The Things We (Women) Carry

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DeathtoStock_Creative Community8And I don’t mean diapers and Cheddar Rockets. I’m talking about your emotional baggage.

I talked to a group of pregnant women and their partners on Tuesday morning at Women’s Health Alliance in Durham about expectations and worries postpartum. Like the rest of us, most had done a really good job of taking care of the essentials before the baby arrives: getting the car seat installed, setting up a crib or co-sleeper, taking care of the responsibilities of work before we take our leave, etc. What was missing, for them, is preparation for the essentials that come after the baby arrives. Sure, we or friends have set up a meal “service” like Take Them A Meal but what about other essentials? Essentials like support from other new moms, permission to let the housework slide, time to take deep breathes, heal and be present with the emotions that we are experiencing.

Pregnant or not, as women, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we can do it all and that we should do it all. And that’s our first mistake. This impossible promise, though, is much more realistic (or feels that way) when we don’t have a child in the picture. As soon as the baby arrives, however, the gig is up. It quickly becomes clear that the social expectation of having it all/being it all/doing it all is not only unrealistic but also tightly packed with more shame, guilt and anxiety than we had ever imagined when we’d first stepped into those tight shoes. But once we’re got them on, they’re hard to just kick off.

In order to live with peace, be present with our children, sleep soundly at night, stay in good health and leave work behind when we shut down our computer, we must get rid of off these awful shoes. No matter how hard we try, they will never really fit us. And we are not the problem! They don’t fit any woman. We need to shrug off what’s not working because it’s costing us a lot. Even as I type these words, I know how hard this is for me. Unless I get the pinwheel of death, for example, I never actually shut down my computer. I’m not alone on this one. It saves me time to keep the computer on, to just open it and begin to type. Doesn’t it? And, is that short-term timesaver “enough” to balance what I’m giving up long-term?

To start casting off what’s not working, we need to look carefully at (state aloud, document, get an accountability partner, etc.) what our essentials actually are. And that’s a small, tight list! Once we know that, then we can start eliminating some of the emotional baggage of the “stuff” that we carry with us that prevents us from spending time on those essentials. There are additional costs associated with carrying emotional baggage which doesn’t serve us. Intangibles like energy, creativity, money, focus.

We will talk about some of this in Toddler Group because the baggage that we carry also affects our relationships with our toddler, our partner of course, and other important people in our lives. When you’re overwhelmed and feeling guilty, how do you think you’d deal with our impetuous toddler? Yeah, kind of like that.

What can you stop carrying?

-Originally published 12/18/14 at Outside The Mom Box

Intern Needed!

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Are you curious & interested in social justice issues as they relate to moms?

The intern will be responsible for helping the agency with four mains areas: blogging, social media marketing, community partner building, logistics. Her areas of responsibility include:

  1. 1-2 blog posts per week (approx 400-600 words) on topics determined by her interest and agency mission;
  2. Use social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn) to promote agency and educate the public;
  3. Help agency build partnerships with similar goals and/or clients;
  4. Assist with on-site training logistics.

Depending on start date, intern’s schedule and interest, other projects may also come available. This is an unpaid internship but intern will receive regular, biweekly supervision meetings in which she will receive specific feedback related to her work, have the chance to ask additional questions, brainstorm projects that may be of interest to her. She will also have the option of working from home most of the time, on her own schedule.

Intern should be curious, interested in social justice issues especially as they pertain to women who are pregnant and/or have children. She should be detail-oriented and able to work independently. She should be a better than average writer. Familiarity with blogging is a plus. Ideal candidates would have taken a class or have a background in women’s studies, or at minimum, an interest in work/life balance; intersection of class and race in mothering, violence against women.

Is this you? Terrific! Check out my website so you are familiar with who I am and what I do for clients. The submit a resume, cover letter and ideally a writing sample to me (ideally something related to what I do at Outside The Mom Box and within 500-700 words) via email: outsidethemombox (at) gmail (dot) com.

Why Hope Solo *is* like Ray Rice

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I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece in The Atlantic (No, Hope Solo is not like Ray Rice) with growing apprehension. Normally, I’m a fan. In this piece, though, he’s a bit off.

I’m not in the camp of people who say that Hope Solo and Ray Rice are the “same” (ESPN’s Kay Fagan for one). And, no attacking your sister and nephew is not “the same specimen of right and wrong,”. But violence in any form should not be condoned. Period. Dunque, I do believe Hope Solo should be sidelined, as Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson currently are.

Different...but the same.

Different…but the same.

Let’s acknowledge that Hope Solo gets a major pass on the violence she committed because she is a white woman. It’s white privilege alive and well. White women are never going to be as publicly condemned for any violence they commit as they might be if they were an African American male. It’s also always “worse” to knock out your wife than it is to hit your sister. Hitting your wife, the American public is slowly, slowly realizing, is wrong but hitting your sister is family stuff. It’s what siblings sometimes do. Again, it is not right but it is less publicly offensive than beating your wife.

But the real issue that I have with Coates’ article is that he seems to be grounding his argument about why Solo and Rice are different in a history of men’s violence against women. That feels like a bit specious to me. Is that history relevant in the context of looking at Ray Rice’s violence against his wife? Yes, absolutely. It not only puts his actions in better context but it also helps us understand how institutionalized violence affects everyday behavior and especially attitudes about women and race. This is crucial. But important as I believe it is for all of us to be more aware about the history of male violence against women, using men’s history of violence against women as evidence as to why Hope Solo and Ray Rice aren’t alike doesn’t wash.

It feels important here to recall that domestic violence includes family violence. Hitting your sister “counts”, intimidating your aging mother “counts”, threatening your brother “counts”, killing a family pet “counts”. Domestic violence is about power and control. Both Ray Rice and Hope Solo are likely the more powerful members of their family. When they use their power to physically or emotionally abuse someone in order to control them, that is domestic violence. (And yes, calling your nephew “too fat” can count as emotional abuse, just as hitting your sister does.) The definition of domestic violence is inclusive for many reasons not least of which is that abusers should be held accountable, regardless of how “bad” the abuse was or the gender of the abuser. And that goes for Hope Solo as well as Ray Rice.

Yes, violence against women remains a major issue but that doesn’t mean that a woman being violent isn’t. Hope Solo should be sidelined.

Note: after a useful dialogue via Twitter last night (10.1) related to his post, I thought it may be helpful to clarify something. Talking about Hope Solo in the context of domestic violence and the Ray Rice story does not diminish the issue of domestic violence is the way that the issue of rape is minimized when men jump into a dialogue about rape and say “men get raped too,”. Here’ why: we are all talking about domestic violence right now. If the conversation was about victim blaming or how abusers are sometimes abused also, then, yes, bringing Hope Solo & her alleged DV against her family would be wrong. But we are talking about it so I stand by what I said: Hope Solos should be sidelined.

Help me win $25K to help #pregnant #survivors

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Twitter_HeaderMy entry for the Wells Fargo Works contest has been accepted! In it, I share my big idea for a childbirth class specifically for survivors of intimate partner violence and/or sexual assault and my “secret mission” to train women from around the country to deliver this important program in their own community.

Now I just need views, votes and shares!!

Vote here. Today through June 30!

That won’t guarantee me winning but every little bit counts. Would you check out my proposal below and please vote and share?

One vote per entry, per day. Voting ends *June 30*.

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More than meets the eye

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natalia-vodianova-and-baby-maximMore women breastfeeding in public? Yes, please. But here’s the rub…

We really mean, certain women, don’t we?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled to see a model like Natalia Vodianova Instagramming a photo of herself breastfeeding. We need more images that normalize breastfeeding and show it for what it really is: a woman feeding a baby, not a sexual act.

The real issue, though, is not all women are “welcome” to breastfeed their baby in public, let alone Instagram a photo of it. Here’s why:

We praise a woman breastfeeding her baby in public IF she is beautiful, white, thin. But anything else? A big “no”. “No” for two main reasons:

  1. The HUGE double standard that exists for women of color that doesn’t for white women, especially women of color who are mothers.
  2. A “perfect” body (like that of a model) is really the only acceptable body to “display”.

Heck, we know that Facebook and Instagram remove many, many peaceful breastfeeding photos of moms and babies ALL the time. How is Natalia Vodianova’s photo any different?

It’s not.

What is different is how much attention we pay to a single image like this when what’s truly at stake are the rights of all women to breastfeed their baby, in whatever way they choose AND share it however they choose. And that’s something we should all be focussed on.

Life’s invisible #work: #mothering

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What do you think of when I say “mothering”?

Often our mind’s eye imagines children in action. Older kids climbing a tree or running through a sprinkler. Toddlers chalking the sidewalk. Babies crawling toward a brightly colored ball. We assume that if we can see something, we can believe it to be true. But if “mothering” conjures up images of children in action, then perhaps what we “know” to be true actually isn’t true at all.

I think mothering is much more mundane than the image our mind’s eye offers. I’ve come to believe that mothering is mostly an invisible existence composed of simple, unremarkable actions that usually occur behind closed doors. Some of those actions are intentionally unobtrusive but most, I think, are not.

{Planning birthdays. Putting away groceries, toys, books, stuffed animals, games, bikes, balls, laundry. Preparing bottles. Buying new crayons and paper. Telling a dramatic story during a diaper change.}

Sometimes the work of mothering isn’t invisible…those times when we are actively engaged with our child: mom/baby yoga, pushing our daughter on the swing. But inevitably these opportunities shrink as our babies grow up. So, it would seem that we mothers are destined to categorize the bulk of what we do as invisible. Does this matter?

{Wiping…counters, the snot of our child’s nose, sticky poop, vomit. Singing a song that will (hopefully) distract. Filling a bath. Going back to the pizza place where the monkey was last seen. Unpacking backpacks.}

Darn right, it matters! And let me go a step further: the invisible work of mothering matters as a feminist issue because mothering is done primarily by women and because invisible work is often ignored, marginalized or minimized.

{Arranging doctor’s appointments. Making breakfast, lunch, dinner, popsicles. Laundering clothes, diapers, towels, blankeys, loveys, sheets. Filling a child-size Nalgene with fresh, cool water. Reading labels.}

Imagine if parenting roles were reversed. Can you imagine men doing the majority of the childcare? Take it a step further and consider if “fathering” would be mainly invisible? Not only do men take more credit than their female counterparts for the work that they do but (white) men rule the world for the most part. I imagine a world with dads engaged in “fathering” as one where they would receive a salary, benefits, tax cuts and significant social status. Obamacare would become a non-issue. Universal preschool would be standard. So, no, I don’t think “fathering” would be invisible work.

{Managing schedules. Washing grubby hands. Breastfeeding. Packing to-go containers full of healthy snacks. Visiting daycares, preschools, grammar schools, camps. Researching homeschooling.}

bell hooks tells us that feminism “is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”. The invisible work of mothering is easy to ignore, exploit and oppress. But we can’t. If we do, we ignore the voices of women for whom this work is a daily way of life. And it needs to be stated again and again that the voices of mothers are as important as who benefits from their invisible work: children and families. These women’s needs – mine, yours, ours – are as much of a feminist issue as any other. Mothering must not go unnoticed even if the work is often invisible.

IMG_3990{Remembering where Crunchy was last. “Managing” toys, games, books for smoother play. Previewing TV shows. Planning snacks so boredom isn’t a factor for refusal. Reading aloud. Pumping.}

I am reminded of the poets in _The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood_ who worried whether their work would be considered “inferior” if they chose to write about mothering. They plunged ahead anyway. Can more of us can do the same? Yes. Mothers can write, talk, Tweet about our invisible work. Of course, still Facebook the smile finally caught on camera but also share the imperfect, everyday moments that make up our many hours. And let me add one more thing: could we dare to ask for help sometimes? So many societal factors conspire against our success but speaking out that we occasionally need help allows others in, while giving us the support and attention we deserve.

Mothering is exhausting and all-consuming. We mothers truly need the support of women who aren’t mothers or those whose children are grown. These women can play a powerful role in helping acknowledge a mother’s invisible work. They can support organizations like Moms Rising. Urge moms to take more credit. Offer to watch a child(ren) for an afternoon. Lead support groups. Encourage more feminists to claim this issue as one deserving attention.

{Visiting libraries and museums. Teaching right from left. Thinking before you speak. Washing fruits and veggies. Maintaining comforting routines, remembering important rituals.}

Invisibility doesn’t diminish the importance of our work as mothers. But it is up to all of us to claim it as such.

Book review: Maxed Out

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Writer, mom, consultant Katrina Alcorn wrote _Maxed Out_ after her own struggles with trying to do it all and be it all led her to personal maxing out.  I really appreciated this book on many levels but not least of which is Alcorn’s raw honesty about her struggles, her insecurities, her risks and her many failures.  It seems to me that we don’t hear enough about the nitty gritty that each of us moms face on a daily basis and –really important here- that we aren’t to blame.  The assumption is that if only we balance our time better, say “no” more often, cut corners on our own self-care, then it will all be okay.  No, it won’t, actually.  Alcorn clarifies why none of that works with this much needed book.

DeathtoStock_People7In each chapter, Alcorn niftily intertwines her own story with related hard facts.  For example, in the chapter about her maternity leave from her former company, she concludes her story with the American reality of the challenge that she faced.  In this case, a lack of paid family leave.  She uses hard, current facts that are clearly and persuasively stated to make her case.  Over and over, Alcorn makes the case that moms aren’t simply coming up short because of their own failings but because society at large has failed us.  And that’s the most important, timeliest message that all moms need to internalize.  Right now. We aren’t doing anything wrong.  We are doing the best that we can in a society that appears to value mothering but really when the rubber meets the road does next to nothing to support the mothers who do that mothering.

It has always been important to me to help women support other women.  I offer free groups to new and expecting moms as one way to do this and I also volunteer locally in a different capacity.  Alcorn delivers here too. After “practice saying no” In the afterward, #2 is “Be An Ally To Other Woman”.  #2 is just one more way to underscore the message of her book.  I think this is a crucial connection.  Yes, we all want paid leave (I think many people can agree on that) but less agreed upon is the need to band together, for women especially, to make these changes a reality.  That banding together involves supporting other women whose choices may not be your own i.e the decision to have a child or the decision not to have a child, for example.  A  conversation that should be focusing on how we can improve things for all of us becomes the sexy “Mommy Wars” crap instead.  Let’s place the blame, not on ourselves or each other, but on the society that we live in for failing women and families at every turn.

One of my favorite parts of _Maxed Out_was the afterword.  Alcorn gives the reader ten tips that she can do right now.  So many of these grim look-at-the-desperate-state-of-the-world-we-live-in books don’t offer any hope or ideas at the end for improvement.  Alcorn does.  Some of her tips take a bit more gumption than others (‘practice saying no’ and ‘tell your partner what you need’) but they are all smart, do-able and important for each mom to practice for a bit more sanity.  Alcorn also mentions Moms Rising, an advocacy organization that works on both grass roots and national levels to support moms.  Speaking of women supporting women! Alcorn encourages readers to sign up for Moms Rising and mentions that she is donating 10% of the proceeds of her book to the organization.  Wow, way to put your money with your mouth is.

As I finished the book, I couldn’t help think of Sheryl Sandberg and her take on what women need to get ahead.  _Lean In_ gets so many accolades for Sandberg’s false message of the key to success being women working harder and smarter. Alcorn on the other hand places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the real problem: the society we live in, not our lack of hard work or personal dedication.  Mothers everywhere have those qualities in spades.  Alcorn does and so does Sandberg of course. What we don’t have are systems that support families.  Women like Sandberg, however, are not only privileged enough to be able to buy the support that they need to raise a family: a nanny, housecleaner, personal assistants, daycare, etc. but are also more educated, higher up the corporate latter, etc. In short, they are very very fortunate. Women like Alcorn and I and perhaps you too, dear reader, cannot buy every success.  Not should we have to.

If you are a new mom or a soon-to-be mom, likely you will feel stuck in this place of no-win many, many times. I hope not of course.  But if you are, consider picking up _Maxed Out_ for a much needed reality check.  It’s worth your time and your precious sanity too.

This, this and THIS is Rape Culture

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I didn’t want to read the letter.  Not only do I (did I) really like Woody Allen movies and can easily name my favorites but on deeper level, I dreaded reading one more story about a survivor who had been failed by the system. It would seem that even if people inclined to blame the survivor in a domestic violence relationship (“why doesn’t she just leave?) would have to possess SOME iota of compassion and understanding for a child.  Right? I mean who doesn’t get that a child does not have the power or voice to escape? Sadly, however, after reading many troubling Tweets Saturday night as reaction to Dylan Farrow’s letter spread, I saw just that.

From comments about “the importance” of “a different point of view” to Cate Blanchett’s comment that the “situation” has been “obviously long and painful” and she hopes for “resolution” soon. I’m honestly not sure which comment made me more angry! These comments are indicative of the rape culture that we live in everyday, every minute. Where even if the survivor isn’t blamed, we find some way to excuse (ever heard of “boys will be boys”?) the perpetrator. Rape culture is so thick in our society that we see a survivor’s story of abuse at the hands of her father almost as an issue to be debated. We step gingerly around her story as if it were a pile of shit on the floor – not her heart in the world – and instead speak cautiously in lazy cliches that appease no one. After all, we can’t come right out and say “I believe her.” Can we?

Well, yes we can.  And we must.

Domestic violenceIf it’s not Dylan Farrow’s horrible, raw story of her years of abuse, it’s a story of a woman with HIV brutally attacked and later blamed for the attack when her rapist tested positive for HIV.  It’s in the protection of a man who everyone suspects has been abusing children, simply because he is affiliated with a major college football team.  It’s your local brewery “innocently” advertising their beer. It’s in the music that you listen to and the commercials at the half time show that are so eagerly anticipated. Rape culture is everywhere. Until we own up to rape culture existing, it will continue to be here and continue to be denied. And survivors like Dylan Farrow will continue to be blamed for abuse that happened to them as children.

It’s funny in sports, sometimes we root for the underdog.  And even in real life sometimes too.  Aren’t most of us cheered, for example, when we read the story of the waitress getting a huge tip (and some tuition money) when she least expected it? So why is it that we can’t support the person, usually a woman, who has lost so much due to abuse? And not even in a financial way.  Just with a simple show of faith using the simple words, “I believe you.” I’m not going to say “imagine if she were your sister or daughter…”. No. You should believe a survivor because s/he is a human being who is telling you that they have been badly hurt.  That should be enough.

So, why is it so hard for people to say that they believe a survivor? Maybe because just making that declaration says something about themselves as a person. Something that maybe they aren’t comfortable with. And that’s horrible and sad in its own way too.

Will I ever watch another Woody Allen movie? No. I cannot after knowing Dylan Farrow’s experience at the hands of her father, her abuser. I believe her.

“Her”…no love story here.

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Ah, the lows that we reach on a daily basis. The new movie, Her, stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely man who “falls in love” with his computer, Samantha. And before I go on, let me ask how this sounds even remotely attractive as the plot of a movie to any thinking person?

It must, I guess, because people are seeing it.  And apparently because it’s a love story.  Here’s the problem though: Joaquin Phoenix’s character is in love with an artificial intelligence system.  Siri, basically.  In other words, SHE’S NOT REAL. DeathtoStock_People6And that’s what I’m angry about. Her is just one more example of how we’ve come to value disembodied women more than a real live one. You know, ones with a body. 

My daughter is under two years old. Thankfully she isn’t asking about Her but someone else’s daughter is.  What does that parent, indeed any thinking person say, to their child?  “Well, sweetie, the shitty society that we live in values the parts of a woman, particularly the sexy ones, more than the whole.  Now let’s sit back and watch the number this particular lesson does on your body image and self-worth.”

When we accept women’s bodies chopped into bits for advertising purposes or their disembodied voices in movies then we accept the fact that we are teaching our children, particularly our girls, that human contact is unimportant.  That speaking with someone face to face doesn’t matter.  That relationships aren’t valuable.  That personal connection is disposable. That empathy is over-rated.

I think Her is indeed a film “…about how we live now, and how we might live in the future,” as LA Times & NPR film critic Kenneth Turan says here.  And that’s the very problem…only not in the way that Turan and others seem to see it.  And maybe I’m the only one here learning a lesson. (It wouldn’t be the first time.) But next time my husband bursts into laughter at something he’s reading, I’m not going to complain that he’s disrupting my precious work.  I may just go in there and give him a kiss.  At least I’m not sleeping with my computer.

The face of your business

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A shop closed in our small city a few weeks ago.  It doesn’t matter as much what she sold exactly as much as the owner’s explanation for the close: “no one buys widgets anymore.” I thought about this today as I saw her wares at a pop-up Christmas market.  A woman I didn’t know was handling the booth.  The owner wasn’t there.  I didn’t expect her to be.

Perhaps it’s not that “no one buys widgets anymore”.  Instead, I think know that it’s that no one buys anything anymore.  We did once. But in today’s world when we can get everything we could ever want without even leaving home, we expect more.  We buy a connection, a feeling, a story, an emotion.  If you aren’t selling those, you’ll be out of business as quickly as Suzanne was.  Ironically, the products that Suzanne sold were stories; one of a kind pieces that essentially could sell themselves. But as inanimate objects, they need someone to speak for them.  Instead of being there to tell their story and make a sale, however, Suzanne was seldom present in her shop.  She had “interns” or friends in the shop who didn’t know the stories well nor had the passion that she did.  Interns or others represeting the shop were the ones who asked about hanging flyers for upcoming events. She seldom did.  Suzanne didn’t follow back those who followed her on social media, reTweet their Tweets or “like” their Facebook updates. What Suzanne did do was complain about the sad state of her business. To anyone who would listen.

Perhaps one of the reasons that we have so many thriving food stops here in Durham is not that we like to eat (although we do) but that food service people* tend to be the ones who get that connection is key.  View More: http://deathtothestockphoto.pass.us/brick-and-mortarWhy else would I spend $4.50 on an 8 oz coffee?  Because Leon or Areli grind the coffee by hand, while I watch fascinated and listen to them telling me about where the coffee comes from.  Because they always ask about Elisabeth by name.  Because when I told Leon almost a year ago that I wasn’t working full-time, he told me that I was because I was caring for Elisabeth.  Connection is everything.  And of course this is more important for small business that anyone else.

There are other shops who sell widgets in our city.  Quite a few actually.  Some have been around for decades.  None may be thriving but they appear to be doing okay.  [Additional, complimentary revenue streams help most balance widget sales and keep them in the black, is my guess.]  But I think some of them get it.  They are the face of their small business.  No one else.  They know that people like talking to the owner.  They seem to know that a story is essential to a sale.  They spend time in their own shop.

So, don’t complain that no one buys widget anymore and it happens to be what you sell. No one buys anything anymore.  We buy the inanimate feeling you give us when you tell us the story behind the widget.  And the widget?  It’s a memento of the feeling that we had when we talked to you.

For more on connecting with your customers via a story, see Bernadette Jiwa’s website, The Story of Telling. Her work taught me much of the language (and how to) behind connecting with customers.  Perhaps you too get why connecting is important but are less clear on how to do it?  Bernadette’s books (and website!) are the resource for you.

*Of which I have always been one, since age 16 when I was hired in a gourmet grocert story because I was old enough to work the slicer.

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