Friday, May 31, 2013

Bread and Bacon

There is trouble brewing in the land over at Fox News where Lou Dobbs led an all-male panel discussion on May 29th focused on a recent study by the Pew Research Center on the increased role of women as the “breadwinners” for their family.[1] In it, the study outlined a number of fascinating statistics including the following:

·         4 out of 10 households with children under the age of 18 include women who are the primary (or sole) breadwinners for their families

·         Approximately 74% of surveyed adults said that working women make it harder to raise their children; and

·         Approximately 50% of surveyed adults said that working women make it harder for their marriage to succeed.
As you can imagine, the all male panel on Fox went to town with this study, linking specifically women’s increasing dominance and earnings power in the workplace to the very unraveling of our social fabric; the undoing of the American family. Thankfully, one of the panelists thought it wise to elaborate on his comments and his interpretation of this important study on his blog, redstate.com. On it, Erick Erickson writes this gem: “Women as primary breadwinners do make raising children harder, increasing the likelihood of harm in the development of children.”[2] He goes on to describe the ideal family setup for ensuring success for children. The recipe? Two loving non-gay parents (weird that he decides to attack gays – that wasn’t in the Pew study) with the mother at home while the father “brings home the bacon.”

Truthfully, there is just so much overwhelming bullshit in here that it is hard to know where to start.
Actually, let me start with Pew. The public opinion piece of the Pew study that the boys at Fox were foaming at the mouth about, touting how it validates that Americans are against the shocking trend of women working (! What’s next! Swimming while on our periods and wearing slacks!) was based on a phone survey conducted with just over 1,000 adults living in the continental US during a 3 day period in April. And by the way if you live in Alaska or Hawaii and feel strongly about this issue, you’re fucked.

But that’s neither here nor there.
1,003 people. That means when they say that 74% of surveyed Americans think that female breadwinners make it harder to raise children, they are talking about 742 people. Literally. That’s it. And not for nothing, Amanda Bynes currently has 1.6 million people following her on Twitter. If I post a picture of a cat smoking a cigar while watching Bravo with Ryan Gosling narrating it, I could easily get 900 people to like that. Making sweeping generalizations on the temperature of Americans on the changing role of women based on these public opinions, seems dicey at best.

But it’s more than that. It is the way that Erickson and the others fail to unpack their statements.  Erickson argues that women as breadwinners make raising kids harder which is weird. Because I can tell you that I am in a nuclear heterosexual two parent household where my bacon bringing husband is the breadwinner and you know what, it’s still fucking hard. Because my husband is smart and ambitious like many of his female breadwinning counterparts and so he travels quite a bit and the strain on him and our entire family is significant. The strain is from the challenge of the work and balancing that with the responsibilities of marriage and family but is not in any way gender specific.
Secondly, he links what is hard to what is harmful, which is also weird and fundamentally un-true. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Recent studies show that in fact what is necessary for ensuring long-term success in children is modeling and instilling in them early the ability to demonstrate grit, determination and resilience. The fact that we as a family persist in the face of challenges, that we openly struggle, communicate the struggle with our children and actively try to figure out that balance between work and family is what I believe to be critical in their future success. If we fall, if it is hard, we get up. That’s life, for men and women regardless of their gender or place at work or at home.

I know single parent families, gay two parent families, female breadwinning families and Erickson’s la la land two parent nuclear straight SAHM families. They are all comprised of amazing parents who are modeling the most important life skills their children will ever need: the passion and persistence to pursue a life loving who they love and doing what they love with the full courage of their convictions. More than ever, particularly in the face of such shoddy “science” and a national discussion so completely devoid of critical thinking, I am eager to see the amazing fruits of their labor both at home and at work.




[1] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/29/breadwinner-moms/
[2] http://www.redstate.com/2013/05/30/the-truth-may-hurt-but-is-not-mean/

Through His Lens

It’s almost Father’s Day. I shouldn’t need a Hallmark holiday to remind me of a reason to think about my dad and about my relationship with him. Yet it does.

 My dad is a complicated man. My relationship with him, as I expect is true for many folks, is equally complicated. He is 70. I am 35. For exactly ½ of his life, I have been a part of it. But I wonder what happened in that first part – the first 35. The years of his life that were about a man I didn’t know. That I’ll probably never know because having me and my sisters and marrying my mother didn’t erase that guy, but probably fundamentally changed him to the point where he isn’t sure he remembers that guy. I get that. I get how family can do that.

But still I wonder about that part of him I never knew that laid the groundwork for the husband, and father, and grandfather that he would and is still evolving into. And I wonder a lot about all the stuff he doesn’t talk about: the good stuff and hard stuff and messy stuff and truth-y stuff that daughters aren’t supposed to know, but if they did would tell them so much more about the man behind their father. When I am in search of this, of him, I look to his pictures.

 My father is an amateur photographer. He’ll tell you he does it just for fun – that he’s not quite good enough to show his photographs. It’s his armor: his way of protecting himself from getting hurt, from failing at something he loves. But his pictures are his story, his truth. What I love is his perspective: the moments he lingers on, the objects, the faces, the colors – the stuff that he never says a word about. It’s all there: sometimes in black and white, sometimes in full color.

 In his best pictures, people are rarely looking at him or the camera lens. He is capturing more a moment, less a person. Like the black and white still of my mother. It is 1970 and she is sitting inside an antique book shop housed in a barn down by the shore. The sun is streaming in through the window as she sits beside a newborn baby carrier. It is an amazing portrait of a new mother, seemingly glowing both from the sun beating in behind her and from the joy of finally being with her baby. Or the black and white of his father – my grandfather – a man far more stern and of far fewer words than my own. He is wrapped in his talis and tefillin. He is lost in morning prayer. It is an exquisite portrait, less of my grandfather and more of his faith. And there is the picture of my mother holding my niece when she is around six months old. My mother is laughing, holding her on her lap, smiling contentedly. It is a beautiful picture of his wife, his first love, becoming a grandmother.

 And there are a few pictures – albeit not many – with him actually in it. Most were captured during that hazy chapter of his life before I entered it. There is one that I think of often of him and my mother on a beach. They are leaning in to each other. He is resting his chin on the top of her head. He is beaming, like the way you do when you are truly happy and in love. I see the man he was. It tells me part of his story. And as I look through and remember and revisit the moments and photographs that make up the remaining chapters, whether he is in the picture or not I realize the rest of the story he is telling me. I am more aware of the man he is. Of the moments that matter to him. Through his lens, he’s been in the picture the whole time.

 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Beauty School Dropout

Ruby’s dance recital is rapidly approaching and I am in full panic mode. Not because I think she will freeze or cry on stage. Diva that she is I think she’ll love working that Jewish Center audience. The real source of my anxiety is over her hair. Ruby has extremely curly hair. If I fail to apply the twelve step multi product process that we go through nearly every day to tame it, her hair turns into dreadlocks. Legitimately. It’s like a party trick. We should actually charge to have people come and watch it occur. Now let me be clear: I love Ruby’s hair. I adore it. Her curls remind of my mother’s when she was a little girl. They are an amazing color and are literally exquisite. I just have no idea what to do with them. It’s totally not her fault.

Part of the issue is my own post-traumatic stress over the boy hair I sported growing up. My mother had a thing about keeping my hair extremely short. Until I rebelled in my early 20s (clearly I was a very wild child) and finally decided to keep it longer. If you wondered what I looked like, picture my son. I looked exactly like my 5 year old boy: but with slightly less red in my hair and enormous purple glasses on my face. In fact, I was almost always dressed head to toe in lavender. As if my mother suspected how ridiculously androgynous my hairstyle was and tried to thwart unsuspecting strangers who might think I was a boy with a resounding, “Clearly she’s a girl! Can’t you see regardless of her boy hair that I dipped her in purple!”
But I digress.

My point here is that I grew up having no idea what to do with long hair because I never had it. And now I have this child with the most gorgeous, thick insane head of long hair. And tomorrow is the dress rehearsal. I know I am supposed to bring her with some sort of bun involving bobby pins. First of all, Ruby’s hair eats bobby pins for lunch. Secondly I wouldn’t know what to do with the bobby pins even if that first thing weren’t true. She is also supposed to come in makeup. Did I mention I also have no idea how to apply makeup? Sometimes when I am feeling fancy I apply the Burts Bees Pomegranate Chapstick which adds a reddish hue to my lips. I have been known to attempt applying both the one eye shadow I own and the one blush I have in my possession. Whenever I do this people eye me with suspicion. As if I am suffering from sort of horrific rosacea outbreak.

So here I am on the eve of her rehearsal on Pinterest trying to search “curly hair toddler dance recital.” I tried to pin my first thing and I got an error from Pinterest. Have you ever gotten an error from Pinterest? It is like receiving an error message from the world officially revoking your uterus.
So after crying for a few minutes over my pinning humiliation, I ended up on youtube. There I found a video of two 10 year olds demonstrating how to make the perfect figure skating bun in their parents’ bathroom. It involved 12 thousand bobby pins and a sock with the hole cut out of the toe. Have you ever heard of this? I am riveted. I feel like I am watching brain surgery. I have never been so grateful to these random 10 year olds for teaching me how to be a woman. I feel both satisfied and sad. Tomorrow I will search for their companion videos on how to do laundry and apply nail polish.

I will also search eBay for my uterus and failed womanhood.

 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

This Is Mother's Day

There is a favorite picture I have of me and my mother. In it, I am probably around two years old. I have curls that look strikingly like Ruby’s and I am sitting on a large pink toilet, my tiny two year old feet dangling far above. I am looking with rapture at a story my mother is reading to me as she sits beside me on the pink tub that anchored our bathroom. She is barefoot and lost in the story. I love the way she looks nice but a little worn. One of her pant legs are rolled up, the other down. Her hair is done but her long sleeves are rumpled and pushed up as she rests on her elbows to read the book.

The moment is captured by my father through a crack in the doorway. I’m potty training and we are both totally absorbed in the decidedly un-instagram-worthy scene. I love noticing the lovely white curtains that framed our bathroom window, the perfectly vacuumed bathroom rug, the toy boat on the back of the toilet. I love looking at us as mother and child, totally lost and caught in a moment. If ever there was a way to feel it, to literally touch it: well to me, in every way, this picture feels like mother’s day.
Indeed as we approach another mother’s day, this picture seems in such sharp contrast to the way the holiday is increasingly presented. Through a barrage of snarky ecards and blog posts and targeted marketing ploys by company after company, the message seems clear: moms – spend a day that is designed to celebrate everything you are and everything you do every day, by doing none of it and with none of the people you do it with. It seems so strange; frankly, so unnatural.

Which is not to say that I don’t think all moms need a well deserved break, a pedicure, a few extra minutes on the toilet, asleep, brushing their teeth with only their thoughts and not an audience, drinking that first cup of coffee in its entirety at a table or snuggled in bed, not gulping it down in the midst of a shower. Most certainly moms need and deserve to take care of themselves but this should be a year round endeavor. Frankly, my toes cannot wait until mid-May. This momma’s feet needed a pedicure last week. I didn’t need a date on the calendar to treat myself and so I did.
But all of that, while super important, doesn’t feel like it has a strong correlation with celebrating the idea of mothering specifically. To me, that feels more about celebrating and reflecting with gratitude on the amazing people who I’m lucky enough to mother; to pay tribute to the amazing mother in my own life. It feels quiet and remarkably unfancy. Much like my pedicures, these moments may come and go but definitely pop up far more regularly than once a year.

And so it was this morning that we finally took the kids for that hike we’d been hoping to do for awhile. It was super non-taxing – mostly flat but the rolling hills seemed exceptionally green from all the rain. We felt farther away than we were. As we walked the rain started up again and we slowly made our way back to the car. It was strange that none of us felt compelled to rush given the inclement weather but it was just so amazingly quiet out there, that I think we were all just drinking in the contrast of the sharp colors and green with the smoothness and wetness in the air.  As we walked, Dylan took my hand, which is something I almost never get to do anymore with him now that he is five. Apparently 5 year old boys don’t hold hands. But this morning for some reason he did, and we walked that way for several minutes. I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I saw Ruby on Phil’s shoulders. In every way, I felt grateful and special. I didn’t have to check the calendar. Clearly, it was mother’s day.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The And Stance

The other night I was sweeping the kitchen floor, carefully pushing piles of dirt and Pringles and play dough around Ruby who was naturally playing on the dirtiest part of the floor directly under my feet, when I suddenly stopped and looked at her. And I caught her watching me, studying me. I felt anxious wondering if the image I was creating in her mind was somehow a glimpse of what her own future might look like. I think what she sees in the most simplistic terms is a woman serving her family, by sweeping and cooking and washing and doing all of these very sort of old school traditional woman-ly things. And that I do more of them and Phil does less of them is just more of a function of who is here more to do them and where our family is at right now.

There are many things about this that trouble me. I feel anxious that she thinks we’ve prioritized Phil’s work over mine, even though Phil and I made a conscious choice to divide up the labor this way both for financial reasons and because I wanted to be home with them.  I’m concerned that she thinks that because our family operates this way, most families are structured similarly which more than ever just isn’t true. I’m worried that whether she can verbalize it or not, she’s making a mental note to structure her own family this way someday. I’m worried about what she didn’t see – college, a graduate degree, hard work, promotions, leadership, long hours and business suits and high heels and me running meetings and writing budgets and creating pieces of work that I’m proud of. I’m worried that she can’t see the paycheck that used to come in. I’m worried that when I try to re-enter that world and show that side to her, I will be too far out from it to ever reclaim what I was to it. It’s a valid concern. I have no idea – or worse a good idea of what the professional and financial implications of my ultimate exit and attempted re-entry will be in the workforce. I chose it. I have to accept the consequences. 
Or even worse – I’m worried she thinks that being a mother or a parent who chooses to stay at home is as one dimensional and simplistic and unfulfilling as sweeping a dirty floor. That she doesn’t see the elaborate decision making process that went into this choice. That she isn’t catching that light in my eyes in those totally innocuous yet amazing moments that remind me why I’m there in the first place.

And the thing is, it’s a lot of pressure just trying to sweep the floor while feeling the full weight of your daughter’s expectations for her future self as woman and professional and wife and mother, bore down on you through her big blue questioning eyes. And rightly so. Maybe I’m just sweeping the floor and she’s not thinking any of this. Maybe she’s only thinking- shit; we haven’t eaten Pringles since last week. That bitch really needs to sweep the floor more often.
Maybe.  I’ll allow that.

And all of this got me thinking on blickets. I first read about blickets in a recent New York Times article which outlined a fascinating study conducted by a bunch of UC Berkeley researchers. In it, they put a bunch of lumps of clay on the table in front of a group of children with no further information than, “… you cannot tell which ones are blickets by looking at them. But the ones that are blickets have blicketness inside.[1]” After performing the study both with children and adults, one of many conclusions was that in general children seem to perform better at the exercise than grown-ups because the adults, based on previous biases, were most likely to use the “or” stance to frame their blicket conclusions (it must be this or this, but not this) whereas the children were far more likely to use the “and” stance in their assumptions. The author writes that the children, “… quickly ditched the ‘or’ rule and hit upon the far less likely ‘and’ rule. Such low-probability hypotheses often fail.  But children ….will try these wild ideas anyway, because even if they fail, they produce interesting results.[2]
And as I stared at Ruby and started thinking about blickets and dirty floors and graduate degrees and lost opportunities and found opportunities and sweeping and leaning and leading and all of the general complicatedness that is eagerly awaiting her and other young girls, I had but one wish. That she never lets go of her ‘and’ stance. That as old as she gets, regardless of what she chooses and how ridiculous it sounds or seems, she still has a playful little girl at her complicated confused mother’s feet who still believes it’s all possible. I know I do. Much like the blickets I don’t know what shape or form those opportunities and paths will come in. But I know as long as we both stay open to the possibilities, that as long as we continue to celebrate the fact that women are inheriting a world of possibility, then at least it will be interesting.

 



[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/science/zeal-for-play-may-have-propelled-human-evolution.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/science/zeal-for-play-may-have-propelled-human-evolution.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Unwavering

I just finished Glennon Melton’s new book, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed. I loved every part of it. I loved her humor, her candor, and her ability to write really difficult things in a way that is thoughtful and funny and uncomfortable and inspiring all at the same time. When I finished, I felt compelled to pass along my copy to the next warrior momma and so I sent along my little book to a friend in Virginia. Her first take? A short message that read like this:

“So far, so good. There is a lot of Jesus stuff though.”
I get it. In a lot of her writing, she talks about God and Jesus and Church. I think it’s where she goes mentally and spiritually to make sense of things that don’t make sense. Her book is peppered with references to Jesus and parts of the bible I don’t know or could even pretend to understand. Indeed, Jesus isn’t my homeboy. I barely pass as a Jew, a minimally observant one at that. I celebrate select holidays and attend services approximately 3-4 times a year without knowing the real impetus for why I’m doing it. I whisper prayers in Hebrew that I don’t understand. I go through the motions of traditions because I am sentimental for my youth, not because I necessarily understand and feel the value of imparting them on my children. Often, I feel bad about the one dimensional-ness of my own religion. I think I feel bad that it actually feels like more of a religion and less a faith. And perhaps that is why I’m so drawn to the devoutness of others.

I’ve always had a weird fascination with the extremely devout: Evangelicals healing people in revivalist-packed stadiums, Orthodox Jews waiting out their days for the return of the Messiah, Mormons internalizing, retelling and living the principles of Joseph Smith. I am completely and totally jaw-dropping obsessed. As if I’m watching a set of contortionists. How can they do that? How is it even possible? It’s less about the specifics of any of the religious precepts and more about the compulsion and veritable ability of anyone to believe and feel something so completely intangible: a true suspension of disbelief.
The only piece of any of it that I can truly to relate to is the idea of humility. The importance of reminding myself and my children that in the scheme of pretty much everything, we are small. Teaching the concept of submitting to something greater than themselves, particularly in a world that is increasingly interconnected and busy, amazing and fleeting. I felt the relevance of the lesson, but never the practical path, religious or otherwise, to impart it on them.

And then we went to Florida last week and the kids and I hit the beach with my father. The waves were wild and relentless. Ruby preferred the safety and security of the sand. But Dylan and I ventured in. Dylan in particular kept diving into the pounding and froth of the ocean. And those waves would knock him down again and again and every time he’d get back up. And for the first time in a long time, I think I felt a piece of what Glennon is writing about in her book, of what my more faith-full friends feel, not just practice. I felt humbled and small. He was resilient. The waves were our sermon and sanctuary. Appropriately so, we bowed our heads, tasted the salt, and gave thanks.