Monday, September 29, 2008

"I complained about having no shoes..."

In honor of my grandmother, Antoinette Perruso, I give you my quote of the day: "I complained about having no shoes, until I saw the man with no feet."

The truth is, I'm not exactly sure my grandmother ever said that but it feels like something she would have said. She was a pragmatic woman who lived a life ahead of her time. In the 1930's and 40's, she worked a supervisor at a factory that manufactured slacks and other clothing. Her sister-in-law, Mary, who literally shared her house and her life, stayed home and helped raise her own children, as well as my grandmother's children (my mother, aunt and late uncle.) To this day, the now well into their senior years cousins are as close as siblings.

Until their large, two-family home burned to the ground, and they each moved into their own separate homes, the two brothers and their wives (including my grandparents)and their children shared a home together. The good old days without question.

One of the great losses we've suffered as our society has evolved is the loss of our family life. I spoke to my sister today, for about 15 minutes, and it was the first time we had spoken in weeks. I think that's sad. I don't think my mother goes more than a day without speaking to her sister - maybe even more than once a day.

When I was growing up, we had dinner every Sunday with my grandparents. A Sunday afternoon dinner that served as the main meal of the day. My aunts and uncles attened each week as well, and it was time to reconnect, relax, and enjoy each other as a new week began. When I hear about families that carry on that tradition, I envy them. There is something quietly beautiful about that kind of commitment to each other and the family you have created.

When I consider things in my life that need changing, I think about the time I don't spend with family and friends. I miss them very much. I tell myself I'm way too busy to make the call, spend the time, try to get together. I mean, aren't we all so busy, busy, busy?

Yes, we are. So what? If we don't have the time now, we never will. instead of relaxing over dinner or coffee or a drink together with the people we love, we'll have accomplished whatever critically important next big thing on our list is. Congratulations. Enjoy it. Call someone who cares. If you can remember their numbers.

I think it's time we all stop feeling so sorry for ourselves and our hectic frantic, manic lives; where we tell ourselves daily that we're simply too busy for friends or family. Or at the very least, it's time for me to stop the pity party and thinking such a ridiculous thing. It's perhaps the dumbest thought I've had in a lifetime of dumb thoughts. Who is too busy to be with people you love?

If not them, who? If not now, when?

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm quitting. But it will be difficult.

In order to save my own sanity, I'm going to quit reading political blogs. They make me confused and angry.

I have no problem with the idea of people supporting the candidate of his or her choice. But I do have a huge problem with what I call "The Jane Craig Effect." Never heard of it? Allow me to explain.

Remember that movie from 1987, Broadcast News? In it, Holly Hunter plays a brillant but professionally (not personally) arrogant producer who simply cannot abide anyone's approach to the job at hand that varies in the slightest from what she believes is the best tactic.

Case in point: when the news team is called on unexpectedly to cover a breaking story, she strongly disagrees with the on air anchor tapped by the Paul Moore, a network executive, to head up the broadcast. She states her case emphatically to Paul, who listens and the politely but vehemently disagrees. He is surprised at her reluctance to back off her stance, her refusal to "agree to disagree." Here's his approach to her stubborn insistence at being correct:

Paul Moore: It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you're the smartest person in the room.
Jane Craig: No. It's awful.

That's how I feel about Obama fans. When you read blogs that contain commentary about both candidates, it feels like people supporting Obama must always be the smartest people in the room. It's not enough that they support their candidate, which I can fully respect and understand. The most vocal of them, and let's face it, those are the ones we hear from most often, are not quite satisfied until anyone who doesn't agree with them are made to feel like an illiterate morons.

This is The Jane Craig Effect is full force.

I don't understand why people need to be so arrogant in their support. I really don't.

Here's my take on The Jane Craig Effect: Belittling us, the people who simply choose to believe differently than you do, trying to make us feel less worthy, makes us wonder why you're so insecure.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

what did she do to you?

I just read about Oprah Winfrey choosing not to interview Sarah Palin. There’s certainly no law that says she has to but I thought she was in the business of ratings. And maybe there’s some kind of ‘equal time for all candidates opportunity’ here she doesn’t want to address. Maybe it would feel awkward since she endorsed Barack Obama months ago. Then again, maybe she doesn’t feel like devoting one hour of her show to the most hated woman in America.

One of Oprah’s recent guests was actress Gwyneth Paltrow, a woman who named her daughter ‘Apple’ by the way, who spoke about the tug of motherhood and how it has changed her viewpoint in terms of working away from home. I get it – I do. And I have no ax to grind with Ms. Paltrow. She’s choosing to work less frequently and spend more time with her children.

This kind of revelation about life choices by people like her are pointless. Quite honestly, I don't know why no one gets this: the "choice" women face has NOTHING to do with gender and everything to do with money. Otherwise, Oprah would be talking to dewey-eyed toll-collectors or secretaries or bartenders or waitresses who decide they simply must ‘take less work’ in order to not lose any of those precious Hallmark moments with their children. One problem: a lot of women want to spend more time with their children but they have to work that annoying 40-hour work week.

Back to Palin. I’m so tired of hearing about how selfish she is and how unconscionable it is that she has young children – including a newborn with Down’s Syndrome and a teenage daughter having a baby in a few months – and is still seeking the office of vice-president. Make no mistake: the number one reason people in the media and around the country are denigrating her and worse (making comic figurines and creating demeaning nicknames for her) is that she’s a woman. A woman who doesn’t meet the standards of “modern,” “enlightened,” or “politically correct” according to everyone in this country who is simply too smart for the rest of us.

This is why people don't go all weak in the knees, worrying about Obama, and judging him harshly about all the precious moments he's already missed (since his presidential campaign has been going on for two years,) and will continue to miss in his daughters’ lives, should his political career reach the stratosphere. They never said it about Bill Clinton, either, and his daughter was twelve years old when he took office. (Chelsea was three years old when he began serving his term as governor of Arkansas.)

Because until about forty years ago, men made the money; women raised the kids. But Gloria and Bela and their ilk told us we could do more. Like gullible idiots, women in this country bought into this. And now where are we? Mocking Sarah Palin for having the "audacity" to have children and ambition as well.

Shame on Governor Palin. She's got a helluva lot of nerve.

So do millions of women who chose both motherhood and a career. Yes, believe it or not, it’s possible. It's not exactly a joy-filled ride from start to finish and I have spent countless hours torturing myself, wondering how it all went so awry, beleive me. (The trouble with the women's movement is that we forgot to tell the guys about it. And I think it's fair to say that none of it quite worked out the way Gloria thought it would. That's another blog entry for another day.)

But think about it: the open-mindedness of the Sarah-haters boggles, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The unbelieveable viciousness is simply vicious.

I am not really a political junkie.

Yes, I vote and I follow campaigns, but not with the furor or enthusiasm of so many people I hear about in the news. And even if you never follow politics, you can't get away from it this year, at least in terms of the coverage the presidential campaign has been given over the past few weeks.

Sara Palin has divided this country like no politician I can remember in my lifetime. I get that - you either like her politics and views or you don't. And I also understand that as major party candidate in a very close race, she could be history-making if John McCain is elected president. But even given all that, what I don't understand is the viciousness of the attacks made upon her, the mockery made of her and her beliefs, the outrageous furor at the "audacity of hope" (to coin a phrase) she has adopted to even imagine she could serve in the office of vice president.

Let's leave her politics out of this particular discussion. If the rejection and dismay we were reading about and hearing about in the news were simply about her politics, the stories would have faded out of the headlines about two weeks ago. It's not about her politics. Some people simply hate the fact that she's in the race.

But it's not because she's a woman. People are not reacting to her being a woman; they are reacting with venom because she's not the right woman.

She's pro-life! She's conservative! Sure, she's a governor but jeez, it's Alaska for god's sake! What's so hard about governing Alaska? Who ever even thinks about Alaska? Does NOW like her? Does the ACLU like her? Does Barbra like her? What rock star is planning to throw a fundraiser in her honor?

And by the way, who gets to decide who is the right woman? Is it okay is if she's married? Can she be a mother? Must her children have achieved a certain age before she can hold a major office? Must her husband have a high-powered job? Must she have an Ivy League degree? Must she be an attorney? Hillary Clinton met all these "requirements" and look where that got her.

It kills me that women who claim to be liberal and free-thinking are horrified at her candidacy. "How can she be thinking of running for vice-president when she has a special-needs newborn?" "How can she be thinking of this when her teenage daughter turns up pregnant and not married?" "How can she imagine for one second that she is remotely qualified to hold this job and perform it well?" "How can she be pro-life? Doesn't that mean she wants women to be repressed?" "Why did she name her kids such odd names?"

Here's my take on all these questions: I have no idea. You know why? I'm not Sara Palin. Hey, I wouldn't ever have considered such a high-powered job when my kids were babies; I wouldn't consider it now. But who cares what I would or wouldn't do? I'm not Sara. And I don't make judgements about what is the right choice for her.

The truth is, the "women's movement" - whatever that was - has proven to been ultimately pointless. If any of it really mattered, all of the questions being asked about Palin's "parent vs. candidate holding a very high-level office" would be posed to Barack Obama as well. But they're not. No one is concerned with how he will raise his children for the next four to eight years should he win this election and the next.

Oh, I get it. Because he's a dad. And only moms are important when it comes to raising their children. Dads don't matter. As long as they have their mothers, children will be just fine. And when women choose to "abandon" them - whether that's because they drop them at daycare or drop them in to the arms of the Secret Service - there is something deeply troubling about that woman. Clearly, she is not what a woman should be.

I'm so sick of this, I really am. Is that why women marched? So that in 2008, we could enthusiastically reconfirm the idea of Mom reigning supreme at the hearth while dad takes on the world?

Hey, if you hate Sara Palin's politics, don't vote for her. But please, please - can we stop the endless, useless debate about her looks, her accent, her hobbies, her home life, her childrens' names, her husband's activities, her parents, and her education? If this is how we decide an election, we're pathetic.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The (mis)Giving Tree

Shel Silverstein's children's classic, The Giving Tree, came to mind as we worked our way through the move to college. It's also mentioned in the book, Between Mothers and Sonsby Evelyn Bassoff, which I mentioned in the previous post. The idea that the familiar, protective, generous tree was always there for the boy - whenever he needed her - appealed to me as I helped my oldest move away.

I loved reading that book to the boys when they were younger. It tells the story of a boy who grows up literally under the shade and protection of a fruit tree that just keeps on giving. The generous tree gives everything from her leaves to her fruit to her trunk to the boy over the years, to help him achieve his dreams and deal with whatever he faced in life. At the end of the story, when the tree is nothing but a stump and the boy is an old man who has very little energy or interest in any new pursuits, they resume their mutually satisfying relationship, when the boy sits down to rest on the stump, and the tree is once again providing something for the boy.

It's a lovely story, and according to the flap notes, it's a "moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and the serene acceptance of another's capacity to love in return."

That it is. But if you also accept Evelyn Bassoff's interpretation, it's a little troubling. The tree literally sacrifices its abilities (like its leaves, fruit, branches and trunk) and its very life to benefit the growth of the boy she loves so much. The boy loves the tree, too, but seems to have little conflict with his decisions to continue to take from her throughout his life.

I don't quite know how I feel about this. Supporting a child's dreams is something that most parents embrace without objection. The challenge, I guess, is figuring out when you've moved past that embrace into a stranglehold. Or how you separate that support from literally sacrificing yourself for the cause.

Over the past year or so, I've talked with parents - mothers mostly - who seemed very far down that "sacrifice all" road for the sake of their child. If I think as objectively as I can about my "career" as a mother, I think I'm pretty far from the Giving Tree model. In fact, I remember telling Trevor that I couldn't be the mom who was always there, always pitching in, always the first to volunteer and become a fixture at the school. I promised to do what I could but I had other interests and obligations that required my time.

He was fine with that.

The present-day equivalent of The Giving Tree is the helicopter parent who hovers just above the child, and maneuvers just close enough to manage every move that child makes. They sacrifice just as much as the tree, but somehow have lost that sense of generosity and humility that endears the tree to readers. They're replaced it with smugness and hubris.

I've enjoyed the various bits of success each of my children have experienced over the years because they were just that: their own success, not mine.

I hope they know they can always turn to me - or return to me as the case may be - for the support and love and hugs and nurturing they may need from time to time. But I also hope they know that sometimes I'll be the one who needs exactly the same from them. We can be a whole little grove of giving trees, thriving right beside each other.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The transition continues...

In her wonderful book, Between Mothers and Sons, psychologist Evelyn S. Bassoff, Ph.D., discusses the many and varied relationships that exist between women and their sons, from the functional and healthy to the truly debilitating.

While full of interesting and thoughtful insights into the inner workings of mothers and sons, I wanted to write the author a thank you note after reading the last chapter of the book, titled The Tranformation of Mother Love. The chapter is focused on the idea of mothers letting go of their sons, and the fact that western cultures have no ritual that signifies the separation of mother and child. Indeed, the woman who seemingly holds onto her children, full of support and unending comfort, is somewhat revered in our culture. As Bassoff writes, "In our culture, mothers who remain always available to their children, always the "essential" ones, are deified as the 'good mother,' while the mothers who discourage their children's dependence may be labeled 'cold' or 'unmotherly.' "

Truth be told, over the years as my children grew, I found myself feeling more like the "unmotherly" kind of mom, not the "essential" one. Make no mistake: I love them more than life. I can't imagine life without them and can't begin to express the joy and pure love they have ignited in me. But even given all that, I have always reserved a bit of myself along the way; I never spent much time wondering why, or even thinking about it objectively.

She goes on to talk about the fact that "letting go" is not a one-step procedure; it's a process that takes many years and many mini-steps to complete. Unfortunately, it's a process many women are not willing to endure.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand, the recent departure of my oldest child - my oldest son - for college. I find myself comtemplating the space that has left in my - in our family - in our home - and wonder if it will ever feel like it did. I wonder if it can. Or even, given Bassoff's analysis, if it should.

Turns out, this idea of separateness as a mother is a good one. In her research, Bassoff learned that the men who remain closest to and connected with their mothers as adults are men who were always aware - even on an unconscious level - that their mothers had lives apart from them.

I'm going to spend some time with this - think about how my own selfhood did or didn't have any impact on my own relationships with all three of my boys. I know I've spent countless hours torturing myself over what I always believed were incontrovertible mistakes in terms of raising my sons and having a career and interests beyond them. Maybe it wasn't quite the tragedy I've recreated in my memory.

More to come, on this, and how Shel Silverstein's book, The Giving Tree, may revealing more about one kind of motherhood than we ever thought possible.