• I wish I had a photograph — or, better yet, a video clip — of Sam in the family van, heading out of our driveway this morning. I thought of running inside to get my  camera/phone. It just didn’t seem the right moment to impose my Smotheriness on Sam and his friend, both strapped in for their last trip from Boston to Ohio. So, I will conjure the image through words.

    A pale, winter sun had risen, revealing a clear sky. Far above the garage, a songbird perched on a bare branch. It wiggled and warbled. Nary a car passed on the street ahead. The mini-van — nominally “Silver Gray” — dented and dinged in its 13+ years of service — stood at the ready. Sam had commented as he’d lifted the hatchback that even it made a rasping sound these days. Sam turned the key in the ignition, causing his steed to cough to life, emitting more of a Lauren Bacall three-pack-a-day burr than an emphysemal wheeze.

    And then…they sat, these two young men, going nowhere. I stood in the drive, warm enough in my long underwear, Polar Fleece pants, ratty wool sweater, and down vest. I scanned the bare branches, the song bird, the plume of exhaust puffing out the back of the van. Then, like steam from a sauna, wafted a beat to put a shimmy into the Old Grey Mare’s hum.  Sam’s single upgrade when he inherited the O.G.M.: a first-rate sound system, which neither Mark nor I can figure out how to silence when we are infrequently behind its wheel. A minute more, and the guys were off.

    As the van’s wheels began to roll, I began to wave. “Winkie, Winkie!” I said to no one. My wave continued until the boys had turned from the driveway into the street. And I could see, through the O.G.M.’s tinted windows, the span of Sam’s long, drummer’s arm waving back.

    A family tradition, this Winkie, Winkie business. My in-laws would stand in their driveway, side by side, waving to Mark and me — and then, later, Mark, the kids, and me — until we were out of sight. “Winkie, Winkie!” they’d shout. A German tradition, Mark explained early on, coming through his father, embraced by his mom. A kitschy farewell. A magical gesture to ensure safe travel, safe return. Sometimes, after my mother-in-law would gaily shout and even giggle, she’d lower one hand to brush away tears.

    No tears for me this morning, though it is not always so.  The beat coming from the van’s speakers reminded me to smile way down deep.  What will Sam remember from his last semester of college? A particularly good lecture? A well-written essay? Late-night carousing with friends and flame? Balancing the heft of a dining hall tray loaded with limitless sweet cereal and milk? Long after graduation, he’ll savor vivid memories of these drives between Boston and Ohio, fueled by Red Bull and tunes. The journey not the destination, the wise ones say. Expectations and a twinge of anxiety on the trip out. Exhaustion and a twinge of anxiety on the leg home at semester’s end.  And surely Winkie, Winkie, a sacred rite passed from generation to generation.

    Tags: , ,

  • Perhaps you missed this story.  A 21-year-old Syrian “man” shot his 45-year-old mother in the head with a rifle and killed her.  He was involved with ISIL, the Muslim terrorist organization. She wanted the two of them to leave the Syrian town of Raqqa, fearing for his safety as US-led troops neared the ISIL stronghold.  He told ISIL leaders of his mother’s request.  They insisted he publicly execute her.  He complied.

    I was telling one of my kids about the execution this weekend, and he asked a simple question. Don’t most world religions command followers to honor their parents?  I told him I thought this to be the case, but I didn’t know about Islam, in particular.

    Lucky for me, we had the good fortune Saturday morning to be invited to a Turkish friend’s home for breakfast.  As we passed plates of delicious Turkish pastries, cheese, and olives around the table, I asked our hosts what the Qur’an and Hadith had to say about relationships between parents and children.  The story goes, my hosts and their other guests told me, that the first three times Muhammed was asked this, the Prophet insisted that followers obey their mothers.  The fourth time, they explained, Muhammed included fathers in the mix.

    I pursued this line of inquiry over email with my host and received from her a comprehensive compilation of suras from the Qur’an and quotes attributed to Muhammed from the Hadiths, all having to do with parenthood.  The teachings demand that children respect their parents.  Even when parents are “infidels” who don’t follow the teachings of Islam, they are to be honored.  My host included the following Hadith, whose meaning could not be more clear:

    It was narrated from Mu’awiyah bin Jahimah As-Sulami, that Jahimah came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said, “O Messenger of Allah! I want to go out and fight (in Jihad) and I have come to ask your advice.” He said, “Do you have a mother?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “Then stay with her, for Paradise is beneath her feet.” (The Book of Jihad, 6)

    “Jihad,” my host explained, can be internal, metaphorical, a struggle with the self to do right — not just an external military battle or fight.  In any case, she wrote, the first responsibility is to care for the mother.

    Though I understand a bit better Islam’s guidance on parent-child relationships, I can’t fathom how a believer, someone claiming to be shaped by God’s word, could shoot his mother in the head.  I felt similarly when a Jew assassinated Yitzhak Rabin and, more recently, when an apparently observant group danced at a wedding and celebrated the burning of a Palestinian toddler.

    I haven’t anything profound to offer, here.  I was relieved to read verses condemning the mother’s killing.  What will it take to get extremists of all stripes to invoke scripture to impose basic rules governing decency?  I don’t intend my question as a naive exercise in hand-wringing.  I’m serious.

    Tags: , , ,

  • We meet every month or two.  We sit around a long table, sometimes in a dark-paneled room in the church downtown where my temple is located, sometimes in a brightly lit conference room in a neighborhood cultural center.  We are middle-aged, Reform Jews.  We are young, ritually observant, Turkish Muslims.  We kvell over babies and share baked treats.  Our conversations focus on favorite passages from our respective books of scripture, the role music plays in our worship services, the “bad women” in our faith traditions, and so on.  We volunteer a few times a year at a food bank or soup kitchen.  We call ourselves “Sisters in Spirit.”

    Our topic this past Sunday was Jewish and Muslim doctrine concerning the environment. Several Sisters had prepared to lead the discussion.  The ten of us never got anywhere near Muslim and Jewish perspectives on animal rights or ecological justice.

    In the wake of the Daesh attacks in Paris, at services and over email, we Jewish Sisters had been worrying about our Muslim Sisters.  At services and over email, we wondered if it would OK to open the meeting by asking “Are you OK?”  We didn’t want to put anyone on the spot. We needn’t have worried.  One after another, our Muslim Sisters told stories of verbal abuse and feelings ranging from isolation to fear.

    One Sister — dark, sweeping eyebrows punctuating a face encircled by a satiny, fuchsia head scarf — described sitting outside in the sun, eating lunch at a Whole Foods market Monday after the Paris attacks.  A man approached her.  He called her an “Arab,” then berated her loudly for covering her head and allying herself with terrorists.  His words, though offensive, didn’t really bother her, she said, since the man seemed “kinda crazy.”  It broke her heart, meanwhile, that her fellow sun seekers heard the words but said and did nothing.  She worried that she’ll be attacked if she drives badly or jaywalks.  She’d heard stories from other women in headscarves being shoved towards oncoming T trains.

    Another Sister — sparkly eyes behind rimless glasses, creamy scarf surrounding a delicate face — fed a toddler perched on her lap.  On Tuesday after the Paris attacks, she went to the weekly parent support group she’s been attending  for more than two years.  She is the only Muslim in the group.  She spoke at the beginning of the meeting, apologizing on behalf of all Muslims everywhere for the actions of a handful of terrorists, explaining that violence in the name of God has no part of the religion she practices.  She wanted someone to tell her that her apology was unnecessary.  She hoped someone might say that they all already knew this about her. But no one said a word. Worse, no one met her gaze.

    A third in the group spoke.  New to Boston and to our group, my Sister — a tall woman whose patterned scarf was pinned expertly to frame her even-featured face — talked about enrolling her daughter in first grade. The classroom teacher in her daughter’s public school is Jewish. She felt the teacher had been reluctant to engage with her, perhaps because of her head scarf. She worried about what this might mean for her daughter’s experiences in the class.  At back to school night, the teacher explained to parents that there would be no birthday celebrations to protect students with food allergies. The teacher said, as a funny aside, that, of course, she really does miss cupcakes.  So, my Sister baked.  She packed one cupcake in a Ziplock bag and wrote a note.  She had heard the teacher missing cupcakes, so she wanted to give her one. No nuts.  The teacher, she said, seemed more comfortable thereafter, looking her in the eye, not “in the head scarf.

    None of these women is from Syria.  None is a refugee.  All are struggling to find ways to connect with Americans who seem primed to view them as scary, other.

    As our conversation continued, we wondered how to identify strategies to diffuse tension and increase acceptance. How to find opportunities to forge common bonds? How to lay the groundwork for hard conversations? How to help one another ask what seem at first to be hard questions but are hard only because they have not  yet been asked? Nothing we came up with was as effective, we decided, as the cupcake, which helped a teacher view a woman in a head scarf as a mother, a parent, and a person.

    Tags: , , ,

  • 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?

    Tags: , , ,

  • 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.

     

     

     

    Tags: , , ,

  • 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!

     

    Tags: , ,

  • 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.

  • Today, I did the second stupidest thing I’ve done in my entire life.  I’m 51.  That’s a lot of time to do stupid things.  I am not going to tell you about the first stupidest thing.

    I decided to run a few errands before sitting down to work at my desk this morning.  I needed to get a move on it in part because I wanted to mail my sister-in-law the cake I made her yesterday.  She had surgery last week.  She’s going to be fine.

    I don’t live out here in Wellfleet year-round.  I’m lucky to be here for a few weeks at a time, and this year, I’m on the Cape for most of June.  Unlike in Boston, where I mostly live, here in Wellfleet if I don’t get to my post office by noon, I miss express pickup for the day. My plan was to mail the cake and then zip out Route Six to the Transfer Station to drop off my garbage.

    The Transfer Station is the fancy name for the dump. The Town of Wellfleet doesn’t provide garbage pickup.  Some people pay for a private service to haul their garbage away, but most people just pay for a permit so they can make a trip or two a week to get rid of their stuff.  I eat a lot of seafood when I’m here, plus I’ve got a dog, so my trash gets smelly fast.  More, perhaps, than you wanted to know.

    It’s a world class dump, so I don’t mind going.  There are recycling receptacles for cardboard, glass, plastics, rigid plastics, and newspapers.  There’s an area where you can drop trees to get turned into mulch – and you can buy the mulch, cheap.  There’s a drum for used oil, tables for hazardous materials, spots to put old fridges, freezers, TVs, mattresses, and computer monitors.  You have to pay to leave some of that stuff, but, really, it’s a terrific place because it gives everyone a chance to use and re-use thoughtfully.  There’s even a Swap Shop, where people leave and pick up things like old fans, kitchen utensils, lawn furniture, you name it.

    So, I mailed my cake, I got to the Transfer Station at about 11:30, and I put my plastics and bottles and newspapers in their rightful spots. I hopped behind the wheel of my car and backed towards the actual dump, a long, rectangular abyss where non-reusable, non-recyclables go.  When things are hopping at the dump, a dozen or more vehicles could probably park side-by-side – that’s how long the trash trough is.  I popped the trunk, ran around to get my bag, and heaved it in the air. And just as I saw the bag moving up and away from me in an arc, I realized that I had been holding my car key in my hand.  Past tense.

    No matter how much you want to, you cannot stop time.  You can stand in horror and watch the consequences of an action unfold, but you cannot undo what you have set in motion.  And so I stood there by the edge of the dump, my hands clutching the yellow metal fencing, and saw my garbage bag and my car key disappear.  I did not cry.  I did not shout.  I just stood there, mind racing.

    You won’t be surprised that the folks running such a world class dump did what they could to help me.  “It’s Wednesday,” the woman who sits in the entrance booth to the dump told me.  “Wednesday is anything can happen day.”  She called a guy who fetched an extension ladder.  The two of them called the bosses, who arrived speedily in their forest green Town trucks.  A very nice man named Kevin climbed down the ladder and searched for my key in the vicinity of where I thought it might have landed.  He could not have been nicer, but he didn’t find my key.  Along with another Transfer Station Honcho, he pushed my car out of the way while I steered.

    I was out of options.  I couldn’t say the key was lost, because I knew where it was.  But I couldn’t get the key, and I didn’t have a spare.  The service guy at the dealership in Yarmouth told me he could order me a new key for $100, but it wouldn’t arrive until Friday, and even then, he couldn’t squeeze me in until next Tuesday.  My car windows were open, as was the sunroof.  It was threatening to rain.  Again.

    You know in a preindustrial society, farmers had lots of children so they’d have extra hands to help in the fields?  I have three children.  Though I have wished all were fully employed this summer, I got very lucky that one was home mid-day playing video games with his friend Nigel.  My son Sam understood I was truly stranded.  He did not make fun of me.  He began driving the spare key from Boston to me in Wellfleet.

    What to do for the two hours it would take Sam to reach me? I listened to other people talking:

    “What’s goin’ on?” one man said. “Nothin’,” another replied.  “Same, here,” the first guy said.

    and

    “Need a hand?” a guy asked another guy unloading nine milk crates filled with wine and liquor bottles.  “Nah,” said the other guy, climbing around in the back of his blue pickup.  He gestured towards his crates. “That’s what they call a standard load.  It’s a shitload.”

    The sky darkened.  I worried it would rain, and the car interior would get soaked.  And then, at 3 PM, I saw Sam at the wheel of the van, pulling in at the entrance booth.  I could just imagine the conversation.  “Where is my very stupid mother, the one who threw her key in the dump?” Sam would say.  “Oh, that lady?  She’s just been sitting over there in her car for two hours, trying not to throw away anything else important.”  Yes, that would be me.

    Sam unfolded himself from the van, all 6′ 2″ of him.  He delivered the key, stretched, then let me take him out for a vanilla soft serve cone.  I heard a bit about his internship at the radio station – the one he has to be to by 4:45 AM two days a week — maybe more than he’s told me all summer.  And then he went on his way.  He needed to get back to watch the Bruins.

    It’s only the middle of June.  I know it’s going to get hot at some point.  The greenheads will hatch.  We might even have a hurricane or two.  And I will probably do more stupid things, but I hope none as stupid as the one I did today.  Time will pass in enormous and miniscule increments, and I will not be able to do one single thing about it.

     

     

     

    Tags: , , ,

  • 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.

    Tags: , ,

  • I took a red-eye flight from California overnight so I’d be back in Boston today to take Lily to the airport. It mattered to me that I be able to have a few hours with her before she left for five weeks in Spain. And it really mattered to me that I be able to escort her to security.

    I won’t be in Boston when Lily returns. Though that’s disappointing (because I won’t be here to hear the rush of stories when she’s fresh off the plane), it feels somehow far less significant to me than missing the send off.

    Of course, I love graduations and celebrations of achieving goals. But even more, I love the feeling that I’ve done all I can to help my kids step out into the wide world with open eyes and hearts.

    Tags: , ,