January 13, 2014

Silver Princess: My Hair Wars

Wedding Day, June 1968 ( Hair Permanented)
Wedding Day, December 2001 (Hair Dyed)
2007, Real Hair
I have always had thick, absolutely straight hair that I was grimly determined to curl. The first picture of me in curlers was taken at age 4. I either set my hair every night or had permanents until I got married. I was a blonde until I was 3; then my hair turned to dark brown. My aunt found my first gray hair when I was 12 . When I was 23, a colleague asked me whether I streaked my hair because I had so many gray hairs. My mom had dyed her hair from the time she was 30; I vowed to let my hair go gray like both my grandmothers had done.

Around age 38 I sold out and periodically attempted home dye jobs. I stopped doing it myself  when a woman asked me in the supermarket whether I had purple hair. I started to have it dyed professionally when I was 42 (depressed over my dad's death). It was expensive and time-consuming; about a week after I walked out of the beauty parlor, I would have dramatic silver roots.

At age 47, I impulsively decided to go gray. If you use permanent dye, you have stark choices. You can cut your hair very short and endure looking like a skunk while it grows out. Or you can bleach your hair ash blonde and let it grow out a bit less conspicuously. I opted for the latter. Walking into my social work field placement and my classes as a blonde, I was the focus of attention that I had never been before. It took a year to grow out while my hair felt like straw, but I was pleased with the results. My hair was silverish white.

Two years later, I was meeting my mom in Manhattan for a Broadway show. As I watched her walk down the block, I thought, "I can't stand it. She looks much younger than I do." So I dyed it dark brown again in 1995. My 28-year marriage ended in 1996, and gray hair did not seem the best advertisement for a new husband.

My mother died on Good Friday, 2004, almost 83. We asked the undertaker to touch up her roots because we knew she would have hated mourners seeing her gray hair and realizing she was old:) My 5 brothers made tasteless jokes about hair growing after death and needing touchups six feet under. That was a moment of truth. I went the bleached blonde to silver route and have not changed my mind in almost 10 years. For about six months I was shocked when I caught an unexpected glimpse of myself in a mirror.

I was brave. My husband is 16 years younger than me, and I dreaded being asked whether he was my son. That hasn't happened, but he is not allowed to shave his beard off and look younger. Andy calls me his silver princess. I can spend a whole day in Manhattan and never see another woman with long, straight silver hair. Too many older gray-haired women have unbecoming permanents. In contrast, when we visit England, I see lots of women in their 50's with gray, silver, or white hair. The second most important man in my life, my grandson Michael, has always loved my hair.

I believe my gray hair struggles are all about my relationship with my mom. My mom hated it when I wore my hair gray. It is not an accident that I waited until she died to revert back to silver. Three of my daughters, 40, 38, and 35, have noticeable gray streaks. Mysteriously, the men in my family go gray 20 years later than the women. I have been asked if it's platinum blonde; I have been asked who is my hairdresser. Being silver is much more fun than being brunette, naturally or artificially.

September 30, 2013

Parental Anxiety and Children's Wings


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. 

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.


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

September 8, 2013

Join Revolution for Family Friendly US

When I was a radical young feminist in the late 60s and early 70s, I was profoundly disturbed by the middle-class nature of New York feminism. Only a tiny minority of women could afford to become doctors, lawyers, college professors, corporate executives. The needs of women of color were ignored. African American women had always worked and taken care of their children. They were more dubious about abortion, since relatives cared for the children of teenage mothers.

 Unlike many women with my intellect and education, I stayed home with my four children full-time for 14 years. I also cared for my mother in my home 24/7 during the last four years of my life. I took care of my first grandchild three days a week until he was 2.  Both my husbands and I made career and financial sacrifices to make that possible. Certainly my career has not been the success I dreamed about.  But I am not sorry. 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, , the War Resisters League--the list is endless. I worked in all their school libraries.

When my youngest daughter was five, in 1987, I returned to graduate school, earning master's degrees in library science and social work. I naively assumed my qualifications would be obvious, and no one would dare to treat me like a beginner. Instead, I was given the the salary, benefits, authority, and respect of a beginner and the responsibilities of a long-term employee. Several bosses seemed threatened I wanted their jobs. 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  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 and wisdom had been attained by cheating. I got more respect from male professors.

September 4, 2013

Growing Bookworms

In my baby book my mom wrote: "A book worm--she loved all books. At 2 years her favorites were Dumbo, Children's Garden of Verses, Alice in Wonderland. Was always eager for Cinderella, Goldilocks, etc." My parents read to us every single night. I left home for college when my youngest brother was 5, and they were still reading. They tended to pick books of interest to the older children, so the younger ones were exposed to Winnie the Pooh, The Jungle Books, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in ththe Willows, etc. at an early age. When they visited my first daughter Emma the day she was born, they brought her three picture books.

My mom and dad were consummate book worms. My mom read more books than anyone I have known. Our local library was a tiny volunteer operation in an old church. They took us to the Hempstead Library, three miles away. We were each allowed to take out as many books as we could carry; once I managed 20. My first library card seemed magical. I vividly remember my awe when I realized that card was a passport to the entire world. Wherever I have been in the world, libraries are home and church. Jorge Luis Borges wrote, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."

Three-year-old Molly's kitten-holding technique was not optimal in 1985. She assured me she could talk to animals, and I absolutely believed her. Reading to toddlers and preschoolers is one of life's supreme pleasures. It is the natural follow-up to breastfeeding. Preschoolers who are read to realize that reading aloud is a wonderful way to nurture someone. I recall my daughter Jane's saying to her doll, "Don't cry baby. Mommy will read to you." I always read aloud to the older girls when I was nursing the baby.

During his first two years, I took care of my grandson Michael three days a week. Since birth his mother, father, and I  read to him everyday. He enjoys the same books his mother and aunts did--Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, Frog and Toad, Make Way for Ducklings, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Runaway Bunny, Where the Wild Things Are. At 22 months his attention span often outlasts my voice. Sometims he will sit on the floor by himself with a pile of books, "I read."

Michael's mother Emma loved the Curious George books. She loved them so much that both my parents and I gave her the same giant Curious George for her second Christmas. She grew up to be a curious Emma who spent her 20s and early 30s working around the world in 75 world cities, living in Kosovo, Niger, and Rwanda.

Now her son loves Curious George just as much. Watching my daughters  and sons-in-law read to my grandkids the same book I read to them is lovely beyond my powers to describe.

Do you ever go back and read your favorite children's books? At any age, it is  illuminating to try to find out what books you wanted read to you again and again. I remember Emma's calling me from college, thrilled that she had made a new friend who loved the same children's books. After my dad died, I loved to read again the books he read to me and my five brothers; the books and the memories seemed to bring him back. So many of the best children's books never go out of print, so you can buy your favorite books for the children in your lives.

September 2, 2013

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."

August 29, 2013

Inconsistency, September 25, 1976

Reading and posting these entries from 37 years ago is a humbling experience. I feel guilty about how hard I was on Emma when she was 3, how unreasonable my expectations were. Read Favie--Transitional Object from 1973 to 2005 to see how Emma taught me what was important. My other daughters had a far better mother than Emma did; they should be grateful to her for teaching me what battles are worth fighting.

How are my new rules working? Emma dressed herself, but only because she had insisted putting on the clothes she selected for today before she went to bed. She requested oatmeal for breakfast because John had it and then age about 3 spoonfuls. Just as we were leaving, she hit me and I yelled at her. She cried and insisted on taking her bear and blanket to the playground.

Then I made the classic mistake and laid down a rule without thinking. I said, "You can't take the blanket outside. It's only for naps. You get it too dirty dragging it everywhere." I closed the apartment door, and she continued to cry. Finally, Emma said, "I need my blanket because it will make me feel better." I was touched and admitted I had made a mistake. She could have her blanket when she wanted to. She could be the blanket boss. The only reason I didn't want her to have the blanket is because I feel embarrassed she is still so attached to it. Far better if I had thought things through before I stated an ultimatum, then revoked it. Such inconsistency teaches her that crying and carrying on works.

August 5, 2013

1978--How to Handle Sibling Rivalry

Siblings fascinate me.  I am grateful for my 5 wonderful younger brothers. I believe the greatest gift I gave my 4 daughters was each other.  I have 3 granddaughters and 3, soon to be 4, grandsons.

Here is my earnest attempt to establish rules for handling sibling rivalry in 1978, when my older daughter Emma was 3 and and my younger daughter,  Michelle, 15 months.  As the oldest of six, I probably overidentified with Emma. When her son was Michelle's age, I read my rules  to  Emma, , and we collapsed in helpless laughter. How earnest and intellectual I was trying to be, pretending I could objectively stay above the fray. Some of my advice is excellent; too bad I wasn't able to follow it. I had obviously read too many parenting books and taken too many contradictory parenting classes.
  1. When in doubt about what to do, don't interfere.
  2. If I am concerned that one of them could really get hurt, always intervene. In practical terms, that means always being within interfering distance when they are both playing on the slide, on the climbing structure, or on the terrace.
  3. When other people are around who would tend to think very badly of Emma, intervene.
  4. Protect Emma from Michelle. She should have time alone in her room to paint, to build with blocks, when Michelle is not constantly at her back, intent to destroy what she just made. When Emma complains that Michelle is bothering her, respond and help her out. It is completely unreasonable to expect Emma to handle Michelle's interference by herself. I find it hard to distract single-minded Michelle.
  5. Encourage Emma to find solutions to the problem herself. "I'm sorry Michelle keeps knocking down your blocks. Do you have any idea how we can stop her from doing it." Poor Emma. No wonder, she told me, a few years later, "Don't give me any of that active listening crap."
  6. Try to have one hour special time with Emma  after dinner. Now that she will be away from me three hours a day in nursery school, this is particularly important.
  7. Make a firm rule about no hitting with things. The thing used as a weapon gets put in the closet until the next day. "Blocks are for building, not for hitting Michelle. You can have it back tomorrow."
  8. When I find it necessary to intervene, use actions not words. No screaming, no getting angry. Separate them physically. Then, and only then, try to help Emma.. "I think you are trying to say something to Michelle. Talk it. You can talk; you don't have to hit. I know how you feel, but I can't let you hurt Michelle. It makes her feel like hitting you."
  9. When one of them is likely to continue hurting, use physical restraint. Take her to another room to calm down, telling her she can come back when she can play without hurting.
  10. Don't get angry. If I can't intervene without getting angry, don't bother. Michelle is not a helpless baby, and she is not always an innocent victim. Don't always assume I saw the curtain-raiser to any particular squabble.
In my defense, my daughters are all very close to one another and form a wonderful support system.

July 26, 2013

Teens, Sex, Love, Commitment, and Academic Excellence

I expect this to be my most controversial post. I am a feminist intellectual, who totally supports sex education. But  teenagers desperately need to learn about love, commitment, self-respect, and not using people to scratch an itch. I am an active supporter of gay marriages and have treated gay clients. One client told me I must have been a gay male in a previous lifetime; I understand him so well.  Disclaimer: I love sex but  have only made love with my two husbands. When I welcome a man into my body,  I welcome him into my soul.

I give lots of homework. I would not make love with my first husband until he read Simone De Beauvoir's Second Sex. I must have been much hotter than I thought I was at the time. My dad gave me the precious gift of intellectual arrogance. "Just because everyone disagrees with you, sweetie, doesn't mean you are wrong. You are probably smarter and have read more than they have." Remember, I was born in 1945.

 I discovered masturbation with my pillow when I was four. One daughter's first three words were mama, dada, vulva. Babies avidly explore every nook and cranny of their bodies. No one has to give them masturbation lessons. The clever little perverts discover it for themselves. All I ever said to the young explorer was: "Sweetie, that's vulva. It feels good to touch, doesn't it?" When I am changing my toddler grandson, I am glad when his hand is on his penis rather than in his poop.

A woman who spends the evening with a lusty romance novel and a vibrator is likely to have  a better time than one who picks up a drunk stranger in a bar.

March 16, 2013

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.

March 10, 2013

Why Are Mommy Wars Not Daddy Wars?

The raging mommy wars infuriate me. The energy and passion expended on attacking other women's choices need to be directed at  American corporate capitalism.  Is feminism the unwitting tool of capitalism? Since mothers won the right and social approval to work full-time, wages have  stagnated, and the most mothers are forced to work whether or not they want to leave their infants and toddlers.

As an idealistic young feminist of the early 1970's, I was dedicated to essential social change that both parents could care for their children. As the work week got shorter, that seemed a possible goal. We did not envision a world where mothers and fathers worked far longer hours than their own fathers had.
In my 1950s and 1960s working- class neighborhood , one salary suported much larger families.  Now working-class familes often are forced to work a double shift or several jobs. Husbands and wives barely have time together as one leaves for work as the other returns. According to US Census Bureau,  "Research shows that blue collar fathers have actually changed more in terms of their involvement in homemaking and child care than have middle class fathers (including professionals), when their wives are employed away from home. "

During the Clinton years, the US abolished Aid to Dependent Children, which enabled single mothers to take care of their young children. These mothers were viciously stereotyped as welfare cheats. Would you choose a minimum-wage job at  Walmart or as a home health aide without benefits  to taking care of your children?   No wonder poorer women are deeply suspecious of feminists. How does it help them when women increasingly become doctors and lawyers and corporate executives?

From 1968 , I was concerned  that feminists emphasized abortion over child care as the essential women's choice issue. No members of my Redstocking radical feminist group were married or had children. A happily married woman was suspected of "false consciousness." Not having children was perceived as more important than providing existing children with the excellent care they needed.  Because the US is one of the least child-family nations in the industrialized world, having a baby often seems like a personal disaster, and women have no choice but abortion.

 The US is one of the only countries in the world that provides no paid maternity leave. Pediatricians advocate breastfeeding for a year, but even professional women find themselves pumping in the toilet.  My daughter, the MBA, was cautioned against storing breastmilk in the company refrigerate because it was "toxic waste." If you stand at a counter and don't have an office, breastfeeding is impossible.

Would it require a  massive reshaping of the American economy to make it feasible for parents to stay home with their babies?  If we can outsource radiology jobs to China or India, we can figure out a way for parents to work partly in the office, partly at homeThe argument that taking any time off work would ruin career advancement is absurd, particularly in the Internet Age. Soldiers fighting World War II were absorbed back into the economy, given help with education and retraining, without being penalized for leaving their jobs for four or five years.

Why not a GI Bill for caregivers, whether of children, the disabled, or the aged? If raising young children was properly valued as an essential contribution to the nation's future, parents need not suffer dire career consequences for working part-time or taking a childrearing break.

My mother, my friends' mothers, my aunts returned to school and work when their  3, 4, 5, 6 children entered school. They were outstanding students who then had rewarding careers. Their gifts, experience, and skills were honored. Things had changed  by 1988 when I returned to social work and library school after staying home for 15 years, Women who had worked full-time since their children were born often did not validate what I had learned outside their  professional worlds. What I had learned before social work seemed to be considered cheating.

Among my daughters and their Ivy League professional friends, only one parent stayed at home full-time with their child for two years.  At baby showers, the possibility of taking longer than a maternity leave from work is not discussed.   A breast pump is the most appreciated gift.  The possibility of the baby's father being the primary parent is never mentioned. These are affluent parents who could   afford to take a few years off if they lived more frugally. But they are terrified of destroying  their future careers. The more parents believe this, the more likely their belief will come true.

Early child care is almost entirely a women's job. The nannies in my grandson's playground are all women of color.  Everyone knows that a white woman taking care of a baby during the day must be his grandma. How many day care centers, nursery schools, kindergartens have male teachers? My daughters' playgroups had helping daddies as well as helping mommies.  There were often several  stay-at-home fathers among the parents..We organized a babysitting cooperative; daddies were usually the evening babysitters.  My daughters loved it when their friends' daddies babysit. "They are much more fun."

I recently encountered a meetup group of stay-at-home fathers at the Children's Center Library at 42 Street. Watching the men take creative, loving care of their babies and toddlers was one of the most fascinating, inspiring, lovely experiences I have had. I suspect if more fathers advocated for a better balance of work and child care, my daughters and their husbands would not face the same hard choices her father and I struggled with  in 1973.

September 18, 2012

NYC, 1974-1976, Nonsexist Childrearing in Action


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.

September 17, 2012

Duck and Cover, McCarthy, Assassinations, Vietnam, Jail

 I was born the day after Trinity, the first atom bomb test. From age 5, duck-and-cover, hide-under-our-desks drills in my Catholic school were as frequent as tests. I was terrified of nuclear war. We lived one mile away from an air force base. Whenever I heard planes, I ran out into the backyard and tried to  to determine if they were American or Russian, using my library book on aircraft identification. When I was 7, Stalin died. I asked my parents if this meant we would not be killed by atom bombs.

In 1954 I had a severe case of the measles, and my Grandma  came to help nurse me. Grandma had been a lifelong Democrat since she voted in the first election open to women. With loathing, she was listening to the Joseph McCarthy army hearings. My eyes hurt too much to read, so I listened obsessively. Hatred of McCarthy's voice probably shaped my entire political development.

 In 1956, just turning eleven, I fell madly in love with Jack Kennedy as he made an unsuccessful bid for the vice presidential nomination. I was initially attracted by his Catholicism; ten minutes later I was smitten by his intelligence, wit, and charm. I was luckier than his other women. Loving Jack Kennedy was wonderful for me. From 1956 to 1963, I read everything I could about Kennedy, politics, American history.

What JFK believed in, I believed in. Gradually I moved to the left of his pragmatic liberalism. Certainly Kennedy was responsible for my decision to major in political science in college. Kennedy's assassination during the  fall of my freshman year in college devastated me. I reacted as if someone in my family had died. I quickly transferred my political allegiance to Bobby Kennedy, who was the keynote speaker at my graduation from Fordham in 1967.

Planning to get Ph.D. in political science, I  attended Stanford University where resistance to the war was at its height. Almost every afternoon, David Harris, Joan Baez's future husband who was later jailed, spoke out eloquently against the war. I was studying political science as a quantifiable science. I  knew Harris and the protests were the real political science, and I dropped out, throwing away my free ride to college professorship.

 After Stanford, I worked for Victor Riesel, the blind labor columnist. When he was exposing  waterfront racketeering. acid was thrown in his eyes. He was too proud to learn Braille, so he hired bright young political women to be his eyes, so he could write his daily colulmn. I skimmed  8 newspapers and 40 labor newspapers and read to him anything that might provide column ideas. The Internet equivalent was a constantly running ticker tape. All day, everyday  I read and discussed the assassinations, the riots, Vietnam. The shattering world was my job.

I had gone to bed very late the night Bobby Kennedy won the California primary. As the radio woke me up,  I didn't understand what they were saying for several minutes. I thought they were talking about someone else. When I called my finace,  I was crying so hysterically he thought something had happened to my parents or brothers. RFK's assassination was 10 days before my wedding. The day after I had a final dress fitting. I cried the entire time, not caring if I had a wedding dress of tears.

 I became a pacifist. Opposition to the Vietnam War right from the beginning was the catalyst. My husband Chris  applied for conscientious objector status and was willing to face jail rather than be inducted. We became very active in the Catholic Peace Fellowship, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the War Resister's League, all pacifist organizations. I have mostly seen Washington behind a picket sign. Freezing, I stood in front of the White House I stood in front of the White House and shouted the name of a dead soldier during the March of Death.

My husband was turned down for Conscientious Objector Status, as most Catholics were, even though he appealed the decision up to the Presidential Appeal Board. We knew he was going to be jailed, probably for 3 years, for refusing induction. But  in 1969 the Selective Service instituted the  First Draft Lottery. The days of the year, represented by the numbers from 1 to 366 (including Leap Year Day), were written on slips of paper that were placed in capsules. The capsules were mixed in a shoebox and dumped into a deep glass jar. Capsules were drawn from the jar one at a time.

The first day number drawn was 257 (September 14), so all registrants with that birthday were assigned lottery number 1. Men of draft age (those born between 1944 and 1950) whose birthday fell on the corresponding day of the year would all be drafted at the same time. Only the first 195 birthdates drawn in the 1969 lottery were called to serve. The lottery night was among the worst of my life.  I arrived home from work when they had reached 50. As time when on and they didn't call out Chris's birthday, I was convinced he had been in the first five. His number was 339. He was spared jail.

For the first time since our marriage, we could plan for the future.

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..

August 31, 2012

My Fearsome Foursome

Top L, Writer (Jane); R, Scientist (Michelle); Bottom L, CEO (Molly); 
R, Adventurer (Emma)
Top, Scientist, Explorer; Bottom, CEO, Writer
My four daughters have turned out wonderfully--well educated, professionally successful, happily married. Three of them are wonderful 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. If you google her first name and torture, she is the first hit (Hint, Katherine).
  • 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 65 countries, and has lived in Niger, Rwanda and Kosovo.) 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 almost six years when 5 grandkids were born, I haven't seen any but halfhearted attempts.

January 6, 2012

How to Cheat on the Mental Mini-Status Exam

To Patients:

Given that researchers hope to diagnose Alzheimer's Disease ten or twenty years earlier, no one is too young to practice cheating on the Mini Mental Status Exam .

Make sure all the answers are on your smart phone before your neurologist visit. 

If the examiner asks you not to look at your smart phone, offer to teach him how to use it so he won't have to waste so much time "remembering." Smirking casts doubt on your sincerity.

Instructions for Examiners:

Mini-Mental Status Examination

The Mini-Mental Status Examination offers a quick and simple way to quantify cognitive function and screen for cognitive loss. It tests the individual’s orientation, attention, calculation, recall, language and motor skills.

Each section of the test involves a related series of questions or commands. The individual receives one point for each correct answer.To give the examination, seat the individual in a quiet, well-lit room. Ask him/her to listen carefully and to answer each question as accurately as he/she can.

Don’t time the test but score it right away. To score, add the number of correct responses. The individual can receive a maximum score of 30 points.

A score below 20 usually indicates cognitive impairment. ___

What is today’s date?
 What is the month? 
What is the year?
 What is the day of the week today? 
What season is it?

Whose home is this? 
What room is this? 
What city are we in? 
What county are we in? 
What state are we in?
Examiner: Confiscate all smart phones and ipods before administering this part of the  test. Be aware your patient will be hiding them.
Ask if you may test his/her memory. Then say “ball”, “flag”, “tree” clearly and slowly, about 1 second for each. After you have said all 3 words, ask him/her to repeat them – the first repetition determines the score (0-3):
 Examiner: Suspect surreptitious text messaging to oneself.
Ask the individual to begin with 100 and count backwards by 7. Stop after 5 subtractions. Score the correct subtractions. 
Patient: Make sure to teach your child to count backwards first so they can ace this exam.

Ask the individual to spell the word ”WORLD” backwards. The score is the number of letters in correct position.

Patient: Silly you, learning to spell forwards. No wonder there are so many people with dementia.

Ask the individual to recall the 3 words you previously asked him/her to remember.
Ball  Flag Tree 

Examiner: Suspect his mental acuity if he isn't consulting his cell phone.
Show the individual a wristwatch and ask him/her what it is. Repeat for pencil.

Examiner: Don't award any points if patient says the wristwatch was  a primitive cell phone and a pencil was a primitive ipad.

Ask the individual to repeat the following: “No if, ands, or buts”

Examiner:  "No if, ands, and buts, this is the stupidest test I have ever taken" still earns full credit.

Give the individual a plain piece of paper and say, “Take the paper in your hand, fold it in half, and put it on the floor.” 
Examiner: Duck the paper airplane headed toward your eyes.

Hold up the card reading: “Close your eyes” so the individual can see it clearly. Ask him/her to read it and do what it says. Score correctly only if the individual actually closes his/her eyes. 
Examiner: Disobedience is unmistakable proof of dementia.

Give the individual a piece of paper and ask him/her to write a sentence. It is to be written spontaneously. It must contain a subject and verb and be sensible.
Examiner: "You are a fucking idiot" is an eminently sensible sentence.  Control your emotions.

Give the individual a piece of paper and ask him/her to copy a design of two intersecting shapes. One point is awarded for correctly copying the shapes. All angles on both figures must be present, and the figures must have one overlapping angle.
Patient: The examiner is testing your motor skills. Informing him you still skateboard will not improve  your score.

Total Score:_____


December 24, 2011

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.

April 14, 2011

Confessions of Misogyny

I wrote this at the height of the 2008 primary.

You have undoubtedly gotten the wrong impression of me because all the crap dumped on Hillary elicited my Joan of Arc persona and I was in full polemic mode. 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.

Two days later, I realize that the attacks on Hillary by women both reflect their misogyny and evoke mine. This week, all three female columnists for the NY Times , Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, and Judith Warner appear to despise women who are not as brilliant, rational, skeptical, and educated as they are. They show little respect for the women who voted for Hillary because of her supposedly manipulative exploitation of gender issues; they seem obnoxiously smug that they understand women's real reasons, not the fantasies the poor little darlings tell themselves . I am not as guilty as they are of despising "regular" women, but I love to hate all highly successful women who, instead of supporting and mentoring younger women, seem to want to push down other women so they will remain in all their glittering exceptionalism on the top.

April 1, 2011

What Is Your Problem, Mr. Rashkolnikov?

My MLS in library science has enabled me to help more clients than my MSW in social work. Shrinks put diagnostic DSM numbers on people; librarians only label the books. Matching someone up with the perfect book for his present crisis can save years of meds and shrinkage.

A friend of mine, who is the psychiatric social worker at Montifiore Hospital in the Bronx, has an office full of books. Chris says lots of patients unknowingly come to his ER for the best book for them in the present crisis in their lives. They don't need admission. I recommend a young Irish client struggling with his sexual identity read James Baldwin; Baldwin did most of the therapeutic work.

I do know there is some magic in making the client/book connection.; trusting one's intuition is key. One high school librarian characterizes librarians as the last alchemists. I talk to kids long enough to determine whom he/she reminds me of. Then I recommend their soulmates favorite books. It shouldn't work, but it frequently does. So does not thinking what I am doing..

Rarely explored is the role that a common literary experience plays in therapy. My best psychiatrists have been English majors. If a client refers to particular books, poems, songs, I would try to track them down. If I didn't have time to read them, I at least skim them long enough to understand the basic themes or characters..I answer immediately when clients ask about my favorite novel. Some analytically oriented shrinks might spend the whole session analyzing why a client wants the answer to that question.

I had two clients who were reading the same novels as I was, even though we had never discussed the books before. I was comfortable revealing the coincidence since I think it indicates a strong therapeutic alliance. If a client brings up a movie she has seen this weekend and I saw it too, I would certainly reveal that. My most helpful, most destructive psychiatrist and I saw Nuts with Barbara Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss the same weekend. We both admitted we thought of each other. Dr. Klein observed: "I was thinking it is going to be a lot easier to walk out of that movie than to walk out of this therapy."

In my experience, just as clients of Freudians have Freudian dreams and clients of Jungians have Jungian dreams, clients of therapist librarians spontaneously talk about books, even though they don't know about their therapist's secret identity..

In my 20's I was a supervisory editor for Basic Books, the American publisher of Freud and many other psychiatry books. The psychiatrists I encountered were mostly refugees from the Nazi's. They were immensely cultured, learned men, deeply committed to music, literature, and art. Too many psychiatrists today are narrowly educated pill pushers who are ignorant of the classics of world literature. 

Patients could go to a psych ER, give the name of their favorite literary character, recite the plot of the book as their symptom, and be admitted as a paranoid schizophrenic. Maybe this could be a successful reality show for English majors.

Imagine how appalled I was in 1993 when I discovered my new psychiatrist had never heard of Jane Austen. You need a therapist with a similarly furnished literary mind.