Current Affairs

Love and Hate

DownloadStill struggling with integrating disparate worlds. The Pittsburgh synagogue murders break my heart. I cry whenever I read about it. I hadn't even finished reading about the bombs sent to 14 people before this slaughter happened.

Our country is in deep trouble. Every day it gets worse. 

And then there's my family. Last weekend we spent my son's 30th birthday in upstate New York. My husband and me, our daughter, our son and his wife. I wanted to freeze frame just about every minute - the hikes (all of us in ridiculous matching bright orange wool caps, which I insisted we wear because it's deer hunting season), the laughter, the games, the meals, listening to my daughter and my daughter-in-law compare notes on political canvassing, watching the tender relationship between my son and his wife, watching my husband quietly take care of stoking the fire to keep us warm....

Sheesh - I'm teaching tonight at the place-that-shall-not-be-named, and I was going to focus on run-on sentences. Doctor, heal thyself.

Anyway, I know I am privileged to be able to put some distance between my family and the political nightmare that is our country. Many people, especially those living in war ravaged countries, cannot. And yes, most of us are doing what we can to repair this broken, broken world.

But I'm scared. And you can only hide out in the mountains for so long.

 

 


Do You Ever Outgrow The "Back to School" Impulse?

Download-1It's happening again. After a long, delicious summer where I spent a lot of time outdoors, and not much time producing work - I have that back-to-school feeling. So much to do! But in September, it's not overwhelming - it's exciting.

Suddenly I'm bursting with story ideas - journalistic and memoir. I have new thoughts about articles to pitch and where to pitch them.  I'm really looking forward to a new gig in which I'll be teaching a memoir class to inmates upstate.

Oh, and I need to get new back-to-school supplies, which at this stage of my life translates to a new, electronic organizer/planning app, updating my website and ....er...some new back-to-school outfits. (Fine, I generally work in the room over my garage where no one sees me. A girl still needs new things.)

I'm even thinking about soups and stews, and (say it ain't so) getting tired of tomatoes and corn.

Here's what surprises me. Today it was 90 degrees today and humid. Not a hint of Autumn in the air. But somehow my internal clock knows when to get revved up and back to work.

 


Understanding Our Country

Why can't we understand each other? Media silos. Depending on what we read/watch/listen to, we have our own realities, which are constantly reinforced, an echo-chamber of our own beliefs. That said, there is legitimate journalism and then there's opinion masquerading as reporting. The best way to sort through all of this: consume a broad media diet.

Check out yesterday's some media homepages to get an idea of how different sites weigh the importance of unfolding events.

The New York Times:

NYT

Fox News:

Fox

Wall Street Journal:

WSJ

Make your own call on the relative importance of the lead stories, and the spin given.


Supporting the Media

CNN baby haterI'm regretting my last post, though not to the point of deletion. 

Today I interviewed a CNN journalist for a magazine profile I'm writing. I asked her describe her day.

Her alarm went off at 3 am. She worked out for half an hour, dealt with some summer camp stuff for her kids, took a quick shower and was in the studio by 4:45 am. After a 5:15 am production meeting, she was in makeup at 6 am, then reviewing stories with producers until she went on air from 9 - 11 am as a substitute anchor. I'm writing this post after 5 pm, when she is again on air, filling in for another anchor. The time in between was just as action packed for her, checking and rechecking stories, reading feeds and updates, meeting again with producers and more. Images

So what's it like, I asked, being a journalist at a time when the media is portrayed as "the enemy of the people" and the President of the United States personally attacks your work? (If you can't make it out, the button on the baby pictured above left says, "CNN sucks.")


Rope tree journalistShe told me she was proud to be a journalist, and tries to do the job the way she says she's always done it - "focused on fact and getting it right." Media people are well trained to deal with other media people.

But it is clear to me that dealing with intense hostility, hateful internet trolls, and even threats to physical safety have all become part of the job description. 

Freedom of the press is a critical part of our democracy. So instead of whining about how difficult it is to consume the news these days, I'm changing my tune. Pay attention to the work that is being done. And thank a journalist for the important job they're doing. 


Citizenry versus Sanity

 

TV Trump

I'm still struggling with this issue: how can I be a good citizen and guard my mental health at the same time?

This week I was chatting with a friend about our current political situation, and she told me breezily that she doesn't waste any time thinking about it or exposing herself to the news. She'd rather take a walk in the woods, read a good book or play with her grandchildren. Brook

I get it, oh how I get it! And I've blogged on this before - cutting back on media exposure so I don't lose my mind.

BUT - what about Democracy? Remember that old slogan - "Democracy is Not A Spectator Sport"? What about our obligation to be informed citizens? Active citizens?

Anxiety Girl (moi) tends to think in Black and White, and I have to constantly remind her to to think in shades of grey. Some news and political activity, and lots of time outside as an antidote. (Like along this gorgeous Adirondack stream.)

Meanwhile, I am writing a magazine article for which I'm interviewing three well-known female broadcast journalists. (Well, one is actually a former journalist who has a "NDA" so I can't ask her about her settlement for $$$$ over sexual harassment.) I may have to break down and watch a little television news and see them in action,  so I don't sound like a complete idiot when I conduct the interviews.

 

 

 

 


I Already Bought One

Download-1Maybe this already exists but if not, someone needs to invent it: the "Already Purchased" click.

It happens to everyone who shops online. You're browsing for a pair of shoes, comparing prices and then you make your choice. In the days and weeks to come, every time you Google something, dozens of pairs of the very shoes you already purchased parade across the screen, following you from site to site. Images

For me this week it's the parade of washing machines. I bought one a few days ago - actually at my local appliance store which gave me the best deal. Nonetheless, options for top loaders, front loaders, commercial and apartment-size washers and continue to show up.  Download-1

I know, I know - it's an advertising algorithm, "cookies" and more. 
Download-1
Download-1But wouldn't it make more sense for everyone if you could click on something to say "I Already Bought One." The companies are wasting their advertising dollars and the consumers are getting annoyed.

On the other hand, it's creepy enough how much the Internet tracks everything about us. Maybe they don't need to know this too.

So, just a personal heads-up to Whirlpool, Sears, Maytag, Kitchen Aid, Best Buy, and the rest of you: I no longer need a new washer. I already bought one.

 

 

 

 


Make. It. Stop. Make. It. Stop.

Download-1
All my life I've been a news junky. I was in the biz. I never watched much TV news, but I was a newspaper hound. I still subscribe to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Journal News (my local Gannett paper) and I get highlights from several other publications, including the London Times.

But at this point, those subscriptions are as wasted as a hastily purchased gym membership. It's not the fault of  journalists.  A great deal of quality work being done. It's the emotional damage from absorbing the content. News should come with a warning label: "Consuming this product may be harmful to your mental health."

This is no joke. Numerous studies have made the link between news consumption and anxiety and depression.

My news aggitation wasn't doing much for my marriage either. For the last year plus,  I thought I was scanning the headlines silently. But evidently, I was constantly spewing, "Oh my God!" and "UNBELIEVABLE" and "Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse..." in a loud voice until my husband asked me to kindly keep my commentary to myself.

My husband actually reduced his news diet before I did.  And yesterday, I had lunch with two of my best friends - super-smart, informed women - and they, too, also have cut way back on  reading/watching and listening to the news.

 I feel like a bad citizen - democracy runs on an informed citizenry. But right now,  I just can't....

 


Psycho Mom Returns!

When I talked about "The Mama's Boy Myth" on NPR's "All Things Considered," they introduced the segment by playing a clip from "Psycho" - with Norman Bates saying, "Well, a boy's best friend is his mother." It was the ultimate illustration of the worst kind of Mama's Boy stereotype. 

UnknownWell, it's back.....I just found out there is a series coming out next month on A & E called "The Bates Motel." Here's the tagline: "Fans will have access to the dark, twisted backstory and learn first hand just how deeply intricate the relationship with his mother, Norma, truly is, and how she helped forge the most famous serial killer of them all." 

Hoo boy. Here we go again. Because we all know that behind every serial killer is an over-bearing mother.


And now a voice from the other side....

Images Today I want to give a shout-out to a father who took the New York Times to task for an article that included this throw-away line stereotyping dads as bumbling and incompetent: 

"Fathers misplace their children at the supermarket; mothers miraculously transform tofu to make it palatable to 3-year-olds."

Here's his response ( especially love the last dig): "This is an appalling statement, a profound insult to the many fathers who work tirelessly and competently to raise their children. Maybe next week's Times can offer a column examining how a sentence like that could make it through the editing process. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go look for my kids on the Interstate embankment where I dun left 'em."

Bravo to Scott Tobias!


Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice....

Unknown-2The debate on boys' school performance is heating up again. Check out the opening of this letter to the New York Times, written by a retired male public school teacher: "Even in the late 1950s, educators sensed that girls had advantages over boys. They're verbal, orderly, quiet, submissive and cooperative. Boys? Polar opposites: outgoing, active, loud and unable to sit still."

Gender stereotype much? 


Boys And Easy Bake Ovens

Images-1Just came across an AP story about a 13-year-old Rhode Island girl who wanted to buy her little brother the Easy Bake Oven he wanted for Christmas. But when she went to the store, she found the toy came only in "girly" pink and purple and just featured girls on the packaging. The sister, a resourceful girl, managed to collect more than 30,000 signatures on a petiton to Hasbro, asking them to market the oven to kids in general, not just girls. One of her supporters is celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who had an Easy Bake oven when he was a kid.

When I was writing The Mama's Boy Myth, I heard a very similar anecdote about a boy wanting an Easy Bake oven. In this case he didn't have a supportive sister, but an anxious father who worried about the future sexual orientation of a son who wanted to play with this toy.

Oh, for Heaven's Sake. We have got to stop with all this gendered packaging and handwringing about who plays with what.

This is just reminding me that at the Food Pantry where I volunteer, we distribute toys during the holiday season. We get the gifts through Toys for Tots, which is a great program, but they ask how many "boy" gifts and how many "girl" gifts we need. Time to update this too.


The End of Your Life Book Club

ImagesBeen reading this beautiful book which weaves together a son's love for his mother with their mutual devotion to literature. Came across this passage last night:

"There's also still a schoolyard stigma to being perceived as overly attached to your mother. I think it's far less pronounced today than it was when I was growing up, but it's still there. Most of the men I know freely admit to loving books about sons coming to terms with the lives and legacies of their fathers - books like Big Russ and Me by Tim Russert and The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff and The Great Santini by  Pat Conroy. But those same men are a little more embarrassed about loving books like The Color of Water by James McBride or The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer, maybe talking about the first in terms of what it says about race and the second for its depiction of the joys of bar life, when both books really, at their hearts are about the fierce bond between a mother and son."


Recognizing Today's Dads

ImagesInch by inch. Block by Block. Even Mattel gets that the times are changing and that girls can do things besides dress and undress their over-sexualized Barbie dolls. But what interested me the most about a NYT piece on "The Mega Bloks Barbie Build 'n Style line" a construction set - in pink of course - was that Mattel was marketing it to fathers. They recognize that fathers are not only doing a lot of the buying of kids' toys, but also the playing. One-fifth of fathers with preschool-age children and working wives say they are the primary caretaker in 2010, according to the latest census data. 

Of course Dads like to build things, because they were encouraged to build things when they grew up. And studies show that when kids play with blocks, puzzles and construction toys, it improves their spatial development. So score another one - not just for gender equity for girls (because there's still a long way to go- the kits build a pink mansion, a beauty shop and a fashion studio) but also for men. Nice to see them recognized not just as caretakers, but as parents who can bring a great deal to level the toddler playing field. 


Post-Thanksgiving Sniffles

ImagesMy Son came home for Thanksgiving - the first time I've laid on that boy since July. He has been teaching 5th grade in East New Orleans. Like many first and second year teachers, he seems to catch every single bug his students (referred to as "scholars" in his school) bring to the classroom. 

It was heaven to have the whole family together - My Beloved Daughter was home too. But now the kids have gone back to their regular lives. I'm left with just enough turkey for a turkey curry and turkey soup, a great deal of laundry (sheets and towels) and a sore throat/sniffles/ fatigue that I suspect had its roots in  a fifth grader living in Louisiana. 


The Casanova Myth

UnknownYou know how guys are- always thinking about sex and how to get it from as many women as possible. Right? Wrong - just another one of those myths about men. Of course there are guys like that, but it turns out that for the most part, men, like women want connection and relationships. 

In his new book, "Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Sterotype of the Promiscuous Young Male," psychologist Andrew Smiler pushes back against this tired image of guys. His research shows that it's a small percentage of men who are having sex with multiple partners. Most guys are seeking people with whom they can connect, who share similar values, a similar sense of humor, cultural taste, and the like.

"What we do know is that most guys do get into relationships, they enjoy relationships, they do a lot of things in relationships that are not about sex and they're not doing them just to put up with them in order to get sex," Smiler told Salon.com in an interview. "Guys get something out of relationships; they like relationships."

 This is exactly what I found in my research for the Mama's Boy Myth. Boys and men are longing connection. Thank you, Dr. Smiler. 


Sweet Boy Taken From Her Arms

This is excepted from Brian Mockenhaupt's new book, "The Living and The Dead: War, Friendship, and the Battles that Never End." The photo is of Suzanne Muller and her son, Ian. My heart goes out to her, and all military moms. It was posted on Salon.com. 

Vet_day_essay_rect-460x307A late afternoon sun pushed long shadows across the streets of North Danville, Vermont, where Susanne Muller had been running errands. Groceries. Auto parts store. Library. The last stop was the post office, to mail a package to her son Ian. She’d sent more than a dozen already in the short time he’d been in Afghanistan, along with 30 pounds of cheddar cheese donated by Cabot and several boxes of jerky and smoked meat from Vermont Smoke and Cure. But this package could wait. Her phone battery had just died, and she couldn’t bear being out of contact, should her husband, Clif, or any of her other six kids need to reach her, but mostly if Ian called.

She’d last spoken to him on Sunday, five days earlier. “It’s so good to hear your voice,” she had said. “I was worried about you.” She’d never told him that before. Of course she felt it; worry consumed her, and she barely slept. But she didn’t want to add to his stress, and she wanted him to feel he could share anything with her. Two days earlier, when Ian told them he’d gotten his first kill, during the March 3 firefight, she had tried to sound supportive, even let out a little cheer.

“They take our sweet boys from our arms and they train them to kill,” she says, not meant as a criticism of the Marine Corps but as a pragmatic assessment. She wanted to prepare for what war would do to him. She read about the fight in Afghanistan, learned the Marines’ lingo, and watched YouTube videos of firefights to better understand what he was experiencing. She even got her passport before Ian deployed. If he was grievously injured, he would be evacuated first to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center at Ramstein Air Base, in Germany, where he might stay for several days if his condition was unstable. The Pentagon arranges travel to Germany for the families of service members injured so badly they may not make it home, but Susanne didn’t want to waste time.

Ian figured that time could be fast approaching. Talking to his dad after the March 3 firefight, he said the platoon had a big mission coming up, and that he was uneasy. In the past he’d felt he had a shield wrapped around him in battle. Now that confidence had faded. “My luck is running out,” he said.

By late afternoon on March 11, Susanne was home, sitting on the living room couch reading a biography of Osama bin Laden. The Mullers were a Christian family, and around Vermont, more people opposed armed conflict than supported it. “I wanted to be able to intelligently support my son at war,” she says.

“Mom, there’s a cop car outside,” said her youngest son, Reuben, walking down the stairs. “And there’s a gray car out there, too.”

That set her heart to racing. She rose and walked to the door and saw four men step from the car, all in uniform: a Navy chaplain and three Marines. For months to come, that scene would replay in slow motion, often as she cried herself to sleep.

Clif was beside her now as they stepped onto the front deck. She fell to her knees. “No. No. No,” she wailed. “My sweet Ian. My sweet Ian.”

“Come up and tell us what you have to tell us,” Clif told the men, trying to be strong enough for both of them. But it was more than an hour before Susanne’s hysteria had faded and she had stopped crying long enough for the Marines to deliver their official message: that Corporal Ian Muller had been killed by an improvised explosive device while on a foot patrol in Afghanistan.

When the men left that night, Clif kicked the coffee table so hard a leg snapped, and then they cried together for hours, until every muscle in Susanne’s face ached.

At 4:00 a.m., Susanne looked at the casualty report the Marines had brought, which Clif had folded up and shoved in a pocket. Along with detailing Ian’s injuries—massive head wound, fractured left leg and right arm—it said he’d been identified by Staff Sergeant James Malachowski and the corpsman, Jesse Deller, so Susanne knew they hadn’t been killed.

Through an online parents’ support forum, she’d become friends with Alison Malachowski and Wendy Deller, and only learned later that they were the mothers of the platoon sergeant and medic at Patrol Base Dakota. Alison and Wendy wouldn’t have heard about Ian yet, because of the communications blackouts initiated after any casualty to ensure that next of kin hear through the official notification process and not from another Marine e-mailing or calling home. So Susanne made two calls, long before dawn, when a ringing phone is often the harbinger of terrible news. She could say just a few words before she started sobbing: “Ian stepped on an IED, and he’s dead.”

She would soon be making those trips to the post office again, to mail care packages to Ian’s fellow Marines in Afghanistan, after she had buried her son on a grassy hillside in the Danville Cemetery, with the White Mountains in the distance. But in the pre-dawn darkness, that sort of resolve and purpose seemed forever away. Instead she drifted, in a churning, pitching sea of grief.

 

 

 


Mammoni

That's Italian, for "Mama's Boy." This is a real-life Italian mother-son pair. Well, the son (who is a good friend of mine) lives in America now - clearly he achieved independence - but this was taken is on his recent trip to Italy visit his 99 year old mama. No need to add a word on the mother-son bond here - it's all spoken in the faces!


Nonna and G












A Hockey Mother-Son Story

Nhl_a_robitaille_d1_576Thanks to My Son for pointing this one out - a classic heart-warmer about NHL great Luc Robitaille and his ailing Mom. He promised he'd bring her home the Stanley Cup and did so - literally. Here's my favorite part:

"In a quiet moment that spectacular day, Robitaille looked at his mother and thought about all the early mornings she drove him to practice, even though she was terrified to drive. Thought about all the times she sat in chilled ice arenas ringing her little bell to cheer for her son, even though she herself hadn't skated in 30 years.Thought about all the times she had flown to meet him in all the places he has played -- L.A., Detroit, Pittsburgh and New York -- even if only for one dinner. And he thought, "This is one of the greatest moments of my life."

Check out the whole story here

 

 

 


Another Failure to Launch Movie? Enough Already.

ImagesWhen I was promoting my book last spring, it seemed like every time I made an appearance on TV or on the radio, I was introduced with a clip that showed the supposed perils of a close mother-son relationship. Among the material used was "Throw Momma From The Train", "Failure To Launch" and of course, "Psycho." We know the drill - any man who is an adult and close to his mom must be either hopelessly immature and withdrawn from life or an out-and-out psycho. No where to be found is a portrayal of a healthy relationship in which mom and son are close, but the son is a healthy, independent man - you know, like the hundreds of guys I interviewed for my book.

ANYWAY, here come's the latest - "Jeff Who Lives At Home" which apparently is another dysfunctional grown man living in his mother's basement. I haven't seen it - it may be a good movie, who knows. But I am SO tired of this stereotype!


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 Time.com 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

GLYN KIRK / AFP / GETTYIMAGES
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....


Lovely Mother-Son Story

Unknown

LIVES

A Final Message From My Mother

By JOSIAH HOWARD
Published: July 20, 2012
The first note I ever wrote for my mother wasn’t very special, but she seemed to think it was. It said: “Hi Mom! Have a nice day! Love Skip!” (her nickname for me). My message was scribbled on a scrap of paper and tucked discreetly into her change purse. At the time I wrote it, I was 12. My mother worked as a key-punch operator — a profession now obsolete — at the Piscataway, N.J., offices of Phillips Van Heusen, the clothing company.
 
When my mom was working, she ate her lunch while smoking her unfiltered Pall Malls in the Van Heusen cafeteria. I knew that when she purchased her meal, she would have to rifle through her purse for change, so that’s where I placed my note. I didn’t know that she would keep that note, laminate it and always carry it with her.

From the day that I first tucked that sliver of paper into my mother’s change purse, she and I wrote each other clandestine notes. They would be placed in the refrigerator or freezer, under a lamp, by the TV remote controls, or would peek out from under an ashtray. I even found one stuffed in my shoe. From the outside, our notes may have been banal summations of our days, thoughts, wishes or observations. But to my mother and me, they were a lifeline — a communication with each other that no one else shared.

My mom’s name was Gail Ann Blackmer. She was an unwed mother. I am her only child. The challenges we faced together, first in New York City and then in New Jersey, were, as it turned out, largely a result of the difference in our skin colors, a fact that meant little to me. My mother told me that once when I was very young, she asked if I noticed that she and I were different colors. My response was delivered with flat, round-eyed authority: “Mothers don’t come in colors.”

But they do. And my mother’s being white and my being black presented many challenges. She didn’t often speak about our early years together (or her experience of them), but whatever she revealed was indelibly stamped in my mind. The indignities stand out: once while entering a bus, a white man spied us and snarled, “What’s the matter, couldn’t you get a white one?” On another occasion she rented an apartment and then, when she showed up with a black child, was turned away. I often wonder about my mom’s unconventional (pre-Civil Rights) life choices, and I wonder how she came to make them. It was a topic that she never discussed.

My mother died on Oct. 20, 2009, at age 71. I was by her side, holding her hand. Her living will made clear her wish not to be kept alive if she were unable to breathe on her own, so she wasn’t.

As my mother was dying, I looked out the hospital window to see two children playing in the front yard of their home. On the television above my mother’s head, Oprah was interviewing women who discovered they had slept with someone who knowingly infected them with H.I.V. Life was continuing, even though my mother’s life wasn’t.

I didn’t cry the day my mom died, and I didn’t cry on the day, just a week later, when I went to the funeral home to collect her cremated remains; my mother, all parts of a family to me, reduced to a five-pound collection of ashes housed in a plastic box. The ashes weren’t my mother. Neither was the broken, shut-down body that I held in the hospital room and that I was so thankful no longer had to suffer.

Recently I found a note that my mom left me, one that had remained hidden for years. It was scrawled on a piece of yellow, lined legal paper, and it was tucked away in the pages of “Charlotte’s Web,” one of my favorite childhood books and one of the few books I kept from her effects. It read: “Dear Skip. I love you always. Miss you a lot. Don’t forget me. Be happy! Love, Mom. xxxxx.” That day, I cried.

Josiah Howard writes on popular culture. His fourth book, “Cher: Strong Enough,” will be published in November by Plexus Books.


Life Goes On

Heading out to Long Island today, where I have a speaking engagement at the library in Southampton. But my mind is on My Son, who starts his first day of work today. He will be teaching second grade in New Orleans this fall. The next few weeks are for orientation and staff development. He and The Weatherman did a father-son road trip down South, and kept sending photos of the incredible food they were eating. (Shrimp and grits....yum.) Now My Son is now moved into his own apartment and starting this next chapter of his life. Needless to say, I'm a proud Mama.


Henry V and ADD

ImagesI just came across this column written by the NYT's David Brooks earlier this month. In it he speculates about how Henry V would have suffered in today's school system, because the "official school culture is for wimps and softies." There would be no place for a "rambunctious" boy who might get bored easily, wrestle Falstaff and jump off the jungle gym. He would soon be disengaged, and ultimately rebellious, joining the ranks of boys who are underperforming in school. And here is Brook's most damning assertion:

"The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encourages a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious."

Oh, man - where to start?  First - codewords. He is saying that schools favor girls, and doing so, rearguing the old 90's "boy crisis" literature. Second - why do men always have to go to ancient and often fictional characters to make their points? Most use Greek mythology, but pulling someone from the 15th century and sticking him a 21st century school is also ridiculous. (Of course those were the good old days, when women didn't get educations.) Third, schools were once far LESS tolerant of any kind of disobedience and "rambunctious" behavior, and boys thrived.

Boys suffer far more from a culture that encourages them to be tough, fight and that celebrates slackers than they do from any kind of nurturing environment in school. Brooks points to a problem we've known about for decades, but basically comes up with the same old explanation: the problem with boys is....girls.

 

 

 


Appearances

Had a great a time speaking about the book in Maine last week. Lots of people, good Q & A and overall fun time. Next I'm heading to North Carolina. Sometimes I play "fate song" with myself. Here's how you play: you pick a topic - your love life, how something at work is going to turn out, whatever - and then the next song that comes on the radio will predict your fate. So today, I played and decided that the next song would be about how the appearance in North Carolina will go. And you know what came on? Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel"! Uh Oh. Which brings me to this cartoon:

Meet the author:puppy


The Ties That Bind

I swear I read other publications besides the NY Times, but lately I keep finding interesting material there. For instance, this op-ed piece written by two university professors about the relationships between parents and their adult children. Young men, it seems, are catching up with women in terms of the emotional intimacy and involvement they have with their parents. What's more, for all the handwringing about the-generation-that-won't-grow-up, there are benefits from this parental support.

"Young adults who received financial, practical and emotional support from their parents reported clearer life goals and more satisfaction than young adults who received less parental support. This support ranged from room and board to making a car available, to parents’ listening to their son or daughter talk about the day," the authors say.

 But they also note the shame parents and adult children alike feel about what they see as over-dependence. The professors argue that the problem might be the shame itself and not the reality of the parental support. 

"In our surveys, parents and grown children alike reported uneasiness, viewing intense parental support in adulthood as a sign of damaging over-involvement. Parents reported less satisfaction about their own lives if they believed their children were too dependent. The problem isn’t with the help, per se, but with viewing that support as abnormal and worrying that it could cause harm. Maybe we just need to get over this discomfort."

Food for thought.


Another False Dichotomy: Social and Physical Pain

Images-1Recently, I've heard several neuorscientists talk about the biological link between social and physical pain. Closeness with others, these researchers maintain, not only help us cope with social and physical pain, but also helps us live longer. I especially enjoyed the beginning of this  excerpt in Salon from a new book coming out by Leonard Mlodinow ("Sublimation: How Your Unconcious Mind Rules Your Behavior"). Why? Because he hones in on the mother-son bond, of course!

 "I came home from work late one evening, hungry and frustrated, and popped into my mother’s house, which was next door to mine. She was eating a frozen dinner and sipping from a mug of hot water. CNN blared on the TV in the background. She asked how my day had been. I said, “Oh, it was good.” She looked up from her black plastic food tray and, after a moment, said, “No, it wasn’t. What happened? Have some pot roast.” My mother was eighty-eight, hard of hearing, and half blind in her right eye—which was her good eye. But when it came to perceiving her son’s emotions, my mother’s X-ray vision was unimpaired."

 


Why The "Mommy Wars" is a False Conflict

Check out this great column in the New York Times by Amy Allen, a Dartmouth College philosophy and women's and gender studies professor. She perfectly cuts through the false construct of pitting women against each other while arguing over parenting style. I particularly like what she says about third wave feminism, which questions the binary distinctions like reason versus emotion, mind versus body, male versus female. This is so important. It also reminds me of an old joke: There are two kinds of people in this world: those who feel the need to divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't.