Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Last day to order from the Mojo Store is Saturday November 29

I know y'all have lots of other things on your mind this Thanksgiving week, but I wanted to let you know that this Saturday, November 29 is the very last day to order books from my Mojo Store at MojoMom.com.

We are closing the Mojo Store to get ready for the new Gotham Books edition of Mojo Mom which will come out in April, 2009. I still love the original edition but it's fantastic to be able to bring you a completely new, revised, and updated book. I am sure you'll agree that a lot has happened since I first started writing about motherhood!

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Stephen Colbert's transformation is complete....

A blog post apropos of very little:

It looks like Stephen Colbert's transformation into J. R. "Bob" Dobbs is now complete.

Colbert has a Christmas special premiering tonight which explains the sweater and pipe...or does it????

Don't worry--if you miss the show I am sure it will only run 400 more times on Comedy Central between now and December 25!

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

We are all children of God in the chemo room

I have had a tough week, which is why I haven't written since Monday. I struggle with how much to share on my blog, because I value my family's privacy. So I will try to tell my story without intruding on their lives too much.

Today's story is about fear. Fear is an interesting thing. Our government has utilized fear as the cornerstone of its leadership style for the past eight years, and the financial crisis isn't helping us get out of this mode of existence. But it's funny that much of what we fear is over what might happen. Fear expands into emotion and drama in our minds. We have ideas that make us fearful even if we never test them against reality.

Yesterday my fears and my reality came together in an unusual circumstance.

Here are some of the things I am afraid of: sickness, cancer, aging, death, violence, criminals.

Here is how I spent my day yesterday: accompanying my Mom to her chemotherapy infusion in a small hospital room that she shared with two convicts from the state prison, and four armed guards.

UNC is a state-of-the-art hospital, and it's also a state hospital, so sick prisoners receive treatment there. It was one of the strangest assemblies of people I've ever been in. But it actually wasn't scary.

My Mom was there because her lymphoma came out of remission. The prisoners were getting chemotherapy too. I tried not to think about what their crimes might have been. One prisoner was a young white man, one was an older white woman. The chemo room is a great leveler. I might have been afraid of the man if I had run into him on the street, but even though he looked like a strong guy, no one is strong at the moment that they are getting those powerful drugs pumped into their veins.

The four prison guards were black, three women and one man. They were friendly and spent their time reading the newspaper and clipping coupons from the Thanksgiving circulars. Two guards had guns and wore bulletproof vests.

My Mom and I were in our corner, with just enough room that we weren't bumping into anyone else.

One nurse took care of all three patients (and possibly others in another room). She flew in and out like a smart, attentive hummingbird, hovering, changing bags of drugs, responding to beeps on the IV machines, taking blood pressures.

Volunteers came in and offered juice, DVD players, and any small comfort they could.

I felt like a fly on the wall--present for my Mom but an observer of all the rest. People weren't silent but thankfully no one was too chatty. We didn't share personal stories in any way shape or form. We just existed in this space together.

So this was a room where the worst had already happened. People had committed crimes and been put in jail. People already had cancer and were praying that the treatment would work. Forget abstract fears--this was life.

But in that moment at least you could feel that you were in good hands. The nurses and volunteers at UNC are incredibly caring. The professional staff is busy but attentive. And I was impressed that the comfort volunteers treated the prisoner-patients just as kindly as anyone else.

I've been dealing with lots of extended family drama and the nurses' example inspired me, and served as a powerful example of how to act. Don't be ruled by fears of what might happen down the road--the chemo might not work--but focus on the tasks at hand. What can we do to make people feel better right now, as we also deliver treatment that can solve the root of the problem? The nurses are caring, professional, competent, and they also have good boundaries. They employ a bit of detachment that is necessary so as not to get drawn too deeply into the human drama continuously unfolding in front of their eyes. They do their job in a caring way, keeping their attention focused on their role and what they can do.

It reminds me of what Zen teacher Cheri Huber says about acceptance, "First we accept, then we get to work." The feeling I get when we go to the chemo center is one of hope but no promises. Everyone who is there is at a tough starting point. Anyone can end up in that treatment chair, which should be made available to all who need it.

The experience with the prisoners was strange and illuminating. Cancer is scary but I wasn't scared by the people in the room. I could handle being there. Even in the face of the undeniable power differential of armed guards and cuffed prisoners, because of the humane way everyone was treating one another, it truly felt like everyone was a child of God in the chemo room.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Hail to the Mom-in-Chief, Granny-in-Chief, Sister-in-Chief...

Barack Obama brings a refreshing image of an involved Dad of two young daughters to the White House. I cheered to see him and Michelle attending teachers' conferences days after winning the election. Their family will be a very public face for work-life integration just by their very presence in the White House--not to mention the family-friendly legislation that President Obama may champion and sign.

Their family means more to me than the Clintons did because it blows my mind to think that the President and First Lady are finally people of my generation. Here I am writing about motherhood and family, and we just elected a guy who could be another parent at my daughter's soccer game. I turned the corner to 40 just in time for the election, so yes, it is quite formidable and inspiring to know that we elected a post-Boomer (in spirit if not by birth date) President who is also in his 40's. Honestly, it makes me want to up my own game, both professionally and otherwise--when I read that he hits the gym every day it makes me think that if he has time to make that a priority, I should, too. (Hasn't happened quite yet but stay tuned!)

But it's the women behind the man who are most on my mind today. Not only Michelle, but Barack's mother, Ann Dunham, his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, and his mother-in-law, Michelle's mother Marian Robinson.

Like most families, Barack Obama's extended clan has a whole lot of intergenerational caregiving going on. I hope that his family will raise the profile of this issue--the crucial, invisible work that women do all over the world. You have probably heard about Madelyn Dunham helping his single Mom Ann raise Barack. He lived with his grandparents for extended periods of time while Ann did her research in Indonesia. But did you know that Maya Soetoro-Ng was caring for Madelyn Dunham until her death earlier this month? Obama's break from the campaign trail for a final visit with his grandmother made headlines, but Soerto-Ng's contribution remained typically invisible. Women caring for their relatives may be the fabric of life but it's rarely news.

Time Magazine
reports on a recent email written by Soetoro-Ng:

Soetoro-Ng could have accepted her brother's invitation to be by his side on election night in Chicago. But, as she had for much of the past eight years, she chose to stay in the apartment on Beretania Street where Dunham raised Obama as a boy and where Soetoro-Ng later cared for her. In the post-election e-mail, Soetoro-Ng writes of the sometimes conflicting emotions surrounding her grandmother's death and brother's success — and of the need to unplug for a while with her husband Konrad and their 4-year-old daughter Suhaila on Oahu's rural North Shore. She writes that she has been flooded with e-mail messages "of both congratulation and condolence .... There's a wide swatch of emotion cutting through me, sometimes swirling, never simple ... a briny mixture of elation, sadness, determination, regret, pride, hope, fatigue. You can imagine ..."

Now that the Obamas know they'll be moving to Washington, Michelle will leave behind her job at the University of Chicago, which paid her $316,962, to become our national (self-described) "Mom-in-Chief." I welcome the discussion about her move, because the truth is that as extraordinary as her experience is, it's typical for women to take time off for family caregiving, an average of 11.5 years over her lifetime. Should it be different? Should this work be shared more equitably, or rewarded with social recognition and benefits (perhaps Social Security credit)? Let's make sure we get to that public aspect of the conversation. In the meantime I don't see how anyone can truly criticize Michelle. Many of us have had to put family first during moves and job transitions. Sometimes it is truly a wrenching decision but still completely necessary to do so. If anything in the world would require family leave, I think it would be one's spouse becoming President. Stanley Greenspan estimates that parents can fill "Four-Thirds" of a full-time job between them before they need supplemental child care. Being President must be like Four full-time jobs in itself.

Even Barack and Michelle together needed help--especially when the long campaign demanded that they hit the trail, together or in separate directions. The woman whose role as an unsung hero is only beginning to be recognized is Marian Robinson. Our new "Granny-in-Chief" made it possible for Barack and Michelle to campaign for the past two years while Mrs. Robinson cared for the girls in Chicago. I am sure that Obama would not have run if he had not had this family care available. Marian Robinson is expected to move to Washington D. C. to continue caring for her granddaughters and giving them as much continuity and normalcy as possible.

I talked to a MomsRising group just last night and one woman talked about how she as a working Mom just could not produce exactly what a single guy could. We have to keep working to open employers' eyes, so that being a worker with family caregiving responsibilities is finally viewed as the norm rather than the exception. I don't think they really want to see that--we're going to have to insist. (I am still depressed by how easy it was for "Joe the Plumber" to hijack the national conversation when he was a completely unrepresentative worker!)

If take the time to look closely, President-elect Obama's example can remind us that while he really is a "great Dad," behind every high-powered man there is not just one woman, but often a whole crew of unsung heroines who help hold family life together.

It's time we shine a spotlight on caregiving and make it count.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hypnotized by the Puppy Cam

You've probably heard of the Puppy Cam by now. It's online live streaming video of six Shiba Inu puppies. It's warm, it's fuzzy, it's comfort food for the brain, and I am embarrassed to admit that I have become entranced by its charms.

The puppies are ridiculously cute, and I have to say that right now, with all that is going on in the world, and all the responsibilities I find falling on my shoulders, the idea of being a little puppy nestled among my five brothers and sisters is a sweet escapist fantasy. This morning I had the Puppy Cam window open on my computer's desktop but it was buried under another active screen, and I suddenly heard whining and whuffling sounds. After a moment of confusion I realized "The Puppies are awake!"

So all through the day, I'm writing and taking conference calls and my little pals are there on mute.

I have a special connection to the Puppy Cam because my family actually has a Shiba Inu. Kiba is ten years old now, and most days he still has the crazy energy of a puppy. Michael and I got Kiba after our visit to Japan together in 1998. I saw a postcard of a Shiba Inu puppy, and just like that, my lifelong disdain for dogs was replaced by love at first sight. We researched the breed and it was totally unsuitable for our needs, given that we wanted to have a baby. We went to a dog show and saw them in person, and they were beautiful but perhaps a little high-strung....

Here comes trouble

We got our puppy anyway, which was one of the least rational decisions I've ever made. I will warn you that even a five-pound Shiba Inu is a handful. I do not recommend the breed for families with small children or households where a lot of young kids come to visit. Shiba Inu are described as "fiercely loyal" which is a nice way of saying they aren't always friendly to strangers.

But in a weird way, getting Kiba felt like my karmic preparation for parenting. I had to deal with chaos, and leadership. If a Shiba Inu feels that there's no leader in the family, he will try to step in and dominate. And you definitely don't want to live in a home "ruled" by a Shiba. Michael and I took Kiba to "puppy school" every week for over a year. We worked with a gifted trainer, and then a not-so-gifted trainer (who was closer to home) who said that Kiba was so dominant and aggressive that we might have to give him up when our baby arrived. Instead of panicking we made the trek back to the gifted trainer and everything worked out fine in the long run.

There are tons of Kiba stories, some almost as funny as Marley and Me. The worst/best was when he went to the vet's to get neutered he almost escaped--he was one door from daylight. He was so ornery that they had to use the "rabid dog stick" to control him, and they asked me to come pick him up an hour after waking up from surgery, rather than letting him recover all day. Then, months later, when Michael brought Kiba back for another appointment on a particularly mellow day, the receptionist said, "Is that a Shiba Inu? You wouldn't believe the one we had a few months ago--he was a piece of work." Michael decided not to point out that this was the same dog.

Shiba Inu are incredibly intelligent, with a diabolical streak. They chew their way into lots of mischief and they can be a real pain in the butt. But at the same time, even during shedding season when dog fur tumbleweeds form daily and roll across the living room floor, I can't imagine life without him.

And when reality is just too much trouble, the Puppy Cam is definitely the best virtual pet I've found.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mojo Mom says thank you to military families

It's Veterans' Day, and we should all take a moment to think about what we can do to support military families. My belief is that no matter what one thinks about the wars that George W. Bush has chosen to wage, the soldiers who serve our country deserve our gratitude. In addition to the soldiers' service, their families provide crucial support back home, making sacrifices that few civilians can imagine.

Until recently I had not thought that my writing would necessarily speak to military families, but it the course of my recent reader questionnaire I got some great feedback from a military Mom. Her encouragement gave me the idea to offer six cases of Mojo Mom hardcover books: I will donate one case of 13 books to the first six military family groups who request one. The only requests I make are that you plan to give out all 13 books (for families to keep or to pass along to more group members), and you agree that you will not sell the books.

Family Readiness Group leaders can send in their request by email, to amy@mojomom.com

Please include a mailing address along with enough information to verify that you are part of a military group. I can only ship within the United States.

It feels like it's not much, offering six cases of books, but think of the impact that we could have collectively if each of us made the effort to reach out in any small way we can.

To our military families, thank you for all that you do, on and off the field, and behind the scenes at home, to support and protect our country.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

What's next for political junkies?

What a great week. The world changed in one day--and it was a good thing, for a change.

And, I am exhausted. I feel like I have an emotional hangover, both from the thrill of victory and the fact that I have been a political junkie throughout this very long election season. For people like me, who have become accustomed to obsessively refreshing our screens on fivethirtyeight.com, CNN.com and The Huffington Post, there is a hole in our lives--and perhaps the empty nature of our media obsession has been revealed. It's one thing to keep up with the news of the day, but I admit that checking those sites every hour to see whether something has changed was not necessarily productive. I ended up feeling like a lab rat obsessively pressing a lever to get a periodic reward. (NPR had a good segment about "election addicts going cold turkey" today on Morning Edition.)

The good news is that there is an opportunity to fill up this space with something truly meaningful. I have added many new book recommendations to the new edition Mojo Mom and three are particularly relevant to this situation:

The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way by Hillary Rettig

I love finding books that aren't directly about motherhood, yet speak to Mojo Moms. The Lifelong Activist is one of my favorites because the challenges of motherhood are similar to the demanding, often unrewarded efforts of activists. Hillary Rettig's book addresses the issues of avoiding burnout and building a sustainable life--themes that resonate at the core of my work as well.

The Lifelong Activist has an amazing annotated reference list, something I truly admire (and consider a worthy obsession). Rettig's book led me to my next recommended resource.

The Soft Addiction Solution: Break Free of the Seemingly Harmless Habits That Keep You from the Life You Want by Judith Wright.

This book is spot-on for media junkies who realize they are truly addicted. Wright helps people identify and replace time-wasting habits such as television watching, shopping and online browsing. She uses a great forumula, "the math of MORE," to add more life, more meaning, more focus on your true priorities to help end the "soft addictions." Her approach does not feel like deprivation, it feels like growth and reward. I am in the process of re-reading and implementing her suggestions because now that my new book is almost done, and the election is over, I want to fully take advantages of the opportunity to keep moving forward with my life, rather than letting bad habits chip away at my time.

The One-Life Solution: Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success by Dr. Henry Cloud

This is a business success book that realizes that each of us has one life, so a holistic approach is needed. I really like this book because Cloud talks about how setting up sensible boundaries in our lives actually gives us more freedom by keeping us on track with what we need to be doing. Cloud's book is very readable and inspired a lot of A-HA moments on my part. It's refreshing to read a work-life balance book written by a man for a change.

Finally, one more book I have recommended for a long time: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.

I believe that being a Mom is being an artist--no matter what other job titles you hold. Julia Cameron's classic program for "blocked creatives" can help you get your mojo fired up again.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations President Obama!

Today feels like the first day of the rest of our lives. Even with all the challenges facing our country, it finally feels like a good time to be living in the present.

I hope we'll take a moment to thank Michelle, Malia and Sasha for sharing Barack with the rest of us. This entire journey and victory would not have been possible without their blessing and hard work. Last night, the thing that made me cry the most was seeing the Obama girls on stage, and thinking about the extraordinary experience they'll have as our First Family.

I'll write more later, but Congratulations, President Obama is truly a full thought this morning.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what this new page of history means for our children.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day!

Today's the day! This morning I drove around Chapel Hill between 8 and 9 am and there were cheering Obama volunteers standing out in the steady rain, waving signs celebrating and doing a little GOTV dance at at least six major intersections. I thought that showed a lot of enthusiasm volunteer muscle, if they could post 20+ of them cheering around town. (Two at some intersection, as many as eight at others.) They were waving homemade signs made of red and blue paper plates spelling out OBAMA vertically, which made for good dancing props. Since I had already voted early I appreciated this as one more way to mark the occasion.

I drove by three polling places and they appeared busy but not overcrowded. I did not see any lines snaking out into the rain. At the library polling place there was a well-staffed Orange County Democrats table and no evidence of Republican campaigning.

Our neighboring counties of Orange and Durham are the bluest part of our new-true-blue state. (Fingers crossed.)

Here are election widgets from CBS News.com into this post. Check back after 5 pm for updates and live results!

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Eve is here!

Now I truly remember what Christmas Eve used to feel like as a kid. Even when I had sneaked a peek at the gifts my parents had bought me, there was still a visceral thrill of unwrapping them and knowing what I had received.

So even though fivethirtyeight.com tells me that Barack Obama wins in 98.1% of their election simulations, like any good Democrat who has been going out of her mind with anticipation and excitement for weeks now, I'll believe the win when the votes are good and counted.

This feels like such a major turn of the page of history--unprecedented in my personal experience. Eight years of my adult life have never felt as long as 2000-2008. Many wonderful things have happened for me personally and professionally, but it's been such a disaster on a political level. And for my daughter, who is now such a curious and involved citizen, it seems unbelievable that she's lived under a Bush administration for her entire conscious memory. She wants change as much as most adults I know.

So tonight is a true threshold. While the results may appear obvious in retrospect, it's worth savoring this moment--one of those truly suspenseful days in which all the pundits in the world can't predict exactly what will happen. We are present at the creation of history.

The sad side of this story is of course the fact that Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died one day before the election. Barack was wise to make it a priority to visit her last week, and I am sure she'll be with him in spirit.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Chapel Hill MommyMixer babysitting event, November 9th

I wanted to follow up about the Mommy Mixer babysitting event I attended few weeks ago, because there is going to be another event in Chapel Hill, at Market Street Books in Southern Village on November 9th.

I enjoyed the MommyMixer event and found it to be a really valuable service. There were plenty of babysitters to go around and they all seemed like very nice, smart young women. Even though they live on campus only a few blocks or miles away from families who need babysitting, there isn't always an easy way to meet them, which is why the MommyMixer event is so useful.

One thing I learned at the event is that they plan to have more babysitters than parents attending, so it did not feel like a competition for scarce babysitters. Also, the Moms had different needs and the babysitters were looking for different kinds of work, so it seemed like a good possibility that things would work out for everyone.

The usual fee for parents attending the Mommy Mixer is $100, but I have negotiated a half-off discount for my blog readers. You can attend for $50 when you enter MOJOMOM into the event field when you register.

You can sign up at MommyMixer.com

And here's the link for this specific Chapel Hill event.

I do not have any financial relationship with Mommy Mixer--I just want to recommend it because as a Mom I thought it was a great service. You get to meet the babysitters and then take home a binder with their resumes (12 from the event I attended). Then you call and hire the sitters, operating on your own from there--MommyMixer plays the role of introductory match maker.

With the holidays coming up, I am sure that many of us could use a little extra help.

The next event in Southern Village is Sunday, November 9 from 4:30 to 6 pm. You don't have to stay the whole time. I felt like an hour was enough time to meet everyone.

Feel free to forward this offer to anyone in Chapel Hill who might be interested. I think it would be a great event for Dads who are in charge of finding child care, because it's a comfortable opportunity to meet these babysitter candidates.

(P. S. I have no financial relationship with MommyMixer--this is a pure Mom-to-Mom recommendation.)

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