Archive for January, 2007

Super Mom

Monday, January 29th, 2007

One of my favorite cartoons shows a huge statue of a frumpy-looking woman, carrying a briefcase, in the middle of a park. On the marble slab underneath, it says:

DORIS K. ELSTON

Brain Surgeon * Professional

Model * Artist * Lawyer

plus

MOTHER OF FOUR

It sums up so neatly the quandary of the modern mother (with a nice sense of humor so we don’t take ourselves too seriously). We do so much, we try so hard, and we yearn for recognition — for that sense that the world sees and appreciates our efforts.

Every now and then I’ll spend some time cataloging all the hats I have worn that particular day. Cook, cleaner, therapist, cheerleader, driver, picker-upper-of-junk, teacher, writer, accountant, volunteer, appliance repairwoman, task-master, hoochy mama… it’s quite impressive. I think we should all make a point of recognizing that even if we don’t always succeed at achieving the “perfection” we may dream of, we do a whole helluva lot.

Robin Toner’s front page New York Times article today talks about how in the past female politicians have had to downplay their feminine, motherly sides and emphasize their power and toughness. Not any more. With women rising up the male-dominated ranks of politics — both here in the U.S and in Europe — there’s an acceptance that they are truly multi-faceted beings, and that this is an impressive trait. Yes, they can be loving, soft and kind. And yes, they can be decisive, ambitious and influential.

Mothers wear many hats, and they wear them well!

It’s a Big World Out There

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Last week I went to a Martin Luther King Junior Assembly at my kids’ school. As always, I had to blink away tears, hoping no one could tell what a total sucker I am. A guest speaker talked about how, during the school desegregation riots in Boston, she sent her first and second graders off on a 45 minute cross-town journey to an integrated, experimental school in an African American neighborhood. She explained how naive she’d been, but that the times called for action. Everyone believed in something and was willing to stand up for it.

My generation (people between the ages of 30 – 50, say) has never had to fight for much. Even college students don’t get riled up by much these days. It seems to me we’ve all become a little cynical and complacent.

Mothers of today freak out about stuff that is not very important. Are we making time to fight bigger battles? Do I take responsibility for anything but my own little microcosm? As moms, we desperately want our kids to develop a sense of passion for the world, an understanding of the role they play as its future caretakers. But when we’re so busy worrying about the small stuff, who is going to teach our children to take care of the big stuff?

Katrin

From “Chick” to “Mom”

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

A few weeks ago, Lizzie Skurnick of The New York Times wrote an article called “Chick Lit, the Sequel: Yummy Mummy” that opened this way: “Earlier this year, an icon of youthful abandon — bubbly, blond, a perpetual adolescent — left the grove of girlhood and gave birth to a baby boy. No, not Britney Spears. The puckish heroine Bridget Jones, whose fictional diary of the urban dating life was a best-seller a decade ago, and whose recent journey to the delivery room has been serialized in The Independent in Britain.”

Now doesn’t that make some of us feel old? Cute, chubby, cigarette-smoking Bridget… a mom? Is she going to be exhausted, even chubbier, and frantic as all get out? Let’s hope not. Or is she going to be clad in designer gear, sporting Manolos and manicures, nanny in tow?

Clearly, it’s hard to write a humorous, entertaining book about the ordinary life of an ordinary mom. Not humorous. Not entertaining. This so-called “mom lit” is supposed to do for mothers what romance novels do for the love-lorn: provide a temporary haven from reality. (Readers can still feel like good mothers while indulging in bad mother fantasies.)

Skurnick continues: “And society’s view of the maternal years is changing. From the television soap Desperate Housewives, in which managing play dates and sewing costumes for the school play take a back seat to engaging in steamy affairs, to US Weekly’s obsessive investigations into celebrities’ “baby bumps,” motherhood is suddenly sexy.”

So… this isn’t just escapist fare. Now we’re being told not only do we have to be CEO’s at home and in the office, but we have to be sexy too. And chic. And loving. And happy.

Anyone else out there feeling the pressure?

Women spend their pre-baby lives striving to learn, achieve, and succeed. Then along comes junior and suddenly everything women thought they would feel and swore they’d do as a mother, goes right into toilet – oh, excuse me, the diaper genie. To an ambitious, lively woman, motherhood can be intensely lonely and bewildering. Living the fantasy of being the perfect Yummy Mummy can provide some relief, sure. But not when we start to add that to the ever-increasing list of things we should be achieving as modern-day moms.

As soon as we mature out of the fantasy stage and are faced with the long-term challenges of parenting in a consumer-driven, high-octane culture, where do we turn then for comfort and inspiration? The media tells us to do more and try harder, or helpfully points out who’s to blame for the current state of affairs. Mothers of school-age children are faced with a hyper-competitive environment in which getting support and sharing helpful ideas becomes harder and harder.

Seems to me, there’s room in this dialogue for novels and non fiction books that look at the daunting, serious side of motherhood, without being a daunting and serious (i.e. boring) read. Why not dig a little deeper and look a little harder for the answer to moms’ malaise?

Deepak Chopra talks about discovering our own “archetype” in order to fulfill our true destiny. Translated loosely, this means slowing down and turning inward so we can identify our real selves and our innermost desires. In turn, this helps us find genuine happiness, no matter what trials we face in everyday life.

Mom lit, or whatever publishers want to call it, serves a valid purpose, but of course most mothers I know aspire to more than just being yummy mummies. Dreaming of sexy stilettos and slinky silhouettes is just fine, but in the long run mothers must find a way to come face-to-face with themselves rather than the image of themselves as they wish they were.

Move aside, Carrie Bradshaw, hello… me! This process of self-realization can be a life-altering experience, especially if moms have been sleepwalking – or manically multi-tasking – through junior’s early years. But it’s the only way we’ll be able to figure out what really makes us tick, and, as a consequence, what will make our lives as mothers more fulfilling and our families happier.

Savoring the Words

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

This morning I sat down to work on When Mom’s Happy, Everyone’s Happy. I often lose sight of time when I’m working on this book, but after hour upon hour of staring at the screen I need a break. I was longing for an US magazine, or People, or something utterly decadent, but I picked up Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer instead. I bought it to use in my fiction writing workshops, but I’d never cracked it open.

She writes about how students these days no longer linger over literature, analyzing each word, figuring out how the magic happens (or doesn’t). They read and criticize, but they barely stop to really savor the words. That got me thinking… I read about an independent bookstore in a University Town finally closing down after years of barely hanging in there. The owner commented that in the old days, people would come in and spend a whole afternoon lingering over the stacks of books. They’d browse and read and make a pile. They’d pick and choose; they’d put a book back, take another one out. A whole afternoon!

How many people these days linger and savor things? How many MOTHERS linger and savor? When I’m relaxed, and I can really listen to my kids when they’re reading to me, or sharing, or when we’re doing some joint activity, then I actually love it. When I’m distracted and rushed, I don’t love it. What should be joyful becomes an irritation.

So what does it take to linger and savor once you’re a mother? Endless time?

Maybe. But I think if you had endless time, it wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem. It doesn’t so much take TIME — which is definitely in short supply for most moms, working or not — as the mental willingness to linger. Acceptance of exactly where you are at that very moment, not where you will be next.

Buddhists call it living in the now. And while it sounds so new-age-ish, wouldn’t it be great to tap into that peaceful mode, and every now and then — when you and your kids most need it — just savor the moment?

Katrin

Night Owl

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

I am not a morning person. I hate early mornings. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

It is amazing what parenthood does to you. This morning, all before 7am, I tried on an outfit for a fancy business dinner, took a shower (yes, in that order), printed ten notecards with my son’s drawings on them to give as a LATE thank you to two teachers, wrote three e-mails, picked up dirty laundry from the hallway and my office (don’t ask), looked up ping pong tables on line, left a message for my husband (long gone already) and unloaded and loaded the dishwasher. THEN I GOT MY KIDS TO SCHOOL ON TIME AT 7:30 for early band practice. What I did not do: drink coffee, put on makeup, look at the paper or eat breakfast.

To many, I’m sure this sounds pretty run-of-the-mill. But as I was driving home in my husband’s clattering 140,000 m Land Cruiser — car problems — at 8:55 after having attended a community outreach meeting at school, I took a second to breathe.

I thought… wow. I patted myself on the back. In the old days, I could not even utter a coherent sentence before about 10 am.

Then I sat down in my office and got to work.

More time with our kids?

Monday, January 8th, 2007

“Mothers are working harder than ever, but their principal place of business is still the home. For all of the ink spilled about the high-tech economy, the majority of American mothers are still primarily engaged in the oldest economy in the world: the household.”

Ann Crittenden writes this in her book “The Price of Motherhood.” We know this to be true, right? As much as we strive to take on other responsibilities and have a life outside the four walls of our homes, it’s my sense that many, many, many — maybe most — mothers still feel tied up in the household. I say “tied up” because I’d guess only one in a hundred women really likes the household stuff they deal with. Tell me if I’m wrong.

She continues: “Most people seriously underestimate how much of their lives contemporary American women spend on their children…. Recent research indicates, for example, that American mother — whether they work outside of the home or not– may be spending more time with their children than they did in the past. For whatever reason — biology, social conditioning, institutional inertia, choice or no other choice — children’s lives are still overwhelmingly shaped by women, and children are still the focus of most women’s lives.”

Now, I find this very interesting. There is an elemental bond between mother and child, as well there should be, and we just cannot shake our sense of responsibility for our little ones — even when it is about something we have little control over. I know for me, when my kids do something wrong, I always feel it’s a reflection on me.

Yes, we are defensive. We want to do well!

What I think is surprising is the bit about how we spend more time with our children, whether we work outside the home or not, than previous generations of mothers did. Hmmm. Don’t we all feel like we don’t really have enough time with our kids? Too much to do? Trying to convince ourselves that quality time is better than no time at all?

So if this is the case, women are spending MORE time with their kids, not less, I wonder what is suffering? Where is that time coming from? See where I’m heading? I think women of today mostly underestimate their own needs, and are much too willing to give of themselves, to sacrifice time alone, or doing what they want, in favor of children, husbands, bosses, even friends and co-workers. It all seems like an ok bargain, until you become middle aged and wonder what on earth happened to that cool, feisty, interesting, informed chick you used to be…

Mom dreaming of coffeehouse breakfasts

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

Why is it that people always seem to want what they can’t or don’t have?  Is the grass always greener?  Is this an affliction that happens mostly to mothers, whose lives are basically out of their own control 90% of the time?

The kind of thing that makes me dream of an alternate existence — one where mornings are not spent feverishly making waffles and finding homework and driving around suburbia late for middle school — is the article in the style section of the New York Times today. It talks about trendy twenty-somethings who meet daily at Italian coffeehouses in New York (that’s opposed to Starbucks, which is not cool) drinking creamy cappuchinos, chatting and making connections with fellow ‘aristes’ and designers and other hip folk and then sauntering off to work around 11am.

Most days I am very content with my set up… and don’t get me wrong, I love my family… but when I read something like that I am reminded so starkly of the alternate lives that are out there, that I could be living. But then, I’ll read about backpackers in Nepal and day dream about sleeping in scuzzy hotels and meeting crazy itinerants. There is no one other life I wish I had. I just wish I could have a bit of everything. Making choices can be hard. It would be nice to know if reincarnation really existed. One life is not enough for all that is out there to be experienced!