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Monday, December 26, 2005

Books I never knew I needed to read

Before I was a parent, I don't know that I even considered myself a feminist. Sure I believed in equal pay for women and that women should have all the same rights as men. But beyond that it seemed foreign to me. And because Father in Chief and I weren't sure we wanted kids, it wasn't as if ending my career to be a parent was even in my thoughts. I know there were crappy days at work when I thought it would be easier to be home with kids, but it was not something I'd actually consider. That is, until I was pregnant.

Anyway, now that I'm home and I wonder, "Who am I?" I want to read all of the books that women read and have read. So my Christmas list was filled with stuff I'm almost embarrassed to admit I haven't read yet…probably because I'm too busy chasing after my two-year-old. They are:

I hope to finish reading these by the time Toddler in Chief goes to kindergarten. Do you have any other must-reads for identity-struggling parents?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

How did we get here?

In this hectic world, it so often seems that we value what is not important (big car, fancy house) and devalue the most important things (time with our family and friends). And as we spend Christmas with our families in snow-covered Buffalo, this time underscores what is most important to me. Even though I often struggle with floundering, non-existent career, I’m so grateful that I get to raise my son.

That seems like such a strange thing to say. It makes it seem like it's a privilege instead of a right as a parent. But more often that not, parents do not get to raise their kids. In 2004, 70 percent of women with children under 18 years of age were in the work force, compared to 27 percent in 1955. And of those currently working, "only 16 percent say they would choose to work full time if they felt they had the choice," according to the January 2006, Sojourners Magazine cover story called, "Taking Back Our Kids: Child rearing, never an easy endeavor, has become in many ways a countercultural activity." (free registration required)

How did we get here? How did something so valuable as raising our families end up in the backseat? Or how did we get to a place where parents don't feel they have a choice in the matter?

Much of it comes down to our government not caring enough about its future. It has done little to preserve manufacturing jobs in this country. It has done little to curb the "womb to tomb" adverting overload, which overwhelms influential kids with advertising, increasing the wants that families have. And it would rather spend money on war than on benefits that would revamp the way the American families live, such as a separation of job and health care and longer, better-funded maternity leaves. At the same time, real wages have declined by 10 percent from 1973 to 1993, according to the magazine, leaving families with less money.

So what does this have to do with moms working? Families are making less, there are fewer jobs, and advertising has increased people's expectations about what they should have. And many families find that the only way to do this is to have two incomes.

The more I think about the policies of our government--especially the Republican party who claims to be so "pro family"--I'm disgusted and disappointed that the priorities actually sacrifice families and instead focus on short-term gains, personal vendettas, and profits for the wealthy and corporate America.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Oh! Baby: Take your commercialism and get out of my holiday

It's the most wonderful time of the year for retailers. But for people who want to enjoy the season, the over-spend mentality is stressful and downright unappealing. In so many ways the holidays have lost their meaning and somehow gotten all mixed up with shopping and Santa and crowds. It doesn't have to be that way. We've decided to avoid the whole Santa story altogether and focus on what we believe is the most important part of the holiday season: being with family.

Join this week's debate on this Season's of Spending on the Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Let's clear the air

I know that some of you think I'm totally judgmental. But honestly, I don't care that much about the choices that other parents make. I know that no choice is made in a vacuum and each family makes trade-offs based on what works best for them. Cloth versus disposable? Boob versus bottle? To snip or not to snip (although I do have a hard time not judging people who cut their kids for cosmetic reasons). Preschool at two or four? How long your keep your kid in diapers?

I'm far from perfect. And I don't like admitting I'm wrong--just as Father in Chief. The stuff I write here is the real me. The stuff I write elsewhere is in the spirit of entertainment and debate. And at times I have triggered some really interesting and thought-provoking comments, which makes it all worth while. That doesn't mean what I write elsewhere isn't me or my thoughts. Really, they are all my thoughts and my opinions--just amplified to the extreme. Don't take it personally, okay? It's in the spirit of fun...and it pays some bills.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

How did I become that parent?

I'm so disappointed with myself.

Somehow--and I'm really not sure how it happened--the other day I encouraged Toddler in Chief to be interested in a boy thing and discouraged him from a girl thing. I'm having huge regrets about this. I never wanted to be that kind of parent.

When we were out shopping for a bike for Christmas, he really liked the purple girls bike. He picked it out. He rode around on it. And he wanted to bring that one home with us. We let him ride around on it, but then we also had him ride the red boys bike. And we ended up buying the boys bike. What difference does it make? Why did I do that? I don't care if he wears pink and purple and likes girl things. I have always joked that "TIC is in touch with his feminine side."

The scariest part is that I don't think I did it on purpose. I hope that my subconscious doesn't do that again. I feel so crappy about it that I want to return the red bike and get the purple one. He doesn't seem to mind the red bike. And Father in Chief has a red bike, so he likes that his looks like daddy's. But ugh. I don't want to force him into boy things or boy colors or boy stereotypes. I'm so frustrated with myself.

He's only two and I'm steering him in gender-specific directions. How did this happen?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

If it were only that simple...

I really like what David said: "[W]ho cares what you tell people you do? What nonsense...Spend more time doing it and less worrying about these silly things."

The plain truth is that I need to focus on my shortcomings and flounderings and delve into who I am and wonder what I should do when I have a life to myself. I need those silly distractions. If I don't use these diversion tactics--regardless of how silly they seem--I'll be forced to think about the real stuff in my life. And that is just too fucking hard.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Oh! Baby: When should you ditch diapers?

Diapers have never been one of my favorite parenting tasks--don't know many parents who savor it. And I've always been determined to have my kid out of diapers well before his third birthday. Is this possible? Will I psychologically scar my kid if I work to wean him off of diapers before he's ready? And can I get him interested sooner than he would have otherwise made the choice on his own? So far the reward systems seems to be working well, but what if he decides he doesn't like the reward anymore? Will my plan totally backfire?

Join this week's debate over potty training on the Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It's so obvious, I didn't even see it

Even when some things seem so obvious we don't always notice them until someone else points it out to us. I'm thinking of my post from last week about floundering through life without knowing where I'm headed.

I never used to identify myself with what I did for a living when I was working full time. It was just a *part* of who I was. I wonder if because I no longer have this thing occupying a good chunk of my life that I feel the need to identify with some kind of thing outside of being a parent. I used to love telling people I'm a writer and I still do, but it doesn't have that same satisfying ring that it used to.

Perhaps I'm floundering because I wish I had something to identity with. Then again, I think Babs might have hit something that I hadn't even thought of...and it seems so obvious now that I think about it. She wrote that because my fabulous part-time writing job is about parenting, my non-parenting work-break is all about the thing I'm trying to get a break from. So it's almost no break at all. And my writing is not just about parenting in general. It's about my life as a parent. It's about my kid. And it's about how I handle different parenting issues in our lives. It's almost as if my writing job is more intense than my actually parenting because I really have to dig into my parenting self and ponder, contemplate, and wonder about how I do things or want to do things.

It's almost no break at all.

That doesn't mean I don't like my job. I think it just means that I need other stuff in my life. Mostly, I think I need to hire more childcare so that I can go out and take a class--a non-writing, non-parenting class that's just for me and no one else. I need some selfish time to really detach myself from this seven-day-a-week job that I love most of the time...except when it makes me forget how to do anything else.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I saw the pity in their eyes

Cold season has kept us very close to home the past week or two. I can barely recall the feeling of a cool breeze on my face, yet alone my arms or legs.

That said, we had a fabulous adventure yesterday--to the pharmacy. Toddler in Chief was thrilled to be going in the car and he announced our destination again and again during our 12-minute drive to our local Kaiser facility. "We're going to the Farm-a-Cee, Farm-a-Cee, Farm-a-Cee." Not sure what types of animals he suspected lived at this kind of pharm, but no matter what he imagined I'm sure he was sorely disappointed.

As we waited in line for our consultation with the pharmacist, TIC admired the vitamin bottles and announced each one by name: "Vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C." And then he wondered aloud with good reason, "Where's vitamin J? Where's vitamin L?"

There we were out in public. My hair had not been brushed. I'm can't recall if my teeth had been. I was still wearing my PJs. They were simply hidden by the sweats that I had pulled on over them that morning. I was braless--and I can assure you that this isn't a pretty sight. TIC was completely mismatched. Orange pants, red shirt, hair askew with lunch acting as some kind of colorful styling product. Super goo was running down his face and was caked into any and all crevices.

As we waited for our turn, two very stylish and totally groomed women in their 20s with perfect hair and makeup got in line behind us. I could see the shock on their faces and I could almost hear the declarations being made in their heads to never, ever have kids. I knew they pitied me for my disheveled look and my predicament.

I suspect that they were waiting to talk with the pharmacist about their new birth control pills and I was the ad proclaiming that they'd made the right choice.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Matters of the heart

When my son was born and his health problems unfolded before us in those endless days in the NICU, I vowed to change my life, my purpose. Not only would I be a mother, I would be an advocate for my son. I would raise awareness about congenital heart defects and raise funds to help advance technology that may eventually extend his life.

We had little luck (and no help from the hospital social worker) in finding local support groups for families like ours. I vowed with every ounce of my being to search out other families and befriend them and together we would start a a support group for lost and hurting families like ours.

Months passed, and while the tears seemed to linger behind every thought and action, they were not always openly present as they had been in those first several weeks. I was adapting to our new situation. I was mourning the life I had hoped for my son and the life that I thought I would have as a parent. We eventually found a support group three hours away and it was my goal to attend every meeting, every function. But even then, as the months passed and those initial gunshot wounds of my son's birth healed, I started to move those ambitions in the background.

Earlier this week, father-in-law blogged about being a cancer survivor and how he doesn't necessarily identify with that label. It got me thinking about how I relate to and live with the label of being the parent of a child with a life-threatening heart defect.

As my ambitions shifted, I realized it was because I didn't want to be labeled either. More than anything I wanted to live as normal of a life as we could muster, an anonymous life. I wanted to do normal things with my son, even though he's not totally normal. I wanted to blend in and be thankful in less outward ways. I wore a "Hope for Heart Defects" wristband for a while, but stopped doing it because I didn't like branding myself in one way or another. Mostly I still care strongly about those initial ambitions, but they've taken a backseat to living my life.

R's defects were jolted to the forefront this week because his cardiologist told us that it's time for his third open-heart operation. He will have a heart catheterization at UCSF on March 2, and his Fontan surgery on March 9. R's dad posted some helpful links about those procedures here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Oh! Baby: Isn't not just about the boobs

We all know that breast is best when it comes to food choices for babies, but is it the only choice? Is making a choice to formula feed versus breastfeed really just about whether or not what's best for baby? Sometimes I'm envious of the women who choose to bottle feed their kids. Their bodies are their own and they get to share those overnight feedings. No swollen boobs. No clogged ducts. No pumping. It just seems that there are so many other factors involved in deciding how to nourish the babes.

Check out this week's debate over breastfeeding on Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

How do you know when you've found yourself?

How could I be in my early 30s and not know for certain who I am and what I'm striving for? I know I've never really been 100 percent certain that I should be a reporter/financial journalist, but I always at least thought on some level I was a writer. Even back in college when I was trying to nail down a major, I always envied those people who knew what they wanted to do with their lives. For years and years, they always knew that they would study engineering or public relations or physical therapy. Perhaps they knew that's what they wanted to do because some family member pushed it on them. Or perhaps they genuinely knew what they were interested in.

After my previous post about wondering why I still feel incomplete, I had a terrible thought. What if I'm not a writer? That would mean that everything that I thought I knew about myself would be wrong. Every aspiration, every desire, every aching finger and sore wrist would be for nothing. That would mean that the past 14 years of my life--my entire college and professional years--would have been taking me down the wrong path.

So here I am, a lifetime later still wondering what I should do with myself. Wondering what impact I'm supposed to have on the world. Where I fit in. This sad stream of consciousness started after Bethany followed up my incomplete post with her own thoughts about realizing she is a writer and loves being a writer, even if her day job isn't writing novels.

I've never felt totally sure about what I wanted to do professionally. I waited until the last possible moment to pick a major (journalism) and then even longer to pick a concentration (broadcast journalism). I did have a couple of jobs working in the news departments of television stations (one in Boston and one in Denver), but even then I wasn't that excited about it. A former editor once asked me if I like "having written." And I do. I love seeing my name in print because it makes me feel accomplished. Seeing my work out there is solid proof that I've contributed something. And then after I said yes, he said that is the best a writer can hope for. I'm still not sure if that is reassuring or just more smoke and mirrors.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Is it ever enough?

Alrightly then. So it seems that I've miraculously snagged the perfect part-time gig ever, spewing my lovely opinion on lots of enthralling parenting topics. It's perfect. I love it. I feel extremely fortunate.

That said, something is still missing from my desire to work. And the only thing I can guess is that I miss grown-up banter in the kitchen and near the water-cooler. I miss work friends. I miss lunches. I miss complaining about co-workers. I miss getting dressed up in little outfits and matching my lipstick to my outfit. I even miss my bus ride into the city, while scanning the latest headlines. Last time I actually commuted to work, I was living north of the Golden Gate Bridge. And every morning, when we descended towards the Bridge, I would stop reading the paper and look out at the city and the fog and the view. Breathtaking. Every. Single. Day. I don't think many people--or any people besides me--ever looked up to take it all in.

So the view, the banter, the child-free lunches. What else is there? Collaboration. Ah, working with a team of creative people to come up with great ideas and actually bring them to life. It was fun and felt important, even though much of it was not.

Then there were the extravagant holiday parties. Father in Chief works for a start-up this year, so we won't be seeing Earth, Wind & Fire with the rest of the Yahoos. Then again, last year when FIC was still employed by Yahoo, we skipped the holiday party and missed out on my all-time favorite 80s cover band Notorious.

Mostly, I just wonder why I'm still tormented by this nagging feeling that I'm not complete. I have work. I have child. I have fabulous husband. I have friends. I have no dogs. And yet, something is still missing. Even though I'm filling in the pieces that I thought needed filling.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

He's crafty, or he'd like to be

It's already been made clear that I'm feeling lacking when it comes to coming up with new things for Toddler in Chief and I to do together that don't involve matchbox cars or trains.

That said, I'm very excited to get the lowdown over the holidays from my mother-in-law who teaches Pre-K. She's going to load me up with kid-safe scissors and glitter and glue and pipe cleaners and hopefully give me a boatload of easy craft ideas to do with him that don't make huge messes.

As much as TIC loves painting, I can't stand having to watch all the paint buckets and brushes when we're done, which is usually about 15 minutes after we start. I need to get over my hate of cleaning and deal with my kid so that he can create art to his heart's content. If the weather were nicer, we'd be outside with a bucket of water painting the driveway. But seems like winter rain is going to be keeping us inside and stir-crazy for the foreseeable future.

Any ideas out there?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Oh! Baby: Where does God fit in?

Where did people come from? How do we explain tragedy--natural and otherwise--to kids? How often do you turn to God when it comes to explaining the unexplainable? It seems that when there is no answer, people turn to God and religion. But at what price? Does that just sugarcoat reality? Or do people need something to believe in to bring order to this tumultuous world?

Check out this week's debate over religion and its place in kids' lives on Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Torn over two-and-a-half

I hear the voices: "I am just maxed out on what I can do for him/her at home." Father in Chief was even talking about it with some other dads at work. The need to send the kids off to school to get be exposed to new people and new activities and a more stimulating environment than what we have at home.

But now I'm starting to buy into it. Toddler in Chief does spend too much time playing with those matchbox cars. He doesn't have enough stuff to keep his mind growing and learning. And I'm maxed out on what I can do for him. He plays while I ignore him while I'm trying to work. I prop him in front of Blue's Clues while I'm on deadline. I set him up with some books/trains/markers/matchbox cars and then head off to take a shower, fold the laundry, start dinner. What is he really learning while he's trapped here in this house with me?

I don't know how I'm feeling right now other than totally confused. I'm sure part of it is the sense of loss that I feel because many of the kids we know are off in preschool or have moved away. But honestly, I don't know if all the jumbled thoughts in my head are my own or if they are just reflecting back the thoughts of so many of the women that I know.

Maybe it's a bit of guilt because I want to write more. And with him leaving little tornados around the house, perhaps my subconscious is starting to think that preschool is a good idea. If he's not in the house, he's not getting into stuff and leaving messes all over. If he's out at preschool, he's creating messes for someone else to clean up. If he's being cared for by someone else, then I get a break and do whatever I want for a while, guilt-free. Especially because it would be a learning environment.

Whatever it is I'm feeling, I'm very torn over not providing enough stuff for my kid to do or that I'm not attentive enough to help keep his mind occupied with new and exciting learning activities. All this in spite of the fact that I'm a strong believer in the notion that boredom is good for kids. Am I against preschool for two-and-a-half-year olds because I'm trying to defend my choices, as Anonymous accused me of?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Oh! Baby: Is attachment parenting all that?

Did you carry your baby around from the minute they were born, as if that umbilical cord had never been severed? Or were you happy to set them down and hand them off to family and friends, and bond in different ways? Dr. Sears' Attachment Parenting is in style, but I'm not a big fan of the theory's unending demands on parents. Seems to me that attachment parenting sets parents up to feel guilty for not giving enough of themselves.

Check out this week's debate over attachment parenting on Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The benefits(?) of working from home

Working from home has lot of benefits outside of not having to drive anywhere and being able to walk away for 20 minutes without anyone wondering where you went.

I used to love the occasional "work from day" when I was a card-carrying participant in corporate America. It was almost as good as a "personal day," a "sick day" or a Saturday. My perception is probably why most companies don't like employees working from home.

That said, now that all of my work is "work from home," it's become a little more challenging. There are countless distractions and yet, so many perks. It's nice to have my refrigerator and a vast selection of all of my favorite decaf teas just down the hallway from my office. It's great to be able to type away in the comforts of my mismatched socks and crumpled PJs. But I can also get other stuff done between grand thoughts and subsequent typing fits. I can throw in a load of laundry, start dinner, or assemble a grocery list by actually scanning the cupboards and refrigerator for missing essentials.

But there's a downside too. I can throw in a load of laundry, start dinner, or assemble a grocery list by actually scanning the cupboards and refrigerator for missing essentials. Working from home somehow doesn't seem complete without these diversions distracting me. Fortunately my two worlds are closely connected making that back and forth somewhat breezy.

Bethany has been struggling with her move back into the "real" world and how it's negatively impacted her writing. Probably the only reason this non-schedule works for me is because my work is very, very part-time. And if I sit at the computer and spend 30 minutes catching up on personal email and then decide to take a break, I'll find other time to do the stuff to meet my real-world deadlines.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

One, two: Is Mom totally screwed?

If both parents have good jobs before they have kids and both want to go back to work after they have kids--not out of financial necessity, but because they both like their jobs and their careers--does that decision reflect more negatively on the mother than the father?

I don't know the answer to that one, but it just seems like the expectation is that mom will stay home. Or should stay home. Especially if the decision to go back isn't financial. Are women who become mothers entitled to career ambition? Or does society--as progressive as we think we are--put a negative tilt on moms who have a drive and desire beyond parenthood?

There certainly have been times when I have even been a little judgmental. But mostly, I'm of the school of thought that says women need to do whatever works for them. If they want to work, then work. If they want to be at home, then be at home. I don't see why it's really anyone else's concern as long as the children are getting the love and stimulation they need in a caring environment.

Since I've been at home since Toddler in Chief was born, I haven't been in a work situation to be able to access any kind of possible stigma. But I can't help but wonder if it is there or if it's my imagination?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Oh! Baby: When should parents get involved?

No one wants their kid to be on the receiving end of hurtful words or actions. And toddlers really only have their own interests at heart: I need that toy. I need to go down the slide now. I need. I need. I need. And without a little guidance, kids aren't going to be kind, considerate, or fair. That's what parents are help sort the sticky situations out and to help kids learn the rules.

Do you intervene if there's a scuffle at the park? Or do you take a more wait-and-see approach? Get involved in this week's debate over playground fights on Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Am I a Genuine Faux Feminist?

I'm a feminist. I believe that women are equal to men, and that men are equal to women. I believe that equally qualified people should make the same money for the same job, regardless of gender. If a woman wants to stay home to raise the kids while her husband works, that's okay. If a man wants to stay home to raise the kids while his wife works, that's okay. I believe in a division of household tasks. I call it equal-opportunity chores.

That said, there's something very appealing about being taken care of. My husband works very hard and a fringe benefit of that, is that I don't have to work full-time anywhere. I could if I wanted to, but it's not a priority for us right now. I'd rather hang around the house with Toddler in Chief, work on my freelance writing, fantasize about graduate school, sip French Lemonade, and try to finish the photo album I started ten months ago.

But what I find most interesting is that when we go out, Father in Chief nearly always drives. If I must drive, I get (secretly) annoyed. And no matter where we are, if it involves money, I rarely go for my wallet. That is, unless FIC asked me if I have X denomination or some change to complete the transaction. It's not even like it's his money versus my money because we the share a bank account. It's just I don't want to be bothered.

Does that make me a faux feminist? I'm a full equal partner in our household, unless it's a man-job. He pays the bills. He takes out the garbage. I load and unload the dishwasher. I do most of the laundry. He drives. And I vivid memory of when we bought our first car together. It was a Volkswagen Cabrio. And the VW slogan was: "On the road of life there are passengers and there are drivers. Drivers Wanted." And I remember asking the sales person if passengers were wanted too? She gave me a half smile. So this passenger-thing goes way back. We eventually lost the Cabrio in a flood (story for another time). And the paying thing is just something we've always done too. Probably because when FIC and I were courting (the second time around), he had a real job complete with a real paycheck, and I was in college.

This arrangement just feels comfortable, even if it's not totally equal. He probably feels like a provider and I feel taken care of. I guess it's not so bad as long as everyone knows where they stand. Or at least they know where they'd like to stand. Or at least they know that the other person knows that they are standing next to them, or in the general proximity, thereof. Or something like that.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Flexibility boosts productivity, cuts costs, but stigma remains

A pilot program at some of the country's largest corporations is injecting a dose of flexibility into work schedules, making employees happier, boosting productivity, and cutting costs for the companies. But sadly, parents still fear the stigma associated with taking advantage of flexible work hours.

Maggie Jackson published a column in the Sunday Boston Globe called, "Team-based flexible work programs are pushing into the mainstream." As part of the pilot program, employees at 10 corporate giants were given the option of starting earlier in the day or working later in the evening. They also had the option of working 80 hours over nine business days, instead of 10, giving participants an extra day off every two weeks. If this program--or others like it--becomes more widespread, it could be a small boon for parents who want to be home when their kids get home from school, or just want extra days off.

The 10 companies participating in the BOLD program include Chubb, Frito-Lay, Gannett, Johnson & Johnson, Macy's Northwest, Pitney Bowes, Puget Sound Energy, Prudential Financial, Weyerhaeuser, and Nextel Communications. But executive at these corporate giants aren't participating out of the kindness of their hearts. The bottom line? The bottom line.

And a separate study released Tuesday, by Corporate Voices for Working Families, found that not only do flexible work options make employees happier (equaling lower job turnover), but they also boost profits. Some of the examples, reported by the Christian Science Monitor, included:

  • Deloitte: Saved $41.5 million in employee turnover costs in 2003, based on the number of professionals who said they would have left if they didn't have flexible work hours.
  • AstraZeneca: Employee attitudes were 28 percent higher for employees who said they had the flexibility they needed than for those who said they did not.
  • PNC Financial: Staggered schedules allowed customers to be served for an extra hour and a half each day. Absenteeism and turnover declined.

But sadly, fewer than half of all companies in the United States offer flextime plans and two-thirds of working mothers say there's a stigma attached to using flexible work options, Working Mother Media CEO Carol Evans told the Monitor. "Changing a whole corporate culture is like turning a giant ship in the ocean," she said.

The good thing about that--if the analogy is accurate--is that you can turn a giant ship. It just takes time and patience.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Blog Book Tour: It's a Boy!

When I was pregnant I really wanted a girl. But deep down, I knew I was having a boy. And after my 21-hour labor produced a BOY, my heart sank a teeny bit. But now that I know HIM, I wouldn't trade him for anything.

Andi Buchanan, author of "Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It" and "Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined," has edited a new book, called "It's a Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons."

As I read these essays, I can't help but feel as sense of comradery with these women--these mothers of boys. Some wanted girls and ended up with boys, while others had hoped for boys all along. I'm sure if I'd had a daughter, I would have been a bit smug about it. I know that there are women out there who pity the boy-bearing women--I even might have been one of them.

But I'm grateful for my son. Having him has pushed me outside my comfort zone, only to realize that it's very comforting to be here after all. One of the parts of Andi's essay in the book touched a nerve with me. Perhaps deep down, I'm a teeny bit relieved to have a boy because girls become women and many become moms. And, in turn, struggle. She wrote:
We want our daughters to do everything our sons do, yet as mothers ourselves, we know the difficulties and the hard choices that they will have to make when they grow up and choose to mother--the career options that dwindle; the daily balancing act that exhausts; the kind of things our sons will never face, even as they become parents themselves. Perhaps it's easier to love our sons because there is no big secret, no truth we're withholding about the divided life of women. Perhaps we feel less conflicted about boys--love them more, believe they love us differently than our daughters do--because they will have such unconflicted, uncomplicated autonomy as men.

If Father in Chief and I have another baby, perhaps I'll secretly hope for another boy. Brothers. How cool would that be? Read the book introduction here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Oh! Baby: Is a spank just a spank?

There are definitely times when Toddler in Chief really pisses me off--they don't call it "Terrible Twos" for nothing. And there have definitely been times when I've wanted to smack him. And one time I smacked his hand in an effort to get him to stop doing something dangerous. But instead of getting him to stop, he thought my reaction was worth replicating.

How do you discipline your kids? Does spanking or other physical punishment do the trick? Check out this week's debate over discipline choices on Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Dance Goddess or Pathetic Groupie?

It's already been announced that my super fabulous solid dance friend is relocating to Atlanta--she actually left today. And last Friday was our final chance to go out and shake our groove thangs to our favorite 80s cover band Notorious. At the last minute Attorney Friend couldn't make it. But I decided to go on my own in her honor. But sadly there were so many thing wrong with the scene:
  • Blending with the Older Crowd
I ended up going with Mathematician Mom from my son's other playgroup. She cheerfully pointed out that there it was an older crowd, in a good way--just a bunch of older people which is much better than a bunch of 23-year-olds, like I usually see in The City. As soon as those words left her mouth, it was like I was up on the wall looking down on the scene. There I was, blending in with that older crowd, with my companion thinking that this is a good thing. Did I really blend in? All of those people in their 30s, 40s, 50s. Okay, so I'm in my early 30s, but I don't actually think of myself as older. I'm a super hip chic, who happens to be a mom, who happens to be in my 30s. Does this qualify me as older. I think I'm going to have to start falling back on that every-so-popular mantra: You're as old as you feel. And I do not feel 30-something. Even though I rarely ever get carded when I go out. Although I did at this event. Did that simply mean I seemed to be on the young end of this older-crowd spectrum? Or did everyone get carded?
  • Can't determine: Is this Good or Bad?
Because Notorious wasn't playing in SF--rather playing in the SF burbs--there weren't many familiar groupies there to encourage with shout-outs and acknowledgements. That left me--in my official Notorious T-shirt--looking like a total loser. At least that's how I felt when they hollered out "Suzanne" at least three different times. Instead of feeling fabulous because I'm on a first-name basis with the band, it actually made me contemplate my coolness. I wasn't sure if I had crossed the line from dancing goddess to pathetic groupie. After one of my front-row, solo dance-a-thons, an older guy boogied his way to my side. And when the song ended, Notorious called out that they really loved my T-shirt. And this guy then asked me which band member I was married to. Did it seem that I was that connected to the band that I was actually related to them? Yikes. This was very interesting because when I saw Notorious in Berkeley a couple of weeks ago, Jay (one of the singers) made a point to mention something about his wife while we were chatting between sets (yes, I like to chat with the band... how else do you think they know my name? Besides the fact that I post comments on their Web site's message board?).
  • The Grand Exit
Any other night, Attorney Friend and I are still dancing when the lights go up and the band is already on their bus heading home. But I just couldn't do that this time. To not seem like a total loser, I had to drag myself away from the scene before the last song ended. I just couldn't stand to be there when it officially came to an end and the lights came on. It would be like putting an exclamation point on the fact that 1) I am indeed a groupie, 2) The band really does know me by name, 3) I really was there by myself--Math Mom left during intermission and I couldn't drag myself away that early into the show. So, as much as I desperately wanted the band to autograph the playlist for a keepsake/going-away gift for Attorney Friend, I had to leave to prove to myself that I'm not really that pathetic.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The S.T.R.U.C.T.U.R.E. rush

Toddler in Chief and I keep a very leisurely schedule. Outside of our weekly playgroup, we have no other obligations. I'm all for lots of down time, which encourages TIC to get creative with his toys. It also gives me some flexibility to write and read and rest with my feet up on the sofa.

My Mother-in-law has been an early childhood educator for nearly 20 years. She gave me some feedback regarding the whole push to get kids on schedules and in structured learning environments. I wanted to share it here:
...we are a nation of rushing our children. We rush them through the first year hoping they will be the first on the street to be weaned, then the first to be potty trained, then the first to speak, the first to do just about anything. Then it is the best preschool, the best dance class, the best of everything and it is high time to stop and examine what we are doing to our children. We are wearing them out and doing it much too early. Children in 1st grade have already done what most of had not accomplished till 5th grade. Who said earlier was better? Children need time to stop and smell the flowers and have time to be bored. I see so many children who do not know what to do if there is an afternoon of free time. They never have free time. Children need to have that opportunity to use their creative minds to invent things to do not always have someone telling them what to do or how to do it...

I guess the question is "for what are we rushing our children?" To make us look better as parents? To get our kid into the best college? It is bull---- to think that it will make that much of a difference. And at what price? I am always telling parents, it is not important if your child can recite the alphabet standing on his/her head, count to 6 zillion, what is important is raising children who are healthy emotionally and socially. The rest will follow if they feel good enough about themselves. The parents who listen are greatly relieved. Now if we can just convince the local kindergartens to do the same and educate parents as to what is most important. I fear we are raising children who are emotional basket cases and thus are constantly looking for extrinsic sources for accomplishment.
In the meantime, TIC and I do little stuff--like watering the flowers and watching the sky for birds and airplanes. And I believe those are the things that he'll remember most. I know they'll be what I remember most.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Oh! Baby: Give me an impersonal hospital birth

I doubt anyone likes the idea of a hospital birth, but I'll take preparedness at the hospital over a hunch that everything will be okay with a homebirth. As much as I would have preferred the comforts of home, a hospital birth--and all those trained medical professionals--saved Toddler in Chief's life.

Where is the best and safest place to have a baby? Check out this week's debate over childbirth choices on Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I don't want to get it over with

So much of our lives we're waiting for the next thing to happen. As soon as I go to college... As soon as I graduate from college... Get engaged... Get married... Get that new job... Buy a house... Have a family.

We do it with our kids too. I can't wait for him to walk... I can't wait for him to talk... Eat on his own... Be toilet trained... Tie his own shoes... Go to school. Paramedic Friend once told me that the reason she wanted to have her kids close together (they're 17 months apart), was so that she could "get it over with." That made me so sad. Raising Toddler in Chief isn't something to just get through.

Raising a kid isn't like getting a PAP smear from your gynecologist--something to endure or just get through as quickly as possible and then forget about. It just happens so fast as it is. Sleepless nights, spit-up, nursing--it's all history.

Those five a.m. feedings were my favorite part of the day. In the darkness of his room, I tried to absorb every detail. The weight of him in my arms. The motion of the rocker. The warmth of his hand on my breast. It was our special time. I didn't want it to end. But it did as soon as he started sleeping through the night. And we learned to enjoy each other in different ways. And I try to sear his presence into my memory for when he goes off to school. Because it's not that far away.

Even the stuff I dislike (poopy diapers and whining, for example) will be gone soon too. I don't want to just get through it. I want it to linger and intoxicate me. Especially because the faster he grows up, the faster my own life whirls by. I know that my life was somewhat put on hold when we decided to have kids. And I fantasize about getting my masters someday when the kids are off at school. But most definitely not at the price of having it all behind me too soon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Dating Game: Mom style

There's something about going to the park that feels like dating. Or maybe it's more like being out at a bar on singles night. Only instead of hoping for a hook-up, I'm hoping for a friend.

I was at the park yesterday surrounded by eligible bachelors--ahem, I mean moms. I just sat on the sidelines scoping out the women near the play structure, the sandbox. And it felt sleazy. And I hated doing it. I hate feeling like I'm out there again. I never wanted to be out there again, but super, fabulous Attorney Friend is relocating to Atlanta next week. I was so happy. We have such great chemistry. Our kids are the same age, and now I'm out there, sheepishly checking everyone from behind my giant sunglasses and navy newsboy cap.

And I don't want to talk to any of them. They all look all wrong for me. None of them seem like my type. It's so lame. It almost feels like not having any friends to talk to during lunch in high school. I have friends. Just none of them were there. So I felt awkward. I looked down at my corduroy pants and the giant holes in the heels of my socks. I avoided eye contact.

Who do I talk to? The mom with four over-stuffed bags of toys? No, she seemed over-prepared. The mom with the stain-free shirt and neat tied-back hair? No, she seemed too clean. I tried finding someone who looked like Attorney Friend, but I doubt any of these women can fill her shoes. I'm sure I'm being overly sensitive. I'm sure a lot of these women are just like me--looking for a buddy to help pass the time at the park.

Sure I have other friends, but a lot of them are MIA. So I sat by myself and waited for a familiar face to appear. And they did eventually, and the stress of losing one of my best friends subsided. At least temporarily.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Oh! Baby: A little personal space, please

I'm with my kid 12 hours a day, seven days a week. And that's plenty for me. Where is he the rest of the time? Sleeping. In his own bed. In his own room. I appreciate that he knows how (and actually likes) to sleep in his own room, away from me and Father in Chief. That way, we get a little time and space and privacy for just us. Not to mention precious, quality sleep.

Check out this week's debate over co-sleeping on Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Is preschool replacing playgroups?

One of Toddler in Chief's playgroups has all but dissolved. All of the women are just weeks from Laborland and Newbornville, so they aren't making it to the park. I'm sure they're home feeling large and are focused on finalizing the nest.

For TIC, those weekly groups are his primary socialization with other kids. Sure we go to the park and the zoo and have play dates, but those groups are a staple in his life. Perhaps the absent moms aren't so worried about a lack of socialization because many of their kids are enrolled in preschool. To me, it seems so strange to put a 2 1/2-year-old kid in preschool. But the moms have been pleased with the results because they combine chunks of socialization, with structured activities, and other adults in authoritative rolls.

Could it be that preschools are replacing playgroup? Now that we have moms' night out without kids, why do we need playgroups? It was really all about the moms anyway. The fact that the kids got to play together was an extra benefit the way a dollop of whip cream enhances a tasty mug of hot chocolate. And if there is a program doing what the playgroups were doing--socializing the kids--then why bother?

Sam over at PlayIsTheWork is on the other end of the spectrum. She had a post earlier this month that talked about why her five-year-olds are not in kindergarten. Rather, they started pre-K this year. She wrote, "One more year to further develop their social, emotional and yes, their academic independence before being faced with the rigors of kindergarten." I'm a big advocate of having lots of time for free-play, downtime, and boredom. Sam wrote:
"...children are overstressed and over scheduled, and we parents are suffering under unreasonable expectations and a pervasive sense of guilt. Too much of childhood has been taken over by preparations for adulthood--to the point that young kids’ afternoons are being scheduled with an eye toward college admissions. If it were not so harmful to parents and kids alike, it would be funny."
There are zillions of activities we're supposed to have our kids in so that they are well-adjusted and well-rounded by the time they start school. But sometimes all that activity seems like overkill. I'd love a three-hour break while my kid is in preschool, but not at the price of pushing my kid into a structured environment too soon. A lifetime of structure isn't that far away.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

It's hard not to take it personally

Outside of taking your clothes off in public, writing is one of the most revealing things a person can do. Every time I write, I feel like I've exposed an extremely private part of myself. It doesn't matter what I’m writing about. Because I sat back and thought about how to phrase something, the end product is very personal.

So when someone criticizes my work, doesn't return my calls, or never responds to my freelance proposals, it feels as if I've been rejected as a person, not just as a writer. Bethany at Mommy Writer has been working on getting her novel published. In her October 10 post entitled, "The post that had to be written," she wrote about the frustration that goes hand in hand with that arduous process. That frustration--sadly--is part of the territory. I know that I have felt it time and again, and I wanted to share my comment to her here:
Rejection, even when we know it's going to be out there coming out way, is never fun or easy to deal with. And writers are rejected in so many ways--it's too long, too short, need another point of view, wrong angle, etc., etc., etc. And I don't think it ever gets easier. Being a reporter for five years didn't make it any easier. I give freelance writing a try and hit one large speed bump with an editor and I quit (although it was temporary). It just felt so defeating. It's hard to not take this kind of stuff personal, well, because writing is personal. We come up with ideas and then pick words and sentences to string it all together. So fact or fiction, it is personal. Therefore, if someone doesn't like our writing, then it's hard not to interpret as they don't like me or I'm not good enough. And I agree that you should keep writing about the rejection too.. Possibly because it's therapeutic... and also because…we can all relate.
I try to remember that even the best Major League players strike out seven out of 10 times at the plate. That said, it's strange how a little encouragement in the form of steady work can boost my spirits, crack open that tough shell that I attempt to build around myself, and help me forget about previous rejection. My most recent encouragement came in the form of a paycheck. My first financial reward from the new gig arrived two days ago. I drove immediately to the bank, deposited the check, and dipped the stub in gold.

I have been so at ease. I'm not stressed out. I'm exercising. I'm not I think I'm even sleeping better at night. I’m not stressing about my other freelance projects--or lack there of. Perhaps it has something to do with the regularity of the whole thing. It's a real job. It's regular work. It's something to point my family to so that they know what the heck I'm doing with my journalism degree. Okay, so it's not hard-core journalism. But I'm writing and I'm very proud of it.

When I was trying to drum up more freelance writing, there was something very unsettling about temporary nature of every project. I know that's the deal with freelancing, but even when I had scored a writing job, I knew that the cycle would soon start all over again. The research. The pitching. The writing that goes no where. The rejection. And so for now, I'm basking in the warm glow of predictability. If/when it ends, I'll have plenty of time to stress out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Oh! Baby: How much is too much motion?

You want your kid to experience the world and be exposed to all kinds of activities. But is there a point at which you are doing too much? Or is constant motion good for kids?

Check out this week's debate over activity overload on Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog. And don't forget to chime in while you're there.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Women and the stories that sell

In my October 17 issue of The Nation, there was a column called, "Desperate Housewives of the Ivy League," responding to the New York Times page-one piece about Yale women who plan to put their careers on hold if/when they eventually have kids.

I know that people love to hear a happy ending--like the Yale women who will never struggle with their career or parenting choices because they have their lives all mapped out. (Although there is much debate over the methodology used for the Times' piece). But most of the time those happy endings aren't the norm. The Nation's Katha Pollitt wrote:
Cutting back to spend time with one's child shouldn't be equated with lack of commitment to one's profession. You would not know, either, that choices about how to combine work and motherhood are fluid and provisional and not made in a vacuum. The lack of good childcare and paid parental leave, horrendous work hours, inflexible career ladders, the still-conventional domestic expectations of far too many men and the industrial-size helpings of maternal guilt ladled out by the media are all part of it...Wouldn't you like to read a front-page story about that?

And my favorite line of the Nation piece is this: "What's painful about the way the Times frames work-family issues is partly its obsessive focus on the most privileged as bellwethers of American womanhood--you'd never know that most mothers who work need the money."

The Nation hit it spot on. But sadly, the media gets it wrong again and again:

Women don't ditch their careers because they are a lack of choice. They are simply bored. When asked glossy questions about themselves, women are "satisfied." Women do make more money than men--in "women's careers." Women lead in top jobs, if you don't count executive positions . Women don't make as much money as their male counterparts because they don't feel entitled. So really it's their own faults. The only way to career utopia is planning when you're young.

All of these stories do a huge disservice to the public. Why don't we hear more stories about the reality of motherhood and workforce? Why don't we hear stories about women whose jobs don't pay enough money to cover the cost of childcare? What about all the women who don't breastfeed their kids because their jobs don't have a comfy "mother's room" or flexible enough breaks to allow for pumping? Or that buying a $250 pump would be a financial hardship for many families.

The media is a powerful force. Now if only it would yield it's power for promoting more of the hard truths. It's only when we read about that stuff on page one will there be real change. We need to hear all the news, not just the happy endings.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

To change or not to change your name--Internet style

I decided to keep my own last name when Father in Chief and I got married in 1998. It was a outward way to acknowledge that I truly am a modern feminist. I also had something to do with my journalism career. During the previous two years, I had built up a small reputation with my maiden name and I didn't want to mess with that.

But there was more to my decision.

Galante is just a kick-ass name. And Norton, well, is Norton. There aren't that many Galantes out there. And there are heaps and heaps of Nortons out there and almost as many Norton-related jokes. The Best Man at our wedding was very disappointed not to be able to run through some of them during his toast at our reception. There was even a DJ from my childhood known as "Snortin' Norton." And I certainly didn't want to be associated with him.

But there was a secret side to my decision as well.

When gainfully employed, most companies take the first letter of your first name and slap it onto your last name when they establish your company email address. With "Galante" as my surname, my email address translated into: "sgalante" at (where I was a reporter at the time). If I had chosen to take FIC's last name, my email address would have become "snorton" at Who wants to be "Snorton"? No one respects "Snorton." No one wants to give scoops or exclusives to someone known as "Snorton." Snorton is the company clown. The butt of jokes. It was definitely not for me.

So basically, it all came down to the Internet. The Internet and likely unflattering email addresses played a BIG part in me keeping my maiden name. For Anne over at The Barely Attentive Mother, the Internet has played a role in her deciding to change her name. After being content with her maiden name for years, it all came down to domain name availability. She wrote:

The web address for my name ("") is not available. It's taken by a half-famous artist who carries my name...However, "" where Bloohbloohblooh=my husband's last name is available. So I'm going to change my name. What the social culture couldn't do--make me change my name--the web will.

Who knew that one of the side effects of the popularity of the Web would influence something so profound as what the world knows us as.

On a side note, there are many reasons to change your name. City Planner Friend once shared that the last name issue was a point of contention because they weren't sure how it would affect their two cats--whose last name would they take?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Oh! Baby: Is television Friend or Foe?

When our kids are small, we are the gatekeepers to everything: what they eat, when they sleep, what they wear, and how much TV they watch. So how much is okay? A little here and there, free reign, or is finding the right balance nearly as impossible as finding Tickle Me Elmo during the 1996 holiday season.

Check out this week's debate over television on Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog. And don't forget to post your two cents worth while you're there.

Friday, October 07, 2005

It's the new cleavage!

I used to joke with Toddler in Chief's pediatrician when he was growing two pounds a month and subsequently out of his clothing. I would say with a big smile on my face, "Gee, I wish I could get new clothing as often as he does." And then his pediatrician would so eloquently put it all into perspective: "Not because you keep outgrowing the clothes you already own." True and true!

Babies and kids aren't old enough to torture themselves with the mental mind-fuck that goes along with needing larger-sized clothing (I don't think that starts happening until they are 10 or so, right??!!). But no grown-up--man or woman--ever wants to admit to themselves that they no longer fit into their favorite jeans, pants, T-shirts or any garment of clothing in general. And Bethany over at Mommy Writer had a very entertaining post about finding and purchasing the right pair of jeans for your body type. She wrote:
Now, imagine yourself slipping into those too small jeans. And yes, they are too small EVEN IF YOU CAN STILL ZIP THEM UP. Do you bulge over the sides? Are you love handles more apparent? Still not ready to admit you need to go up in size? Where a form fitting T-shirt and tell me how you feel?
I believe the tortuous process of buying pants that fit (no matter what size you are) has been exacerbated by the fact that women's fashions--women's jeans in particular--have made it extra difficult for anyone with any curves whatsoever to feel good in. The low, low, low rise cut is the height of fashion. Women even need to buy special low rise underwear to fit under their ultra low pants.

This look was designed by someone who never, ever needs to sit down. Not on a bus. Not at a desk. Not at a restaurant. Certainly not at the playground. Not anywhere. If you do, you ultimately end up with the "I'm-working-under-the-sink" look. I've always been extremely private when it comes to matter of the throne, and I certainly don't want to share my derriere with the group of moms and kids at story time at the library, or with all the folks getting their morning brew.

But my fabulous and gorgeously curvaceous Therapist Friend helped me see things in a new light. She said, "Ass-crack is the new cleavage!" As a women in my early 30s, I might be too old to be that self-confidant. But perhaps with the proliferation of tight tees and low-cut jeans, that bulge in between will become the new thing to have and to flaunt.

But, with any luck, I'll be able to score pants that are just high enough and shirts that are just long enough to meet in the middle. That way, I can accentuate my other, more traditional assets.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Harvard President aligns with Teen Talk Barbie

I was browsing through the latest issue of Skeptic magazine, and I came across another great article about the irresponsible and insulting 80-hour-work-week comment made by Harvard President Lawrence Summers in January.

It got me thinking again about Summers' comment, the outrage, and the apology. It reminded me of the Mattel debacle of the early 1990s, when the toy maker pulled Teen Talk Barbie from store shelves because it proclaimed that "math is hard." Only this time, instead of a doll convincing young girls that math isn't for them, we have the president of a top university telling the world that girls just aren't hardwired for science.

There are differences between boys and girls. In the playgroup that I go to with Toddler in Chief, it's already clear that there are differences--even though they are just two-and-a-half. TIC and his male buddy push around cars and trucks, while the three girls of the group fawn over the group's token newborn.

I have no official gender, biological, or sociological research under my belt. This is just plain observation from a very small subset of toddler-society. And I have no idea if liking cars and trucks equals liking and excelling in science. I also have no idea if liking newborns and dolls equals an aversion to science.

The Skeptic article, entitled "Gender Differences & the 80-Hour Work Week," took issue with jobs in the sciences and long hours. Women aren't absent from science career because they demand long hours, wrote Susan Carol Losh, because women are putting in the heavy hours in other fields and excelling. Losh wrote that Summers' arguments:

...were trotted out when I was a kid to explain the scarcity of women doctors and layers. And yet thousands upon thousands of women now appear willing to put in those 80-hour work weeks in medical residencies and internships, and to make partners in law firms. How come we have that motivation for medicine and law but not physics?"

So if women are able to hunker down and work long hours, if need be in some fields, it's just plain sexist to say that women aren't in some sciences because their brains weren't programmed that way. Maybe more women aren't in the sciences because they were led to believe that they couldn't make it. Maybe they were pushed towards more "female-friendly" career paths.

Let's hope our kids will have more encouragement to believe in themselves and their abilities--regardless of what Harvard's president says.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Should you vaccinate your kid?

The issue of vaccinations is a topic that every parent must face when they have a baby. Some people don't think about it and just proceed with the doctor's recommendation. Others fret about it and the possible consequences.

Check out my debate over vaccinations with Laid-Off Dad on Oxygen Media's brand new Oh! Baby Opinionated Parenting blog.

Check out our passionate opinions on both sides of the debate, our fiery rebuttals (on Wednesday), readers comments, and our final words (on Friday). And don't forget to join the discussion by voicing your opinion!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

An introspective trip down memory lane

Father in Chief, Toddler in Chief, and are in Boston for a wedding this weekend. It's the first time I've been in Boston since before I was pregnant. And, to my surprise, I have mixed feelings about being in the town I went to college in with my family.

When we were flying here, I felt so excited to walk through Northeastern University's campus, to see how much has changed, to pass by the dorms I lived in, and to soak up some of the campus energy that lingers around colleges. This time of year—the beginning of the fall semester—is especially exciting, as thousands of first-time students arrive, liberated from their high-school selves and the small towns they grew up in.

But instead of feeling excited to be visiting the city and the campus where I spent the better part of five years, I have been feeling ambivalent about being around all of that unbridled college spirit, the hopefulness, and the feeling that anything is possible.

Perhaps it is because I know not everything is possible—although I'll keep trying.

But more than that, it is strange to be in a place where I spent five years and to think about myself and the woman that I have become. When I was a college student, I don't think it ever occurred to me that 10 years later I would be married or have a baby or be an at-home parent. When I was in college, I thought about what exciting jobs I would get and what career path my education would take me down.

I remember pitying women I worked with when I was in college, who were "trapped" by their kids and husbands. They were in their late 20s and early 30s and they seemed so old, so foreign to me. I also remember (with remorse) giving women the evil eye--as their babies cried on the flight from Boston to Buffalo--on my trips to see my parents.

I guess it's just strange to think that I have changed so much during the past 10 years. Circumstances and time change us and shape us. Fundamentally, I believe I'm the same women I was when I graduated college. But in so many ways I’m different from who I set out to be. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

As I walk around my alma mater with my husband and son on Monday, I'm sure some of the young women will pity me, and vow to never become me. At the same time, I suspect that I'll be relieved that I'm not them.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Judgement-free parenthood for all

I guess I need to clarify my thoughts about being an at-home parent.

I'm thrilled to be at home with Toddler in Chief. I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to have a husband who makes enough money to support the whole family. That way, I can raise our son, and--in my free time--wonder what I want to do for a living when I grow up. In the meantime, I'm writing here, pursuing enjoyable freelance-writing opportunities, and re-living my childhood through TIC. I even applied to grad school last year (I didn't get in, but it was exciting during application process). I'm also contemplating joining a gym.

In my previous post, I wrote:
I know at times I have feared that other people might judge me because I've become one of those women who worked just long enough to get married and have a baby...I never intended to become that woman; it's what happened, but it's not what I set out to do. So now my job is to make sure that's not how my story ends.

And Swamps commented:
I guess what i don't understand is what is wrong with being a woman who works just long enough and then has a child? What, do they expect us to never work? or to never have children? Whoever "they" are. I am that woman. And if someone judges me, then i suppose it's their problem...

My point was this: I did not get married and have a baby so that I could stop working. I wasn't motivated to get pregnant by the idea of quitting my job. (although I have contemplated that scenario recently--and it really brought out some fangs).

And I don't care why other people get pregnant. People get pregnant for lots of reasons--right or wrong, good or bad--and in the end they have beautiful babies to love and to show the world to. That stuff doesn't matter to me and it's really none of my business. The only thing that matters to me is that people love and encourage their kids.

But for me, I didn't have a baby to abandon other chunks of my life. I want to feel fulfilled in all (or at least many) parts of my life as possible. Being a parent is just one aspect of who I am. I am a mother, first and foremost. But I'm also a wife, a woman, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and a writer. And if I'm not working on being good at all of those things, then I feel a void and that makes dislike my primary job.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Are we any different from women a generation ago?

An email from my mother-in-law got me thinking again about how my life might be different (or not so different) from women and mothers who were trying to raise their families decades and generations before me.

She emailed me in response to last Wednesday's post that criticized the NY Times for not filling out their story about college women who want to be at-home moms. My issue was that the story neglected to include the fact that moving from career to motherhood and back to career isn't all that easy. I also felt that it should have included elements that address how corporate America must evolve to retain women who have kids.

She wrote:
...As far as these Yale women are concerned, it sounds more like they grew up in the 60s...."When I grow up I will have 6 children and a handsome, perfect husband." The only difference being that these women were expected to go to college...but one wonders if progress has ever been made in women's expectations and the outcomes aye?...

Is the only difference between me and women a generation ago is that we were expected to get a bachelor's degree? I know at times I have feared that other people might judge me because I've become one of those women who worked just long enough to get married and have a baby.

I never intended to become that woman; it's what happened, but it's not what I set out to do. So now my job is to make sure that's not how my story ends.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

College women set on at-home motherhood

The NY Times ran an article yesterday called, "Many Women at Elite colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood."

It's basically a story about college women at Yale University who have already decided that when the time comes to have kids, they won't wonder about whether or not they should continue a career or take time off to be with their kids. "My mother's always told me can't be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time," Cynthia Liu told the Times. "You always have to choose one over the other." The majority of those college women surveyed said they'd choose family.

I wrote the following as a comment to Elizabeth's post at Half Changed World:

Two of the things that bothered me most about the article: 1) it did NOT talk about how moving in and out of the workforce isn't easy. It isn't easy to find a job that will let you drop to part-time after you have a baby. It isn't easy to take three, four, or six years off to have kids and then jump back in. These young women just assume it will be easy for them. These incredibly educated women plan to leave corporate America for a bunch of years while they raise their babies. This is what my group of mom-friends has already done, but we are just floundering, wondering if we'll ever get back in there in any meaningful way. But it does tell me is that this trend is not going away. And 2) It did not talk about how corporate America is going to *HAVE* to change and adapt to these women. Otherwise, I fear we are moving backwards. I fear that businesses will become even more hesitant (even though it's illegal), to hire women in the first place, especially women of child-bearing age.

I think it's great that these women know that they want to have kids early in life. When I was in my late teens or early twenties, the idea of having kids was about as appealing as dabbing rubbing alcohol on an open wound. So the fact that they know they want kids and that they want to be with those kids, they are at least a step ahead of me.

But fulfilling their expectations won't be easy unless our society learns to value motherhood. It reminds me of a piece that Miriam at Playground Revolution wrote earlier this week called, "On my mind." It's about how we're always talking about stuff, but nothing is really changing. And that really hit home for me. I commented:

...What are we doing? I'm always talking and writing, writing and talking about these issues that affect women/mothers in the work place, but really I know nothing about making any kind of change....

So to buck the trend of me just writing and talking about stuff, I'm giving myself a homework assignment. Assignment #1: I'm going to identify two people who are working on women in the workplace issues and see what I can do.

These Yale women might want to work and take time off to be with their kids and then head back to work along a smooth road, but unless some serious changes happen, it will probably be a lot bumpier than they envision. I know it has been for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Work changed the way I spend time with TIC

A couple of months ago when I was working on my freelance gig, something happened. Instead of fretting all the time because I was dropping Toddler in Chief off with the sitter two or three days a week, I felt great. And it was almost more fun to be with my yard-stick-sized buddy, when we were together.

Instead of worrying that I wasn't spending enough quality time with him, I changed the way I spend time with him--and I didn't even realize it until just recently.

I started making a conscious effort to have "quality time" with him. Not that I wasn't having quality time with him before. But before I was around all the time and I would drift into and out of his projects. He'd be playing and I'd come over and set up the wooden train track and then disappear. I'd come over and get out the crayons and tape up a clean piece of paper for the easel and then disappear.

A lot of that still happens--even though I'm not doing that particular freelance thing anymore--but I started being more conscious of my time with him and the activities we do together. Perhaps because I was conscious of the fact that there was less time with him overall?

When I wasn't working at all, we were just together all the time. But when I was working I had to think about when we were together and what fun things we would do together. This gets back to something I wondered about a long time back--do moms that work actually spend more quality time with their kids than moms who don't work.

I don't know the answer to that, and I'm not pushing one choice over another. But I'm just wondering, maybe the more time you're away from your kid, the more quality stuff you try to cram into the time you do have together. And when you don't work (at an official, paying job), the quality time is still there, but just spread out over a full day--between changing the sheets, cleaning paint off the rug, and trying to find a home for all of the photos trapped in my digital camera.

Although, it seems like the more experience I get at being a mom, and the older and more mischievous Toddler in Chief becomes, he is increasingly a bigger part of my regular daily activities, which in turn becomes part of our quality time. Giggling while I unsuccessfully try to fold the fitted sheets, helping pull clothes out of the dryer, taking his turn emailing Grammy and Grampy, and deciding I should get apples instead of pears, is becoming quality time because he can contribute in his own two-year-old way.

No matter what the reason, I like it.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Talk radio insults again

It only took six minutes to make me hate sports radio.

We took the train home from the San Francisco Giants game last night. But after that, we had a six-minute drive from the train station to our house. During our brief car ride, we tuned into KNBR 680 for a little post-game filler to remind us of the good stuff we'd just seen at SBC Park (The Giants won 5-4 against the LA Dodgers; and Barry Bonds hit his first home run of the season--career home run #704).

We heard two callers--who happened to be women--talk with host Bruce Macgowan about the game.

Not only did Macgowan comment on the fact that women were calling in, he made the lame comment "don't tell my wife"--not once, not twice, but three times in those few short minutes. His point was that women couldn't possibly be interested in baseball enough to call a talk radio show to discuss legitimate sports stuff. They *must* be calling because they are hot for him. Give me a break.

He was trying to be funny and tongue in cheek, but it came off as lame, male-chauvinistic garbage.

It made me think that NPR got it right during a Talk of the Nation program that responded to the ethnic slur made by KNBR Larry Krueger on August 3. It's not "sports radio." It's "white guy radio."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Warren Farrell and Lawrence Summers must be pals

I wouldn't want to be Warren Farrell's daughter.

Software Engineering Friend emailed me a link to Warren Farrell's op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times on September 5, in honor of Labor Day. When I first read it, I honestly wasn't sure what to think about it. So I've been sitting on it for a week, wondering how to respond.

Could it be? Do single, childless women actually earn more (117 percent) than their male counterparts, as Farrell suggests in his piece entitled, "Exploiting the Gender Gap." Does that mean women who have children choose to earn less money? Does that mean that once women voluntarily enter into a legally-binding relationship and spawn dependents, they consciously or unconsciously give up on themselves? He wrote that the statistic about women earning just 79 cents for every dollar men make is a myth:

There are 80 jobs in which women earn more than men - positions like financial analyst, speech-language pathologist, radiation therapist, library worker, biological technician, motion picture projectionist. Female sales engineers make 143 percent of their male counterparts; female statisticians earn 135 percent.

On the surface, that sounds encouraging. But the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. There are only 80 jobs out there where women earn more than men??!! That's disgusting. There are thousands of different jobs, so why should me earn more than women in just a handful of jobs.

Farrell went on to write that comparing the salaries of women doctors to male doctors "is to compare apples and oranges" because there are so many different types of doctors. He wrote that women tend to choose general practitioner roles and men tend to be surgeons. I believe his point is that surgeons typically make more money than general practitioners. And it is all fine and well to say that certain types of doctors earn more than others, but if you're going to argue that the reason women doctors earn less than men doctors is because of the type of doctor they are, then follow it up with data that suggests male and female cardiothoracic surgeons typically make the same salary. Or that male and female general practitioners generally make the same salary.

But he did not provide any such detail. I can only speculate that the reason he does not provide that kind of data is because it would still show sexist discrimination against women. That women who are equally educated, who work with the same job title, have the same number of years experience, at the same company earn less money than the men holding those jobs. That can only lead me to believe that Warren Farrell is doing his best to perpetrate a lie that makes women feel like they just aren't trying hard enough. Like it is their own fault for earning less money.

He wrote: "After years of research, I discovered 25 differences in the work-life choices of men and women. All 25 lead to men earning more money, but to women having better lives." But then later, he wrote: "However, when all 25 choices are the same, the great news for women is that then the women make more than the men." Unfortunately, Farrell doesn't really give us much insight on what those 25 difference really are. I'll be the most influential difference in his research is whether the person has a vagina or a penia.

MarkCC commented on Pandagon's blog about this article and the perception and reality of equality and salaries:

...My wife and I both work for the research lab of a big company. She's a lot smarter than me, and frankly, a lot better at being a researcher. And she's been a first-line manager for a year. But I make more than her. And not by a little bit.

What I've learned is that when *I*, as a man, do something like leave work early to go pick up my kids, I get credit for it: "Wow, look what a good, devoted father". When *she* does the same thing, people look at it very differently: "that woman is blowing off her work for her kids".

It doesn't matter what the reality is - the perception is that as a woman with kids will work less hard, for less time. And no matter how many hours she puts in, she'll never get the same credit as me, even though she's *better*.

Just as Warren Summers apologized for his remarks about women being less inclined to handle research jobs, I hope Farrell sees the error in his ways. It just seems that if we keep pounding this garbage into the world then people will start believing it. It even took me a couple of days to sort out my feelings. I don't want to get brainwashed!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bye bye doggies; bye bye guilt

We gave our dogs away. Call me lame. Call me lazy. Call me an exhausted mom who couldn't segment my life anymore.

I got a call from a woman in Glen Elyn last week who adopted our two beautiful Samoyeds, Randi and Mabel. They are thrilled to have them in their lives and we are thrilled that they found a permanent loving home.

While Randi and Mabel were our first babies--we adopted these luscious littermates in February 2000--Toddler in Chief’s health problems made life with dogs very hard. Dog germs are bad for TIC (born without spleen, along with heart defect).

Who knew that two 45-pound dogs could make so many piles of poop? And in addition to fouling up the yard, these dogs were especially germy. They loved--and were especially good at--finding, eating, and rolling in dead animals, or vomit, or animal feces when we'd be out hiking on the dog-friendly trails. And since they are so furry, these nasty and often aromatic remnants were ground into their fur. On those special and routine occasions, the dogs would be outside for days on end.

Before TIC was walking, we could keep him on a clean section of the rug and the dogs could be sequestered to another part of the house. But once he was able to get around and he could see the dogs, he wanted to be with them. And of course, the dogs wanted to be with him.

So, my solution was to drop the dogs in the yard when he woke up in the morning, and they were out there until after he went to bed at night. This wasn't a fun life for them and it was guilt-ridden experience all around. They wanted to be with their people and we couldn't be with them.

The dogs were taken in by the San Francisco Samoyed Rescue’s network a couple of months ago. They'd been living with a foster family in Brentwood, California, which is 55 miles east of San Francisco. Father in Chief drove them to this foster home one night after Randi broke out of the yard and was picked up by the police and ended up at the Humane Society.

But finally, two months after handing the girls into the rescue system, they found a home. I know we did the right thing, and I'm comforted by the fact that they will forget us long before we forget them.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The not-so-normal route to parenthood

Earlier this week Tertia wrote a post that hit so close to home that it helped me realize why I feel so sad whenever I hear about the birth of a baby.

She wrote about infertility and how her scars from her journey through infertility don't go away, just because she's (finally) had two beautiful babies. She wrote, "Infertility is so part of who I am, where I come from, the scars I carry and the way my life has turned out."

I never went down the IVF road, but her feelings about being envious of people who are able to get pregnant without much effort reminded me of our start. Our emotionally explosive, surreal, and unbelievable start that jolted us away from a normal birth experience, normal parenthood, and onto a road that we didn't even know existed: the road of a child with a heart defect.

There is a lingering sadness that I so often forget is a part of me. And it usually resurfaces at the most unusual times--when I get a birth announcement from a friend or forwarded through email. I hadn't been able to put my finger on this sadness. It just felt so horrible, so shameful. But it makes so much sense. These pictures of mother and baby make me cry because I don't have those pictures to lean on. I don't have those joyful times tucked away in my memory.

I am not joyful for these new parents--our friends--who are embarking on an amazingly fulfilling and simultaneously exhausting journey.

I feel total sadness. I feel jealousy. I feel anger.

And I'm ashamed to feel that way. Those feelings eventually subside and I'm able to feel the good feelings. I'm finally able to pick up the phone and express my true feelings--the appropriate joy and excitement. And while those initial feelings don't make me feel very good about myself, Tertia's comments were liberating. She wrote: "This might not be a particularly admirable part of my character, I am not proud of the way I feel, but this is who I am. I'm sorry, but the scars still linger."

My scars began in the delivery room and so when I hear of anyone having a baby, I start my gut-wrenching birth experience all over again. It's part of who I am, just as infertility is part of who Tertia is. As time goes by, I hope that I can tuck those scars into my memory so that I can liberate the more-appropriate tears of joy from the start.