AddThis script

Friday, December 29, 2006

For complete disclosure purposes

I've been spending a lot of time over the past few days trying to come up with things that many of you don't know about me. This is a light exercise assigned to me by Bethany over at Mommy Writer. I've been such an open book and mostly have not censored my thoughts based on who may or may not be reading.

I have never felt compelled to do a list of this or that. They remind me of the junk email that well-meaning relatives forward around. They get to send email without really writing anything meaningful--they just hit the forward button. This exercise is sort of like that because it's a relatively easy way to write a post without being all that creative. But since Bethany writes one of my favorite blogs, I read her 5 Things list and I actually learned something--something about her outside of her crazy busy writing life.

So in the spirit of trying new things, not being negative, and sharing juicy tidbits...

5 things you probably don't know about me:
  1. I had a fling with a cast member from the first season of Survivor. The fling took place years before Survivor. I was in college, it was a lovely summer in Colorado, and life was so uncomplicated.
  2. I wrote about said relationship in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and in the Colorado Daily.
  3. I was a paid extra in the movie Sweet November starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. My Volkswagen Cabrio was also a paid extra.
  4. In the mid-80s, not long after Madonna came out with her second album Like a Virgin, two friends and I won third place and $25 in a talent show for lip-syncing Material Girl. I portrayed Madonna. Poorly, I might add.
  5. My mom (center of bottom picture) is a bellydance instructor. As a result, I know some moves. When I was in high school, I got all dressed up and did a demonstration in front of my class. It seemed like a good idea...
When I started this exercise, it was fun thinking about the exciting things I did in my past. In the end, however, it's sort of sad and pathetic that all the exciting, daring, gutsy things I did in my life happened 10-plus years ago. I can only hope that I don't continue to get lamer and lamer and more predictable as the years go by. If that does happen, at least I have these few things (and some others that didn't make the list) to think back on with a little smile.

UPDATE: I guess I didn't know all the rules of the game. So to continue the fun, I tag: Father in Chief, Grampy, Babs, Bay Area Shutter Babe, and Erika-Renee. Go forth and share.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The New Yorker of women's magazines

How could I be a writer and an intellectual, thinking mother and not know about Brain, Child magazine? It is fabulous and smart! And while I'm thrilled to now finally be a subscriber, I'm bummed that I didn't know about it for the first three-and-a-half years of parenthood. I proudly shout it accolades as a reader and I aspire to be a contributor. Along with completing my non-fiction book, it is a 2007 goal. I'd like to thank Aspiring-Writer Friend for introducing me to it. And not a moment too soon. Please excuse me if the rest of you already knew about it.

The articles remind me of the bright and thought-provoking pieces I read in Literary Mama, the compilation of essays assembled by Andi Buchanan. Brain, Child is the antithesis of mainstream parenting magazines. You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones that can't get beyond the child part of parenting. The ones with all the how-tos on creating a well-rounded, good-natured kid who is a good eater and a good sleeper and is good at sharing and never bites and always picks up his toys before starting a new project. Those kids always eat all of their peas and can wipe their own butts the moment they figure out how to climb up on the potty themselves. And if they don't do all of those things--or didn't do them at the right moment on the developmental chart--well, then you probably didn't read the articles properly.

Don't get me wrong. I subscribed to those magazines in the beginning too--probably before my baby was even born. I even saved articles that I believed would eventually come in handy on the aforementioned topics. But then I realized much of what they offered was mostly gloss with little substance. They fed my desire to create the perfect kids and to be a smiley, happy mom, but my brain was hungry for information that pointed towards the more realistic side of parenting. The part that acknowledges that parenting is hard, is not always pretty, and does not always include the time to make the really cute cupcakes. Brain, Child nurtures the moms in the two-person parenting equation.

I've been savoring every article in my first issue as a Brain, Child subscriber. I've enjoyed it so much that subscriptions--and/or copies of the Greatest Hits--have been given to friends for Christmas. I even subscribed my friend on the receiving end of our Secret Santa gift exchange. I'm singing its praises because I want this to be a successful magazine that continues to fuel the brains of smart moms everywhere. I especially enjoyed the current issue's debate on prenatal sex selection. It amplifies what my lively debates with Laid-Off Dad for Oxygen Media's Oh! Baby blog were missing--the space to delve into a topic. Oh! was pithy and fun, while Brain, Child's version offers substance and compelling arguments without being dry.

So there you have it. Read, learn, think, grow. Finally a parenting magazine for me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How about work and kids?

Would a three-year paid maternity leave change your life? Would you have guilt-free parenting? How about the luxury of not having to choose family over work or work over family? And easing back into the workforce? How about going back to a guaranteed job? It's a dream here, but reality elsewhere.

On our drive home from a Christmas party on Saturday, there was a story on the radio about the generous three-year paid maternity leaves that French women get. Then at the end of three years, there is universal, full-time preschool and guaranteed jobs awaiting the returning moms. After a little investigation, I found an article about this in the Washington Post from October. I guess KCBS was airing some Saturday night fillers. Still, I was thinking about how different things would be if all women were given such generous and rightly-deserved programs in this country. Many women here--including my Bank Friend--get a six-week maternity leave before heading back to work. These inadequate leaves not only affect who is raising our kids, but also other personal decisions like whether or not to breastfeed. Bank Friend felt it would be too overwhelming to try and get her baby to nurse only to have to transition to bottles and formula so quickly.

This lack of options leads to picking one or the other. Work? Or Baby? And in my case, since there is no actual job to return to, the thought of searching for a job and interviewing is very intimidating. I've been out of work since early 2003, and I'm sure I'm a bit rusty. There's also a big gap in my resume now. And sadly, "Motherhood" isn't always an acceptable resume place-holder. In some cases, it's probably a liability because companies might equate parenthood with someone who will need time off for sick kids or someone who won't want to work 50 or 60 hours a week. But in France, where the leaves are extensive and paid, women don't have to choose. They get both. Be with the kids until they are three years old, then head back to work.
France heavily subsidizes children and families from pregnancy to young adulthood with liberal maternity leaves and part-time work laws for women. The government also covers some child-care costs of toddlers up to 3 years old and offers free child-care centers from age 3 to kindergarten, in addition to tax breaks and discounts on transportation, cultural events and shopping.
These programs were started because France was hoping to boost its birthrate, and it worked. According to the article, France now has the second-highest fertility rate in Europe. There are 1.94 children born per woman, slightly lower than Ireland's rate of 1.99. The fertility rate in the U.S. is 2.01 children per woman. "Politicians realized they had to encourage people to have more babies if they didn't want to live in a country of old people," said France Prioux, director of research for France's National Institute of Demographic Studies in the article.
This summer, the government--concerned that French women still were not producing enough children to guarantee a full replacement generation--very publicly urged French women to have even more babies. A new law provides greater maternity leave benefits, tax credits and other incentives for families who have a third child. During a year-long leave after the birth of the third child, mothers will receive $960 a month from the government, twice the allowance for the second child.
As a result, 75 percent of all French mothers with at least two children are employed, according to the article. If only we had half of those benefits here...