• Two stories caught my eye this morning, both relating to families.  In oneBoston Globe columnist Shirley Leung champions the rights of mothers to return to work the week they give birth.  In the other in The Wall Street Journal, Joe Parkinson in Istanbul and David George-Cosh in Toronto analyze the ways Nilufer Demir’s photograph of Alan Kurdi, a drowned, 3-year-old Syrian refugee boy, has gone viral.

    What’s the link between the two pieces?  “We” still haven’t figured out what our responsibilities are to all families: men, women, and children around the world.

    As for Leung’s piece, when will privileged women who work in highly-paid jobs re-frame their choices so that they lobby for the rights of all parents — men, women, rich, poor?  I get that women are judged unfairly when they choose to “go back to work” soon after giving birth, while the decisions and behaviors of their privileged male counterparts receive nary an eyebrow raise. The different standards and treatments deserve scrutiny.  But.  The bigger issue is that they have choices. They have jobs to return to, they can choose when they want to return to work, and, most probably, they can even decide IF they want to return to work.  What doesn’t get said?  They can afford the best possible child care that enables them to leave their infants behind.  To write a piece that does not mention the role privilege plays in women’s choices is to miss the bigger picture…

    …of the picture.  Nilufer Demir — a woman — captured what may turn out to be the single most compelling image of the Syrian refugee crisis: a toddler, face-down on the beach, drowned in his family’s attempt to find safety in the EU.  Several important points, here:

    Until we sidestep nationalism and bring our attention to crises around the world affecting families and young children, we aren’t doing justice to the principles of feminism.

    The photographer Demir answered questions about the photos she took of dead refugees washing up on the beach.  She was asked “as a woman,” how she felt seeing the dead toddler on the beach.  “As a woman?”  Why would anyone assume that a woman’s grief would be any different from a man’s when seeing dead children washing in with the tide?

    Last: why are “we” moved to act when confronted with the image of what “we” consider the most innocent victim, a child?  All refugees are innocent victims.  What has any of these men, women, or children done to deserve the chaos inflicted on them by people who put power, -isms, and money ahead of the wellbeing of families?

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  • Excavating in the basement storage area this week, I unearthed “Lily, Max + Sam’s Day by Day Book, Volume I” (Mark’s titling), a.k.a. “The Book of Life” (my titling).  Mark and I began recording in the book on October 22, 1992, when we brought our two-week-old triplets home from Yale-New Haven Hospital.  We seem to have stopped keeping records on Friday, January 30, 1993 – the last page of the book and also the eve of the kids’ baby naming ceremony.  If there is a second volume, I don’t remember it…or haven’t come across it.

    On the sheets of this pad, we tracked each kid’s ins and outs.  That is: what the babies took in…and what came out t’other end. Who could muster an oral report at 2 AM? Who’d remember by 4 PM? These records aren’t very interesting, except to demonstrate how often we were feeding and changing diapers..  The jottings – in my hand unless otherwise indicated – evoke what it was like to get premature triplets (who weighed about 4 lbs. each at birth, about 34 weeks gestation) from two weeks to three months old.

    ***

     SONG LYRICS (what else to do during 2 AM feedings?):

    The Baby Song:

    Lily & Max & Sam / How proud of them we am / They roll around their eyes / And hardly ever cries.

    Sung to the Tune of “If I Only Had a Brain” (Wizard of Oz “Scarecrow Song”):

    I wile away the whiles / And burp away the miles / …if I only had a smile / I would laugh / I would chortle / I would giggle / I’d cavort-le / …if I only had a smile.

    ***

    RUNNING COMMENTS (in my hand unless otherwise noted):

    10/22/92

    [Mark’s hand]: All Home

    Saturday, 10/24/92

    Max will be tall & rangy? Sam short & fine boned?

    They’ll never forget each others’ birthdays.  Sam will be a financial wizard in Hong Kong. Lily will be saving the rainforest in Costa Rica – giving speeches, and Max will be a truck farmer in N. California – all will conference call on Oct. 7 to wish each other a happy birthday.

    Smelling Max’s head, I know that no matter how old the babes are I’ll always smell them and love them. I’ll always kiss their heads and think of their babyhoods.

    Sunday, 10/25/92

    Sam: easy lay of the burp world.

    Max: champion Arm Wrestler?  Symphony Conductor? Houdini?

    Monday, 10/26/92

    [Mark’s hand] Sam: Now the monk of the burp world.

    [my hand] 10 PM feeding – WPLR burp contest – looking for an 11-second belch – while we’re trying to squeeze out a little squeak from each baby.

    10/27/92

    Sam: A lesson in why not to prejudge your children.

    Visit to pediatrician: Lily = 5 lbs. 1 oz.  Max & Sam = 4 lbs. 14 oz.

    10/28/92

    Big-time spit-up day: Sam & Lily

    10/30/92

    7:20 AM:

    Max’s arms are huge – so are his hands & feet.  Could he take after his Uncle Tom?  Hard Man II?

    All the babes are fussing more, crying more, awake more.  Their heads seem bigger, neck muscles stronger.  Lily consistently awakens 30  mins – 1 hr. before feed times.  Sam is awake much of the time now, cries until he is held and rocked and assured of a pacifier.

    10/31/92

    At the allergist, a nurse asked Mark what the kids were going to be for Halloween.  Mark’s response: “Asleep.”

    11/1/92

    I just get tireder and tireder…took a long walk (for me) outdoors – leaves spectacular – 1st time I’d been out so long in months.

    11/3/92: Election Day

    (two “I Voted Today” stickers affixed to the page)

    Got out of the house today: to vote, to the bank, to Macy’s, to the OB.  Changed my purse (to match shoes?!) – and found that I had not used my brown bag since the end of March, when I found out I was pregnant.  Inside: medical receipts. List of questions for Dr. Gutman, including, “How many fetal sacs do you see?”

    By the time I got to the safe deposit box at the bank, where I locked away plastic ID bracelets from the hospital (Baby Girl A, Baby Boy B & Baby Boy C…), I wept in silence in the little private room.  Time lost.  Time gone.  Babies gained.

    11/4/92: Wed.  Clinton wins!

    Hard night. Lily screams, then won’t eat & falls asleep.  Sam is still constipated! Max just chugs along, plays with his hands, moves his head.  All babes gaining head control.  Born 4 weeks ago today.

    11/5/92: Thurs

    Max is really starting to track with his eyes – exciting! Sam seems more comfortable now that he’s pooped some.  And Lily is determined, serious, earnest…a delight.

    11/7/92: Saturday

    Lots of hose-type spit-ups today – M & L both.  M constipated. Feedings run into feedings.  Neither Mark nor I went outside today.  Flurries predicted overnight.

    11/8/92: Sunday

    Everybody had a bath, production-line style.  Photo shoot followed.

    [Mark’s hand]: Lily raises head! 5x! Joins Max!

    11/10/92:

    Sam to pediatrician: wt: 6 lbs. 2 oz.!! Head 34 ¼; chest 32; length 19 ½.  Got his HIB vaccine (barely cried, brave boy!).  Dr. La Camera says all’s well, answers all our questions.

    11/12/92: Thursday

    [Mark’s hand]: Max & Lily go to Dr.:  Both 6 lb 3 oz. Lily 19 ½ in. Max 19 ¼ in.

    [my hand]: Both get HIB vaccines. The big kids do great!

    11/14/92: Saturday

    We took a walk w/ the triplet stroller – freedom! Sam moved his head well.

    11/15/92: Sunday

    Friends babysit while we walk to cemetery & back!  Lovely to be out together alone.

    11/18/92: Wednesday

    6 weeks old.

    11/30/92: Monday

    Mark goes back to work. (drawing of a frownie face)

    12/1/92: Tuesday

    Baths relaxed the babems – Max & Sam were comatose at 6 PM feeding…Lily was calm and able to feed.  Three different people; three different levels of stimulation.

    12/4/92: Friday

    Wrote an article […] on design in Woodbridge.  Felt great to be back in the saddle.

    Sat on couch in British art center and read Beyond the 100th Meridian.  Bliss.

    Today, I had it all.

    12/5/92: Saturday

    First snow. Dusting.

    Trip to Dr. La Camera – Max (9 lbs. 7 oz. w/ diaper).  Max has “intertigo” – horrible blistering – scalded area in groin – raspberry colored & horrible.  Dr. La Camera prescribes ointment 3-4x a day.  He is a Wonderful man.

    12/6/92: Sunday

    Dr. La Camera calls just to check on Max, whose little groin looks much better.  Long walk with w/ Max in sling.

    12/7/92: Monday

    Long walk with Sam.  Max’s rash looks better.

    12/8/92: Tuesday

    Walked to Walgreen’s with Lily.

    12/9/92: Wednesday

    9 weeks old today. Sam is pushing up & moving his head; pushing off of my shoulder, reaching a little bit.  Max pulls my thumb to his mouth.

    Lunar eclipse – easily viewed from backyard.

    12/11/92: Friday

    Horrible disgusting driving sleet, snow & rain.  Why can’t we live where there are eucalyptus trees?

    Lily to Dr. La Camera: 8 lbs. 5 oz. DPT and polio. 20 ½ in. long.

    Dr. La Camera says: OK to let the babes cry – will teach them they can take care of their own needs.

    And what about us?

    12/12/92: Saturday

    Very cold; more heavy snow. Awoke to sound of snow ploughs for 1st time this yr. Turned to heavy snow by 7 a.m. High winds. Veritable blizzard.

    12/13/92: Sunday

    Walk w/ Sam in snow.

    Nobody to help us during day or night. Hard.  Horrible colic w/ Sam.

    12/15/92: Tuesday

    Max & Sam to pediatrician: Dr. La Camera says they’re doing wonderfully. DPT & polio.

    Max: 10 lbs. 21 in. in length.

    Sam: 9 lbs. 8 oz. 20 7/8 in. in length.

    Sometimes, I think I can’t get any more tired.

    Mark came home from the office with 102 degree F.

    12/17/92: Thursday

    Lily waits!

    [Mark’s hand]: Daddy’s Back!!

    12/18/92: Friday

    Mark & I to E. Rock with Champagne. Climb E. Rock, eat Chuck’s Chicken Salad, drink Veuve Cliquot and warm ourselves in the winter sun.  Can’t believe we’ve come through the last year so well. So blessed.

    Pour the remainder of the bottle onto the rock in name of each of the kids, thereby “christening” the rock in their honor.

    12/19/92: Saturday

    1st night of Chanukah.

    12/20/92: Sunday

    Lily takes a shower with Mom!

    12/21/92: Monday

    Sam showers w/ Mom! Walk w/ Lily! Max smiles.

    12/22/92: Tuesday

    Max showers w/ Mom!

    Play time: Max up most of AM & early PM. Lily & Sam up early PM.

    12/23/92: Wednesday

    Lily smiles!

    Put boys on bed at night – dangle rattles near head – they are fascinated and agitated – Max more animated – and both boys intent on seeing.

    12/25/92: Christmas

    Max: Guiness Book Record SPIT – even hits toy box.

    12/26/92: Saturday, last night of Chanukah

    Max showers w/ Dad – Lily & Sam w/ Mom – in AM.

    Lily awake more or less from 1 PM 8:30+.

    Lily smiles a bit & plays.

    12/31/92:

    Sam smiles!

    1/1/93: Friday

    New Year’s Day

    1/2/93: Saturday

    [Mark’s hand]: Walk kids for 30 mins. Cold.

    1/3/93: Saturday

    Mark & I go out to lunch & to the movies: The Crying Game. Walk kids from 4 – 4:40.

    1/4/93: Monday

    Max rolls over! Flips from tummy to back!

    Walk w/ kids – great weather.

    1/5/93: Thursday

    Max is incredibly frustrated – wants to play, can’t do all he wants, can’t always flip over – howls in protest.

    Lily just cries…because?  Sam, too. Why?

    Much screaming at night/evening.

    1/8/93: Friday

    Afternoon in library: how can I be the same person I was when last I sat in the periodical room at Sterling?

    1/9/93: Satuday

    Out to firm dinner.

    1/10/93: Sunday

    Max bathes w/ Dad.

    1/11/93: Monday

    Lily & Max to Dr. La Camera – HIB vaccine.

    Max: 22 in. long, 12 lbs. 4 oz.

    Lily: 22 in. long; 10 lbs. 3 oz.

    Snow.

    Dr. La Camera says it’s time to add in semi-solids. Will switch back to a 4-hourly schedule, add rice, then applesauce, and hope the fussing dwindles.  Also will begin to work on sleeping through the night.

    1/12/93: Tuesday

    Snow.

    [Mark’s hand]: Lily sleeps til 7:30!!!

    First day with rice cereal – Lily HATES it and decides she’s never going on solids.  Max says it’s OK but would be better with salt.  Sam sucks his down eagerly, finishing it all, then licks bowl with tongue. “Spoon?” he says. “NO problem!”

    Just imagine when they first taste raspberries, chocolate, asparagus, lettuce! Fresh green beans! The world is waiting at your feet, little babies. I hope you love it as much as I do.

    Second verse: Lily changes her mind and sucks down cereal.

    1/13/93: Wednesday

    Snow.  More sleeping through the night!

    1/14/93: Thursday

    Snow.

    1/15/93: Friday

    [Mark’s hand]: We wake everybody!

    1/18/93: Monday

    [Mark’s hand]: Everyone sleeps through (to 6 AM).  No one cries.

    1/20/93: Wednesday

    Sam to Dr. La Camera: 12 lbs 7 oz…23” long!

    We listen to Clinton’s inaugural address on radio in car on way home.

    1/26/93: Tuesday

    [Mark’s hand]: Everyone sleeps thru – No crying

    1/30/93: Friday

    Visits from Aunt Laura, Uncle Michael, Aunt Katherine, Uncle Chris, Cousin Emma, Grandad Klaus, Grandma Pat, Grandpa Jack & Annette.  Friday night supper here.

     

     

     

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  • A long-time, much loved friend posted a question months ago, which I paraphrase: what do you think about parents who have the resources not to work outside the home and who know, from the get-go, that they will seek full-time employment because they want it?

    My answer today is prompted by a piece I read on Politico.com this morning.  Writer Michelle Cottle criticizes Michelle Obama for  “Leaning Out.” Cottle complains that Obama has wasted her Ivy League education and career as a high-powered lawyer and that when, this week, Obama weighed in on an education system that leaves behind impoverished kids of color — especially impoverished girls — it was too little, too late.  Cottle also criticizes the First Lady for choosing a public role that has emphasized traditionally “feminine” issues such as healthy eating and exercise.  I am sympathetic to the complaint that Obama might have focused on less traditionally feminine topics, but I draw the line at the following: “Turns out,” Cottle writes, “she was serious about that whole “mom-in-chief” business—it wasn’t merely a political strategy but also a personal choice.”

    With privilege comes personal choice.  People with relatively large amounts of money and power, whether they are men or women, have options that at this point aren’t open to everyone.  They get to choose the work/life balance they wish, and they are often — but not always — able to move into increasingly interesting public work as their children mature.  This ability to lean in and out, in and out, over the course of a long life is precisely, as The New York Times reported, what many women want.  Which way they lean?  Doesn’t have much to do with whether they are “good” parents.

    Michelle Obama, the most privileged woman in America, has had a choice.  As a feminist, I respect her choice to give her daughters the foundation and protection they need growing up in the Klieg-light-glare of the presidency.  I’d have respected her had she chosen to allocate her time and attention differently — to “work outside the home” or to take on something other than vegetables and exercise from her spot in the East Wing.  But I would not have respected her had she ignored the implications for her daughters of her family’s choice to inhabit the White House for eight years and work in politics at the highest level.

    Here’s the thing about having kids: most of them don’t raise themselves.  Some children are relatively easy and uncomplicated.  Others need extra medical and emotional support.  All need attention.

    The relatively wealthy are able to pay others to attend if they don’t choose to have the time to do it, themselves.  They can enroll kids in good day care, pay private school tuition or buy homes in districts where schools have longer hours.  They are also able to make their mortgage or rent payments if one parent chooses not to work or to work part-time.  That the choice should appear to rest solely on the shoulders of women is wrong.  That the choice isn’t available to all parents, all women, is just plain unfair.  Rather than criticizing Michelle Obama — or any other mother, for that matter — for her personal choices regarding work, get out your bullhorn to increase access to the options currently only available to those of relative privilege so that all parents are able to give their children the attention they need.

    This past June, I finished my work days by stopping at a pond for a swim at around 6:00.  One evening, I noticed two different moms with their kids.  Mom # 1 sat on the dock.  She caught the rays off the water and periodically yelled at her children.  Mom # 2 was in the water.  She was talking with her kids, encouraging their diving and swimming, laughing with them.  I have no idea what these moms were doing all day — whether they were at work, whether they had nannies, whether they were on vacation.  The one I respected and admired from afar leaned in.  In her spare time, she leaned in to her children.

    And so, dear friend who I have known since our children were two, you have chosen to work full-time outside the home from the beginning.  You have had an excellent mate.  You’ve had the support of a warm, on-the-scene grandparent.  You had access to excellent day care and child care.  Your child was relatively easy to raise.  And: in the almost 20 years I have known you, there has never been a time when you have not taken every opportunity to lean in and get “in the water” with your kid.  I say: hats off to you!

     

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  • I stayed up late last night listening to Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s Dilemma. The piece, produced with Jay Allison and Transom.org, is NPR reporter Kelly McEvers’s remarkable, hour-long audio documentary about her struggle to justify covering deadly war zones while raising a toddler.

    McEvers’s choice – and her agony over her choice – is specific and universal.  Not many of us civilians are in lines of work where a tenth of our colleagues have been murdered or killed in crossfire the past year.   But most of us struggle with the complex emotions of wanting to succeed professionally in jobs we love and also wanting to be with our spouses and kids.

    An avowed gung-ho thrill seeker, McEvers came to parenting late.  As best I can figure, she gave birth to a daughter at about 40, the peak of her journalistic career.  NPR assigned her to cover the Middle East.  Her job got dramatically more dangerous when the conflict in Syria heated up.  As the roll call of fallen journalists in and around Syria lengthened – Tim Hetherington, Marie Colvin, Remi Ochlik, Rami el-Sayid, Anthony Shadid, Ferzat Jarban, Gilles Jacquier, Mazhar Tayyara, Mika Yamamoto — McEvers found herself increasingly unhinged.  She sought the counsel of a former war correspondent turned psychotherapist.  He suggested she examine her motives and begin to imagine what life after covering war might be like.

    McEvers shared her turmoil in 2011 with Cape Cod-based radio wizard Jay Allison, who encouraged her to keep a diary. The resulting piece is emotionally and intellectually profound.  It’s also a masterful example of audio storytelling.  McEvers used her phone to record her musings.  She taped interviews with other war correspondents as well as a Canadian researcher running a study on journalists who cover foreign conflicts (*more on this last below).  Ambient noise of shelling and machine gun fire, sotto voce comments about the disgustingness of tear gas, the chatter of McEvers’s daughter all provide an evocative sound bed for the heart of McEvers’s dilemma.  “Should I quit my job?” she asks the likes of Sebastian Junger and Christiane Amanpour.  McEvers knows, even as she asks, that the only person who can really answer is she, herself.

    McEvers admits that the most difficult conversation she had was with Anna Blundy, the grown daughter of British war correspondent David Blundy, who was killed in 1989 at 44 by sniper fire in El Salvador.  McEvers writes that she felt she was interviewing an “adult version of [her] own child.”  Anna Blundy, 43, speaks as a grieving child whose father chose work over family.  Blundy’s words defeat and deflate McEvers, until, somewhere around 26:30, she claims her right to follow her path.  The decision, McEvers asserts, isn’t about her daughter.  “It’s about me.”

    And don’t we all – all of us women who want kids and career – find ourselves trying to figure out how much to give to “them” and how much to give to ourselves?  Men may ask themselves such questions, but I don’t know many who would allow others to listen in so publicly.  By the time McEvers reads the letter she’s written to her husband and daughter in case she is killed on the job, she has me in tears.  Spend an hour with this documentary, and you will weep for all parents who have fallen in the line of duty as well as all who, day in and out, struggle to find the best way to do right by themselves and their kids.

    *A NOTE on the explanation McEvers offers about the role dopamine plays in war correspondents’ career choices.  She interviews Toronto academic and medical doctor Anthony Feinstein.  Here is the summary of Dr. Feinstein’s work on his website: “Finally, Dr. Feinstein is involved in a series of studies unrelated to Neuropsychiatry but nevertheless of relevance to current issues within our society.  The questions being addressed are: How are journalists affected emotionally by their work in war zones and what motivates them to pursue such dangerous occupations?”  He presents his findings in Journalists Under Fire: The Psychological Hazards of Covering War (Johns Hopkins Press, 2006).

    I haven’t read the book and am not familiar with Dr. Feinstein’s work, so I don’t know if McEvers reports his findings accurately.  She says that Dr. Feinstein believes journalists who take extraordinary risks have higher levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine than the rest of the population.

    McEvers is correct in describing dopamine as a substance that conveys a sense of wellbeing, but she’s off a little bit in her understanding of what high levels of dopamine may suggest.  Most researchers have concluded that those who seek out risk and thrill crave more dopamine.  That is, for physiological reasons, their bodies either don’t produce enough or don’t use well enough the dopamine they create.

    If it’s true that war correspondents have more dopamine than the rest of us, it may be that their dopamine receptors are inadequate and that their bodies produce more dopamine to flood dopamine-hungry receptors.  They may therefore gravitate towards putting themselves in the middle of battlefields to produce the dopamine they need to feel OK.  Some of the best research on this topic comes out of studies on families that have high numbers of members with Attention Deficit Disorder. See especially the work of Russell Barkley, Ph.D. here and here.

  • In case you missed these beautiful photos, here’s a link to images of American Olympians with children. They are all photos of women.

    Of course, I wondered how many Olympic men are dads…and why that’s completely un-newsworthy. The underlying assumption is that men, whether or not they have fathered children, are always free to pursue excellence. Women, on the other hand, spend their energy putting their children first. That they have time to become the very best at anything astonishes.

    I actually don’t think that the goal ought to be to eliminate the surprise in being able to raise kids and reach for the stars. A better goal would be to spread the astonishment around. Some day, we’ll lift our collective eyebrows when anyone — male or female — raising young children is able to go for the gold.

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  • I’ve been cleaning, clearing, re-organizing, re-painting, even redecorating all summer. Re-claiming space with an eye toward living in an empty nest. I have come across scraps of paper from a zillion lives ago, kids’ kindergarten art projects, files from projects left dead by the road. Some of these reconnections have left me with a sense of sadness. Others have brought outright joy.  By far the hardest? The Rolodex.

    For those too young to know, a Rolodex is a “rotary card file” first brought to market in 1954.  I think it’s fair to say that its history reflects significant shifts in personal organization and business. One look at the company website, and you’ll get an idea of how hard the widget makers have tried to bring this vestige of 20th-century efficiency into the modern era. What, exactly, does one do with a rectangular, plastic, flip-top bin that sits on a desk and holds paper cards? It doesn’t plug into anything.

    I acquired my Rolodex in 1986, when I began as a reporter at The Brownsville (Texas) Herald. I can still elicit a giggle from Mark, whom I joined in Brownsville that year, if I repeat the slogan the City of Brownsville inked on its trash barrels: “Crossroads of the Hemisphere!” For me, it was a crossroads in many ways, not the least of which was technological. The Herald had an interlinked computer system that allowed reporters and editors to write, edit, and lay out copy digitally. We even had an early, inter-office version of “email” that allowed us to gossip through our keyboards. We had telephones — not cell phones — and, yes, Rolodexes. I filled mine with important contacts I cultivated on the two beats I covered: lifestyles, then education. And then I moved that Rolodex with me from desk to desk over the next quarter century, relying on it — like the rest of the world — even as I first acquired email and then a mobile phone.

    Yesterday, I found myself staring down the Rolodex, wondering what on earth to do with the thing. Update it? Throw it out? Archive it? I started with the “As,” picking through cards to see whom I still contact.  By the time I reached “XYZ” (there is but one category for the three neglected last letters of our alphabet), I had stumbled across names of friends and teachers and doctors and service providers (electricians, landscapers, babysitters) no longer part of my life. Hardest were the names of The Old Ones, friends of my parents whose addresses I had carefully logged at the time of my wedding and when I gave birth to send thank you notes, as my mother would have asked. Almost all are gone now, their homes occupied by people whom I wouldn’t know — and who wouldn’t know me.

    My recall ain’t what it used to be. If you ask me to tell you a name, I might scratch my head for quite some time. But when I come across that name, the faces and memories dance through my mind. Couples who gathered for my mom’s swanky dinner parties at which my sister and I passed hors d’oeuvres and washed dishes. Marta Rita Prince de Garcia, the retired Mexican schoolteacher who marched me through Spanish verb conjugation twice a week in Matamoros, when I worked at The Herald. Fayek Shama, the rookie infertility specialist at Yale whose deft surgical hand translated the crude techniques of IVF into what would become my three healthy babies. I tossed card after card into the recycling bin yesterday, thinking to myself that I’d need a seance, not a Rolodex, to put  me in touch with most of the people attached to these names and addresses.

    I got up this morning, gathered each and every one of those discarded cards, and put them willy nilly into a Ziploc bag. I don’t know where I’m going to put the bag. Don’t know which file or box or container it’ll go into. My business with these long-losts just hasn’t come to an end. I don’t think it ever will.

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  • I had to stop myself before filling in the customs re-entry form on the flight from Heathrow to Boston last Wednesday. Name: fine. I remembered it. Address: ditto. Carrier, flight number, passport number, passport issue date, passport expiry, yadayadayada. At the bottom — profession. I gripped my pen…and then I remembered: “housewife.”  I had gone to India as a housewife, so, I figured, I’d better come home as one, too.

    Amazing what this housewife got to do in India. Serendipitously interviewed a fascinating bunch of people while working on a documentary about a 90-year-old left-leaning missionary. Chatted animatedly with an elegant older Bengali gent about educating students with special needs in India and America — and spoke of what I would do from Boston to provide contacts. Stood in line to clear security at the Taj Mahal with my daughter and got whacked in the ribs by a coterie of be-saried Afghanis intent on cutting the queue. Ate in the home of an actor-cum-driver and his nurse wife, savoring chole and chapatis, watching their 7-year-old son dance on a coffee table. Got a sense of Indian community health when the beloved 90-year-old fell and fractured her collar bone and shoulder. Rode a jeep through a tiger preserve and saw tiger paw prints. Huffed and puffed my way through a string of bazaars overlooking the foothills of the Himalayas. Shared a wild, segmented, 10+-hour taxi ride from Landour to Delhi with a gracious, garrulous movie star.

    What to do with all of these experiences and memories? A good housewife would cook. And since I am an excellent housewife, I’ve been studying the recipes and techniques of Auntie Manjula online. A good housewife would also put together a pitch for a radio story and begin piecing together video and sound for her documentary. And do laundry. And give friends gifts. And watch the Oscars with her husband. And write a few thank you notes. Check, check, check-check-check.

    Ah, to travel the world under the capacious mantle of “housewife!” A privilege? A disguise?

    If you want to see what I saw — and also to see what daughter-of-housewife is seeing and doing — follow this link.

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  • Rebecca from the visa service called with an update. She wanted to let me know that by listing myself as a “writer” on my application form, I was putting myself in a category that would require five to seven weeks of scrutiny. “The consulate will read everything you’ve ever published. They’ll want to know what you might be writing about the country.” I protested that I also put down that I’m unemployed. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “They’ll consider you part of the news media.”

    I let out a deep sigh. I’d need the visa in five — not seven — weeks to make the flight. I didn’t want to risk a delay. I didn’t want to lie, either. But the truth of my professional identity is layered and multiple. Any number of labels fit. The squirrels in my brain did a few backflips.

    “What if I were to put down ‘housewife?'” I asked.

    “Perrrfect,” Rebecca purred.

    I filled out the forms again, FedExing them to New York. Five days later, my passport returned to me in the mail, visa affixed.

    “Housewife.” The term traditionally refers to a woman whose sole role it is to tend a home while her husband earns a living in public. Feminists have objected to “housewife,” preferring, instead, the term “home maker,” because the latter doesn’t presuppose dependence on a man. Either way, the assumption — as the consulate concluded — is that housewives and homemakers are harmless. Whom would you rather let into your country: a writer or a housewife? A writer might be dangerous, cause public trouble. But a housewife? Can she bake a cherry pie?

    An obscure British definition of “housewife” refers to a sewing kit, complete with needles. I like this one. A lot. Self-contained. Portable. Able to provide valuable assistance with the most ordinary of objects. Handled unwisely, capable of wreaking havoc and causing pain.

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  • Friends called yesterday morning to ask if Mark and I would like to go to the movies early afternoon.  My knee-jerk reaction? I internally looked over my shoulder, thinking, “Who me?” Aren’t we supposed to be ferrying children around and fanning the fires at home? I just as quickly said, “Sure!” once I realized that we could actually meet up without a wrinkle.

    We saw Fair Game, a film featuring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, which tells the story of outed CIA spy Valerie Plame and her ex-ambassador husband Joe Wilson.  The show manages to sustain a high level of drama, even when viewers are all-too familiar with the story.  Actors playing Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney deliver intense performances as extra-creepy Bush Administration manipulators hell-bent on falsifying evidence to justify America’s invasion of Iraq.  And Sam Shepherd has a sweet cameo as Plame’s retired-military-man dad, a guy who urges his daughter to fight for what’s right.  Is it a great film? No, but worth seeing. Troubling, though, to imagine that anyone would be learning of this story for the first time via Hollywood rather than the news.

    After the film, the four of us chatted about the take-home message.  We all expressed dismay that anyone could still harbor affection for the eight years that mired us in debt and dismantled civil rights. We two women — both of us moms coming to the brink of empty nesting — focused on Plame’s decision to have children — twins, even.  Plame’s domestic arrangements are as much a part of the story as her public battle to restore her reputation as a secret agent.  We suspected that her real-life decision to play out the fantasy of “wife, mother, spy” sold filmmakers on the tale as much as the political intrigue. Neither of us could imagine being CIA operatives with children, disappearing for stretches in dangerous places where pretty much no one drives carpool.

    Later, I mentally smacked myself.  Has Plame allowed herself to be exploited yet again with this film? Would anyone have thought to read or watch her story if she hadn’t been a mother?  Would anyone have made the film if the outed spy had been…a father?  I wind up with the same old worn-out question: does anyone spend more than a split second asking whether male CIA operatives should have their careers and families, too?

    My favorite part of the film, I decided, is the last bit, the one where editors cut from Naomi Watts to archival footage of the real Valerie Plame testifying before Congress.  Plame isn’t as pretty or thin as Watts.  But she speaks with power, conviction, and poise.  She doesn’t look like a mother or a spy.  She looks like a hero.

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  • Tomorrow, May 1, is D-Day for high school seniors.  All those who have been put through brutal application and acceptance processes, these kids who have a new appreciation for the concept of a “wait list,” will have to make up their minds.  By tomorrow, they’ve got to fill out paperwork and mail deposits into the colleges of their choice.  This is it.

    I’m hearing from family and friends how hard it is to balance feelings of pride and delight against the sadness of upcoming loss as their kids make these sometimes tough decisions. I spoke on the phone last night with my sister-in-law who lives in Virginia. Her daughter — my niece — has decided to start school next September in California.  A beloved friend in San Diego is coming to terms with her son’s decision to head to Boston. The silver lining is that we’ll have more opportunities to visit, but that doesn’t ease her heartache at having her son leave home in such a definitive way. And I am struggling with the implications of one of my kids’ decision to attend boarding school in New Hampshire in the fall.  Distance.  Life as we know it is about the change dramatically.

    My sister-in-law, my friend, I — we are all members of the tail end of the Baby Boom.  We have all made choices to curtail professional ambitions so that we’ve been able to have more time with our growing children. Sociologists and gender analysts in a few decades will surely have a field day when they pick apart our lives.  I shudder to think what they will conclude.  Here on the ground, in the moment, what I see is a desire for deep connection with family.  A friend has told me since her kids were born that her greatest accomplishment will be if her kids want to come home for Thanksgiving when they are grown.  I think she speaks for an entire generation.

    I don’t know if our desire for proximity and reciprocity among our growing children is good or bad.  Don’t know if it’s mostly about us or our kids.  Do we want something for them that we didn’t have? Is this deep-seated desire yet another manifestation of the narcissism of our generation?

    NBC has tapped into these complicated feelings with its new drama Parenthood. The show airs Tuesdays at 10 PM Eastern Time.  It chronicles the ins and outs of the Braverman clan — two aging Early Boomer parents, their four mid-life Late Boomer kids, and their six growing grandchildren.  Each episode is studded with scenes in which adult children gather to celebrate even the smallest extended family happenings. The camera lovingly films the extended clan gathered at a local park to cheer on one of the kid’s baseball games.  It shows the entire family in a public pool as the youngest member successfully swims for the first time.   The Bravermans all grapple with demons.  None is perfect.  But none suffers alone. They share their imperfections, seeking each others’ advice in person and on the phone.  They take comfort in their ability to drop by each others’ homes and offices. Their lives are tightly braided together, and the show’s writers demonstrate again and again that this mostly brings the characters deep satisfaction.

    I have come to think of Parenthood as family porn.  We Late Boomers who feed our children slow food at family suppers want more time with the people we have raised to adulthood.  And just as they are heading off to have their own adventures like so many tufts on a dandelion, we crave stories about families who choose to live in proximity.  The cameras filming Parenthood linger over the faces of siblings who choose to babysit each others’ children and attend their birthday parties.  We grew up watching Dynasty and Dallas, night time soap operas about the evil machinations of family members hell-bent on destroying each others’ lives.  Now we are hungry for shows that allow us to fantasize about the essential goodness of kin and connection. If we can’t have our own family suppers, at least we can watch the Bravermans enjoying theirs.

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