Posts tagged ‘mothering’

That’s a lot of milk

When Ben was a little bit, we participated in a “nurse-in,” breastfeeding with about 1,200 other moms, babies, and toddlers in a big Berkeley auditorium. Ben could hardly focus, so wide-eyed at the site of all those kids nursing at the same time, but he latched on long enough for us to help set a new world record.

I was happy to read recently that the record’s been broken yet again, this time in the Philippines.
Congratulations to all those moms and their kids!

Fearless Friday

Today, in honor of MotherTalk’s Fearless Friday spotlight on Arianna Huffington’s new book, Becoming Fearless, I’m supposed to write about a fearless moment in my life, or a moment when I started becoming fearless.

First, here are some moments I remember feeling fear:
When I was five, and we’d just arrived in Connecticut from Japan and my unfamiliar uncle reached into the car to pick me up;
When I was twenty-two, and a guy with a finger in the pocket of his sweatshirt mugged me;
When I was thirty-five, and I was in an emergency room with my listless, feverish, 9 month-old baby being diagnosed with pneumonia.

Some more typically frightening things — leaving my public school and going to boarding school in 9th grade; moving across country at 22 with no job and no place to live (that one probably scared my parents, but they were remarkably calm!); giving birth — didn’t scare me at all, and I’m trying to work out the pattern, but I think mostly for me (as, I suspect, for many others) the things you choose are less scary than the things that are imposed or inflicted on you.

Just over a year ago, I started a blog. Before that, I’d been afraid of even commenting on a blog, worried, as we often are, of coming across as too stupid, too trivial, too ordinary. Well, maybe I am all of those things some of the time, but I’m also not any of those things enough of the time that I keep putting it out there. And in a direct line from blogging comes my column, and now a book, and a measure of fearlessness. I’ll write to anybody, anywhere, and ask them to talk to me.

So if you’re reading this blog and have never commented, celebrate Fearless Friday with me and drop me line.

MotherTalk with Santa Montefiore

So hosting a MotherTalk is my idea of the ideal evening: I get to stay home and cook snacks and sweets; a group of friends and friendly others comes to my house; a writer arrives and talks about her book, her writing process, the people she meets on her book tour. What’s not to like?

This evening’s MotherTalk, with Santa Montefiore, came the evening after my son’s preschool auction, so several of us were not at our most-well-rested best, but Santa is such a terrific storyteller, we were rapt. She told us about writing her very first novel while working a beautifully-appointed (but apparently not too busy) desk at Ralph Lauren; about fictionalizing real people (and how rarely they recognize themselves); about making the most of her writing time by compiling a soundtrack for each novel (when she sits down to write, rather than read over her last pages to get in the mood, she just starts her music. This apparently works better for her lush historical novels now that she no longer shares an office with her 80’s pop music-loving husband); and about meeting Helen Mirren and Anna Wintour.

We ate and talked and everyone went home with a new book to read in bed, and I’ve got some good leftovers: a perfect evening.

I’m a Hip Mama, now

Check out my little essay, The Cookie, at the fabulous Hip Mama!

The Power of ONEsie

I am not a crafty person.

My mother can sew (and hammer a nail, and wire a dollhouse for lights, and perform various other handy tasks), my sister can knit and crochet, all of us can cook, but I don’t think any of us would identify as arts and crafts types.

Still, when I got a recent email from MomsRising announcing their new “Power of ONEsie” campaign, I couldn’t resist. Read on:

Imagine a beautifully presented long chain of decorated baby onesies stretching all around the state capital as a visual representation of the real people who need the policies being debated inside the imposing buildings. Each onesie signifies one person–mother, father, child, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, or other–who cares deeply about building a family-friendly America, but can’t take the time off work, or away from kids, to actually be at the capital. You.

What an image! Usually, I get an email like this, think “Great idea!” and never get around to doing anything about it. But on Friday, I read the email, dug through the closet for an outgrown onesie that said “Sprout” on it, penned “Moms’ Rights” on the two green leaves, and got it into the mail. Not really so very crafty, but not bad for me. MomsRising allows offers the non-crafty option, for those of you who’d like to participate but don’t have the time (or onesies); you can buy a onesie for MomsRising to add to the chain for you.

The Power of ONEsie. Coming soon to state capital near you.

Fire, Aphasia, and the Spirit World

Deborah Bacharach is your average doting mother. Of her baby girl, she writes, “Rose is gorgeous, courageous, and clever, and she can say “uh oh” with great aplomb…”

As a writer, Bacharach not only finds material in her darling daughter, but she finds a way to harness her sleep deprivation, the bane of every new parent: “Sleep deprivation makes me miserable, but it’s had two unforeseen advantages for my writing life: aphasia and visions.”

Read more about the inspirational power of sleep deprivation in this month’s Literary Reflections essay, “Fire, Aphasia and the Spirit World.”

Ice Cream and Consciousness-Raising

When I first read about and learned that they’d produced a film version of their book, The Motherhood Manifesto, I knew I wanted to write a column about the documentary. What better movie, after all, for a mama at the movies, than one expressly focused on the situation of mothers in this country today? I ordered the film via and drafted my column. But something was missing. This is a consciousness-raising movie, an organizing tool. Watching it by myself, I was missing a critical component of the film’s intent.

Before I could make plans to host a house party screening myself, I found an invitation in my inbox from a woman on my prenatal yoga teacher’s email list; my youngest child is almost two but I’ve stayed on the list for the supportive community it offers. I rsvp’d, interested in meeting the other mothers.

I arrived with a pan of brownies just as the other women arrived with snacks and drinks. Our hostess’ toddler was roaming around in his pj’s, happily greeting the other mamas, an entertaining reminder of why we’d come. We quickly fell into the kind of easy playground talk common to mothers everywhere. We could have gone on for hours, though, because this time we weren’t being interrupted by our children, only slightly distracted by our hostess’ sweet boy, who roamed from one of us to the next, clambering up on the couch for a cuddle, or lolling on the floor with his dog.

When we finally sat down to introduce ourselves properly (playground chat rarely involves the background basics of name, number of children, work, etc), the conversation quickly turned more significant. We have six children between us (ranging from 20 months to 5 years), and two more on the way; one of us is pregnant with her first child, and we admired her activism and foresight in attending this screening before even becoming a mom! All of us work in some capacity, all of us are struggling to find the right balance between our jobs and our children. One of us felt she’d lost out on a job opportunity because, interviewing when she was pregnant, she was seen by the employer as an unreliable prospect. Two of us have first-hand knowledge of the better family benefits offered to working mothers in other countries (in this case, England and Canada), and have no good answer for friends and family members who ask why the US makes it so hard on working moms. One of us actually concealed her motherhood while she worked on a graduate degree in order to maintain her status in the competitive, family-hostile program (another of us has heard so many of these difficult stories about women in higher education that she is co-editing a book on the subject.) We looked forward to seeing what the movie would say to us, how much of our own stories we would recognize in the stories on film. Our hostess, having already watched the first half of the movie in preparation for this moment, started the dvd, and took her son off to bed while we settled into watch.

I won’t go into the details of the movie here, in favor of describing our reaction. I am not exaggerating when I say that the film made us laugh, and it made us cry. We all appreciated the movie’s busy mom-friendly length (just an hour), and its clarity: organized around the six-point motherhood manifesto, each section of the film presents an entertaining mix of personal stories and statistics to dramatize and elucidate the difficulties working mothers face. We sat very quietly for a moment or two after the film ended, then our hostess got out some ice cream and as we dished it up and passed the brownies around, we started to talk again, but this time with more urgency, more focus.

As we discussed what aspects of the film hit most closely home, we focused particularly on healthcare, moved by the mother in the film whose child’s medical costs bankrupted her family. It is shocking that this country doesn’t offer universal healthcare for kids: it’s a truly affordable (since kids tend to be healthy), even money-saving government expenditure (universal child healthcare would result in healthier adults.)

We discussed the vulnerability we feel as women who have altered career plans to care for our children and then wind up financially dependent on our husbands. It puts a burden of stress on us and on our marriages. We all want to work, to offer role models to our children, to contribute to our family’s financial stability, and to maintain our sense of self. Yet we continue to struggle with combining work and family in a way that gives us time for both, and we weren’t at all surprised when the film tells us that lack of family time is the main reason mothers leave the workforce.

We shared how legislation really can affect us. One of us related how a change in California’s family leave between her pregnancies means that now her husband is also considering the logistics of when to take parental leave; “he has an empathetic understanding” of the challenges she faces, she said, and it has brought a new sense of balance to their marriage.

And finally, we discussed the tricky navigation we all face between public and private life, how protective we are of the time we give as volunteers and activists because of our desire for family time, and our sadness about feeling less generous “out there,” for society, because of the powerful claims on our private time. Meanwhile, we often feel so isolated, as mothers, we’re looking for a connection beyond the connection with our children, a way to extend our nurturing beyond the boundaries of family in order to improve the world for our children and our neighbors’ children. is savvy. They know they’re trying to organize about the most exhausted, overworked segment of the population, so the film suggests quick, strategic ways to help: send an email; sign a petition; write a letter. For those of us wanting a middle ground between internet activism and street demonstrations, the website suggests tips for organizing your own local activist group. Our small group quickly wrote up a wish list of three improvements we’d like to see for families in our city, exchanged email addresses, and promised to meet again. The Motherhood Manifesto inspired the activists in us.

cross-posted at

Mama at the Movies: The Motherhood Manifesto

What does The Motherhood Manifesto have to do with baking bread? Here’s a taste from this month’s column:

When I was a little girl, I’d stand in the kitchen at my mom’s side, “helping” her make bread every Saturday. She’d measure warm water, yeast and honey into a big yellow bowl, then a few minutes later stir in a bit of salt and several scoops of flour. She’d give the mixture a few brisk strokes with a wooden spoon and then, as the dough held together, turn it out on to the table to knead. This was the part I loved. Dusting our hands with a bit of flour, we’d push and fold the dough until it was smooth and satiny. A couple hours’ rising, a bit more kneading, an hour in the oven and then: fresh bread for the family to eat.

Bread making, like childrearing, isn’t particularly complicated. The ingredients are cheap, the process is simple. But they both require time and attention. Childrearing of course wants very focused time and attention; it can’t be squeezed into intervals of free time like bread making. So when my mom went back to work full-time, when I was old enough to spend the full day in school, bread making fell by the wayside, replaced by breadwinning. Her forty hours outside our home didn’t allow the time at home for both bread making and childrearing; she had to make a choice (and I like the choice she made!).

But we really shouldn’t have to make that choice. There should be time for childrearing, breadwinning, bread making, and whatever else a mother wants to do. This is the radical claim of The Motherhood Manifesto.

Read the rest of the column over at Literary Mama, and then sign up at MomsRising to stop discrimination against mothers and help build a more family-friendly country.

Remembering Tillie Olsen

When Tillie Olsen died New Year’s Day at the age of 94, the world lost not just a singular writer, but a woman who tried to combine motherhood and writing long before “mom-lit” became a publisher’s marketing label. Her writing is spare and strong, her work as a feminist an example for us all.

I’d been getting reacquainted with Tillie Olsen via her granddaughter, Ericka Lutz’s, wonderful column at Literary Mama; her latest is a moving portrait of saying goodbye to a sometimes difficult, always beloved grandmother. There’s also a wonderful tribute to Olsen by Marjorie Osterhout on the Literary Mama blog.

I first read Tillie Olsen’s work in high school; I remember particularly a fruitless debate about whether the mother in “I Stand Here Ironing” is a “good” mother. I wonder now about the teacher engaging sixteen year-olds in such a dialogue; it’s an easy way into the story, but where does it get you, really? Who’s to say what a “good mother” is? We were way too young and green to fully understand the story’s complicated truths. Still, I’m glad that teacher introduced me to her story, because of course her writing stayed with me. Thanks to him, Olsen became a name I looked for in college, in graduate school; she became a writer I read, and reread, and taught myself. And if I did no better teaching her complex story than my high school teacher, at least, I think, I’ve planted her name in my students’ heads, and they can return again when they’re older.

Tillie Olsen’s family has asked that on her birthday, this Sunday, January 14th, we commemorate her life and her work with gatherings and readings of her writing. You can find more information about how to honor this extraordinary woman at the Tillie Olsen Memorial website.