Thursday, January 31, 2008

Moms get political on latest podcast

Check out this week's Mojo Mom Podcast to hear two opinionated political Moms' pre-Super-Duper-Tuesday analysis of the primary season.

John Edwards had just announced that he was leaving the race when I called up Pundit Mom to talk politics. She and I had both been Edwards supporters. Tune in to see what we're thinking now that Edwards is out.

Feel free to leave a comment here telling us which candidate you will be supporting, and why. Comments are moderated, but I am open to civil discussion and truly curious to know how you'll be making your decision. If you are undecided, what factors might motivate you to support one candidate over the others?

You can read more of PunditMom's analysis at her own blog as well as MOMocrats. She also contributes to the group blog at

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tivo alert! 'Gift of Fear' on Oprah

Right now Gavin De Becker is on Oprah talking about intuition and survival signals that protect us from violence. His book changed the way I look at the world, and I recommend it to every person on the planet. Ten years ago when I taught high school psychology this was assigned reading for my class.

Once you learn to hear and pay attention to real fear signals, you can let free-floating worry and anxiety go.

De Becker also wrote a book using the same underlying principles as applied to parents and children, called Protecting the Gift. Also highly recommended.

More on all this later when I have time to write. For now, I urge you to record this Oprah episode, which should also be repeated in some markets later tonight (early tomorrow) from 1:06 am to 2:06 am on ABC.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What's the storyline in South Carolina?

I know this is somewhat off-topic for Mojo Mom, but I have to write about the Democratic South Carolina primary today. (I had started a political blog last year but wasn't able to keep it up. Today I really need an outlet for that mojo!)

I am a Democrat, a big John Edwards fan, but I see good things in Obama and Clinton as well. I have been very frustrated by the mainstream media forcing storylines on a primary season that is just starting to unfold. The best analysis I have seen of the insistence on "horse race" coverage is "Why Campaign Coverage Sucks" by Jay Rosen, originally reported on, and reposted to

Today on, as the primary is underway, the headline says, "Obama's legitimacy on line in South Carolina." Oh really? Who says? I am worried that the media has painted Obama into a racial box in South Carolina: on the one hand, Obama needs to show strong from African-American support. As CNN's Bill Schneider says, "Obama's support among African-American voters gives him more legitimacy. Obama has been doing well with young voters, independents and educated upper-middle-class liberals -- the NPR vote. Winning the black vote by a solid margin means Obama has standing with the Democratic Party's base."

But on the other hand, what if Obama wins South Carolina on the strength of the black vote, but lags behind in the white vote? Will the man who was once questioned for being "Black Enough" now become marginalized as "The Black Candidate," even though he won in lily-white Iowa and got 37% of the vote versus Clinton's 39% in New Hampshire? It seems to me that Hillary Clinton gets only beneficial bonus points for winning the black vote but obviously can't be marginalized as the White Candidate for scoring too many points in her demographic.

The gender card is its own mine-field. Of course Hillary Clinton faces the double-bind of being tough enough yet likeable and relatable. I am concerned about both of these fine candidates being pigeonholed unfairly, and I was really upset by the squabbling this week between Clinton and Obama. I did get the impression personally that Clinton's campaign has unleashed some unfair attacks against Obama, that Hillary has tried to appear to be rising above that fray yet sends her surrogates (Bill and others) to do the dirty work. Some call that politics, some call it hardball, I call it unfortunate. I will consider this election a failure if our unconscious racism and sexism are used as weapons by candidates against each other. I guess that brands me as a hopeless idealist, because of course this is already happening and will happen between parties [and memo to Broadsheet, a blog that I generally respect, your growing fascination with this drama is making it worse] but it crushes me to see candidates whom I like and respect going after each other that way.

As for the narrative of the Democratic Primary, Obama won Iowa, Clinton won New Hampshire, and although both "beat expectations" in each race, it's pretty close between the two of them. Why do we have to have this huge back-and-forth drama after each race? Both Clinton and Obama have more support in their party than any individual Republican has in his party. These are two viable candidates, and we should let the voters rather than the media decide who will end up on top.

What do you think? Am I on to something here, and am I also missing something? I am open to the possibility that I am adopting storylines without being conscious of them. My favorite political pundit is definitely Jon Stewart, who is not afraid to call the media out on its bullshit. He deftly skewered pollster John Zogby for the fact that all the predictions about the Democratic New Hampshire primary were just WRONG. Zogby didn't have a good answer for what went wrong, or Stewart's common-sense question about why can't we just wait a couple of days and see what the voters say?

Maybe because it would put the pundits out of business....? For a rare glimpse of sanity on, read University of South Carolina School of Law Professor Danielle Holley-Walker's commentary, "Issues -- not gender or race -- on minds of voters," and stay tuned for the voice of the voters in South Carolina and beyond.

Living in North Carolina, I am happy to think that my vote in the Primary on May 6th could actually mean something.

For more background on this topic I recommend Drew Westen's book The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. Race and gender touch deep buttons in all of us, and it would be a shame if we let manipulation of these frameworks determine the outcome of our election. In 2000 we seemed to pick based on the guy we'd rather have a beer with, and look where that got us. We need to really think things through this time and make sure we're guided by our better angels rather than our unconscious comfort zones or prejudices.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, January 25, 2008

Must-see program, Frontline's "Growing Up Online"

It's the hectic end of a truncated workweek for me. We managed to eke out 2 days of school.

But I found time to write up an eye-opening Frontline program, "Growing Up Online," for my blog on It is vital viewing for every parent, whether or not your kids are participating in the online world yet.

You'll even get a chance to hear Manic Mommies podcaster Erin Martin Kane interview the Frontline producers (I for one was fascinated by the story behind the story, considered by journalists who have kids themselves), so do please click on over to my (parent.thesis) post.

Labels: , ,

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Lady of the Snakes" charmed my mind and heart

There's no school today and I had just enough time to steal away to write a new book review:

Usually I tear into a book but this time I felt like Rachel Pastan's new novel Lady of the Snakes devoured me and left me an extremely satisfied reader. As a motherhood writer myself, I've read hundreds of books about the tradeoffs between work and family that all mothers have to face. Since reading is part of my work, at this point in my life I am generally burned out about reading about motherhood, and have little patience for either dense literary fiction or fluffy "chick lit."

Against that background, Lady of the Snakes was a wonderful treat. Incredibly honest about the everyday realities of a young academic juggling work and family, yet engrossing on the level of big questions; compulsively readable and convincingly literary at the same time. Rachel Pastan creates believable voices for both her modern heroine, Professor Jane Levitsky, and Jane's research subject, Russian countess Maria Karkova. (Quite an accomplishment given that Pastan had to create the excerpts of Karkova's journals and letters as well as the fictional 19th-century literary masterpieces of her husband Grigory Karkov.)

The academic mystery/counterplot about Karkov and Karkova is involving even if you have no background in Russian literature. The relationships between Karkov and Karkova, Jane and Maria, Jane and her husband Billy, and Jane and her academic rivals avoid easy categorization, mirroring the complicated textures and ambivalence of real life. I was touched by Jane's honesty about the tug she felt toward her work even as she cared deeply for her young daughter.

Lady of the Snakes
would make an ideal book club selection. If you enjoyed Allegra Goodman's Intuition or A. S. Byatt's Possession: A Romance I highly recommend Lady of the Snakes.

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 18, 2008

Books you need to know about!

I have so many book reviews backlogged in my brain. I hope to review all of these more fully, and individually on in the near future (to see all my reviews click this link) but I just wanted to get some very quick capsule recommendations out to you:

Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by Karen Maezen Miller. Karen is a friend of the blog and has been a guest on The Mojo Mom Podcast (Oct.5.06 episode). She is also one of the kindest and wisest people I have had the pleasure to befriend before we've even met in person. Her book is a real treat -- a perfect New Year's gift to yourself. I have recommended Karen's book in the past and now that I myself need a mojo recharge, I am appreciating her work once again.

Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers by Nancy Amanda Redd. Body Drama takes a complete, honest look at body issues of all kinds. This is a brave and wonderful book. It's aimed at teens but I learned a lot by reading it. Written by an amazing young woman who competed in the Miss America pageant and also graduated from Harvard. You have to love Nancy Redd for using her platform to launch a discussion about real body issues. (On her blog she shares a very funny story about filling out her Miss America paperwork as Miss Virginia.)

The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way by Hillary Rettig. I learned about this book from Cary Tennis' column on a few months ago and it is a great tool for a Mojo Mom. Mothers are driven to create a life of meaning and we often end up on a life path that is similar to an activist or artist's, even if we don't officially identify ourselves that way. Rettig gives very practical advice about succeeding on this path without burning out. I could mentally substitute the word "Mom" for "Activist" throughout and the advice made a lot of sense. Her book has one of the best bibliographies I've ever come across, and it's led me to other good books, including....

The Soft-Addiction Solution by Judith Wright. I don't usually gravitate toward this kind of book but The Lifelong Activist had recommended it and it was a very valuable quick read. I skimmed over some of the case studies but the core message about putting aside the "soft addictions," seemingly harmless habits like TV, shopping and potato chips, was very valuable. Wright shows us how to choose deeper meaningful experiences over quick-fix, mindless rewards.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Several people I love and respect had enthusiastically recommended Eat, Pray, Love to me last year and I have to say I was disappointed when I finally read it. I found it rather shallow and narcissistic in an American-centric way. But a reader critique of that book steered me toward Three Cups of Tea, which chronicles the long journey of an American mountain climber who found a calling to promote peace by building schools in Pakistan. If you were intrigued by the search for meaning in Eat, Pray, Love but are interested in vocation rather than vacation, try Three Cups of Tea.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

See. Hear. Welcome to 2008.

It's mid-January but I am still making the transition to 2008. Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled to turn the page to a new year. Both 2006 and 2007 had their share of wonderful highs, but lower lows. Family developments (in that larger quadruple-decker sandwich-generation way) have taught me that, #1, family is precious, #2, family obligations of all kinds are the great underestimated work of life, and #3 if you are a Mom, wife and daughter, you had better get work done while you can when you are fortunate enough to be experiencing a period of stability.

So I am hoping for a calm spot in 2008, please, though I know that none of this is in our control. The good news on the Mojo Mom front it that we are bringing back The Mojo Mom Podcast, this Friday if all goes as planned. (If we get hit by an ice storm tomorrow, as is in the possible forecast, that may throw us off.)

Thank you to all our amazing podcast fans who have encouraged us to keep producing the show. Your emails mean a lot!

So that covers "Hear." I have been thinking a lot about "Seeing" lately as well. As a writer, and as a Myers-Briggs ENFJ, I can get caught up living in my head or in the world of possibility, rather than the real world. As a burned-out Mom over the past few months, I've sort of been ignoring some issues that are right before my eyes, like a household mess that had gotten out of control. This denial has a function up to a point (I did all I was "supposed" to do yesterday, and I was exhausted) but for my family's sake, I need to make family life a bigger priority. I am a big fan of Montessori education, which relies on a prepared environment as a foundation, and I know home will never match that experience in its order, but I need to inch forward in that direction--enlisting family help along the way.

First I am just opening my eyes to what I see at home, the physical environment, the work flow, the relationships with my daughter and husband. Before making drastic changes I am spending time to take it all in.

Somewhat ironically, the family caregiving pressures have helped me put housework in perspective. Instead of being dramatic about out, letting it hang around my neck undone, I am starting to think that it's just easier to try to stay on top of it and then don't worry about it so much. We'll see how that goes!

Seeing reaches into every area of our lives. It blends into awareness, consciousness. Do an internal survey: How am I really feeling? What emotions am I stuffing down, placating with potato chips, or ignoring? How can I safely explore and express strong emotions without flying apart all at once? What bad habits have crept in during a stressful time? How can I make sure that January 2008 is not the first step in a long decline of "letting myself go?"

In other words, it's one of those times when this Mojo Mom has to take her own advice.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ayelet Waldman on The Bad-Mommy Brigade

When all of us are at risk of being called Bad Moms at one moment or another, what is the visceral tug that lets us jump to attention to points fingers at troubled Moms like Britney Spears?

Ayelet Waldman brilliantly addresses that question in a new New York Magazine piece, The Bad-Mommy Brigade. I started looking for one paragraph to quote and found that I wanted to include four. That seems like way too much, so I will encourage you to read the original piece in the entirety.

Waldman starts off with an honest look at our own fears and regrets as Moms, the resulting guilt and shame we feel, and then the outlet we find in judging another mother as failing even worse than we are:

"One way to find consolation in the face of all this failure and guilt is to judge ourselves not against the impossible standard of the Good Mother but against the fun-house-mirror-image Bad Mother. By defining for us the kind of mother we’re not, the Bad Mother makes it easier for us to live with what we are. We may be discontented and irritable, we may snap after the 67th knock-knock joke, our kids may watch three hours of television a day, we may have just celebrated the second anniversary of the last time we had sex, we may have forgotten to pack a snack, or, God forbid, bought one replete with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, we may yank on our daughters’ ponytails while we’re combing their hair, but at least we’re not Britney Spears."

For the record, when I was called by, asking my opinion about Britney's situation, I did my best to look beyond the Bad Mommy stereotype. I said, "Britney's burnout is basically the supernova of Mom burnouts, but we all burn out at one point or another. She's having a very public breakdown, but I think all of us can relate on a tiny level. I'd love all of us Moms to send her a little compassion, because she really needs that right now."

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Now that's some Mom follow-through....

I just have enough time to post a quick link to a story over on CNN:

'Meanest mom on planet' sells son's car

After Jane Hambleton found alcohol in her 19-year old's car, she decided to sell it through a classified ad:

OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don't love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet."

Go Jane!

Labels: , , ,

Covering the Consumer Electronics Show

I'm having an exhilarating and exhausting week covering the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as a CNET freelancer writing about parenting and technology.

So that's why I've been quiet over here on Today I had a truly great day, running into a fantastic group of entrepreneurial women. When MomCentral founder Stacy DeBroff sat down next to me at a session on kids and tech, I knew it was going to be a good day.

I hope you'll read more at CNET. I called out Microsoft this morning for a new marketing campaign that attempts to satirize stay-at-home Moms and fails miserably, in my view. Read my CNET blog post, watch the Microsoft videos, and let me know what you think.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, January 04, 2008

Sociologist response to "Wombs for Rent"

Sociologist Barbara Katz Rothman wrote me back with her perspective on my Wombs for Rent post that I wrote in response to Judith Warner's piece, Outsourced Wombs. (Warner's NY Times thread now has more than 150 comments.)

In my previous post, I had summarized what I had learned from Katz Rothman at a Breastfeeding and Feminism symposium last September. Here are her provocative thoughts written specifically in response to the Indian surrogacy situation:

"In the [NY Times] responses, I am struck by someone saying that it's 'just' her womb, not important like if it was an egg. It's amazing how totally the genetic imagery has taken over.

"Women's wombs don't walk around separately; we are not walking wombs. To be pregnant is a whole-body experience, as intimate a connection as one human being can have with another. Those who connected this to prostitution are right, it is an intimate physical relationship, but unlike the brief contact of a sexual encounter, this goes on for months and months. And the relationship is not with the paying customer, but with the created baby. At birth, babies recognize their mother's voices, are living in the rhythms of her day -- newborns, for example, tend to wake up at what was the pregnant women's busiest times of the day. This is not a 'surrogate' relationship, but an actual lived one.

"Yes, some women can apparently now become fathers: place their seed in a woman's body and have a baby 'delivered' to them. And they can do that in a loving relationship, as a lesbian couple might do or as sisters, cousins, dear friends might if they share egg and pregnancy. Or they can do that as slave owners did when they implanted their seed into their property to increase their slave holdings. Or they can do that in this new, outsourced way, in which they do not own the woman's body but rent it, with -- as Marx pointed out -- no ongoing relationship, no tie but money.

"And yes, in this brave new world, empowerment for women in poverty can mean selling these services, can mean prostitution, can mean selling organs. It truly can be better to do these things than not. As it could truly be better for a woman in Auschwitz to give sexual services to a guard in exchange for another bit of gruel. The problem lies not with the woman making the 'choice,' but with the situation. We women of the wealthy world profit from the exploitation of poor women, men and children with almost every shirt we put on our backs, almost every bite of food we take. We exploit people in poverty and never have to think about it. And now we can profit in our motherhood -- but unlike the shirt and the food, this time the product is going to grow up and demand an explanation."

Final thoughts from Mojo Mom: Katz Rothman's mention of slavery is a challenging idea for those who want to view the surrogacy arrangement in the realm of "individual choice." But I had thought about the slavery connection as well. Modern slavery is no longer about explicitly "owning" a person. It's about exploiting workers without having to be accountable: controlling people through threats, intimidation, violence, absolute economic dependency, trafficking, or other coercion. For more on this I recommend Kevin Bales' book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.

We need to be vigilant about upholding the principles of reproductive justice. Just look at historic and modern abuses: coercive practices throughout the world, compulsory sterilization, historical adoption abuses and corruption in our own country.

Even contraception and medically-accurate sex education are under fire in the United States. Who would have thought we'd lose so much ground on those basic issues? And of course if Roe v. Wade is overturned, many states already have abortion bans drafted and ready to encact.

I am passionate about the principles of reproductive justice and I encourage you to learn about this framework. It's the lens I use to look at the world, and when I do, I am worried that women's basic rights to self-determination are under fire here at home and around the globe.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wombs for rent in India

Judith Warner has a must-read Domestic Disturbances blog post about "Outsourced Wombs" in India. Warner is troubled but can't quite reach the point of calling this callous exploitation of Indian women, who earn the equivalent of 10 to 15 years of normal income for serving as a gestational surrogate for rich Western couples.

The post and the reader comments are all worth reading to see the variety of angles that people take on this issue. I am haunted by the AP Photo of anonymous surrogate mothers in Anand India dressed in surgical scrubs, complete with masks. They might as well be wearing burqas. (I can't reprint the photo here; be sure to follow the link to see it.) The women are wearing blue or pink scrubs, which I assumed corresponds to the gender of the baby they are carrying. How would you like to have your identity covered over with a label representing the fetus you were carrying?

I think it's ultimately harmful to all women any time women are objectified solely as baby-making machines. These are people, adult women with lives, thoughts, personalities, human and reproductive rights. Some will argue that this includes the right to rent out their wombs, much as some people would argue in favor of sex work or selling body organs. I can't support the concept of commercialized surrogacy in any way, shape or form.

Think about the larger social implications. Women are poor--hey, they can rent out their wombs, right? Indian families can't afford to take care of their children--no problem, just gestate an extra baby for a white American couple. Is this what colonialism looks like in the 21st century? What about Indian women who can't have children? What about the effect on the women's families while they are "away" gestating? What does it mean about the way we view women's bodies as a commodity? What does this say about the value of Indian children?

Would we assume that women like us could carry a baby for nine months and give it up with no emotional attachment? What does it mean to be a mother? Is it all in the "seed," the genetic material in the egg and sperm? What about the contribution of the mother who nourished those two cells to grow into a human being?

Last September I heard Dr. Barbara Katz Rothman, a sociologist and adoptive mother, give a provocative keynote address at the Symposium on Breastfeeding and Feminism at UNC. Taking a look back at my notes, she argued that the language of "seed" is the language of patriarchy, the language of control, the language of getting the women to do the right thing. In this framework, the baby belongs to the man, to the state. The woman has nothing to add. Nurturing becomes about minimizing the damage you do, because you can't improve the original essence.

Economically-driven surrogacy seems to invoke all these dynamics, perhaps allowing the paying women clients to assume the man's role in this "seed driven" world, but that is a hollow victory in a process that ultimately exploits human relationships.

I didn't become a feminist so that some day I could exploit other women as well as a man can. Did you?

Labels: , , , , , ,