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How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter

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Friday, June 24, 2005

talk to me

This is a bit late notice, I realize, but if anyone wants to actually speak to me in person, you have to chances today. I'll be talking to callers on a live Internet radio show called Savvy Mommy today, from about 1:45-2 p.m., EST, where I'll be giving away a free book. If you want to ask a question, call in at (800) 773-0355 or (310) 328-9300, or email your question to victoria@savvymommy.com. The direct link to the show’s webpage for listeners to visit while I am on air is http://globaltalkradio.com/shows/savvymommy/. If you don't catch the show live, you can go to http://www.savvymommy.com/radioshow.html.

AND I will be speaking tonight in San Francisco, at the Yoga Garden, at Divisidero and Haight, at 7:30-9-ish. See you there!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

So that explains it?

A new Canadian study has come up with a startling attempt to explain the ditsy feeling so many women report during their pregancies. Writing in NeuroReport, the researchers, PhD candidate Claire Vanston (quoted in "The Mommy Brain") and neuroscience professor Neil Watson at Simon Fraser University say it's all a matter of gender -- the unborn baby's gender, that is. Women carrying male fetuses consistently do better on the hardest memory function tests than women pregnant with girls, they've found. "We were quite shocked by the results because when we began, we weren't thinking about fetal sex as being a factor," Watson has said. The study is based on findings from 43 Vancouver-area women who were subjected to a battery of cognition tests from early in their pregnancies to several months after they gave birth. Comparing women bearing boys and those with girls, the researchers found no general difference in intellect, but that the former group outperformed the latter in tasks involving certain aspects of short-term memory.
As I note in "The Mommy Brain," the many inquiries into this subject to date have yielded wildly varying results, with some studies suggesting that the hormones of motherhood temporarily cloud women's concentration and others demonstrating no change or even an improvement. I see this report as one more in that intriguing series and certainly worth noting as research on what is being called the "maternal brain" continues. Yet I continue to believe that every woman's pregnancy experience is different, a product of her pre-pregnancy experience, social support, mood, adequacy of sleep and dozens of other factors, very definitely including the mother's expectations of how she will fare. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Summer mommy-brain reading...for those who have the time

Thanks for the irresistible question about mommy-brainish books. If you haven't read "Operating Instructions" by Anne Lamott, that continues to be one of my favorites. Another wonderful brainy motherhood book is "Fruitful" by Anne Roiphe. "Mother Nature" by Sarah Hrdy is a little ambitious for casual readers but well worth the effort; it is just an amazing book. The original "Mothers Who Think" essays edited by Camile Peri and Kate Moses has wonderful essays. And, in keeping with my vow to keep talking about climate change as an issue all parents need to understand, I strongly recommend "Boiling Point," the new book by Ross Gelbspan. Happy -- or at least enlightened -- reading!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

lies & the lying liars who catch them

One night when I was about 17 years old and slogging through late night shifts at a waitressing job at a truly abominable local ice cream parlor, I backed into a light post on my way out of the parking lot. The car belonged to my parents, so before I went to bed I left a note on the refrigerator telling them that I'd found the car that way; some unscrupulous jerk had obviously hit me and run off.
Before I crept back out of bed that morning, my dad, who could have effectively prosecuted Michael Jackson, had driven to the ice cream parlor and actually -- I am not exaggerating -- found the light post, with its telltale streak of paint. There was no way out, I had to confess. And even today, thinking back on it, I get goosebumps of shame.
This morning I had a similar encounter with my son Joey, the 9-year-old living proof that karma exists. I can't go into the details -- this is a guy who has threatened to sue me if I defame him, and whom I must take seriously, not least because he recently called 911 after I took away his Gameboy.
Let's just say I caught him red-handed in a truly big whopper and he finally had to concede how he would have told me anything not to take the blame.
As parents, part of our job is to make our kids believe that we have X-ray vision, that we're larger than life, that we're, in a sense, the Eyes of God. Yet how excruciating it is to remember how powerless we once were, and are still, in our darkest hearts. I am fully aware how much my parents influenced my early empathy for Nicaragua's Sandinista rebels -- initially, at least, young idealists who rose up against an oppressive dictator. Today I'm that much more conscious of how hard it is to show courage of conviction without the arrogance of someone who has never had to learn the hard way.
Thanks so much for the comments while I was away. I welcome more....

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Got feedback?

I'm off tomorrow for a few days of a veritable mommy-brain vacation -- heading to the beach with four wild boys under 9, three other stressed-out parents, and two grandparents who may end up hiding in their own cabin the whole time, only venturing out for shellfish after the boys have fallen asleep. So I'm going to take a break from my essayish approach, pose some questions, and ask you guys to do some work for a change, hoping to gather your emailed thoughts on my return, and start one or two discussions.

1. If there are any grandmas reading this, I would love to hear any stories you care to offer about whether there's a unique "Grandmommy Brain" -- what mental advantages, if any, you have discovered in being around your grandkids. I'm doing some research on this topic, as it seems a favorite question from audiences where I've spoken so far. I'll keep you posted.

2. For moms and dads -- does anyone feel what they've learned in parenting has actually been appreciated by their bosses? It would be great to have some stories to share about whether parents' special talents are recognized at all in the workplace.

3. For anyone with wisdom to offer: what have been your most effective techniques to discourage your child's rampant materialism? Having written a book about mothers by no means implies 'm aceing my own domestic tests, and one hurdle I'm still stumbling over is the way my kids immediately start asking for things any time I bring them into stores. Spaulding Gray, in his wonderful book, "Morning, Noon and Night" wrote how his son never asked for anything in stores, a passage which still haunts me, not least because that didn't keep Gray from killing himself soon after the book was published. I know I'm probably erring in giving my kids what psychologists call intermittent rewards -- the little plastic Yodo, the jawbreaker, the new "Incredibles" video (though we all enjoyed that one). Perhaps I should just never, ever buy them anything when we're together in stores. (I do have a rule never to give in to a tantrum, at least.) I'm working on it, but am very interested to know if anyone has good advice on this point. We don't live lavishly, but we live in a county which does. And sometimes I just have to take them along to the grocery or drug store. For support, I turn occasionally to the wonderful Center for a New American Dream, although for some reason I can't access their site today.

Anyway....I'll be back soon...wish us luck!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

agenda for your next book club meeting?

A p.r. manager for Ray-o-vac batteries emailed me within a few days after I was on the Today Show to ask if I would be a spokeswoman for the company, purveying the view that smart moms prefer his brand. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of any way I could take the money yet escape ridicule from my family and friends, who’ve long endured my rants about waste and pollution. Sure, I buy batteries myself (without discriminating, brand-wise) but, considering that billions of them end up in landfills each year, I don’t feel very smart about it.
The conversation got me thinking, however. Was there a way a corporation could legitimately help me subsidize my sons’ Pokemon habit? Is there a product on Earth that could truthfully be marketed to “smart moms”?
The answers: no and not quite. There is a product. It just doesn’t exist yet. If did, it would be known as a sensible U.S. energy plan.
Moms of all political stripes who have in common an investment in our kids' future have reason to be concerned about the childish behavior in Washington when it comes to our energy future. Our fossil fuel habit has led us into deadly foreign conflicts, while threatening our health and the Earth's climate. So many of us go through the day feeling that we're being eaten by minnows -- scheduling pediatrician appointments, managing sports activities, making relatively minor investments of time and energy in our kids' future -- while our politicians' short-sightedness today is darkening the outlook for our children even one or two decades down the line. Talk to climate scientists, as I have, and you can come away with your stomach churning, envisioning how changes already underway can threaten health, crops, and security, in a world with millions of new refugees from droughts, floods and storms.
The more I think about this, the more I feel there has to be a way for mothers to mobilize our powerful commitment to our kids to wrest more sense from our national leaders, getting them to start creating jobs and making America a world economic leader again by making more investments in alternative fuels and technologies that may at least stall the change underway. I was talking to a friend this week about how we might get it started, and we came up with this simple idea: Keep it social. We never have enough time to see friends, but a lot of us manage to be part of book clubs. Why not dedicate at least five minutes of your next book meeting to talk about climate change, share ideas, and resolve to do at least one thing when you get home -- like write your congressional representative and tell him or her that you support dramatic energy reform. You can tell him specifically that you are in favor of the bipartisan Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act, sponsored by John McCain and Joe Lieberman, which among other thing calls for new funding for research and production of energy efficient cars and trucks and renewable energy resources such as wind and solar power. But you might also add that's merely a good start. Leading scientists tell us we have to cut fossil fuel emissions by 60-70 percent to make a difference, but only one politician that I can see is thinking in those terms. That would be Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington State, who is sponsoring what he calls the New Apollo Energy Act (named after the Apollo Project, JFK's visionary campaign to get a man on the moon within ten years). Among other things, it would provide $49 billion in government loan guarantees to build power plants producing energy from sources including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. That's the kind of boldness smart moms can truly support. We have so much invested in the future -- let's start thinking big.....