Elisabeth Badinter & modern motherhood

I read this week’s New Yorker piece yesterday on the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter. The full article is unfortunately not available online but there is a summary of it here:
There is quite a bit in the article about her feelings about women and Islam (for example, she is in favor of the niqab ban) but a lot of it relates to her new book about modern day motherhood.

Badinter is convinced that young Frenchwomen have been undermining their hard-won claims to equality. She believes that, in the name of “difference,” young women are falling victim to sociobiological fictions that reduce them to the status of female mammals, programmed to the “higher claims” of womb and breast.

She herself has 3 children, by the way – she is quoted in the New Yorker as saying they all arrived very quickly (I think within 3.5 years) partly because her husband was quite a bit older. She is now a grandma of 3 who takes the grandchildren away every other weekend to their country home. She is quite wealthy.

Here she is being interviewed in Der Spiegel –

Badinter: We are currently living through a troubling phase in our development, a relapse to times long past. In French, we call this phenomenon “l’enfant roi,” or “the child is king.” According to this view, the interests of the mother are clearly less important than those of the child; they are secondary. And that, in turn, brings with it the desire to have the perfect child. Many of today’s young mothers believe that if they’re going to make the effort to stay at home and completely dedicate themselves to their children, they want them to be perfect, too: perfectly raised, intelligent, balanced, in harmony with nature. I honestly wonder how this affects children in the long term.

SPIEGEL: You’re particularly opposed to breastfeeding, which women are gently pressured to do.

Badinter: Gently pressured? Sure, with the help of a massive guilt trip! “You don’t want to breastfeed? But, Madame, don’t you want the very best for your baby?”

The New Yorker article commented that breastfeeding rates at 3 months in France were by far the lowest in Europe, I believe it was 30% vs. (for example) Norway’s 90%. French women work full time at a very high rate, however they have twice as many children as several other European countries. France has a very good child care system.

SPIEGEL: Has the model of their mothers really made women happy?

Badinter: Though it certainly wasn’t perfect, it was a huge leap forward. We could have kids and work — and no one made us feel bad about it. I think that’s one of the big differences between French and German women. French women have always been women first and foremost, and only then mothers. Shortly after giving birth they don’t just stay at home with their child; they go out, and they go back to work quickly. They want to return to their lives and be a part of society, and they also have to be a woman again, to be seductive — that’s what French men expect. It’s not just an upper-crust phenomenon, either. It’s in our genes. Even in the 17th and 18th century, women had a life apart from the children — a communal life, a social life, a love life.

The above quote made me wonder how much of this has to do with the role of women specifically in France. Evidently in the book one of the things she is opposed to is the family bed. The importance of sexuality to adult womanhood and the fact that she thinks it is less possible among women who are living more for their children is one of the reasons I think she is opposed to the newer model of motherhood.

Badinter: I can tell you something else I’ve learned over the years by looking out my window and watching mothers walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg park: I’ve spent hours watching their empty faces and their God-how-I-hate-all-of-this expressions. These women sit bored by the side of the sandpit looking to the left and the right, while their children play alone in the sand. Why can’t women admit that it can be unbearable to have to spend the whole day with a small child? That doesn’t automatically make you a bad mother.

SPIEGEL: So, what is a “good” mother, then?

Badinter: The French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss said that you should always maintain the right distance between two cultures. I believe that a good mother is someone who manages to keep a certain distance between herself and her child — not too close, not too far away — to give it what it needs, to not smother it, to not be constantly absent or constantly present. She has to be something in between. But, unfortunately, that’s extremely rare.

The book appears to be coming out in English in January. The French version was reviewed earlier this year in several places.

The Daily Beast

Yes, the great new oppressor of women—according to the impassioned screed of a popular French author—is that warm, pudgy little creature in the crib. “The baby,” writes polemic philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, “is the best ally of masculine domination.”

Badinter’s recently released screed has divided feminists, angered ecologists, annoyed health experts, and become a bestseller in France. The book may have an academic title— Le Conflit, la femme et la mère ( Conflict, Woman and Mother)—but it might as well be called: New Mom, Your Life Is Over! She rails against the sanctification of motherhood, over-the-top environmental-sensitivity, and return-to-nature trends in contemporary child rearing that relegate the modern mother to the level of a “female chimpanzee.” A mother of three, Badinter argues that the progressive demands on motherhood take away a woman’s physical freedoms, smothers her social life, and usurps her sexuality, among other laments—all in the name of being a “good” mother. And despite mom’s best intentions, she will never quite be good enough.

The New York Times

“Women’s lives have grown more difficult in the last 20 years,” Ms. Badinter said in an interview. “Professional life is ever harder, ever more stressful and unattractive, and on the other hand, there is an accumulation of new moral duties weighing on women.”

In “Le Conflit: la femme et la mère” (“Conflict: The Woman and the Mother”), she contends that the politics of the last 40 years have produced three trends that have affected the concept of motherhood, and, consequently, women’s independence. First is what she sums up as “ecology” and the desire to return to simpler times; second, a behavioral science based on ethology, the study of animal behavior; and last, an “essentialist” feminism, which praises breast-feeding and the experience of natural childbirth, while disparaging drugs and artificial hormones, like epidurals and birth control pills.

All three trends, Ms. Badinter writes, “boast about bringing happiness and wisdom to women, mothers, family, society and all of humankind.” But they also create enormous guilt in a woman who can’t live up to a false ideal. “The specter of the bad mother imposes itself on her even more cruelly insofar as she has unconsciously internalized the ideal of the good mother,” she writes.

The Guardian

Thanks to a new coalition of ecologists, breastfeeding advocates and behavioural specialists, she argued, young women are facing increasing pressure to be perfect mothers who adhere to strict guidelines for how to care for their babies.

If this “regressive” movement takes hold, French feminism could be set back decades, she argued.

“The majority of French women [now] reconcile maternity with professional life. Many of them work full-time when they have a child. They are resisting the model of the perfect mother, but for how long?” Badinter said in an interview with Libération newspaper. “I get the impression that we may now be at a turning point.”

Ms. Magazine asks, “Will Elisabeth Badinter’s new book rile Oprah mommies?”

She does, however, hold fast to the philosophical tradition of Simone de Beauvoir, arguing that a woman’s identity must be determined outside of motherhood or, as she writes “a woman first and mothers second.” Badinter is primarily interested in deconstructing “essentialist feminism” which, she suggests, “boasts about bringing happiness and wisdom” to mothers and families but subverts feminism and holds mothers to a false ideal (one can never actually be a perfect mother)

Badinter suggests that the culture of masochism and female sacrifice to maternity is at unforeseen levels in America, where the ideology is fueled. One only needs to look at the case of Ayelet Waldman for an example.  Waldman, some of you might remember, was booed on Oprah and demonized by mothers across the country for daring to suggest that she loves her husband more than her children.

Jezebel has a jokey take on it all as well, with perhaps unsurprisingly the most positive review of her out there that I ran across. She’s good at getting press, that’s for sure.

I like to listen to podcasts while I run and last week I was listening to the Slate Double X gabfest. The July 14 one discusses In Spite of Everything, which is a Gen X divorce memoir. Evidently the author is a child of divorce herself and I think maybe her husband is too. In the podcast one of the women commented that she thought in the 1970s divorce was treated more casually than it is today and that she thought there is something of a backlash against that for modern day married people. I believe she also related this to modern day parenting: that women today take parenting much more seriously than women did 30 years ago. I thought this was similar to Elisabeth Badinter’s contentions about the idea of maternal perfection, as well. She comments in that Spiegel interview,

What we’re currently experiencing is daughters taking revenge on their mothers. I didn’t want to be like my mother, either — that is, sitting at home waiting for daddy to get there, hoping that he’d give me some money. I wanted to be independent. The current generation of young women is made up of the daughters of the feminists of the 1970s. They don’t want to be like their mothers — torn between their job and their family, constantly stressed, constantly tired. They think it must be much more satisfying to devote themselves entirely to their children.

I think she has a point that the culture of maternal perfection and subjugation to the children does have an impact in that it is the ideal in American mothering culture at the moment and is difficult to live up to. The fact that it doesn’t seem to be nearly as much a part of MotherTalkers as it does on some other parenting blogs is one reason I prefer being here where people are pretty live and let live. (Ms. was a bit snide in calling them “Oprah mommies.”)

I’m not so much on board with Badinter’s idea that you have to work in order to be a fully actualized woman – I work (part time) but I think it is kind of an old fashioned idea that women have to work. The 1970s feminists had a real backlash from women couldn’t work to all women should work and my hope is that nowadays we have somewhat gotten to more of a balance where every family can decide for themselves what is the right work situation for the mother and hopefully the father as well. I like working and having that adult and more intellectual challenge, but I also like having time for my home and my family, so that’s what works best for us. I’m sure other families have worked out a situation that is best for them as well. I don’t agree with the one size fits all prescription.

So – what are your thoughts?


Tuesday Open Thread

Happy Tuesday y’all!

As a former journalist and a mom who is familiar with barfy kids, this headline caught my eye: “Vomiting Child Costs a Journalist Her Career.”


Here’s the gist: a TV writer for the Chicago Sun-Times reluctantly agreed to review the “Glee! Live” show, and her editor gave her the OK to take her kids and include some of their reactions and POV. I loved those assignments that let me combine work and motherhood, so I’m reading along and thinking, sweet!

And then: her squirmy 6-year-old son fell out of his seat. Next, her 7-year-old daughter barfed into a cotton candy bag. ACK!!!

Needless to say the writer hightailed it out of there halfway through the show, after 13(!) songs. Here’s where she screwed up: instead of fessing up, she looked online at previous set lists and wrote the review as if she had stayed for the whole show. Turns out the set list had been altered and some Gleek outed her, setting in motion a chain of events that led to her firing.

As a journalist, I get it: that was a cardinal no-no. As a mom, I say, OUCH. That was way harsh. Turns out the writer, Paige Wiser, had recently backed out of covering the Oprah farewell spectacular when she got vertigo in the pressbox. So she felt like she couldn’t flake out again.

“Of course I was in the wrong. I made a horrible decision at 1am when I was tired, but I know it was not worth throwing away a career. After the Oprah incident, I felt this one had to be solid. But I have no excuse. I know the rules.“

Until recently, the Sun-Times had made special accommodations for Wiser by allowing her to work from her far northwest suburban home to avoid what she called a “three-hour commute.“ But after a recent round of layoffs left her department more short-handed than ever, she was told she had to come in to the office each day.

“Trying to do this with the kids and a three-hour commute, and when every editor wants something different, let’s just say it’s become a very strange place. And because there’s not a lot of people with kids at the paper, I’m a little sensitive about coming across like I can’t do it because of my kids.“

All I can say is, I feel for her. Sometimes that work-life balance spirals out of control and it can lead to disaster.

I found it interesting that this Cafe Mom blog entry on the debacle drew absolutely zero sympathy from the commenters, who are presumably also moms. Incidents like this just burn me up, because it gives more ammo to the asshats. To wit, a comment:

RhondaVeggie on Jun 11, 2011 at 7:50 PM
She just proved that you can’t be a good mom and a good employee. Something always suffers and in this case she failed both her kids and her employer.

STFU, RhondaVeggie. Why are women so hard on each other?

I remember running across the street to the day care center, racing to get there before the 6 p.m. closing time, then hauling Maya back to the newsroom where I had to wait until my story was edited. Then it was a matter of entertaining her while not disrupting anyone on deadline, and praying my editor wouldn’t request a major re-write. I get where this woman was coming from. I like to think I NEVER would have made such a boneheaded move, but thankfully I never had to find out.

What do you think? Does this woman elicit some of your sympathy, or is she just a plain old f*ck-up? Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation?

What else is on your mind today? Chat away!


The Great Labor Sale: Moms, 25% Off!

Cross-posted from Working Moms Break. This makes my blood boil. Here is another mom’s perspective on Congress’s failure to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Thanks, Katrina! -Elisa

 title=As you may have heard, women still make only 77 cents on every dollar a man earns, and in recent years, progress on closing the pay gap has nearly ground to a halt. On Wednesday, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was supposed to right this wrong, was defeated on the Senate floor.

I’ll try not to get too wonky about this, because it’s Friday, but there are a few things I think you should know.

What often gets left out of the whole pay gap discussion is that it not just about women, it’s about mothers in particular. Here’s how the pay gap breaks down: [1]

   * Women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar
   * Mothers make 73 cents to a man’s dollar
   * Single moms make 56-66 cents to a man’s dollar

If those numbers don’t make you queasy, maybe this will: [2]

   * Mothers are 79% less likely to get hired and 100% less likely to be promoted.
   * Studies show mothers are held to higher performance and punctuality standards than men.

Keep in mind that more than ever, women are primary or co-breadwinners for their families, so when they make less money for equal work, the whole family is affected. This pay gap isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a child issue. It’s a husband issue. It’s a family issue.

I keep thinking about my friend Jackie, who will put up with just about anything to keep her job because she has a little discretionary flex time. Or Lily, who was advised by a senior (male) colleague to keep mum about the fact that she’s, well, a mum. Or another friend of mine, who I haven’t written about (yet), who was passed up for promotion by a less capable coworker because she works four days, not five.

This is what I want to know: How much of this pay gap can be explained by our own feelings of guilt because we have obligations outside of work? If we understood our real value, would we be just as willing to participate in this Great Mommy Markdown?

Some people would have you believe that women make less because they “work less hard and are less productive“although there is no statistical evidence for this. On the contrary, studies show that women’s labor is incredibly valuable to their employers. Allow me to share a few facts: [3]

   * Women have more college degrees than men
     That’s right. Not only do we represent fully half of the labor force, we are the better educated half. With a talent shortage looming, those degrees are nothing to scoff at.
   * Women are the driving force fueling economic growth
     We really do hold the purse strings. We’re responsible for making 80% of consumer buying decisions.
   * Women make fantastic managers
     Studies show women have a communication style that tends to foster creativity and teamwork. (Hint: we’re good listeners.) Some studies seem to indicate that we actually get better results than male managers. (Sorry guys, but I didn’t make that up. Read the report.)
   * Companies with more women leaders make higher profits
     This is my favorite. Research shows that companies that “consistently promote women to positions of power and leadership over time and across their operations have greater financial success across a variety of measures.“

It’s well-documented that men and women negotiate differently at work, and that women often get shortchanged because they don’t ask for resources as frequently as men. I suspect this is true for women at all levels of leadership.

Mothers of course, have a lot at stake when they’re supporting their families, so perhaps that makes us more risk-adverse. But knowing our families need our income could also make us more motivated to get what we’ve earned. I’d like to humbly suggest that we learn to be a little less humble when it comes to advocating for ourselves at work.

* * *

By the way, if you’re as disgusted as I am by the senators who voted The Paycheck Fairness Act down, sign the MomsRising petition.

[1] Source: MomsRising “Realistic and Fair Wages“

[2] Source: Joan Williams, “The Pay Gap Grossly Underestimates Women’s Economic Inequality“
[3] Source: Brad Harringon and Jamie J. Ladge “Got Talent? It Isn’t Hard to Find: Recognizing and Rewarding the Value Women Create in the Workplace“


The Blink

A dear friend and her husband just welcomed an adorable baby girl to the world and are happily embarking on the adventure of parenthood. As I look at her photos of that teeny baby snuggled and cuddled and loved and coo-ed over I feel that tug that so many moms of older kids feel. That “where did the time go?“ feeling. And of course my friend is now hearing what all moms of newborns hear, “don’t blink or you’ll miss something!“ Or “you watch, you’ll blink and she’ll be grown!“ I steal a glance at my 11-year old sprawled on the couch in her pajama shorts and tank top, fully engulfed in a Lady Gaga video and ponder that parenting phenomenon known as “The Blink.“

Now let me make something clear. I am not one of those sentimental moms that saves every lock of hair, charts every milestone, and has saved every school project or drawing in a colorful bin labeled ‘precious memories.“ I’ve chronicled on these pages before that I have never been a great mom and at times never even been a good mom. But even I was blindsided by The Blink. I started thinking about The Blink the other day when trying to remember what summer we took Liza to Storyland. It was then I realized that I don’t think in years. Rather, I think in terms of what grade she was in, what dance recital or play she was doing at the time, but rarely, if ever, by how old she was or what year it was. Looking at a photo of Liza at the pool the summer we moved to my condo I struggled to think how old she had been and was stunned to realize she was just five. FIVE ! A lifetime ago! Yet, at the same time, a mere blink in the endless cycle of back-to-school shopping, Christmas concerts, Easter masses, and Fourth of July fireworks that make up our lives. Here’s the thing, I don’t really remember Liza being any specific age except for four, because that’s the year we first took her to Disneyworld and also the year my marriage ended. (Ok, I also remember the year she was 9 if only because it was a singularly difficult year for both of us and I wasn’t sure we were going to survive it intact). But ask me what she was like at 7 or 3 or 5 and I’ll look at you blankly and then I“ll do my “let’s see…7..that would have been um… 2nd grade? The year she did Jungle Book? Or was she 8 when she did Jungle Book? Hmmmm….“ routine.

Here’s my next confession. I vividly remember Liza’s birth, but I don’t remember much about the long hot summer that followed other than my complete inability to effectively parent an infant. And the toddler years after that? One big blur. I was blessed with the world’s greatest daycare providers who surrounded Liza with love and support and guided her through those first steps, toilet training, and her ABCs. To some moms I know this is seen as abandoning my child, for me, it gave me the support network I needed. I didn’t take to motherhood easily. It blindsided me. I was ill-equipped to deal with long days on the toddler swings, nap schedules and Barney. My personal life at the time was troubled and I wasn’t present physically or emotionally in the way I should have been, I call them the lost years. This gap in time is not helped by the fact that I possess photos of Liza as an infant and scores of photos of her from ages 5-11 but nothing from ages 2-4. I think I left those photo albums at her dad’s house – and rightfully so as he should have his share of photo memories of her. But that lack of a visual record does make it hard for me to remember what she was like. It’s almost as if I went straight from that squalling irritated infant to the tween I just bought size 9 adult ballet slippers for. From folding onesies to picking up a tank top in the laundry and wondering if it belonged to the girl or to me. From preparing bottles for her at 2am to asking her to refill my coffee while she’s in the kitchen. From holding hands with a little girl on the beach, to putting my arm around a young woman nearly as tall as I am. The Blink happened.

As I smile as I read my friends exuberant Facebook posts about those heady early days of motherhood, yet my heart aches a little for the baby Liza was and for the kind of intuitive mom she never had. I love being around new babies, I love holding them and smelling that awesome new baby smell and seeing those little faces so full of promise of the world ahead of them and I love seeing those new moms so in love with them and so sure that they will memorize each moment, that they won’t be a victim of the Blink. I look at Liza and search for reminders of her chubby toddler face where the blasé face of a confident young woman now lives. I stop her suddenly in the supermarket and kiss the top of her head so fiercely she pulls away from me with a horrified “MOMMMMM!“ I can’t bring that toddler back, that 5, 8 or 10-year old back nor, honestly, would I want to. Liza has grown into a young woman whose company comforts me, whose humor delights me, and whose talent humbles me. But in this moment when I feel that I finally have a handle on this whole mom thing, I hold on to my 11 year-old with all my might because I know. I know soon she’ll be gone on her way to a future bigger than we can imagine. And I’ll be wondering when I blinked.


Sunday Open Thread

Hello, ladies, and a special welcome “back” to Erika. 😉 Please excuse the paltry post, but today was Jessica’s fifth birthday and we’ve made a weekend of it – Saturday kid party at an indoor playground center, and today a family party with the ILs. I am full of emotion; how can it be five whole years since I held my baby Jessica Louise for the first time? I think I’ll remember every moment of that delivery forever.

In any event, Happy Birthday to my darling daughter – she of strength and humor and intelligence and sass, and gorgeous good looks. And my thanks forever to her for making me a mother. What a journey – many steps of which I’ve taken with you all.

Please excuse me now while I go sing Sunrise, Sunset. How is your day shaping up?


A Parent’s Heart

It was only two months ago that Jezebel had a piece on Rielle Hunter and the five stages of grief.  The writer, Sadie, was mourning the death of shame.

My young and naive self agreed wholeheartedly.  In a more innocent time, it seemed reasonable.  Here was a woman who seemed to have no reservations about revealing her stupidity, gullibility, naivete’, absent morals and utter lack of concern for her fellow human beings to the entire world.  Not long after that, another mistress came along, causing me to remark optimistically to a disgusted relative that at least the public mistress craze couldn’t sink any lower.

So far, this has proven to be true.  And shame, of course, has died 1,000 deaths, and will die countless more in the future.  However, my older and more jaded mind has determined that, for me, it was not violently murdered by Rielle Hunter two months ago.  I think I will always remember shame as a thing that died quietly in its sleep earlier this week.  It went unceremoniously.  Few noticed and fewer mourned.  

The lack of attention was wholly appropriate.  Do B or C-list celebrities on the cover us Us magazine merit any more?  Still, I couldn’t help the disgust I felt in my heart upon seeing Rebecca Gayheart and Eric Dane flaunting their new baby on the cover of a magazine.

In 2001, Rebecca Gayheart tragically struck and killed nine-year-old Jorge Cruz Jr. with her car.  It was an accident, and one I have no doubt that has caused her immeasurable torment and soul-searching.  Not knowing the details, it doesn’t necessarily offend me that she received no prison time, and the incident was settled with three years of probation, a small fine and an undisclosed settlement.  I do not lack compassionate for Gayheart’s position.  Killing someone with my car is a great fear of mine, and I will sometimes lie awake at night, unable to quiet the haunting thoughts of what it would be like.  

Even so, a tragedy like this is huge.  Many modern thinkers will advise us that guilt is not a productive emotion.  But it is.  It is what separates the human beings from the psychopaths.  While many of us torture ourselves with guilt that is disproportionate to our “crimes”, the cold, hard fact is that some things really are that bad.  

No amount of punishing herself will change the fact that Jorge Cruz is dead, while Rebecca Gayheart is alive.  I do not begrudge her living, loving, having a family or taking joy from that family.  But I believe that she should have left any attempt at a career in film and television behind her when she killed that child.  It does not seem unreasonable to me that a major event in a person’s life should prompt major changes.  Above all, I cannot stand seeing her showing off her (beautiful and precious) daughter to the entire world.

A part of this could just be unreasonable emotion on my part–bowing out of public life just seems to me the right thing for Rebecca Gayheart to do.  But there is also a practical concern.  Because imagine a woman.  Perhaps it would be best to superimpose upon her the face of a woman you know.  Her son has been dead for almost ten years, but life goes on.  Maybe she and her husband are still together, and maybe they are not.  She may or may not have other children.  But if she is still alive, even as she works, eats, drives and and interacts with friends, family and strangers, she thinks of her son every single day.  One day she goes to the grocery store (and in a week’s time, she will).  She needs coffee, eggs, chicken.  When she goes to check out, she sees the same magazine everyone in the country has seen–her son’s killer, alive, well and happy, beaming at a child of her own.  The woman on the magazine and her baby are nothing to her as individuals.  Instead, they are the son she didn’t get to see grow up, and the grandchildren she will never have.  I ask you–who’s emotions are more acutely attuned to  the bittersweetness of parenthood than a newly-minted mother’s?  How could Rebecca Gayheart not have imagined this scene on her own?  And if she did, how could she possibly have proceeded with posing for that picture?  Are a little compassion and humility too much to ask?

Last night, my husband and I went to the opera and saw Amelia.  We go on a semi-regular basis, but he is the opera buff.  I appreciate but do not love it.  Before we left for this one, though, my mother-in-law warned me that a friend of hers had seen it and I should bring tissues.  I didn’t think much of the suggestion, because again, opera doesn’t do it for me, and I’m not much of a crier anyway.

Two hours later, I found myself weeping almost from beginning to end, and cursing myself for not taking my mother-in-law’s suggestion of tissues literally.  Perhaps it was the modern American setting, or the fact that the opera was performed in my own language.  It is the story of a woman named Amelia who has never healed from the death of her father when she was a child.  Now an adult, she is pregnant with her own firstborn and terrified of loving someone as fragile another human being so much.

An artistic license on the story teller’s part allows Amelia to fall into a coma for no particular reason.  For three days, she converses with her dead father in a magical dream, conflicted about whether she should choose death or motherhood.  He assures her–“the love is worth the risk”.  But even as this is happening, a young man lays dying in the next bed, while his helpless father looks on.  

The young man dies just before Amelia’s father convinces her to take the plunge, and she awakens from her coma, in labor and a brand new woman.  Her grief and fear have been replaced by strength and vitality, and she springs from her hospital bed, demanding either natural childbirth or a new doctor.

With the support of her husband, doctors and a loving aunt, she gives birth to a daughter.  She and her husband cradle the baby and look at it with a new found love and pride not unlike Rebecca Gayheart’s and her husband’s on the cover of Us.  Everyone else in the room sings “you can’t imagine how happy she will make you,” over and over.  On the other half of the stage, the grieving father sits slumped in a chair in the hospital’s waiting room.

I couldn’t help remembering a dream I had in the final weeks of my pregnancy with my daughter.  I was with my grandparents, holding one on each arm.  They were old.  Inhumanly old.  Older than anyone has ever been.  “Stay with me forever, and I’ll do anything for you,” I promised them.  I meant that I would hold them up forever.  But even as I said it, I knew I would fail.  Worse, I knew that my will would give out before my body did.

I woke up, and for a split second I felt a rush of relief that soon I would have someone to love who wouldn’t grow old in my lifetime.  But in the next moment, I realized that guaranteed me exactly nothing.


Thank you, MT (w/update)

Ladies, I’m at my wits’ end.  Every plan I’ve had has disintegrated, and I don’t do very well without a goal and a purpose.  I could use some advice.

See, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.  From about the time I was eleven, I knew I wanted to teach middle school, and so I worked through high-school, then community college, and then UC Berkeley.  I amassed some loans, worked while parenting and doing school, slept just enough to stay alive, and graduated.  Faced with the impossibility of doing a traditional teaching credential program while staying at home with my kids, I opted for Western Governors’ University, because it was the only one the CA accepted, and it is NCATE-accredited.  

Well, after nearly three years in the program, I had to withdraw.  There’s no classes, no teachers, not even any lectures.  It really is a lot of “find it yourself, then write a paper, and hope you did it right.  If not, do it again.”  Spending the kind of money it costs, losing a whole term to their program changes, and having done an entire BA worth of Social Studies work later, I was faced with having to locate a school at which to observe students (on my own), locate a student teaching position (0n my own) and after completing the whole program, earning a Utah license.  Then I’d be qualified to apply for an Oregon license, with some extra tests and math exams, because I’d have an out-of-state degree.  After two and a half years, it was going to take me another three, and eighteen thousand more dollars in tuition, to get to where I could start looking for work.  I quit, supposedly with the option to come back later.

Then, in January, I started my Signing Time business, where I’d hoped to teach sign language to families and children who needed it.  It wasn’t my dream, but I figured this might be something I could do that would fill that “teaching” hole, as well as help people who have kids like my son.  So, I refreshed a bit in some online classes, certified at their highest level, and even ended up their associate director for the Northwest.  I also enrolled in an accelerated class at our local community college, with the seemingly realistic goal of taking one class every trimester and applying to the 2 year interpreter program in Fall of 2011.  For April, I scheduled four baby classes, with room for 10 kids in each class.  I also scheduled one preschool-aged sign/and/art class in May.  

All but one of my classes got canceled, and there are only two other moms in that class, so I’m paying for luxury of teaching it.  The summer camp I’m in only has enough kids to keep the first 2 weeks from getting canceled, and I have two people signed up for my one July class.  I’ve done a bunch of fairs and kids’ expos, and haven’t sold enough DVDs to come near to breaking even on them.  I’m tired, and after six months of this, it really doesn’t look like it is going anywhere.  I know most businesses take longer than that to get started, but DH still hasn’t found work and I’m feeling a lot of pressure to get a job, any job.  If he got a full-time minimum wage job, he wouldn’t make as much as he gets in unemployment right now, so he’s focusing on helping with the kids, taking care of Mary, and looking for a “real” job.  I love ASL, but feel like it is a vanity project or a hobby, not really a business.

I’m just feeling overwhelmed.  I owe tens of thousands of dollars for my education, which looks like it is going to end up useless.  If I could find a credential program that would accept me, I’d be starting all over again and have to find the funds for it, and I’d be 30 before I even got started looking for a job.  The same is true of the interpreter program, except it would cost a little less.  (I know 30 isn’t old, but I’m 26, have been doing all the “right” things, like going to college and working my way through it, and ending up 30 with a blank resume is distressing).  I’m also sort of afraid that I’ll never reach the kind of fluencey needed to interpret.  My Examiner writing, while cathartic, doesn’t come close to even minimum wage, and I’ve sold two art pieces in the last three years.  (I had a show at UCSD I was invited to be a part of this year, and I had to overnight a piece down for it.  DH sent it via FedEx, and didn’t pay for insurance, so when it arrived destroyed, I couldn’t even get the shipping refunded).

I’m not even qualified to serve coffee or wait tables, according to the craigslist ads I’ve searched, because I’ve worked retail since I was 14.  And paying of student loans with a job at Target doesn’t seem like a winning proposal.  The only other option I’ve got is nanny-ing, but I’m not terribly good at it, and watching the two kids I do only pays enough for Rory to go to school.  I feel like taking another serving-class job that I despise will break my heart, but I’m clueless as to what else to do.

I never wanted to be a SAHM and housewife, and I’m finding myself trapped in those roles.  I never wanted to be this overweight, or have this much wasted education, either, and it makes me feel like I’m becoming my mom.  To be happy, I need to feel like I’m doing something to make the world a better place, or helping someone, or doing something of value, and doing laundry and cooking just isn’t fulfilling for me.  Help!


Thank you all for your ideas and input.  

Healthwise, I’ll head back in and try to find a new shrink.  I’ve never really felt like I get much out of therapy, but I feel like I’m supposed to be going, so I’ll find someone.  My GPs my whole life have done thyroid tests (t3, t4 uptakes) and found nothing wrong with me, have made me keep food and activity journals…all to no avail.  The joint pain is caused by the new weight, as are new foot problems, but no one can figure out what to do.  I take Aleve and sigh a lot.

As for childcare, spending time with just Julian is fantastic.  He cuddles and toddles and signs at me, and we have a great time.  However, I don’t really get time with just him, because I’m kid-sitting in my home.  I’m not qualified to do head-start or work at Rory’s school, because those all require Early Childhood Education credits, which I do not have.  Not to mention, that if I don’t like three extra kids here, having fourteen extra kids doesn’t really sound any better.

I can’t afford to go back to school full-time, which is what the credential would require, can’t substitute teach, and since experienced teachers with credentials are having a hard time finding positions, schools aren’t really interested in the Alt-path applicants.  The catholic schools only want people who have experience AND a credential, and no amount of CL trolling has found any “in-the-field-but-not-teaching” jobs.  I’m looking, I promise, but all of them want experience, and I don’t have any.  Tutoring seems geared more to Math and Science, but I’ll go see about SAT prep.

As to my resume, though, ladies…it’s pet-stores, a bagel shop, and food delivery until 2005, and babysitting and baby-stores after that.  Oh, and keeping Andy alive.  Not very marketable, either.  :/  Even Examiner isn’t impressive, although I’m hoping to use it to build some sort of a writing portfolio in the event I find a paper willing to publish something that I say.

And I know I’m only 26, but the idea of agreeing to give up the next few years doing nothing, knowing I won’t even be working on getting to happy, is really hard.


What would you call it?

Recently I did a radio interview about working moms and talked about why I stopped working. My closest friends said I downplayed my nervous breakdown, making it sound like a really bad day (instead of a really bad year).

It’s true that I played it down. I was embarrassed. It’s one thing to write about it, it’s another to talk about it, live. On the radio. With a million people listening. But I’ve realized that if I’m going to talk about what happened to me at all, I should be more specific. I should define what “nervous breakdown” meant in my case.

I’ll start with what it did not mean. I did not feel suicidal or psychotic. I did not get strung out on heroin, walk around downtown Berkeley yelling at garbage cans, or act outwardly crazy in any way. I simply stopped, the way a watch stops when the battery dies.

I couldn’t get my body to obey what my mind kept saying it should do. One Monday, I was giving a presentation to a potential new client. On Tuesday, I was at home on my couch weeping, incapacitated. I never went back to work. I never even cleaned out my files.

I didn’t plan to stop going to the job I’d had for the last six years. But when I thought about going to work, I felt I would vomit.

I spent the next few months in a profound despair, plagued by panic attacks, insomnia, and dread. I couldn’t stand noise—including the sound of the car radio on low, or my children splashing contentedly in the bath. I would randomly burst into violent shaking. I lost my appetite, and with it, an alarming amount of weight. My aunt flew out from New Jersey to help take care of the kids during the worst of it. My husband, I would like to state for the record, was as solid as a rock. He somehow kept working, took care of the kids, and took care of me until I could start to think again.

It was like waking from a cult. I wasn’t angry with anyone. I didn’t blame anyone. I just couldn’t believe I’d gone along with the whole thing, the whole terrible annihilating belief that you should give it all away—to your kids, to your job, to anyone who seemed to have a legitimate claim on your energy and your time. The whole idea that this was normal, even expected, behavior. It was horrifying to realize I’d let that happen.

This all started almost a year ago. The last 11 months have been about backing away from that edge, and making sense of what happened to me.

I don’t know exactly when I decided to call it a nervous breakdown. My doctor doesn’t like the term, which has no specific medical meaning. This is what Wikipedia says:

Although “nervous breakdown” does not necessarily have a rigorous or static definition, surveys of laypersons suggest that the term refers to a specific acute time-limited reactive disorder, involving symptoms such as anxiety or depression, usually precipitated by external stressors.

That sounds about right to me. I literally pushed myself to a point where my nervous system stopped working the way it’s supposed to. What else would you call it?

In the 1800s, it was common for women with insomnia, loss of appetite, and nervousness to be diagnosed with “female hysteria.” Treatment included bed rest, bland food, avoiding mentally taxing activities (like reading) and—this one is interesting—orgasms.

This term faded out in the 1900s and was replaced with more specific terms like “depression,” “conversion disorder,” and “anxiety attacks.”

In The Feminine Mystique, (1963) Betty Freidan described the “problem that has no name,” the profound unhappiness, depression, fatigue, and lack of meaning many women suffered while they were supposedly living the American Dream. Most women, she noted, suffered alone.

How can any woman see the whole truth within the bounds of her own life? How can she believe that voice inside herself, when it denies the conventional, accepted truths by which she has been living? And yet the women I have talked to, who are finally listening to that inner voice, seem in some incredible way to be groping through to a truth that has defied the experts.

That sounds about right, too.

Over the last year, as I’ve gotten more comfortable telling my story, many working moms have confided in me their own stories. Some of them had their own experience of giving and giving until they crashed into a mental and physical wall and had to stop working. Some haven’t crashed, but harbor a deep fear that they will; they know they’re dangerously close to their edge.

And some can’t even have this conversation because it would mean looking at things about their lives that they’re trying very hard not to see. They are suffering alone. I think I know how they feel. Because a year ago, I was one of them.

What’s your story?

Cross-posted from my blog: workingmomsbreak.com


Tuesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

In case you missed it, DH came out in the Sunday New York Times with the kids. They were pictured in our backyard. Funny story: the Times photographed Eli from behind because she was crying. She wanted her Papi to push her and did not understand why he was sitting on the ground instead. Ari, of course, does not pose for pictures so Markos had to tickle him. I have to say the photographer, Peter DaSilva, was awesome.

MSN listed the 8 best college towns based on the most “colorful history, an array of cultural festivals and residential experiences that score plenty of lifestyle points.” They were:

  1. Athens, Georgia
  1. Burlington, Vermont
  1. Chico, California
  1. Ithaca, New York
  1. Lawrence, Kansas
  1. Missoula, Montana
  1. Northampton, Massachusetts
  1. Oberlin, Ohio

Do you agree? Would you put your own college campus on the list?

The Catholic Church hierarchy is in deep doo-doo as hundreds of victims of molestation in Europe have bravely stepped forward, according to the Guardian in the UK. If this does not hobble the church permanently, I do pray it is reformed. Women clergy and marriage for priests, please.

Poor Uma Thurman. Her film Motherhood made only $132 on opening weekend in the UK, according to MSN Movies. I did not know this, but it bombed in the United States last year when it garnered only $60,000 — although it took in more than in Britain. I looked up its rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it got only a 20 percent. (Ouch.) But I was reading through the reviews and could not help but notice they were largely written by men. No offense, but what the heck does a working man know about stay-at-home motherhood? Also, I wondered if the movie bombed because mothers simply do not have time to go to the movies. Perhaps we are the worst demographic to target at the box office. I know, speaking for myself, the movies I get out to see nowadays are animated or kid movies. Not only is seeing a movie expensive once you factor in the price of childcare, but finding childcare for the evening is a pain in the butt. What do you all think?

Puerto Rican heartthrob Ricky Martin is out of the closet. He declared on his website, “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.” Good for him.

In not-so-sexy news: Levi Johnston — yes, he is still in the news — is shopping around an idea for a reality show in an RV. RadarOnline.com said of the RV, “Stunt or just keeping it real, you decide.” I vote for the former.

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


Tuesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

The recession is having an impact even on Wal-Mart. According to MSN Money, foot traffic at U.S. stores fell slightly as customers grappled with unemployment and less money to make purchases.

Attention Bay Area moms: a Chilean friend of mine — our Poppygirl’s husband — just created a website to help Chileans in the aftermath of the earthquake. It is a place for people in the Bay Area to host events to help the people of Chile.  

Laurie Puhn over at the Expecting Words blog doled out tips on how to save money on maternity clothes. Where did you buy or acquire your maternity wardrobe?

US News & World Report ran a profile of a mother and sociologist who doled out these two tips to increase parents’ happiness: eat dinner together as a family and change your morning routine to avoid conflict.

As our Katy over at Non-Toxic Kids pointed out, the Senate and House will be holding hearings to possibly reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which regulates the introduction of new or already existing chemicals. The law has not been updated since 1976.

In case you missed it, D.C. now allows same-sex marriage, according to CNN.

In disappointing news: the Catholic Archdiocese in Denver just barred the child of lesbian parents from attending a Catholic school, according to Pam’s House Blend blog. I was heartened to read of the many Catholic protesters on the ground in Denver and Boulder condemning this decision, which was clearly motivated by prejudice. After all, the church is not expelling the students whose parents have fornicated, been divorced, practiced birth control, committed adultery — all which go against church teachings, too. I pray the progressive Catholics on the ground keep the heat on Father Bill and the archdiocese.

In somewhat related news: the moms over at Mamapedia recently doled out tips on how to get your 6-year-old to sit still in church, or at least “enrich” the experience for her. Of course, many of the moms said there is no way to get a 6-year-old to sit through a sermon. What do you think?

Also, did any of you catch movie critic Roger Ebert on the Oprah Winfrey Show last week? My husband and I were in awe at how technology has evolved to help him sound like himself. Ebert had his thyroid, salivary glands and jaw removed due to cancer four years ago. He hasn’t been able to speak without the aid of a computer. A company in Scotland developed a program that helps him speak — and sound — like his old self. Amazing.

Alice in Wonderland, starring Johnny Depp, earned a $116.3 million in its opening weekend — a record for a movie in 3-D, according to the Associated Press. Will you watch it?

Hybrid Mom magazine had a video trailer of the upcoming movie Motherhood, starring Uma Thurman and Minnie Driver, that made me smile.  

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