Sunday, May 8, 2011

Celebrating Mother's Day with tired mother stereotypes

Why would a popular website that promises in its mission statement "to tell the truth about parenting, to bypass the clichés and dig into the magical and maddening reality," do an 10-part slideshow that perpetuates motherhood clichés, flattening the magical and maddening reality of real-life individuals into unrecognizable cutouts? Not to mention pitting readers, in typical mommy-wars fashion, against these hypothetical figures in some imaginary game of competitive mothering? (The headline touts "11 stereotypes," but only 10 are listed; perhaps "you" are the 11th?)

Yeah, I know the piece calls itself tongue-in-cheek and is intended to amuse. And sure, I realize they were just trying to do something different for Mother's Day. And yes, I admit to being able to loosely attach some of these labels to women I've met in real life. But they were all people I didn't know well, because when you get to know individuals they're harder to reduce to simplistic, one-dimensional characters.

What's worse are the constant cracks telling "you" (i.e., the reader) how "you" supposedly feel in comparison to these people. The answer: You suck. Sanctimommy will "let you know" that she's a better parent than you, and "if you're feeling thin-skinned," you'll agree. Power Mom's activities are "much more important than the likes of you," and Perfect Mom threatens to "make you make you feel like a mess."

When it comes to your appearance, you can't win. Run into Glamor Mom and you'll wind up feeling "upstaged," while Schlumpy Mom's relaxed attire could be perceived as "a knock on your new 'do." Only Slacker Mom is portrayed as someone you'd enjoy spending time with.

The underlying assumption is that anything another mother (or, honestly, another woman) chooses to do is an unequivocal rebuke to whatever different choices you've made for yourself. If you run into someone wearing a blue sweater, the thinking seems to go, you'll feel bad if you're wearing a green one.

Sigh. Call me a Humorless Feminist Mommy (), but I'm not really amused by the image of mothers constantly putting each other down and making each other feel bad because we make different choices. That happens now and then in real life, but not nearly as often as you see it in the media, where it has become a tired trope.

Not only does this slideshow fail to dig into magical and maddening reality, it's peddling one of the most shopworn clichés around.

Happy Mother's Day!

In honor of my mother, who would be 80 tomorrow, I uploaded an album of photos of her, pictures my brother and I used to create a collage for her memorial service in 2008. I love that they're out of sequence; you get to jump around in a life and momentarily forget its ... well, its finity. In the shadow of Alzheimer's, the collage and attendees' reminiscences helped restore my memories of my mother as witty, artistic, imaginative, creative and above all fun.

Among the many, many lessons in this album: If your father is the editor of a newspaper, you'll wind up with some cool childhood photos.

My mom loved sunbathing. This swimming suit is cute, but clearly it would leave weird tan lines.

This photo always makes me think of Dorothy Gale in "The Wizard of Oz."

Mom is in the middle row, far left. Her friend Janet is sitting in front of her.

Not sure if this is in college or a job. She worked in the ad department for Better Homes & Gardens, where she met my dad.
In front of the brick wall in the living room.

1940s glamor.

1980s glasses.

Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota.

Three generations: Mom, my brother, my niece.

Mom winning a high-school art contest. She had art talent, but aparently decided she was a better writer. Same here.

At the nursing home.

Note the similarities between the two photos above, more than half a century apart.
In her days of working as an ad copywriter for Dayton's.

What a smile.

My late uncle John far left, was 15 when he played the piano at my parents' wedding.
Mom and the now-16-year-old.
With my grandma. So '30s.

This one of my mom and grandpa might be my favorite of all these photos. Note rakish angle, doffed fedora, matching smiles.
 Mom's outfit would be perfectly fashionable today.

Obviously, this one was taken after my tonsillectomy. The painting above the couch is by my mom.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

But wait -- have I even mentioned "TORN" yet?

I don't think I have. Tell you what, I've been so busy with my new job (which a couple of weeks ago went from an easygoing part-time gig to -- temporarily -- a more-challenging-what-with-everything-else-full-time gig), with a bunch of freelance work, with my sons' ridiculously intense after-school sports schedules, with going to a favorite uncle's funeral in Athens, GA, two weeks ago, with being out of town all last week (Eureka Springs, AR, with a group of old friends -- really fun until two of us were thrown by horses; I sustained only bruising but, sadly, my friend Beth broke her pelvis), coming home to a dining-room table blanketed a foot thick with newspapers, magazines and mail ... so busy, anyway, that I've done a crappy job of keeping up this blog AND of doing my part to spread the word about

TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood 

It's a wonderful collection of essays about, well, just what the title says, a.k.a. the challenges of work-family balance, a.k.a. the impossibility of having it all. My essay, "Regrets of a Stay-at-Home Mother" was a last-minute addition after it was published in Salon, and I'm very proud to be a part of it.
The book was well-reviewed today in the Los Angeles Times, which mentioned my piece in a nice way. (I didn't exactly "leave journalism" -- just quit my full-time job -- but since you called me "refreshingly candid" I'll forgive you, LAT!).

Reading my essay in a bookstore

If you're in the Northfield, MN, area on Wednesay night at 7:30, you can hear me and fellow contributor Shannon Hyland-Tassava reading the essays we contributed to the newly published "TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood."

As you can see, the bookstore is called "Monkey See, Monkey Read," which may cause some confusion ("No no, MY name is KATY Read"). But it should be fun!