RSS Feed

Tag Archives: motherhood

Mensch of the Year

Stacy and Lowell

Stacy and Lowell

A bit of clean laundry for the New Year. No, more than that: a bit of nachas, the Yiddish term for happiness, particularly that generated by one’s child.

My daughter was named a Mensch of the Year by LA’s Jewish Journal, a distinction she richly deserves for having turned a difficult and heartbreaking life experience into something useful, starting her own organization to raise money for research into Crohns disease.

Not, I hasten to note, that I deserve any credit: I’ve always said that Stacy was born almost fully formed as exactly who she is—it’s the only way to explain how utterly different from me she was and is. Once, when she was five and I was carting her all over New York State in search of some elusive nirvana, she sat on the back of our U-Haul truck once again with our packed possessions and exclaimed, “I can’t wait till I grow up so I don’t have to live with nobody!”

More recently, when I tried to do something new and different with an advocacy group I worked with and they weren’t interested, I simply left and ceased doing anything. In a similar situation, Stacy started her own group.

Lowell

Lowell

When my grandson Lowell was diagnosed early on with IBD, specifically Crohns, I thought, as most people probably do, that it just meant stomach aches and dietary restrictions. It turns out to be much more problematic, in some cases, including his, causing chronic pain and fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, delayed growth, and constant crises necessitating invasive medical tests, visits to the ER and hospitalizations, even surgery.

Besides dealing with all that and more, Stacy started running marathons. So did Jonah, Lowell’s older brother.

Marathon runners Stacy and Jonah

Marathon runners Stacy and Jonah

I’m thrilled that my daughter has been recognized for her hard work and advocacy of people with IBD, and not just because she’s on the cover of a magazine, though I admit I got a huge kick out of that. The deeper meaning is that a lot of other people will learn about what she’s done, she’ll get energy and kudos, and it will raise awareness of Crohns disease.

As for me, I’m starting 2015 brimming with nachas.

Happy New Year all.

 

Advertisements

Labor Day: The Hard Work of Mothering

A slightly different version of the following was originally posted on Dirty Laundry on Mothers Day 2008. Some of the statistics are out-of-date, which most likely only makes them more alarming.

cartoon mothers w: kidsAs the media does every so often, CNN recently reported the latest calculation of what mothers would earn if they were actually paid, in cold hard cash, for their labor. That number would fall somewhere between $117K and $149K per year, a figure arrived at by estimating the average hourly wage for the various tasks involved in mothering: cooking, nursing, chauffeuring, etcetera. Of course, this “news” was delivered by two giggling anchors: they didn’t take it seriously, or expect their audience to either.

Mother’s work is, so received wisdom goes, performed purely for love, and the notion of financial remuneration is simply hilarious.

Never mind that we pay nannies, nurses, housekeepers, day care providers, even the teenager next door for babysitting. And never mind all those studies proving, pretty definitively by now, that women lose income over the course of a lifetime when they spend years mothering. Or that they’re sometimes left to fend for themselves during hubby’s midlife crisis, if not sooner. We seem, as a society, to be terrified of this issue. We seem to think that if mothers were paid for their work, the family as an institution would crumble.

Back in the 1970s the International Wages for Housework Campaign, a network of women in Third World and industrialized countries, formulated a list of ambitious demands “for the unwaged work that women do to be recognized as work in official government statistics, and for this work to be paid.” More active in Australia and England than in the U.S., the movement never went anywhere, and today it’s all but dead: an Internet search dug up articles that were either decades old, or in fringe publications promoting social anarchy.

In 1990 the International Labor Organization estimated that women do two-thirds of the world’s work for 5% of its income. In 1995 the UN Development Programme’s Human Moneyhouse$$Development Report announced that women’s unpaid and underpaid labor was worth $11 trillion worldwide, $1.4 trillion in the United States alone. No doubt these figures are much higher today. (I looked up more recent U.N. reports, but, I confess, found them indecipherable.)

Even more mind-blowing is the system by which governments compute productivity. In If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics, Marilyn Waring explains the complexities of our economic system, which “counts oil spills and wars as contributors to economic growth, while child-rearing and housekeeping are deemed valueless.”

Motherhood isn’t devalued in monetary terms only. In the early 1980s I enrolled in Empire State College, part of the State University of New York, to complete the requirements for my Bachelor’s degree. ESC was a school of independent study, and life experience earned college credits.  A written narrative had to detail the work and reading done in each field, and be approved by a committee. School policy excluded mothering as a field of study, but my mentor thought that raising a child with a disability, and what I’d learned of the medical system and social work organizations as a result, might be credit-worthy. I wrote up my papers for credit in that and a number of other fields. For writing I got 32 whopping credits. For public relations I got 9; for fundraising, 12; and for political activism, 15. For raising a child with a disability, after much committee debate as to whether to even include it, I got three credits, the lowest amount of all my life experience. If nothing else, I received a stunning education from SUNY.

I don’t know why the majority of the world’s population thinks mothering as work is laughable, and wages for housework a ridiculous concept. I only know that whenever some idiotic anchorperson laughingly tells me what I would have earned as a mother had my work been deemed monetarily valuable, I go into a rage.

 

The Before Trilogy: Review

English: Ethan Hawke at the 2007 Toronto Inter...

English: Ethan Hawke at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of "Before Sunrise"

Cover of Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise
Before Sunset
Before Midnight
starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy

As series go, the “Before‘s” aren’t half bad. I’ll even go so far as to say that, as entertainment, they’re two-thirds great: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are quite compelling. Each could stand alone, but why make them do that when viewing without pause a six-hour saga spanning half a lifetime is so much fun? That’s the joy of rentals, I’ve discovered: watching an entire season of Homeland or Breaking Bad over the course of a few days is so much more satisfying than weekly viewings dragged out over several years.

The plot of the Before trilogy sounds on the surface deceptively simple: boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl. In Before Sunrise, Jesse, an American played by Ethan Hawke, meets the French Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train speeding through Europe the night before he’s heading home. His plane leaves from Vienna in the morning, and when the train reaches his station he spontaneously asks Celine to get off and spend the night with him. This is not an indecent proposal, since he has no money for a hotel and plans to roam the city streets all night. After a beat or two she says yes—oh, to be young, for only the young take such risks! And hey, if she hadn’t gone, look what they, and we the audience, would have missed.

Parting is such sweet sorrow: after a night communing with Vienna and each other, they agree to meet in the same place in six months’ time to see if they still feel connected. As the sun rises, the first movie ends, leaving the audience suspended.Before Sunset

The second film, Before Sunset opens with Jesse hawking the novel he wrote based on what happened before sunrise. He’s in Paris giving a reading—as if! First-time novelists are rarely if ever whisked by their publishers on worldwide publicity tours accompanied by their own personal limo driver. Maybe this occasionally happened in, say, 1948, but certainly not  in the 90s when the movie takes place. That’s just one of the ways in which the Before‘s get the writing life wrong: in other scenes Jesse tells anyone he happens to meet the entire plot of his next as yet unwritten novel, a sure sign of the rank amateur.

Caveat, Jesse: Talking about an unwritten book guarantees you won’t write it. That’s not some superstition, either: when you talk out the story you dissipate the creative energy needed to write it. If you tell it first, by the time you get to a blank page, the story’s gone stale, and you have nothing left to say.

The first two Before‘s cover the most exciting phases in a relationship: meeting, anticipating, getting-to-know-you, and testing reality. No matter how many times it’s been told, these remain engaging; thus, the first two Before‘s cannot fail. Well, maybe they can, but they don’t.

Before MidnightThe trouble with Part The Third is a lack of conflict, at least for the first half. As any writing teacher will tell you, without obstacles there’s no story, especially no love story. Before Midnight opens on an almost ideal relationship. Only later, when the couple go off alone, away from their kids and their friends, does the plot thicken with a blowout. Here comes conflict in spades; the problem is that Jesse and Celine—mostly Celine, true to life—raise just about every issue you’d expect to be a source of strife in a contemporary relationship. I could have recited verbatim this part of the script, in which today’s couple conflicts are explored ad nauseum—which is predictably tedious. I may be wrong: perhaps if I were 35, married, and afraid my husband planned to haul my ass out of Paris to live in Chicago…well, then, sure, I’d relate to Before Midnight the way I related to  Diary of a Mad Housewife in 1970. At that movie I sobbed my heart out : the protagonist’s story mirrored my own.  Thus, I can see how a good portion of today’s audiences related to and loved Before Midnight.

I could write an entire blog, if not a whole book, on another aspect of the third movie: Celine as a mother. For most of the film the

couple’s two daughters are invisible, either off playing somewhere, or asleep, or left with friends while the duo runs off for a romantic interlude. I couldn’t help but notice this, since every time I’ve created a fictional character who’s a mother, editors and agents have demanded I devote more time to the kids even when they have nothing to do with the story. I’ve been told that if I don’t, readers will dislike the main character: she’s seen as a Bad Mother. (As I said, it’s a whole separate blog I hope to get to someday.)

Of course, I didn’t lose sympathy for Celine—but then, I wouldn’t. I wonder about other viewers; after all, it’s clear that Celine’s career is a more important part of her life than motherhood. In Before Midnight, though, this somehow seems natural. A sign of changing times? French sensibility? Or is Celine just an unusual woman?

Julie DelpyJulie Delpy’s performance improves by leaps and bounds during the course of the trilogy.  In the first two movies she’s an okay actress—but it’s in the latest installment that she really blossoms. Maybe it’s just because here she gets to play anger; whatever the reason, her acting chops have clearly evolved.   It brings to mind the cliché that women reach their prime in their mid-thirties—only it isn’t such a cliché: in Before Midnight Julie the actress and Celine the character seem to have reached the peak of their powers. Celine’s career is about to take a great leap forward, and by movie’s end I fervently hoped Jesse wouldn’t drag her off to Chicago to waste the best years of her life.

We may never know—unless, that is, a fourth sequel is on the way.

Poetry

Posted on

This first poem was written by my friend Joani Reinmuth, an artist who makes jewelry, and who doesn’t consider herself a writer and never wrote a poem before this one. Coming from someone who isn’t “a poet” it blew my mind.

A Day Really
By Joan Reinmuth

Before visiting summer we get Mothers Day,MothersDayFlowers2
the revising a draft day,
a saving and backup day.
24 hours of reference to no specific work or detail
just like the plug in a socket.
As if all transactions and reactions occurred on one
day, words borrowed and same day credit given.

Whatever happened to the daily fiddling,
critical thinking, pop-up engineering,
and all other problematic comparisons.

Who pressed flowers in the cast iron frying pan,
did homework with the dog, and
used a highlighter to assess and change the plan.

And, for a clearer idea, who else every day,
all day shoves the monsters back into their cave.

This next one is mine.

Strange Blues

Hildy had strange blues I mean she had
some mighty strange blues after Janie died.
Hildy knew all about the blues—
death blues & love gone bad bluesUnknown
no moneyfoodorliquor blues
homesick blues and Momma blues
Daddy blues and too old to tango blues
but these blues were nothing like those.
These were strange blues.

She was a Stranger accordin’ to the law.
That’s what she was to Janie said the judge.
(He called her ‘The Deceased’.)
They weren’t spouses. How could they be spouses?
They were both women, each having 2 boobs
one pussy and no dick on the premises.
Thus there’d been no wedding no license no cake
no spouses and what about spice?
Hildy could still laugh but
Legal Strangers said the judge
pounding his gavel.
That’s what you are by law: A Legal Stranger.

That’s what gave Hildy the strange blues
for sure. She’d held Janie’s hand
‘til her spirit left her tired body
so how was she a stranger?  No, said the judge, not
a stranger; a Legal Stranger. Look it up.

So she did. Hildy looked under L and S in the big dictionary
in the living room and the paperback dictionary
in the kitchen with the cookbooks
and she looked under the catboxes and
in the bookshelves and in the drawers of
all four desks. (One for each grownup, one
for each kid.  Intellectuals, friends used to tease.)

In every dictionary she turned to L and then to S.
but could not find these Legal Strangers
giving Hildy  strange blues tonight:
real strange blues.

Get out your guitar
and strum the Legal Stranger Blues.
Betcha can’t. Betcha won’t.
O sure, you can play the Sam Cooke blues
the Ray Charles blues   Aretha blues
Johnny Cash blues and
the last of the red hot momma blues
but music doesn’t do the Legal Stranger blues
or know ’bout Legal Strangers
only Strangers in a Strange Land
of judges no spouses no wives and no rights.

When Writing Doesn’t Happen

Posted on

scared2

It’s been more than a month since I blogged—possibly the longest silence on record since I started Dirty Laundry in October 2006. And it’s not as if I’ve been writing something else, like a novel, or ghosting a book for someone else, or even copyediting. Nope. I haven’t been writing, period. Of course, there’s a reason; as my dearly departed friend Richard used to say, “There are always reasons, never excuses.” Richard was hard on everyone, including himself, and was consequently depressed most of his life.

Actually there’s only one reason I haven’t been writing: my son Daryl was hit by a car (his second such adventure), broke his ankle, necessitating surgery, and, since he can’t walk and take care of himself, he’s been in a rehab/nursing facility since the beginning of January. I call the place the Garden Spot of Alameda. Daryl’s an adult of 47, so readers might wonder why the circumstances of his life would affect mine. The short answer—and that’s the only one I’m going into today—is that I’m used to taking care of Daryl, as he was born with a chronic medical condition (hydrocephalus)  that led to seizures, learning disabilities,  and other physical and mental challenges. His first car accident, in 2004, inflicted further brain damage, or TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). The upshot of all this is that Daryl needs a lot of support, primarily emotional.

Daryl, Immediate Post Accident

Daryl, Immediate Post Accident

When he first checked into the Garden Spot I felt so bad I visited daily, but at this point he’s used to it, so I’m only going two or three times a week. If there’s a reason beyond time that I haven’t been writing, it’s the traumatic crash course I’ve been getting on American (all?) nursing homes. Though the facility serves two populations, not just the elderly, the aged predominate. And, since everyone in this place is, I believe, governmentally subsidized, the residents tend to be, um, financially challenged (Don’t you just love my euphemisms?). The motives of the owners and managers ….well, I’m not going to go into the specifics until Daryl is home safe and sound. In the meantime, I’ll speak in generalities.

Nursing homes are notoriously hellish. After my father died, my mother began telling me not to put her into a nursing home, ever. Being a 30something brat who, like all brats, was ignorant of aging issues, I poked fun at her. Now I wish I hadn’t. This is an important, urgent issue that all families should talk about. Attention must be paid! I’m now telling my kids all the time, “Don’t you ever put me into a nursing home!” And, of course, they make fun of me.

I would not last one night in this place. To begin with, I’m claustrophobic—and they put 3 beds into not-so-big rooms. Also, I consider myself, like 25% of the population, a Highly Sensitive Person, a designation that in recent years has gained recognition. I’m certain I’d be having panic attacks in the Garden of Alameda—especially if, like Daryl, I was at the mercy of people I didn’t know, some of whom aren’t entirely wonderful, and I couldn’t get out of bed by myself. Because he has a broken ankle on the right and a fractured toe on the left, Daryl needs someone to help him get into a wheelchair. He uses plastic urination bottles and has a portable toilet next to his bed.  As stated, I don’t want to get too specific–but staff has to empty these receptacles. Would readers care to speculate how quickly they perform this task? Can you imagine the odors that fill the room when these containers aren’t dumped in a timely manner? And that’s just one of the discomforts that can drive a Highly Sensitive Person batty. Not one day. I couldn’t do one single day.

The CountFor the first month Daryl had a roommate who was, IMO, certifiably insane. The night he was transferred from the hospital to the Garden I was hanging his clothes while the nurses got him into bed, when R., the roommate, came over and began whispering to me about all the trouble Daryl was going to have getting the nurses to help him use the facilities. He was a real yenta, this guy, and I immediately took myself away, vowing to avoid him from now on. During the next few days, though, he  helped Daryl a lot, getting him water, or nudging a nurse if he needed one. He saved his newspaper crossword puzzles for me, went out of his way to be “helpful”. He also told funny stories—so I changed my mind, figuring my first impression of R. had been wrong. Eventually, however,  I discovered that my first impression was in fact one hundred percent spot on. R. was constantly in our business. He eavesdropped on us and unashamedly brought up the things he’d heard; when I was on the phone with Daryl he’d shout out conversational tidbits to me; he called me “Mom” and followed me out to the lobby whenever I left to give me his reports on Daryl’s behavior. He was driving Daryl completely crazy. The last straw came when I was trimming Daryl’s beard, and kept telling him not to talk so I wouldn’t slip with the scissors. R. walked up to the other side of the bed and hit, yes, HIT Daryl on the arm, hard, and yelled “Stop talking!” Daryl got pissed off, picked up a half full cup of coffee and threw it at the wall, and told ME to leave (Daryl takes out all his frustrations on me because I’m “safe”.)  R. had the chutzpah to follow me out to the lobby, saying “See? That’s what he does!” After that I wouldn’t let him whisper his reports to me, or inject himself into our conversations, or shout through the phone at me. He got weepy, almost crying as he begged me to engage with him, but I wouldn’t. Yes, he ‘s a lonely guy—60 years old, and he never had a single visitor—but is that my problem? Fortunately, the social worker found a permanent residence for R.—I never found out WTF he was doing there to begin with—and he left. Daryl’s attitude and behavior since R. is gone has been a hundred percent improved. No more yelling or throwing things or telling me to go home. In fact he’s the perfect patient, despite wanting desperately to go home. Which might happen next week.

red typewriterI was planning to write a lot more here, to catch up on the movies I’ve been seeing, podcasts listened to, friends old and new—as well as some of the more amusing residents of the Garden. Unfortunately, I’m already drained. This is what happens when a writer doesn’t write every day, or almost. Doris Lessing says she finds herself becoming “unbalanced” when she doesn’t write for a few days. This applies to me as well. Bad enough being unbalanced, but I bet Lessing doesn’t let her craziness show; but me, I’m talking to myself a mile a minute! Sure, most of us talk to ourselves once in awhile–but I’m a regular Chatty Cathy these days, and I’m doing it out in public. Without the outlet of the paper, or screen, words just come spilling out of my mouth. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone looks at me oddly on the street, and I get embarrassed. Or I’m in the supermarket, when suddenly someone swings their head towards me, thinking I’m talking to them. Unbalanced indeed! Finally, when I do try to write, I seem to undergo a certain level of fear. It’s like I get when approaching a new story, or  unfamiliar territory. It’s as if I have to wade through the shallow end of the pool before I can get to the depths. Like starting over.

DeskChaosSo here’s what I hope to do: I’m going to write a little bit every day, and post it if I think it will interest anyone. I know it will interest other writers—we all love hearing about each other’s process, especially how to work our way out of Writer’s Block.  I‘ve frequently claimed I never, or rarely, have Writer’s Block—but what else is this? It’s just that the way I’ve heard it described, Writer’s Block usually comes out of nowhere and hangs around with no rhyme or reason. My blocks, if that’s what they are, have a root cause: lack of writing, usually of necessity. When my children were little I grabbed every scrap of time I could for writing, and I learned to be ready to roll the minute time became available. For a mother, Writer’s Block is just one more unaffordable luxury. Now I can afford it. But surely there are better ways to spend my time.