Introducing Motherwell!

Hello! This is just to let you know that, together with Randi Reiss Olin, I am now the co-founder and executive editor of Motherwell, a new digital publication that tells all sides of the parenting story. If you’d like to keep up with my latest pieces and the many other excellent, insightful essays we are running over there, please consider connecting with us—and spreading the word. We’d love to have your support!

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wine in the baby’s mouth

It’s about to start.” I text a friend from a house in California, a back room, where my brother is holding his eight-day-old son away from the influx of guests. The air is thick with tension and a desire for the thing to be done that is so palpable you can almost run your finger down the length of it. The baby sleeps on, though, peaceful and oblivious, dressed in a onesie decorated with a tallis.

“Wine in the mouth.” My friend texts back and I stare at the words for a few seconds, perplexed, before the mohel — the man in charge, the man who will wield the scalpel — calls us in.

I’ve never been to a bris before. Well, strictly speaking, that’s not true. The last bris I went to, the only bris, was my brother’s and that was 1982. I was five years old, and it must have felt like a birthday party to me. There was food, after all, heaps of food, and there were gifts. A bris is a celebration of sorts, just one with a medical procedure at the heart of it, a medical procedure that needs tending to before you can tuck into the pickles and coleslaw.

My brother and I were raised in the same house, syringed with the same dose of Judaism, but I gave it up a long time ago. I have three sons myself, none of whom are circumcised. This was not a choice my husband and I made on principle per se, at least not initially. In Britain, where our children were born, circumcisions are not performed routinely in the hospital on day one or two of life, an elective extra to be ticked off — or not — on the list of baby’s first pediatric services.

When we had asked our general practitioner about our options in this respect, before the baby was born, before we knew the baby even had a penis with which to tamper, he explained the way it worked. If we wanted a cut aesthetic for our son, and if we wanted to achieve it on the National Health Service (NHS) for non-religious reasons, we would have to wait. A year. Yes, a whole year. “It’s treated as a rather serious intervention here,” the doctor told us matter-of-factly. “We do it in the operating theatre, under a general anesthetic.”

You can read the rest of this essay here, at STIR Journal.



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transitional objects

This is the story of two blankies, Rough and Purple. Blankies that came into a house, impossibly soft, like the fur on the back of the softest animal you can imagine. Blankies whose colors were once as vivid as a sunset, Purple an exquisite cross between lilac and plum, Rough the palest of pale blues.

This is also the story of the two boys who named them, who at nine and seven years old still rub the blankies, like worry stones, between well-practiced fingers, as they drift off into swirling, sound sleep. Boys who have carried the blankies as constant companions to foreign lands and doctor’s appointments, to nursery-school naps and unfamiliar playdates. Boys who bestowed the blankies with so much attention that the small squares are now weathered thin by their love, tattered and smelling of sweat and saliva and, at times, the faintest trace of urine. Smelling, that is, of childhood itself.

Above all, this is the story of a mother who believes deeply in the power of transitional objects. This mother gave birth and, as their cords were severed, she looked at her babies and thought: you are desperately loved, but you are no longer attached to me. She thought: you are the most important things in my life, but I am important too. She thought: there are sacrifices to be made in motherhood, but there need not be martyrdom. And so she placed a blankie in each of their cribs and tucked it into their prams and she encouraged the boys to nestle their faces against it, instead of her breast, not always her breast, not always herself. And thus she had her children take their first steps down the road of independence before they could even walk.

You can read the rest of this essay here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



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keeping score

My husband and I got into a fight recently. About the laundry. It was a heated version of the fight we have been having for years now, since becoming parents, an argument that manifests with different melodies and harmonies but which always reduces to a variation on the same theme: our distribution of domestic labor. Who is doing what. Who is doing it when. And, of course, who is doing more.

A few weeks after this fight, I was asked what advice I might give to couples attempting to keep their relationship strong as they scale the frontier of new parenthood. Bearing in mind the exchange with my husband, I felt compelled to answer, with some emphasis: resist the urge to keep score. By which I meant don’t treat life after baby as a competition between you and your partner over who is suffering the most—from sleep deprivation, from the endless cycle of demands, from the vacuum-like suck of time.

And yet, as with virtually all parenting advice, this is easier said than done. For even though I am not the tallying type by nature, it is score-keeping with regard to childcare and household duties that has proved, more than anything else, the Achilles heel of my marriage.

A new Pew Research Center survey, which analyzes how working parents divvy tasks when it comes to raising kids and running a household, leads me to believe I am not alone. The report focuses, in part, on the way mothers and fathers perceive “sharing the load” with their co-parents. It does not address the actual amount of work being done by each partner nor how either feels about the perceived split.

In terms of the health of a couple’s relationship, however, the last point is probably the most important. The results of the survey indicate that mothers are still doing more of the domestic labor across the board, irrespective of whether they are employed full-time, part-time or are “stay-at-home” parents—and this is indeed noteworthy for our understanding of the state of marital equality. But what really matters to marital harmony (an admittedly different beast), it seems, is a woman’s emotional reaction to this fact.

You can read the rest of this essay here, at The Washington Post.


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why i gave my kids a myers briggs personality test

To know me is to know my Myers Briggs personality type. Ever since I discovered, in my early thirties, that I am an INTJ—and test after test has confirmed it—I wear those four letters as a badge of honor. Not necessarily because I am proud of the particular preferences the letters represent (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging), but because, taken together, they do a wonderful job of explaining why I am the way I am and why I do the things I do. For “thinking” types (T) such as myself, this sort of explanatory power is high on the list of life’s priorities.

It’s not surprising, then, that as a mother I am—as most of us are, in one shape or form—constantly trying to understand my children. Their predilections, their quirks, the roots of their behavior. And the ribbon that binds these aspects together: their personalities.

In the early years, “personality” and “behavior” are not so easily distinguishable. Some traits tend to manifest at a given stage of development, despite the inborn temperament of the individual child. Defiance in toddlerhood is a good example. Often this quality will abate over time, because it has stemmed from a temporary storm: a two or three year old’s inability, for instance, to communicate effectively. But for some kids it simply evolves, hinging as it must on a deeper element of a “strong-willed” personality.

Certain features of my own children’s personalities have been evident to me from the moment they were born. My first son lay in my husband’s arms as serene and still as a Buddha for the 40 minutes it took the doctor to stitch me up. My second son emerged from the womb red and angry-looking; he didn’t stop screaming for at least half an hour. My first son was a cautious toddler, a conscientious observer. My second son was active and daring and made friends wherever he went.

In the loosest terms, it has long been clear that son number one is an introvert and son number two an extrovert. That son number one is reserved, detail-oriented, thrives on routine, while son number two is more impulsive, imaginative and go-with-the-flow. But recently I’ve wanted to know more. As someone obsessed with my own Myers Briggs letters, and who has made almost everybody in my immediate circle take this test, I wondered what kind of personality testing was available for children. Google did not disappoint. I quickly located a questionnaire for kids, based on the same Jungian principles as the Myers Briggs itself, and suitable for ages seven to twelve.

You can read the rest of the piece here, at Brain, Child Magazine.


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prioritizing a woman’s choice in the breast vs bottle debate

Another day, another heated discussion on Facebook about breastfeeding. This one in response to a somewhat provocatively titled New York Times article, “Overselling Breastfeeding,” by Courtney Jung.

Like Jung, I’ve spent years of my life breastfeeding. I’ve cried tears of pain because it hurt so damn much, tears of anguish because all I wanted to do was roll over and sleep when the baby was demanding to be fed yet again. And I’ve been absolutely high on the beauty and power of sustaining life from an elixir of my own making. In other words, my experience with breastfeeding has run the gamut and, in hindsight, I can say with confidence that my decision to feed my children in this way was, on balance, the best one for me.

Ah, but there’s that pesky word: best. The albatross around the breast-versus-bottle debate’s neck, the thorn in its side. For as soon as you introduce a superlative into a conversation about parenting—particularly a superlative with no qualifier, a la “breast is best”—in rushes Obligation and her trusted handmaiden, Guilt, following swiftly in its wake.

Now, I am very prepared to say that breast milk is a better food than formula, in that it is perfectly tailored to a growing baby and has properties that we haven’t been, and might never be, able to replicate in a synthetic product. And yet, semantically and conceptually speaking, “better” doesn’t always equal “best.” Nor is the internal quality of the milk given—and the hypothetical outcomes it might generate as a result—the only factor in the equation of baby’s overarching happiness or health. Especially when, as we are fully aware by this stage, a mother’s well-being and her baby’s are intricately entwined. Such is old news.

What’s newer, and this is a focal point of Jung’s essay, is that breast milk isn’t quite as superior to formula as we once thought. Babies who are formula-fed grow into adults who can be smart and healthy and, according to the latest research, rather indistinguishable from their breastfed counterparts. What we have now, it would seem, are simply two good feeding options available for infants.

You can read the rest of the piece here, at Ms. Magazine.


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part-time mother

I was a stay-at-home mom for eight years. For eight years, I had no employment outside of raising my own children. I made no money, I had no career obligations. I was a classic “opt-out,” a woman who traded in a potentially high-powered job for the hearty mix of wonder, boredom and mess that is being a full-time caregiver to small humans. I didn’t choose to stay home because I thought it was best for my kids, that daycare or working mothers are somehow lacking. I chose it because it felt right at the time and I am well aware it was a privilege to do so.

Two years ago, I chose something different. I got a job, a part-time job as a writer, that has taken up increasing amounts of my day, that has colored increasing amounts of my identity. Now when people ask me what I “do,” the answer is more complicated. It is a Venn diagram rather than a simple circle. I am half of one thing and half of another, and because both halves happen mainly in my home, there is an intersection, a blurry middle ground in which I find myself crafting sentences and macaroni and cheese at the same time.

Half of one thing and half of another. That’s not entirely accurate, though, is it? You can be a part-time worker, but can you be a part-time mother? It makes me think of the Stevie Wonder song, “Part-Time Lover,” I hum it to myself, changing the words for effect. Because yes, compared to the past, when my children were all of the phases of the moon to me, sometimes I feel like a part-timer indeed.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



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don’t beat yourselves up about how much tv your kids watch

Every year the same meme circulates in my newsfeed and every time I see it I shake my head: Kids Don’t Remember Their Best Day of Television. The picture is of two small children standing at the foot of a lake, the water sparkling before them, the seats of their pants just dirty enough to imply a good romp in the woods. It’s an idyllic scene, to be sure, but the fact remains: I doremember my best days of television.

Who of a certain age doesn’t remember Winnie and Kevin’s first kiss in The Wonder Years? Or has no recollection of snuggling up on the couch to enjoy Tony and Angela’s antics in Who’s the Boss? The Olsen twins cute as buttons in Full House? One of my strongest childhood memories is of watching Moonlightingwith my father, the plot lines and romantic tension between Maddie and David a sliver beyond me, but boy did I feel mature in the attempt to follow along.

Screen time is a major parenting issue for our generation. Warnings abound about the perils inherent in its excess and there is much to be heeded in them, especially because the rise of hand-held, personal electronic devices has made screen time something more isolating and opaque than it used to be.

Kids these days are often looking down. Allison Slater Tate has written convincingly about the new terrain we are navigating as parents in this regard. How will we deal with it when our children routinely ignore the simple pleasures around them – a river, a bird – in order to send emojis to their friends or catch the latest installment of some YouTuber playing Minecraft in Australia?

And yet, I have long wondered if we are taking the screen time backlash a little too far…

You can read the rest of the piece here, at The Guardian.



Oh but I do!

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facebook ‘memories’ a double-edged sword for parents

It’s the first thing I see when I log onto Facebook: “5 years ago today.” There he is, my oldest son, now all long limbs and tween angst, looking cherubic on his first day of school. He’s smiling for the camera. I remember it well: smoothing his hair down, bursting with pride. And though I know the timescale to be accurate, I’m still taken aback by it. Five years ago? Five years that have whipped by me like scraps of paper in a westerly wind.

I remember my son’s first day of school, but what I remember most about that day, which Facebook prompted me unexpectedly to revisit, is what’s not in the picture. It is lying on the obstetrician’s table hours after I sent my firstborn on his maiden voyage through the school gates, craning my neck to get a better view of the ultrasound screen. There was the sound of a second baby’s heartbeat and the sensation of stumbling out of the doctor’s office, numb with the realization that I would be moving from two children to four.

The tag-team effect of those two moments made August 11th, 2010 a remarkable day. But the truth is I hadn’t thought about either event in a good long while or considered, with the advantage of hindsight, the way in which they had entwined themselves in my mind. Not until Facebook jogged the memory for me. So I re-posted the picture, adding an updated caption about the discovery of my twin pregnancy, which was something, due to shock or superstition or both, I hadn’t gone public with at the time. Sharing the “memory” in my newsfeed felt a bit like reliving history. It also felt a bit like re-writing it.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at The Washington Post.



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the haircut

The woman standing over my daughter is about to work a miracle. She’s swivelling the chair from side to side, assessing the damage and using a tone perfectly calibrated to keep us both from panicking. I’ve sunk into a strange calm by this point, anyway. Now that I’ve gotten us here, now that it’s out of my hands.

“Well,” she says, “it looks like somebody’s had an adventure this morning!” And my daughter does that thing with her face—eyes to the side, lips curled at the corners—the thing she does when she’s half embarrassed by, but half revelling in, the attention she’s drawing.

They were expecting us at the salon, I didn’t have to explain it again. A small mercy. We were ushered towards the back, as several different people, at several points on the short walk, smiled smiles somewhere between pity and been-there-done-that.“It’s going to be fine!” They said. “It’s only hair!” They said. Of course it’s only hair, I thought, but that didn’t stop my stomach from filling with lead when I saw the great big wad of it balled in the dresser drawer, dead and mousy-looking where once it had shimmered with light as it swung from my daughter’s head.

They hid the evidence, the two of them together. This is how I discovered my daughter was herself complicit, that it wasn’t just her twin brother wreaking the havoc. She was the one who showed me where it was. “Where’s the hair,” I kept yelling, “where is it?” Because for several moments I couldn’t quite process what had happened, and without the physical product of their little escapade, the whole thing seemed vaguely impossible. An optical illusion: half of the hair hanging straight, as I remembered it, on one side of her head, and half of it missing, chopped into haphazardly, stair-stepped in a way that made her resemble a victim of extreme circumstance or the fashion trends of the eighties.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



double trouble


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