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How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter

The Mommy Brain Blog

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

2 Mommy Brain news items

Have I mentioned the book will be out in paperback as of April 10?

Also, I'll be speaking one night during the week of July 15-22 at Rancho la Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, just across the border from San Diego. I go there every year with my own mom, and we start looking forward to the next visit the day we leave. You'll understand if you check the website........

Monday, March 27, 2006

back from Spain

I spent all last week in Barcelona and Madrid promoting the launch of Inteligencia Maternal, the Spanish translation of The Mommy Brain. What an eye-opener it was to get an opportunity to have so many conversations with one dozen women (and one man) reporters about what life is like for parents in Spain. On the one hand, moms get four months paid maternity leave (contrast to our pathetic 6 weeks unpaid)plus comparatively close families means the grandmas do a lot of the childcare for free. Yet on the other, the working hours are brutal (checkout time from many offices is 8 p.m. and the loss of the siesta means that's working all the way through) and the expectations very high especially in the last several years as the economy has raced ahead. It began to make sense why Madrid's birth rate (excepting immigrants) is so low, lower than two kids per family. Many of the questions I got were from working mom journalists who wanted to know when and how they were going to get more support in raising their families. It looks to me like some US corporations are in the vanguard in realizing the need to come up with more flexible hours and conditions -- but too few, and too slowly.....The funniest question I got, though, was from a 60-year-old macho reporter at the Madrid newspaper La Razon, who mentioned Freud's theory of women having penis envy. "Must men now have uterus envy?" he asked. It may have been funnier in Spanish....

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Have you read your newspaper today?

This is such a scary week for the terrific people who work at the San Jose Mercury News. The paper belonged to the Knight-Ridder Newspapers chain -- until the chain was sold, and the new owner, Sacramento's McClatchy family, announced it would sell off the Mercury News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and 10 other papers.
Now there's a chance that the Mercury News -- so long a Bay Area standard of newspaper quality -- could be sold to a new owner with as little care for quality as for the people who produce it.
I'm biased, clearly. My first job was at the Mercury News, and I was lucky to work there when its ambitions were huge. Reporters were actually encouraged to work on investigative stories for months at a time; the whole idea seems dreamlike these days. Nowadays, with most papers losing circulation, layoffs are everywhere and people question the whole future of newspapers.
What does this have to do with mothers and brains? I grew up with newspapers always open on the kitchen table at breakfast. We'd all read and comment to each other about what was going on all over the world. How many families do that today? Yet it's so hard for me to imagine life without a newspaper-- the way it can surprise you, educate and delight you, the way it makes you part of a much larger world.
You look at the front page and see a patchwork of pictures of your government, your culture and faraway conflicts or trends that could change your life one day, all sewn together by smart people who've been arguing all day or all week about the relative importance or delight in each piece....there's simply nothing like it.
Being journalists by trade and newspaper lovers by nature, my husband and I keep papers on our kitchen table and comment to each other and our children on the constant surprises we find. It's a practice I wholeheartedly endorse for improving your mind, and your children's...........

Saturday, March 11, 2006

the magnet of a mother's love

For anyone who wasn't paying attention when last year's Pulitzers were handed out, I want to inform you about a spectacular piece of reporting in the Los Angeles Times, now released as a book, called Enrique's Journey. Riding atop Mexican trains, writer Sonia Nazaria courageously covered the story of the children of Latino immigrants to the United States who risk everything to try to re-connect with their mothers. Enrique's dangerous trip reaffirms, among so much else, the unique power of the mother-child bond....

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

No one ever said it would be easy....

I love the short story, “Hanukah Money,” by Sholom Aleichem, primarily because of its portrayal of the protagonists’ Aunt Yenta, with her house full of children:

“…half-naked, dirty, unkempt, unwashed, always bruised, usually scratched, often bloodied and with black eyes. One of the children may be laughing, another crying; one signing, another shrieking, one humming, another whistling; this one has put on his father’s coat with the sleeves rolled up, and that one is riding a broomstick; this one is drinking milk from a pitcher…and still another is sucking on a stick of candy while from his nose two runnels flow down toward his mouth…”

Aunt Yenta, sitting at the table with an infant at her breast and an older child on her knee, is saying, “Look at you eat, you pig! May the worms eat you! Esther, Rochel, Haska, where the devil are you? Quick, wipe his nose!...Mendel, don’t make so much noise!...What, murderers, you want more food? All you do all day is eat, eat, eat! Why don’t you choke?”

I thought of Aunt Yenta during “Ski week” last month. We didn’t have extra money to hit the slopes and frankly aren’t that athletic anyway. Oh, yes, and I’d just had thyroid surgery. Jack was working. I had basically one play-date planned. (Moms get punished all the time for lack of planning.) The rest of the week was a nightmare.

It’s a continual mystery to me how I can be so fulfilled, and so tortured, all at once, by my children. One minute I’m lost in contemplation of a perfect eyebrow, another I feel my heart seizing up as I find a bathroom sink smeared with poo or hear screaming from the other room, “Mommmmmmmm! He hit me in the EYYYYYEEEE!”

One of the best pieces of research I encountered while reporting The Mommy Brain found that mothers of two- to three-year-olds voice a command or express disapproval on average every ninety seconds, and conflicts between parents and young children have been reported at an average rate of 1.5 to 3.5 times an hour. (Our family weights those averages!) Before becoming a mom, it’s all but impossible to imagine how much work it can be, and how much of that work involves modulating your own emotions. My optimistic slant on this is that the effort serves you in the end.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

a bit off the mommy track

But I've been thinking all week about another issue I once covered just as intensely, 20 years ago, and want to say something about it.
On one of the most amazing nights of my life, I watched Filipino democracy activists storm Malacanang Palace in Manila, the erstwhile home of the brutal and corrupt dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. They ran free through the hallways, laughing at Imelda's extravagant collection of shoes and bras, dancing around paper bonfires outside. Their joy was contagious, and the promise of that night seemed immense: the country was free, on its way to respectable self-rule.
But twenty years and several failed governments later, corruption and other abuses of power continue in the Philippines. During this anniversary week of the "People Power" revolt, the current president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, declared a state of emergency, while police last Saturday raided offices of the Daily Tribune, which had criticized her.
Filipinos deserve better than this. If you're of a mind to do so, you can send protest letters to the governmentthrough the Office of the Press Secretary at osec@ops.gov.ph, with facsimile number (632) 735-6167 or deliver these to the nearest Philippine embassy and consulate.