Monthly Archives: May 2012

For the Love of the Blog, Part Two

I had to share this photo of Darcy, who met his hero Chris Berman. It pretty much made his year. As some wag on Facebook commented, “He seems really engaged.” Heh.

Big round of applause for WordPress: they are listening to us about the commenting! Check it out. Thank you, WordPress. I am impressed. Please add your problems commenting to the thread: they are checking.

I wanted to share Part Two of blog posts which moved me.

From Part One:

Today I was thinking how grateful I am to many bloggers for hitting that “publish now” button. Some of the posts that reverberate in my mind were famous, most weren’t. Some got hundreds of comments but most didn’t. What I realized is that validation, something discussed a lot recently in the blogosphere, isn’t just about the immediate impact of that first rush of page views and comments. It’s also the aftermath, the possibility to move someone even years later, to some emotion.

So without further ado, Part Two.

Apartment Therapy (Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan): Melting the Walls & Opening Up to Love Weekend Meditation. An unexpectedly moving post about walls, physical and otherwise, from a home decor writer. “Unlike in our real house, when we melt our own walls we do not discover that our roof falls in. On the contrary, our entire being opens up to the world again, and the sun comes streaming in.” Love.

Breed ‘Em And Weep: The Big Why. Vivid description of what it’s like to suffer from Bipolar Disorder.

Clay Baboons: “What Not to Say to Someone With an Uncooperative Uterus“. ZOMG: the funny! The wavy frowny line cracks me up, every time. Plus, educational!

Family Building With a Twist: An Open Letter to My Son’s Preschool Teachers. So honest and moving….

Hyperbole and a Half: Depression. Whoa.

Lainey: Yes, I read Lainey 🙂 This was a fascinating look at the way celebrities have influenced mothering and this year’s “mother’s day on steroids.”

Live From the 205: Bookworm. A grandfather imparts a love of reading, via the same leather-bound gold-leafed books my dad gave me, and his granddaughter remembers.

Love That Max: The disturbing results of a quest to educate people not to use the word “retard.”

Miss OhKay: An education about the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Miss E was adopted from. Chilling, informative, unfathomable.

Once a Mother: Tending to Our Wounds tells the story of the “towel baby” and strongly and unforgettably makes the point how important it is to grieve and express yourself.

Pioneer Woman: Ten Important Things I’ve Learned About Blogging. This post is pretty much my blogging manifesto.

Shifty Shadow: The Garden. Achingly poignant analogy about loss.

Suburban Homestead: The Secret Society. Beautifully written piece about, well, you have to read it to find out!

Truth and Cake: What Did You Give Up, To Get What You Got? Tremendous, provoking post about why society expects us to “have it all.”

I hope you enjoy this reading material. I feel like blogging has kind of slowed down in general. Do you agree? Is it the summer doldrums?

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My Article for BlogHer: Is WordPress Scaring Your Commenters Away?

I wrote an article for BlogHer today inspired by Stumbling Gracefully, about how difficult WordPress is making commenting.

Have you noticed a drop-off in comments since the changes WordPress has made?

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Thank You For The Blog Posts: Part One

I have an almost total recall for prose which has moved me in some emotional way, whether to tears, laughter, greater empathy or just awe. Am I alone? I often muse upon old posts I read months ago as well as ones I have read today. This is what is so strange and powerful about the written (or typed) word to me: the lasting impact someone can make when one hits the publish button.

Today I was thinking how grateful I am to many bloggers for hitting that “publish now” button. Some of the posts that reverberate in my mind were famous, most weren’t. Some got hundreds of comments (one got thousands) but most didn’t. But what I realized is that validation, something discussed a lot recently in the blogosphere, isn’t just about the immediate impact of that first rush of page views and comments. It’s also the aftermath, the possibility to move someone even years later, to some emotion.

So I’d like to single out these particular posts, some of which are days, months and years old (one is over a decade old), and these particular writers for their work. Thank you for your posts, which had a lasting impact on me. They have changed me or shaped me in some way, or in many cases, provided a much needed laugh. Which may sound trivial but I assure you it’s not: laughter makes my life much better and richer. Some of the writers I know personally, but most of them I do not.

In Alphabetical Order (There are more, but here is Part One):

a little pregnant: In the midst of my pregnancy problems in 2010, I frantically googled “gestational sac small” and came across this post, which both prepared me for the worst and also made me feel less alone. I consumed Julie’s whole blog that day and also discovered Stirrup Queens.

Amalah: “This Mortal Coil” Because nothing is more funny than an oven fire, an inconveniently located fuse box and running into a wall facefirst, right? In Amalah’s hands, a proctology exam would be hysterical. Maybe? Probably.

Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother Blog: The only blog I read until 2010, and I didn’t even know it was a blog. I love this post, about how reviews and book signings totally suck for authors.

Bereaved and Blessed: “Gatekeepers” A moving and life-affirming post which asks her viewers two questions: “How are you feeling?” “What are you doing tomorrow?” based on a local hero, Kevin Briggs, who has kept 200 people from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. I think everyone in Marin County unfortunately could name someone they know or know of who has jumped, so this was very meaningful to me personally.

Bodega Bliss: A pregnancy announcement with a twist: Courtney decides to embrace only the joy in her good news, and enjoy every single day. If you know Courtney’s struggle, you know how extraordinary this is, and how extraordinary she is.

Bloggess: “And that’s why you should learn to pick your battles.” The post which changed the way we all look at big metal chickens. Forever.

Bloodsigns: “The Oleander & the Groves” Haunting, brilliant: about how the very landscape we are in brings about layers of emotions and memories. God, I wish I could write like this.

Dragondreamer’s Lair: In WTF news, I will NEVER forget Kristin’s post about the car decorated with what appears to be…Louis Vuitton stickers? I have no words. Still.

Elphaba: My so-called life: The Sims and their ridiculously easy time with pregnancy causes much jealousy. Funny, funny stuff.

Flotsam: Even thinking about this post, about how the main theme of her decor is “whimsy,” makes me chortle. Alexa Stevenson takes us on a photo tour of her house and the highlights are “elderly, stiffened washclothes” “cat hair tumbleweeds” and “rug last washed during previous administration.” Rad.

Half-Baked Life: God sent Justine down from Heaven to teach us all how to make these chocolate peanut butter pillows.

Infertility Voice: Keiko’s post about how her dad covered 9/11 as a photojournalist was fascinating not just because I am also a daughter of a journalist, but because I loved her dad’s story: unfiltered and honest. The unpublished photo he took of Ground Zero is stunning.

Kir’s Corner: Perspective. I think this post sums up the complicated emotions of parenting after infertility so, so well. This is exactly how I feel, but am unable to articulate.

Life From Here: The most amazing, breathtaking conclusion to a pregnancy and birth story with more twists and turns than a Hitchcock movie. Masterfully told.

Marwil: “Never is a long time” Short. Sad. Sweet.

Maybe Baby: Love > sadness. A mother goes to visit the trees she has planted in memory of her twin daughters with a friend. I had to catch my breath after reading this.

Mommy Odyssey: Mo’s sense of humor is on full display, here, in this post about how her 34 day cycle nearly broke her brain. I laughed so hard, and keep returning to the post to see “ZOMG Teh Drama!” kitten picture, again.

Not a Fertile Myrtle: In honor of 9/11, Suzy decides to challenge herself to be kind to strangers. Her post really made me look at that event differently, and ever since I read that post I have also tried to be more kind to and mindful of strangers.

Road Less Travelled: I will never, ever forget the story of Loribeth’s Christmas Party From Hell. Seriously! The insensitivity, it boggles the mind 😦

Smartness: “Sh*t Uncle Paul Says.” Oh my Lordy, teh hilarity. I love Kymberli’s description of Uncle Paul, who she meets for the first time at a family funeral. “Paul looked around at everyone exchanging greetings. He heaved a dramatic sigh and lit a cigarette. ‘Come on, let’s get this funeral on the road. I have compassion, but I don’t have patience.’ Then he gave two snaps up and a little ‘mmmhmmm’ neck roll.”

Stirrup Queens: Mel is hella funny. I know that’s maybe not what she’s known for (and obviously I could go on and on about inspiring things she’s written), but this, about a flakey tooth fairy made me laugh so hard I startled people at Jamba Juice. Close second: the vomit circle of hell, featuring really annoying little ponies. “Mr. Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiskers!”

Stumbling Gracefully: “Miscarriages Are Real Losses.” No one could read this and not understand the absolute devastation that a miscarriage causes. Esperanza brilliantly intersperses a clinical voice explaining what a miscarriage is with journal entries of how she felt. “Tell them that, even if you can’t comprehend what they’re going through, you accept it and everything that comes with it; that you acknowledge their loss as significant and real. Because it is.” Amazing.

Tomato Nation: For Thou Art With Us. Yet another account of 9/11, but this one from an eyewitness to the twin towers falling. The eyewitness is a pop culture writer (and she’s not a blogger but has a website) I’ve long admired, Sarah Bunting. Every year I reread her story and it always crushes me on many levels: the mundane (her shoes were too tight that day), the extraordinary, the unimaginable (the piece of burned shirt cuff that lands on her as she’s watching the towers on fire), the hellish, the terrifying, the unexpected friendship: all these elements intertwine to create such an enduring and horrifying tale. It amazes me still that such a writer was there in the epicenter of it all, and was able to tell the story.

Write Mind, Open Heart: The Meadow. Incredible.

As a humble reader, I just wanted to thank you one and all. Your writing has meant a lot to me.

Am I alone? Do you remember posts long after they have been published? Or do they fade away like fog on a San Francisco afternoon after you’ve read them? If you do have posts which you remember long after they were written, please feel free to share them in the comments. I would love to read them.

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Things That Are Bugging Me Now

Aaaaaaannnnnnddd, time once again for this.

* The guy quoted in the latest issue of California Home & Design about his oceanfront house: “I wasn’t even in the market for a home,” said Greg who was single at the time. “I had just renovated my penthouse and was happy with the results.”
* To quote the much-missed Chandler Muriel Bing: “My wallet’s too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight!”
* My levels of guilt, which are reaching new and frightening dimensions. Latest trigger: NPR. When the NPR fundraising pitches come on, I am always driving, but then I forget to call and pledge once I’m off the road. Then I hear the pitch again, and the guilt rises. “Don’t you WANT to listen to our VERY VERY IMPORTANT STORIES, you freeloading jerk?” YES, YES, I really do. But do I remember to call once I’m off the road again? NO.
* My awkward social skills. The only non-family members I can converse with properly are Bodega Bliss and Stumbling Gracefully. Is it because I don’t work in an office? I feel like I miss out on social cues altogether and today at Jamba Juice I put in my order like a robot, with no inflection and I think the clerk thought I was AI. I can’t come up with any banter, even boring banter. It comes out like this: “Hello, man at counter. Sunny weather we are having or not? #jambajuiceisrad!”
* My realization that Zooey Deschanel is probably this neurotic too, but she is so charming. Maybe I need more Siri in my life.
* My realization watching Atonement: I will never write anything better than Briony’s play. Which she writes when she’s thirteen!
* Still David Guetta. Still “Sexy Chick.” Darcy STILL has that song in his head two and a half years later. I have even tried to play that Goyte earworm tune for him: no go.
* That really horrific looking movie adaptation of the book What to Expect When You Are Expecting. (Which, really? What’s next? Personal Finance for Dummies?) Tagline: “There’s No Time To Pull Out Now.” GROSS.

What’s bugging YOU now?

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“Bringing Up Bebe”: Book Review, Part Two

Stumbling Gracefully is hosting a book club and the book we are currently reviewing is “Bringing Up Bebe,” by Pamela Druckerman.

In Part One, I revealed my own roots as a Francophile and my connections to France.

So, Part Deux: The Review

Pamela Druckerman is an ex-pat who lives in Paris and, like many writers before her, she finds fruitful writing ground in cross-cultural differences. Specifically, she finds her own child-rearing techniques lacking compared to the French parents she meets. She notices that French children behave well in restaurants, sleep through the nights early on and seem to have a politeness and belief in the authority of their parents that her own children and the American children she knows do not. So she sets out to find “the secret” to the way the French raise their children.

In light of the Time Magazine “Mom Enough” controversy and the very real “Mom Wars” currently raging in the US, I’m tempted to say that there IS a secret and that is: there doesn’t seem to be any debate in France at all about how to raise children.

But, let me move on to what Druckerman observes. She first notices that culturally, childbirth is different in France:

“French moms often ask me where I plan to deliver, but never how. They don’t seem to care. In France, the way you give birth doesn’t situate you within a value system or define the sort of parents you will be.”

The national health system there covers Druckerman’s hospital stay for six days. There is not the strong focus on breastfeeding in France either. Most women don’t breastfeed there.

This is explained partially by the state-covered childcare, which Druckerman extols in terms of its quality and availability. With such a system in place, the vast majority of French women return to the workplace: there isn’t the same agonizing of whether to stay home. Staying at home seems to not even interest the vast majority of French parents Druckerman knows.

Druckerman also notices that most French infants begin “doing their nights,” or sleeping through the night, very early: usually beginning at six weeks. Druckerman figures out, after interviewing French parenting authorities and parents alike, that French parents use a method she calls “the pause.” “The pause” essentially means that when a baby cries the parent will “pause” and wait to see if the child can self-soothe and fall asleep quickly on its own before picking the child up.

And with “the pause” begins perhaps the central tenet in French parenting, as Druckerman describes it. “The pause” is an introduction to the key French concept of delaying gratification. They teach children to wait before eating dessert, to wait before rejecting food they haven’t tried and to wait for their parents to finish talking before they chime in. That’s not to say they are not tuned in to their children: part of what Druckerman observes is that French parents are very attuned and listen to what their children say. They just don’t necessarily give in to what their children want.

Also key: the sense of “cadre,” or parental authority. The authority of the parents is pretty absolute. What seems different to Druckerman is that French parents seem quite confident in laying down the law. There seems to be no hesitation or guilt when parents tell their children “no.” And the word “no” is apparently not used sparingly.

The relationship between the parents is apparently treated as sacrosanct. Ayelet Waldman’s infamous New York Times article would probably have been totally ignored over there. Says Virginie, a French parent:

“The couple is the most important. It’s the only thing you chose in life. You didn’t choose your children. You chose your husband. So, you’re going to have to make your life with him. So you have an interest in whether in it going well. Especially when the children leave, you want to get along with him. For me, it’s the prioritaire.”

I could go on and on about the two major influences of French parenting authority (Rousseau, who my dad pointed out abandoned his own children at an orphanage, and a pioneering woman in the 60s named Francoise Dolto) and the advantages of the creche (daycare) where delicious three course meals are served to children.

But here’s where I note my impressions of Pamela Druckerman. She is a charming writer, and an insecure woman amongst a population of beautifully dressed women who seemly maintain it all: their looks, their weight, their jobs and their love lives with their husbands. I mean, I get it. Sub in Lulemon yoga outfits for skinny jeans and boots and impossibly fit physiques and Pamela is me: feeling like a fish out of water.

I tend to take a more skeptical look at things than Druckerman, however. I have to admit that I gave the book the side-eye a few times. Druckerman would repeatedly tell the same story: she would think she wouldn’t like a certain parenting technique then she tries it and BOOM! It works! Eyeroll.

Mainly though it raised the question: why? Why do we Americans constantly feel so insecure and unsure about how to raise our children? Why are we so defensive about what choices we make? Why ARE there so many choices on how to parent?

Here’s where I decide: I’m going with what my parents taught me. I’ll never be the amazingly nurturing personality my mom is, but I’ll do my best. I agree with my dad that education, politeness and teaching your children to question are the defining virtues of parenting.

And, I will do my best to not compare that and contrast it with what’s out there. Because I’m doing my best. That will be enough.

Final cultural note from my in-laws who just spent a month living in Paris: they went out to dinner with friends with children and the children did NOT sit during dinner, they were LOUD and they didn’t particularly listen to their parents EITHER.

So, there’s that.

And here’s a photo of my children and myself in the latest styles of Paris, as procured by MIL. Because I’m shallow and what I love most about France is the fashion and the food 😉

To read more reviews, click here.

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BlogHer Spotlight and That Time Magazine Article

Today my blog, specifically this entry, is featured on BlogHer. I love the way Mel compares reading your blog in full to looking into the Pensieve, like Dumbledore does in Harry Potter.

As I re-read this post today, it makes me sad. And I do link it to the Time Magazine article, with its offensive headline “Are You Mother Enough?”

I think there has been an unprecedented backlash on women in the last year. And I feel judged, battered, bruised and defensive.

I never thought in my lifetime that the merits of the birth control pill would actually be debated from a moral point of view.

I never thought that the word “slut” would be used so pejoratively, so publicly, to mark women taking birth control pills with a scarlet letter.

I never thought that a fertility clinic would not be welcomed into a town.

I never thought that a women would be judged so publicly for breastfeeding or not breastfeeding a child at the age of four.

Notice what’s NOT being talked about:

Are you Father Enough?

The Decreasing Amount of Jobs for Men

Increased Infertility Statistics for Men

How Schools Increasingly Don’t Favor Boys

I don’t say this to be harsh to men. We NEED to talk about THESE issues. We need to talk about these issues MUCH MORE than we need to discuss whether a woman should take birth control pills for WHATEVER reason.

And so endeth my rant for the day.

Is it possible to change the conversation?

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“Bringing Up Bebe: Book Review, Part One”

FRENCH BAGGAGE

Stumbling Gracefully is hosting a book club featuring “Bringing up Bebe”, by Pamela Druckerman. Click here for more details and to join in!

We once lived in London, but we would travel to Paris every chance we got. The Eurostar would have to traverse ever so slowly though England, due to speed regulations, different in various counties. It wasn’t until we crossed under that great human achievement, the Chunnel, that the train would gather its full speed, and race across the prettiest countryside you could ever imagine.

***

I have been in love with France ever since I was a little girl. I chose to study French in the third grade because I heard the siren call of its promise of glamour, sophistication and worldliness. My French teacher in high school was a Gallic alien stranded in America. She taught us about her father, who was in the French underground during WWII, and how her family suffered persecution because of it. She showed us two movies, “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “A Man and A Woman.” I was somewhat undercover in high school, very quiet in classes. She saw something in me no other teacher saw: she saw me as a French herione. She cast me in the lead roles of Daisy in Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” and Estelle in “Sartres’ “Huis Clos.” The women in the movies we watched, Catherine Deneuve and Anouk Aimee, were everything I hoped I would one day be: mysterious and quiet, but wearing the most beautiful of trenchcoats. I fell deeply under the spell of the language’s musical cadences, following its paths all the way to my senior AP test, which I passed. But with this success, I also passed out of a language requirement for college courses. So I abandoned my French.

***

Three towns up, around the same time, Bernard was creating quite the stir at a local tennis club. Darcy’s parents, Francophiles extraordinaire, had befriended an authentic bourgeois French family on their annual trip to France. Every year the Darcys either traveled to Lyon and stayed at the family’s country home, or else the son Bernard and his sister Dodo traveled to California and stayed with the Darcys. Bernard and Darcy were the same age. They should have been the best of friends. Darcy spoke French and intended to study abroad in Paris in college. Bernard was polite and agreeable.

Darcy DETESTED Bernard.

Everything came easy to Bernard. He played tennis better than anyone at the club. Worst of all, the cute girls who normally ignored Darcy all summer finally approached him. Only to ask about his friend Ber-NAARD. “What is Ber-NAARD like? Can you introduce me to Ber-NAARD?” While Darcy struggled to make an ugly hit within the lines, Bernard effortlessly returned the ball in a beautiful arc, winning the match point. People in the stands, famous for not paying attention and being bored, stood up and cheered “Bravo!”

Darcy HATED Bernard.

***

Paris looms large over my family. Darcy and I got engaged there. My in-laws are currently on a one month stay in Paris. My daughter’s heroine is Madeline: her birthday cake was of the famous straw hat, and she sleeps with a pillow in the shape of the Eiffel Tower.

***
I wanted to make these full disclosures because I don’t feel I can fully express my opinion about this book without releasing them, like burning sage or something in advance. Everyone reads a book with some sort of bias, but I feel mine was much stronger than usual. So, consider yourself educated on where I come from on the France question.

***
I try to teach my children manners. One thing my WASP-y family possesses in spades: excellent manners. It turns out, the French teach their children manners too. In fact, manners and the sense of family cadre (or authority) are amongst the most critical of lessons their children will ever learn.

But, I worry: does the focus on manners mean my children will hyperfocus on the trains running on time? Will they be confined within a beautiful authoritarian regime, granted, with the most beautiful of scenery and the most delicious food, and the most fabulous fashions and a life inhaled as if it were a page from a vintage French Vogue?

And would that really be so bad?

***

Edited to Add:

I KNEW my daughter would love this music. Sure enough, as soon as I played at it, her pupils widened, she twirled, she stood on her tip toes in her Marie-Chantal sandals. (Which I spotted in London and knew she would love right away.) She is the me I wish I was cool enough to be: she is so bright and bubbly and smart and, well, chic. She is so very French. And yet, she is so very Darcy.

Have you ever connected with another country or culture? If so, why?

FOR MORE REVIEWS ABOUT BRINGING UP BEBE, CLICK HERE.

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