Monday, February 15, 2010

Have You Seen the New Motherese?


Motherese has moved! Please come check out my new place: mothereseblog.com. I can't wait to see you there!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I've Moved!


In honor of my 100th post, I thought I would treat myself to a little something special: my very own domain name and a new WordPress page to go with it!

So please click on over and check out my new digs at mothereseblog.com.

Thanks for the memories, Blogger.  It's been real.

Image: waves by gin soak via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Flickering Faith

I am honored today to offer you a post from Lindsey at A Design so Vast.

Lindsey is not only one of my favorite bloggers, she is also one of my favorite writers. I found Lindsey's blog last summer and was immediately drawn in by her honesty, her insight, and her beautiful writing. With bravery and clarity, Lindsey asks questions of herself that inspire me to reflect on my relationship with my self and my spirit and make me feel a sense of gratitude that I am not alone in living a life of wondering. As I said to Lindsey in my first e-mail to her, the sense of not-aloneness I gain from her writing has been powerful and empowering to me.

After we commenced our virtual relationship, Lindsey and I learned of a powerful "real world" connection that only enhances the tremendous respect and affection I feel for her and her words.

Last Tuesday I guest posted at A Design so Vast and shared some of my own reflections on faith and safety. Many of my thoughts were inspired by Lindsey's remarkable post, "Safe." I am profoundly grateful to Lindsey for sharing with us more of her ideas on the question of faith.

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… embracing a view of the world that welcomes people who dare and refuses to punish those who are willing to be confused and disoriented in pursuit of something tender, something honest, something true.
I love that passage, and in fact Jen Lemen’s whole post about faith.

I think about this a lot, aching with how much I want to trust, how much I want to have faith. In my deepest heart I do believe there is some order, some design so vast, I really do. But how abstract that seems, in the moments when all seems dark and confusing.

I wonder if my affection for patterns is part of this deep longing for faith: by seeing reassuring, repetitive order in the world I can trust that it is also there beneath the surface. That underneath what may look like chaos there is some scaffolding that makes sense. This likely underlies my affinity for symmetry, for the way the New York skyscrapers look reaching into the sky. Also, my teeth-clicking counting off of things by 8s: cars in a parking lot, bottles of nail polish at the manicurist, window panes across a waiting room. All of these things can be categorized and understood, and I am comforted by what that implies about the greater world.

But at the same time, my favorite images are those of the sky and of clouds. And these have, almost by definition, no symmetry. There, the design is truly so vast as to be not at all obvious to the naked eye. Somehow, the beauty of the sky is in its very randomness and it is this utter lack of pattern that summons my weak faith. Looking at the blue sky streaked irregularly with clouds, I feel as though I can believe.

I suppose it is obvious, then, that it is when the pattern is inscrutable that we must call on faith. When things look messy and confusing, our only option is to trust. In fact, if I could let go of my desperate desire to wrestle the world into an understandable and predictable set of equations and probabilities, I would likely be a lot happier. Of course the reason I cannot let go easily is precisely because my faith is so weak. It is in that space, that free fall between order and disorder that faith catches us. And I’ve never liked the feeling of falling.

Of course, the disorder in the wide world is nothing compared to the disarray inside us. There is no counting off in groups of 8 my feelings, no way to categorize and subdue the instincts and fears that roar in my head. It is here that I need faith most of all: belief that the determined pursuit of emotional truth will take me where I need to go, conviction that getting lost is the only way to be found, trust that I am still safe even when hopelessly lost and buffeted by reactions so powerful they scare me. The sad realization that sometimes even my very best effort is far from good enough lurks around the corners of my consciousness, but I see no option but to continue to try to both understand and manage my reactions.

So I will hope that my flickering faith will strengthen and not go out. I will renew my efforts to let go and believe. I will try to not be afraid of my feelings, to parse the difference between where I can manage my reactions better and where I must just experience them in order to understand. I will welcome the swell of comfort and well-being that sometimes crashes over me like a wave, whether it’s looking at a glorious sky, speaking in unison with other people in church or yoga class, or running my hand through my sleeping son’s hair. I will be grateful for the faith that I do have.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Choices vs. Fait Accompli

A recent article in the New York Times captured my attention, not only for its subject matter, but also for the comments that it drew.  In "How to Speak Nanny", Hilary Stout explored the uneasy relationships that exist between many working mothers and the women they hire to care for their children.

According to Stout:
Many mothers who employ nannies are actually overstretched working women, a number of whom (contrary to their professional personas) suffer from an inability to clearly express their expectations and demands to the people they pay to care for their children. The result is a peculiar passive-aggressive form of communication, a less-than-ideal dynamic between worker and boss.
The headline of the article initially drew me in, just as most things related to child-rearing and childcare do these days.  And it was not without a touch of envy that I embarked on the article, wishing that I could have a Mary Poppins of my very own to lend me a hand every once in awhile.

But it was the comments on the article that really got me.

An unedited sampling:
1. Why don't you raise your own kids ??..... Or maybe you should have thought about birth control if you really don't want children. Obviously the message is you can't or don't want to spend time with them.

2. The first paragraph sums up why our kids are so screwy, what was so important that the mother couldn't spend time with HER children? Why did she have children if she was going to hand them off to someone else?
The majority of the comments criticized or praised substantive parts of the article.  (For instance, many readers were disturbed by the fact that, although most of the women in the article were married, their partners were almost never mentioned; the childcare decision-making seemed to fall on them alone.)

But I was surprised by the number of people who used the occasion of this article to fire venom at the working mothers featured.  Granted, the professional women in the article did not always come off looking too impressive, but many responses used these women's moments of admitted weakness to suggest that they should not have had children in the first place.

Really?

Before I had kids, I thought I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  And I am one.  I acknowledge the tremendous rewards I reap every day.  And I recognize how lucky I am to be in a financial situation in which my being at home works for my family. 

But.

There are ways in which my choice wasn't exactly a choice: A move precipitated by Husband's job to an isolated location that makes my working outside the home in my chosen profession a virtual impossibility.  The fact that - even if there were a job to be had - we would pay almost the same in childcare as I would earn as a high school teacher.

And I have to wonder whether some of those angry commenters might feel their own lack of choices so viscerally that they lashed out at women who they perceive to have more or truer flexibility.  Commenters who don't acknowledge the ways in which the demands and realities of life can turn some alleged choices into fait accompli.

In dissecting these so-called "Mommy Wars" in her book Perfect Madness, Judith Warner writes:
I have by now talked to hundreds of women.  And what I see is that working and stay-at-home moms do what they do not so much by choice - by choosing from a series of options arrayed before them like cereals on a supermarket shelf - but out of a very immediate and pressing sense of personal necessity.  There are many aspects to that sense of necessity - money, status, ambition, the needs of the children and of the family as a whole - all of which play themselves out, in various ways, in individual women's lives.  And all of those aspects of personal necessity are part and parcel of the condition of motherhood - not external to it, not accessory to it, not a "selfish" deviation from it.  They grow naturally out of what women have done - and who they have been - throughout their lives.  So their paths as mothers are not so much "chosen" as devolved from who they are, who they've been, and what the material conditions of their families require.
I, for one, would like to move to a metaphysical place in which we stop wasting time on the divisions between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers and start focusing on the conditions that unite us.  On the language that connects us.  (Motherese, perhaps?)  On the ways in which all of our choices are limited.  On strategies to expand all of our options.

Elizabeth at Boy Crazy recently summarized this idea quite eloquently in a post about her first week back at work:
It's not often black and white.
We are more complicated than our choices.
More complex than our labels.
Here's to Elizabeth and to mothers everywhere.  Here's to arriving at a place in which we can acknowledge and honor complexity.  Where we call a truce in the "Mommy Wars."

If you are a parent, how did you arrive at your "choice" to or not to work outside of the home?  Does your reality match what you had planned before you had kids?  If you are not a parent, but hope to be, do you plan to work outside of the home?


Image: Christmas Party: 12/05/09 by Nathan Branch via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

What Is It All Worth?

On Friday, Big Little Wolf posted a passionate and provocative piece about the value - both monetary and metaphysical - of parenting.  Both the post and a comment by my buddy Jane - about an article she had read attaching a dollar value to the job a mother does - buzzed around my brain for the rest of the day and into the weekend.

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I thought of the presumption with which I live my life - operating under the assumption that, because things have worked out up to this point, they will continue to.

I thought of the folly of presumption. 

I thought of the words I've often heard my mother say: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

I thought of some other words of hers: "When you assume, you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me.'"

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I thought of an hourly wage formula I once saw in an article about "hiring help."  A formula a woman could use to figure out how much her time is worth in order to decide when it is in her best economic interest to pay someone else to do a household chore or project.

The equation? Take your annual salary, remove the last three digits, and divide by two.  So, if you make $50,000 per year, you drop the last three 0's, divide by 2, and arrive at a $25 hourly wage.

According to the article, at that salary, if you can find someone to do a job that you don't want to do or don't have time to do for less than $25 per hour, then it makes sense to do so from a strict cost-benefit perspective.

So let's see...The salary for the profession of parenting is $0. If we remove the last three digits, we're still at $0. When we divide by 2...still $0.

Hmm...I'm guessing that a parent wouldn't be able to find anyone to clean her windows or babysit his kids for less than $0 an hour.

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I thought about an article I read last year - perhaps the very one Jane read - in which a human resources group attempted to calculate the value of a mother's work. The number they came up with for a stay-at-home mom? $138,095, when you factor in the "ten jobs that moms do on an average day: housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, CEO, and psychologist." 

Who exactly is willing to pay that salary, the article did not specify.

But I'm on the look-out, BLW, for you, and for all of us.

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I've written before about the value of teaching.

I'm thinking now about the value of parenting.  About the ways in which we tacitly assign meaning to different types of work by the money we are willing to pay people to do it. 

And I'm thinking that my boys should take up golf.  It seems to pay well.  And I hear there's an opening at the top.

What professions should be compensated most highly?  Did financial factors steer you toward or away from a certain career?  

Would you like to come over and babysit my boys for <$0/hour?

Image: 337/365: The Big Money by DavidDMuir via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, February 5, 2010

It's Not Over


Last Friday I was pleased to share with you a piece by Elizabeth Grant, one of the "21st Century Penpals" behind one of my favorite blogs, Life in Pencil.  In today's edition of Won't You Be My Neighbor, I am delighted to welcome Elizabeth's partner-in-blog, Anne.  Anne captured my attention immediately by outing herself as a "change phobe."  A fellow "planning addict," I admire and embrace her attempts to toss the pen and live life in pencil.  Anne's essays always make me think, make me smile, and make me nod in recognition - and the following offering is no exception.  Thank you, Anne, for sharing this piece with the Motherese community.

When you finish reading here, please click on over to visit Anne and Elizabeth at Life in Pencil for another helping of their musings on "living life amongst the eraser shavings."

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"It’s Not Over"
By Anne @ Life in Pencil

Last time I checked, a weekend lasted 2 full days. Throw in Friday night, and you’ve got 55 hours before the weekday routine ramps up again. But if you’re anything like me, your weekend often stops short—sometime around Sunday afternoon. Not literally, of course. Only mentally—a side effect of my brain that starts worrying about Monday before I’ve given myself the chance to savor the pleasures of a lazy Sunday afternoon.

This has always been a struggle. As someone who constantly finds herself living hours, days, or even years ahead of the present, I’ve always found it difficult to get my head out of the clouds, and into the moment. When I break out the Monday to-do list and start organizing the week to come, my husband has been known to say, “Hey, why don’t we just enjoy the rest of the weekend?” Of course, he has a point. I usually smile, set down my list, and rejoin him on the couch with our books, our movies, or a little mindless TV. But there are times when my brain speaks louder than my actions, making it hard to “turn off” my anticipatory stress about the week to come.

And I’m afraid to report that it doesn’t stop there. Recently, we took a 2-week vacation to South America…the longest “break” I’ve had in over a year. It was blissful. With two whole weeks, I could almost feel the daily stressors trickling their way out of my consciousness, making room for the joy of the present. And yet, 24 hours before the end of that vacation, the symptoms of a typical Sunday afternoon crept their way into my South American bed and breakfast. I sat up in bed, and started thinking. Stressing. Making mental to-do lists. Apparently, escaping to South America wasn’t enough. I almost lost that final day of my vacation.

That final day in South America produced an epiphany of sorts. Here’s my problem: when it comes to finding the time to relax and be “present”, I’ve always had a system. I work like hell, and keep going until I find the time for a massive break. I take a week. A month. And decompress. Using this cycle, the loss of one day (due to premature worry and planning) doesn’t feel so acute. And actually, the system worked just fine during my gazillion years of school—the academic calendar actually supported my habit. I’d plug away until the end of a semester, and then bask in the sweet relief of nothingness. But somewhere along the line, I finished school. I earned my degree. And I have something called a 12-month calendar. Today, my “breaks” come in the guise of planned vacation days and short weekends. My days are simply more precious—and so my system doesn’t serve me so well anymore.

And there’s another problem. Even if I didn’t work a 40-hour week, “skipping town” (literally and figuratively) can’t always be an option when my stress level reaches its threshold. The same is true for 99% of the people in this world. We have responsibilities, and people who count on us. Spouses. Children. Dogs. Goodness knows when I’m a mother someday, my job will stick around during evenings and weekends. And so the challenge becomes turning off the worry, and turning on the relaxation. I have to believe there’s a way to be present without taking off for two weeks. Or is there?

For those of us needing to mellow out, and put down our to-do lists, what’s the solution? As a kid, I remember having “quiet time” every day, which I always believed was for my benefit. But now I have to wonder if my Mom needed it more than I did. Or perhaps I’m all wrong. Perhaps “breaks” and “quiet times” aren’t even the key. If I could simply be present—here—now—instead of somewhere in the future, I wonder if I might not need these chunks of time. If I simply lived my days and weekends one moment at a time, perhaps I’d feel more refreshed. And less desperate to escape the worry inside me.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to the talented Kristen for inviting Life in Pencil into her space. Wherever you are, enjoy your weekend. One minute at a time. And if you have solutions of your own, please share.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tummy Time

As I have mentioned before, Tiny Baby is not a fan of tummy time.  Put him on his tummy and he becomes irritated.  Ornery.  Sometimes he'll push up and roll over as quickly as he can.  Other times, he'll surrender to gravity, burying his face in the blanket, admitting defeat.

Not surprisingly, Tiny Baby's aversion to tummy time - and his parents' failure to insist that he practice it - means that he is not yet crawling.  But, as "the books" say, some babies skip crawling altogether and that's just fine.

Phew.

But wait.

Isn't crawling sort of important?  Say, like if he wants to, I don't know, get around before he learns how to walk?  Or grow up to be a Marine?  Or a sexy insurance adjuster who needs to evade a complex laser-beam security system in order to apprehend a jewel thief a la Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment?

Shouldn't I make him do his tummy time, whether he likes it or not?

Maybe so.

But you know what?  That would be a textbook instance of the parental pot calling the kiddie kettle black.

Because I kind of hate tummy time too: the metaphorical tummy time that we all face in between setting a goal and actually achieving it.  Those moments when the weight of our heavy heads keeps us looking down instead of straight ahead at what we want so far out of reach.

I've always been good about looking up the road.  I've always kept my eyes open for the New New Thing.  And when I've caught sight of that Thing, I've usually taken big steps toward it (witness my peripatetic teaching career, switching cities, levels, types of schools), often with the mistaken notion that the first step alone would produce the prize.

But I've been less good about taking those little steps, putting in the tedious labor - the professional development, the service courses - so necessary to achieve the Thing.  When faced with the boring, the less romantic, the painful, I've sometimes abandoned the Thing, rolling away or burying my face in the blanket.

I've been the baby who wants to crawl without first doing her tummy time.

So I'm a little scared today. 

Not for Tiny Baby.  He'll learn to crawl.  Eventually.  And then he'll learn to walk.  Not for him.  Nope.

I'm scared for me.

I see the next Big Thing in front of me.  It's so exciting that it keeps me up at night.  It interrupts my mental musings and my real-time conversations.  It energizes me and even scares me a little bit.

But will I have the patience for the tummy time?  Will I have the confidence to advance - slowly, steadily, creakily, painfully - in the direction of my dreams?

In Walden, Thoreau writes:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
Okay, Thoreau, I have the dream.  I imagine the life.  I want the success.

But what if the advance isn't a smooth one?  Will I have the confidence and the patience - the audacity - to keep moving forward anyway?

Are you good at setting goals?  Do you usually achieve the goals you set?  Are you comfortable with tummy time?

Image: tummy time! by methyl lives via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.