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How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

no wonder we're doomed

How many Nobel prizes does Al Gore need before he can get some respect?
Knowing he'd testified yesterday before Congress but not seeing anything in the New York Times, I went online, only to find the snarkiest, most empty story in the Washington Post, just making fun of Gore, pulling out all the old cliches from the 2000 election. This is one day after Gristreported that global warming ranks at the bottom of a long list of concerns -- war, the economy, Social Security, health insurance, education, and you name it, whereas none of these issues will mean anything if we get swamped by changes in climate. It's one more bit of evidence of the ferocious power of denial -- that, and the sad decline of newspapers.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

the perils of parenting research, at home

This morning, the New York Times , with that arresting photo of a baby with a camera strapped to its head, raised an issue I've been grappling with, in its story on research scientists who use their children as subjects.

For the past year, I've been working on a memoire/reportage on Attention Deficit Disorder, a glitch I share with one of my sons, and am using our lives to illustrate issues that millions of parents are coping with, since ADD, most of the time, is a shared family trait. The project has been almost completely a blessing, giving me the time to more fully understand a disorder that has long threatened our family's equilibrium, and to seek out and apply the best treatments among a confusing array. But it has also brought up some ethical issues, some of which are raised by the Times today. Is this kind of scrutiny fair? How much should be revealed; what must be kept hidden? The photographer Sally Mann took nude pictures of her own children -- were there any larger issues that justified that?

One way I've coped with these dilemmas is by, from the start of my work, assembling a Brain Trust – a group of psychiatrists, close friends, and relatives with whom I check in frequently for judgment calls and readings of early drafts. If there is one thing I've learned, it's that a parent's vision of his or her own child is almost always obscured by memory, fear, and desire. Sometimes –maybe even most of the time -- it takes a village to see clearly....

Friday, January 16, 2009

raising the motherhood bar

Last night I read the last page of "The Grapes of Wrath"
to my ten-year-old son, with whom I've been steadily progressing through several classics I missed growing up. My worries that some of Steinbeck's material might be a bit too intense have been counterbalanced by the facts that:

a) He's learning about a world outside our privileged 'burb;
b) He has been sleeping through some of it anyway;
c) I just can't bring myself to keep rereading Roald Dahl, much as we both love him.

What drove me to blog, however, is more this question: How about that Ma Joad? Of all the literary portraits of mothers, was there ever a more haunting, complex icon? Haunting, especially, in the sense that she, absolutely alone, and by pure emotional force, kept her "fambly" going?

"She's a fictional character, mom!" my son said, when I expressed my admiration.

He's right, of course. So why is it that I've already gotten in the habit of imagining Ma Joad wagging her stout finger at me when I give way to anger or crave solitude or forget to put the gravy in the corn pones....?

p.s. Does anyone think Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" would give my son nightmares?
p.p.s. Thank you, Jennifer! You made my day!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

their parents' hell

It couldn't have been a better night to see Revolutionary Road -- on the last day of a loooong winter break in which my obviously bewitched laundry hamper and kitchen sink were continually overlowing, and the bickering over Xbox-playing limits was like being stuck in an elevator with hyenas. Towards the end, I was one of the few people in the theater smiling -- not just at the amazing performances but at the thought that maybe, at least in some ways, things have gotten better...

Friday, January 02, 2009

changing the present

I was watching my husband watch "The Twilight Zone" marathon yesterday when I happened to see an ad for an inspiring new organization called Changing the Present . The idea is you can give a gift, such as fishing equipment and training for a village woman in a developing country, or school meals for 60 children for a month, instead of body lotion or another tie. The gifts support causes as diverse as global warming and animal welfare, via reputable foundations, and are promoted, smartly, with customized cards. You can search for gifts tailored to the interests of children, mothers, older people, etc.
This is a little late for holidays past, I know, and may take a year or more of expectations-managing for kids who'd much rather get "Call of Duty 5" (dodged that bullet, just barely, this year) but I'm optimistically keeping it in mind...