Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Motherhood of the Traveling Pants

This week has been way too serious, so I am going to tell you a goofy story today.

Right now I am in California for some important training that I will tell you about when I've completed it. Before training started, I had a rare, precious free day to spend in the Palo Alto area, which had been my stomping ground through the 1990's. My graduate school comrade Aparna still lives there, though she's about to move away, so I was enjoying the opportunity to stay with her family.

Making the most of my free day, I made a pilgrimage to my favorite clothing store in the whole world, Leaf & Petal. Two years I bought a pair of pants there that were so great that they were the only summer pants I really liked to wear. My friends never told me that I wore them too much, but I knew that I did, and I didn't care. They were light khaki cropped pants--almost culottes, a style I usually hate--but these were just right for hot North Carolina summers. As long as I had these pants, I never had to worry about wearing shorts again. The pants were still wearable but were finally starting to get threadbare at the seams, so I carried the pants into the store to ask if they had any more like them.

I stopped in a for a quick visit, saw they didn't have any more pants that fit like these, then went off to a much-anticipated massage appointment. After that I came back to Leaf & Petal again, shopped some more, then drove back to Aparna's house. When I got there I realized I didn't have the pants. Where could they have gone? I had been in the store, my rental car, and the massage spa. I was sure I hadn't taken the pants into the spa and they clearly were not in my empty car. So I called the store to see if I had accidentally put them down while browsing. No luck.

I was stuck with a mystery. Then in a flash I realized what had happened. I remembered one wrinkle in this story that solved the mystery.

When I had gone back to my car after the first trip to Leaf & Petal, I had clicked the remote control to unlock it, heard the beep, and gotten into the car. I was settling in when I looked down and saw an open bag of potato chips--not mine. I looked around more and realized I was not in my rental car. I had gotten into the car next to it by mistake, which just happened to be unlocked.

This really startled me. It felt really wrong to be in someone else's car, even by honest mistake, and it jolted me to realize that I was so tired and jet lagged that I had chosen the wrong vehicle. So I made sure I had my purse and hustled right out of there.

But I must have dropped the pants without realizing it....

My first reaction was to be bummed that I had lost my pants in a way that guaranteed that I'd never get them back. All I knew is that they were in a possibly green, possibly SUV-like car that had been parked in the Cambridge Avenue parking garage in Palo Alto around 11 am on Friday April 25.

But then my second, stronger reaction was to wonder what the poor car owner would think when she or he found a strange pair of pants in their car. All sorts of awkward scenarios crossed my mind. "Honey, whose pants are these?" is never a good conversation starter.

So I would love to get my size 8 Womyn cropped pants back, but even more than that, I wanted to broadcast this story to the universe in the hopes that if anyone was worried about where the strange pants came from, they would find out that there really was a perfectly innocent, if bizarre, explanation.

Bottom line? Hold onto your pants, and everyone, please lock your car!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More "Stretch Marks on Sisterhood" follow-up and fallout

Phew. There has been a flurry of response to my Women's eNews commentary, Obama v. Clinton Puts Stretch Marks on Sisterhood. I feel that I need to address this topic one more time and then let it go for a while, if that is possible.

I feel fortunate to have talked to Deborah Siegel about the responses, because she and I came up with a consensus that it would be productive for younger women to learn the history of the women's movement, and remember to show appreciation to the women who came before us and fought hard to win our basic rights.

And for Boomer feminists, you really need to start seeing us and taking our points of view seriously.

And both sides need to think, act and write with empathy. Linda Hirshman wrote a response to younger women's commentaries selectively quoting us without really engaging us on the issues. But that paled in comparison to what the Mother Jones blog did by reporting on Hirshman's piece without (apparently) reading our original work.

In Mother Jones, Courtney Martin and I are told that we have a "false consciousness" get characterized as "young women who inherited what we mothers fought for and now want us to disappear so our girls can go wild and pole dance without feeling all guilty. Caricatures work both ways, missy."

Whoa. Seriously. You'd think this was left-wingers calling out right-wingers here. Writers such as Courtney and myself are working to help feminism stay relevant for younger women! In the 1970's I was the idealistic 10-year old sitting in the basement, reading my mother's back issues of Ms. Magazine. We want to work with you but such thoughtless, knee-jerk, stereotyping is the kind of divisive rhetoric that is getting in the way.

The Mother Jones blog post is called Throwing Clinton Under the Bus to Spite Mom and I want to challenge it in two additional ways. First of all, my own mother is voting for Obama and so is my Obamican father. So this is not a personal Mom-Daughter conflict for me, but I do believe that there is a genuine generational dynamic within feminism that needs our attention.

The ridiculous caricature that Mother Jones pulled off the shelf brings up another pet peeve of mine about the Boomers: they have a serious blind spot when it comes to seeing Gen X leaders and activists coming up behind them. We've made our mark in Silicon Valley (think Google) but seem to be struggling for visibility in the political arena.

On New Year's Eve I did stand-up comedy for the first time, addressing this issue for a largely Boomer audience. I ended with a group chant among the few Gen Xers in the room, "We're here, we're 40, get used to it!" For people who said "never trust anyone under 30" to think I am still a kid would be amusing if it wasn't getting in the way of having them take my political discourse seriously.

While Mother Jones wants to pigeonhole me as a girl gone wild, I am actually a 39-year old mother and entrepreneur with a Ph. D. from Stanford and 12 years of work experience. In 2008 I will be voting in my sixth presidential election -- and in all five contests so far, a Bush or Clinton has won every single one of them.

So it's not just idealistic new voters who are attracted to Obama's grassroots engagement and message of hope. There are many of us with more than a little gray around the temples who are ready to move beyond the era when the Bush and Clinton families take turns being President.

I am grateful for the good things that happened during the Clinton years of the 1990's but I truly believe that Washington is frozen by two decades of loyalty demands to one of these families, or the other.

Bill Clinton's campaign theme song was "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow." We should remember the following lines, "Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone...don't you look back."

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Monday, April 21, 2008

New podcast with Deborah Siegel: Feminism Across Generations

My recent Women's eNews commentary has drawn attention from many women, including Linda Hirshman writing on Slate.com, and even a letter from Gloria Steinem herself.

This morning Deborah Siegel and I recorded a new Mojo Mom Podcast episode that discusses the origins of the generation gap between feminists, and the possibility for all of us to work together on common ground in the future.

Deborah is a bridge builder! I love her perspective and she has a great deal to add to this conversation. She is working with a transgenerational panel in her women girls ladies initiative, speaking at colleges across the country.

Listen in to our hot-off-the-presses Mojo Mom Podcast on Feminism Across Generations. And Gloria and Linda, I am extending an open invitation for you to come on the show as well.

I will be writing more in response to the letters I have received on my Women's eNews commentary, so stay tuned.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Mojo Mama meets Obama


I've had one of the busiest weeks of my life, with some really exciting events mixed in with everyday joys and responsibilities.

The day you meet your candidate for the next President of the United States is a good day! In the brief time we had to talk before his Town Hall meeting in Raleigh, I told him I was on the Executive Team at MomsRising.org and that founders Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said hello. He knew all about MomsRising, since he has met with us before. He asked what I did, and I told him about writing Mojo Mom. I said I thought Michelle was very brave to have gone on The Colbert Report (since you never know what kind of curve ball Colbert might throw) and that I thought she had done a great job, and he said Michelle is definitely a Mojo Mom.

(While looking up Michelle Obama's video clip, I just found out that Barack himself made a surprise appearance on The Colbert Report last night, along with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. I'll check that out later today.)

Senator Obama comes across with a calm, centered energy and a talent for connecting with each person he meets. This is all the more remarkable when you consider he's been running for President for over a year. Can you imagine trying to reach everyone in the country? He and his family have sustained an impossible schedule!

In his Town Hall meeting he covered many of the points you've heard him make before. I really respect that he treats us as grown-ups. He doesn't promise easy solutions by any means, but rather expects us all to do the hard work that is necessary to move our country forward.

At the end of his speech he took about a half-dozen questions from the audience. These truly appeared to be unscripted questioners chosen in the moment by Obama. He was asked about issues from the Supreme Court decision on eminent domain, to payroll taxes, to the war, to seniors being pushed out of their homes by rising property taxes. He spoke as confidently and clearly in response to questions as he did in his prepared remarks. He truly does seem genuine and comfortable with himself and with his plans for our country. He has the spirit of a community organizer and the intellect of a Constitutional Law professor. Wouldn't that be a wonderful change after the past seven and a half years?

An African-American fourth grade boy asked for advice about becoming President some day. He said he was class president at school, and Obama said "Maybe I should ask you for advice. You've already won an election." It was a nice moment. Seeing this wonderful boy stand up in front of a crowd to confidently ask this question underscored the world of possibility that would be opened up by having Obama as our leader.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Follow up #1 to "Stretch Marks on Sisterhood"

I started writing this as a comment on my last post, but I decided that it merited a new blog entry.

First of all, thanks for your comments! I have received three so far here on my blog, as well as a handful through Women's eNews. There are some thoughtfully probing questions that have come up, and I plan to write a follow up post if I can eke out the time this weekend. It was really challenging cutting Obama v. Clinton Puts Stretch Marks on Sisterhood down to meet the 1000 word limit. The good news is that we can keep the conversation going here on the MojoMom blog.

And to commenter Renee, Deborah Siegel's Mom, welcome to my blog, and wanted you to know that I really enjoy and closely follow Deborah's writing. So I encourage everyone to check out her book Sisterhood Interrupted, Girl With Pen blog, and the Washington Post op-ed that Deborah wrote with Courtney Martin, Come Together? Yes, We Can.

I also want to give a shout-out to Katie Orenstein of The Op-Ed Project who taught me the value of publishing widely disseminated op-eds in addition to blog posts. I've already had a great response to this one, including a call to be interviewed for an upcoming story in the Raleigh News & Observer.

It's an election year--everyone has an opinion about something bubbling in the collective psyche, so why not try it yourself by submitting an Op-Ed to your local paper?

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mojo Mom's commentary on Women's eNews

I'm pretty excited today because I've written a political commentary for Women's eNews, an online news service providing professional coverage on a wide variety of issues affecting women's lives.

My piece, featured as "Today's Story," is called Obama v. Clinton Puts Stretch Marks on Sisterhood.

As a Gen Xer, I feel sandwiched between two powerful generational juggernauts. I am still not sure whether our ultimate generational fate is to play referee between the Boomers and their Gen Y children, or choose sides ourselves.

In my commentary I argue that it's time to extend a welcoming hand rather than a slap in the face to younger leaders, even if we don't always agree on every issue across generational lines. In the Obama-Clinton debate, I feel the choice to support Obama has been unfairly dismissed and disrespected by Boomer feminists.

I hope you'll read the commentary and let me know what you think. Women's eNews doesn't have reader comments on the piece, so feel free to share your thoughts here.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

North Carolina -- Register to vote!

I am doing my part to get people registered to vote here in North Carolina. The deadline for regular voter registration is tomorrow, Friday, April 10.

If you wonder whether you are already registered, the NC State Board of Elections website will let you look up your status.

If you want to vote in the Democratic primary, you must be registered as "Democratic" or "Unaffiliated." You can change your affiliation now, by mailing in forms postmarked by Friday. (In North Carolina, unaffiliated voters may request a Democratic or Republican ballot when they vote.)

You can download the voter registration form here, from the NC State Board of elections.

We have one-stop registration and voting later in the month BUT make sure you know this, "Registered voters may also update their address and change vital information in an existing registration record at the One Stop Site, but they are not allowed to change their party affiliation during the One Stop Voting period that precedes a partisan primary."

So I encourage you to double check to make sure that you are registered properly by tomorrow.

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Salon.com fans the flames of the Mommy Wars

Argh. The "Mommy Wars" framework lives on. I usually look forward to reading Rebecca Traister on Salon.com, but last night she put up a talking head video that referred back to her interview with Meg Wolitzer about Meg's novel The Ten-Year Nap.

In the video, Traister adds no new insight, but claims that "The Mommy Wars Rage On":

"a book like this clearly puts Meg Wolitzer smack in the middle of what are commonly referred to as the 'Mommy Wars,' the disagreements between those who have chosen to stay home and raise their children, and those who have decided to stay in the workforce...."

The Ten-Year Nap is a literary novel about women who have been out of the workforce for a decade. It does came across to me as a Rorschach test capturing reflections of readers' personal projections, but it is far from a polemic. It will elicit judgments from readers but for the most part avoids judging the characters.

I hate even writing the term "Mommy Wars" any more, because even saying "the Mommy Wars are bogus" subtly reinforces the concept. (Remember when Nixon said "I am not a crook"? "Crook" came through much more loudly than "not.")

But, now that we're discussing it, here are my distilled thoughts on this issue:

Motherhood is not about choice. Women don't often get to choose whether they work or choose whether they stay home. What if two women seek jobs, and one finds affordable childcare and the other one doesn't? Why on Earth do we try to pit those two women, or any two women for that matter, against each other? When it comes right down to it we are all facing similar challenges. Economic privilege and good luck may give some of us more options, but it's not really about choice.

I have a paper coming out this spring arguing that "choice" as a faulty framework for a wide variety of women's issues, from breastfeeding to employment to reproductive rights. We are being co-opted by a consumer mentality that conflates our major life challenges with mere "choices," as though many of our basic needs and rights are as trivial as choosing a chocolate versus vanilla ice cream cone.

We need to stop judging women for leaving the paid workforce to care for their children. Feminists most of all should understand that without providing an infrastructure that supports working parents, there will be a wide range of circumstances that lead women to leave paid employment: being pushed out by employers, pulled home by kids and family, and sometimes just plain deciding it's what they want to do for now.

I think that the biggest mistake we've all made over the past 40 years of discussing women's changing roles is to underestimate the VAST amount of work that it takes to raise a family and run a household. When kids get sick, grandparents get sick or frail, someone needs to be there to care for them. If the workplace and society can't provide the support to help us do all of this and still remain profitably employed, then please don't tell any mother that she is making a poor decision by leaving a career track or staying home.

If men took half the caregiving load, if work was based on performance rather than hours, if men were culturally "allowed" to take paternity leave or work fewer hours, if we had good, affordable childcare, paid maternity leave and sick days, and welcoming institutional "on-ramps" back into the workforce, then we'd be having a very different conversation.

Two practical antidotes to this situation:

Read Pamela Stone's book, Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home. Stone's book is the only one that has done in-depth sociological research on this issue. It is truly The Feminine Mystique of the twenty-first century. Stone writes with respect and compassion for her subjects--compassionate academic writing, what a breath of fresh air.

If you haven't joined me over at MomsRising.org yet, what are you waiting for....?

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Major victory for Naptime Activists!


Great news to share today -- New Jersey is on its way to becoming the third state in the nation to provide paid family leave for newborn and sick relative family caregiving.

This victory was won with a major push from MomsRising members. Look at the grassroots mobilization accomplished by this campaign:

MomsRising Members in New Jersey are on fire with activity to pass Family Leave Insurance. In the last 6 months alone, they have participated in on the ground lobbying, testified for committees in the Assembly and Senate, decorated and displayed baby Onesies, made hundreds of phone calls to their legislators, and sent tens of thousands of letters to their legislators. In addition, business owners at MomsRising signed a letter in support of family leave insurance, which will help small businesses provide this key benefit to their workers.


New Jersey legislators received over 63,000 letters on this issue (yes, that's 63 thousand!), over 50,000 coming since January 2008, prompting one staffer to say, "I can't believe how much we're hearing about this bill, it's incredible!"

This legislative victory epitomizes the reasons I am proud to be part of the leadership team at MomsRising.org.

Motherhood is the next logical frontier of feminism (whether or not we still call it that). The Second Wave of the 1960's-80's made "room at the top" for career women but failed to secure the social infrastructure parents need in order to work. How are women supposed to work without paid family leave, quality child care, or even job security to take a sick day? These issues affect men too, but we know all too well that Moms are disproportionately expected become caregivers when "life happens." Employment is a necessity rather than a choice for millions of working parents, many of whom live without a financial safety net, one family crisis away from bankruptcy. MomsRising also works toward goals that will benefit all families, from single Moms to stay-at-home Moms, including health care coverage for all children.

If we need to work state by state to get paid family leave, we can do it. If it takes 63,000 calls and letters, we've shown that it is possible. MomsRising has had active advocacy campaigns in Washington State and New Jersey, the two states that have advanced family leave legislation in the past year. I am so proud of this grassroots movement, if I had buttons they'd be bursting right now.

Will you help us continue to build an infrastructure that supports all families? Join MomsRising and find out what's next! You can also learn more by downloading the "Naptime Activist" edition of The Mojo Mom Party Kit
that I created in partnership with MomsRising.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Lenore Skenazy is my heroine

This is really turning out to be my New York week. First I read The Ten-Year Nap, then I visited New York, and today I came across Lenore Skenazy's story about allowing her son riding the subway on his own.

Lenore made waves by letting her almost-ten-year-old son ride home by himself on the subway from a planned outing together. Her son, Izzy, had been begging for an independent experience and Lenore thought the time was right to let him have one.

She described the experiment in her New York Sun column, "Here's Your MetroCard, Kid."

I gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call.

No, I did not give him a cell phone. Didn't want to lose it. And no, I didn't trail him, like a mommy private eye. I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn't do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, "Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I'll abduct this adorable child instead."

Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence.


Skenazy's parenting decision was controversial enough to land her on The Today Show yesterday for an interview with a skeptical Ann Curry. I am not sure whether I would make the same choice as Skenazy for my child, but I loved that she was willing to go on national TV and stick up for her decision, without regret or apology.

And, I would not make the same choice for my child because she's not a New York City kid. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. I travel to New York a couple of times a year, and I finally feel that I can navigate the city on my own. This week I rode the subway and the bus which felt unfamiliar, but perfectly safe. I can believe that a kid who was totally familiar with the city would be safe there as well. Even better than that, while New Yorkers can be gruff, I have found them to be consistently helpful when necessary.

The paradox of modern parenting is that we've gotten to the point where we think we need to lock our kids in a tower until they are old enough to be on their own. But how will they get enough experience to navigate the world independently if we don't let them explore? A wise teacher once said, "Good decisions come from experienceā€¦ Experience comes from bad decisions." The key is to give kids enough latitude to explore, even make mistakes, but not seriously harmful ones. Striking this balance is not always easy, but we have to try.

We know that there is a danger in giving our kids too much freedom, but I also believe that there is harm in stunting their independence. No one wants to end up a helicopter parent whose kid can't function on their own in college without calling Mom and Dad on the cell phone ten times a day. For an independent ten-year-old who is confident enough to ask for help if he needs it, a subway ride on his own might be a reasonable option.

I'm going to be writing more on these issues in the near future. In the meantime I encourage you to watch the Today Show video and let me know what you think.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Meg Wolitzer and "The Ten-Year Nap"


Meg Wolitzer's new novel would provide great conversation fodder for any group of mothers. The Ten-Year Nap explores the lives of a group of New York friends who left the workforce a decade ago when they had kids, and have not gone back to work.

I read the book last weekend and I'll write more about it in a few days. It's like a literary, stay-at-home version of I Don't Know How She Does It crossed with Sex and the City (more like No-Sex in the City with these long-married couples, but the New York vibe is prevalent). Wolitzer writes with a lot of integrity and compassion, which allows her to honestly probe our ambivalent spots without making us feel used. Wolitzer's point of view comes through nicely in Rebecca Traister's Salon.com interview.

I've been in New York for the week, just after finishing the book, and it was interesting to sit in Starbucks at going-to-school time and watch women go by who could have been the characters from this novel. It appears that huge, overloaded strollers take on the minivan function here in Manhattan. We must be near an Upper West Side preschool because we saw a ton of mothers trying to get down the sidewalk with multiple toddlers in tow. I did see a father or two as well, one with his fancy briefcase stashed away in the back stroller pocket.

More when I get situated back home....

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mojo Mom gets back to essentials

We are on "Spring Break" this week, which I think deserves air quotes when you are The Mom. We are having a nice time visiting family, but after chasing a bored kid around the house for four days, I have to say a that I have almost forgotten what it's like to take a carefree Spring Break trip to a mindless beach destination.

But I am blogging, which feels good because my main message today is to tell you that I am refocusing my energies on the Mojo Mom blog. For several months I had become acutely aware of the constant pull between doing my own work and other people's work.

Mojo Mom represents the essence of what I want to be doing. I want to keep writing about motherhood and culture, working to advance MomsRising's causes, and encouraging mothers to become socially and politically active.

So what had to give? After a lot of soul searching, I decided to wrap up my parenting and technology blog on CNET. I had written (parent.thesis) for ten months, with me as primary author and occasional contributions from my husband Michael. Both of us are passionate writers who tend to write in-depth blog posts. I used to challenge Michael to come up with something short to say, because he'd spend hours on each post. This is unsustainable when you are supposed to write every day.

But in the end it came down to asking whether this was the best use of my talents. Parenting and technology is an important, rapidly evolving topic. I really got into learning about and writing about internet safety issues. Unfortunately, my perspective really didn't mesh with the young, male, Libertarian readership at CNET. I felt like I was constantly swimming against the current of prevailing opinion in that community--and they were not afraid to flame me quite rudely. Once I had made my major points about society and technology, it just was not as rewarding to keep fighting those battles over again with people who were not interested in a real dialogue. For the internet safety issues I do care about, I will find another way to make a contribution.

I started to hear a lot from public relations people who wanted me to review products, which could have become the renewable lifeblood of the blog, but that really felt like doing "someone else's work." So I took the step of committing to the final (parent.thesis) post a the end of March.

After we are back from our trip, and life is back to "normal," which also seems to deserve air quotes these days, I look forward to being back here much more regularly on the Mojo Mom blog.

Lots to come this spring! Thanks for hanging in there with me as I have configured and reconfigured my work life. This may be a good time for each of us to look at our overwhelming schedules and ask ourselves, if something has to give, what can I let go of other than my sleep and sanity?

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