was spectacular as the unsympathetic Mrs. X, adding a glimpse of humanity to a seriously detached mother, caught up in a loveless, shallow, but wealthy lifestyle. I was rooting for her because in the Mommy Wars, Mrs. X is a much too perfect target. 99.9999% of us can get relief from our own insecurity about our imperfections by pointing our fingers at her and saying "At least I am not like THAT bitch." She's self-absorbed, inconsiderate as hell to her nanny, obsessed with shopping and "me time," and doesn't respond to emergency calls to the Canyon Ranch Spa when her son is sick.

Mrs. X is an interesting foil whose chosen flaws tell us a lot about what we perceive as a mother's worst shortcomings. (Not that the father, Mr. X, comes off any better. He is obsessed with work and cheats on his wife. But motherhood is my specialty, so we'll leave Mr. X for now. As Penelope Trunk wrote about recently, criticism of rich workaholic fathers is qualitatively and quantitatively different, and sometimes absent altogether.)

Annie imagines she's visiting this world as an anthropologist, yet a few years down the road, could she find herself in the same trap that ensnares Mrs. X?

At the end of the film (spoiler alert, I guess), Annie is fired from her nanny job, which conveniently frees her up to realize her dream of going to anthropology grad school. She continues to date the rich "Harvard Hottie" she met in the X's building. He's starting law school. Let's imagine they get married. So if she wants a job in academia, and he's a well-connected New York lawyer, whose job will come first? Will she fight it out in the academic pipeline, quit, or hire a nanny herself when kids come along?

Here's the fatal flaw of the movie. We in the audience are all encouraged to identify with the idealistic nanny without really considering how the "Mrs. Xs" of the world are created. Mrs. X graduated from Smith and ran an art gallery before she had her son. She didn't invent the world of Fifth Avenue socializing and might have even been an interesting person at some point. I would argue that Nanny and Mrs. X potentially have a lot more in common than Annie might ever imagine.

So the movie may feel like a cathartic experience for everyone who isn't a Fifth Avenue matron, but for me, joining together to point fingers at Mrs. X just reinforces our tendency blame and criticize each other, and ourselves. It's so tempting to believe that we'll be the exception to the rule, that we'll never be like THOSE _______ mothers (fill in the blank of your own bad mommy stereotype), but if we are ever going to understand the social forces that shape motherhood, we need acknowledge that we too are vulnerable to them. If we fail to challenge the social forces, but instead continue to blame individual women, then we may find ourselves in cages that are less gilded but just as confining as Mrs. X's.

P. S. As a moviegoing experience, The Nanny Diaries was not that entertaining, and correct me if I am wrong, but I think they significantly changed the ending of the story to bring more uplifting closure....I'll have to dig up my copy of the book.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Workaholic Dads and "family values"

Ack, I can't believe it's been a week since I blogged over here. I have a dozen windows open on my desktop with material to blog about, but little time to write. The back-to-school whirlwind is in full force. So I am going to settle for a quick post this morning to send you to over to an article by Brazen Careerist blogger Penelope Trunk.

In this San Francisco Chronicle piece, Penelope writes a scathing indictment of executives who work insanely long hours, yet are not viewed as neglectful parents.

She says:

Thank goodness these boards do not value fathering, or there would be no one to run the Fortune 500. There appears to be little room for parenting if you're at the very top.

Fortune magazine ran an article about Sir Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony. He is married with two children and is quoted as saying at company meeting, "I don't see my family much. My family is you."

Fortune ran a profile of Jeff Immelt, chief executive of GE. Immelt said that he has been working 100-hour weeks for the last 20 years. He also said that he is married and has an 18-year-old-daughter.

I can't decide which is more pathetic - the way these men approach their roles as parents, or the way that Fortune magazine writes about it without any commentary.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Detox Your Toy Box

The ongoing Mattel toy recall is a huge concern for parents. Here are the resources I have found to be most useful:

CNN has a helpful illustrated list of recalled toys. has written an article about "Taking Recalled Toys Away" that can help you remove recalled toys with the least possible anxiety.

American Academy of Pediatrics has many resources on toy safety and lead poisoning posted in response to the Mattel recall.

Magnets are very dangerous if kids ingest them. This is a risk I had not thought of but it makes sense that magnets in an acidic environment could be very corrosive. And if the magnets stick to each other, they won't pass through the digestive tract easily.

I also wrote about the lead issue on the blog. MomsRising has been op top of this issue since the story first broke. They have created a petition to the CSPC, Consumer Product Safety Commission, to require more extensive testing for banned toxins in toys, and to ban more toxic ingredients. How crazy is it that toys can't be coated in lead paint, but kids' jewelry can contain lead? Please join me in signing the petition.

Finally, I wanted to recommend an illuminating episode of The Diane Rehm Show, "Lead Poisoning and Crime" that talked about the toy recall and the larger public health hazard of lead poisoning.

Environmental lead poisoning from old lead paint, for example, is still a huge problem. This very real risk disproportionately affects poor and minority children and therefore does not get the attention and resources it deserves. It is hard to treat lead poisoning. It is far more effective to prevent it. Let's hope that this Mattel toy recall brings attention to the overall need for lead removal.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Must-read: "The Little Secret of Women Who Have it All"

I'm not going to have much time to blog this morning but I wanted to recommend Laura Vanderkam's August 13 blog on The Huffington Post.

"The Little Secret of Women Who Have it All" provides a breath of fresh air by discussing the possibility that motherhood and work are compatible, and that it's really okay to feel fine doing both!

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Monday, August 13, 2007

The privilege of ignoring housework

There's a must-read article in today's New York Times, "Wedded to Work, and in Dire Need of a Wife."

I only have a few minutes to blog because yes, I am in the middle of cleaning up the house before my cleaning person comes. And yes, I am very grateful to be able to hire someone to help me with the work, but it does not get me out of a lot of chores.

The interesting thing about "Wedded to Work, and in Dire Need of a Wife" is that it really shows the male privilege of being ignorant about the benefits of having a wife. A couple is interviewed separately. The wife's perspective is:

“Men lock the door and leave. Things could be a wreck or whatever and it doesn’t affect their other world,” Ms. Santana said. “I walk out and worry about the house looking nice, because the kids have play dates, etc. Someone has to worry about that, and it’s usually not the dad.”

While her husband sees things differently:

“We both do whatever we can do while we’re not sleeping,” he said. Regarding the earnings advantage of married men, he commented: “I can’t think of why that would be. I can’t think of what they’d be doing that would cause that.” He has noticed that some married colleagues bring a lunch from home, which he guesses has been packed by the wife, but he doubts that it would increase anyone’s paycheck.

Not only do men get out of doing an equal share of the housework and childcare, but they get to ignore the problem of housework and the benefit they are receiving by having their wives taking care of the issue. (This evokes the idea of white privilege, in which white people don't realize that they are running a race with the wind at their backs.)

I have written quite a bit about this issue of male privilege and it's a drumbeat I intend to keep sounding. Until men realize the benefit they are getting from "women's work," it will never COUNT, economically or socially.

How will this all play out as the Boomers age and "someone" has to take on the task of caregiving? What does it mean to know that we may spend more years taking care of our parents then we do taking care of our children? When "childfree" people, men and women, find themselves dealing with the "non-optional*" issue of parental care, will we come up with some real solutions that make caregiving count? Or will women be left holding the bag once again?

In my family the "kids" in their 60's are very grateful that the "parents" in their 80's and 90's have stable and caring life situations.

Back to housework for now. I know I've previously linked to Judy Syfers' classic 1971 article "Why I Want a Wife," but it's time for one more go-around. It used to make me laugh, but today it makes me want to cry!

And back to the New York Times article for a minute, when both husbands and wives fantasize about whom they could conjure up to be a "devted, trustworthy helper" to rescue them from the drudgery of household management, they both wish for....a Mommy.


(*Of course on a societal level, childrearing is also non-optional, but the fact that having children is framed as an individual choice has allowed U. S. society to get away without providing adequate consideration for the caregiving work that parents do.)

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Mojo Mom--guest blogger today for PunditMom

Please join me today over at PunditMom where I am the special guest blogger.

PunditMom herself, Joanne Bamberger, is also doing the multiple-blog-juggling act, as I am, and I can say from experience it's tough to keep more than one blog going at a time. But, cool opportunities come up and it's worth giving it a go. So I'll also direct you to Pundit Mom's Spin Cycle over at Work It, Mom!

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Newsweek's "Yummy vs. Slummy"--what a missed opportunity

The new issue of Newsweek has a 2-page spread on motherhood. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a wasted opportunity for a meaningful discussion. True to the mass media's formula, even an article that has the thesis "the mommy wars are killing me" manages to work "vs." into its title. The Yummy vs. Slummy article's author, Kathleen Deveny, glosses over real-world discussions about motherhood and dives into mommy lit. About a third of the piece is spent discussing novels such as Babyville and Slummy Mummy. To me, this strange choice of focus is like consulting Bridget Jones'sDiary to get a read on the current state of feminism.

I happen to personally agree that mommy lit is tiresome, but it's important to keep in mind that both Deveny and I have 7-year-old kids. We've been through the transition of motherhood and come to terms with what it means personally. I can see how mommy lit would still appeal to new moms just as I Don't Know How She Does It gave me a good laugh and cry back in 2002.

The glaringly missed opportunity in the Newsweek piece was to talk about significant nonfiction works. Deveny cites Leslie Bennetts and interviews Camille Paglia--hardly representative of the many thoughtful discussions about motherhood that go on these days. You know my favorites: and Opting Out? are two of the resources I wish Newsweek had consulted, with a shout-out to the many thoughtful Mom bloggers out there for good measure.

Deveny says that "I am bored to death with talking, reading, and hearing about motherhood. We didn't exactly invent kids." The danger of Deveny's approach is that she dismisses the entire discussion about motherhood as narcissistic and obsessed. I maintain that each new mother does need support for her own transition (it doesn't feel narcissistic when you are going through it, that's for sure) and once you progress beyond the individual level to look at the ways that a new generation of mothers are grappling with the challenges and opportunities of motherhood, there is a lot of very interesting and important work being done.

As Deborah Siegel explored in-depth in her thoughtful book Sisterhood, Interrupted, the mantra "the personal is political" is still relevant today. I maintain that for our generation, as the inheritors of feminist progress that opened doors to school and employment, motherhood is the watershed event for many of us that brings gender roles and work issues to the forefront of our awareness. Employers may not be able to discriminate as blatantly against all women as they once did, but the unfair treatment of mothers in the workplace is one of the many battles that still need to be fought and won.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Mojo Mom news roundup, from Baby Einstein to George Bush

There is so much news today that I am just going to write a roundup pointing you to the articles that I have open all over my computer screen.

Baby Einstein videos don't make babies smarter. Did anyone ever really think they were anything more than a convenient distraction? Still, it's sad to learn that video-watching is correlated with decreased language acquisition. The effects may not be permanent but it's still discouraging. Learn more at and

• Preschoolers think food tastes better when it's served in a McDonald's wrapper. Even store-bought carrots. Tempting to try this at home when carrots are involved, but bad news in the long run.

• On a related note, I recommend the book Buy Buy Baby for an in-depth look at marketing to kids, including "educational" toys and the relationship between tots and brands. Check out this great article for more background on the book. It seems to me that the "educational" mandate for toys has gotten even more intense over the past few years. Walking down the toy aisles at Target recently, it struck me that every baby toy had some sort of identified specific learning goal. There's no room for just plain playing any more.

• Depressing news on a different subject: women who express anger at work are seen as incompetent but men may well be admired for it. In a research study, angry men were assigned a higher than average salary and angry women were penalized. Yet another double standard. The researchers make a connection to Hillary Clinton and the delicate balance she must walk. I am a John Edwards supporter but I abhor the impossible standard of perfection that Senator Clinton is expected to maintain. On the Today Show this morning, the pundits basically proposed that in tonight's debate Clinton should allow herself to look a little dumb. I think it was couched in terms of "taking the risk of being spontaneous and less scripted" but it reminded me all too much of junior high when girls had to avoid looking too smart around boys.

Who thought that when a serious female candidate emerged for President her primary criticism would be that she's too competent and not personable enough? Where is the safe ground between too frosty, versus not tough enough to be Commander in Chief? It's definitely a narrow path that she's being asked to navigate. I definitely feel that the men have much more latitude, like George W. Bush whose "Gentleman's C's" GPA from Yale was no hindrance for a well-connected guy who was perceived as so gosh-darn "likeable."

Joe Klein addresses Clinton's challenges in his Time essay this week, "Hillary, the Bran-Muffin Candidate." Whatever one thinks about Clinton, there's not question in my mind that she is qualified to hold the office of President, and that is a great step forward for all women.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

News vacation

I am back. I was so burned out right before summer vacation that I just let the Mojo Mom blog go dark last week. I apologize for the abrupt escape, but I really needed to get away from work and step out of my regular life for a few days.

Being away gave me great perspective on work/life balance. The break showed me the never-ending hamster wheel I had built for myself. Now that I am back with renewed perspective, can I make some changes? My main challenge is to get my daily work done with enough time left over to work on longer-term projects as well.

It's time that I take to heart the advice of productivity experts who recommend checking email only a couple of times a day. I won't debate whether the internet is a true addiction, but the online connection sure can be a time sink. Being a writer and blogger requires that I stay on top of the news, but the information flow doesn't change as often as I hit the "refresh browser" or "get email" buttons.

Unplugging from the news was a fantastic luxury. I highly recommend trying it at least one week per year, or whenever you feel like you need to hit your mental reset button. I managed to blog over on (parent.thesis) until our broadband connection gave out at the end of the week, but when it went out it was actually a little bit of a relief. I could feel myself pulling away mentally, not really wanting to hear the latest news updates. Jumping in the lake and playing with my family seemed much more appealing.

I happened to come across the book version of while I was away. While the book could have been better-written, it did point out the 8 classes of "go-to stories mass media uses when there's not enough hard news to fill a newspaper or a news broadcast."

Waiting in the Detroit airport yesterday, I was subjected to about an hour of live CNN, and it was indeed full of the inane stories that Fark reports on. The most egregious reporting was a toothless Q&A with an author who claims that liberal foundations are ruining America (what Fark classifies as "equal time for nut jobs"). Somehow conservative foundations were no problem, a fact that was glossed over with puffball questions.

The laziest piece of reporting was drawn out over about an hour, revealing the top 5 reasons people have sex, one reason at a time. The newscaster sounded especially embarrassed to keep coming back with "After the break, the #3 reason people have sex," because none of the reasons were at all surprising, for example "It feels good." That's a non-news-flash if I've ever heard one, but since there was a study about it and the subject was sex, it was media fuel.

So don't stop reading the Mojo Mom blog, but feel free to tune out CNN any time you wish!

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