Friday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

I hate to start on a depressing note, but this letter in Berkeley Parents Network left an impression on me as we have a huge homeless population in Berkeley:

Helping homeless man with cancer
I recently ran into a man who grew up around the corner from me in Berkeley and attended the same alternative highschool. He was raised by his grandma who passed away when we were young and then I pretty much lost track of him. Over the years (we are now in our late forties) he would pass through the neighborhood (where I still live) to say hello. He never asked for anything but a bit of normal conversation with folks who knew him when he was young but I did get the sense that he was struggling and sort of off kilter. I saw him last night and he revealed that he has lung cancer and is sleeping in the bushes of local parks. Again he did not ask for anything, but when I asked about family he said “gone.” When I asked if he was receiving support from social services etc.. he shook his head as if I were a being naive. I asked how to locate him if I thought of a way to help, and he just sort of shrugged. It was a brief conversation as I was taken by surprise and in the middle of a minor family crisis. I really can’t say that I know him now or what other problems he may have and I currently have negative financial (or emotional) resources of my own to offer so I expressed as much sympathy as I could before he just wandered away. Now I am haunted by thoughts of that friendly neighborhood kid who had no one but his grandma and how he might be dying outside in the bushes of what used to be his own now affluent “village”. I think about trying to find him and offering….what? Money I don’t have, info. on resources I know nothing about, a warmer sleeping bag? I know there must be other terminally ill people living on our streets, and that better people than me are trying to meet their needs but after just letting him walk away like that I’m finding it harder to look in the mirror. Any thoughts on what to do or who to suggest he reach out to if I encounter him again?
–Useless Wannabe Samaritan

I am definitely going to read the responses. I pass about five homeless people — usually the same men — every day. I have opted to donate to organizations in my neighborhood instead, and will give to the occasional woman that I see because it is so shocking, and in my mind, more dangerous to live in the streets as a woman. We really need more resources for mental health services and affordable housing. Do any of you have a similar experience where you live?

In health news: the deadline to apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is March 31st. I am enjoying the videos promoting the deadline, including this one with Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards and sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer:

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


What’s In a Name?

In light of one of our favorite topics — names — here is an interesting Berkeley Parents Network letter in response to a father who wants to give his son the mother’s last name:

I am surprised at the number of people telling you not to give your kids two different last names because it’ll make them feel bad later, with no evidence whatsoever for this. We chose to give our kids two different last names, and are of the opinion that a family isn’t made by a name, it’s made by the people, the shared experiences, and the love. So what if people think they’re half-siblings? If one were a different color than the other, say because of adoption, people would assume they’re not related at all – so what? I think the message you send to your kids about how everyone is important, and that kids don’t always have to take their fathers’ names in today’s society, is much more important than the occasional clarification your kids may need to make. Think of all the families with gay parents, adoptions, the mixed families…there are lots of ways to make a family, and ”it’ll make others feel weird” is not a reason not to do what you want.
Stay Strong!

Now that’s a naming system I have not come across: two children from the same family with two different last names. Ultimately, I agree with the letter-writer that this family should do what they like and not from pressure by what society deems acceptable. Also, I too, am surprised by how little research there is out there on naming children — first and last names — yet it seems like there are a lot of “experts” out there claiming to know what is best for them. What say you? What are the more unusual names or naming systems you have encountered?


The Berkeley Soap Opera

You see, this is why I love reading the Berkeley Parents Network newsletter. We have the craziest — and best — stories.

Do you know of a divorced couple who still managed to live together? Read on:

Creative living arrangements when divorcing
My husband and I are considering divorcing. We have two young children (ages 5 and 8) and are struggling with the idea of having them going back and forth between two households. Has anyone had experience with the model of the kids staying in a home and the parents taking turns living with them and in another apt.? Also, I would love any advice about creative living arrangements. Any thing folks can offer. I also would like info about living together after divorce. We are considering this possibility. How does one explain this to kids? We have a basement that we could put a bathroom in but we would need to share the kitchen. Also, we own our house and it would be wonderful to not have to sell it. We consider this an amicable divorce and are open to exploring whatever would be best for our kids.

Then, there’s the mom who wants to know if she can draw up a will and have a friend take her son in the event something happens to her — and not the boy’s father. Read on:

Here’s the deal. I got pregnant by a man who is a nice person, but has some significant issues that make it hard for me (and anyone who knows him) to imagine him taking care of my son if something tragic were to happen to me. We are not married, my toddler lives with me, but he has a relationship with his father. We did sign the paternity papers. I do worry about my boy in case something were to happen to me. I would like my closest friend to be his guardian in case of the worst (she’s agreed). But legally, I don’t think this is possible? (I don’t know)

His father is unemployed and has been for most of his life and has never made more than 12K/year, has no college degree, a significant lack of maturity and judgement and general difficult time navigating anything practical (finding a job, applying for school, filing taxes, handling insurance, MDs etc). Also he is very addicted to marijuana, lives in a 100 sq. foot apt, and provides no child support. He is a 40 year old child. (Why I was doing sleeping with this fellow? Well, he was sweet and funny, I was re-bounding/not at all serious about the relationship, the condom broke and I decided not to abort — end of story) He is a good dad in that he loves his son and like to play But in many ways he’s more like a teenage brother than a father-figure.

I am stretched very thin with solely supporting my child, working, going to school and just being a mom. But I feel I need to make sure all my bases are covered.

How expensive and time-consuming is it to deal with these legal issues of establishing sole custody. I don’t want to cut off my son’s relationship with his father, but I do want to make sure my son is in good hands in case something were to happen to me. Can someone offer any advice, particularly if you’ve been in a similar situation. Many thanks!
afraid of the legal system

Ayayay! What would you tell these moms?


Update on “Workaholic” Dad, Depressed Mom

This past Sunday, I ran a column by a mom in Berkeley who was feeling lonely because her husband worked long hours and traveled constantly.

The advice mirrored that of the wisdom in our own thread. I put “workaholic” in quotes because as our RachelD noted, there is a difference between people who work long hours because they have to and workaholics who are, literally, addicted to their jobs.

The biggest difference between the advice in Berkeley Parents Network and here at MotherTalkers is Berkeley marriage counselors and therapists made sure to offer their services. Otherwise, here is a taste of the advice offered at BPN:

It sounds like you may need to ask yourself some tough questions. Are you willing to give up your financial security to have more time with your husband? Let me tell you, that may not be as good as it sounds. My husband has a low-paying job that never requires traveling. I am the family breadwinner, but I don’t make all that much money either. Our lives are extremely stressful with both of us working and there never being quite enough money for things we both took for granted growing up.

If you don’t want to lose your husband’s income, here are some possibilities. You may need to develop a hobby or activity so that your life doesn’t revolve around your husband. Make plans for you and the kids that don’t involve him. Go out to nice places for dinner with the kids — you have the money for it! Skip the mac and cheese! Treat yourself to a nice spa overnight, where they have hotel daycare. Make friends with other moms in similar situations. I love to travel on vacation, but my husband hates it, so I find friends to travel with. Us moms and kids have great times together. I think if you went traveling and had some of the fun you think your husband is having, you might feel less resentful. You don’t have to wait for him to be around to have a life!
Go for it!

….It is time to schedule a talk with him. Tell him how unhappy you are and ask to negotiate for a better future. Do the negotiations by brainstorming with abandon and being respectful of each other. If he feels he can not change his career path, work together to spend more time together (start taking trips with him often and finding alternative child care people, etc). Find time for each other and then the family to keep the bond strong and feel connected.

Perhaps have a calendar to go over each week to schedule time together and for him to attend functions for the kids.

You must be persistant and tell him this is not going to blow over. That it is critical now and must be addressed and worked on together as husband and wife.

At least four or five letter writers (rightfully) told her to count her blessings; to find hobbies or friends to keep her company. One mom in a demanding field wrote in defense of the husband:


i just wanted to validate your husband’s feelings of feeling caught between a rock and a hard place. i’m a mom, and i also work in advertising, at an agency where there are both super-high expectations AND lots of people waiting in the wings, eager to take my place.

before i had my son, i worked all the time: nights, weekends, you name it. since becoming a mom, i constantly feel like i’m screwing up both at home and at work. at work, you just can’t be the person who consistently says no, i can’t stay late or no, i can’t go on production or no, i can’t take on any more projects. it will leave you extremely vulnerable, especially in this economy. just as in your situation, my income is our only income, and it’s scary as hell to have that weight on your shoulders.

after changing jobs several times in search of a more family-friendly situation (which i don’t think exists), i ultimately chose to take on a role that’s pretty dull for me, but offers more predictability on the home front. it’s depressing to see other people pass me by, but have to hope that eventually i’ll be able to go back to working on stuff i care about. in the meantime, i’m trying to focus on the positives: i’m providing for my family and spending more time with my son than a lot of other parents who work in advertising.

your husband may be able to work less, but it will come at a cost. greater marginalization/vulnerability at work, maybe. or doing work that’s not as great…which can also make him less marketable in the future, since getting new job offers always comes down to ”what have you worked on lately.”

it’s tempting to consider a less challenging agency, but if your husband is on the more senior side (ACD or above), an agency that pays less or has lower expectations can actually end up being more stressful and time-consuming, since the work still has to get done, but there are fewer motivated/talented people to do it.

allllll that being said, your concerns are TOTALLY valid. i would feel the same resentment you do. i think you should try and approach the subject knowing that he probably feels equally bad/guilty/stressed/depressed about it, and discuss the risks versus the benefits of reducing his time at work.

again, i know you wanted to hear from people who were in the same situation as you, but i wanted to let you know that it’s really, really, really hard on both sides of the equation.

I appreciated the understanding and respectful tone both here and at BPN. But it made me sad to see, once again, that we are an “all or nothing” society. That there is no middle ground or middle class anymore. Sigh.  


Alternatives to Santa Claus?

Here is something I never considered, even though we live in an area as diverse as the San Francisco Bay Area. What do you tell children not raised with Santa Claus about Santa — especially if you do not want to ruin the surprise for their believing peers?

Here is a timely and interesting letter from Berkeley Parents Network:

What do I tell my Jewish four year old about Santa? Essentially, I worry about her spoiling it for her Christmas-celebrating friends. But I find the idea of lying to her even worse. A jolly man brings toys and present to Christian children and not you? That’s not going to help her with her Jewish identity. I could tell her the truth, but to keep it a secret but in my experience she’s not so good with secrets. I grew up with a jewish parent and a christian parent celebrating both so I don’t have my own experience to fall back on.


Here is previous advice in BPN on how to spend Christmas Day as a non-Christian.

My initial reaction to Sarah’s letter was to tell her daughter the truth: that different people believe in different things and that they did not believe in Santa. But I never thought of how it may appear to a 4-year-old that Santa is a meanie who doesn’t want to give to Jewish children. Then again, do 4-year-olds think this way? What do you think? What would you tell Sarah’s daughter?


BPN: Husband and Wife Feud Over Nanny Cams

Here is one of those ethical dilemmas that occasionally — okay, often — pop up at Berkeley Parents Network:


We are hiring a nanny to look after our 7 month old. I would like to install nanny cameras to make sure she is doing the job properly (and to find out quickly if she is abusing the baby, God forbid). I know I will be going crazy at work thinking that my baby might be in trouble and I won’t know it. But my husband is adamantly against nanny cams, which he views as a violation of privacy. I view it as a common sense precaution necessary when letting a virtual stranger care for our only child; I also think our house becomes the nanny’s workplace and no one is guaranteed privacy at a workplace. These arguments are not working for my husband though. How can I convince him that a nanny camera is a good idea?

Worried Mom

What do you think, MotherTalkers?


Late-Night Liberty: Rediscovering Your Inner Extrovert

As our resident snark artist Katie would say, here is another letter from the neurotic parenting world of Berkeley Parents Network:

Anyone else feeling less social since having kids? Sure the logistics of going out at night are a bit more difficult and understandably, I am more tired after a day of wrangling little ones. But I used to be an off the charts extrovert (according to Myers-Briggs personality tests) and now…well, now I can’t be bothered. I have become such a home-body since my two kids (ages 2.5 and 1) came on the scene. I don’t get re-energized by being with groups of people (like at a party/gathering) anymore…it feels more like a drain and takes such effort. And I know its starting to bother my husband, who always appreciated that I was social and could make easy conversation with anyone.

And to be perfectly honest (with myself and you all) – part of it is that I just don’t think I’m all that interesting anymore (and I’m not saying that from a ho-hum place of low self-esteem. I feel good about myself, am a good person, etc, etc). It’s just, as a SAHM my life is pretty consumed with all things toddler and under…interesting to fellow parents but totally and utterly dull to the rest of the world. And I don’t really have time to pick up cool hobbies (or get back into those I used to love) or volunteer or even read really (aside from potty-training books…wow, I am dull).

So I guess my question is – are you feeling similar or did you in the past? Was it just a phase? Did you become more social again after your kids grew up and needed less of you? Suggestions for ways to stay socially connected? Thx.
Home-body Mom

Yes, and I hate to break it to this mom but it doesn’t seem to get better in the near future. Even though I am no longer in the baby phase and getting up every two hours for feedings, I find myself pretty fried by 8 p.m. and going to bed with the kids. God forbid DH and I get an invitation for anything after this hour. I wouldn’t be able to function without a nap!

I arise with the chickens at 5 a.m. to work out — the only time of day I have downtime to myself. Otherwise, I am writing, cleaning or chasing after kids.

But like home-body mom, I am waiting for the kids to get older to do all those night-time events DH and I used to enjoy like watching movies and going salsa dancing. I am curious to hear from you moms of older children. Do you enjoy the hobbies you once did prior to having children? Have you been able to cultivate new interests?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

Remember that piece I wrote about Michelle Obama and her call for more family-friendly policies in the workplace? Here are more details about her speech and the questions she fielded in MomsRising. Apparently, one man in finance stood up and said to Obama, “Show me the dollars saved by these programs.“ As Ellen Galinsky in MomsRising pointed out, “If someone assumes that ‘presence equals productivity,’ they dismiss even dollars and cents arguments.”

The Detroit Public School District will close 29 schools in the fall to help trim a $300 million deficit, according to Salon Wires. Yikes.

Two eastern Oregon women who were switched at birth met for the first time at the age of 56, according to the Associated Press.

Here is yet another letter about a husband viewing Internet porn in Berkeley Parents Network. The link includes all the advice given throughout the years.

Wichita State University just won a $6.6 million federal grant to help detect fertility in women over the age of 35, according to a statement released by the university. The scientist behind the 5-year project hopes to develop a fertility kit that is as accessible and accurate as a home pregnancy test.

Chris Cillizza from the Washington Post was the most recent pundit to jump on Elizabeth Edwards and speculate her motives for talking about her husband’s affair. Um, she just wrote a book?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Thursday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

You have got to read this Salon review on two new parenting memoirs: Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman and Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis. Both writers live in Berkeley and Waldman especially addresses the intense parenting in these parts — as I have sometimes highlighted to you in Berkeley Parents Network. :)

In case you missed it, Elizabeth Edwards talked about her husband’s affair to Oprah Winfrey.

President Obama plans to extend the Washington D.C. voucher program until current students graduate from high school, a source told the Associated Press. Also in the Associated Press: For the first time in the United States, households with cell phones but no landline phones (20 percent) surpassed households with only landlines (17 percent).  

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


How To Deal With Cancer Fears

I so felt for this dad who recently wrote Berkeley Parents Network:

How do I deal with my fear that, everytime my 10 year old complains of an ache or a pain, she has cancer? I’m not being completely irrational, we live in a toxic world full of cancer-causing poisons in our food and emissions in our air. I know lots of people who’ve had the big C of all different kinds – breast, ovarian, lymphoma, pancreatic, Ewing’s sarcoma (in a teenage boy who recovered), the list goes on. I don’t run to the doctor everytime my child says something hurts but I sure think about it. I’m kind of freaking out about this and I could use some down-to-earth advice on how to deal.
Scared Dad

Cancer sucks. And I admit, along with my occasional fear of flying, I have a phobia of me, my husband or one of my kids getting it. In fact, I recently made an appointment with my gynecologist for a pelvic exam and pap smear before I was due because I have been feeling bloated, “crampy” and anxious lately — even after I have my period. My great grandmother died of ovarian cancer so I looked up the signs. Among the symptoms listed were bloating, cramping, “stress and depression.” Ugh.

It’s a silent killer and aside from regular ultrasounds or scans I am not sure how to prevent it. What say you? How do you not think of this sucky illness or other illnesses for that matter?