Posts tagged ‘mothertalk’

The MotherTalk Blog Tour Wrap-Up

The MotherTalk bloggers have wrapped up their reviews of Mama, PhD, and I want to thank all of them for reading the book and spreading the word! Here are excerpts from the last few reviews; follow the links to read the complete post.

Review Planet says, “…I’m in love with the new book Mama, Ph.D. It’s a collection of stories from academic mamas who lay bare their souls about the hard times, the good parts, the special challenges (pumping in a maintenance closet — and then the dean walks in!), and why it’s all worthwhile. I think it’s also a good casebook of the situation today in many departments, and I hope that it will be used by someone or somegroup to start making changes. I hope.

Go check it out. Read about the theater director who takes her son to see the plays she’s directing, from backstage, with crayons. Meet the mom who adopted a child after years of infertility and a brain tumor, who found her balance at a nearby women’s college. Learn from the mathematician finding balance with three kids and a promising career. Gaze at the woman women with burgeoning bellies who still find strength to teach five classes and hold office hours.

I admire these women, for the lives they lead, and the sacrifices that they make to be fulfilled, to support their families, and to bring education and truth to the children that we raise up too. I only wish that the world would make it a little easier to both follow a passion and raise children passionately.”

Viva La Feminista writes, “Mama PhD is heart wrenching and heartwarming at the same time. It shows how far we have to go as a society to truly value families and the contributions of working moms. I think this book could be replicated for almost any industry as well as with subfields of academia.”

Writing in the Mountains says, “I loved reading these essays. They offered a personal view into these women’s lives and a voice that tells everyone this situation needs to change.”

And finally, Everyday Stranger writes, “It was well-written and engaging, and more than once I wanted to raise my fist in the air and shout “I know where you are!” (I wanted to say “Amen, sister”, but am aware of the idiocy in further contributing to stereotypes. Still, first thoughts and all that.)

Monday at the MotherTalk Blog Tour

The Black Belt Mama Review gave the book a black belt! She writes:

“At times, these essays enraged me… women who are mothers, the world’s best multi-taskers, are made to feel like failures because they choose to procreate. At times these essays inspired me…hearing the tales of those who have done it, who have laughed in the face of these archaic institutions and said, “screw you!” At times, it just made me sad that there even has to be this discussion.

This was a great collection of essays. Heartfelt and poignant personal tales of women, mothers and scholars. Some have chosen one role over the other and some manage both despite the opposition. All of these women inspire me for their candor. Over the past year I have often thought about going back to get that PhD. Mama PhD has proved that I can do this…and I’m thinking I just might.”

Tales from the Diaper Pail says, “The stories often draw from humor, sometimes dark, to highlight themes of loss and triumph through various stages of the academic path. Several themes resurface – the mind-body schism that seems even more poignant in an academic career as well as the feeling of ‘never enoughness’. The stories are well-written and at times, heartbreaking. … Although these pieces are particularly relevant to mothers pursuing or in academic professions, I found themes through the book that were pertinent to women in all professions, where the pull to “perform childlessness” is quite real.”

And finally, Mama(e) in Translation liked reading about our three biologists who have found fulfilling work from home: “I felt mightily comforted to read about the experiences of the three authors, Susan Bassow, Dana Campbell, and Liz Stockwell, and I can’t wait to participate in the website and resource for NTA (nontraditional academic) parents that they are planning to set up!”

Three More MotherTalk Mama, PhD Reviews…

Crunchy Granola read the book after a meeting in which a new faculty member was told, “There’s a university child care center, and efforts to expand it and create more flexible hours are underway. Child care has been at the top of the list of the faculty women’s association for years now.” Years?! Comments like this make me –and I think also Crunchy Granola–shake my head in frustration; just get it done, people. She comments, “the collection is a smart, funny-sad-crazy making-amazing-wonderful set of pieces that had me nodding as I read. The authors come from a variety of fields, and a range of institutions. This collection is well-worth reading for anyone considering an academic career, and also for any administrator mentoring faculty.

Mama PhD won’t surprise anyone who’s a reader of academic blogs. After all, there are lots of outlets these days for reading good personal writing on motherhood and academia, and I wondered whether I’d find the essays redundant or compelling. They were definitely compelling, though. I read quickly, learning about the different ways institutions create barriers for mothers advancing in their careers, or make it easier for those with children to advance. These are eloquent accounts of what choices women have made to accommodate their kids and careers.”

21st Century Mom read from the perspective of someone who’d been a grad student in the 70s, and is now mother to two grown daughters, both of whom are considering motherhood and graduate work. She writes:

“We want it all – family, work, friends and time to train and figuring out how to do that is one of life’s greatest tricks. The essays in Mama, PhD. are specific to being a mother in academia and address issues of sexism, negative perception and the tyranny of history but the solutions for how to “have it all” can be universally applied.

As a mother I want my daughters to “have it all” whatever that means to them. I want them to be able to define “it all” and to live a life that supports them in their efforts. I want their partners and their children, my future grandchildren, to “have it all” – a stable family, love, education, intellectual and cultural stimulation and financial stability. This book has, for me, been an antidote to the constant media messages telling us that trying to “have it all” is wrong, and selfish and impossible. Many of these women faced down the stereotypes, the negative attitudes, the professional denial and powered on, confident in their choices and their abilities.

I’ll be sending this book to my oldest daughter soon with instructions to send it to her little sister when she’s done. I hope they draw the same message from the book as did I. The world really can be your oyster as long as you can manage your time and your detractors and focus on your goals.”

And finally, Third Culture Mamma writes: “This book has been described as one that should be given to all mothers in or thinking about entering academia. I would also like to add for those who are thinking about leaving academia. One of the strengths of this compilation, and there are many, is that it presents all sides: those who have or are about to jump into the deths of academia, those who are a making their way though it come hell of high water and those who have decided to leave it.

While some of the experiences recounted in this collection do tell of departments and colleagues that are supportive, it also drives home the point that academia is just the same as almost all other industries – mothers are not welcome with open arms. However, besides the negative aspects, reading this book made me feel at home. The passion I have for academia and the possibilities of merging ith with motherhood, not ignoring the numerous challenges that it brings and that are transmitted in the book, is what I wanted to read, to help me see a possible future back in academia, and becoming a Mama, PhD.”

MotherTalk Blog Tour Round-Up

More from the MotherTalk bloggers:

Christa writes: “This book is a must-have for any woman who intends to pursue motherhood and academics. In truth, it should be required reading IN the universities for everyone–male and female–in education.”

And Susan says, “The writing in this book is alive, often very humorous, often fraught. The quality of these narratives is uniformly excellent. It’s creative nonfiction at its best: true stories that often read like fiction, with compelling narratives, and characters for whom much is at stake.”

And finally, from They Grow In Your Heart: “This book gave me a great deal of encouragement because so many other women have decided to forgo teaching full time – like I have. And there was a continuing theme that it’s okay if motherhood takes over the academic side of your life. OR if you decide to pursue your career. But, at the same time, it’s sad. It’s sad for our students and for our schools that so many women feel forced to choose between having a family and being an educator.

Mama PhD is a great read for anyone in academia considering motherhood, any moms in academia looking for a better way, and for all administration in schools everywhere. Actually, maybe it should be required reading for administrators!”

More from the MotherTalk/Mama, PhD Blog Tour

Here’s a round-up of the last few reviews of Mama, PhD from the MotherTalk bloggers:

Life in the Hundred Acre Wood writes, “Though the anthology paints an honest yet bleak picture of academia, it is not all gloom and doom. Some women do find ways to make it work (though a few had partners able to share equally in the child care). Others, such as the single mothers, are down right heroic in their abilities to balance their work hours with raising a family. But the essays that tugged at me most, were the ones where the unrelenting demands of academia had permanently derailed these brilliant and talented mothers from attaining the holy grail — a tenured position at a major research university. These pieces were an unpleasant reminder of the number of brain cells lost to society when we don’t accommodate parents.”

PCOS Baby says, “It was a very open, sometimes brutally frank, look at the academy and essentially how it fails women who want to also have a family. And yes, some of the contributors talk about how it also fails men who want to have a family—but they also make the point that men are not responsible for the physical demands of both pregnancy, birth, and nursing a baby.

“. . .I think this book should be required reading for any woman going into any sort of graduate education program. And their partners.”

And just so you know that I’m not only quoting the raves, Here We Go Again had some nice things to say about the book–and does think it is a great book for our target audience–but mostly it really wasn’t her cup of tea:

“In general, I didn’t hate this book. I didn’t like it much either. I wouldn’t have bought it for myself. In my opinion, it wasn’t really a book for pleasure reading, which is all I do now. However, if you want to write a scholarly paper on women in academia, cite away. This would be a great research tool or a great read if you were considering either becoming a professor or a graduate student and wanted to know how it worked with motherhood. But for casual reading, try Anne of Green Gables. (I am re-reading the eight book series this week. I am on book six, Anne of Ingleside, right now.)”

Of course, we also think that the book’s right for anyone considering graduate work or a career in higher education, and interested in how that might work with family life, and we do like Anne of Green Gables, too, so we’ll just agree to agree on that!

MotherTalk Blog Tour: Mama, PhD!

After writing ten or a dozen reviews for MotherTalk myself, I’m thrilled that for the next two weeks, it’s my book being reviewed by the MotherTalk bloggers. Here are some highlights from the first couple days:

Mama, PhD is not just a shoulder to cry on for readers grappling with what they may have thought were unique troubles in juggling academia and motherhood, it is also a call to arms for women and men in academia to make change happen, to make academia a place consistent with the lives of both men and women. Evans and Grant, the editors of the book, understand that there is a power in speaking out, that when women hear many other women are struggling in exactly the same fashion we suddenly see our experiences not as personal incompetence but as a larger injustice.”
blue milk

“I hope that Mama, PhD will spread the word through the bastions of higher education: policies that marginalize women also marginalize our children, our future, and our present. The glass ceiling is cracking in the business world; the marble ceiling has shattered, but gender equity hasn’t cracked the ivory tower yet.”
Compost Happens

“I loved that a wide range of disciplines, ages, geography, and experiences are represented by the essays. The women representing the sciences, psychology, economics, and history add a depth to the conversation, one that I’m not sure could be achieved in a book of MFA’s and English PhD’s. Consequently, I would make this book a must-read and a must-gift for any woman contemplating or living with a graduate degree. Because so many of the women report being blindsided by parenthood and its impact on their careers, I think this is an especially important read for those considering a graduate degree.”
Life Is a Banquet

And from Peter’s Cross Station:

“… it’s not all about the choice between dropping out or suffering, Mama PhD also tells more than one tale of a mother at the end of her rope who was thrown a fresh one by an enlightened advisor, mentor or department chair. There are a few corners of academe that have put all the feminist theory of the past thirty years into some kind of practice and support actual women (and their children). There are small institutions that place a community value on families and children and the well-rounded well being of professors.”

Check out the MotherTalk site for more updates on the tour!

MotherTalk Blog Tour: The Maternal Is Political

Saturday started like any other day. Eli came thumping down the hall at first light and climbed into bed with his patch blanket and blue bear for a wriggly cuddle. “Is it a school day?” he asked after a bit. “No, sweetie, it’s not,” I answered. “That means I can watch a show!” he crowed. So he jumped and I hauled myself out of bed and downstairs we went, where he settled on to the couch with his “show snack” of dry cereal and a sippy cup of milk. I turned on the TV, ready to read him the titles of the 26 episodes of Oswald we’ve recorded for him to choose from for his weekend morning’s entertainment.

But before I could get to the Tivo screen, there was Hillary Clinton, bowing out of the race for president, and I sat back down on the couch, momentarily deflated.

“Mama?” Eli asked after a moment, puzzled that his beloved blue octopus wasn’t yet on screen. “Mama, please tell me the choices?”

“Just a minute, sweetheart; I want to watch this. This is very important.”

Soon Ben and Tony were downstairs, too, and we all watched the speech: Eli, bored and impatient, Tony providing running commentary to Ben (who’s been an easy Obama supporter ever since his kindergarten teacher put a campaign sign on the classroom door), and me with surprised tears in my eyes. Because despite my ambivalence about Clinton as a candidate, I found myself profoundly sad to see her candidacy end. Her candidacy – despite the terribly sexist coverage it attracted – put an end, finally, to the question of whether, as Gail Collins put it, “it’s possible for a woman to go toe-to-toe with the toughest male candidate in a race for president of the United States. Or whether a woman could be strong enough to serve as commander in chief.” Her candidacy made it clear that a women, indeed a mother, could govern the United States, and it inspired me.

Happily, I have plenty left to be inspired by. I can support an exciting candidate for president, and I can dive into lots of terrific reading in the wonderfully timely and engaging The Maternal Is Political. Now, I should admit that I am a completely subjective reader: many of the contributions in this anthology are by excellent writers whom I consider friends, women I know from my work at Literary Mama. And the book is edited by my fabulous partner in the work of managing the site, Shari MacDonald Strong. But, despite my subjectivity, I’m still a very critical reader; I’ve probably read over a dozen anthologies in the last year alone, and having now edited one myself, I’ve formed strong opinions on aspects ranging from cover design to essay length to a book’s organization.

You can all judge for yourselves what a great cover The Maternal Is Political has; the book gets other little things right, too. It offers reader-friendly sections, titled Believe, Teach and Act – words that move me, that get me thinking about the ways that I believe, teach and act just by reading them. It offers a reader-friendly variety of essay length and tone, from the 2 ½ page day-in-the-life account from Benazir Bhutto (reading how competently she moved through a day of governing and mothering made me mourn her all over again) or Cindy Sheehan’s sharp critique of the progressive left in “Good Riddance, Attention Whore,” to the more leisured reflection of Shari MacDonald Strong’s thoughtful “Raising Small Boys in a Time of War” or Barbara Kingsolver’s funny, smart “A Letter to My Daughter at Thirteen.”

And with all this writing, The Maternal Is Political gets the big thing right, too. It’s great writing, cover to cover. It’s all here–gender politics, sexual politics, school politics, adoption politics, religious politics, body politics, community politics, family politics, social politics—but with a mix of tone and approach that makes the book a real pleasure to read. Rather than weighing you down with the utter importance of it all, these writers make you want to think critically, get up off the couch, make a phone call, sign a petition. Do good in the world, and teach your children how to do good, also.

And that part’s not so hard, really. These essays remind us that our children are our constant witnesses, and so why not take subtle advantage of that while they’re young, as in Gayle Brandeis’ “Trying Out,” or in Jennifer Graf Groneberg’s quietly forceful “Politics of the Heart,” which relates moving through a regular day with her three children while following the news of a state assembly bill that would affect her ability to home school them:

At noon, another email update from MCHE arrived, explaining that the crowd had moved to the Capitol. I fed Carter a grilled cheese sandwich, and I fed the babies pears and green beans and bits of Ritz crackers in their high chairs, thinking about how flimsy my position felt—I was fighting for the right to educate my son, but I had nothing to go on but a mother’s intuition, a mother’s love.

In some of the essays, the children taught are sometimes older, and sometimes not the writer’s own. Amy L. Jenkins, in “One Hundred and Twenty-Five Miles,” describes how she took advantage of the confined space of a road trip to work on a young man’s views of gender roles. In Gigi Rosenberg’s “Signora,” she speaks up, in halting Italian, to break up a charged moment on a bus, and Anne Lamott wonders briefly if she’s gone too far, but is then reassured: “During the reception, an old woman came up to me and said, “If you hadn’t spoken out, I would have spit,” and then raised her fist in the power salute. We huddled for a while and ate M&Ms; to give us strength. It was a communion for those of us who continue to believe that civil rights and equality, and even common sense, may somehow be sovereign one day.”

All of these women write about families, but I was especially moved by stories of creating families, or asserting them in the face of challenges. I teared up at the end of Kathy Briccetti’s wonderfully rich detailing of her family’s complicated adoption history, which culminates in one of California’s first second-parent adoptions. And Ona Gritz, who writes a gorgeous monthly column for Literary Mama, writes matter-of-factly about the casual discrimination she faces every day:

Here is what I want to believe. That Lois didn’t think blond, blue-eyed Ethan and I were related because of my dark hair and eyes. Or that I look too young to be the mother of a two-year-old (even though I’m thirty-six). But there is another, more likely explanation, and I can feel myself squelch it down. To Lois’s mind, a disabled woman can’t be a mother. The disable are dependent and asexual. They are like children themselves.

I cannot stop thinking about the striking image of street children in Violeta Garcia-Mendoza’s poetic yet also clear-eyed account of a trip to Guatemala to adopt her first child:

I don’t expect the street children to whisper. I don’t expect them to approach us like they do, bumping against each other somnolently, like fish. Opening and closing their hands instead of their mouths. Some of them hold hands with a smaller
sibling, tethering themselves together to make sure they don’t get separated in the crowd. They try out a handful of English words on us—”hello,” “please”—before they learn I speak Spanish. Then they ask for money for milk, for medicine. Their skin is dull, inflamed in places, their lips chapped, hair tangled and matted; their feet are bare. They don’t swarm but quietly press against us with their soft por favores and gracias.

And finally, I come back again and again to the strong and simple words of Shari MacDonald Strong’s introduction: “…If my life as a mother of three children has taught me one thing, it’s that there is no more powerful act than mothering. There is no greater reason than my children for me to become politically involved, and there is no more important work to put my efforts to than those things that will make this world a better, safer place for my kids.” “Vote Mother,” Shari writes; indeed. Share this with the mothers you know, and their partners, friends, and children, and remind them: it’s time to get political.

For more reviews, plus an interview with Shari MacDonald Strong, check out MotherTalk this week.

Writing Motherhood Paperback Giveaway!

Part of my wonderful Mother’s Day this year involved attending a reading/writing workshop with Lisa Garrigues, with whom I’ve corresponded since I reviewed her book, Writing Motherhood, for MotherTalk. She was in town to celebrate the paperback release of her book, and so a friend and I drove out to the event, where everyone got a chance to write a bit, share their work if they liked, and offer feedback. Somehow within just a few minutes, under Lisa’s guidance, small groups of strangers were offering thoughtful feedback on each other’s work. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

Today, when I got home from collecting Ben at school, I found the paperback in the mail, courtesy of Lisa’s publisher. Now it’s a beautiful book, and if I didn’t already own the hardcover (now signed!) I’d keep it, too. But that just seems greedy. So, lovely readers, I’m hosting a giveaway. Leave a comment on this post by the end of the week and I will pick a winner at random.

And in case you missed my earlier review, here it is again; it still holds up–though now my copy of Lisa’s book is a bit battered from use. (I’ve updated the final paragraph to reflect changes at Literary Mama.)

Very early on the morning of July 4th, 2001, I climbed out of bed and took a pregnancy test. As I waited for the result, I left the stick resting on the edge of the bathroom sink and sat down at my desk to write a few lines on my computer. A few minutes later, I went back and added some more thoughts, trying to absorb the fact that I was pregnant.

That was the start of my mothering journal.

I’d kept journals sporadically in the past: a small, cream- colored book my aunt gave me before a high school month in England; a cloth-bound book I bought before my junior year at Oxford University. But when I didn’t have a discrete period of time to document, I could never keep a journal going. I’d get fed up with myself for using it as a dumping ground for my complaints about adolescent life, or I’d get hung up with worry about someone finding it.

But this time was different. I’d just started a new job, I was pregnant, Tony and I bought a house: my life was changing fast, changing permanently, and I wanted to keep track of my thoughts.

That January, my computer crashed and took my journal with it. I lost teaching notes, syllabi, years’ worth of emails, but it was the journal’s loss that made me cry. It took me a few days to regain perspective (I hadn’t lost the baby, I kept having to remind myself, only the writing about the baby), but when I did, I took myself to a good art supply store and bought a nice journal with lined pages and an elastic strap to keep it closed.

And now I have a neat pile of six on the bottom shelf of my bedside table, with the current one, a pen in the middle holding my place, on the top shelf next to my lip balm, the current New Yorker, and a water glass.

I’ve kept it going.

The problem, though, was that before long the journal was not enough. I’d start something, jot down a funny thing Ben did or make an observation about my new life, and then it would sit there, undeveloped. I didn’t have any compelling reason to develop my thoughts into an essay. And after years of steady writing in graduate school, culminating in a nearly 300-page dissertation, I didn’t really even know how to write an essay about myself. I cast about for a year or so, writing unfinished essays during Ben’s naps, not knowing what to do with them. Eventually I lucked into a writing group and from there landed a position at Literary Mama and, between the gentle pressure of my monthly turn to present at writing group and the inspiration of the essays I edit, I found my way to a regular writing gig, a book, and a new life as a writer.

But it all would have been much simpler if I’d had Lisa Garrigues book, Writing Motherhood, back then.

I confess, I haven’t read any other writing books, so I have nothing to compare this to. Well, that’s not even quite right; I haven’t finished any other writing books. I’ve poked around Bird by Bird (and found it quite useful when I do), read a few lines of Writing Down the Bones, but I’ve always gotten a little impatient with the books, always had a moment when I realized, “Wait… no one’s asking me for snack, no one needs a dry diaper, I should be writing!” and put them down. So one of the things I like most about Garrigues’ book is that she invites you to do just that. It is not a book to read cover to cover (although I did, for this review, and it holds up perfectly well to that sustained attention), but one to pick up and read for twenty minutes when you have an hour free, or five minutes when you have ten: pick it up, find your inspiration, put the book down, and write. Because just as no one learns to parent by reading parenting books, no one learns to write without writing.

I like the bold orange cover of this book, which won’t get lost on my desk; that bright flash will always peek out from under the messy pile of drafts, bills, and Ben’s latest train drawings, and remind me to write. I like her tone, which is encouraging and friendly throughout; she leaves behind any kind of authoritative teacher voice and comes across as a woman you’d happily share a coffee with. Garrigues calls her writing prompts “invitations,” another subtle way that she manages to lighten up the task of setting down to write. And I like that she gives you lots and lots of good stuff to read, because the most important work in becoming a writer, after writing, is, of course, reading. Garrigues gives you her own short essays (on topics ranging from copying other writers, to marriage, to mama playdates); some of the little essays are hardly about writing at all, but about mothering, and then as she comes to the end and crystallizes the feeling that she’s expressed in the essay, she neatly raises a question for your own writing. She provides sample “mother’s pages” (essays written by her students), and she offers loads of great quotations from other writers. She also offers concrete advice on everything from buying a writer’s notebook to setting up a productive workspace. I have both of those things, but I still picked up a couple good ideas from her. She closes the book with an entire section on moving from new writer to a writer seeking connection and publication, with ideas on setting up and maintaining writing groups and taking one’s writing public. And then, in case there weren’t already enough ideas to keep you going in the text of the book, she offers a list of 99 writing starts and a bibliography.

I am keeping this review short because, inspired by Garrigues book, I want to get back to my writing! But I want to leave you with a couple quotations. The first, from Annie Dillard, resonated with me right now as I struggle to clear
space in my days to write:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.

And now here’s Garrigues:

This book is, in part, a story of growing up and into a role I claimed for myself.

Is she talking about mothering or writing?! The point, as she claims throughout the book, is that the two are not mutually exclusive but complimentary roles that feed and develop each other. We should take advantage of that fact, and make time to write our lives.

Garrigues teaches writing classes, and those of you in the NY/NJ area should check them out. For anyone looking for on-line writing classes, I highly recommend Susan Ito’s parent lit workshop (which I have taken) and the poetry workshops led by Violeta Garcia-Mendoza (an editor at LiteraryMama). Literary Mama is now offering monthly writing prompts, with personal feedback from the Literary Reflections editorial staff, as well as listings of workshops and other resources for writers. So get writing!

MotherTalk Blog Tour: That Baby CD/DVD

Edited to add:
If you’re interested in ordering That Baby DVD, or That Baby CD, or the set, enter the coupon code “MotherTalk” when purchasing from the website, and save 20% on your entire order! Also, from now until May 18th, all orders using the coupon code “MotherTalk” will be entered in a drawing to win a new iPod nano.

I grew up listening to my parents’ music: Judy Collins, The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez recordings, augmented by occasional trips into Manhattan for afternoon symphony rehearsals. “Kid’s music” as we think of it now, didn’t really exist, though everything my parents played, of course, was perfect kid’s music: clear lyrics (focusing often on peace and social justice); beautiful melodies. And my tastes now run usually (though not exclusively) toward the unplugged and the solo vocal or small group over the bigger, more raucous sound of a band.

When Ben was born, we didn’t run out and start buying kids music. I played him the Indigo Girls, Tony played him hip-hop. We were doing just fine (and Ben was learning about many different kinds of stringed instruments, plus keeping the beat very well) but inevitably kids’ music started making its way in the door: Dan Zanes, Ralph Covert. We signed Ben up for a music class with a local former indie rocker, Chris Molla, where he banged a tambourine and learned great old folk songs.

I didn’t realize how lucky we’d been with the music Ben, and then Eli, were listening to until recently, when we were given an “educational” CD called Color Train. I’m not linking to it because it’s simply too terrible: over-engineered synthesizers and a chirpy vocal, with inane lyrics like “Where oh where did the dinosaurs go? I guess we’ll never know!” which make Tony and Ben yell at the CD: “We do! We do know! We know because of science!”

I disappeared the CD as quickly as I could and we went running back to our beloved staples.

After the Color Train debacle, I didn’t expect much from the That Baby CD and DVD, but I signed up for the MotherTalk blog tour because something in the description of the CD and its producers made me think it might be ok. It’s a Mom and Pop outfit, literally. Rob and Lisi Wolf aren’t a committee of teachers and child development specialists who have compromised their way to 41 minutes of age-appropriate pablum. They sound kind of like me (parents who think having kids shouldn’t mean turning the stereo off for 10 years), and their musical tastes are right in line with mine. The track list for That Baby CD showcases the groups that created the soundtrack of my high school years: Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, 10,000 Maniacs, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and more.

But still, I was skeptical. If the music’s that good, why not play your kids the originals, rather than acoustic covers? Well, we very well could, but the fact is we don’t. The CD is like a mix tape made by a good friend, someone who knows your taste well enough to put some of your favorite songs onto a recording, plus some great unfamiliar stuff. So, in fact, while I love Bruce Springsteen, the Springsteen song on this CD, Pony Boy, is new to me, and the cover (by Jaycob Van Auken, a Lyle Lovett-sound alike) is gorgeous (the accompanying video is one of my favorites, too). Stephanie Schneiderman is a terrific discovery for me, as well; I think she’s brave to take on Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game, but she brings something beautifully new to the song. Her cover of Peter, Paul and Mary’s Garden Song is a beauty, as is her take on Paul Simon’s St. Judy’s Comet (honestly, I like her voice so much, I’m going to buy her solo CDs).

The CD is now firmly established in our car music rotation; the accompanying DVD is terrific (except, I have to say, for the kids lip syncing to Brass Pocket, which we all find a little disconcerting!) Although we don’t watch a ton of tv around here, and when we do, it is hard for the boys (or any of us, really) to shake the family Oswald habit, they have started to request repeat viewings of the That Baby DVD, and I am happy to oblige. The That Baby CD and DVD make a great addition to any family’s music repertoire.

A Plumm Summer

What do you think of when you think “family film?” For me, it’s the Herbie the Love Bug movies that my parents took us to in the early 70s. I confess I don’t remember a thing about the plot of these flicks, but I remember a late summer evening’s drive to a movie theater, all six of us piled into the car, and I remember being happy. When I was a little older, we all saw Star Wars together in Ogunquit, Maine; it was the opening weekend, and the six of us couldn’t all sit together (as I recall, my brothers sat on the stage directly in front of the screen, their heads tipped back to watch). I was more into the experience — the crowd, the excitement — than the story on the screen. And we all saw Airplane together, too (why, I wonder?), when I was old enough to be embarrassed to be seen at the movies with my parents.

We watched movies together at home more often. I loved staying home from school when I was little (before my mom returned to work) because we’d watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies together. We watched James Bond movies, which when I think back on it were entirely inappropriate — but probably most of the R content was over my head, anyway. We watched nutty 40s capers, like Kind Hearts and Coronets. We watched Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movies. And of course we watched The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music every year on television, too.

Of course when I was a kid, I didn’t think much about the difficulty of “family movies.” We watched movies together. With four kids 8 years apart, probably one of us was always a little bored and someone else probably didn’t entirely get it, but no one complained because it was still nice to all be doing the same thing. Well, I should amend that: I didn’t complain, because as the youngest, I was always just grateful when my older siblings were doing something with me! That’s more accurate.

It’s a little easier with my guys today. The “family movie” options are greater, and the boys are close enough in age that they can watch the same things, so we’ve watched The Sound of Music together (once in the ER) — a good family film despite (for now; someday because of) the Nazi plot (they don’t ask about the war themes , and I don’t volunteer.) We’ve watched Toy Story a lot, which is probably the household favorite right now; we’ve watched Enchanted once. But even most of these films have elements the boys don’t get, or I don’t want them to get. It’s hard to get a family movie right for everyone in the family.

A Plumm Summer is a new family movie opening this weekend, and MotherTalk and Mom Central are trying to spread the word. I’m all in favor of helping out a little independent film, and this one’s got a great cast (Henry Winkler and Peter Scolari were my favorites) with a sweetly nostalgic voice-over by Jeff Daniels. The film’s set in 1968, and based on the true story of what happened in a small Montana town when the beloved Froggy Doo, a “Superstar puppet,” in David Brinkley’s words, was stolen. It’s a story of brothers, which of course interests me a lot these days, and about how their parents are managing their difficult path from sweethearts to partners. It’s got a bit of Scooby Doo feel to it, as the kids run circles around the FBI trying to solve the mystery of who stole Froggy Doo. Some of the themes and scenes are too heavy for my boys, but I’ll save it till they’re older. If you have kids in the 8-12 range, it might well make a good family outing for you.