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September 2012

Mothers and Sons - Orca Whale Style

18OBOX3-articleLargeMove over bonobos. Now there's another animal species documented to have a strong mother-son bond. The NYT had the following headline in its science section this week: "Orca Mothers Coddle Adult Sons, Study Finds." It turns out that killer whales stay by their mother's side for their entire lives. Hanging with mom increases your life expectancy - male Orca whales are 8 times more likely to die within a year if they lose their mothers, as compared to female Orca whales, who have only a 3 fold decrease in life expectancy under the same circumstances.

Why? Scientists believe the presence of mothers helps fight off other predatory males. They think it has to do with protecting the species, with mothers nurturing the next generation. (I am unclear why the orca daughters don't need protection, but evidently they don't.)

Anyway, another mother-son bond story, this time from the deep. And you really can't call a killer whale a "Mama's Boy," can you?


Andy Murray - A Mama's Boy?

Happy to see Andy Murray win the US Open yesterday. Check out this piece I wrote for awhile back about all the criticism his mom has gotten throughout his career - and for generally - on how sports moms are expected to behave.

The Bias Against Sports Moms

We love hearing stories about the dedication of the mothers of professional athletes, but God forbid they should actually know something about the sport
By KATE STONE LOMBARDI | July 11, 2012 | 

Judy Murray

Judy Murray, mother of British player Andy Murray, on day six of the 2012 Wimbledon Championships

Lombardi's book is The Mama's Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger.

Oh, how we love Olympic moms. Our fantasy version is personified in a popular series of ads produced by Proctor & Gamble, an Olympic sponsor. A montage of mothers from around the world are shown waking their sleepy little ones, cooking them breakfast, getting them to practice, and then washing, washing, washing — both dishes and clothes. The children grow bigger, the moms keep scrubbing and laundering, and by the end, the young adult athletes are swimming, running, spiking volleyballs, and acknowledging their tear-stained, now middle-aged mothers in the Olympic stands.

When the words, “The hardest job in the world is the best job in the world. Thank you, Mom,” fill the screen, I was just as misty-eyed as anyone else. But I also couldn’t help but wonder what Judy Murray would make of this stereotype of the sports mom.

Judy Murray is the mother of Andy Murray, the Scottish tennis player who lost to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final last week and is now hoping for a gold medal at the Olympics in Londonlater this month. Those who watched the Wimbledon match might have noticed how frequently the camera panned to Murray’s mother, her face often taut with tension as the competition unfolded. She has described the experience of watching her son play tennis as “a mixture of nausea and heart attack.”

She is not only a fixture in the stands but also a lightening rod for criticism. Judy Murray gets hate mail. She is depicted as a domineering, smothering, controlling mom whose very presence is undermining her son’s game. Boris Becker, a former Wimbledon champion, publicly condemned her last year, saying, “I just question whether a young man needs to have his mother around all the time while he’s working.” A headline in the UK Daily Record summarized: “Andy Murray won’t win a Grand Slam until he stops being a mummy’s boy and cuts ties with Judy.” David Yeoman, a self-described “business and sport behavioral strategist” told a British paper that Murray should force his mother to stay at home to improve his game. Would anyone level similar criticism at the fathers of Tiger Woods or Serena and Venus Williams and the numerous other sports dads who keep a firm hand on the professional athletic careers of their children?

It seems we love sports mothers when they are scrambling eggs, washing uniforms and driving to practice, but not when they are upset when their daughter or son plays poorly and certainly not — gasp — when they actuallyknow something about the sport. Judy Murray was not only her son’s first tennis coach, drilling him in coordination exercises when he was a toddler, but she also now captains the British Fed Cup team. Before that she was Scotland’s national coach. And yet she has been accused of hanging on to the apron strings and acting inappropriately, common critiques for mothers who remain close to their adult sons. She was also vilified for tweeting about the good looks of one of her son’s opponents, making her, as one blogger put it, “the Most Embarrassing Old Dear of the Year.”

The point is not that Judy Murray is perfect, but that she doesn’t fit the image we’ve created of the sainted athlete mom. Recently Matt Lauer interviewed Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and his mom, Ileana, who also coached her son when he was younger. When Lauer noted how proud she must be of her son’s improvement, Ms. Lochte said, “Every time he swam in a big meet he swam best times, except Beijing in the first two races, where…” But Lauer cut her off, evidently deciding that nobody wants to hear what his former coach actually has to say about his swimming. Instead he cut to a spokesman for Proctor & Gamble, who said she was “super-excited” to announce that the company was going to help pay families’ way to the London Olympics, and would also offer athletes’ moms the chance to get their hair done and have makeovers. Lauer exclaimed that Mrs. Lochte could get fresh mascara every time she cried in the stands.

SPECIAL: TIME’s Complete Coverage of the 2012 London Olympics 

Lombardi is a journalist and author of The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger. The views expressed are solely her own.

My Son The Teacher

UnknownAll the back-to-school promotions this year feel so different, because my son Paul is returning to the classroom as a teacher. He should have been working all of last week, but because he is teaching the fifth grade in New Orleans, his school was closed due to the hurricane.

Paul evacuated with some fellow teachers, but yesterday was his first day back with the kids. (Returning to his apartment was a bit of a challenge - power had been out for days and still was,and the wooden front door was so swollen from humidity that he could barely get it open.) But I'm really wondering what his students went through. Most were only toddlers during Katrina, but their families must remember it well.  When I last spoke to him, Paul didn't know if the principal would want them to talk about the storm in the classrooms, proceed with curriculum, or do some combination of both.

I dreamt about my son last night coming off the big yellow school bus, as if he were still in elementary school himself. I wish I still could give him that afternoon snack and hear about his day....