Category Archives: Mothering

Judge: Firing for lactation not sex discrimination | Seattle Times Newspaper

Another wrench in the wheel for working mothers:

Living | Judge: Firing for lactation not sex discrimination | Seattle Times Newspaper.

What has your experience been as a breastfeeding, working mother?

Get Over It, Breast-Phobes

What are people so afraid of?

When I gave birth to Punkernoodle 2, our first daughter was 21 months old. She was almost still a baby herself. And though my first child was done breastfeeding by the time her baby sister arrived, she was just learning to raise “babies” of her own. Translation: Doll play had begun. And of course, with me sitting around breastfeeding her new baby sister 24-7, what did Punkernoodle 1 learn to do when it was time for her baby dolls to eat? That’s right. My girl didn’t think for a second to put a plastic bottle into her baby’s starving mouth. Of course not. She yanked up her shirt and smacked that doll onto her chest for some fresh-from-the-tap feeding. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world for her to feed her babies that way, because that’s what she saw Mom doing.

We encouraged this type of realistic domestic play, because in our house we believe children should be respected enough to be dealt real-world information when applicable. And the fact is, breastfeeding is the most natural, healthy, green and economical way to feed a child. If you are lucky enough to physically be able to breastfeed your child, you are just that — lucky. There is nothing shameful, embarrassing or sexualized about it. So am I a “lactivist?” Yeah, I suppose I am. When I was running around and my babies needed to eat, you can bet I parked myself at the Starbucks and, modestly but without shame or the need to hide, fed them. And I expect my girls to do the same when their dolls are wailing in starvation, too.

That’s why I don’t understand the controversy about a new breastfeeding baby doll. In our culture, where the over-sexualization of girls and women is a serious problem, where you can go to middle school playground and see kids looking like mini Cosmo-cover models, why is it dangerous to portray or refer to breasts doing what they are made to be doing? How is the act (real or pretend) of feeding a baby more perverted than a 12-year-old in a sequined thong sticking out of her low-rise jeans (or your newly literate 6-year-old having to read the headline “Make Your Man Moan With Pleasure” while waiting in the supermarket checkout line)?

What’s the big deal? It’s just a doll and some breasts-in-training. Get the hell over it, people.

The Stay-at-Home Agenda

I was cleaning out my home office this past weekend, which meant uncovering about 30 pounds of papers that have long since stopped being useful and were very overdue for the recycling box. Deep under a pile of scrap paper and old receipts, I dug out a planner from 2008. The book was pretty obnoxious – one of those yellow “mom planners” that someone had given me as a gift when I quit my full-time reporting job at The Seattle Times in the fall of 2008 to spend more time with my girls, who were 1 and 3 at the time. Even though the book was aesthetically offensive (a bottle of wine would have been just as appropriate, non?), I used it. I remember thinking that now that I was a “stay-at-home-mom” (whatever that meant, I wasn’t actually sure) I would need to be supremely organized about my mommy activities and duties.

I flipped through it again this weekend, sitting on the floor amid my pile of dead trees, and took a little trip down memory lane. Most interesting to me were the lists I found at the back of the planner. (I am embarrassed to admit to some of this, but I will because I think it speaks so directly to the often unspoken conflict many women, and some dads, too, face when they leave their “professional” career for the underpaid, health- and retirement-benefits-free job of full-time parenting. Like others who have made the shift, I was supremely conflicted.

So, the lists. On one planner page, I took notes on other parents I was meeting as I navigated my new life, landmarked by library story times and visits to Cupcake Royale. Having left behind my work friends, who were still dealing in deadlines and paychecks, I was fairly desperate to find a new club to belong to. The problem was that I couldn’t connect with a lot of parents I was meeting on the mommy circuit. In some cases, the alchemy just wasn’t right – if we had been cruising an online dating site, let’s just say our profiles wouldn’t have generated a match. In other cases, we were all so focused on wiping snotty noses and being the perfect mommies to our little darlings, we couldn’t relax (and ignore the kiddos for a few seconds) in order to get past the chit-chat about breastfeeding schedules and pediatrician picks in order to really get to know each other.

So I took notes, hoping I could filter out the friend potentials from the duds. On my list was “Melissa*– mom to twins Cruz and Carter, 18 mo., funny, cool red boots, likes wine tasting,” and “Liz* — graphic designer, nose ring, not married to baby daddy, lives Fremont,” and “Jenn* — LA transplant! Does yoga Tuesdays mornings + has babysitters!!” I ranked these moms by number (hello, junior high, anyone?!), trying to figure out who could become my new BFFs. Without new instant mommy friends, I worried, I would be a total failure and lonely to boot.

In my nervous new-stay-at-home-mom state, I desperately hoped those notes on the page would morph into my new de-facto daytime family, a replacement for my workplace network and a source of adult conversation that would prevent me from going crazy alone with my two toddlers.

Another list at the back of the ugly yellow planner outlined the possibilities for keeping us all busy, busy, busy: A full weekly schedule of park playground rankings, open indoor gym hours, story times, kid-friendly coffee shops and children’s theater shows. I red-tabbed these pages, the most important in my planner because they represented the promise that full-time parenting could be as diverse and fun as my working life had been. Without the scheduling options, I wouldn’t have anything to do, and my children would be wholly without stimulation, I figured. I had to validate my choice to leave my job by providing us with The Best Fun-Filled Schedule Ever.

I used the planner for about six months, grabbing for it often as soon as I woke up (to the sweet screams of my cranky/wet/hungry children) and sometimes one last time before I drifted wearily off to a temporary sleep. But gradually, the monthly calendars show more white space and less frantic, hopeful scribbles – not because we were sitting at home doing nothing, I remember, but because I slowly realized building a new life could not be done by marking notes in tiny paper boxes.

It’s been almost three years since I left the world of full-time office work. Most of the “friends” I made those first few months have faded away; we run into each other sometimes at the park or grocery store and exchange friendly chit-chat, but that’s about it. The few true friends I found are still there for the occasional lucky night when we can all escape for a girl’s night out, and these are the mothers I would count on the bring me soup when I get sick and pick up my daughter in a pinch if I am stranded. But most of us no longer have the time to while away every day at the park, worrying about how we will be judged against the “working” mommies in some nonexistent comparative contest. A lot of our kids are in preschool and, gasp, grade school now, and many of us have started new journeys onto different projects, jobs, experiments. We are mothers always, but we are following new passions, too, or thinking about how we can strike a different balance.

I tossed the yellow planner, saying a final goodbye to those innocent, angst-ridden notes about what I thought life as a stay-at-home mother would be like. With perspective, I’m glad to realize they didn’t come close to doing it justice.

*Names changed for the sake of those poor, oversimplified mothers.

Put Your Hands Up and Step Away From the 5-Year-Old

So it’s almost two weeks into Kindergarten and I was getting kind of frustrated.

Every day I meet her at the doors where the teachers release them, expectant smile on my face as she rushes into my arms. She pops her thumb into her mouth and as we walk home, I start in with the questions. “How was your day? What did you do? Who did you play with? How was lunch? Did you write/do math/go to the library? Who did you talk to? Do you like it?”

Looking at it like that, all written out, I realize I might seem a bit pushy. Fine … desperate. But she tells me nothing. Well, hardly anything. The first day I heard that she made a friend, Arianna, which she was really excited about. I heard about Arianna’s hamster. The second day, Friend Count was up to 2 — she added Savannah and was proud of making the first move. Third day, Friend Count hit 3 — Calla. Great! I enthused. And then, she clammed up. Every afternoon, I ask about her day, and all I get is the vigorous suction sound of her little lips becoming re-acquainted with their long-lost partner, her thumb. I plead for info (“Just tell me if you’re comfortable yet,” I caught myself saying today) and all she gives me is a little cock of the head, a thumb slurp, and turns up her nose.

The thing is, I need to know. What was it like in the Kindergarten bathroom — can she reach the sink by herself? Did she play ball at gym? How are her new Mary Janes performing on the playground? What were her thoughts on the Pledge of Allegiance? Did she liked her dried peas? What tone does the teacher use when they act up — serious but loving, or edgy and frantic? Because no one should get edgy and frantic when you’re talking about Kindergarten …

Then, tonight while I was searching for a book I misplaced, I came across some notes I took about a year ago at a parenting talk given by Dr. Wendy Mogel, who wrote “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” a parenting guidebook. Basically Mogel argues that as our children have become more sophisticated and needy, we as parents have become overprotective and indulgent. Or vice-versa, chicken-or-egg thing, whatever. “Kids today = bubble-wrapped vs. wind-in-the-hair,” I wrote in my notebook.

As I skimmed through these notes, something jumped out at me, something I underlined and penned a thick star next to: “We are teaching our children that what we are most interested in is suffering,” Mogel said. “DON’T interview for pain.”

Oh my god! I’m interviewing for pain! Subconsciously I’m worried about her making friends and liking school and finding her place, so I’m trying to allay those fears by giving her the psycho-mom shake-down every afternoon. If this were a bad cartoon strip, now is when I would hit myself on the forehead with a frying pan.

Thankfully, according to Mogel, there’s an easy answer to this helicopterish behavior. Instead of “interviewing your children for pain” at the end of their day, she says, tell them about an interesting part of your day. Tell them what you saw, what you did, what you heard, she says, and hopefully, your kids will do the same.

I love getting a parenting tip I can actually use, one that isn’t hypothetically or ideologically good but actually, truly, doable. I can do this. I can swallow my panicky curiosity about the details of her mysterious day and instead recount the highlights, and lowlights, of my own. While she sucks her thumb and studiously jumps over the sidewalk cracks, I will talk to her about my trip to the grocery store, my especially foamy latte, the plans for our Thanksgiving trip to San Francisco, my productive writing time, my sore knee, the nice note her dad sent me.

I’ll just make sure not to mention the many times each day I wondered about how her neoprene lunchbox is holding up, whether her classroom water bottle needs a cleaning, if she got knocked off the monkey bars at recess or got lost on her way to the school assembly, whether she’s wearing her sweater so as not to get chilled, if we should go ahead and register for extracurricular Spanish, if the boys teased her about that little wart on her knee …

What’s That? I Can’t Seem to Hear You…

This post was written for {W}rite of Passage Challenge #10: Today you will look outside of yourself and write from another point of view on a moment in your time, right now, this moment.

Sometimes, in a fleeting moment of clarity between drill sergeant episodes, I tell myself that I should try to see it from her perspective.

Logically, I know her  almost-3-year-old point of reference is galaxies removed from my adult reality of schedules and stresses. While I’m busting blood vessels trying to get bags packed, people loaded, tiny fingers through unyielding jacket cuffs, what is it she’s thinking about? When I’m barking and ordering and she’s over there, crouched under the couch, happily peering into the cat-fur-laced darkness? As I totter on the edge of throwing one giant mommy tantrum if Someone Doesn’t Start Listening and Get Into the Car Now, where is she? Not the physical body, the miniature linebacker waiving naked princess dolls and blocking me from advancing in whatever direction I immediately need to be moving in. But the interior her, the mind of a person whose main worry is where to put her rock collection or whether she can get some more goldfish crackers.

So I try to imagine what it’s like to be her. What would the equivalent be? The best idea I can come up with is if I woke up in the future, like 100 years from now, in some crazy version of the world where everything had advanced to ultra-technological, uber sleek proportions. A place where people had the Internet built into their heads, where social cues were sent by electronic signals I wasn’t quite able to receive, where tasks and deadlines were measured in milliseconds, not minutes or hours or days. All the buildings would be made out of some intoxicating silvery, liquid-like material. Everyone would function with advanced intelligence and glide around shiny white pods with a purposeful drive, pursuing goals I wasn’t privy to, heading to meetings in floating boardrooms where I wasn’t invited.

But it wouldn’t matter, because I would have my own needs, disjointed from all the advanced futuristic people. The smooth angles and electronic pulsations of this fascinating new world would beckon me, and I would need to spend all my time investigating, listening, watching, running my hands over things. Trying to make the computers work and break into the force fields. Trying to float and zoom like everyone else. And I would be so slow, compared to the future dwellers, yet I would have no idea, because their minds would be rocketing at warp-speed and mine, although improving every day, would still be back in the techno-genetic dark ages of the 2000’s. And they might get annoyed with me, or try to urge me to speed up in their dialect, which would still be English except with hundreds of strange new words that I hadn’t ever heard of.

And I really wouldn’t care. It would be like an acid trip — things would just be too stimulating to care if someone wants me to move along on the track, now. I wouldn’t give a shit about the track. Because the shiny lights and everyday objects would be talking to me in my own private language, seducing my brainwaves, calling my name.

Keep the Bacon, Bring Home True Equality

I just read a story from The Washington Post and reprinted in The Seattle Times with the headline “Report: Wives Bringing Home More of Bacon,” about a study released today outlining an apparently encouraging new trend: American wives are earning more income than ever before.

The report, published by the Pew Research Center, shows that women have emerged as the dominant income provider in one of five marriages and are overall more educated and more present in the workforce than compared with 1970. The study stems from Census Bureau stats of married people ages 30-44, an age group that is the first in U.S. history to include more women than men with college degrees, according to the story.

Though men are still the major “contributors” of household income — with 78 percent making at least as much or more as their wives — the percentage of women whose income has outpaced their husbands shot from 4 percent in 1970 to 22 percent now. And in the recent recession, women fared better than men, losing their jobs at a lesser rate than men and shouldering the financial burdens of their families. Much of this sea-change is due to the gains of the women’s movement, experts point out.

Good news, right? Well sure, any time women begin to approach a level of equality with men, it’s positive. Because, being that we’re all human beings equally capable of achievement, it stands to reason that we should be valued equally by the society we’ve set up for ourselves.

What I take issue with is the weight we, as Americans, give financial achievement over other measures of success. Take these quotes, from the story: 

“What’s radically changed is that marriage is now a better deal for men,” said Richard Fry, co-author of the report. “Now when men marry, often their spouse works quite a bit.” Huh. A better deal? Okaaaaayyyyy. I can only assume when he says work, he means work outside the home — not the lesser valued, bob-bon fueled hobbies of raising children into productive adults and maintaining a household, which clearly should not be counted as actual work — maybe more of a recreational-type thing??

Another jem: “As women have brought more money into the marriage, their authority and decision-making power has grown,” said Andrew Cherlin, author of “The Marriage Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today.”

What these types of comments confirm for me is what I already know: To a large degree, as Americans we give much more value to “work” that brings in a paycheck than we do to what should fairly be recognized (but isn’t) as equally challenging and important work — raising children, for example — which brings moral and societal benefits and rewards (someone’s got to ready the workforce of tomorrow) but not often any dollars and cents to the marriage table.

The way I see it, it’s all about the balance of power, as Cherlin so indelicately put it. Whoever earns the most money gets the most power in the marriage, an equation replicated on a societal level. What I don’t understand is why we are so programmed to give more weight, or power, to the achievements which have a paycheck attached.

Yeah, we all need money. We need houses to live in and clothes to wear. We’ve got groceries to buy and cars to fuel and those overpriced soccer camps to think of. Raising families cost money, and it’s true today more than ever before that it’s harder to raise a family on just one income in this country. Some families don’t have the luxury to keep one parent — male or female — home to be with the children.

But why are we so focused on measuring, comparing, competing, our contributions this way? This mindset — that he OR she who “brings home the bacon” rules the roost, or at least deserves to strut around a little more — is counterproductive to a family-friendly society. And on the street level, it’s divisive to marriage.

In my own marriage, Mr. Punkernoodle and I have navigated this moat as we’ve gone. We started out as singles with him earning a higher wage, based on his experience. As a young married couple, there was a long stretch of time when I earned more than him. When our first daughter was born, I took maternity leave first, then he stayed home on paternity leave, then we both went back to work. Now, with two young daughters, I have been “at home” for the past year while he works an office job out-earning me (now and in my former career capacity) by a longshot.

In all of these various mutations, for the entire decade that we’ve been together, never have we felt that one vs. the other had or deserved to have more power within the relationship. Major decisions — from how to spend money to where to live and vacation — are made jointly. Smaller decisions can be made by either one of us; we both have the authority to make money decisions. There’s no “my money” or “his money.” It’s our money, regardless of who “earns” it — meaning whose name is on the payroll paycheck.

Because really, although right now my husband’s name is on that regular check (and thank god for the existence of that check), we BOTH earned most of that money. Why? Because like most “stay-at-home parents” in this country know, the ability of the spouse who leaves the home to find traditional career success depends largely on the support provided behind the scenes by their partner. It’s common sense: As an “outside worker,” the more secure I feel about the safety and happiness of my children, wherever they are, the better I can focus on succeeding at my career — and ostensibly the more money, security, benefits, and opportunities I can earn for my family.

Two stories on this topic stay with me:

An acquaintance of mine came to visit me in my diaper shop to research switching over to cloth diapers. She was a stay-at-home-mother (or a work-at-home-mother, to be exact, as she was bringing in extra income for her family with side jobs whenever she could squeeze in time between bottles and laundry). She had calculated that she was spending a large chunk of change every month on disposable diapers and that, for the cost of just eight weeks of diposables, she could buy many, many months’ worth of cloth diapers, which she was happy to use and launder herself. After crunching numbers and deciding it would be a good move, she looked and me and said, “Well, I’ll just have to check with [husband’s name] and see if I can get his OK.”

I was incredulous but managed to hide my amazement until I vented later that night to Mr. Punkernoodle. This woman had the important, designated job of household manager in her family. She bought and prepared the food, oversaw the children’s activities and understood the family budget. Yet because her name wasn’t on the pay stub, she didn’t have the authority to make a decision about something that fell squarely into the realm of her job description. She had to “check” with her husband to see if it was alright.

The other story: When we were married but not yet parents, we had a dinner date with another couple, friends of ours who had been married longer than we had and were expecting their first child. The parties in this other couple both had successful careers and were working and earning similar paychecks, and were of a mostly liberal mindset — supporters of human equality and all that good stuff. When it came time to pay the bill, we split it. The woman friend of ours reached for their half of the check and said casually to her husband, “I’ll get this.” “You sure?” he said. “Yes, you can get the next one,” she answered. Later that night, my husband and I whispered in bed to one another, marveling at how surprised we felt over our friends’ process of splitting expenses.

The thought simply would never have occurred to us — even then, with two individual paychecks, no kids and a lot more disposable income than we have now — to divide our money. Some feminists might whip me for this, lambast me for sloughing off all the hard-earned gains of the women’s movement. But I maintain it’s because of the feminist movement that I can now be in a place where I comfortably and equally share money with my partner. Whether what I bring to the marriage table is in the form of dollar bills or other, less tangible contributions, I know that it is equally as valuable as what my husband has to bring. And if down the road the tables turn and I earn more money and he eats more bons bons, he’ll still have free will over our checkbook.

And that’s what I wish would seep into our national consciousness a little more: That the measurement of contribution to family success should not be made in greenbacks alone. Maybe a start is to eliminate these overused and outdated colloquialisms we seem so hard-pressed to move beyond, phrases like “bring home the bacon,” which just reinforce money as the standard of success.

Keep the bacon, it’s just empty calories. Bring me true equality, which will feed us all in the long run.

A Look Back…

This post was written for the {W}rite of Passage Writing Well Challenge #4:  The Resolution

On New Year’s Day I had a flashback. We were at Salmon Bay Park with the girls, ringing in 2010 as we pushed them on the swings and listened to them squeal across the tire-tipped zip-line in elated terror. As we played among the other parents and young children, a couple walked up and stood at the edge of the playground. They held hands as they strolled, and the mother held their newborn in a carrier on her chest.

This couple had no older child, just the baby sleeping in a bundle of fleece. But they had walked to the park, where they stopped and stood, then sat on the wooden bench. There, with faint smiles on their faces, they watched the children screech around the merry-go-round and pound their fists into the sand. It might have seemed to someone else watching that the couple was out-of-place, maybe waiting for someone to meet them — a grandparent to come along with the other child, a preschooler who had true business at a playground.

But I felt I knew just why they were there, gazing dreamily at the playsets and blur of small sneakered feet rushing past.

Nearly 5 years ago, my husband and I made a trek to a different playground. That park was three blocks from our tiny city house, and as we walked slowly I pushed the complex pale blue stroller/car seat/carrier combo that held our week-old daughter. We had decided to take her to the park to celebrate her 1-week birthday. I chuckle now at the sweetness of it, the new-parent excitement and innocence that brimmed in us as we set out that day, so eager for that first trip to the playground with our first child. Of course our baby, snuggled into the contraption, the sun shield covering her completely, slept right through her visit, and it would be nearly two years before she could understand and fully appreciate the fun a playground has to offer. 

But we couldn’t wait, so eager were we to experience the moments of childhood we imagined as miraculous through a parent’s eye. The world had changed so much with the birth of our child — holy cow, we were mother and father! Suddenly the gap between the magic of our own childhoods and the responsible monotony that adulthood sometimes dictates was bridged. How long had it been since we went to the playground? A decade? Since we sat down and dug in the sand with a plastic shovel, pumped our legs as we swung higher and higher into the sky? We realized, a little embarrassed but mostly enchanted, that we could do these things once again: Mud pies, glue sticks, Disneyland, hula hoops, hide-and-seek — we would get another chance at all of these as we held our child’s hand and showed her the wonder of life. And, one week after her birth, the fantasy had begun and we just couldn’t wait.

On New Year’s Eve, at the end of a decade, we both reflected upon all that has changed over the past 10 years. Where did the time disappear to? Is it possible that our newborn daughter whose cheek caught the summer breeze in the park that day is now a talking, jumping firecracker ready to start school? And that our second daughter’s babyhood came and went while we weren’t looking?

In that couple, pausing at Salmon Bay to marvel their life and the possibilities it holds, I saw how fast time passes. How excited we are to keep moving forward and pushing ahead, to get to the next thing, the next stage, so we can see how it is, how we like it. Then we plow ahead once more.

As a parent I want to try to hold every stage, every moment, in my mind and taste it with my memory. But I forget. I rush. I obsess over the next thing, the next phase. I itch to push ahead. What I would give to just peek into my daughter’s stroller that warm day at the park years ago, to see her wrinkled cheek and the dark patch of hair. To hear her whimper-breath, which knew nothing of swings and climbing walls but everything, everything about life.