Monthly Archives: March 2011

Stay-at-home-mom redux. or What? Sexism?

Last year, after my first posts to this blog– I got a bad case of eczema– something I had in babyhood but hadn’t had for a long, long time.  My dermatologist said “who knows why these things surface?”  I think it had to do with fear that rose as I put myself out there.  You are a small and supportive group of readers, but nonetheless, I think i got scared and eczema was what showed.  I want to speak my mind out here in the world; and at the same time there is some terror about being truly visible in any way.

One of the next most terrifying things I have done, other than to begin writing this at all, was to write, a couple of weeks ago, that for now what I am is a stay-at-home-mom.   The feelings that clambered up in me after that post were– well stunning, on the internalized sexism meter.  I felt as though I had written– “Hello world, I am a failure.  I don’t know how to do anything.  I am a trivial, insignificant woman and I don’t earn a paycheck.”  Even though I am exactly the same woman who has done many, many things and is very competent.  I have often known I am very competent at many important things– including paid work and unpaid work and including mother’s work.

But after that post was up, I thought seriously, for the first time, about pulling a post off the blog after it went up.  Hmmm.

Related topic, different setting.  I have a great, close friend, D.– who has been one of my closest friends since our early 20’s.  I have started whole pieces about her, because she figures so prominently in my life and in my heart too.  But for now I will leave it at this.  She is a fiercely competitive, very successful, tough, feminist litigator.  She also loves me deeply and enthusiastically and is deeply loyal to me– and I always know that she loves me.  She loves me for qualities of mine, entirely unrelated to the interests, skills and focus that have made her an excellent litigator.  I’m a heart person for her; a poet, an unwavering safe harbor.

Nonetheless D. and I do lawyerly things together once in a while and she asked me to go with her yesterday to hear oral argument in the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case which was being argued at the United States Supreme Court. (Yes, you can figure out from which city I am writing.)  I’m a lawyer.  I am actually admitted to the Supreme Court Bar though I never have and never will argue before the Supreme Court.  I decided to go–not at all for any networking or future job-finding purpose, but because I am still stunned/outraged by the depth and breadth of sexism and I thought this a pivotal moment, at least in one arena, in our national history on the sexism front.  I thought it would be a good thing to witness.  Also I love an adventure early in the morning with D. and we had to get there and line up early.

As it worked out D. and I stood in line a long time and had long, separate conversations with different people.  A woman who is also (besides D.) a long-time feminist litigator– and a long-time acquaintance of mine– showed up.  I was deep in another conversation– but she slipped in next to us and started talking and eventually she asked me where I’m working these days.  I said “I’m not working right now”.

On a bad day I might have felt embarrassed or depressed, but yesterday the cherry blossoms were out, I’d had an amazing conversation with a Somali cab driver on my way to the Court, and I was feeling good– very good, about my life, my past career as a lawyer, and hopeful about whatever I will do next.  I was happy to be going to the Supreme Court and happy to be coming home again to do writing and mothering things.  Just happy.  I answered enthusiastically that I was doing well, had left a job that had never been good and was not working now while I decide what next.

She said “Oh”.  I can’t capture the tone in a blog.  But it was that kind of “Oh” that revealed that she felt startled, glad she wasn’t me and like she needed to quickly summon some way to act positive, polite.  It was an “Oh” that couldn’t have carried more unspoken meaning than if I had said, “Actually I was recently convicted of a crime of moral turpitude and am leaving directly from this very Court to spend the rest of my days in prison– that’s what I’m up to”.

There was a sad irony getting this “Oh” right there in line to hear a sex discrimination case argued at the Supreme Court, from this woman who has been a fierce and successful fighter for women’s rights.  A woman who, somewhere in her heart of hearts, apparently doesn’t think much of women who do anything other than litigation.  (And, to state the obvious, women who do things other than litigation are– well– almost all women throughout the world.)

was annoyed, but I don’t write this to be snarky to that woman. My point is that internalized oppression sits there– like the unseen roots of some huge tree– just like the sexism that sits there unseen by either Wal-Mart or the Supreme Court, and yet is so obvious.  Stark.

Unfortunately the day got only sadder on the ending-sexism front once I had listened to most of the Justices’ questions (some hostile, some so oblivious I wondered what world they inhabit) of the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case.  But that is a blog post for another more lawyerly day which may or may not ever arrive on this writing, thinking, reading, activist, organizing and mothering blog.

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Adoption Nation. Can you join me Thursday April 7? Book review and give away!

I haven’t asked this of you readers before, and it is not that I think this unimportant– but in a writing life that is so centered on finding my voice about my own real thoughts– I hate, in a certain way, to waste this ask on anything other than a post of my own invention.  But I’ll ask and –I just hope you will indulge me again whenever I may ask again.

That said, I have been asked by a publicist, to review the new updated edition of Adam Pertman’s book– Adoption Nation as part of a “blog book tour”  (different adoption bloggers writing about the book on different days).  My day to post a review is Thursday, April 7.  I will also have a drawing– email me your name anytime between now and April 8– and I’ll do a drawing/lottery and will have two copies of his book– compliments of the publisher– to give two readers.  So join me for my review– Thursday, April 7.  And write me if you want a book.  I would be happy to pick up a new reader or 5 or 50 if you know of someone whom you think would be interested in a review of the book and who might like to enter a very simple drawing for a free book.

Pussywillows, just a few days into spring.

I realized this morning that we just passed the first day of spring.  Yesterday, I bought three bunches of pussywillows– just as this little window of pussywillow branches before they turn to leafy branches comes to an end and the grocery stores that carry them are about to stop.  I knew when I picked them out in the grocery store that they were huge and tall, but I didn’t quite know until I came home just how tall. Even though it turned cold again this morning it was like spring.  Strawberries for breakfast (from somewhere far away) and pussywillows in the dining room.  They are wonderful, like having a small spring willow tree in the apartment.

Strawberries for breakfast.

Tall pussywillows in the dining room. March 2011

Pussywillows close up.

My girl horsing around at breakfast. March 2011.

What I do during the day now that I am not working.

Grace Paley came into my mind this morning as I sat down to write.  I sat for a while and read from two of my favorites of her books.  She was like no one else I have ever known in that she was a great, true, feet-on-the-ground-flyer-making-organizing feminist.  She did big, big things in her life.  Like writing important books and traveling with a Peace Brigade to Hanoi in 1969– to try to change the course of a US war.

She participated with many other women in the anti-nuclear civil disobedience protests the success of which I am always, but at this particular moment in history, terribly, terribly grateful for.  Watching in fear and somewhat numb to the devastation I believe is really happening in Japan, and which I do not believe is really being fully reported yet–  I am only sorry that more of us didn’t join in and make that movement even more successful than it was.

One thing that I think distinguished Grace from many of her feminist peers and from many of us of my generation and younger generations is that she both believed in women taking charge of everything and she believed and lived in many ways, that there was no work that was any more important (not that it was the only important work) than the work of raising children “righteously up” as she says in one of my favorite stories of hers.  A Midrash on Happiness is the story.  You really need to read the title story if you haven’t.  And if you have, you should read it again.  I keep her in my mind and my back pocket often these days.

A poem written later in her life called, “Stanzas: Old Age and the Conventions of Retirement Have Driven My Friends from the Work They Love”  contains the following, the third stanza:

No metaphor reinvents the job of the nurture of children                                                  except to muddy or mock.

which is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with although not descriptive of all that I am doing.  Certainly in this period of time, I have expanded my own job description as a mother to include things I didn’t have time for before.  I walk my daughter to school almost every day, rain or shine, whether I am sick or well, whether I overslept and go in the tee-shirt I slept in or not and almost never take my partner up on the offer to take her to school.  It is something I do right now.  We talk, we laugh we fight once in a while– but I get to be with her and she gets to have me and I keep figuring things out.  I do not make her lunch every day, my partner often does.  I pick her up three days a week and sometimes more.  If there is something to be done at the school during the day, I go.  And then there are the constant days off for teacher training, for holidays, for parent teacher meetings and these days she is with me for all of the aforementioned.  One thing I’ve known all along but I am developing discipline– is that it’s a lot about making yourself available and logging in the hours with your child.   As in not on the phone or the computer  or even thinking about too much else.

I go to the Read 180 (a special catch-up reading class at her school)– once or twice a week to help out.  She is in Read 180 and they meet every day for one hour and fifteen minutes.  But she asked me to go to the 5th graders and not her 4th grade class, which I do.  I go because I want to have that depth of knowledge about her world and I think that teacher who interacts with her every day can use a hand.

But here are a few other things.  I meet every single Wednesday morning for about an hour and half with another mom I am close to.  We are different ages– she has two children and I have one, she is heterosexual and married, I am lesbian and partnered–  she isn’t Jewish and I am but we have very similar sensibilities about mothering and we meet and take turns talking and listening to each other every single week.  We laugh, we cry and we talk a lot.  Then we say goodbye and go back to the job at hand.  We really love each other, but it’s a very efficient operation and it works.  After that there were two grocery stops, one for food the other for tall pussywillow branches, mailing a package and getting my daughter to Hebrew school.

There is more– more.  We live in a small self-managed coop apartment building.  I sit on the coop board this year.  Early this morning I wrote emails about the bizarre thefts that have been occurring in the building– where several people’s boxes with stuff they ordered were stolen– but to be precise, the contents were stolen and the boxes placed, by a very tidy thief, neatly in our cardboard recycling– all broken down and everything.

I wrote the neighbor downstairs that he has to clean up his dog’s poop from the side yard and managed to do it in such a way that the guy didn’t get pissed at all.

I cooked black beans and did laundry and wrote about a dozen emails to schedule and reschedule different meetings.  And I had extensive dental surgery yesterday so there was morning ice and ibuprofen and saltwater rinse.  Before all that I sat and started this piece, read Grace Paley, wondered if you get tired of hearing about her, which you shouldn’t.  And now with respect to this blog writing–  I finish, just 15 hours later.

Purim 5771: notes of a tired woman late on a Saturday night. Preschool, Purim and Mother tongue.

We have had two lovely days here.  My daughter had no school yesterday and I planned with my close friend, A.– to take her son and my daughter to visit for the morning at the very special preschool where her son and my daughter went to preschool and where the two of them (her son and my daughter) and the two of us, the women, met and became friends.

It proved to be a wonderful thing to do and it was one of those perfectly good, good days in a life.  The weather was beautiful, my daughter both happy and cooperative, but also just a little clingy with me– just as she often was, many years ago, when she was enrolled in this preschool.  I enjoyed the visit, and truth to tell, I enjoyed every cling.  Lately I am acutely aware that this time of her childhood with me in the center of her world, is fleeting.  I savor each of these days when I get to do something funny or sweet, all day long, with my daughter.

If you don’t know the Jewish holiday of Purim, I apologize for not creating many hyperlinks here to help you out, and the one I’ve given you really isn’t the best–but suffice it to say that Purim is a raucous holiday involving costumes, in many settings– a lot of alcohol (in many settings, not in my world), and general partying.  As Jews, we celebrate our victory in a close call– near-annihilation of the Jews in Persia a long time ago, that ended well.

My family went to the Megillah reading (the reading of the story of Purim) at my synagogue for Purim tonight.  No one especially felt like going, but I wanted not to miss this Jewish holiday that is so centered on young people and silliness and play.  We convinced (with no difficulty at all) my friend A., and her husband and son (with whom we’d spent Friday and some of Saturday) to come too, so we went as a pack which I always like. Somehow my Rabbi, Cantor and several others, created a Purim story that utilized– well– an amalgam of Purim, the plot and songs of West Side Story, as well as current politics.  Queen Esther was Esther Pelosi, Vashti was Vashti Palin (complete with a hilarious rendition of “I Feel Pretty”), Haman was Haman John Boehner; the music was both rag-tag and wonderful and everyone from age 3 to 75 laughed a lot.  I know my Rabbi isn’t afraid to take a stand, but he is also thoughtful and doesn’t insult people.  I guess he was pretty confident that there are no tea-partiers or even Republicans in the congregation.  You probably had to be there, but it was hilarious.

But the best was this.  On the way home from synagogue, my daughter asked to listen to our soundtrack of In the Heights– about which you have heard much if you are a regular reader of this blog. We were listening to the song, Carnaval Del Barrio, which is noisy and funny and energetic and sung mostly in Spanish.  She and I were both singing along with a fairly adept command of both the melody and the words– in both English and Spanish–but there were many Spanish words she was singing that I didn’t know.  So I asked her what one meant, and she translated easily for me.  And another– and she translated easily.  And a third word, and this time she translated– but it was one of those words for which there is actually no literal equivalent in English.  She explained easily, and with a great command of poetry, nuance.  I was beaming inside and my partner gave me a glance– enough to convey that she noticed too, but brief enough to not interrupt the moment.  We’ve won.  She has Spanish, her first mother tongue.  Her first mother’s tongue.  In a flash we know she will likely have the easy access of language that she needs to have easy access to her people which is exactly what we have hoped for.  As we parked behind our building, my daughter asked us to bring the CD into the house, so she could fall asleep to it and she did, singing along more and more softly as her eyelids closed with her proud and tired mother looking at her good face watching her fall into sleep.

Stay-at-home-mom

I have not written it yet.  This is still one of those things, I am warning you– like thinking one’s hair is ugly or one’s thighs too big.  I can say it, but you shouldn’t say it to me.  I say it very occasionally, with people with whom I’m very close, and to myself– over the past months, usually with an edge of self-deprecation (which, by the way is not how I feel about any other mom).  Sometimes I say it to myself with an edge, bitter and despairing–but the thing is that what I am right now, as well as unemployed, is a stay-at-home-mom.  What I mean is that my mind is not only on finding a job.  I’m not just on hold until the next job. I have a job and I’m doing it more and better since I ended up with the time, not exactly by choice.  I’m a mother, doing thing that I want to be doing with and for my daughter, at home and out in the world, as her mother. 

One could write a whole blog daily about the incredible sexism, the internalized sexism and all the ism’s in this world that make that sound like a trivial, crummy endeavor.  

In this life as a stay at home mom– a little bit writer– Ido a number of things that I love and care about doing– as a mother and as a member of my immediate and extended family.  So here are a couple of updates.   Right now, I’m traveling again.  This trip not with my daughter or partner, but to pick up where I left off about 14 years ago (I say this ironically) with my very wonderful 18-year-old nephew.  I’m still very close to him, but since his younger brother and then my daughter came along, I haven’t done as many special things, just with him.  So when my sister asked me to join him and her in Seattle for something they were doing this weekend– I said yes.  I’m a stay at home mom.  I sometimes have the time to do something like this. 

I feel as though this isn’t the only trip I’ve been on these past weeks, because my mind has been so thoroughly occupied with Madison, a place I once lived.  My mind has also been on change and hope and what is afoot in Wisconsin and how can people stay hopeful enough to keep up the push for deep, deep change and a better world.  How to keep it going there and how to keep it going here.  Right inside my heart and mind.

 One of the things I think I have learned watching the events in Wisconsin, that I have also learned over and over as a parent– is about fighting for ourselves and for what is right.  Not resigning ourselves to things as we fear they must be.  Trying, pushing, making a huge effort with all our heart.  Not leaving any crevice for resignation.  I have never given birth, but I recently read several accounts by women about their experiences giving birth.  They remind me that this is how we all come into the world– with a huge, enormous, challenging, seemingly undoable effort.  What I have learned in watching Wisconsin and my own daughter is that sometimes things that seem impossible need only that one more push for the most hopeful good thing, to emerge or burst forward. 

Through this writing recently, I have taken a trip back in time and to a different place, to visit and revisit our adoption of my daughter.  Long ago, after trying to get pregnant but not getting pregnant and after pursuing adoption — being a mother and having a child also felt like an impossibility.  But here I am, mother of a nine-year-old daughter who came to us healthy and newborn, just as I wanted.  

Just for the record, I am not well-rested at all; being a stay at home mom doesn’t mean you get much sleep or rest.  And just for the record, I do not feel like my mind is turning to mush; if anything, I am thinking about more and thinking more deeply than I often get to as a working person– though I want and need to be a working person again. 

So at the moment,  I teeter between hopelessness about satisfying employment, about being a stay-at-home-mom and about the future of our world as the Republicans reach to strip us of more and more of our rights and voices– and the hope that this is a time when there are nothing but gains ahead. 

And just to highlight that things aren’t always what they seem, this weekend, being a stay-at-home-mom brings me to Seattle, far from home, to what promises to be a great weekend, without either my daughter or my partner nearby– but with my nephew whose birth I was present for– and my sister–someone who if she is there– I’m home.

Saying goodbye.

I am full of more and more thoughts, memories, ideas.  This little family that we made and the family history we are making day by day.  Now that she is nine, some of the memories seem long ago and far away.  And some seem like they happened just this morning.  There is a reason for the clichés– it all does seem like just the blink of an eye ago.

This is a very little story, told, of course, from mine and not my daughter’s perspective.  Although I talked and talked to her in the hours after we met her, this is about what was actually my first deep conversation with her.  She was 12 days old and had known me for only a few hours.  I had this conversation with her because it seemed so obvious that adoption is tied to a loss, a large disruption for the young person.  When it was time for her to say goodbye, I knew my young person was no exception.

The day we met our daughter, June 1, 2001 was a very long day, filled with many emotions.  She was 12 days old and had been with her foster mother for 10 of her 12 days.  She had spent her first 48 hours of life in the hospital but as I understand it she hadn’t had any contact, with her mother (who is now called her birth mother, but was her only mother then) after being born.

Our daughter’s foster mom was (is) an interesting, dynamic woman, a married-with-two-sons professional woman, who was at the time, the executive director of a large non-profit which provided respite care to children whose parents were on the brink.  She also served as the foster mother for many of the babies placed for adoption by our agency, just because she loved to be with newborns.

We chose to have the placement happen at her home.  We spent far longer with her and her husband than I suspect any adoptive parent ever had or ever has since.  We stayed for many hours after the papers were signed, photos taken and the agency people had gone back to work (or home).    We felt we we owed it to our daughter to get to know her on her home turf before taking her to a new home and new family.  We had a wonderful afternoon and my partner and Stephanie and my daughter and I walked to a great restaurant for dinner.

After nearly five hours together, it was time for us to pack up and take our new baby back to our hotel.  As bags and the car were being packed up by others, I found myself alone, for the first time, with my baby girl.  I was holding her on my lap in the living room.

Since we had arrived she had looked and looked, listened and listened–but she had barely cried at all for the hours and hours we had been together.  I was alone with her.  I suddenly felt that clearly my job as her mother was to tell her what was to come next and I thought about what was coming as best I could, from her point of view.

She was looking at me and I was looking into her eyes and I said something like this:  We are your moms and we already love you so much.  I love you.  In just a little bit we are going to say goodbye to Stephanie and John and you aren’t going to live with them anymore ever again.  We are going to take you with us and you will live with us.  You don’t know us very well and I know it will be hard, but I can promise you it will be ok.  You’ll be ok.  And I also promise you that this is the end of the line, the last time this will ever happen to you.  We will never leave you and you will never have to leave us or move to a new family again.  We will always be with you and you will always be with us and you will be ok– I promise.

Think what you will, that it was gas or whatever other things people say to disprove the obvious emotion, the intelligence of new babies.  But as soon as I said that she was going to say goodbye to John and Stephanie, she started to cry.  That kind of in-it-for-the-duration kind of newborn cry that gathered steam as it went.  She cried as I sat with her and as we packed the car and she cried harder as we drove over a small mountain pass to the other side of town and harder still as we went up in the elevator to our room.  She cried in our arms on the bed until her eyes drooped then closed and she slept– her first night with her new family.  She had started to cry around 8:00 and cried until around 9:30 or 9:45.  For the next six or eight weeks, she cried again– sometimes shorter, sometimes longer–sometimes tiredly, and sometimes fiercely, but every night, always starting at about 8:00 p.m.  And that is how we started.