July 28, 2008
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.
July 26, 2008
Michael is getting the hang of building with blocks. He knows how to put one on top of another. Previously, he loved knocking down buildings we constructed. He also can put bristle blocks together. I would lend him some of our wooden unit blocks, except that he loves to hurl things, and we value our teeth.
July 22, 2008
"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. She is getting a master's degree in international affairs at Columbia, 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. I would like to share experiences and ideas with other mothers of children whose idealism and dedication take them into danger. "
Learning not to burden my daughters with my anxieties is a lifelong struggle. But my anxiety is not nearly as great as my pride:
The daughter whom I was so worried about, co-edited this new book, which got excellent reviews and is being ordered for international relations classes throughout the country. I am proud that I figured out how to prevent my anxiety from clipping her wings.
July 17, 2008
When my kids were young, 25-30 years ago, even in therapy-obsessed Manhattan, preschool kids weren't frequently diagnosed, 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? Are we being encouraged to worry needlessly about our own kids that we don't have any time or energy for political activism on behalf of all children?
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 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 save your life after being tested for a shockingly short time on shockingly few people who don't share your diagnoses. Witness the latest advertising blitz to treat bipolars with antipsychotics; all the tried and true mood stabilizers are becoming generic, so they obviously can't help.
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 of autism, bipolar disorder, ADHD imply lifelong, incurable brain disorders for which there are no medical tests, no verifiable proof of their existence. How do we know that today's experts on autism are any more correct than the world acclaimed psychiatrist who attributed autism to "icebox mothers" 40 years ago? 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?
It is politically correct to be very tolerant and open-minded about emotional problems, but that enlightenment is only surface deep. I mourn for the three year old already cursed with a lifelong diagnosis. Loner, loser, geek, and nerd seem far kinder labels. In this fall's TV season, geeks are the new Prince Charmings. The confidentiality of medical records is a myth. Many adults not diagnosed along the autistic spectrum have successful careers in math, science, engineering, computer programming. Would that have happened if they had been diagnosed and stigmatized as preschoolers? What special services would you have prescribed for Bill Gates?
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. here Are we doing far more harm than good? 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.
July 13, 2008
Clinton should disassociate herself from the PUMAs, defending her former supporters who are following her advice to work their hearts out for Obama. Clinton supporters who immediately started to work for Obama seem to be targeted by some PUMA trolls on our blogger blogs as cowardly traitors. The anonymous attacks on me removed from the Clintonista for Obama blog were revolting and ageist, implying I was too close to the grave to have a right to political advocacy, that I desperately needed, but would never get, a man, that they laughed themselves sick at my profile.
Given that these personal attacks on me echoed the attacks made by the media and progressive blogs against older Hillary supporters, I have to wonder who those anonymous hit-and-run attackers truly were. Are they truly Hillary supporters or an army of Karl Roves in disguise? Is it completely unfair to associate them with genuine PUMAS? The whole mess is heartbreaking. I certainly understand where the PUMA people are coming from. I just have to reread all my letters to my daughters and sons-in-law for the last year. I was totally demoralized that they were all supporting Obama and repeating all the right-wing Hillary demonizing that had now been adopted by too many progressive blogs.
I had dedicated 30 years of my life to nonsexist childrearing of 4 daughters, and now I was discovering they probably weren't feminists and couldn't recognize sexism and misogyny. They had splendid educations and excellent jobs, so they hadn't experienced much discrimination. However, after a year of mothering, my oldest daughter realizes we don't live in a postfeminist era. Two more daughters are becoming mothers this year, so they will be similarly enlightened. There is nothing like discovering you might make $100,000 plus, but are still expected to pump breastmilk in a toilet to raise your consciousness. If your consciousness isn't raised enough, finding out that storing your pumped breastmilk in a company refrigerator is a biohazard should bring enlightenment.
The attacks on me and other Clinton supporters for Obama made the Obama supporters on mybarackobama seems like cuddly little bunnies in contrast. Now that they realize I am genuinely working hard for Obama, they can welcome me, even as I criticize him from the progressive left. Admittedly, it has taken me a month to find groups of Obama supporters I can work with, and we had to work through much miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Some Obama supporters genuinely believe that Hillary doesn't disown the PUMAs because she believes they enhance her chances for the vice presidential nomination. I am sure they are wrong, but I understand how Clinton's speaking out would probably reassure people.
Feminists and other progressives need to start a peaceful revolution for a family-friendly, child-friendly, elder-friendly, human-friendly America. Instead we squabble like little children. Wait, that isn't fair to toddlers. The under threes I hang out with are far better behaved and cooperative.
However, if Obama supporters viciously attack Hillary supporters who are not ready to support Obama, they reinflict all the traumatic wounds of the primary season. I perfectly understand how many women feel that supporting Obama is equivalent to going back to an abusive husband. The primary campaign reawakened in me memories of a lifetime of discrimination, mockery, and misogyny. We are all too quick to dismiss people who disagree with us as trolls. Rational debate is not trolling. I do try to take what people say seriously and dialogue with them. A serious discussion of the need for a new feminist movement of progressive men and women might be a constructive substitute for tormenting our former and future allies
July 12, 2008
Parents learn to ignore obnoxious toddler or preschool behavior rather than to make a big fuss about it. When my oldest daughter was 1 and 2, she pulled hair and dumped sand on people's heads. I finally realized that she wasn't inherently vicious; she just adored uproar. Her criminal behavior only occurred in the presence of parents absolutely guaranteed to go round the twist. She stopped eating sand when her pediatrician looked her in the eyes and told her how important it was to eat enough sand daily to stay healthy.
Real trolls love uproar. If you enjoy the insult game, you can't complain about your comrades in insult being trolls because you obviously relish uproar as well. The devil child now works for the International Peace Institute.She no longer eats sand, although she has spent a suspiciously long time in African deserts unobserved by me. So there might be hope for trolls and the troll accusers.
If you don't immediately recognize this, you have a serious case against your parents for child abuse and cannot be held responsible for any untoward behavior on blogs. But you need to be in your public library tomorrow morning.
"And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, "BE STILL!" and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things."
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
July 11, 2008
Some parents have asked me why I feel so passionately about preschool psychiatric diagnoses when my own daughters didn't have such serious problems. I will let you in on a secret. Bright, creative children can have a terrible time adjusting to traditional American grade schools. Bright bored children don't finish worksheets, don't pay attention, daydream, forget assignments, leave books and homework home, ignore the teacher, read ahead of the class and miss their place if called upon, miss many days of school. My local school insisted on testing a kindergarten boy for development disability; his IQ was genius level. When my writer, pictured above, was in first grade, her teacher refused to assign her to the advanced reading group until she was more "cooperative and compliant."
Rose never became compliant. In kindergarten she refused to do assignments because "writers use their own words." In high school she refused to do art projects because "artists paint what they need to, not what the teacher assigns." Now I would be told to have her tested because her "emotional maturity" lagged behind her intelligence. My two high school valedictorians were not given any awards from grade school. They only truly liked school when they got to Yale.
Your bright preschooler might face as many challenges as your friend's autistic or ADHD son. More schools have special ed services than have gifted services. Again and again, I questioned whether home schooling might be easier than my daily struggle with their school. Younger parents might not anticipate the extent to which they need to be advocates for their kids in American's test-obsessed schools. Getting high test scores is more important than being a gifted musician or artist. Kids who don't adjust to the norm are stimatized. The most creative, divergent thinkers our society desperately needs can be slapped with a psychiatric label and have their giftedness drugged out of them.
Warning: pedantry ahead. Let's distinguish between misogyny, misandry, and sexism. Misogyny is hatred and disdain for women in general. Misandry, hatred and disdain for men in general, is probably the most underused word in political debate. Although a lifelong feminist, I have always loathed knee-jerk male-bashing and defended men against stereotyping all my life. Wikipedia has a decent definition of sexism: "Sexism is commonly considered to be discrimination and/or hatred of people based on their sex rather than their individual merits."
I struggle greatly with my own misogyny. I was much more comfortable being the only girl in my political science classes at Fordham than attending an all girls Catholic College in my freshman year. I credit my 5 younger brothers and 5 young uncles. My four daughters might have contributed to the misogyny too:) Working in the women-dominated fields of librarianship and social work has been a terribly bad fit for me with dire economic consequences.
I am far more confident that men will like me than women will like me. I don't do tact. If I see a group of 5 men at a party, I know they need me:) All my shrinks have been men. I have done my best therapy work with male clients. One client told me I must have been a gay male in a previous lifetime since I understood him so well:) The real explanation was that manic depressive closets resemble gay closets.
Misogyny and misandry are equally sexist. Women can be just as guilty of sexism as men. When people complain that Obama isn't tough enough, or nasty enough, they are being sexist. The glorification of the macho man is sexist. The idea that little boys can't cry or wear pink or play with dolls is sexist. The denial that fathers are just as loving, nurturing parents as women is sexist. Questioning the masculinity of a man who stays home and cares for his children is sexist. Expectations that daughters are better qualified to care for aging parents are sexist.
Sexism underpins our whole glorification of war and violence. It cannot possibly be defeated in one generation. All of human history is not changed quite so quickly. Taking care of my one year old grandson, I am conscious that preschool boys possibly suffer more from sexism than little girls. When a girl shows interest in traditionally masculine activities, it is often seen as upward mobility. When a boy shows interest in girlie things, people start wondering if he is gay. Older men in the elevator are already fretting about Michael's curls.
All of us are crippled by such attitudes. Preschools and elementary schools are a better match for most girls. Boys too often wind up on medication so they can conform to classroom rules and expectations. The idea that boys can't be babysitters or men can't be daycare, kindergarten, and grade school teachers is disgustingly sexist. Home health agencies seem to find it unimaginable that a client might want a guy to care for their aging mother. The idea that any man is a potential rapist or sexual predator is hideously sexist.
Having a grandson has been a profound journey, evoking memories of my brothers as young children. I was 11 when my 4th brother was born, 13 when my 5th brother was born. In pictures, I look old enough to be their teenage mom. I recall their tears, their tenderness, their vulnerabilities. My parents were relatively enlightened, but only one of my brothers could cry when we were all together for a week while my mother died at home. And when my brothers heard him crying, they assumed he was me.
July 9, 2008
I have 4 daughters and 5 brothers. I have witnessed a surfeit of sibling squabbles. I had hoped Obama's becoming the presumptive nominee would have modulated the bickering. People, John McCain doesn't understand how Social Security works. in my era in Catholic schools, you couldn't graduate from 8th grade that ignorant. We have had 8 years of a stupid, invincibly ignorant president. Bloggers are presumably intelligent, articulate, knowledgeable people. Don't you value Obama's intelligence, no matter what you think of his politics?
I am one day older than the atom bomb, born the day after Trinity (I expect birthday greetings very soon if you know your history:) I was a 1960s radical nonviolent pacifist and am a card-carrying member of the War Resister's League. I can go spectacularly limp if you try to drag me from the demonstration. I have not changed as I raised 4 daughters, took care of my dying parents, worked as a public librarian and social worker.
We need a nonviolent revolution to transform America into a children-friendly, family-friendly, elder-friendly, human-being-friendly society that is not the disgrace of most of the world. If you want to have children or take care of your aging parents, you would be better off moving almost anywhere in the world.
I supported Hillary and I am now supporting Obama by holding his clay feet to my progressive fires. I am a million percent sure the US will be better off with him as president than McCain as president. But I have no illusions he is a liberal or a progressive. He will only be as liberal as the country forces him to be. I have known that from the beginning, so I don't feel betrayed.
Since Obama became the presumptive nominee, I became very active in mybarackobama , and in a month have amassed 867 points and am in 7416 place. Joining lots of groups, making sure my blog posts land on their group page, then leaving if I get no response are the keys to my point total. I didn't do that deliberately; most of the groups sound interesting but are inactive. I feel like a first grader bragging about the gold stars on my forehead. I have been asked to leave two groups, but I started 3 groups of my own, which I control absolutely. My blogs posts can be sent to 10 groups at once. Mybarackobama seems remarkably open to Obama criticism. I hope it continues after he wins the election. I feel I am having a much more positive impact than if I was feeding my resentments on Puma blogs.
Let's stop squandering the ideas, energy, passion needed for the revolution on destructive family squabbles. I thought the feminists of my generation would change things so that our kids could combine careers and children and elder care. I intend to dedicate the rest of my life to making sure my grandchildren can. I have a 14-month old grandson with a granddaughter due in August and another one due in December.
If you think managing careers and child care is difficult, wait until a phone call in the middle of the night plunges you into the nightmare of combining elder care and your career. And no, Medicare or Health Insurance does not pay for custodial care and help with the activities of daily life for failing or demented elders who are going to die of their illness. Medicare or Health Insurance might spend hundreds of thousands on death bed heroics. but they won't pay for an aide willing to change adult diapers. I hope you all are practicing. I suggest wrapping the use diaper in a plastic bag and tossing it out the bathroom window to a garbage can outside the window. But you need to live in a house for that.
I have been a feminist since my brother was born when I was 18 months old. Having 4 more younger brothers reinforced it. The culminating moment was when I was preparing for First Communion and the nun informed me that boys went up first because they could be priests and were closer to God. !6 years of misogynistic Catholic education guarantees radical feminism for life.
I was the only girl in my political science classes at Fordham and I especially love to argue with men. I don't do tact. So when is my birthday and why do I call myself Redstocking Grandma? If you can't answer those two questions, you undoubtedly need to read more history and do less blogging and commenting. Ask me for a reading list. I give lots of homework.
Time will tell if I moderate my blogs, censoring people who can't pass my history test:) This is a joke guys.But I do want intelligent discussion and debate, not the reversion to a middle school cafeteria that too many blogs became during the primary. In 1987, equally digrunted with my shrink and my first husband, I ordered a red sweatshirt that proclaimed: "Never love a man who doesn't love Jane Austen, Doris Lessing, and Margaret Drabble." More homework . After 14 years, that shirt got me an English husband. Jane Austen introduced us; we met on a Jane Austen online listserv.. A nonviolent revolutionary who loves Jane Austen, what's not to love?
July 6, 2008
Her dad Chris remembers: "Katherine has displayed single-minded determination in everything she has undertaken. She became interested in the planets when she was two. She learned not only the names of the planets and their positions, but also the names of all their satellites. She made up stories about the planets, and at one point every member of the family had a planet name. " I was happy my name was earth.
She started kindergarten before she was five since she is a November baby. She absolutely refused to write stories using the words the teacher gave the class. "Writers use their own words," she insisted. I deluded myself that I was articulate until I had Katherine.
Katherine is well known in political blogs as simply Katherine. Katie wouldn't have had the same dignity. She started writing on torture and extraordinary rendition when she was in law school and didn't want to make herself unemployable by revealing her full name. Try a google search on Katherine and "Obisidian Wings."
Katherine once told me: "You are more responsible than any other person for my being able to write like this--in fact, it's not even close." I felt like I had received the Nobel Prize for motherhood. and have contributed significantly to make the world a better place. The entire family is in awe of Katherine. Yet she is the sweetest, most loving woman imaginable who has been an incredible support to me during episodes of my illness. She comes across as quiet and shy.
And yet Katherine's brilliant intensity made her a very challenging child to mother. Thankfully, she was born at home, slept in our bed her first year, nursed for more years than I am willing to admit in a public forum. Because she was my third child, I was much freer to trust my instincts. She is also the daughter most like me. If I wanted to know how I was really feeling when she was a baby, I just had to watch her reactions.
My Katherine stories are often a great comfort to mothers worrying if their child is destined for sainthood or schizophrenia. In my post on my so-called normal children I described her: "The writer had meltdowns 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 three years from now. Her tantrums were reserved for the existential order of the universe; I could do nothing to assuage her anguish. " When I read her passionate poltical writings, I recognize the same Katherine, who has found the perfect outlet for her intensity.
Marrying the perfect husband at age 23 was the most important thing of all.
I stayed home full-time for 14 years until the youngest started first grade. I loved staying home with my 4. I did extensive volunteer work: La Leche League, playgroup coordinator, librarian at their schools, childbirth educator, nursery school treasurer and membership chairperson and took a few grad courses in child development. I am sorry my daughters and sons-in-law will not have that option.
In 1988 I start to work part-time in a nearby library and took two courses a semester toward my master's degree in library science. When she was 9, 10, 11, I attended social work school full-time. I find myself re-evaluating the choices I made as I take care of my 6-month-old grandson 3 days a week as my oldest daughter works part-time.
My mom stayed home with her 6 children until my youngest brother (sixth child) went to school full-time. I was just leaving for college, so I always enjoyed having a mom at home. My mom went to college, then grad school, and had a successful teaching career, so I was introduced to the idea that it's never too late. Most of my aunts followed a similar trajectory; my Aunt Rosemarie started law school at age 40 and had a fascinating career as chief counsel to a university president.
Once upon a time, my first husband and I planned ambitious careers as college professors. We would share the care equally of the two children we might or might not have. That didn't happen. I decided I hate Stanford grad school, not being willing to admit that I couldn't tolerate being 3000 miles away from my true love. The Vietnam War and his fight for conscientious objector status interfered with John's academic aspirations. He wound up as a radiation physicist working in cancer treatment; I found a niche editing psychiatry books. John had found his lifetime calling, but I was marking time when I got pregnant. I was tired of editing and knew I had to return to grad school at some point to find a career I loved. Having dropped out of Stanford and Columbia Law School, I suspected I would need therapy before I trackled grad school again.
By time time I returned to work and school, my mom was available after school and on school holidays. I was blessed not to need any alternative child care arrangement. Even so, trying to go to school part-time and work full-time while my 4 were still at home was very stressful for everyone and might have contributed to the slow death of my 28-year-old marriage. My struggles with manic depression affected every career choice. I couldn't manage what many saner mothers could.
We managed on one income by living frugally; certainly we had no savings and lived paycheck to paycheck. We only had one car. We vacationed with my parents at their expense. Dining out was reserved for anniversaries and birthdays. College costs required my financial contribution. I would not have the luxury of staying at home now. For example, my house that cost $86,000 24 years ago is now worth $450,000. All our new neighbors are both working parents.
Things are different for Anne, my oldest. First, I am available to take care of her son; I am not working full-time like my mom was when my girls were young. Second, Anne has a job she loves, for which she has prepared by a master's degree and ten years experience. Her employer knows she is indispensable and wants her on any terms--full-time, part-time, working from home. If I had had a job I loved, and not had to return to grad school to find a field I enjoyed, I probably would have figured out how to work part-time.
Now, I couldn't possibly have afforded 4 children on one income. I am sad that large families seem a thing of the past in the New York metropolitan area. I suspect two of my girls would have adjusted readily to day care, but two wouldn't. Full-time group child care is emotionally expensive for some young children. My oldest had difficulty adjusting to all-day kindergarten. When I asked her why she was being so impossible, she told me, "I used all my goodness up in school."
But every family has to find what works for them. In an ideal world both parents would have flexible schedules so they would have more time at home. One of the many things that distresses me about the mommy wars is how it seems taken for granted that dads can't and don't want to stay home