Monthly Archives: November 2010

Dear Erica Jong: I can bring home the bacon and fry it up too by Elizabeth Ragavanis

Am I mistaken, or did Erica Jong just tell me I *can’t* actually bring home the bacon and also fry it up in a pan?  Jong’s article, The Madness of Motherhood, posits that attentive parenting, the kind involving breastfeeding, making my own babyfood, and environmental awareness, keeps mothers like me “imprisoned.”

Jong comes down especially hard on attachment parenting, popularized by Doctors William and Martha Sears.  With all due respect to Jong, who is an accomplished author and feminist icon, I wonder if she has actually read the Sears’ parenting books.  Attachment parenting is not, as Jong implies, the all-consuming sacrifice of a parent’s life for the sake of the center-of-the-universe child.  It is simply parenting that is sensitive to and available to the child’s needs.

I’m a fan of the Sears’ philosophy.  I responded when the baby cried, carried him quite a lot, and nursed him for over a year (at which point we were both ready to stop.)  As a nursing mother, I found it easier for him to sleep in my bed for the first few months.  And yes, I made my own baby food, not exclusively, but most of the time. (Making baby food is not rocket science.  Take a ripe pear or banana, mash.  Or overcook some of the noodles you are having for dinner, and serve.)

I didn’t go on whirlwind book tours, but I certainly didn’t feel imprisoned.  As a matter of fact, I studied law during this time, at a top-tier law school.  I graduated and passed the bar in two different states.  I made choices about what was best for my baby and for the environment, but by no means did I find it necessary to sacrifice everything.

Rather, I chose attachment parenting partly because I think parents are not paying sufficient attention to their child’s needs.  In spite of a mountain of evidence connecting excessive television to distinct harm to children, parents disregard the AAP’s recommendation of limiting viewing time.  Frequently, the reason given is that we have too much to do and need the TV to keep the kids busy (and I’ve been guilty of that myself.)  Child development researchers are becoming concerned about the amount of time parents spend on the internet or looking at their Blackberry during interactions with their children.

Helicopter parenting is actually another, albeit less obvious, example of ignoring a child’s needs, not being hyper-attentive to them as Jong suggests.  Helicopter parenting is the micromanagement of a child’s entire life well into young adulthood.  It often leaves a child incapable of managing her own life.  Inadvertently, the helicopter parent puts her own need for control and connection, her need to be needed, over the child’s need for independence and autonomy.

Not so long ago, feminists argued that motherhood and professional accomplishment should not be mutually exclusive, and they fought for affordable childcare, equal pay, and other advances that would make it possible for women to be both provider and parent.  Some of us do both, and put a great deal of effort into achieving a balance between the two.  There are also women who want to be a mother first and foremost. There are women who do not want to be mothers at all.  Jong forgets that these are all valid choices, and our mutual adversaries are those who limit women’s choices by telling us what we must or must not do.

Being a mother should not restrict me from being a professional, but the opposite is also true.   Not all of us have a famous literary career to compete with our child-rearing time, and some of us view child-rearing as work that is as valuable as any other, including writing.  While attachment parenting may not suit Jong, some women, including me, feel creative and empowered by the work we do raising our kids.

I agree with Jong’s ultimate conclusion, that motherhood is malleable. As parenting blogger Liz Gumbinner of Mom101 said, quoting her mother, “Every decision you make as a parent is right, and every decision you make as a parent is wrong.” In reality, doing the best we can is enough.  As Jong points out, there are too many messages about what a mother must always or must never do.

But oddly, I think Jong is contributing to that with her combative essay pitting engaged parenting against self-actualization for women.  It is almost as if she is suggesting that it is not possible for me to be an attentive parent and environmentally conscious if I expect to achieve anything outside of my role as a mother.  My law degree, my attachment-parented child, and I beg to differ.

(Check out this vintage commercial for another woman who can “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan.”)


Why can’t I sleep? I’m a good mom, right? by Eileen Farley

I really hope people think I’m a good mom. Why can’t I sleep? I’m a good mom, right?

This has been a constant thought in my head over the past few days. I feel like every time a thought escapes my attention, it turns to my previous post about yelling. I AM a good mom. My kids tell me so. My husband tells me so. And, above all, my mom tells me so. But, I want to be a better mom.

So what am I going to do about that? Well, I have been eating more. Let me finish. I find with my children, they can get, oh…insane when their blood sugar dips. I had an epiphany. Maybe, just maybe, I’m at my weakest yelling point when my blood sugar dips. So, following my trainer’s advice, I’m eating more frequently during the day. I’ve added a bigger, high protein/low fat breakfast and healthy snacks during the day. There is definitely a correlation, because I feel more in control when my tummy is full. Hunger leads to yelling. Proven.

What am I going to do about that #2 – keep ’em busy!  When the munchkins get bored, they get annoyed.  When they get annoyed, they get cranky. So, I’ve been keeping them occupied at all times. We’ve been doing lots of arts and crafts. They’ve been helping me clean (he he he…suckers), they help me rake leaves, they help me stir things when I’m cooking. And when all else fails, I give them a bath. It soothes babies, right? And who doesn’t love playing in the water?

We all lose our patience, it’s human nature.  If we didn’t, we’d all go mad. Serenity now, insanity later. But I feel better at then end of my day. I feel good, no, GREAT when my kids are happy!  And happy kids make for a happy mommy. That’s a vicious circle I don’t mind being in.

When they are good together, that time is precious, priceless. There is no yelling, no hitting, no being fresh. It’s just two pals, getting along and doing whatever it is they are doing. Those are the days I find peace.

My day, in list format, and grief by Jamie Pie

Pina Ianuzzi

1. I wore TWO watches to work. I put one on, not realizing I already had one on.  For the record – one worked, one didn’t.

2. A 17 year old student in the town where I teach was killed. I went to work and watched as my kids went through metal detectors and searches. Gates and locks.

As we gathered in the gym, a cop told me to keep an eye out for weapons. Let me say this before I continue, I loathe that guy who says, “That’s not my job.” But let me make this clear, “Are you kidding me? That is NOT my job!”

Typical protocol for a teacher when students are  fighting is you do not try o to break it up. I won’t go into why – I could write a book about it. But all of a sudden our staff police officer (yes, we have an officer on staff) is asking  teachers to look for weapons?  My friend Farley doesn’t like it when I write in caps, so I will do it like this – What the fuck does this man know that I don’t?

3. I saw a picture of the student’s sister, crying. And I cried. Then I noticed his foot, his boot. The tip of his lifeless,  little leg laying on the pavement in the background of this photo. I unraveled.

4. I bought my students munchkins on my prep. When I got back and put them on my desk I realized how ridiculous this token of sympathy was – they are so big today. They have these grown-up, HELLA scary realities in their teenage years. A good percentage of them are in gangs. AND I’m bringing munchkins to THEM?

I rolled around all day digesting my DUH chromosome. I’m at peace with it now. Fuck it. They need more munchkins. They need to be kids. They need dumb Halloween costumes and silly parades where they walk around the school, waving to people who love them.  My munchkins need munchkins – I’m sticking with it. For the record, even when they are taller then me and seemingly fully developed – they are not. I forget. Their bodies fool me – and then words come out of their mouths and they are exposed.

They are children, regardless of their height, weight, realities. Even the ones who think they are hard, the ones who are in gangs, are not hard and are still children. Many of them are small, or were picked on.  They think it gives them credit and protection. They aliken it to being invited to sit at the cool table in the lunchroom.  By the time they get it, more often than not, it is too late. For the record, I totally made “aliken” up. It is not a word. Well it is, to me, but you won’t find it in the dictionary.

5. I had to set my alarm for 4 am. That in itself sucks. And I woke up with a fat, bloody lip and one eye swollen shut. Zoe at some point climbed into bed with us – could she be the culprit?

6. I took a half day and went to a wake. My friend Elsie is gone. Fleet Feet and Elsie are my family. An extension of my biological one.  Elsie worked at FF everyday. Every two weeks John (her son, my friend, FF owner) would hand over her paycheck. And every two weeks she’d add a check to her junk drawer, never to be cashed. Twenty something years. That’s a whole lot of checks.  She loved to be there. She loved her son and her daughters and her grandchildren. She worked tirelessly for them.

She was old Hollywood beautiful. Even in her 80’s, she looked 52.1. Blond hair. Perfectly painted lips. But she would always hide her hands. Her hands were the only true reflection of the works she did. The wear and tare. They looked old.

And she loved me. She truly cared about me. Even when I was a young knucklehead and did shitty things. Things I know she didn’t get, like depression and addiction.  She didn’t care. She’d sit with me and give me every ounce of her, and she’d listen. I’m so blessed that I stopped by a few months ago with my children.  She bounced Meatball on her lap. If I could have planned a last meeting, it would have went just the same. She never told me about the Cancer or the pain.

I went to her wake and knelt by her casket and whispered to her, and to whoever else was listening. I won’t tell you what it was. It is a secret. I love Elsie. Ok, that was part of it. It was never a secret anyway. The rest was this – thank you.

6. As I was kneeling down to pray next to Elsie’s casket, there was this beautiful bouquet of flowers. I stopped on my way down and looked closer. They didn’t look like funeral flowers – they were Halloween and Thanksgiving’ish. Oranges and Pumpkins and Ribbons. The kind you strategically place in the middle of a table for cozy, happy celebrations. They were beautiful. The card read,  “Grief reminds us that we love and are loved.”

7.  I love my family (of the biological and adopted varieties). I love my friends. I luurve my students. I love lists.

8. Oh, and I loove weddings. And I have one tomorrow.  Tomorrow’s a new day.

9.  1 hour later. I had to revise and add a number 9. After I hit “publish” on this blog post, I got in my car and Love Song by The Cure was on. First words to come through, “…However long I stay. I will always love you.”

10. I love you too Els.

ALL CAPS! by Eileen


I hate yelling.

I don’t mind waking up before the rest of the house. It’s quiet at 6:15 AM. I schlep on my gym clothes, feed the cats, make the coffee, scan the Star Ledger. But then, when 7:00 AM strikes, yelling hits the ground with reckless abandon.  No sooner are both munchkins are up, the yelling starts.

That’s mine! She just took that from me! She’s singing, make her stop! Stop chewing like that! Yelling is my least favorite part of my day. Maybe if I keep repeating inside my head, “I need peace. Om…”, I will get some.

My day, oftentimes, is in CAPS lock and I can’t shut it off. And if whining had a keyboard button, it would be jammed as well. But I digress. Yelling. I yell upstairs, downstairs, from room to room, in the car. Are we all lazybones in this house? Maybe. Or is it the only way we can actually get each others attention? I don’t know.

I do have to say, I love my life. I chose the position I am in. I quit my job and took on being home with my children full time. This is my choice. And when I am yelling at everyone to stop yelling, I need to remind myself that I am home so I can be with them and they can be with me. We aren’t all home together so we can yell at each other. I need peace. Om…

I am supposed (key word) to be a role model for these little sponges. What yelling came first? Me yelling and them modeling me? Or them yelling and me losing my cool and them modeling me all over again? Whatever came first, the chicken or the yelling, I need to bring more peace into my life. I don’t want my children to remember all of the times we spent at home, doing this and that, mom yelling, more of this and that, more of mom yelling. I want my children to remember a joyful, playful, peaceful household. I want them to remember a joyful, playful, peaceful mommy. I need peace. Om…

A Tiny White Flag by Siobhan Carroll

Pina Pie

Ah, the mommy wars. The only sure thing I can tell you about motherhood is that half the time you won’t really know what you’re doing, and the entire time someone will be there to criticize you for it. The latest person to wade into the morass is Erica Jong, via a Wall Street Journal piece published this week entitled “Motherhood Madness”. I get where Jong is coming from: there is extraordinary pressure exerted upon mothers as a whole and working mothers in particular these days. But here’s a revolutionary thought- why don’t we stop sniping at each other and work together to alleviate it?

Jong takes aim at the attachment theory of parenting. You know, the one with the family bed and the breastfeeding until the child weans herself. I think it’s crazy. Have you ever slept with a two-year old? I imagine that when a mongoose attacks a cobra there is less thrashing about. But it is none of my goddamn business how you choose to raise your child. You feed him, you keep him moderately clean, he manages to learn his ABCs at some point- how you get choose to skin that cat is up to you. My unscientific estimate is that 98% of the time the kid’ll be fine. So why do we have to be catty and mean? In a recent internet meme, a video entitled “Why I Don’t Have Mom Friends” made the rounds on Facebook. Its hilarity is rooted in the bizarre sense of competition amongst mothers these days, and its popularity in how widely that experience is shared.

I’m rambling and I know it- but I have a point. Imagine if instead of bickering with each other about the safety of vaccines, mothers banded together and demanded a long-term, objective and thorough study untainted by pharmaceutical dollars in order to have a definitive answer. Imagine if women nationwide went on strike until a national maternity leave and breastfeeding at work policy were put into effect. (Don’t get me started on that half-measure called FMLA. Mostly because I’m saving it for another post). Imagine if we mandated and funded pre-school for all children. Imagine if instead of arguing the finer points of when life begins we recognized that there are thousands of children born into poverty every year and did something about that. Imagine if lactation consultant visits were covered by insurance and mandated by law. I could go on, but I’m concerned Yoko Ono will come after me for royalties.

We deserve better. We each deserve to make our own choices as parents. We deserve a social foundation that allows for the best possible start in life for our children. We are an economic and social force to be reckoned with. Why we continue to fight with each other and not for each other is beyond me.

The gorgeous thing about Jong’s piece is the complementary essay by her daughter, Molly Jong-Fast. After acknowledging her mother’s strengths and foibles, she ends by writing “My mother made sacrifices so I could have choices, and perhaps that makes her a better mother than I will ever be.”

And perhaps we should be doing the same for each other, in order to be better mothers all.

Babies Leave You Bleeding…

I had Zoe in May, 2005. We had a new house in Lake Hopatcong, winter was finally over, and the baby was finally here. It was a marathon of pushing to get her out, she was stuck. I was exhausted, and I was bleeding. The doctor couldn’t stop it. He couldn’t get her out. Finally, he yanked her from me and everyone did a unified sigh of,  “AAAAH!” and walked away, relieved and overjoyed. Me, I was silent and left to bleed. Underjoyed. Negative joy. The total other side of the joy spectrum. I felt abandoned. The depression set in at the exact moment her pale little body was ripped from mine. The baby, we named her Zoe. The placenta, I named her Youth.

I remember feeling like I lost something at that moment. I had waited for this for what felt like an eternity. I had built up to it with great speed. My momentum was ready for joy. And then it,  she,  came.  She was out. I was bleeding. I remember NOT feeling like I gained a daughter.  I was overwhelmed with “I lost my youth”.  They took her away, and the doctor stayed with me and tried to sew me back together.  I strained to inspect the doctor’s handsome face more closely. Squinting and exasperated I wondered,  “How could someone so handsome be so dumb? All the sutures in the world couldn’t fix me up again.”

I was broken. I was a ghost with a gaping hole for a heart.

I did get better. I found out it was called Postpartum Depression. It wasn’t bad parenting. I wasn’t a poor excuse for a woman. I didn’t deserve this. It wasn’t divine intervention for sucking. It was treatable. I got better. We got better. The gaping hole began to get smaller.

I remember walking with my mother in Target, maybe a year and half after Zoe was born.  She said, “Please don’t have anymore babies Jamie.” I let out a little gasp for air. I could have sworn she shoved that shopping cart into my throat. She was right.  Sigh.  But I choked trying to swallow her right. “I know Mom. No worries.” I gave every Exersaucer and baby-holding contraption away to a church in Montclair that next Sunday.

Then it came – that little seed of “what if”.  What if we had another baby?  Could you imagine?  What would we call her? Would she look like a little map of Zoe? Would they hold hands under pink blankets with tiny little rosebuds in thunderstorms, nervously giggling and waiting for the LOUD to stop? Would she smell of pink and baby powder like her big sis? Would she share her fear of public restrooms and those other sweet little eccentric traits that are uniquely Zoe? What if?

I did not have an overwhelming craving for another baby.  It was mostly a rational decision with a sprinkle of these little What If seeds.  I did not seek redemption in another chance at  motherhood. I just wanted Zoe to have someone else—someone who was tied to her even after we were gone. Roots are good. Families are hard, but I would still like to believe that families of the biological variety can be good.  Maybe I am a control freak and that is the last bit of control I have when I am gone – my last chance to protect her. So we conceived again. There was no little sister named Olive. There was a boy to be affectionately nicknamed The Meat – short for Meatball, which is not so short for AJ, which is short for Anthony Junior, only his name isn’t a junior version of his father’s – Anthony Philip Utitus. He is Anthony Tripp Utitus.

Zoe Milena and Meatball.

This time in the delivery room, there was no stuck, or ripped, or yanking, or cold. My Dr. started laughing, “Holy smokes, he is right here! You are doing such a good job Jamie. Push whenever you are ready,” and we all started giggling and laughing or craughing—because it was all mixed and messy. He came out with the biggest belt of laughter my belly ever knew. It was big, but gentle. Straight up joy. The blood was still there, but it was warm.

There was no cold. It was beautiful. It was a rush and a feeling I had never experienced before –  the color was my favorite shade of red that I always choose for my toenails. The only color that could make my ugly toes look pretty. The warm and the love wrapped me in the purest, whitest, goose down, straight-out-of-the-dryer, soft, baby blankie.  It was my son.  Thank you God for letting me experience this. Thank you God I am not faulty, I am OK. Thank you God for my family.

Both times I bled and I am bleeding still. Babies leave you bleeding, no matter what – an eternal kind of gush. There was no PPD this time, it was quite perfect actually, but even in that perfection of love, I bled.  I bleed.  We bleed.  We will always bleed for our babies. I walk around with gauze on my heart afraid and bleeding for them. I am exposed and vulnerable to any pain that they may endure.  Even the pain that they aren’t feeling, I anticipate. I bleed for hypotheticals.

There are bullies on monkey bars, killing sprees in schools, sexual predators, addictions, disease, loss, people who drag you through the mud because they are insecure, boys that break your heart, girls that misspell the word HORE in the bathroom stall with cheap imitation Sharpees to slander your beautiful name. I cry when Zoe gets a shot in the doctor’s office. I sweat for a week just thinking about it. Her oral surgery nearly killed me. My husband cried like a baby as they wrapped her in a papoose (euphemism for straight jacket with kiddie pictures on it) and begged us to pretty please take her home. And these are the minor things, these are the things that are unpleasant, but they maintain her health. They are blessings. How will I hold up and live with the bigger things, the natural disasters of the human condition.

My eternally optimistic sunshine of a friend, Krissy, has a little boy with leukemia. She is always smiling, even when I know she is tired and bleeding. She sends me inboxes checking on me. One day, I sat in her son’s  hospital room working on a puzzle  and my peripheral vision, my motherly sensory decoder ring compass was pointing at her,  resting  on her.  Puzzled. Decoding. How is she not laying on the floor, bleeding? Why can’t I see her gauze? How does she manage to make this barren hospital, a baby’s bedroom – the coziest, warmest place on Earth. I could curl up there for days and watch movies with them, and never notice the cold, clinical steel that is used for furniture or the cold hard clinical condition that is cancer. Everyone asks her how she smiles. Finally, one day, she answered. She said, “I smile because he smiles. People are poking and prodding at him a million times a day, fevers, and bone marrow transplants, and throughout, he smiles.  So, I smile.”

As much as our babies leave us bleeding, they make us strong. They are resilient. They bounce back from pain and surgeries and whateveries and they smile. The day after Zoe was wrapped up in that straightjacket and crying and hurt, she smiled.  She had 2 stickers and a week’s worth of bragging rights. Life was splendid. They bounce back. They teach us to bleed and be strong.

My heart bleeds for everyone. I could have never had children and my babies would still lay in front of me, my heart still wrapped in gauze. My students are my babies. My 13 year-old babies having babies. I bleed for them. I bleed for my friends who can’t have babies. My friends who can’t afford to feed their babies. I bleed no matter what because I am human, because my heart pumps and beats to the rhythm of caring – always because I am human and sometimes because I am a mother. I bleed because my heart exists and absorbs suffering and GETS that suffering for one is suffering for all. It beats irradically, for this reason, as long as I live. It panics and pumps and it bleeds.

My friend Alex once said that when he grew up he wanted to be just like his children. I agree. While my children leave me bleeding, they teach me to be resilient and simple (in a good way) and to dress up the wounds with those little pink Band Aids with colorful cartoon characters on them, and move on.  Smile, despite the memory of the hurt, and move on. Babies leave us bleeding, but they also leave an unending supply of Band Aids and healing and love to endure. My first baby didn’t take away my youth. It was already gone. I could close my eyes and pretend to not see the overwhelming responsibilties that lay in front of me, but they would still be there.  She took away nothing. Ironically, in her youth, she handed me my womanhood. She showed me HOW.

I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a daughter and a sister. I am a friend. I am a teacher. I am a student. I am a patient.  I am alive.  I will bleed and bleed and bleed on so many different levels, until I am no more.  I will always be walking around this world, limping and anemic, covered in little Hello Kitty Band Aids.  Zoe was my first lesson in bleeding and caring and gaping holes. She was the very first doctor to show me how very unbroken I was.  She stitched me back up, kiss by loving kiss, Hello Kitty Band Aid by Hello Kitty Band Aid, and whispered, “Look Mama, you are whole.”  She curled up next to me and gave me permission to bleed.

Fall and the fallen

pina pie

Fall is littering little leaf doubts around me. I push through in the rain, hands in my pockets. Stiff to the point I am neck-less. I glance at all the leaves around me. Tiny little reminders of dreams I’ve yet to hold. Pictures of places that are no more. Old friends I will never see again because they too are no more.

In fall I find myself walking down shiny, slippery streets at dusk, trying to recapture the light. Trying to steady myself, praying not to fall. Little reflections of my past get bounced back from the pavement beneath me.

Kicking leaves on the way, stirring them up. They lay like little sleeping babies at my feet. They get cranky when stirred. I sympathize and pick one up, the one that holds the most meaning, and try to love it, studying it closely, listening for it’s breath. Trying to remember. I want to lend it my heat. I want to tuck it safely into my pocket and carry it home. I know as much as I want to, it is not mine to hold.

Reluctantly, I let my fingers relax. I let it fall. It’s time to let go.

A sentimental ache takes its place as I come to terms with a deep understanding that something that I once held so tightly, that was so absolutely mine for that moment, is eternally gone.  Fallen.  Something that was so ruby red and ripe with orange, now deflated and dim. At my feet. Never to be held, by me, again.

How do I let go of these little lights? How do I go on half-lit? Where do we go when we fall?