Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Toy From A Boy


I got my best Christmas present days after the holiday and I didn’t even know it was coming. I was picking up Thing Three from a friend’s house and before I left the father said, “Hold on, I’ve got something for you.” He handed me a little square box of perfect packaging with something shiny and silver in it. It was a 2 gigabyte iPod Shuffle with “Have A Great 2010” engraved on the back. “I gave these to all of my clients this year for Christmas, and I had an extra one and I knew you would like it,” he said. “I loaded it up with about 800 songs for you. – There are some surprises and some real gems in there.”

Just the week before, I’d had my annual $25-and-under holiday gift exchange with 11 girlfriends. Sure, there was a one-of-a-kind bottle of hand-pressed olive oil from Italy, a hooked “Ho Ho Ho” rug and a charming pinecone candelabra. But let’s face it; it was no shiny new shuffle.

Driving home, I was giddy with my swag – I have a clinical weakness for all things Apple. But then it dawned on me, the real gift was that I’d made a male friend with a common interest – and that hadn’t happened in a long time.

Back in my working days, I had plenty of men co-workers, colleagues, pod and cubicle mates. Male friends. We would have lunch, coffee, dinner, and even go to bars after work. – And yes, I was married. My male co-workers taught me to smoke a cigar in a glass corner office on the 51st floor on Park Avenue to celebrate a big banking deal. And I was the go-to call for a client when he had extra tickets to the Rangers games at Madison Square Gardens.

But, my male friends mostly disappeared after I left work, and vanished entirely as soon as Thing One arrived. But I didn’t miss them right away. I was consumed in babydom. Then there was Thing Two, Thing Three, and I needed a village. I have my village and couldn’t be happier with it. But 12 years in, it’s about time for a weekend pass from the village.

I wondered, was it just me in my miasma of selfishness, or was this a real issue lots of women were facing? Every thinking stay-at-home-mom who really cared about larger world issues yet inexplicably found themselves discussing the evils of over-scheduled middle-schoolers (again) agreed with me wholeheartedly. But that could’ve been just because they were from my village.

So, I asked a psychologist who’s been practicing relationship therapy for 25 years on Long Island. It was like my own Friends episode. “All relationships take place within a social context. They don’t happen out of the blue,” she said. “Once a woman is home, there’s a lack of freedom and conversation is based on what is active in your life. All of a sudden there is a lot of talk about throw-up and laundry.”

Keep singing it doctor: “The current generation feels it more than any other because these women had real friendships with men in college and the workplace more than any women before them,” she said. “All of a sudden – and it may be 10 years all of a sudden – you find yourself thinking what am I doing here? I never intended to be here.”

I figured I’d either nailed a great social issue of our time, or I just knew the right expert to call. I wondered if the modern men we went to college and the office with valued their cross-gender friendships (that’s what my new Long Island friend calls them) as much as women did. So I asked Slim, who works in a three-person office, if he missed having lots of female colleagues. And he said, “are we out of cashews?”

Clearly, Long Island psychologists were my people. The psychologist waxed lyrical about a woman’s need to be considered equally valuable as a human being, and the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself and the rewards of being connected to the male part of the universe. All of this happens organically when you have male co-workers. There’s also the bantering, competition, joking and big brother protectiveness that come with male friendships. Female friendships, on the other hand, are filled with emotion and support, but often a certain delicacy or tension because their feelings get hurt more easily.

That explains why my email in-box is littered with digital flower bouquets, chainmail encouraging me to let 10 women in my life know how much they mean to me, and plenty of Maya Angelou poetry. And if I receive one more copy of the essay comparing motherhood to the invisible, nameless builders of the world’s greatest cathedrals, I will begin sharpening my own special stonemasonry chisel. Why don’t any of my stay-at-home mom friends send me emails that say, “Four words, people: John Edwards sex tape.”

After much discussion with friends and my Long Island psychologist, I’ve accepted that in order to have that richer texture of easy friendships with both genders, I would have to go back to a work environment with male colleagues. But I’m pretty sure that after not too long of that, I would need a weekend pass to visit my village. And that’s a sacrifice I’m not yet willing to make. So for now, I’ll have to be happy with my shuffle as a small window into the male mind. Although I’m still not sure I understand how a song by the hip hop rap group The Roots works as a lead-in to an aria from Puccini’s Turandot.

So, when I sat down to thank my friend for my new toy, I could’ve written, “Dear Scott, Thank you so much for the iPod shuffle. It is so cute and just perfect to listen to while vacuuming or folding laundry.” (Which, admittedly, it actually is.) I could have even quoted a few lines from Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. But I didn’t. I sent him a link to an awesome YouTube video of Hitler reacting to the Democrats losing Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sarah Palin, Free Pizza and Me


There was a brief window during the 2008 election when the hockey mom was vaulted above the soccer mom. Mind you that doesn’t exactly bring either to any great heights, it just seemed the whole lipstick-pitbull thing was too hard for the media to resist once Sarah Palin unleashed the comment.

And yes, after nearly nine years of driving to rinks around Pennsylvania, I am technically a “hockey mom.” Although, you won’t see me sporting any “You Don’t Scare Me, I’m A Hockey Mom” sweatshirt in the stands, nor will I be wearing the 100% cotton classic thong that reads “HOCKEY M.I.L.F.” anywhere. (Really, what marketer thinks that’s funny? And, has he actually seen many hockey moms?)

So along came a message to my email in-box this week pleading for extras to take part in “Hockey Mom,” the final project of a local film school student. It seems the image of mothers pounding the glass while their offspring glide by on sharp metal blades still captivates.

The young director, we’ll call him Adam, sets the scene, “Two mothers get into a fight over their kids. The bad mother is very obnoxious, blows an air horn, rings a cowbell, and curses. The good mother is quiet, timid, and polite until she is provoked into action. The scene ends with them being pulled away from each other by security guards.”

Obviously not too familiar with his target audience of mothers who’ve already spent enough time driving to and from and sitting in cold ice arenas, Adam offers this as enticement for Saturday’s 10:30 pm to 1 am shoot, “This scene is the climax of the movie…I promise it will be a massive amount of fun…Afterward we will have copious amounts of pizza and beverages for everyone.”

Our young film student, whom we’ll now call Adam Scheiner, also must expect that hockey moms are much better at ringing their cowbells than using the internet. (Granted, some probably are.) However, if you can get a kid to the rink by 5:15 am and dressed (in goalie gear!) for a 6 o’clock game, you’re probably willing to make those extra few clicks at the keyboard. It's also clear that this budding movie-maker has completely missed all of the cases, articles, and red lights warning young people that "anything you put on the internet can be found and held against you."

And that’s how I discovered that this student – who so desperately wants my help – describes himself as “filmmaker, writer, huggable person.” Fine. As for his "Twitter" location, instead of sticking with your basic "Philadelphia," he writes, “In your mother’s vagina.” Right, and that’s who I’m going to trust with my big screen debut playing a mother. Adam, Adam, Adam, if you were lucky, your mother would have been a hockey mom with plenty of hours to cart you to the rink and give you a lesson or two on major and minor penalties. This one is more of a game misconduct.

So, no, I will not be spending this evening having massive amounts of fun and copious amounts of pizza. Plus, I just couldn’t decide if I wanted to be listed in the credits as “Good Mother” or “Bad Mother.” I'll just be home polishing my cowbells for next weekend's game.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Serviceable Service

Note: This post is in direct response to Slim, who after reading the first two posts said, “Well it’s nice, but isn’t it going to be about something? It’s just, ‘blah, blah, blah.’” Apparently the Boston sports blogs he reads are not just ‘blah, blah, blah.’ Who knew?


First let’s accept that the institution of motherhood is service itself. Sure it’s best when there’s a healthy dose of love and nurturing involved too. But let’s face it, just love isn’t going to get you to hockey practice or marinate that chicken.

So, from time immemorial, the job requirements have been to birth that baby and then quite simply keep that baby alive. Service. Then along came industrialization, processed sugar, youth sports and Greenpeace, so now there’s a healthy side portion of guilt to go along with the service. Don’t get me wrong, I love mothering as much as the next girl who calls a construction paper turkey with googly eyes “art.” But there’s a lot of service and guilt involved.

So, this week’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. First, let me get it out there – love the man, love the sentiment, believe in community service. However, as a woman in a job pretty full-up of service and guilt, this “opportunity” to teach my children weighs on me. Mostly because I struggle with what the appropriate lessons and actual service efforts should be for young children. But also, because by turning the holiday into a service day, the actual curriculum and cause for celebration and reflection is lost.

For my kids, and many out there, the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and his place in our nation’s history is still the more age-appropriate and important lesson to learn. He was a martyr for civil rights in our country, he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he led the March on Washington, and he was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. As a ten-year-old, he even sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of Gone With The Wind. I mean, as an American citizen in history, the guy ruled.

And yet, at the completion of a second grade unit learning all about “Our Friend Martin,” my son struggled with his reading response homework. “How am I supposed to know why he was killed? It only talks about all the things he did and then it just says he was killed.” Granted, my son may be a little slow in the inference department, but he is eight! Go ahead and teach him that there was an ugly time in our country of fighting, inequality, and racism. And it’s not over yet.

My friend Martin’s lesson to elementary school children should be about that fight and the bravery to stand up when something is not fair. It should not be about making birdfeeders for the community, beading bracelets, washing the local fire-trucks, or even sewing new fleece pillows for hospital patients.

If your friends are there, you do arts and crafts projects, there are snacks (proceeds going to help find a cure for cancer, of course) and you get a cool new t-shirt to take home, that’s called a birthday party not a day of service. (And don’t get me started on the birthday invitation that says, “Instead of gifts, Reilly would like his friends to bring blankets for the homeless.” Because I’m actually quite sure Reilly would like the new Lego Star Wars Droid Battleship.)

Like the man in his day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was met with opposition, hatred and bigotry. The Day was voted an official U.S. holiday in 1983 – the first of its kind to honor a private citizen. Right there, something to talk to kids about. It wasn’t actually celebrated until 1986, and even into the 1990s some states still weren’t giving the day its due. The Super Bowl was moved from Arizona to California in 1990 because The Grand Canyon State was acting less than grand.

In Virginia, the holiday used to be a three-fer – celebrating great generals of the Confederacy and civil rights – they called it Lee-Jackson-King Day. Nice. While employees of the state of South Carolina, up until 2000, could choose to observe either MLK Day or one of three confederate holidays. (Unless of course you are the governor and you are going to visit your Argentinian mistress, then you’re probably going to need all three of those.)

Perhaps I am hyper-aware of the issue because Philadelphia is where MLK Day was transformed into a Day of Service, and it is still the largest of its kind in the nation. Could it be that being surrounded by 70,000 volunteers in matching MLK service day t-shirts has contributed to my guilt?

Speaking of which, is it any mystery why Target and other corporations spent upwards of $100,000 to get their logos on 70,000 backs for the day by “donating” the shirts? Mind you, when trying to research the store’s role in the Day of Service, I continued to be given “Target store hours for MLK Day.” And trust me when I tell you, I’ve nothing against Target.

But I do have something against teaching my children charity that is more about the “chairing” or service that is too disconnected from the “served.” Many of the savviest (and self-servingly so) causes out there are teaching consumers “embedded philanthropy” – like the RED campaign, or Buy One-Give One efforts that make a corporate donation when you buy the product. So yes, teens can get that new iPod and fight AIDS in Africa at the same time.

Similarly, most of the MLK Day service projects for children seem to be teaching embedded service. I am still on the lookout for projects that will show my kids that socializing can be a by-product of service, rather than service as a feel good by-product of socializing. Teach my kid about MLK the man before we move on to solving world hunger one hand-painted ceramic bowl at a time in a “simulated soup kitchen environment for kids in grades pre-K through 12” (I am not making that up).

Besides, all I really wanted to do on Monday was clean out my basement. And, somehow, I felt guilty about that.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Whither GoMommy.com?

Apparently, starting a blog these days is really just dipping the big toe in. To really make waves on the web, a friend instructed me, you have to get a domain name. And how does one actually “get a domain name”? – Well, obviously, you do it at godaddy.com, this friend assured me. Yes, I’d seen the ads during the Superbowl, lots women in skinny jeans and even tighter tank tops that say “GoDaddy” on them. Well, of course, they’re selling alphanumeric identification labels on the internet.

Which got me thinking, why does the term “daddy” connote cool, hip, and even sexy, while its partner “mommy” decidedly does not? In addition to GoDaddy, there’s Puff Daddy, sugar daddy, mac daddy, big daddy, daddy-O, daddy cool, Trick Daddy, skydaddy and who’s your daddy? (Which I’m not sure achieves its desired effect when an 8-year-old says it to you in a game of Backgammon.)

And on the other side of the not-so-equally-divided double bed, there’s Mommie Dearest, mommy wars, mommy and me, mommy track, mommybloggers, and of course PHATmommy – for those interested in parenting, homeschooling and technology.

So, why the disparity? To get to the facts, I asked an Ivy League marketing professor who specializes in identity, influence and behavior – I mean, he’d know, right? And he came right out with it, “While mommy is mainly associated with parenthood, daddy is also associated with music such as jazz and ska. Bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and websites like UrbanDaddy all build off the fact that the term is associated with being knowledgeable or hip to things going on in the world.”

Subtext, “mommy” is derived from words like mother, maternal, mama, mammy and mammary gland. The word just oozes… hipness, no? Let’s face it, any term that has to do with breastfeeding should rarely be used in marketing, unless of course you’re selling a breast pump. Ever mention that term around your unmarried brother? I guarantee you a good laugh.

Sure “mommy” rules the playground set and “daddy” is king in the music world. All even. But “daddy” reigns even higher in books, television, and especially the movies (With a particularly high presence in porn. Yeah, so that search is now part of my Google history. Forever.) In sheer numbers alone – and daddy’s all about the numbers – 40 movie or television titles use the term “mommy,” while 212 have found it worth their while to use “daddy” in the title.

And now let’s take a closer look at those titles, shall we? Daddy Knows Best, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, My Daddy The Astronaut, My Wise Daddy, and My Daddy The Crocodile Hunter. Then there’s a rash of titles which would be right at home on the early 80’s afterschool special shelf: Bachelor Daddy, Daddy Puts One Over, For Sale: Daddy, Disappearing Daddy, Since Daddy Was Taken Away, Where’s Daddy, When Daddy Comes Home, and the more troubling, Daddy Left Me Alone With God. Daddy and The Muscle Academy appears to be part of the Finnish gay cinema wave.

As for mommy on the big screen? Mommy Loves Puppy, Mommy Mommy, Your Mommy Kills Animals, My Mom Works at Sears, Mommy Mommy Where’s My Brain, and my personal favorite, made for TV, Because Mommy Works.

To be fair, there is one porn series that gives the nod to mom (now the Google search minders are really confused!) – Mommy XXX: This Soccer Mom Can Handle Big Balls. There’s also a series on cable called Wife, Mom, Bounty Hunter, where you can watch a former female wrestler balance family life with running her own bail bond business in Arizona. Lastly, there’s Mommy’s Bosses that I initially misread as Mommy Bosses, which is frankly probably a more fitting title for the science fiction television episode.

So, in this literal “mommy” vs. “daddy” war (like I said, I tackle the important issues), it was pretty clear who was (can’t resist) coming out on top. I polled a few others, even talking to someone at YouTube – arbiters of everything hip, now and useless. He tried to claim that there was no difference in the two terms. “Mommybloggers are way cool,” his 23-year-old self said. I let the appropriate pause pass for him to get comfortable with his judgment, and then asked, “would you rather date someone who worked at GoDaddy or was a mommyblogger?” There was no need for a pause, “no comment.”


Friday, January 8, 2010

And So It Begins...

As this is the my first post, I thought I'd better do a little explaining about "the blog," and how I've either risen so high or stooped so low as to even be writing "a blog." (Not to worry, a few posts in and I'm sure I will stop referring to it as "the blog.")

First, I've always been a little queasy with memoirs and first person writing and swore I would never do it.

Second, I always cringed when other writers would sing the refrain, “write what you know – you should write about your kids.” Please, I had far more interesting things to write about than my kids. (That would have been the stage when writing a book on mutual funds was “interesting.”)

Third, as a former journalist for a national newspaper, I scoffed at the prospect that I would ever write “a blog.”

So, here I am. Writing a blog, largely about my life and parenting my three children. Whoa, Peter, did you just hear that cock crow?

I plan to write regular pieces on issues that come up or interest me as I raise my three boys (four really, if you’ve met my husband) – or perhaps they are issues that interest me so that I can avoid raising my kids. We’ll see. I also plan to put up smaller posts of things I’ve seen or overheard that have given me a chuckle or pause. Like yesterday, a woman used the phrase “tricked out Odyssey.” And I’m pretty sure she was serious.

Now for the blog title. That might take a little explaining, but less than you’d think. First, I’m not actually a big Sylvia Plath fan. I have never considered myself smart enough nor troubled enough to really understand or appreciate poetry. (Nor do I buy that Bill Clinton or Monica Lewinsky ever read much of their copies of Leaves of Grass.)

So it’s really more about the playgroup part. Back when my kids were in the playgroup stage, I had bastardized that dream dinner date game. – You know, when the Miss America candidate from Arkansas says, “My three dream dinner dates, living or dead, would be Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Julia Roberts.”

I pondered, who would be a dream addition to playgroup. Sure, I could have been separating my toddler from the 1-lb bag of Twizzlers, but this required some real thought.

I went through the short list of smart, funny women. Hmm, none of them had kids. There were plenty of smart, admirable, accomplished women. And some of them actually had kids. But in playgroup, you’re not looking for admirable and accomplished. Why surround yourself with people who are constant reminders of what you’re not doing?

And then it came to me. Sylvia Plath. She covered all the bases – smart, interesting, accomplished, we could swap writing struggles, she’d lived abroad... And let’s face it, here’s someone who could make even me feel like I was being a pretty good mother. Besides it’s always fun to have someone in your circle who’s a little bit famous – or maybe infamous.

And really no matter how great your playgroup is, wouldn’t it be nice to once in awhile have a mom say, “you know I’ve hired a sitter for playgroup this morning – bring all your kids over and then we can each go out and do what we want for the next four hours, separately.” Sylvia would have been just that kind of playgroup mom.

And bonus, have you seen her ex? He was hot in an older-man, Sam Shepard sort of hot. There’s always a chance Ted Hughes would come to couples' dinner (they’d bring something room temp.) – or knowing Sylvia, he might end up doing a Friday morning playgroup stint or two.

So there you have it, the genesis of the title of “the blog,” which will have very little to do with playgroups and even less to say about Sylvia Plath.

As for the tagline under the title, some of you may wince and think, “yes, but, isn’t that a bit much?” Well, frankly, sometimes as an over-educated and under-employed wife and mother who does the shopping, planning, driving, cleaning, sports equipment-hauling, homework-checking, music practice monitoring, and Nerf war refereeing, etc., I frequently find myself at the end of the day staring at four people who expect me to feed them – every night. And I think to myself, “yes, but, isn’t that a bit much?”