Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Surf: Thanksgiving Edition

Since it's been a busy Thanksgiving weekend, my Sunday Surf this week is short and sweet.  I'm sure you've got more doorbuster sales to hit anyway, right?
  • My very favoritest (it can be a word, yes?) post of the week comes from the blog Mama Birth.  The post Humbling Moment #547: Women With More Than One Child Are Not Actually Crazy is an absolute laugh-out-loud, must-read about the things we learn when our family keeps growing.  There are plenty of days when I'm absolutely convinced that my second kid is hell-bent on making me lose my mind completely, so it's nice to hear that other moms have trouble keeping their shit together, too.  
  • The Healthy Food and Healthy Living blog by Dr. Ayala is always interesting, but her recent post On Happiness, and Being In the Moment was one that really resonated with me.  Our world is so busy and complicated and everyone always seems to be in a hurry and wanting to do and have more, more, more.  But a recent study shows that thinking less and living more in the moment might be the key to greater happiness.  I'm a big fan of simplifying my life, but I find it hard to live in the moment.  This post is a great reminder of why it is so important.
  • In The Darker Side of Back Friday, Mom-101 calls out the retailers who have gone too far with Black Friday sales that are now starting on Thanksgiving Day.  Would you like a side of rampant commercialism and blatant consumerism with your turkey? 
I'm sure there was much more on the web that I missed this week, but I'm off to put up my Christmas tree.  Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Surfing!      

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Santa Claus Is Not A Lie. He's A Belief System.

One of my favorite Christmas prints is by local St. Louis artist Mary Engelbreit.  It's a simple picture of Santa Claus, with the word Believe printed above.

One word.


Easier said than done, I know.

When money is tight and jobs are scarce and loved ones are ill, it can be difficult to believe that things will be okay.  Sometimes, it can be difficult to believe that we can cope with the hardships that life keeps throwing at us. 

If we are religious, it can be difficult to believe that going to church and trusting in a God who  appears to have forsaken us is worthwhile.

Belief can be difficult to master.

"Faith," said Santa Claus in the classic Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, "is believing in things when common sense tells you not to."

In Valentine Davies book from which the movie was adapted, the quote reads a little differently: 

"Those who can accept nothing on faith will be forced to live a life dominated by doubt." 

Common sense tells us that Santa Claus is a myth.  As adults, we know that, in reality, there is no such person.  And there are some parents who struggle to teach their children about a man who for all intensive purposes is a big fat lie.

Is it a lie to perpetuate the myth of Santa to our children?

I don't think so. 

Santa Claus may not actually exist in the real world.  But when we teach our children about him, what we're really teaching them is how to believe in things that we cannot see.  We're teaching them that we can never know the complete truth of our existence, or understand all the wonders of our world.  We're teaching them that there is much that we can never understand. 

We're teaching them to imagine and to dream.  We're teaching them that life is about so much more than we can perceive from our limited point of view.  We're teaching them to believe in magic and generosity, and that the good in the world can always outshine the evil.   

We're teaching them to choose a life of belief and optimism over a life of pessimism and doubt.

Last night, my six year-old put her first tooth under her pillow and went to sleep with visions of a magical tooth fairy who would come in the night.  I might feel like I'm lying to her when I spin tales of this mysterious creature and then sneak in myself to stash the cash.  But I don't.

Instead, I feel like I'm teaching that we live in a world where life is full of possibilities and anything can happen.

In a world where a fat guy in a red suit can fly through the sky in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.  A world where a fairy can come in the night and leave money under your pillow.  Where a heart that has grown heavy from the hardships of life can be healed.  Where things will always get better.

I'm teaching her to believe. 

And I'm also reminding myself.

Check out the Mary Engelbreit store online if you're looking for some neat Christmas gifts.  She illustrates a variety of cards, calendars, posters, dishes, books, ornaments, etc.  There used to be an ME store at the St. Louis Galleria (and a long, long time ago at Union Station), but I don't think there are any around town anymore.  Her stuff is one-of-a-kind, though, so it's totally worth the shipping charges!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday Surfing on Monday: Medication, McDonalds, And Other Things Moms Talk About

I had a Sunday Surf post all prepared, but was sidelined by some weird form of head cold/stomach flu/ poisoning by Theraflu.  Whatever it was that I had, I never made it to the computer.  So we're Sunday Surfing on Monday.  What difference does it make, really?

  • Lisa Belkin, author of The New York Times Motherlode blog (and #1 on Babble's recent list of top mom bloggers) has an interesting post entitled Modern Mother's Little Helpers.  No, it isn't about the cute little toddlers who empty the silverware from the dishwasher and put the laundry into the dryer.  It's about the pills that so many moms pop in order to get through the day.  Belkin draws on a post from an anonymous blogger at The Elmo Wallpaper, who wonders what is going on when such large numbers of mothers are so overwhelmed and stressed out that they can't seem to function without the help of prescription meds. 
  • San Francisco can ban Happy Meal toys all day long, but according to two eye-opening posts over at Spoonfed, there are far more serious issues when it comes to McDonalds.  Check out both Forget Happy Meal toys. Let's ban McEducation and the follow-up post More McDonald's Madness for some interesting and educational reading.  
  • There was a beautiful post from Carrie at The Parenting Passageway about the times when breastfeeding doesn't work out.  She writes: "breastfeeding is wonderful, it provides an excellent start to infants and to families.  However, the way we connect to our children goes through all developmental stages, not just infancy, and not just through breastfeeding." 
  • And last but definitely not least, the Cool Mom Picks Holiday Guide is here!!!  Cool Mom Picks is an awesome website run by awesome mom bloggers, and every year they scope out the coolest holiday gift ideas so that you don't have to.  I love that their stuff is unique, and that I can find  handmade items from Etsy mixed in among all their holiday picks. 
Happy Surfing!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

STL Views and Reviews: Malcolm Terrace Park

I've lived in St. Louis for over twenty-five years, but until a good friend suggested that we meet for a playdate at Malcolm Terrace Park last week, I had never even heard of it. 

Boy, have I been missing out.

Personally, I always find it to be a bit of a struggle to find a really good park that the entire family can enjoy.  My elementary school-aged daughter likes playgrounds that challenge her physically and have "a lot to do," my toddler loves a park with lots of open space where he can run freely, and I love a place where they'll both be entertained and I can relax a bit and actually enjoy the fresh air and the scenery.

I also find that, as a mom to a toddler (who is rapidly evolving into a fearless and overly adventurous preschooler), I don't enjoy the sprawling playgrounds where your kids can disappear from your sight for what seems like hours on end, even if it's actually only about thirty seconds

Yes, I have helicopter-parent tendencies; I know this about myself and, quite frankly, I'm okay with it. 

The playground at Malcolm Terrace Park is small enough that parents like me can actually see what their little ones are up to, without having to follow them around like a puppy.  Maybe I'm lazy, but sometimes half the pleasure of taking my kids to the park is being able to sit on a bench nearby and just sit.

Maybe  it's like my stay-at-home mom version of "time to myself," because at home I can't sit down without somebody needing me to get up and do something the minute my ass makes contact with a cushion. 

It's like kids have radar -- oops, moms about to sit down and breathe, we better keep her moving . . .

So Malcolm Terrace Park is nice for lazy mothers who want to go somewhere where they won't have to chase a busy toddler.  But it's also really nice for older kids too.  The playground isn't one of those brand new shiny things with plastic astro-turf underneath it; it's more of an old-school, back-to-basics, good old-fashioned fun type of place. 

It has two swings, two baby swings, a curvy slide, a tunnel slide, and a straight slide, a swaying, creaky bridge, and a tunnel, some monkey bars, and some poles to climb.  And mulch on the ground.  Nothing fancy, but plenty of scope for the imagination.

And did I mention the trees?  This, I think, is why I and probably a lot of other people like this park so much.  Nestled amidst homes off of Mosley Road in Creve Coeur, Malcolm Terrace Park is quiet, serene, beautiful, and shady!!! 

Mature, fully grown trees surround the play area, keeping the slides cool even on the sunniest of days.   There's plenty of grassy area for running around or playing catch or picnicing on a fall day, and there's also a sand volleyball court for anybody whose up for a game, or who wants to bring sand toys and pretend it's a day at the beach . . .  

Also very important for parents of small children, both parking and restrooms are located within walking distance of the playground.

The park also has a small path of trails to walk through that makes for a great nature hike for kids who love to pick up sticks and admire rocks, and apparently The Riverfront Times even listed it as the best park for birdwatching in St. Louis.  There is a small rock creek that kids will enjoy, and a shady area full of trees and plants known as Serenity Grove where everyone can relax.

If you would like to see pictures of Malcolm Terrace Park, there is a great stream of Flickr photos at

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Post In Which I More Rationally Respond To Erica Jong's Mother Madness

The other day, I briefly responded to Erica Jong's Wall Street Journal article Mother Madness, in which she equates modern motherhood (and attachment parenting in particular) with prison.  The piece has caused quite the stir in the world of social media, and in case you couldn't tell from my previous post, I didn't like it.

In her article, Jong reiterates the same basic controversial premise that has brought notoriety to writers like Hannah Rosin and Elisabeth Badinter: that nurturing our babies and children by responding to their needs is the wrong way to mother because it's making us miserable.

That motherhood itself, or more specifically a particular kind of motherhood -- the kind where we are willing to devote much of our time and energy to our children -- is what is holding women back.

Jong goes on the attack against attachment parenting from the beginning, calling out Bill and Martha Sears and their popular Baby Book as one of the primary reasons women become sacrificial lambs on the altar of motherhood (as I imagine she might put it). 

What is so frustrating about her article, though, is that she clearly doesn't understand attachment parenting, and confuses a responsive style of mothering with an obsessive desire to raise the "perfect" child. 

She clearly doesn't realize that you can parent by attachment while working outside the home, or that attachment parenting does leave room for caregivers other than mom or dad in a child's life.  She also seems to think that attachment parenting means making your own baby food and using cloth diapers, and while many attachment parents may do these things, one has nothing to do with the other. 

I for one did neither, and my style of parenting is fairly attachment-oriented.

Erica Jong's Mother Madness is perfectly defined by writer and attachment parenting guru Katie Allison Granju in her response on The New York Times Motherlode blog as a "messy amalgam of multiple parenting cliches."  Granju debunks many of the attachment parenting myths promoted in Jong's article, and articulates the flaws in Jong's irrational assertions far better than I can.

Granju's is an article worth reading.  

Erica Jong is apparently a long-time feminist activist, but she is clearly out of her element when it comes to writing about a style of motherhood that she never embraced.  Her own daughter, Molly Jong-Fast wrote a response piece, in which she describes her childhood and her relationship with her mother, and very astutely concludes that her mother worked hard so that she as the daughter could have choices. 

Her defense of her mother is touching, and I wholeheartedly agree that there are a million different ways to be a good mother to your child.  I may not agree with Jong's choices, and they clearly wouldn't work for me, but I'm not going to deride it and publish an essay in a national publication telling her how she's done everything wrong. 

That's Erica Jong's style.  Not mine.

Lost in the mish-mosh of Mother Madness are some valid points.  Jong is correct that the media focuses on images of smiling celebrities with their children, but never shows the nannies.  She is correct that there are parents who get so caught up in the desire to do everything "right" who are overly susceptible to ideas and theories of what constitutes "good" parenting.

While I practice many of the principles of attachment parenting, I have long been frustrated by the label, because I don't believe that parents or parenting styles need to be categorized.  I agree that it's dangerous to give new mothers the idea that "this is what you should be doing." 

In fact, I also agree with Ms. Jong on one other very important point:  that modern motherhood desperately needs to be redefined.

Modern mothers are struggling under the weight of tremendous pressure, but the pressure to be an excellent mother is no greater than the pressure to function in society (and more importantly in the work place) as if you weren't a mother.  Yes, there are women who stay home to raise children for the wrong reasons and probably feel imprisoned.  But there are also women who leave their children and go to work because it is what is expected of them or because they must to provide for their family, and feel just as imprisoned there.

Attachment parenting may be a convenient scapegoat, but we have far greater cultural problems than arguing about whether moms should make their own baby food.  We need longer maternity leaves and an increased acceptance of leave for fathers as well.  We need laws protecting women's rights to pump at work and breastfeed in public.  We need fellow mothers who are willing to accept that there are ways of raising children that are different from their own.  We need far more support, and far fewer critics.

Motherhood isn't holding us back. 

But so-called feminists who insist on blaming motherhood for the undone work of the women's movement instead of fighting for the social change that mothers deserve just might be.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Who The %$#&% Is Erica Jong?

I just have one question today.

Who the hell is Erica Jong and why should anybody care what she has to say?

This article from The Wall Street Journal is positively one of the most disturbing pieces of writing that I've ever read.  Not because I disagree with what she says (which I do), but because her thinking is completely illogical and the audacity with which she presumes to know what other women are feeling and experiencing is absolutely astounding.

Who is Erica Jong again?

Clearly not anybody I need to waste my time finding out about.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why This Stay-At-Home Mom Will Never Go "Back" To Work

From the moment you make the decision to stay at home, you start to hear the question.

"When will you go back to work?" 

I don't know if people are trying to be intentionally rude, and I doubt that they truly mean to convey the sort of condescension that accompanies the implication that every stay-at-home mom is really just biding her time at home with her kids until she can jump back into the world as a so-called real person again.

I happen to like the time that I spend with my children.  I place a high value on the time that I spend doing things for them (though I reserve the right to bitch and moan about said contributions to their general welfare whenever I please). 

And I have yet to meet a mother who doesn't "work" on a daily basis.

Apparently, though, work doesn't qualify as work unless somebody pays you to do it.

If I went to work in a daycare, I would get paid to play with children and keep them safe and prepare their meals and clean up their messes. 

If I went to work as a teacher, I would get paid to read with children and help them learn their ABC's and all sorts of other life lessons. 

If I went to work as a personal chef, I would get paid to shop and plan and prepare meals.

If I went to work as a chauffeur, I would get paid to drive people around all day.

In none of these situations would anybody ask me when I was going to go back to work.  They would consider what I was doing to be work, simply because I would be doing it for strangers and getting paid for it. 

Except, I don't get paid to do any of these jobs.  I do them for my own family out of the goodness of my  heart, so apparently they don't count as work.  But they are work.  Hard work.  And they count as work too. 

I will never go back to work because I never stopped working in the first place.    

I will, however, return to paid employment, which is what people actually mean (and what they should say) when they ask about going back to work. 

Language is a powerful tool.  Often, the words that we use convey far more than we mean.  By simply asking a mother when she plans to return to work, we automatically devalue the work that that woman does everyday taking care of her own family. 

I am actually in the process of returning to a paying job right now -- on a part-time, work from home basis -- but I don't consider it going back to work.  I consider it adding more work to the work that I'm already doing.      

The definition of "work" should encompass more than just work that is financially compensated.  Defining ourselves through our paid employment and not the many other aspects of our lives just doesn't make sense, because most of us are so much more than the things we do to pay our bills. 

And stay-at-home moms like myself might not be earning the big bucks or receiving compensation in any form other than sloppy kisses and crayon drawings, but our work is just as (if not more) important than anything else we might be doing.

We work. 

Every day. 

All day. 

And usually at night too.

We don't have to go "back" to work.  We're already here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas . . .

Yesterday, we celebrated Halloween at our house.  Just like millions of other families across the country.  We didn't do anything special -- just made the traditional Halloween chili and carved pumpkins and tossed black and orange balloons around the house with the kids. 

My six year-old was a go-go dancer, because when she spotted the multi-colored costume at Target she thought it was "the most beautiful dress I've ever seen." 

I never did look up what a go-go dancer actually is, and at the back of my mind I wonder if it's really an appropriate choice for a six year-old.  But her excitement over her costume stems purely from the fact that it's so fun and colorful and that she gets to dance while she wears it.  Where's the harm in that? 

My two year-old wore his pajamas.  After first declaring that he wanted to be a car, he changed his mind and decided that no costume would come within three feet of his body.  As it turns out, nobody really cared that the kid wasn't wearing a costume, and he came home with a bag full of candy that weighed at least as much as he does.

But what made Halloween special to me this year was the weather.  The fall weather.  The fact that it was cold enough last night that the kids had to wear long sleeves under their costumes and bring their jackets, cold enough that my daughter was complaining that she needed mittens. 

You can always count on St. Louis weather to turn cold just in time for Halloween.  October may bring plenty of unseasonably warm days, but by Halloween night, you can almost always feel the frost in the air. 

And that's as it should be.

I've spent Halloween in Florida for the past two years.  And I could never get acclimated to the fact that you had to worry about a kid getting too hot in their costume.  It's just plain weird that you can wear your bikini to the beach in the daytime and then go trick-or-treating at night.

So I enjoyed this Halloween a little too much.  I'm getting a big kick out of the changing leaves and the falling temperatures, and appreciating the good old Midwest a little more than I did before.  You can't eat chili or drink hot chocolate or apple cider (spiked of course) in the Florida heat.

Well, you can, but it just doesn't feel right.

And this is why I don't mind that Halloween hasn't even been over for 24 hours yet and Christmas is everywhere.  Stores are stocked and online promotions have begun.  Typically, I would be bitching about the holidays running together and wondering why the Christmas season no longer starts after Thanksgiving like it used to.

Not this year.  I can't wait to bundle up in my coat and mittens and hit the malls with the rest of the crazy people.  I can't wait for the first snow.  I can't wait to put up my Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols and watch It's A Wonderful Life

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  And I'm perfectly okay with that.

Photo credit: sociotard/ flickr