September 16, 2014

How Revolutions Become Trademarks

Dear Mary Joan,

Hi sister feminist - from Redstockings - the actual organization. We like some of the political views you posted on your blog titled Redstocking (http://redstockinggrandma1945.blogspot.com/). Unfortunately though, we have to ask you to find another name besides "Redstockings." Perhaps RadFem Grandma?

We ask this because Redstockings is real live operating organization - a 501(c)(3), with archives, publications, fundraising, public classes and more. For more information, you can find us at www.redstockings.org. You can also find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Redstockings

In order to be able to keep others from randomly using the name, and thus causing confusion for people, we have to ask others not to use it.  We have to be diligent to ensure that the Redstocking's trademark is used correctly. We find your blog a good read and think you're making a contribution with it. However, if we allow uses like this one, we run the very real risk that our trademark will be weakened. As a fan of the name, I'm sure that is not something you intended or would want to see happen.

 Please do seek another name for your interesting blog. We hope to stay in touch.


Thank you,  
Redstockings of the Women’s Liberation Movement

June 12, 2014

Goblins

1971, Age 25, Doubts about Feminism


 I was very active in the feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although I described myself as a radical feminist, I always had misgivings. I explore them in this journal entry from October 1971. Talking about a 20-hour work week seems preposterous now, but it seemed a realistic goal once upon a time in the 1970's.

Are men necessarily the enemies? Adopting that logic, couldn't women be categorized as the enemies? Must there be an enemy? Must the movement have a scapegoat? There is a danger of generalizing for all women from a few women’s (typical, atypical) experience with men. Perhaps many men are baffled rather than hostile. They have been socialized to believe the myths, so they do believe them. Why does the movement assume that their motives are vicious?

Perhaps the myths are harsher than the realities. Individual women are treated better and respected more than social mythology about women dictates. The movement shouldn't present what seems to be a fatal choice: true autonomy or loving, intimate relationships with men. If all men are despaired of, shouldn’t most women be despaired of? Have women tried hard enough to explain themselves? Or would they rather renounce men than fight through to an accommodation?

The movement stresses relationships with women because they are easier (at least for many women). There is no need to confront the enemy directly. Women often have bravely attacked men in coffee klatches, but they then have gone along with their own men, having worked out some of their hostilities with other women. I don't understand; because of my five brothers, I have never had any trouble confronting men.
At times Women's Liberation is vulgarly careerist. There is very little speculation on changing the nature of work. There is no recognition that women’s jobs, not men’s jobs, may be the desirable jobs of the future. Many dominant economic values are accepted. A job’s value is measured by its pay or its status. There is total denial that raising young children is a uniquely demanding job, calling forth an infinite range of talents and imagination.

Feminists lack a strong grasp on job alternatives. I am frustrated with so much loose talk about expressing creativity in jobs. Don't women recognize what most workers do, not only blue and white collar workers, but professional and managerial ones as well? Creativity is the value much stressed by woman’s magazines. Be a creative homemaker. The movement often seems to accept this definition of creativity. There is no recognition that post -revolution many, if not most, women might have less creative jobs than they do now. Volunteers are often allowed more autonomy and outlet for imaginative change than regular staff would be permitted,

Emphasis could have been completely different. Feminists need not have accepted the male value that your job is everything, completely determining your value and what people think of you. Alternatives include--more leisure, 20 hour week for everyone, change hierarchical nature of work, decentralize it, recognize that much work is unnecessary in a more rational society that won’t need 100 brands of detergents, toothpastes, and feminine hygiene deodorants. Many jobs now are completely unproductive. Most jobs are not inherently creative. What is a creative job anyway? The solution may be to give people more time, real time, to be creative off the job.

My close friend said almost any job is preferable to staying home with the kids. That is a preposterous statement, particularly from a so-called radical who pays lip service to human values. That is not to say that childrearing as it is now arranged is perfect. We might benefit from more stress on communal childraising, not necessarily so parents can get a “job,” but because it may be a better way to raise children from both parents’ and children’s point of view. I am the oldest of six; growing up in a large family was a positive experience. My parents seemed to have less need to control our direction in life than the parents of my friends with fewer siblings.

The nature of work must change in our society. Women should be at the forefront of the battle for change. Autonomy and self-sufficiency cannot be pictured as depending on capitalist recognition of worth. Rather the economy should be made to value and reward the kinds of work that woman do. Men have problems with women’s lib on this point. They can’t seem to believe that women would want to have equality in men’s world. How many men would trade roles if only the objective nature of what they had to do was the consideration and not society’s evaluation of it?

Perhaps the major emphasis must be on changing society’s evaluation of women. Otherwise, when women enter or take over traditionally men’s fields, they would only decline in relative prestige. It can’t be difficult or challenging job if mere women can do it. Emphasis should not be on merely putting women in out-of-home jobs. The nature of reward for jobs should change. Money must cease to be the major incentive. The gap between low salaries and high salaries needs to be dramatically smaller. If raising young children had prestige of being a pediatrician or a child psychologist, for example, and it need not be done in social isolation, might not women and men feel differently about it? I seem to be getting away from 20-hour week. If all men and women worked, the work week probably would be less than 20 hours. Low productivity and make work have kept the work week from declining for over 20 years. Even without women’s going to work en masse, it might sink to 30 hours.

June 10, 2014

Parental Anxiety and Children's Wings

 Richardroof

My mother's combination of fearlessness, faith in God, and experience with 5 younger brothers made her wonderful mother of 5 boys. She didn't worry; she didn't clip any wings. She didn't let little things like sons on the roof or a son out of touch hiking the Appalachian trail for months upset her.  Joe looks so pleased with himself, without any fear he might fall off the roof or get in trouble with is parents. Her shy, timid, anxious daughter was a mystery to my mom.  I am a  lifelong worrier, from early childhood  telling my parents: "I'm scared."

What my mom did effortlessly, I have had to struggle with every day of my 37 years as a mother. All my daugters are braver and more adventurous than I am. For the most part, my anxieties have not infected them. They respect my fears.  I have decided to concentrate my worries when their planes are in the air, not when they  are on the ground for days or years in Kosovo, Rwanda, Niger, Sydney, Shanghai, etc.. They always call, email, or text when the plane lands, at any hour, in any part of the world. Flight Tracker is my best friend. 
vanessakremlin

My oldest daughter Emma has inherited her grandmother's bold fearlessness.

From my journals, 1974-1975
From the time Emma was 10 months old, I took her twice a day to Central Park, particularly one very large playground. Emma would casually wander off almost 100 yards away. As long as I was within eye range and met her eyes and waved when she glanced at me, she seemed perfectly confident. One nightmarish day, she managed to slip out between the playground bars and head for Central Park West. I didn't know I could run so fast.
At 15 months Emma would go down slides and climb up jungle gyms that three year olds would avoid. By 2 she was so physically competent that I felt confident about sitting on a bench and watching from a distance as she clambered over a climbing structure designed for children 6 and up. She hardly ever cried if she fell down or bumped into something. Emma was happiest learning new physical feats. She loved the water; at age one she would fearlessly walk into the ocean and laugh if she were knocked down. She was physically fearless yet not particularly reckless except about things she could not possibly know about. She was always ahead of other kids in trying something new physically like walking up the slide backward.


Emma in Niger, 2000                                                                      
 One month ago, I sat in a grass hut in a small village in Niger called Koyetegui, and watched democracy in action, Nigerien style. The five members of the Bureau de Vote sat on overturned pestles normally used for pounding millet, and offered me a seat on a woven mat. And so I sat, as the sun set and the kerosene lantern was lit, and watched as the chickens were chased out of the hut and the entire village crowded into this cramped space to watch the solemn counting and recounting of the 132 votes that had been cast in this tiny district. When the vote counting was over and the report had been filled out and duly sealed with wax, I rode back to the regional capital of Dosso with the ballot box to turn in the election results. It was only the next day that I learned from my driver that the chief of the village had presented me with a gift of an enormous river squash. I spent the entire ride back to Niamey replaying the events of the past few months in my mind, wondering how I had ever gotten to be so lucky.

From applications to graduate schools in International Relations in 2000:
In three and a half years, I visited over 75 cities in 53 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In several countries–Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Nepal, Benin, Curacao–I was the first AIRINC representative to conduct a survey. I have had the opportunity to do amazing things in my life. I have seen some of the truly wondrous places in the world, from the Sahara desert, to Machu Picchu, to the Mekong River Delta. I have jumped out of a plane in Maine and been seventy feet underwater in the Caribbean. I have witnessed one of the poorest countries on earth usher in a new era of hope and democracy.

My post to a Salon Group, 2001:
My 28-year-old daughter has just accepted a summer internship in Rwanda. Seven years ago, a million people were killed in three months in the worst genocide since the Holocaust.  At Columbia she is specializing in human rights, transitional justice, and Africa. If she wasn't going to Rwanda, she would have gone to the Congo. I am fiercely proud of her. But I worry about how to handle my fears as she goes from one world flash point to the next. I want to support her, not burden her with my anxieties.

2013

Emma, her husband, and their 2 kids are spending two years in Paris, so she can work for an international organization.



Letting your fear of what could happen clip your children's wings  and undermine their confidence and autonomy endangers them most of all

June 4, 2014

Mom, They Hate Each Other


When Emma and Michelle were young, I often called my mom, the wise mother of 6, lamenting, "Mom, they hate each other." Emma was born April 3, 1973; Michelle, June 17, 1975. Even now,  40 years after I became a mother, I don't want to masquerade as an all-wise grandma. No mother of 4 daughters ever masters sibling rivalry.

I am so glad I kept journals when the two oldest were young. i could not possibly recapture my earnestness, my conviction I had a magic solution to sibling rivalry.

Fall 1976--When Emma  (3 1/2) came home from nursery school, she asked me to read Green Eggs and Ham. She settled on my lap in the small black chair, and I began the book.  Michelle (17 months) immediately came over protesting, tried to climb into the chair. I assumed she wanted to listen to the story, so I asked Emma to move to the couch, so we all could fit. But then Michelle grabbed the book, bringing me her books to read.

I discouraged her, feeling she had had my exclusive attention for 4 hours; now it was Emma's turn. My friend Anne offered to read to Michelle, but she struggled down from her lap 2 or 3 times. I finished reading Green Eggs and Ham. Anne started to read to Emma and  and her daughter Elizabeth, so I could read to Michelle. Michelle got down from my lap and tried to grab the book away from Anne. When that failed, she tried bribery--3 books, her blanket, a slip, her rabbit skin. Elizabeth wanted the rabbit skin, but every time she took it away from Michelle she protested and only stopped when Anne took it back from her daughter.

Finally Michelle used one of the cardboard blocks to climb on the ottoman; from there she lunged for the big black chair where Emma was sitting with Anne and Elizabeth. She didn't quite make it and had to be rescued, but she had achieved her purpose--the reading stopped. I've noticed that she often starts fussing if someone picks up Emma, reads to her, pays her exclusive attention in any way, shape, or form

I'm glad to see such self-assertion on her part, even though I feel pulled in two directions now, with both of them clamoring for exclusive attention. It frees me from being Michelle's defender. More and more I can let them learn to handle their disputes by themselves. I know Emma's worst won't really hurt Michelle, and Michelle protests more than enough to warn me if any mayhem is actually occurring. Once or twice lately I've rushed in ready to scold Emma, when Michelle's protests had absolutely nothing to do with her. Emma's being away at school mornings seems to have encouraged Michelle to increase her demands. If she could get rid of Emma in the mornings, why not all day?

I can't count the number of times I called my mom, who had raised six kids, wailing, "Mom, They Hate Each Other."


June 3, 2014

My Fearsome Foursome

sweethearts
Top L, Writer (Jane); R, Scientist (Michelle); Bottom L, CEO (Molly); 
R, Adventurer (Emma)
VGrad85
Top, Scientist, Explorer; Bottom, CEO, Writer
My four daughters have turned out wonderfully--well educated, professionally successful, happily married. They are excellent mothers. Such a happy ending was not predictable during their childhood and teen years. I wonder what diagnosis they would earn now. Certainly, I worried at least three of them were bipolar, if not spawns of Satan, when they were younger.
Here were some diagnostic indicators. Obviously not all applied to all four daughters.
  • They were chronically late. No one could get off to school in the morning without substantial maternal help, usually involving driving.
  • They never picked up their toys. I have stepped on 20,000 lego pieces in the dark. To this day I cannot walk across a dark room without my toes' going on alert.
  • Emma and a friend decorated their bedroom with a mixture of desitin and baby power while their grandpa benignly looked on.
  • Emma painted her entire body purple when I was on the phone.
  • Bedtime was a joke. A friend said you could call our house at any time of the night; someone would be sure to be awake and delighted to talk to you about anything for as long as you needed.
  • They told their mommy " "I hate you" with not an ounce of guilt or remorse. When I asked Emma why she was acting like a devil child at age five, she explained "Mommy, I used all my goodness up in school." She now uses her goodness working for world peace.
  • Jane, the Writer absolutely refused to do the assigned kindergarten homework, writing sentences using a list of words. "Writers don't use other people's words." The teacher had no answer to that. 
  • Mysteriously shy Jane convinced the high school art teacher to allow her to miss classes and submit a portfolio. She argued that artists decide what art to make.  "Jane has such integrity," the teacher marveled.
  • They almost never lost power battles with their doormat mommy. Emma should have been born with a printout, "You will win exactly five battles with this child. Choose them carefully." I did win the important battles, but I only learned their importance by losing the rest. By the time her sisters came along I was so demoralized that I didn't fight battles that I could easily have won:)
  • At various ages the Writer melted down because the new washing machine wasn't blue; the pretty blue rental car had vanished; her aunt and uncle didn't have a second child her age; she was not attending a school that closed three years previously; there wasn't enough snow; election day would be a day before her 18th birthday four years from now. She was a lovely, sensitive child, eager to please when she wasn't battling the existential order of things. She is now a human rights lawyer and writer, heroically battling the existential order of things.
  • Michelle, the Scientist, only ran fevers, thereby missing school, on the three school days without the gifted program pullout. I conducted ad hoc home schooling for bored students who could cough convincingly.
  • Emma only pulled the hair and dumped sand over the heads of playmates whose mommies would reliably go round the twist. (She has traveled to over 75 countries, and has lived in Niger, Rwanda Kosovo, and France.) She ended her three-year sand eating on the day our doctor looked her in the eye and assured me that her sand-eating must account for her excellent health. For old-times sake, she would occasionally revert to the diet when babysat by a hysteric mommy. A good friend confessed to me that she thought Emma would be in jail by the time she was 16.
  • At age 2 Michelle magic markered $2000 painting. To be fair, artist was able to fix the picture.
  • The same culprit at age two also destroyed another family's audiotapes of their kids when babies and toddlers.
  • Notice I omitted my baby Molly,  the CEO. The most mature, disguised as the youngest, was perfectly sane from birth and struggled valiantly to contain, organize, and direct her crazy family. This is a lifetime job. All my difficult communications with her sisters are best filtered through the CEO. Every teacher immediately noticed the difference. Notice her smile in the above picture. When Emma made then 24 year old Molly, her son's guardian, everyone applauded her wisdom.
  • Molly  idolized Madonna when she was 3. She memorized all Madonna's songs, danced around with her grandma's rosary beads around her neck, proclaiming she was a material girl. If only You Tube had been around then!
Michelle Obama would be horrified. I questioned my sanity again and again throughout their childhoods. But I am very proud that I could cherish their intelligence, creativity, and individuality and was never tempted to drug their uniqueness, no matter how it disrupted our lives. They insisted they were going to emphasize order more and creativity less with their own kids:) I foresaw much amusement watching them try. But in the last 7 years when7 grandkids were born, I haven't seen any but halfhearted attempts.

May 19, 2014

Drugging Kids Instead of Changing America

I am a psychiatric social worker and children's and young adult librarian. I  have 5 younger brothers, 4 grown daughters, 4  sons-in-law, 5 grandkids, 4 and under, 11 first cousins, 7 great nieces and nephews,  and 45 Younger first cousins, the mother of 4, the grandma of 4. I am also a manic depressive. It took ten years to find a medication that helped; I read about it on the Internet and shopped for a psychiatrist that would partner with me to experiment.   The other meds did far more harm than good.




I am not denying a role for medication.  I am not talking about ADHD drugs like ritalin. However, childhood bipolar disorder has only been discovered in the last 15 years, mostly in America. Many discovers have close ties to Big Pharm. Until 1995 conventional psychiatric wisdom was that bipolar disorder could only be diagnosed in the late teens.  There is no conclusive study that proves childhood bipolar disorder leads to adult bipolar disorder. Psychiatrists still debate whether it exists.

 I believe you should not decide to drug your kids before you  take the meds for at least a month. Too often kids are being given anti-psychotics for behavior problems, anti-psychotics not tested with children. I was given them when I was hospitalized for mania in 1973, between 87 and 96. They made me much crazier when they weren't obliterating whole days. My intellect and education have not been able to withstand their devastating cognitive effects. Giving such drugs to a young mind until all alternative have been exhausted seems like malpractice.

 Until all the usual mood stabilizers went generic, anti-psychotics were intended to treat schizophrenics and hospitalized manics.  There is a shameful record of using them on Alzheimer's sufferers. As recently as the 2004 American Psychiatric Meeting in NY, drug reps were marketing bestsellers such as abilify and seroquel for those patients. Now they are being heavily advertised for depression and bipolar disorder as maintenance drugs.  The newer atypical anti-psychotics are heavily implicated in causing huge weight gain and sudden onset diabetes.

When my kids were young, 25-30 years ago, even in therapy-obsessed Manhattan, preschool kids weren't seeing psychiatrists, weren't taking psychiatric medications, so I am skeptical about this epidemic of very young children with serious problems requiring psychiatric drugs. If our kids were having problems in nursery school, we might decide to wait another year and find a better school.

What is going wrong with the way we are raising children? Why do we look in children's brains for the answers to be found in social reform?  Who is blowing the whistle? Who is questioning the wisdom of babies and toddlers being cared for by strangers? Who is wondering whether group care is appropriate for most children under three or four? Thirty-five years ago, children were five or six before they were expected to adapt to group standards of behavior. Who is crusading for a shorter work week and greatly increased parental leaves? Who is is dedicated to make caring for preschoolers a viable career path for college graduates, comparable to teaching in salary and benefits?

Who is demanding the economic changes required to enable parents to care for their babies and toddlers themselves? Who is comparing our rate of childhood mental illness with rates in the rest of the Western world? Who is outraged about preschoolers taking multiple psychiatric drugs that have never been tested on children? Who is fighting to outlaw drugs ads in magazines and on TV? Why are we teaching our kids that drugs are the solution to every problem? Thirty years ago we felt like bad parents if we let our kids have caffeine.


The aggressive drug treatment of mental illness in the last 30 years hasn't been a success story. When yesterday's wonder drug becomes generic, its ineffectiveness is suddenly discovered and its dangerous side effects are no longer covered up. Today's expensive wonder drug will supposedly save your life after being tested for a shockingly short time on shockingly few people who don't share your diagnoses. 

Preschoolers are so unformed, so in process. This year's four year old can seem like a different creature than last year's three year old. These diagnoses disorder
imply lifelong, incurable brain disorders for which there are no medical tests, no verifiable proof of their existence. Why do we expect little boys to adapt to schools better suited to girls? Why don't we train and recruit more male teachers in preschools, who might be better role models for little boys and help create more welcoming schools?

Why would you accept that your young child has a permanently broken brain? Why not take him out of day care or fine a different one, investigate family day care, share a nanny with a friend, change nursery schools, reduce your working hours, live more frugally, borrow money and take a leave of absence from work, ask your parents and relatives for help, search out books and activities about his particular obsessions, learn the recommended interventions yourself?

Does your child need more relaxed time with his overscheduled parents rather than tense sessions with experts comfortable with diagnosing him after a few testing sessions?Why not wait until the picture becomes clearer? Why it is so urgent to find the answer when he is 2 or 3? We are not dealing with meningitis or childhood leukemia. When I hear a 7 year old rattle off all his psychiatric labels, it breaks my heart and makes me want to man the barricades. I would love to find some comrades.

May 1, 2014

What Is Your Birth Order?

To Only Children: Being the oldest child dooms you to the responsibility chip, whether you have no siblings or 7. Until both your parents die, you are being parented by people who have no clue what they are doing. They get better with younger children, but they don't know how to parent a 25 year old, a 40 year old, a 55 year old anymore than they knew how to parent an infant or toddler. Their grandparenting skills are nonexistent. Children raise their parents to be grownups. Being outnumbered makes the job more challenging and stimulating, but you are always up to it.
MaryJoRichardOct47bigsister
scan20030207_174202
scan20030207_174837mjmark
In the first picture, I am two and one half; Joe is one. In the second, I am four, Andrew is six months. In the third picture, I am seven; Bob is newborn. In the fourth picture, I am 12; Gerard is 1. In the fifth photo, I was 13, Brian was 1 month.

Studying the pictures helps me clarify my family dynamics. Sibling closeness has mattered more to me than to my brothers. I try much harder to keep the family connected. Being both the oldest and the only girl seems central. I was my adult height when my two younger brothers were born; they were only 5 and 7 when I left home for college. I must have seemed a maternal figure to them. In some pictures I look like their young mother.
We did not grow up in the same family. My mother returned to school full-time when Brian was 5; when he was 7, she started teaching high school. Joe, Andrew, and I had had a stay-at-home mother until we went to college. Brian doesn't remember my mom staying at home full-time. My father retired before Brian finished college.

We have very different perceptions of our parents. Joe, Andrew, and I remember our dad as a brilliant intellectual and mathematician; Gerard and Brian remember a grail old man who disappeared into Alzheimer's Disease. The three oldest remember our childhood perceptions of my mom as "just a housewife" who never went to college. My younger brothers remember her the way her obituary describes her: "teacher, activist, trailblazer."

With the death of my mom, Joe, 18 months younger, is my only collaborator for family history. Fortunately, Joe was too busy climbing on the roof as a kid to remember very much. I could write family fiction and convince everyone it is family history.

I struggled not to favor my first daughter Anne in sibling squabbles, because she, like me, is the oldest of several siblings. Both my first husband John and I were the oldest children of oldest children of oldest children--not the best recipe for marital harmony. Certainly Anne shows the same sense of responsibility for her younger siblings that I felt. John, Anne, and I thought younger siblings owe considerable gratitude to the oldest, who has fought all the battles necessary to whip parents into shape.

In my constant discussions with friends about baby spacing when my kids were young, I noticed that adult relationships with your siblings greatly influence you. If you love your sibs, you might think a brother or sister is the best gift you will give your kids. If you don't talk to your sib, you will feel guilty about the trauma you are inflicting on the oldest. As people only have two children, there will only be younger and older older. Middle children seem to have special gifts society will sorely lack. When I told 6 year old Michelle, I was pregnant with Carolyn, she rejoiced, "Now I won't be the only middle child."
Faced with the challenge of caring for my mother during the last years of her life, my brothers and I had to confront and heal lifelong conflicts and misunderstandings. It is so easy to fall into childhood roles. My mom was always the family switchboard. We would call her, not each other; she would relay the news to everyone. I struggle very hard not to play the same role.

I adore my brothers and wish we saw each other much more often. We are scattered from Maine to North Carolina. My mother had five brothers as well. As a teenager, I used to reproach her, "Mom, how could you do this to me? You knew what it was like." My mom, a long-term care activist, used to begin her speechs, "I have lived with 12 men--long pause--only one of them intimately." Growing up with my brothers, I acquired a lifelong comfort around men. Daughters were a challenge; sons would have been easier. Taking care of my grandson revives many wonderful memories of my brothers as children.

What is your birth order? What impact has it had on your life? Being the oldest is being the oldest, whether you have no siblings or 7 siblings. You were raised by parents who had no clue. And that will continue until the day both of them are dead. They get better with younger children, but they don't know how to parent a 25 year old, a 40 year old, a 55 year old anymore than they knew how to parent an infant or toddler. Children raise their parents to be grownups. Having no accomplices just makes the job more challenging.

April 14, 2014

Confessions of Misogyny

 My four daughters would reassure you that I am one of the worst misogynists they know. Until I became a mother at age 28, I would always join the circle of men, never the circle of women. I was positive the conversation would be more stimulating. I despise women's fashion magazines and all the talk of diets , hair, shoes, and makeup. Being forced to watch Sex and the City would be cruel and unusual punishment.

Spending a year in a Catholic girls college in Rochester was the most alienating experience of my life. I was sarcastic, and no one seemed to realize I didn't necessarily mean it. One night my friends and I stayed up all night, discussing politics, sex, religion, life, death, etc. The rumor rapidly spread that we were gossiping about everyone on the floor. Learning from the college dean that "there was something in the nature of a woman that unsuits her for intellectual debate with men" elicited my jail beak to being the only girl in the political science classes at Fordham.

Working in the female-dominated fields of public librarianship and social work was a disaster for me. I never can accept that is the way it is and you can't do anything about it. I am a trouble maker pure and simple. When I am upset, I defend myself by getting more ascerbic and intellectual. I perceive that men enjoy gutsy women who giggle and smile and tease and insult and debate with them lots more than women do. I have always gone to male shrinks.

My most successful social work job was working with a great group of seriously mentally ill guys who were absolutely trapped in the system. Some had been in jail; most had substance abuse problems. I never was so appreciated by a group of people in my whole life. They were so wonderful to hang out with. I excel at eliciting the sanity in crazy people and the craziness in apparently sane people. There are lots of the latter in social work and public librarianship.

I also did extremely well with male gay clients. One told me I must have been a gay male in a previous lifetime I understand him so well. I Another paid me the greatest compliment I got as a shrink: he said I was his only experience of unconditional love. We had a strange therapeutic relationship. Until I treated him, an Irishmen from an utterly abusive family, I never realized how Irish I was.

I have never been hassled on the street by a guy in my entire life. I do smile a lot. I am perfectly comfortable being the only women in a subway car full of men. African American men and immigrants tend to find older, curvier women attractive, which is lovely fun. In the early days of women's lib, women whined incessantly about street hassles. I wondered if I was the ugliest woman in the entire women's liberation movement. I often have long conversations with homeless men. One street person teased me that I looked very friendly ,approachable, happy to talk, sometimes generous depending upon whether I had exceeded my day's handout limit, but I subtly conveyed that I could turn him to stone if he messed with me.


March 15, 2014

To My Oldest Daughter on Her 13th Birthday, 4/4/86

Dearest Emma,

Happy 13th birthday.  This will be such an exciting year of change and growth for you that I particularly want us to keep in close touch with one another.  Both of us are undergoing major transitions, so I  hope we can understand and empathize with each other.  I asked Grandma what she wished she had said to me on my thirteenth birthday.  She didn't have to think about her answer.  "Tell me everything.  There's nothing you could conceivably do or say that I don't handle.   You don't have to protect me from anything  you feel or do."  I liked that.  I wished she had told me that when I was 13  What was left unsaid did far more lasting damage than anything that was said.  So that's part of what I want to say to you as you blossom into womanhood.

I have lived 27 and 3/4 more years in the world than you have.  I will be delighted to share any of my experiences with you, well aware that you have to find your own path.  Sometimes I will forget and try to turn you into a newer, better me.  I want you to point out what I'm doing when I do that.  As you grow older, I identify more and more with you, so I will have to struggle not to force my old aspirations on you.  But I have tried very hard in the past to respect your individuality.  You were a distinct, dynamic individual from the moment you were born.  I remember looking into  your gorgeous, alert, intelligent eyes the day you were born and wondering if you would be too much for me.  And sometimes you are.  I am trying very hard to grow up enough to be a good mother to you.  I have always loved  your spirited determination to be your own person, what Barbara Williams, your nursery school teacher, called "your considerable sense of self."  I want you to continue to feel free to tell me when I am making an obvious mistake with you or a not so obvious one.

I am glad you are so close to your father.  My own teenage years would have been far happier if I hadn't been so intimidated by my father, so afraid of arguing with him, so afraid of getting close.  You never have to choose between us; we will try to give you opportunities to be alone with each of us.  You already know what very different people we are, but we are equally proud of our beautiful, brilliant, spirited daughter.


The worst thing that happened to me as a teenager is that I felt compelled to choose between my feminine and my intellectual sides.  You live in a very different world, but you still will receive a lot of contradictory messages about what is really important.  Don't choose.  You can be both.  Look at Aunt Jackie and Aunt Lynn, for example.  A boy who holds your intelligence against you isn't capable of befriending or loving the real you.  Don't waste time on such boys or men.

At this stage of your life close female friendships are far more important than boyfriends.  At no stage of your life will close women friends cease to be vitally important.  The longer I live, the more convinced I am that men and women are very different.  Our world desperately needs women's unique qualities.  Women need not become like men to succeed in life.  Women need to support and understand one another.  I would never go so far as one psychologist did when she wrote a book entitled, "Men Are Just Desserts."  But don't ever neglect your girlfriends for some boy.  I hope you continue to have friends like Michael who happen to be boys.  I think that is particularly important because you don't have brothers or male cousins you see regularly.  Peer pressure still discourages men and women from being "just friends," but I hope you can withstand that premature emphasis on pairing off.  Daddy was my friend before he was my lover and my husband.

For most of this century mothers and daughters have been at odds with each other.  That has been a tragic loss for women in general. Ideally your mother should be your most ardent supporter and confidant.  No one, except your future husband, will probably ever love you more.  In fact mothers have an even better track record than husbands.  I hope we can continue to be friends.  I know we will fight, but fighting doesn't diminish our closeness. Look at me and Daddy.  When you were born, Uncle Stephen said, "Good, Mary Jo has a daughter she can fight with.  That should make her very happy."  He remembered my epic battles with my mother.

I hope we can continue to share books with each other.  That might be one of the best ways for you to teach me lessons that you think I need to learn.  Find me the right book to read.  I often learn more from books than from my own mistakes.  And you can always write notes to me if you find something too difficult to say.  I can express myself in writing far better than I can face-to-face. I don't know if you're the same way, but you could try.  I promise to save all your letters to hand down to your daughters.  Wouldn't you have loved to see a letter from me to my mother at age 13?  I would love to see it too.  Recently I have remembered more of my teenage years.  I'm glad.  Getting to know  teenage Mary Jo again will help me to be kinder to  teenage Emma.

More than anything else, I wish I had kept a journal when I was a teenager. It would have helped me so much to mother my teenagers.  It would be a priceless legacy to had down from one generation to another.  So much rich human experience is lost when women don't write down the details of their lives.  I've only recently rediscovered journal keeping, and it has helped me clarify my own life more than anything.  Writing letters is equally important. I am delighted that you, Erin, and Liz are letter writers.  Keep them.  You'll really enjoy them in the future. I've thrown out too much of my past. (She has kept all the letters, even the intricately folded notes she and her best friend used to pass each other during boring high school classes

I should have started this a month ago. I cou ld fill up the entire book with my hopes for you and my pride in you. I hope someday you have a daughter.  Only then will you understand how much I love you, how proud of you I am.  I have learned so much about music and makeup this year:)  What remedial lessons await me next year?  With five brothers I often tried to raise myself as a boy, so I am delighted to get a second chance to experience the adolescent years with you.

You seem so much older than you did a year ago.  I know you will change even more this year.  Being a woman is wonderful, Emma.  All human experience is open to you.  Men are denied many of the most wonderful experiences.  I have never regretted being a woman.  Don't ever be afraid of your body.  It's God's most glorious creation.  Own it and glory in it.  Don't ever be afraid to ask me any questions . I might know all the answers, but I almost certainly will have heard of the book where answers can be found.  I believe knowledge never hurt anyone. I would far rather you know too much, stuff you never need to know, then know too little.  I have always tried to be open with you, so never stop bringing your questions to me.  My mother and I were never comfortable talking about sex. I had to find out the most basic information on my own.  That shouldn't happen with us.  Believe me, you are much better learning what you need to know from me, than from rumors and dirty jokes.

I have far less firsthand experience with drugs and alcohol, but I will help you find out anything you need to know.  I'm sure you will never do anything to damage your perfect body and  your perfect mind.  But no matter what, I'll always be there for you.  Not telling me something I should know is the only thing you could do that I would find hard to understand and forgive.

Emma, Emma,  only five years from now you will be finishing high school.  The last thirteen years seem but a blink of my eyes.  I have made many mistakes, expected too much, haven't been patient enough,  haven't listened enough, haven't spent enough time alone with you.  How rarely have Daddy and I spent an evening alone with you like we are doing tonight.  Too often  you have gotten lost in the shuffle of our chaotic family life.  As you undergo so many changes in your life, we need to find more ways to spend time together so we don't become strangers to one another. Maybe I should write letters to you more often--not just once a year on your birthday, but whenever I have something important to share with you.  Keep this book for my letters to you.  Whenever I have something more to say, I will leave this book under your pillow.  We can have a secret correspondence.  I enjoy writing to you.  Wouldn't it be helpful to have several books filled with words of wisdom or words of frivolity from me?  At the very least we could have a good laugh over them when my granddaughter is 13 years old.  Wouldn't you have loved to read letters form Grandma Nolan to Grandma Mary when she was 13?  Writing is one of the greatest gifts you can give your daughter--the gift of yourself.

Daddy is dying to see what I am writing,  yet part of me wants to keep it private, our special time with each other. I want to post Keep Out Signs.  This Means You, Chris and Rosalind.  A mother and her oldest daughter should be able to talk with each other without everyone else's eavesdropping.

I remember 13 years ago so vividly.  Someday I'll share with you a paper I wrote about childbirth with a detailed description of your birth.  I hope I can spend every birthday with you, that you won't move so far away that I can't make it to your birthday party every year of my life.

Emma, you have been such a joy to me--so beautiful, so brilliant, so talented, so observant, so spirited. I love to love the same books you love. I love to enjoy sharing Liz's letters together.  I am glad you are sharing school life with us.  I enjoyed being made over, but you have been making me over for 13 years since that glorious moment in the middle of the night when I first held in my arms the most beautiful baby I had ever seen and she stuck her tongue out at me.  I don't have words to tell you how joyous I am  to have a 13 year old daughter Emma, who will make me over all my life.
Love,
Mommy

PS  I wish I had some words of wisdom about sisters,  but you are teaching me about sisters. If a fairy godmother suddenly offered to grant my fondest wish, I'd wish for some sisters.  Don't take your fights too seriously.  When people constantly share such small quarters, they inevitably rub against each other, irritate each other, infuriate each other.  I could happily endure any number of fights if you would be close friends when you are grown up.  Despite all the ways they drive you crazy, I envy you your sisters.

Mother's Day, May 1986
Dear Mommy,
 Here’s to the memories.  All the laughter, tears, happiness, and sorrow that we as your children have experienced with you right beside us every step of the way, making sure we didn’t stray off the path.  Thanks, Mommy, for who would we be without you.
 Love, Emma

August 22, 2013

Grandma, Kinkeeping, and the Birthday Book

GrandmaMJ_2

GrandmaNRDV
1945, 1974
One of my most cherished possessions is my grandmother's small 1980 datebook. It lists the birthdays of all her children, their spouses, her grandchildren, their spouses, and her great-grandchildren. All of us could absolutely count on a card from Grandma on our birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations. She always enclosed a dollar for her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She was on a strict budget and we cherished her generosity. If you hadn't received a card from Grandma Nolan, you must have gotten confused about your birthday She had 8 children, 31 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchilden when she died at age 86 in 1985.

Mary Catherine  King was born in 1898 and left school after eighth grade. One of her first jobs was to mount women's combs on cards. She married my grandfather, James Nolan, a widowed lawyer with a toddler son, at age 22. She had seven children, four sons and three daughters; she raised her stepson as her own. Tragically one daughter died before she was two. Her husband died when she was 40; her children ranged from 17 to 2. He had been sick for 7 years; his chronic illness made it impossible for him to secure life insurance. After his death, she discovered his filing cabinet was full of unpaid bills from poor clients. Grandma had lost her parents the year before. Abruptly, they were very poor She collected rent from three small apartments in Brooklyn, but the apartments were the source of endless headaches. She worked in a laundromat. The older children helped support the family. My mom had to attend secretarial school rather than college.

Grandma was a very loving, giving, ingenious, frugal single mother. All her children turned out well--two lawyers, two teachers, a nurse, a social worker, a computer programmer. She was unavailingly there to help out when babies were born, when someone was sick, when someone was in crisis. A very religious woman, she was empowered by her deep faith. A lifelong Democrat, she voted in the first election open to women. She was always fascinated by world affairs and extremely knowledgeable about them. I could talk to her about anything.

In Becoming Grandmothers, Sheila Kitzinger describes the grandmother's role as the "kin-keeper." I have been understudying that role since my family lived with my grandma during the first two years of my life. I am the oldest girl cousin, just like my mom and grandmother were the oldest girls in their families. Grandmothers do emotional work. They sustain and nourish the family's kinship, keeping everyone connected with one another. This is a greater challenge now when families are far-flung and both parents are working grueling schedules. There is very little time left over for extended families. Weddings and funerals are often the only family reunions. Fortunately, we have had seven big family weddings since my mom's death10 years ago. One of my brothers has 6 grandkids, another 2.


I take absolutely seriously my commitment to follow my grandmother and mother, two strong, loving, generous matriarchs. I kno the extended family's addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, anniversaries. I try to inform  the family if anyone is sick or in trouble, is engaged, lost a job,  got a new job, is pregnant. In the event of a family death, I always find out the funerael arrangements.I can always identify the people in those old pictures ande can quickly produce old pictures upon request.

I have 5 brothers, 5 sister-in-laws, 11 nieces and nephews, 5 of whom are married. I have 5 grandniece and 3 grandnephew. Twice a year I revise the extended family directory, prying the information out of everyone. Two family email lists. one for my immediate family, one for my extended family, enable us to share news and pictures. We  know what is happening in our lives, even if we don't see each other often enough. I do more of the communicating than anyone else, but I consider that my responsibility. My two husbands,  5 brothers,  3 sisters-in-law , 4 duaghters, 4 sons-in-law, most nieces and nephews are on facebookt
I have seen both my mother's and father's formerly close knit family disperse once the family matriarch dids. My extended family is scattered all over the East Coast, from Maine to North Carolina, so it is a challenge to keep us close. One daughter , usually a New Yorker, is living in Paris for two years. Two live in Boston, one in DC.  Fortunately, we have had six family weddings since my mom's death 4 years ago, so they have been family reunions as well. By next February, there will have been 6 babies in two years. Weddings and funerals are often the only family reunions. Fortunately, we have had seven big family weddings since my mom's death10 years ago. One of my brothers has 6 grandkids, another 2.

I have a small bedroom filled with  16 boxes of my parents' wartime letters.  50 boxes of family slides,  about 30 photo albums.  I have letters I, my brothers, and my daughters wrote to my mom.   I have the papers my mom wrote when she returned to college at age  42, I have three file draws full of my daughters' best drawings, school papers, letters and cards.

I have 5 brothers, 5 sister-in-laws, 11 nieces and nephews, 5 of whom are married. I have 5 grandniece and 3 grandnephew. Twice a year I revise the extended family directory, prying the information out of everyone. Two family email lists. one for my immediate family, one for my extended family, enable us to share news and pictures. We  know what is happening in our lives, even if we don't see each other often enough. I do more of the communicating than anyone else, but I consider that my responsibility. My two husbands,  5 brothers,  3 sisters-in-law , 4 duaghters, 4 sons-in-law, most nieces and nephews are on facebookt

Arranging an extended family reunion has become an impossible challenge. My mother's 80th birthday party in 1981, my oldest brother's  60th birthday in 2007, my 65th birthday in 2010,  7 big family weddings, one funeral have been the biggest gatherings.
I

When I was taking care of mother 24/7 during the last three years of her life, I scanned thousands of old family photos and slides. My husband, a computer programmer, wrote software for many family picture sites. His software enabled me to caption the photos and arrange them in chronological order. Pictures that family members had never seen were freed from boxes and closets and available to everyone, anytime. At my mother's wake, we were able to show a slideshow of her life, with pictures from 1921 to 2004.

As I learn to grandmother, my Grandma Nolan is my inspiration and role model. Looking through her date book always brings back new memories of  unfailing love,  absolute commitment,  kindness, and understanding.

September 18, 2012

NYC, 1974-1976, Nonsexist Childrearing in Action

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Emma belonged to a Chelsea Manhattan playgroup for two years, from 1974 to 1976. She was 17 months when it began, 3 and ready for nursery school when it disbanded. Playgroup met 5 mornings a week in the basement of the Y on West 23rd Street. Parents had the option of coming 1 to 5 mornings. Scheduling was a nightmare that I had naively accepted. I kept the minutes of playgroup, and I wrote a paper about it for a social work class in group dynamics 20 years later.

I thought you might be amused by parenting, Manhattan style, 1974. How earnest and how absurd we were in so many ways. But we were absolutely committed to allowing our kids to be free to be you and me.

Ranging in age from 28 to 40, we all lived in Chelsea and Greenwich Village. With one exception, our playgroup child was our first child. At 28, I was the youngest mother, but the only one from a large family. We all were college educated, with serious careers before we had children. There was an editor of psychiatric books, a writer, a teacher, an artist, an art therapist, two social workers, one vocational counselor, two psychology graduate students, and  a psychiatric nurse.

Most of us were struggling with our decision to stay home with our children. Confirmed apartment dwellers, we saw little relationship between mothering and housework. All of us planned to remain in Manhattan. Dreading winter cooped up with newly mobile, newly negative toddlers in one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartments, several mothers were contemplating returning to work to regain their sanity. Significantly, no one returned to work full-time during the life of the playgroup.

None of us had long-time friends who were staying at home to raise young children. We needed to build a new circle of friends; our friends from work no longer sufficed. We were not traditional wives and mothers. We desperately wanted intellectual colleagues fascinated with child development, determined to raise children without our own inhibitions and neuroses. All of us considered ourselves feminists, committed to nonsexist childrearing.



Playgroup was supposed to give us time off. The first year the ratio was one mother to two children; the second year it was one to three. Many mother who weren't on duty stayed anyway, particularly those with younger children. When we weren't playing with our toddlers, we engaged in ongoing group therapy. All of us had been or were currently in therapy and could talk comfortably and knowledgeably about conflict, repression, projection, and denial. We endlessly analyzed our marriages, our families, our psychological makeups, our childrearing philosophies, and our children's personalities.

Six of the 10 core members are now mental health professionals. Remarkably, none of our children are currently in jails, mental hospitals, or rehab centers. We were an extremely self-conscious group. The simplest decision was carefully scrutinized for its optimal effect on our children's intellectual and emotional development. The latest child development books and theories were eagerly shared and discussed. Husbands' participating in child care and housework was the norm. One couple was not married, and no one made anything of it. Everyone eagerly welcomed fathers' participation.

No one wanted to push early academics on our kids. Creativity and exploration were the predominant values. No child was ever pressured to participate in any activity. If he didn't want to draw, paste, paint, sing, snack, his autonomy was respected. We had reasonable expectations about toddlers' capacity to share. A great deal of mess was tolerated, and children were not pressured to clean up. "No" was a word seldom heard--from adults

We were enlightened Manhattan intellectuals, very influenced by the ferment of the late 1960's. All the children addressed all the adults by their first names. Zealous attempts to enforce good manners were frowned upon. By 24 months, all children knew and used the words, penis, testicles, vulva, vagina. Toilet training was a continuous show-and-tell entertainment. The potty was in a prominent place in the room. I vividly recall two-year-old Emma saying, "I see your penis, Michael. Would you like to see my vulva?"

 At any one time at least two mothers were pregnant or breastfeeding, and all the children's questions were freely answered. My second daughter Michelle started attending playgroup when she was 1 week old. Playing with baby Michelle was a surefire activity. Surrounded by 2 year olds every day, Michelle developed prodigious social skills.

Most of us belonged to a babysitting cooperative as well. We were an amazing source of support to each other. When one of us had a baby, all the others turn turns bringing the new parents an elaborate evening meal. I have never again experienced such a caring community of parents, committed to mutual aid.

Such a playgroup probably possibly could not have existed in the two other places I raised children--Bangor, Maine, and Long Island. I know it could not exist now in Manhattan. I spend three days a week in the same housing development, cavorting with my grandson in the same playroom, the same playground. Now I talk to nannies, not parents. Understandably, parents discourage their nannies from starting playgroups and inviting people they don't know well into their homes..

The Chelsea playgroup was one of the most fascinating, frustrating, turbulent, nurturing experiences of my life. After two years we were all very different people from the self-conscious, judgmental twits we were at the beginning. Comfortable in our mothering, we no longer had to criticize each other to bolster our wavering self-confidence. Watching very different children develop helped us to understand our own children's unique personalities.

In many ways our children were freer from sexist stereotyping than their children are now.

September 13, 2012

Confused Feminist Has a Baby, 1973


Dropping out of Columbia Law School in 1971 was a turning point in my life. After a year of soul-searching journal writing, I realized that I had been denying my emotional, nurturant, sensitive  nature, never considering careers like psychology or social work. Closer to my dad and having 5 younger brothers, I had raised myself as a Koch male, In the jargon of early consciousness-raising groups, I was male identified. I got very involved in the feminist movement in New York City and recognized the sexism of "thinking like a man."

I had always assumed that professional success was far more important to me than traditional motherhood. I had seen how my mother postponed her dreams until the youngest of her six children entered school. Instead of being a lawyer, as she had originally planned, she settled for high school teaching.

A few months later a good friend got pregnant, and I became intensely involved in her pregnancy. For the first time in my life,  I wanted to have a baby. I questioned my motives, wondering if I was merely postponing the inevitable return to grad school. I assured myself I would go back to work when the baby was a few months old. I got pregnant the first month we tried, and I loved being pregnant.  I was able to achieve my goal of natural childbirth. I felt terrific immediately after birth. Breastfeeding was easy.

Nothing prepared me for drowning in an overwhelming surge of love, tenderness, protectiveness the minute I looked into my new daughter's bright eager eyes. I had never believed in the myths of fulfilling motherhood, and yet mothering young children was the most fascinating, creative job of my life.

Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine I would love being  full-time mother from 1973 to 1988 and  my grandson's nanny from 20007 to 2009.

But if anything, I am more of a feminist than I was in 1971.

Confused Feminist in Love

I read the Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan when I was a freshman in college.  Friedan did not raise my consciousness, but gave me more confidence in my ideas. I attended Fordham University, planning to become a college professor of political science. Fordham had just begun to admit women, and I was often the only girl in my political science class. Being the only girl and the best student in a class was heaven. I met John, my future first husband, in my junior year. It is a family joke that I was first attracted to him when I heard his SAT scores. John found my intellectuality and my femininity equally attractive, and for the first time reconciling the two seemed possible. Just to be sure, I insisted he read Simone DeBeauvoir's The Second Sex before I was willing to make love. What a self-righteous little prig I was ! But John contributed as much as I did to four daughters' academic and professional achievement.

John, a year behind me in college, planned to be a physics professor. (I was desperate to hide from my family that John was 9 months younger.) When I applied to grad schools, I looked for places equally strong in both physics and political science, figuring a year's separation would make us surer about marriage. If I had known myself better, I would have applied to grad schools in New York City. I went to Stanford University in California, 3000 miles away from my love. I hated grad school, was miserable without John, and left after two months. My parents were puzzled that I had given up an all-expenses paid PhD; I foolishly avoided my family for two months. I would not admit to myself that missing John, not hating graduate school, was my major motive. As a result of that delusion, I didn't return to graduate school until 16 years later.

I returned to New York,  got married, and slowly worked my way up in New York City book publishing. I was never wildly enthusiastic about editing social science and psychiatry books. It resembled grad school, abstract, intellectual, remote from people.  Why I went to law school was murky. The preceding spring at my brother  Richard's wedding, my brother Stephen said, "Mom thinks you should go to law school and make something of yourself." In a retirement interview, my mom told the editor of the high school paper that she would have gone to law school if she had had the opportunities open to women now. Whose ambitions were I trying to fulfill?

Confused Feminist As a Girl

Growing up with five younger brothers guaranteed I would be a feminist. My mother had five brothers as well.  For a good 16 years I was taller and stronger and smarter and better read. Looking at old pictures that show me towering over my brothers, I mourn lost opportunities for cutting them down to size:) I recall asking the nun preparing us for Holy Communion why the boys went up to the altar first. "Because they are closer to God since they can be priests," was her reply. At that moment I became a feminist. I confess I was less interested in solidarity with women than in besting men. I felt outraged when my brother could be an altar boy and I couldn't, even though my Latin was infinitely better.

Sixty years later, I still adore intellectual competition and debate with men.

My immediate neighborhood had no girls to play with, only boys, so I coped by becoming a tomboy, passionately interested in baseball. My brothers used to challenge their friends to ask me a baseball question I couldn't answer. My family always encouraged academic achievement. I was a shy intellectual in high school; my friends hung out at the high school newspaper and the debate club. None of us dated. I concluded that smart girls didn't attract men unless they deliberately played dumb, something I refused to do. Besides my ideal male was Jack Kennedy. Crushing on JFK was good for me. I immersed myself in politics and American history.

Although my mom started college when I did, she was in what my brother Stephen calls her creative phase when I was growing up. A full-time mother, she sewed most of my clothes, canned tomatoes, made hats, made sock monkeys when she wasn't taking care of six kids and incredibly active in her local church. My father was the brain; we minimized my mom's great intelligence. I didn't want to be my mom. Imagine my confusion when she graduated from college the same day I did, with a straight A average. She had become a feminist and 60s radical, fully committed to the civil rights movement and protest against the Vietnam War..



May 28, 2012

Corduroy Over 35 Years


Vanessa was 15 months old; maybe that is why she is distracted by the camera, unlike her more attentive son. She would have listened more attentively to Andy than to someone reading with her eyes closed.

February 20, 2012

Has Feminism Won Its Battles?

Unlike many feminists with my intellect and education, I decided to stay home with my four children full-time for 15 years and part-time until the youngest went to college. I involved myself in nonsexist childrearing, childbirth education, breastfeeding counseling, parent education, toddler playgroups, babysitting cooperatives, cooperative nursery schools, school libraries, a campaign to save the local public library, the nuclear freeze movement, mental illness support and advocacy, parent advocacy for playground upkeep and a preschool playroom, a high school group for interracial understanding--the list is endless. When I made the mistake of attending library school and social work school, I naively assumed my qualifications would be obvious and no one would dare to treat me like a beginner. I was given the responsibility of an experienced worker and the salary, benefits, and respect of a beginner.

I recall one infuriating incident during my first social work placement; my childless supervisor earnestly instructed me how to interview a client with her two year old present. I had frequently run La Leche Meetings with 20 moms and 30 babies and toddlers. Women social workers who had taken very short maternity leaves and worked full-time during their children's childhood too often acted like all my knowledge had been attained by cheating. I got more respect from male professors. The situation has worsened; women are terrified of taking only a few years off from work. And yet the men who fought World War II left their jobs for several years and did not suffer economic consequences. The government even paid for their college and grad school education.

When my mom went back to college in 1963 and work in 1968, after having raised 6 children, she was accorded more respect and her experience was more honored than mine was 20 years later Full-time childrearing is frequently belittled as beneath the time and attention of intelligent, well-educated parents, who presumably should have exploited immigrant women of color to love and understand their children while they pursued their more important jobs.

Remember, things have not changed for the valiant, loving women of color who raise our children and care for our aging parents. I take care of my toddler grandson 3 days a week; my friends are mostly nannies from all over the world. I am often appalled how little highly successful two-career couples pay their nanny; many fail to provide the caregiver with any benefits, least of all health care. They think nothing of calling the nanny on Sunday and telling her they don't need her that week. As one dedicated women from the Dominican Republic told me, "the more I love the children, the more it hurts my heart."

I agree that most women with college degrees, graduate, or professional degrees have made enormous strides in most major professions and in the workplace generally. Even nurses and teachers have made significant progress because they unionized. Public librarians and social workers usually make less than any other professionals with graduate degrees, because they are mostly women and they are not unionized.

It is only when women have children or have to care for aging parents that they fully realize that women have mostly gained the right to follow the traditional male life style, emphasizing work over relationships, caregiving, community activism.. As women chose to have children at an older and older age, the realization is late in coming. At that point their lives tend too become too frenzied and exhausting to leave any time for feminism and political reform. My four well-educated, successful daughters are only having their consciousness raised as they begin to have children. You might make over $100,000 a year, but you still will have to pump breastmilk for your infant in the toilet.

The mommy wars infuriate me because they presuppose it is the responsibility of mothers, not fathers, to raise children. In the 70s we believed in equal childrearing, although we fell far short of that goal.

September 25, 2010

1st Child, 2nd Child

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This is from a graduate school paper on child development I wrote in 1977, when Anne was 4 and Michelle was 2.
I am still realizing to what extent the mother I am is shaped by the child I am mothering. When I had only one child, I congratulated myself for all of Anne's superior qualities and blamed myself for her troublesome ones. Since I've had 2 children, I've become remarkably more tolerant of other mothers and of myself. I've also grown to understand why my my mom, after mothering 6 kids, has always been quite skeptical of childrearing theories.
Since I belong to a unique Chelsea community where young parents support each other through babysitting cooperatives, cooperative playgroups and nursery schools, and mothers' support groups, I've had the chance to observe many children of similar ages interact with their parents. When I first moved here when Anne was 17 months, I was quick to correlate the children's characteristics with their parents' childrearing practices. Now I am humbly aware of how infinitely complex the whole question is.

The only dramatic change in our lives beween Anne's and Michelle's births was our move to Chelsea from the Upper West Side. We still lived on a high floor in an apartment with a terrace and spectacular views. Although I was still at home full-time and their dad was gone from 8 to 6, their day-to-day routine was completely different. When Anne was born, none of my NYC friends had children; consequently no one I knew was home during the day. To relieve my isolation, I frequently visited my parents and my husband's parents on Long Island. As a result, Anne had frequent contact with her grandparents and her teenage aunts and uncles, but very little contact with other babies and toddlers.
When Michelle was born, I was immersed in Anne's playgroup, with daily contact with 10 familes and their 2-year-olds. Monday to Friday Michelle was constantly exposed to the stimulation-bedlam of young kids. In fact playing with baby Michelle was playgroup's surefire activity when all else failed. On the other hand, I seldom visited Long Island; our parents and sibs came to visit us. Michelle's comings and goings are always tied to Anne's schedules.

In addition to having different daily routines, they had a different mother. After Anne's birth, I still did some free-lance editing. I kept wrestling with combining motherhood with my editing career. I almost accepted a 20-hour a week editing job when Anne was 9 months. By the time Michelle was born, I had wholeheartedly renounced publishing and was fully committed to full-time motherhood when my children were small. I had chosen working with young children and their parents as my future career. My expectations for myself and my baby had been transformed by what I experienced and by how I had grown during Anne's infancy. I was far freer to respond to my emotions and intuitions about Michelle. I had gained confidence in my own style of mothering and was no longer so swayed by "expert" opinion or my prior expectations of what kind of mother I should be. I was much more relaxed about introducing solids, long-term nursing, the family bed.

Michelle's relationship with me was hardly as symbiotic as my relationship with Anne during infancy. Anne was as much as part of Michelle's life as my husband and I were. Unless Anne was asleep, she was almost always in the same room when I nursed or played with Michelle. As soon as Michelle could reliably sit up, we bathed them together. Since Michelle was 8 months old, they've amicably shared the same room. I successfully diminished Anne's jealousy by involving her in every way possible in Michelle's care. I always read to Anne when I was nursing Michelle, since she hated playing in her bedroom by herself.

The result? Michelle's social skills seem far more sophisticated than Anne's were at 2. Sometimes she stays at Anne's cooperative nursery school when I am the helping mommy. She knows all the children's names, interacts warmly with them, participates fully in painting, block building, clay, water play, and dress up. She manages surprisingly well at meeting time and story time. She needs to establish eye contact with me fairly often, but she leaves me free to interact with the other children. At home she holds her own with her high-powered sister very well. As I observe her avoiding no-win confrontations with Anne, I try to imitate her skillful mixture of unmistakable self-assertion and judicious compromise. As Michelle chortles, "even Anne loves me."

March 8, 2010

December 2, 1982--4 Children


I have had my happy ending. My four darlings have grown up into strong, loving wives and mothers with challenging careers, supportive feminist husbands,  and brilliant children. Parents in the trenches often are comforted by how many mistakes I was making. 

My kids are 9, 7, 4, 7 months. We had impulsively moved to Bangor, Maine from Manhattan in March 1981; I almost immediately got pregnant. We are snowbound November through April. My husband insisted on heating our 4-bedroom house entirely with our wood stove and six cords of wood. We had a three-sided metal gate attached to the living room wall with carabiners to keep the girls away from the stove. I had never before had to cope with stairs and kids. My ability to write in full sentences has collapsed. I am trying to decide whether we should try to move back to New York. I am very active in the Nuclear Freeze movement. Being a political activist and the mother of 4 isn't working. I remember the good times so vividly and totally forget the hard times. No wonder why younger mothers reject the saccharine advice of older mothers.

I have not edited my journal entry.

I let the kids stay home today because Michelle was hoarse and Emma was hard to rouse. Their being home busy with their projects makes it harder to keep Molly (the baby) safe. Molly has a scratch near her eye, and I don't even know how she got it--perhaps the kitten? Made apple crisp, made bread. No oven timer, so I kept losing track, worried about the stove door being so loose--will it fall off? Reading Lifton-Falk book about nuclear war, will give me nightmares. Kids bickering; baby eating pieces of paper. All my careful preparation for naught, no time to sit down and relax. Molly hardly napped. Papers all over living room floor. Snapped and yelled.

Do I want to go back? Something always make me stop at the brink. Fear of admitting we made a mistake? Or are these growing pains? Half-conscious of my tendency to romanticize my life in New York. I didn't share my political interests. We probably know more people in Bangor who share my interests than we did in New York. I glanced back over my journals. A bracing perspective. Mothering has always been hard. So much for my fantasies about how much better a mother I was in New York. I am so hard on myself. Go to the library and look up book on depression.

December 2, 2009

She Looked at Tempests and Was Never Shaken



My daughter, the writer, paid tribute to my mom the week she died in April 2004. I cannot possibly paint such a vivid portrait of Grandma Mary, so I won't even try.

I knew her as my Grandma, and I knew her best when I was a kid or a teenager, and that seems to be the only way I can write about her. So, here is the best composite sketch I can come up with:
She enters the room, and calls out “greetings, greetings.” (Or, if it’s our house in Baldwin, she shakes her head, says “chaos, chaos,” and promptly misplaces her purse.)

She is always, always moving—that’s the first thing you have to know about her. This occasionally verges on the absurd--she used to do laps around McDonald’s by the side of the highway on long trips, and I remember Aunt Sue once whispering to me “right, no more coffee for you,” as Grandma completed her fourth circuit of the kitchen and stairs on a rainy day in New Woodstock. And when she breaks more bones in the course of a year than the typical casualty rate of a family ski trip, or you’re trying to pack up your college doom room, it’s downright unnerving.

But for the most part it’s a very good thing. I don’t know how many countries she went to, or how many lobbying trips to Washington D.C., but I remember our trip to France together, her descriptions of how Ted Kennedy’s new wife seemed to be doing him good, and which Congressmen were decent guys in spite of being Republicans. And I’ve more than lost count of the times she took my sisters and me to the pool, or the beach, or to visit one of our relatives. But I’ll never forget that the way back from Uncle Brian's house requires pulling into the Croton Library parking lot and doing a U turn. (At this point, of course, it’s partly because Uncle Brian refuses to tell us the alternate route.)

She also took us into New York City a lot, but the trip to Manhattan I remember the best was the least successful. I was in eighth or ninth grade, and Molly was in fourth or fifth. Grandma took the two of us and my sister’s best friend into New York for Molly’s birthday. We were going to Central Park and a museum, I think—I’m not sure because we never got there. Grandma’s route to New York was even more circuitous than the way home from Croton. The Long Island Railroad was too expensive, and parking in Manhattan was right out, so she would drive to a municipal parking lot in Queens where you could park all day for $2, and then walk ten minutes or so to the subway—I don’t remember which station, somewhere near the end of the E line.

This time, though, our meter was broken. I suggested we move to another space, but she was not willing to waste those quarters, so she wrote a note and taped it to the parking meter. Unfortunately, in the confusion, she left her car keys sitting on the driver’s seat—she realized this somewhere under the streets of Manhattan.

We turned around, and no one had broken the window or stolen the car. But here, I thought, was an object lesson for Grandma—moderation in all things, including frugality. She’d have to pay for a locksmith, which cost much more than the extra quarters or, God forbid, a train ticket.

She did no such thing. Instead she asked a rough looking young man on a nearby sidewalk to help her break into her car. He was happy to assist. When he could not get the door open, he called over a friend. Who said, after a few more unsuccessful attempts to pick the lock, that what they really needed was a crowbar, but since he didn’t have his around and Grandma was not crazy about that, they’d better ask another friend. Who said, and I quote, “what we really need is a Puerto Rican.”

I don’t know whether they found a Puerto Rican, and I don’t remember how long we stood there, Grandma smiling encouragingly and offering occasional advice, or how many neighborhood kids were debating the best way to break into a Toyota Camry by the end—it’s probably somewhat exaggerated in my memory. I can tell you that in the end, the simple yet elegant coat-hanger-through-the-window-to-pull-up-the-button-technique did the trick. The lock suffered some damage from the good Samaritans’ enthusiastic efforts, but you could get the door open more often than not. And from then on, we parked in the driveway of a high school friend of Grandma’s—10 minutes further away from a subway station even further down the E line, but $2.00 cheaper than the municipal lot and much less risk of a break in.

(As I was writing all of that, I realized---it’s not quite accurate to say she was always moving. I just remembered the nights in Henry Street when she would tuck us in, and tell us to lie still and imagine we were floating on a cloud. There were also her “yoga,” excuse me, ‘yoger” exercises. But if I ever want to finish this, I should move on, so….)

She was incredibly smart and incredibly interested in the world around her—whether it was the history of the China lobby or when any of her nieces, nephews and grandchildren would finally, in her words “find yourself a mate.”

She also had the strongest faith of anyone I’ve ever known. Maybe it was that combination, that fierce intellect and that certain belief and trust in God, that made her so strong. Much more often than not her beliefs coincided with the Catholic Church, but when they differed she was not shy about saying so. On most of the many nights I slept over at the house on Henry Street, I wore a polyester blend, 1970s issue T-shirt that said in glittery bubble letters “When God Created Man, She Was Only Joking.” And I remember her telling me about sneaking in inclusive language to her frequent readings at St. Martha’s, much to the new parish priest’s chagrin.
Joking

And on the much more frequent occasions when her children and grandchildren did something she disapproved of—she let us know in no uncertain terms, but there was never a single moment’s doubt that she loved and accepted us anyway.

I’ll always think of her when I read these lines from Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet::
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
I know, it’s a love poem—and a truly bizarre choice for a description of one’s grandmother. But with apologies for the embarrassment this may cause certain unnamed relatives of mine--I defy you to find a better or funnier illustration of Shakespeare’s words than these pictures of Grandma Mary, Grandpa Joe, and their wayward offspring in 1974.