Friday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Make sure to check us out in the latest edition of Ms. Magazine! MotherTalkers is mentioned in the article and my bio was included in the online version.

Can Wal-Mart be any more shameless? The retail behemoth was recently handing out samples of its own version of popular Girl Scout cookies like Thin Mints and Tagalongs at the BlogHer Conference, according to MSN Money and Salon Broadsheet. Wal-Mart apparently plans to sell the cookies under its own private label, which rightfully has some Girl Scout moms in a tizzy.

Salon columnist Cary Tennis doled out advice to a 37-year-old woman who is at her wit’s end with her husband’s children. I think many burned out parents can sympathize with the step mom’s sentiments.  

John Hughes, director of iconic ’80s movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, died of a heart attack yesterday, according to AP. He was 59.

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

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Friday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Okay, I think this story has become too big to ignore. Do you have an opinion on the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest? He is the prominent African-American Harvard professor who was accused by Cambridge police for breaking into his own home. This story has gotten so huge that the mayor of Cambridge apologized to Gates on behalf of the city and even both the governor of Massachusetts and president of the United States weighed in on the incident, according to MSNBC.com.

By the way, all charges were dropped against Gates. If you were wondering about what is and is not legal for a police officer to ask during an arrest and what exactly is considered “disorderly conduct,” check out this column in Slate.

I hate to post such a f**ked up story on a Friday, but I could not get it out of my head. A father, who is accused of locking up his girlfriend’s three children in a motel bathroom for a year, has gallingly said he is the real “victim,” according to the Dallas Morning News. The three children aged 6, 10, and 11 were found “emaciated” from lack of food and the oldest said she was repeatedly raped by the man, Alfred Santiago. Santiago said these accusations by police stem from sexism against him because “I’m a man in the United States. We’re treated very unfairly when it comes to a woman.” What a sick f**k.

Unfortunately, the family involved in the abuse have Spanish surnames, which means the anti-Latino nuts were out in full force. Thank you to Bethany Anderson at Open Salon for pointing out that a Spanish surname does not mean you are in the country illegally. Also, child abuse happens in every race and culture.

What a dark time in parenting news. Salon Broadsheet’s Kate Harding had excellent commentary about orphan groups opposing Orphan, a horror film that apparently demonizes an older adoptee. The groups are concerned that prospective parents may not want to adopt older children because of the movie. But as Harding pointed out, do we want people who would be convinced by a fictional movie to adopt a child? That is not to say the fear of adopting older children is not real, which is why this movie sounds trite and absurd.

OTOH, Amy Benfer at Salon wrote a touching piece about watching an MTV reality show about pregnant teens with her own daughter who she had as a teenager.

The Houston Chronicle ran an excellent editorial on why having three fundamentalist Christian foot soldiers rewrite the state’s social studies curriculum is a bad idea.

What else is in the news? (Some good news please!) What’s up with you?

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Late-Night Liberty: Babysitter Myths Edition

I just finished reading this fascinating Q&A in Salon with Miriam Forman-Brunell, author of the new book Babysitter: An American History.

Forman-Brunell wrote about the history of babysitting in this country and dismissed stereotypes surrounding teenaged female babysitters that they are watching TV, hanging out with their boyfriends or too self-involved to properly care for children. Apparently, this stereotype has been around for decades and girls during World War II even tried to form a babysitters union to protect themselves from exploitation. The idea died once girls were able to work at other places — like the mall — and had other career opportunities available to them.

But what struck me was the difficulty in finding even teenaged babysitters for an evening. Apparently, this was the case in the 1950s, too, which I found surprising.

What about the rise of the super sitter? Because that seems to run counter to the incompetent girl baby sitter image.

During the 1980s, once again the birthrate begins to rise. And at the same time you have teenage girls who are now spending more time doing extracurricular activities, there’s a rise in sports. There’s much greater attention paid to their scholastic and educational opportunities.

Too busy to baby-sit!

They’re too busy to baby-sit. And there’s also an expansion of malls from coast to coast, and so there are job opportunities for teenagers. And so who’s left to take care of this new generation of children being born in the 1980s but pre-adolescent girls?

And so the question is: How do you convince parents to hire pre-adolescents to take care of their babies? To feel confident in them? And then also, how do you get pre-adolescent girls to want to baby-sit, because in many ways they are being influenced by the same social forces that are shaping their older sisters.

So, during this period, an explosion of baby-sitter manuals emerges that are geared largely toward the pre-adolescent girl. They construct her as this super sitter, kind of analogous to the superwoman, you know, the super mother.

The super sitter is this confident, energetic, clever, pint-size businesswoman, who can do anything and can do it very well. Then, there’s also an emergence of educational, vocational safe-sitter programs, offered in hospitals and churches and schools and things like that.

And the age of the sitter which these manuals are aimed at just comes down increasingly because there just aren’t enough sitters.

The “manual” Forman-Brunell mentions is the Baby-Sitters Club books, which I admit, I gobbled up in junior high school. Still, except for very occasional babysitting of younger siblings and some friends in New Hampshire, I never really babysat for work. Instead, I worked at Wal-Mart.

While DH and I would love to get out for a regular date night, we don’t for lack of childcare — especially for Eli who is only 2. At 5.5, Ari is big enough for playdates and sleepovers now.

But I have noticed that it is tough to get even a teenager to watch the kids for a couple hours. They are busy with school work, paid work, dating, etc.. I don’t blame them, but it is a bummer for parents.

Have you noticed a dearth of teenaged babysitters? Who watches your kids while you and your partners get away for a couple hours?

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Jack Welch: “No Such Thing As Work-Life Balance”

Former General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jack Welch gave a bummer of a speech to the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference on June 28. In it, he had some harsh words for women, ahem, mothers:

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance,” Mr. Welch [said]. “There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

Mr. Welch said those who take time off for family could be passed over for promotions if “you’re not there in the clutch.”

“The women who have reached the top of Archer Daniels, of DuPont, I know these women. They’ve had pretty straight careers,” he said in an interview with journalist Claire Shipman, before thousands of HR specialists.

“We’d love to have more women moving up faster,” Mr. Welch said. “But they’ve got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one.”

The speech was originally covered in the Wall Street Journal. Because the newspaper charges for online access, I received most of my information from Salon’s Andrew Leonard who was thoughtful in his approach to this topic:

But being a man, I’ll tell you what Welch’s comments mean to me. By his definition, every man who has risen to the top of the corporate ladder has sacrificed his family for his career. By being “there in the clutch” they’ve not been there for the sick kid or the softball game or the dance performance. Of course men have it easier, since if they want kids they can outsource the job of actually bearing them to a sidekick and don’t have to worry about figuring out how the breast pump works. But those are just technicalities.

Of course we all make choices with consequences as we go about crafting our careers and balancing them with other priorities in our lives. But to interpret Welch’s words as a harsh message for women is to miss his real point. Denying that there is a possibility for a “work-life balance” is a bummer for the entire human race.

First of all, whenever I read these stories especially from the point of view of Fortune 500 CEOs, I think it fails to take into consideration the workforce changes due to employees who want a life outside of work. Small businesses, for example, many which are headed by mothers, now make up almost 45 percent of private payroll, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 2000, when the country was experiencing record-economic growth, small businesses actually employed more private sector workers than large corporations, according to a report by the Clinton Administration, which also cited statistics by SBA.  

Technology such as the Internet, cell phones, pagers, conference calls and telecommuting policies were not only introduced to increase worker productivity but are conducive to the lives of working parents, or children of elderly parents, or sick workers, or workers who simply need to step away from their desks. Honestly, it seems like the Jack Welches are the ones having a hard time letting go.

Of course, a worker who puts in 80 hours a week on the job and can travel at a moment’s notice because he has a spouse at home picking up the slack can soar higher in the workplace than a working mother who “chooses” to attend her kid’s soccer games. But as Leonard pointed out, is this the standard we want to create for human beings? How about hiring more people and dividing up the work more equitably? Not only would it be a boom for the economy, but the workforce would more fairly represent the population, many of whom are parents.

What say you about Jack Welch’s speech?

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Friday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

I have been following news coverage of Ruth Madoff, wife of Bernie Madoff who was just sentenced to jail for 150 years for running the century’s largest Ponzi scheme. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz mocked her non-apology apology. The Post’s Michelle Singletary asked a good question: Should Ruth Madoff have been allowed to keep $2.5 million she claims was not related to the scheme? Also, how much blame, if any, should the wife of a criminal carry?

Also in the Washington Post: Here is a tragic reminder to be extra vigilant around young children and swimming pools as it is summer.

Kim Gandy, who heads the National Organization for Women, wrote an awesome column on why, preferably-single payer, publicly funded health care coverage is ideal for all women. Also, in case you missed NOW’s newsletter: Terry O’Neill, who served as NOW’s vice president from 2001 to 2005, will succeed Gandy as president on July 21.

Cary Tennis had a LOL column on why children are not legally able to own homes.

Slate ran a column on how to start your own non-profit.

Anne Fitten Glenn — aka “Edgy Mama” — described the heartache and adrenaline rush that is losing a child in public. Luckily, she found her 4-year-old son, who was lost at the airport for about 15 minutes. Has this happened to you?

Actress Kelly Preston is expected to speak about the loss of her son, Jett Travolta, on a panel called “Grief and Resilience” at the annual Conference for Women in October, according to Entertainment Tonight.

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

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Late-Night Liberty: Mothers and Time Edition

I wanted to share with you an inspiring Cary Tennis column on taking control of your time.

A middle-aged mother who works full-time as an attorney recently wrote to Tennis to say she has been sneaking in guitar lessons on her Saturday mornings even as her children roll their eyes and her husband continuously asks her why she continues the lessons when she has no time to practice.

Here is what Tennis had to say:

Guitar is hard to learn late in life when you don’t have hours and hours to practice. But you need music in your life. You are obviously very musical. And you are driven. Anybody who tries to practice guitar in the car on their lunch break is driven.

But you have to find the time for it. On the purely practical side, you seem to be well organized, but you do not have a good time-management system. A good time-management system would serve your own needs. Your time-management system serves the needs of others. But it does not make you happy. A good time-management system would allow you to do the things you want to do. You might read “Your Money or Your Life,” and/or  ”The Lifelong Activist” and/or “Time Management from the Inside Out” to get some control over your time….

So I urge you to carve out some time for yourself. And whatever you do, do not surrender the Saturday morning that you have already conquered. If you do not keep playing guitar, then find some other musical project for that time. Do not stop playing music! You are too scheduled with other tasks as it is. Hold this ground!

Each of us must find some sphere in which we are adequate and pleasing to ourselves. If those around us deny us this basic need, then we must find some way to get out from under their censorious gaze. We must!

But anyway.

I love the image of your sitting just strumming those chords. To me, that means you really do have a musical soul, that you can just sit and hear those notes resonate, and appreciate the complex sounds. I do that too sometimes. I just sit and strum and enjoy the sounds. That is what music is for, don’t you think? To soothe us, to give us pleasure? So if we can take pleasure in a few chords, let’s do that. Lets just put a few chords into the air. If I’m just doodling around on the guitar, it puts a little music into the air and people like that. I may not think I’m doing much, but I’m putting a few notes into the air, and people appreciate it. Very simple sounds from the guitar are pleasant indeed.

But then something happens when we announce we are about to play a song, and everyone turns to listen and judge. Then we are in the spotlight, on the hot seat, and we screw up and feel shame. So I think that in our culture we do not have a good relationship with music. We could do much better. We could lighten up and sing some songs. We could laugh about how badly we play. That might make us all feel a little better.

Have you taken up new hobbies later in life? How did you manage your time?

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Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

Salon had a fascinating Q&A with Tasha Blaine, who penned a book about nannies through their perspective and not that of the parents who hire them.

CareerBuilder.com ran tips on what workers should do if potential employers deem them “overqualified.” In related news, President Obama has promised more than 600,000 jobs this summer by spending $787 billion in stimulus package money. The Los Angeles Times has a list of the type of jobs they are.

A 16-year-old has created an exploratory campaign to run for city council in Fremont, California, in 2010, according to the Bay Area’s CBS 5.

I was alerted to this new blog published by mommy and relationship expert Laurie Puhn. The articles are interesting, including this piece on whether partners should go to every prenatal appointment.

An Ohio school teacher who was fired for preaching Christianity to the class has retaliated with a $1 million lawsuit of his own, according to the Associated Press. The teacher is alleging that he was “harassed by both administrators and co-workers on account of his religion.” Also, he is responding to allegations by the school district, that among other things, he preached his Christian beliefs to the class and used a scientific device to burn an image of a cross onto a student’s arm.

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

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

In case you missed it, Newsweek had a critical cover story on some of the medical advice doled out on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Some of the eyebrow-raising anecdotes were actress Suzanne Somers’s hormone treatment, which includes daily injections of estrogen into her vagina, and actress Jenny McCarthy’s claims that certain vaccines gave her son autism. The article raised so many brows that Oprah responded with a statement run, by among other publications, US Magazine.

Speaking of Newsweek, definitely pick up the magazine as it has undergone a facelift and Stephen Colbert is guest-editing this week’s issue.

Salon ran a thoughtful piece by Aaron Traister, a man who comes to terms with his job as stay-at-home father. I was baffled by reader comments, many which were hostile and mean.

Also in Salon: Writer Amanda Fortini wrote a curious piece about how some guys are irked by how perfect the Obamas’ marriage seems. “Date night” was an especially sore spot for Time’s Sean Gregory who says two-income families with small children should not be comparing themselves to the Obamas. But we can live vicariously through them, can’t we?

I did not know this, but Disney axed the U.S. version of Wondertime magazine in February, according to The Australian newspaper. Wondertime, a parenting magazine, is in our blogroll.

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

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Late-Night Liberty: Commencement Speaker Edition

I got a chuckle when I read this Slate column questioning the purpose of having hyper successful people give commencement speeches rather than the people who messed up and have actual lessons to teach.

Writer Timothy Noah even gave a suggested list of speakers, including a guy who wrote a book about buying a subprime mortgage on a house he could not afford.

It’s a not-uncommon tale of woe these days, but (Edmund) Andrews happens to be an economics reporter for the New York Times who, in covering the Federal Reserve, enjoyed a ringside seat to the meltdown in mortgage-backed securities. Andrews’ financial expertise proved no match for his powers of denial. Worthwhile message: If Andrews can be this stupid, anybody can be this stupid….

As failures go, this is a pretty genteel list, heavy on published authors, most of them affiliated with establishment publications. I can’t promise they won’t help themselves to a little too much sherry or get a little too familiar with the dean’s wife, but on the whole they know (or have learned) how to behave. They are more familiar than most with the ways an otherwise well-lived life can go off the rails, and they’ve been willing to speak frankly about their own failures. Don’t expect that from Fareed Zakaria.

Like Noah, I have always wondered the purpose of a commencement speaker not affiliated with the university. Someone once told me it had to do with fundraising — bringing attention and possibly money from the speaker to the institution. Any truth to this?

Either way, I did not attend my school-wide graduation, in which Henry Kissinger gave the commencement speech. I decided to stick with my individual (communications) college graduation ceremony since I would receive an actual degree and would be around people I knew. Braving a crowd of tens of thousands of people to listen to Kissinger did not appeal to me at all.

My brother-in-law is slated to receive an MFA from Yale next week and I looked up the commencement speaker there. To my delight, the school has no commencement speaker unless it is awarding an honorary degree to a sitting president (think George W. Bush in 2001). Also, the school allows the senior class to decide on a special speaker for “Class Day,” or the day before graduation. This sounds like a good way to make such a speech more meaningful to the students.

Did you attend the commencement address of your college or university? Who spoke? What did you think?

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Salon Q&A With Free Range Mom

In case you missed it, Salon’s Katharine Mieszkowski interviewed Lenore Skenazy, a syndicated columnist who just penned the book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry.

She made headlines a year ago for allowing her 9-year-old son to take the subway alone.

Here is an excerpt of the interview:



What are the statistics about crimes against children? What is the news that we’re not hearing?

The crime rate today is equal to what it was back in 1970. In the ’70s and ’80s, crime was climbing. It peaked around 1993, and since then it’s been going down.

If you were a child in the ’70s or the ’80s and were allowed to go visit your friend down the block, or ride your bike to the library, or play in the park without your parents accompanying you, your children are no less safe than you were.

But it feels so completely different, and we’re told that it’s completely different, and frankly, when I tell people that it’s the same, nobody believes me. We’re living in really safe times, and it’s hard to believe.

But if crimes against kids have fallen, now that we’re keeping them cloistered, won’t some people think, “Great! It must be working!”?

Crime stats are falling across the board. It’s not just because children are inside, because [crime stats] are falling inside, too. Crimes against children, even by family members and acquaintances, are falling, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center.

We don’t tolerate sex crimes. There’s just much less tolerance of any kind of abuse of kids. Those people are prosecuted very aggressively, to the point where a lot of them are behind bars now.

But if other parents aren’t letting their kids walk to school, or wait at the bus stop by themselves, if you buck the trend, doesn’t that make your kid more vulnerable, because other kids aren’t doing it, too? If everyone was doing it, wouldn’t there be safety in numbers?

There would be safety in numbers, and I wish everybody would do it. My big idea is: “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day.” I think that would be a great thing for our country.

Maybe the 7-year-old will walk the 5-year-old home, and nobody would say: “Oh my God, where are the parents? Let’s arrest them.” Perhaps your child is in .00007 percent more danger, but the danger is so minute to begin with. There is a 1 in 1.5 million chance that your kid would be abducted and killed by a stranger. It is hard to wrap your mind around those numbers, and everybody always assumes: What if it’s my 1 in 1.5 million?

If you don’t want to have your child in any kind of danger, you really can’t do anything. You certainly couldn’t drive them in a car, because that’s the No. 1 way kids die, as passengers in car accidents.

This interview was a page turner, er, clicker. Skenazy said Australia and England also share Americans’ paranoia when it comes to child safety. At the other extreme are Japan and Switzerland where the kids walk to school without parents as early as 5 years of age.

I thought the questions posed to Skenazy were good and agreed with Skenazy that the 24-hour cable networks’ coverage of violent crime contributed to our fears. But I still disagree with her that parents walk their kids to the bus stop or pick them up at school solely because they are afraid of kidnappers.

Where I live, many parents work and their children are watched by nannies or enrolled in after school activities monitored by adults. As we have discussed here before, statistically, those children do better in school than kids who are home alone all afternoon. In fact, one of the arguments for after school programs is that adolescent crimes are most common during those hours when kids are left unsupervised. I can’t help but think “helicoptering” varies in our country depending on the availability and wallets of the parents. This is something I would have liked for Skenazy to address.

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