Thursday, August 10, 2017

Define Job

I just read "The Selfishness of Motherhood," an opinion piece by Karen Rinaldi that ran in The New York Times. It was published last Sunday, but you know how it is. Sunday turns into Monday which turns into Tuesday which turns into Wednesday, and here it is Thursday, which seems like a good time to read The Sunday Review section.

I've been a stay-at-home parent for the past 11 years (well, mostly; I've done a smattering of freelance work), and Rinaldi's piece made me feel defensive and cranky. I felt the same way when I read non-mother Elizabeth Wurtzel's 2012 piece in The Atlantic, which ranted that motherhood isn't a job because one isn't paid for it. Wurtzel went on to say that being a stay-at-home mom is really about ruining feminism while getting your nails done and going to yoga all day long as a nanny does the heavy lifting. Grrr.

The hook for The NYT piece is a well-meaning comment from Rinaldi's mother: "Motherhood, it's the hardest job in the world. All sacrifice!" This statement stuck in Rinaldi's craw, so being a published novelist, she churned out an op-ed piece. She's a mother of two, and, she writes, "I don't believe for one second that motherhood is the hardest job in the world nor that it is a sacrifice."

Yeah, there are probably harder jobs. I can think of a few. Firefighter. Stunt person. Cleaning toilets all day. Sandhog. Pedicurist. Giving colonics. Anyone who has to deal with Trump.

But why write a whole piece that aims to prove that motherhood is not a job? It's semantics.

Parenthood is work. It requires physical and emotional and intellectual labor. True, it's unpaid.  I know what it's like to get paid, because I worked full-time as an editor and writer for 23 years; 6 of those years I was also a mother. Being paid is really awesome. Not being paid stinks. (Aside:  if a parent is not available to do the work because she/he is at a paying job, then someone has to be paid to do it. If a nanny is doing the same tasks that a parent does--it's a job because she is getting paid.)

According to Rinaldi, the purpose of the tendency to call motherhood a job is to preserve the feelings of homemakers who want to be valued. How dare those homemakers want to be valued! She says motherhood is not a job because not only does one not get paid, one does not have a boss. Um, ok. Not to get personal, but does she, a novelist, have a boss?

About a month ago I was at a very hoity toity party, where I told a woman how much I had enjoyed her daughter's memoir. She was pleased, and then asked, "Aren't you in publishing?"

"Not at the moment," I said. "I am mostly at home with my children." She looked like she wanted to murder me. "Well, that's a luxury," she said disapprovingly. I sweetly agreed, but she was done with me then. This unpleasant interaction comes to mind now, maybe because Rinaldi's piece makes me feel similarly dismissed.

I recently saw the 1970 film Diary of a Mad Housewife at Film Forum. It's a must-see if you haven't already, the story of an Upper West Side mother of two with an insufferable husband. In some ways it's dated, in others you can see how little has changed. I liked it so much I bought and devoured the novel on which the film was based. The frazzled protagonist--a liberal arts grad named Tina--does a lot of "women's work" and is dismissed by all.

I'd have more to say about this, but right now I have work to do. Unpaid work.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Uncle Jack

I want to talk about my Uncle Jack. He was my father's older brother and my godfather. They looked alike, more and more as the years went by, he and my father, with the same distinctive nose and smile. Uncle Jack always slicked back his hair with some sort of old-school hair grease, maybe a bit aggressively applied. He always made me feel that he was happy to see me. I adored him.

Uncle Jack worked nights. He drove a truck that delivered newspapers, and the depot was pretty close to our house, so on weekend mornings, he would often stop by with The Sunday New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and a bag of fresh kaiser rolls. I would ask, "Which do you want, tea or coffee?" He would make a choice, and I would promptly forget and fix him the opposite. He thought this was hilarious. He would sit and have a roll and tea/coffee,  and talk to my dad about I don't know what, but it pleased me to see them together. They really got along well.

A couple of times, he had me climb into the cab of his truck so he could "teach me how to drive." I would start it up and travel a couple of feet. "That's enough," he would say, laughing. Then he would go home to my Aunt Cathleen, who is from Ireland, and his three kids, Johnny, Patrick and Cathy. I would pore through the newspapers and get all kinds of ideas of things to do, like teen sleepaway camp in Mexico, which my parents would not allow. I also believe that these weekly deliveries are what got me interested in becoming a journalist.

Uncle Jack worked hard. I never saw him complain. Sometimes, at a family gathering at his house in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, he would emerge in his work clothes and announce that it was time for him to go to work. "Nature of the beast," he would say, smiling.

When my father died in 1991, Uncle Jack said: "Anything you need, you ask. Anything." I knew he meant it. I saw him less frequently after my father died, mainly at weddings and funerals. His son Johnny, his eldest, died of esophagus cancer in his 40s. My brother drove Uncle Jack and Aunt Cathleen from the funeral mass to the lunch, and I was in the car with them. He cried bitterly. "The son is not supposed to die before the father," he said. "That's not the way it is supposed to be."

In recent years, both Uncle Jack and Aunt Cathleen had been sick. I had plans to visit them this winter, but there was an ice storm that kept us from traveling. I feared at the time that it was my last chance to see him.

It was. Uncle Jack died yesterday.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Yesterday, I was mistaken for a non-writer.

I was enjoying a post-yoga brunch with some fellow students and our teacher. One student, a successful writer of books and teacher of writing, asked if we would all attend a practice run of a workshop that she is developing for non-writers.

Non-writers. I kept silent. Though she is more acquaintance than friend, we are part of the same monthly poker night and I've know her for a couple of years. Yet she does not realize that I am a writer, something I've noticed before, but never bothered to correct, which is obviously my fault, not hers. Many times, when she has talked about her projects, I've thought to chime in and say...what, exactly? That I worked as a magazine writer and editor for many years? That I have a tiny blog that I never write in? That my freelance part-time writing career has dwindled down to nothing? That I have the type of writer's block that makes Fran Leibowitz look productive? I consider myself a writer, but now there's always something more important as the day dawns. Monday: tending to a sick child. Tuesday: accompanying my mother to a chemo appointment. Wednesday: French class, followed by matinee of The Heidi Chronicles, followed by telling husband that things are really no better for women now than when Wendy Wasserstein wrote this play 25 years ago. Thursday: Yoga, then reminder that I am supposedly a writer, then laundry, then carpools, then dinner, then homework help.

Today, there's nothing that stands in the way of me writing, until 2:09, when I take my Girl Scouts to sell cookies.

In a way, I am a non-writer. I don't write. Do I bother to start again?

I thought I might write a response to a essay that a couple of friends posted to Facebook yesterday, in which one mother scoffs at another for attending to her children too "preciously," creating time capsules of each year of the child's life.  The author championed the parenting style of her own 1970's mother, who sent the kids out to play unattended so she could drink cases of Tab in peace. The author's argument is that she turned out fine, so her mother's parenting philosophy must be correct.  While I agree that Tab is delicious, I wouldn't advocate emulating my parents just because I grew up to be sort of ok. They would take my brother and me to the drive-in wearing our pajamas, and tell us to sleep in the back seat, while they watched Goodbye, Columbus and chain smoked with the windows rolled up. My brother and I thought this was a fun night out, but no parent today would do this. Our parents did what seemed right to them; my husband and I do what seems right to us. Or sometimes we make one decision and reverse ourselves. We have no idea, really, what to do with a teenager. (Don't tell our son, or we're even more screwed.)

I get very exhausted when one parent denounces what they see as a pernicious trend in parenting. I've said this before, but the people who come up with the theories of parenting are always justifying their own choices. You make your choices; I'll make mine. We have no way of knowing how our kids will turn out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bird Poop on My Excitement Dress

Violet has a tennis match in 45 minutes, so I'll make this brief. We just got back from our annual week at the Jersey Shore with my extended family. This trip has been mandatory for decades.
Activities include leisurely walks on the boardwalk, and hours at the beach huddled under an umbrella while coated in sunscreen and swathed in hats and muumuus. Some enjoy burying one's father in the sand, nightly viewings of Jeopardy, the playing of board games, trips to the water park and frequent consumption of fish followed by Kohr's brand soft custard.

On our last night, we were sitting outside the Berkeley Fish Market waiting for our table. Suddenly, a tar-like substance landed on the menu I was perusing and splashed all over my dress. Bird poop, but a bird poop darker and thicker than any I had ever seen. And more copious.

I was wearing my Excitement Dress. I should explain. Each season has its own Excitement Dress. The Excitement Dress has been recently purchased and is the one you always wear when going somewhere special. Past Excitement Dresses: a tight black mini from Betsey Johnson (1984), a pale blue lace A line mini from Jill Stuart (1994), a black mini from Comptoir des Cotonniers (2009). This year's excitement dress indicates a general death of panache in my wardrobe. I mean, things are bad. I blush to tell you it was purchased from the Hanna Anderson catalogue, is fitted through the bodice, and has a full skirt to the knee. It is red, and I've worn it at least ten times since it arrived in May. Perhaps this bird is some sort of fashion arbiter.

A nice lady told me that being pooped on by a bird is good luck. I went to the bathroom to clean up as best as I could, but I never recovered, emotionally. Sulking, I stabbed without enthusiasm at my mahi mahi, while wearing a dress covered with the excrement of some berry-consuming bird.

Soaking and stain remover did not eradicate the evidence, which is maybe for the best. I really deserve a better Excitement Dress.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Egg Baby

Yesterday at 6:40 am, my eighth-grader paused in his waffle consumption to sweetly say: "Mom, I need your help with something this morning."

His tone was so pleasant. "I need to make an egg baby."

I must have looked confused. "Do you know how to make an egg baby?" he asked. I did not. "You just use an egg and a pin. You put a hole in either side and blow all the insides out of the egg. It's due today."

I had a vague memory of my father trying this when I was a child, maybe for Easter? I remember him actually sucking out the raw yolk because the blowing method did not work.


My son had to leave for school in 40 minutes. I took an egg out of the refrigerator and found a large needle. I put the needle on one end of the egg and drove it through. The egg cracked. One dead baby.

My boy took a look. "Do you have any white eggs?" he asked.  He was supposed to name the egg baby and carry it around in a safe container for a spell, take care of it like a parent. I only had brown. No problem. We decided that his baby could be biracial or adopted. 

This time Dale put the pin through both ends without cracking the egg. Using a combination of running water and blowing, we cleaned it out. He drew a face and hair and named his progeny Ovi Juan Kenobi. 

We lined a tissue box with bubble wrap and off he went. This was a project for health class. The point, I guess, is to deter teens from having children? I have no idea. 

But an eggshell is a good metaphor for a child. An eggshell is fragile. It will break unless you take precautions. Yes? 

Likewise, everything you say to your child can make or break them. I could have snapped at my son when he sprung this project on me at the last minute, made a comment about planning ahead. But I didn't. Because the previous night, out of nowhere, sitting at the table eating a snack, he gave me one of the most important parenting lessons I've ever received, way more valuable, probably, than carrying an egg baby.

It was quiet. My daughter was asleep and my husband, out of town. "Do you know when I am happiest?" he asked. "When you're happy with me." 

At the end of the day, the egg, miraculously, was unbroken. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Wrong Soccer Field

Yesterday, at about 1:15, I drove my son to Fortunato Field for a soccer game. I pulled into a spot down the block.

 "Dad always drops me off in front and then parks," he said, with great irritation.

"Dad's in Nicaragua," I replied.

He stormed off to the field, and I sat in the car for a few seconds. I hate driving, I hate parking, and if you really want to know the truth, I hate soccer. I'm a tennis gal. I felt like crying. Instead, my daughter and I got out and walked to the field.

A lacrosse team was warming up. I checked my phone. Ugh. Dale's game was at the OTHER home field, Pittser, at Montclair State University. So he would be ten minutes late for the warm-up.

"Try driving faster than 10 miles per hour," said my precious little boy, the one I carried for nine months, birthed after a 20 hour labor, and then breast fed for a year and a half. I sped up to 25 mph. This time I dropped him off prior to parking.  He jumped out of the car before I had completely stopped, which did not foster my good will.

It was a spectacularly beautiful day. The sun shone brightly and it was hot but not too hot, as long as you were nowhere near the field. Something about artificial turf causes the temperature to rise exponentially.

One thing I don't like about being a soccer mom is the lack of climate control. I have certain weather requirements. Nothing too picky: I just can't stand it when the temperature falls below 60 or rises above 80, or if there is any kind of precipitation. Also, I don't much like humidity. And I need to be in the shade.

The other team arrived. They were from Union City. Everyone--players, parents, coach--was speaking Spanish. Violet's friend, the sister of one of Dale's teammates, arrived. They went off together.

I found some shade, which was available several yards from the sidelines in a little gazebo. The temperature was just right! I pondered the graffiti that the college kids had left. I would just sit this one out.

Though I have been watching my kids play soccer for 10 years, I still don't have a strong command of the game. Once, my husband called me while he was working and I was on the sidelines.

"How is the game going?" he asked.


"What is the score?" he asked. I did not know. "Well, how is Dale playing?" he asked. I had no idea. "What can you tell me?" he asked.

"Well, there are a bunch of people," I said, "and they are all chasing the same ball."

So that's how it is. I wouldn't say I am the worst soccer mom in the world. The worst soccer mom in the world is the one who berates her kid from the sidelines. I don't do that, because I don't care.

As I sat peacefully waiting in the gazebo, blissfully disconnected from the game, three people approached me with a bible. The leader said he wanted to talk to me about the mysteries of the bible. I am a churchgoer; in fact, we had just left our church two hours earlier. And yet, I know from experience that you should never be polite to people who approach you wielding a bible. It took me months to shake the Jehovah's Witnesses who kept showing up on my doorstep.

But now I was trapped. The three of them entered the small gazebo. The talker showed me bible passages that he said proved that there was a God the Mother. He was very long-winded, but  I listened quietly. What choice did I have?

Five minutes passed. He was still yammering. I started wondering if this was some scam to steal my wallet. "The Holy Spirit has a name," he said. "If you do not know the name of the Holy Spirit, then your baptism was not valid. " My patience was wearing thin. "I actually don't think that makes a difference," I said. "Anyway, what is the Holy Spirit's name?" I was sort of curious.

He wouldn't tell me, or get to the point, which--I'm just guessing here--was to tell me I would burn in hell unless I switched to his church. At least, that is how it went with the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Finally, I extricated myself by explaining that I had a soccer game to watch. The blazing sun would be less torturous than this. The boys were losing 3-0. I remember enough high school Spanish to decipher the gist of what the other parents were yelling, which translates roughly as "continue to kick the ass of these boys."

Our parents were saying something similar in English, but in reverse. The dynamic is very unsettling, come to think of it: two groups of parents urging their children to kick the ass of other children. I think the final score was 6-0.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bad Shampoo Alert

Good afternoon. I have emerged from blogging hibernation to shine a light on a very important matter. In brief, Nexxus Color Assure sulfate free shampoo and conditioner are terrible products. Do not buy them. After using them for several weeks, my hair has literally never looked worse (I am including the spiral perm episode and the time I accidentally dyed it purple). It's frizzy yet lifeless; at once greasy and dry.

I bought the Nexxus crap several weeks ago, because CVS was out of my preferred Salma Hayek products for color treated hair. As I am well into my dotage, I've been crankily coloring my hair for a few years; my stylist says the color lasts longer if one uses a special shampoo. So I obey.

The purchase of the offending items coincided with a visit to the salon, which had just switched to Aveda hair color from Goldwell. At first I suspected that my hair didn't like the Aveda. Or that this horrific winter we've been having has rendered it dull and dry, with random greasy areas.  So I carried on using the Nexxus every third day, which is how often I wash my hair.

Finally,  it dawned on me: the shampoo! It's "Sulfate Free." Apparently, sulfates, while bad for the environment or human health or whatever the problem (I was going to research it, but I can't take it on), are what make shampoo actually work.

Yesterday, I used some hotel shampoo and conditioner, and my hair looked immediately better. Not fantastic, mind you. It may take a while before the memory of the Nexxus has faded from my follicles. I don't like to waste things, but the shampoo and conditioner will be disposed of.

To recap, this stuff stinks.