"There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread." - Gandhi

June 30, 2008

Breadwinner vs. Bread Makers

An article on a site called MomLogic (and believe me, I'm a little taken aback that they have a section called MomTroversy - bleah - which is just about the most bitter, frustrated piece of writing I have come across. If I ever begin to sound like this woman, please put me out of my misery.

Her central point is that all mothers are "full time mothers" but its presented in such an "Us vs. Them" way as to make the point almost unfindable. Its this kind of ... stuff (this is a family blog, after all) that contributes to so many of us feeling guilty about only doing what we can do.

“As long as one keeps searching, the answers come” - J.Baez

June 27, 2008

I've been reliably advised that "blogs are more interesting with pictures". So please expect more pictures from now on.

Last Friday, E and I had a "day of fun and adventure". I had the day off, so we went to story time at the library, then wandered into the Old Port and ran across a dog In The Spotlight (edited)parade that was part of Take Your Dog To Work Day, then visited a friend who works on Exchange St, then stopped at the toystore (looking for a kite, but bought a toy school bus), then ate hot dogs in the park and came home and took a nap, then had dinner and attended a bonfire in the evening. It was a totally glorious day, where I got to pretend for the day that I was the Mamma I want to be. But this post isn't about that day. Its about the school bus.

My son is obsessed with school buses. I don't know why -- every kid has his thing, I guess, and that's his. At his request, on Friday, I bought him a fairly large die-cast metal school bus, with doors that open and close and a STOP sign that opens out from the side. He was over the moon about it, despite the fact that before we'd finished lunch the STOP sign had broken off and the doors had popped out (and one was lost). He carried it everywhere for two or three days, slept with it, made us put it where he could see it while he was eating, and, in general, made it clear that this bus was a talisman of the highest importance to him.

Then, on Monday, the bus vanished.

He was playing with it in the dining room, then carted it off to another part of the house, and we haven't seen it since. It has to be somewhere on the first floor, and we've torn everything apart - looked under things and behind things, opened drawers he couldn't possibly reach and taken apart both sofas. Its just gone. Disappeared. Vanished. It must be somewhere, but the possibilities are limited.

The weird part is that E doesn't seem that upset about it. He spent the first couple of days digging through the toy bins downstairs clearly looking for something, but he hasn't asked about it or exhibited any real signs of distress over the loss.

I'm strongly considering walking down to the toy store today and picking up another one, then hiding it somewhere in plain sight where he can "find" it - just to see what happens. Josh thinks he actually has it hidden somewhere and knows where it is. I'm not so sure.

Either way, buying a second one is a sure-fire way to make the first one reappear.

"I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are? " - Thoreau

June 26, 2008

I've developed a strange problem in the past few weeks: I've become a zombie co-sleeper.

Everything starts off fine. I fall asleep in my own bed. But sometime in the night something happens, and every morning for almost two weeks I've woken up snuggled up with my son in his bed. The strange part is that many mornings I don't remember what woke me or remember getting up and moving. Not at all.

What probably happens is that E wakes up sometime in the night and calls for me. He used to cry, but over time he's realized that if he's awake in the night he can just call out "mamma, mamma" and I'll hear him and come in. Typically the reason he's awake is that he's kicked off all his covers or has flopped over so he's sideways on the bed, and now he's cold, so the easiest thing to do is to snuggle under the covers with him until I doze off. But more mornings than not, now, I wake up in his bed with no memory at all of how I arrived there. This morning I woke up at 4:45 am in his bed, no idea how I'd arrived there, and thought "this is dumb. I'm going back to my own bed." and so got up and slept for the next hour and a half or so in my own bed, next to my husband.

I woke up when E woke up at 6:30 am and cried out "Where mamma?! Where mamma?!"

I guess I don't really mind this odd routine. E clearly likes waking up next to me (I often get kisses and hugs when waking up), and my husband doesn't really mind. I do find it strange, however, that I don't remember it. I almost see it as some sort of weird reversal of the way we often move sleeping children around - they fall asleep in one spot and wake up in a totally different one.

I'm pretty sure no one is carrying me into his room, however. At least I hope not.

"It is some relief to weep; grief is satisfied and carried off by tears." - Ovid

June 25, 2008

My son saw me cry for the first time ever last night. Sitting on the floor of his room, as I was talking with his father about a current disappointment and a small frustration I just burst into tears. E was perplexed, to say the least, and walked over and solemnly patted my leg. His father tried to encourage him to say "its ok, mamma" but he wouldn't speak - just stared up at me for a long moment with is big blue eyes, then handed me a plastic knight and held up his own, ready to fight.

I recovered quickly, then fought as required. Later, we read books and sang our goodnight songs and struggled over tooth brushing and snuggled and slept. As I cuddled my son as he made that final transition between sleepy and sleeping, I thought about the first time I saw my mother cry (that I remember).

The first time I saw my mother cry was when I was 27, and my Grandmother -- my mother's mother, the woman who was my primary caregiver for most of my childhood -- passed away. My mother (a solid, capable midwestern woman) had been a rock through her mother's final illness, through telling my Grandfather that his wife had died, through the funeral planning, only to break down weeping in the parking lot just before she started the car. I was taken aback, but also understood that she'd been trying to hold it together as much for me as for herself, and, after all, crying when your mother dies is normal and fully expected. Still, it was a momentary shock, simply because I'd never seen it before. Through her struggles during my childhood and our struggles as mother and daughter during my teen and college years, if she'd cried she always did it in private.

A good friend recently said to me "I hope [your son] doesn't have to know how hard you work to make his life as good as it is". I appreciate the sentiment, but its not something it would ever occur to me to hide from him. Its important to me that he understand that life is not easy or handed to you. I also think its important that he understand that Mamma and Daddy are people just like him, and that we cry and hurt and laugh and dance just as he does.

On the other hand, I'd sort of hoped the first tears he would see from me were tears of joy, not tears of anger and frustration. His job as a son is not to comfort me, although his presence provides much comfort. Our job as a family is to provide support for each other through highs and lows. Being open about our emotions - teaching him that all feelings are ok even as I strive to make sure that I'm not overwhelming him with things he can't possibly process - is just another in the long series of balancing acts that no book or parenting magazine can prepare you for.

"There is nothing wrong with change, if its in the right direction."

June 24, 2008

I really don't want this to become a political blog, but Sen. Obama made a very interesting speech about working mothers yesterday, and since its gotten very little press coverage I wanted to highlight it here - mostly because he's saying things that I'm not sure I ever believed I'd hear a Presidential candidate say.

The complete text of his prepared remarks is on-line here, but let me pull out some specific points:

"As the son of a single mother, I also don’t accept an America that makes women choose between their kids and their careers. It’s not acceptable that women are denied jobs or promotions because they’ve got kids at home. It’s not acceptable that forty percent of working women don’t have a single paid sick day. That’s wrong for working parents, it’s wrong for America’s children, and it’s not who we are as a country."

His specific proposals include:

+ Expand the Child and Dependent Care tax credit to cover up to 50% credit for child care expenses
+ Require employers to provide all workers with seven paid sick days per year.
+ "I’ll support a 50-state strategy to adopt paid-leave systems, and set aside $1.5 billion to fund it." (Is he talking about paid maternity/parental leave here?)
+ Index the minimum wage to inflation so that it goes up each year to keep pace with rising costs.
+ Double funding for after-school programs.
+ Spend $10 billion for "quality, affordable" early childhood education.
Expand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to:
+ Cover businesses with as few as 25 employees. (Currently only businesses with 50 or more employees must offer leave under FMLA.)
+ Allow parents to take 24 hours of annual leave to join school activities.
+ Allow workers to take leave to care for elderly parents.
+ Cover employees who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Many of these proposals speak clearly with the voice of a household where there are two working parents. Michelle Obama has been speaking (and has been spoken of) as a working mother (or, these days, I guess that's really a former working mother), and while her executive position is very different from women like me working in offices and call centers across America, I can't imagine that her problems are much different - how do I spend enough time with my child(ren) to instill my values and viewpoint? How do I balance all this?

"Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father." - B.Obama

June 16, 2008

You probably saw yesterday in the New York Times and elsewhere that Sen. Barack Obama gave a speech on Sunday about the importance of fathers in families.

Like Senator Obama, I grew up as the child of an absent father. Like him, I was fortunate that my mother's parents were there for my mother and I, to provide support and guidance, to love and nurture, and to provide us with a home. As an adult, I spent a lot of time search for a "father figure" in my life - a mentor or teacher, a friend, a romantic partner, someone who would fill that role in my inner life. My Grandfather was a wonderful, loving man who delighted in me and taught me baseball and life lessons, but he was my Grandmother's second husband (my mother's stepfather), and I always knew that despite my own closeness to him he didn't really fit into the "father figure" mold in my mind.

My mother, too, was raised as an only child by her mother and her mother's parents. I don't know why my Grandmother's first marriage broke up; I only know that it did. My mother feared her Grandmother but adored her Grandfather - she called him Pawpaw and the few stories she tells of him reveal that he was about the only figure in her young life who loved her unconditionally.

I like to think that in some way I've broken the cycle. I fell in love with a wonderful, strong man who loves me, who is frugal and sensible (as I am not), who believes strongly in family and who is a superb and tender father to our son. Virtually everything I know about being a parent, from changing a diaper to disciplining to being present in the moment with my son, I've learned from my husband. I hope my son can grow to be the same strong, sensible, honorable man his father is.

So, a belated public Happy Father's Day to my husband, who is, without question, my best and only candidate for world's greatest dad.

Reading at O'Naturals

"There is no delight in owning anything unshared." - Seneca

June 13, 2008

In Sunday's New York Times Magazine there was a parenting article (When Mom and Dad Share It All by Lisa Belkin) that's getting a lot of play on the blogs this week. In a nutshell, the piece rehashes the familiar housework-imbalance stats: women, even working mothers, generally spend two hours on household chores for every one hour spent by men, and that ratio remains consistent when looking at childcare (which is split into its own category, separate from housework).

The article then goes on to profile a couple of families who have tried to change this, and talks about how they have succeeded or failed to various degrees.

In response to what I posted yesterday (about outsourcing some work so you can free up time to spend "quality time" (notice the quotes) with your child(ren), or perhaps so you can just get everything done that you want to get done without losing your mind), a friend who is a stay-at-home mom wrote "Multitasking is what being a mom is all about - regardless of whether you work or not." Given how much balance their is in their family and their marriage, her comment surprised me -- not because I disagree, but I was surprised at how she phrased it: I immediately wondered why she had not said "Multitasking is what being a parent is all about"

I know I'm the dad at my house. My husband watches our son while I'm working at night and on weekends, he puts away the dishes, does the laundry, changes the sheets, cooks dinner, vacuums, and, in general, makes sure the house is more-or-less acceptably tidy. Earlier this week he cleaned the tub before giving E his bath, and took me to task for not noticing how gross it had become (the bathrooms and loading the dishwasher are my only two assigned tasks. Plus my own laundry). I'm very guilty of being the parent who comes home and wants it to be baby-play time instead of trying to balance spending time with my son with doing some routine household chore. I want to give him my complete and undivided attention for the hour or two we have together before he goes to bed.

Balance in a relationship is a tricky thing. Gender roles, social norms, and personal preference all play a part in making sure that everyone is happy with which way the teeter-totter is pointing (is that too weird? The Teeter-totter thing?). I'm wondering if a sociologist would say that I'd rather be home with my son and doing dishes and cleaning baseboards because society has conditioned me to believe that this is my role. If s/he did, I'd say "Sorry, not true. Its not society. I never wanted to do any of this stuff before my son was born."

Honestly? I think its the hormones.

(Two other links that are mentioned in the article: Equally Shared Parenting, Third Path Institute)

“Reason's whole pleasure, all the joys of sense, Lie in three words, - health, peace, and competence” - Alexander Pope

June 12, 2008

On Not Doing Dishes: The Rise of the Core Competency Mom by Laura Vanderkam

I wasn't expecting to find this on the Huffington Post, but there it is. A well-written, thought-provoking essay, whose central point is this: Stay-at-home moms and working moms end up spending about the same amount of time directly caring for their children. Although this seems counterintuitive, there are apparently studies that say that working moms simply prioritize their children first in their available, non working hours, leaving "other stuff" - to quote the article - Stay-at-home moms spend an equal amount of time taking care of their kids and their houses; moms who work full-time spend more time with their kids than on household chores.

Of course, what the article doesn't take into account is the ages of children, and how much more labor intensive it is to care for a four month old than a four year old, but in many ways the essay does reflect what goes on in my own home - choosing play time and walks and bedtime stories over housework.

Its actually the first of an ongoing series: here are part 2 (on organization), opart 3 (on productivity), part 4 (on housework), and part 5 (on time vs. money). I think there are probably more to come.

"The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic." - H W Beecher

June 11, 2008

Yesterday, I attended a meeting at a local business that specializes in dog-related products. Their office is that special kind of creative chaos that is full of bright color and music and dogs and little kids. In some ways, you might even consider it to be a model for the "parent friendly" office - there is a little playroom set up in one of the offices, and there were young children playing happily there, in sight of their parents. One of the employees has a 17 week old son, and she is encouraged to either bring him in or to leave a couple of times during the day so she can nurse him. All the staff are cheerful, fun people, and they clearly love their work environment.

But when I was there, something odd happened.

The wife of the founder and CEO brought in her adorable one-year-old daughter. It had apparently been prearranged that the CEO's assistant (who is the mom of two young children) would watch the daughter for an hour while the wife had an appointment. From the way the daughter and the assistant reacted, it was fairly clear to me that this was a regular thing - that the little girl regarded the assistant as a regular caregiver and trusted adult. And fortunately the assistant (I'll call her L) is clearly very attached to this lovely little girl.

I'm not sure "family friendly" is supposed to mean "free drop-off childcare" is it? Somehow I had the silly idea that the days when you could ask your husband's secretary to pick up the dry cleaning or watch your baby for an hour had past.

Obviously I don't know the details of the arrangement. It is clear that the folks who work for this company consider each other to be "family" so I suppose its possible that this is a task she volunteered for. But it seems to me that there is a line there that maybe shouldn't be crossed. The assistant is a bright, talented young woman with a gift for organizing chaos. Its pretty clear to everyone that works with her that this is an entry level position and that one day she's going to move on to bigger things within this fairly small company. I hope, for her sake, that she doesn't feel obligated to do this in order to make a good impression with the owner. I also hope, for her sake, that her willingness to watch this child for an hour or so here or there doesn't get her pigeonholed as "the sitter" and make it impossible for her to move up when the time comes.

Edited to add: Work It Mom just pointed me toward this article from last week's Boston Globe: Bringing up Babies at Work. It kind of runs around the edges of some of the issues I'm talking about here. (Also, I had no idea that Zutano was based out of Cabot, VT.)

“We excuse our sloth under the pretext of difficulty.” - Marcus Fabius Quintilian

June 6, 2008

I'm realizing with some horror that its not just been "a few days" but rather more than a week since my last post here. I might try to excuse it by saying "I've been busy" but, while true, that shouldn't be an excuse.

Its more that I'm self-censoring too much. I never intended this site to be a long litany of the ways that I'm dissatisfied with my own life as a working mother, but that is, of course, what its turned out to be. So I end up saying nothing when I can't say something good.

(Also, if you search Google news for the word "Mother" you bring up a bunch of wretched stories like this one, which just sort of ruins the rest of my day.)

This has been a tough couple of weeks at my house. I'm working even more than usual (my day job has me working at special events both this Saturday and next), and these days whenever E sees me the first thing he says is always "bye bye mamma," which breaks my heart. I'm coming to realize that there really isn't any way out of this for our family - that our lives are going to continue to be like this for years yet - and its amazingly depressing. I'm not sure how we're going to heat our house this winter, and money continues to be a driving concern.

This is not to say that we haven't had some great moments - on Tuesday, for example, thanks to the generosity of a great friend we were able to go see the Portland Seadogs at Hadlock Stadium (long details over here, with photos), which was a really wonderful evening, but its like a shooting star - only there for a moment, and I'm not sure when it will reappear.

Driving home from Hadlock on Tuesday night I realized that part of the problem is that I see him so little that I'm starting to feel like a divorced non-custodial parent. We have "special treat" days, but no real time to just hang out and do normal things. When I have a day off, there is such a strong pull to make it "special" that there is no normal routine of doing regular household things.

I don't how to combat this. But I'm open to suggestions.