Archive for May 2009

The Stuffies’ Birthday Party

Bedtime was not going well.

I’d already marched down the hall three times to put an (albeit temporary) end to the boys’ conversations and waited through Eli’s long explanation for why he was still up: it was the stuffies. Moosie goes to bed at 8:30, he explained, but Bunny stays up till 9 and Ringo the lemur is a night owl with an 11:00 bedtime. Eli wanted to keep Ringo company, but his chatting was bothering his brother and driving me to distraction. I was at the end of my rope when Eli held up Moosie.

“Mama?” said Eli-as-Moosie.

“Moosie, I can’t hear it!” I snapped. “You’ve been talking way too much tonight! It’s bedtime!” (You know it’s bad when you’re shouting at stuffed animals.)

Eli crumpled and started to cry.

“Oh, Eli,” I said, instantly chastened. “Please don’t cry. Tell me what Moosie wanted to say, just this one more thing, and then we all need to stop talking and go to bed, ok?”

Well. I should have known that given an opening, Eli would jump right in.

Through his tears, Eli told me it was Moosie’s birthday, and we had forgotten. We hadn’t done any of the special things we’ve done during the recent run of birthdays: Ben’s in March, Tony’s in April, and Eli’s just last week. We hadn’t hung the birthday letters, nor baked a cake and served it on the family-heirloom musical cake plate. There had been no special breakfast, no gifts, no singing. As Eli spoke, Ben sat up, his annoyance gone, and started to chime in along with me, trying to comfort Eli.

We would celebrate Moosie’s belated birthday (Ben helpfully explained to his little brother what “belated” means). We sang Happy Birthday right then, to make Moosie feel better, but we would sing it again in the morning. We would hang the birthday letters and set out some treats. And we would celebrate Bunny’s birthday, too. Bit by bit, Eli’s tears stopped and his sniffling slowed. Both boys were excited (but not too excited) about our celebratory plans. They snuggled back down in their beds. They stopped talking.

When Tony got home from his meeting, he set to work making cut-outs of Moosie and Bunny. I got out the cake plate, a relic of Tony’s childhood, and set it with small bowls of peanuts and carrots. We felt silly and indulgent, but why not? It doesn’t take much to provoke a smile, to send a kid to bed with happy dreams, and this was one of those times it felt pretty easy to say yes to a happy, silly plan.

The next morning, Eli announced it was Ringo the lemur’s birthday, too, and that Ringo likes to snack on eucalyptus leaves. With some quick work, we expanded the celebration to include Ringo (Eli need never know those were bay leaves in the lemur’s bowl). When Eli saw it, he grinned broadly, and then sat the stuffies right down to enjoy their birthday snacks. Luckily, nobody asked for any presents.

Book Review/Giveaway–Who’s Your Mama: The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers

The hardest aspect of editing Mama, PhD was not editing the selections, nor working with the publisher to fine-tune essays, nor copyediting, nor even coordinating all of this work with a coeditor living 3,000 miles away who had two (now three!) kids of her own. No, I think really the hardest part was actually getting the essays. We sent out a call for submissions to our friends, and asked them to send it to their friends; we published it on list-servs and websites and broadcast it as widely as we knew how. It wound up in places that we didn’t even know existed, like the Women and Crime mailing list. But still, many of the essays came from women of similar backgrounds and in similar disciplines as ourselves. For Mama, PhD this wasn’t a deal-breaker: the collection winds up accurately reflecting the diversity of women in higher education. Still, I know there are more stories out there that we didn’t manage to uncover, and I’ll always wonder how we might have found them.

Yvonne Bynoe, who edited Who’s Your Mama: The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers, found an amazingly diverse group of women to contribute to her anthology. The women are different races and ethnicities; they are single, widowed, divorced and partnered, gay and straight, mothers and childless, at home with their kids and working outside the home. The women are not all professional writers, but they contribute deeply-felt stories which are powerfully told.

Mary Warren Foulk’s piece, “Which One’s the Mother?”, beautifully traces her complicated road to lesbian motherhood, and I loved Kathy Bricetti’s sweet essay, “The Baby Bank,” about going with her partner to a sperm bank, way back in 1992.

Christine Murphy is resisting friends’ and family pressure to jump on the “baby train” in “Mommy Maybe…” — and wondering if she’s making the right choice. Liz Prato writes poignantly of her decision not to have children in “Is Life Without Kids Worth Living?” With a mother who died at fifty-eight and two aunts who passed away in their forties, she feels that “knowing the parent-child relationship can come to such an abrupt end has shut down our desire to have kids.”

In “The Mother I Always Wanted,” Robin Templeton describes how her pregnancy makes her finally confront the reality of her own troubled mother; sitting on an airplane on the way back home, she writes, “I fanned myself with the laminated safety instructions, closed my eyes and a neon warning scrolled behind them like an interruption from the Emergency Broadcast System: Beep. This is a test. Beep. You are your mother’s chid. Beep. Your baby will be raised by a woman raised by your mother.”

Eileen Flanagan also addresses the legacy of difficult mothering in her essay, “A Pellet of Poison: I Don’t Want to Feed Racism to My Children the Way My Mother Fed It to Me.” Untangling what she was taught from what she wants to teach her children, she searches out slave narratives, abolitionist histories, novels and songs; she writes, “In the realm of race, I can also face the heat of my family history, sweating out whatever I’ve absorbed and teaching my children to do the same. Stories are like saunas that can help draw the poison out of us.”

And I loved Lisa Chiu’s essay “Ching Chong!” which hopes her son won’t hear the playground taunt that haunted her childhood: “Nico’s classmates haven’t yet asked him where he’s from. But when they do ask–and they will–I hope he will answer the question with clarity and confidence. I hope he will respond in a way that educates people, informing them not just of his own cultural background but of a world that is multi-hued, complex, and complicated.

“It took me years to come up with my own succinct answer to the question, replying that I’m a second-generation Taiwanese American woman who was born in Canada and raised in Cleveland. It took a long time for me to learn how to define myself. Now, it is time for me to guide my son along his cultural identity journey. I know where we’re from. And I’m gaining clarity in knowing where we’re going.”

I like these essays for asking good questions rather than presuming to have all the answers. These are women in the midst of journeys, and it’s interesting to follow along with their thinking.

Want to read this book? Leave me a comment by Saturday, May 30th, and I’ll choose someone at random to receive my advance galley.

Mama at the Movies: The Iron Giant

I always imagined that my kids and I would watch loads of movies together. We would start at home with sweet animated features like Toy Story or movies I loved as a kid, like The Red Balloon. Then as they got older, we would go out regularly, settling in with our salty buckets of popcorn to watch the latest family flick. It hasn’t worked out like that, though. Ben, at seven, has only seen one movie in a theater, a special screening of The Polar Express for a friend’s birthday. He lasted about ten minutes before he came out to the lobby, overwhelmed; the loud soundtrack and the huge projected images were just too much for him. Meanwhile, although I managed a few mom and baby movies when Eli was still a tiny nursling, I had to quit those screenings before he was nine months old; instead of sleeping quietly while I caught up on the latest releases, he wanted to watch and chat with the figures on screen. At four, he’s happy to watch the same movies at home that Ben has been watching for years: Curious George; Toy Story; The Little Prince. But I’m getting bored, and wanted to find something new that might suit their very different temperaments.

Read the rest of the column over at Literary Mama!

Can You Hear Me Now?

As reported by Tony:

Ben and Eli were digging around in the closet and found an old craft project they’d made probably a year ago — a couple plastic cups connected with a string — the old classic “phone.”

So they stretched it out in the living room, and Ben reminded Eli to put his mouth into it for speaking and put use his ear for listening. And then the following transpired:

Ben: Eli? Can you hear me?
Eli: What?!
Ben: Can you hear me?
Eli: Yes.
Ben: Hi Eli.
Eli: Hi Ben.
Ben: What are you doing?
Eli: Um…. sitting on the couch.
Ben : Oh. OK, bye.
Eli: Bye.

Who needs a cell phone when cups and string will do?!

Image source.


Look Ma, no training wheels!

And Eli the blur has graduated from three wheels to four, but looks to be leaving training wheels behind soon himself:

Book Review: The Food of Love

I was curled up on the couch with a cup of tea, happily reading an advance copy of The Food of Love: Your Formula for Successful Breastfeeding, the first mom’s breastfeeding how-to with detailed cartoons that I have ever read, when I came across a big star drawn at the bottom of a page and this message printed inside it: “Hey, you! If you’re reading this book and you’re not just about to have a baby then go and make dinner for someone who just has!”

So, I got myself off the couch and emailed my son’s classmate’s mom, who has just delivered her third child, that dinner was on me.

And then I got back to my reading, because even though I stopped breastfeeding two and a half years ago, I still remember how hard it was for me at the beginning. I’m glad that there’s a good book–a sharp, funny, manageably-sized one (handy for one-handed reading while breastfeeding!)– helping new moms navigate the often-complicated physical and emotional logistics of breastfeeding.

Open the cover and where normally you would find a blank page or maybe just a title page, you find a line drawing of a brand new baby, complete with hospital bracelet and umbilical clip. “Well done,” the text begins. “You have just undergone the most physically and emotionally exhausting process of your life. You have successfully subdivided. You have a baby. You can take it home with you. Unlike a library book, which you have to return after three weeks, this child is yours for years and years. But what do you do with it? What next?”

The next two hundred pages go on to detail “what next,” from “What are Breasts?” to “Stress and Depression” and finally, “When it’s time to wean” with detailed (and often quite funny) drawings, up-to-date medical information (including footnotes!) and a helpful index of topics from abscess (ew) to yogurt, and many stops in between, all written in the wry tone of an experienced and entertaining older sister or friend. A drawing of The Good Mother shows a woman lying on the couch, gazing at her nursing baby while laundry spills from the washing machine, toys litter the floor, and a toddler sits contentedly at her feet with a sandwich, watching tv; the corollary drawing of The Good Friend, who plays with the toddler, brings him a drink, and perhaps tosses the laundry into the dryer isn’t pictured, but strongly implied throughout the book.

The book ends similarly to how it opens: “Ignore this book” reads the header. It goes on to elaborate, “Guilt is the curse of parenthood. This book is meant as a funny, handy guide to helping you to enjoy your baby. Feel free to disagree with it. It’s not a prescription, and you know your baby better than I do…. Look at your baby. He’s perfect. Well done.”

Not nearly enough baby and childcare books take the time to offer this message, and not any I can think of do so with such excellent cartoons. The Food of Love is a breath of fresh air, and a book I’d add to any new mom gift bag.

The Double Daring Book Shower!

Some people have baby showers, and some people have book parties, but for The Double-Daring Book for Girls, a special kind of book shower has been organized, during which bloggers will write about activities they tried from The Double-Daring Book for Girls and challenge you (yes, you!) to best their results.

Well, we spent a lot of time trying to decide what to do. We’ve been reading The Double-Daring Book closely since it arrived in our house, because even though no young girls live here, the book offers a lot of material and activities that interest all of us. We have been studying up on notable women (particularly the astronomers (p7), mathematicians, and scientists (p109)), amazing our friends with the math tricks (p198) and memorizing the list of Words to Impress (they do; p199). We have considered dyeing our hair with Kool-Aid (p48; a pink-haired cousin is inspirational in this regard, though she didn’t use fruit juice mix), read the section on swimming (p250) , and practiced the steps of the Cotton-Eyed Joe (p192).

It was hard to choose a challenge, however. At first, Ben wanted to challenge someone to become President of the United States (p153), but then remembered that he actually likes our current president and didn’t want to risk any change in the White House. He wanted to make a lava lamp (p57) — and we will — but that doesn’t seem like a competitive activity. We could summon you all to a Private Eye Challenge (p177) and see if you can figure out our secrets, but that is actually kind of creepy.

Then we found it. Page 120. Pogo Sticks. If you recall, Santa brought Ben a pogo stick two years ago, and to say we have not really mastered it yet is an understatement. So we turned to page 120 and read:

An old story has it that a man traveled to Burma (which is now called Myanmar), where he met a farmer’s daughter named Pogo. Pogo’s family was poor, and she had no shoes. She liked to visit the local Buddhist temple each day, but the road was muddy. So her father built her a bouncing stick, and called it a “Pogo” after his shoeless daughter. Considering the fact that pogo sticks work terribly on mud and much better on hard asphalt and concrete, the story seems unlikely. What is true is that, in 1919, George Hansburg patented the pogo stick in the United States. In the 1920s, pogo sticks became a huge craze, with chorus-line girls in New York performing pogo stick shows on stage.

I would love to see a chorus line of pogo stickers someday. But in the meantime, we read the careful directions and set out in the rain. Ben managed three hops, Eli two, and both are eager to keep trying until they can pogo up and down the block. Can you beat that?!

Celebrate Mother’s Day with Motherlode!

My fabulous writing group, The Motherlode Writers, is reading at Book Passage on Sunday and we’d love for you to join us!

Motherlode is a Berkeley-based community of mother-writers. We work in a wide variety of genres, including essay, memoir, poetry, and fiction. Our work has been published in print and online outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Literary Mama, a variety of anthologies, and numerous other journals, blogs and ‘zines. Our recent books include Sybil Lockhart’s Mother in the Middle: A Biologist’s Story of Caring for Parent and Child (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2009); Sophia Raday’s Love in Condition Yellow: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage (Beacon Press, 2009); and Caroline Grant’s Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life (Rutgers University Press, 2008). Readers also include Marian Berges, Ursula Ferreira, Rebecca Kaminsky and Sarah Kilts.

Bring the kids and join us on Mother’s Day for a celebration of motherhood and writing!

Sunday May 10th 2 – 3 p.m.
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA 94925
(415) 927-0960

Happy Mother’s Day from Moms Rising

In appreciation for the hard work of mothers everywhere, MomsRising has made it possible for every mom to get a personalized Mother of the Year award — announced online in a faux news cast. Check it out! Send it to your favorite mothers so that they can be congratulated by President Obama, celebrated by Hollywood stars, praised by a remarkably articulate baby, and more. Make sure to check out the crawl under the newscast; they snuck in a nice little bit of educational content.

Book Review: enLIGHTened by Jessica Berger Gross

I don’t remember when I first walked into a prenatal yoga class. I was teaching at Stanford at the time, a two-hour daily commute, and maybe the fact that I was so darned uncomfortable –pacing around the conference table during class, fidgeting in my seat during office hours, using cruise control so that I could stretch my legs on the long drive — sent me to that cool, pine-floored studio once a week. There I gathered with the other round-bellied mamas and we stretched and balanced and relaxed through our ninety minutes.

After Ben was born, I returned to mom and baby yoga for a bit but, unsurprisingly, didn’t find the peace and relaxation I’d enjoyed during prenatal yoga. Ben was a noisy, needy, perfectly typical baby and although I aspired to be the kind of balanced yogini that could nurse while standing on one leg in vrksasana (tree pose), I could barely relax lying on the floor with him in corpse pose.

I returned to yoga during my second pregnancy; this time I wasn’t working outside the home, but renovating our house and caring for a three year-old kept me even busier. The once-a-week session seemed like the only time to spend thinking about this coming baby, and I wound up asking my yoga teacher to serve as my doula during my eventual 17-hour labor. I can’t say I consciously practiced yoga during the labor, exactly, but the training I’d absorbed, the thoughtfulness about breathing and stretching and opening, all helped me ride my labor peacefully almost toward the end. I say “almost” to account for the brief interval between feeling the urge to push and getting the doctor’s green light to push, when I recall shouting to my doula, “There is not enough yoga in the world to get me through this!” She laughed, which made me laugh, which distracted me enough to survive that last minute until I could push Eli out.

But again, mom and baby yoga wasn’t for me (especially since I never could find a mom + baby + preschooler yoga class), and yoga has fallen by the wayside as I find my best exercise time is a quick run before the boys wake up. My yoga mat is rolled up in the garage, gathering dust, and I look at it sometimes, thinking I should bring it upstairs, lay it out next to my bed, and try to get in a quick pose or two before bed. All of which explains why I jumped at the chance to read Jessica Berger Gross’s new book, enLIGHTened: How I lost 40 Pounds with a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples, and a Beagle-Pointer. I thought it might help me get back on the mat.

I know Jessica’s writing from Literary Mama, of course, but also from her work editing the gorgeous anthology, About What Was Lost. EnLIGHTened is part memoir – a journal of her struggles with weight and the emotionally unhealthy family dynamic that contributed to her eating issues —part gentle how-to. She is so honest in her writing about her past (starting with the confession that her childhood nickname was the mean “Bubble Berger” because of the extra layer of fat she carried), that a reader is immediately sympathetic and open to her advice. The book is practical and pragmatic, full of diagrams of yoga poses, recipes, and sutras (both in Sanskrit and in English); she is so convinced of the benefits of her path that she offers a reader lots of ways to join her, and the result is friendly, charming, and accessible. I may not go as far as she does in her low-fat diet (I’m lucky not to have weight issues), but she makes me think twice about the ice cream in my freezer, or at least consider serving myself a much smaller scoop.

I figured I would read her book the way I do books by Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver (books with which enLIGHTened shares some thinking): I am a member of her choir – I am a vegetarian, organic food-buying, yoga-aspiring writer – but as such, I try to be extra-sensitive to preaching, proselytizing and didacticism. So I’m happy to report that whenever she strays into potential eye-rolling territory, she pokes a little fun at herself. For instance, in the chapter on purity and cleanliness, she describes attending a retreat in which she was led through a thirty-minute exercise in “conscious sipping:”

“It was unnerving to drink so slowly. After all, I was used to downing a juice while talking on the phone or blow-drying my hair or driving my car or checking my e-mail. Plus, I was already hungry and it was only the first morning. “What do you want out of the next sip?” Alison asked. I wanted to be comforted, I wanted to be filled. (To be honest, I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich.)”

Later in the same chapter, she writes, “If you eat healthy and low-fat most of the time, you can splurge on the occasional more-indulgent foods.” I perked up, wondering what would count as indulgent for someone who bemoans her previously unenlightened nightly snack of Cheerios and chocolate chips (please! My indulgent snack is a bowl of melted peanut butter, topped with vanilla ice cream, granola, and chocolate syrup.) So she continues, “On a weekend—not every weekend, but on the occasional Sunday—Neil and I will go out for whole wheat organic pizza made with hormone-free cheese (I know, I live on the edge).” If she’s living on the edge, even my decent diet puts me over the cliff, but that’s fine. The point here is not that you slavishly follow every tenet she outlines here –I agree with her that we’d probably be healthier if we did, but I certainly can’t – but she offers a great menu from which you can choose.

Yesterday I finished reading enLIGHTened and then washed off my old yoga mat and rolled it out next to the bed. This morning I was already awake when the alarm clock went off, having been woken at 5 by my 7 year-old climbing into bed next to me. At the sound of the alarm, my almost-4 year old thundered down the hall and climbed in, too. I extricated myself from the warm pile and stood on the mat a moment, groggily collecting myself in tadasana (mountain pose) before stretching my arms up over my head and bending one leg at the knee in vrksasana. The boys giggled from their cozy nest, but tomorrow I’ll encourage them to come join me. Now I know this is the perfect way to start the day, and I’m grateful to enLIGHTend for reminding me.