Over the summer, my favorite college professor was passing through Seattle and so I got to have a visit with her. She is a women’s studies professor, which means she is ridiculously underpaid and will never have tenure. It’s not that she’s not brilliant and extremely well respected in her field–she is one of the smartest people I know and gets flown to conferences around the world and invited to the White House because of her expertise. She doesn’t get tenure because she’s in a field that academia does not reward with tenure and high pay. Women’s Studies is often one of the first programs cut when a college has to make cutbacks–it’s seen as expendible in a way that, say, biology is not. So, unless they are also teaching in another department as well, women’s studies professors don’t tend to be eligible for tenure, which means they don’t tend to make much money. And so my favorite professor, who has published books that were literally best sellers, crashes on futons at her former students’ houses when she takes the few vacations she can afford.

We had a lovely brunch while she was here, during which we had a great conversation about careers. And she said that she has noticed that her east coast friends tend to say things like “What a pity you never got tenure” as if her life is not complete and her career is not a success because she didn’t get that label. But that her west coast friends don’t seem to care much about titles like that, so they tend not to think much of her non-tenured status.

That cultural difference between easterners and westerners resonated with me too. Professionally, I am doing work that I find interesting that I think is important, but I will never be rich or famous doing this work. And honestly, I am OK with that. I am proud of the work I do, even if I do it quietly and without big monetary rewards. Living on the west coast, it feels easy to stay in a job that I am comfortable with, and that gives me the flexibility I need as a parent of small children, without feeling pressure to climb a ladder. I think if I lived back east, I might feel more pressure to move up than I do living in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve had parents of my east coast friends ask me how much money I make and say point blank that they think I should take a more high-pressure, prestigious job. As in “You want to do public interest work? No no no, you should get a job at a big firm and just donate your money to legal clinics or do a little pro bono work on the side.” (That one actually came from my ex-boyfriend’s dad. Thank god he dumped me, because that would have been one awful father-in-law.) I have never had that experience on the West Coast.

So, I was thinking of that conversation the other day as I was thinking about people who see momming as a competition. Like, they brag about how much better their kids are turning out than their friends’ kids, or they look down their nose at other moms who aren’t putting their kids in piano lessons and all that at an early age, or whatever. And I realized that one of the reasons I find people who talk that way so grating is that there aren’t as many of them out here as in, say, Manhattan. We worry about our kids and we want the best for them, but we just don’t seem to put the same value on external measures of success that Easterners do. I joke about The Girl curing cancer and The Boy founding the next Microsoft and taking care of me financially in my old age, but it’s a joke, and it’s funny because I don’t really care if my kids are big shots someday. What I care about is that they are happy. If curing cancer and being a billionaire entrepreneur make them happy, then great, but if they find their joy in a quieter field, and if they aren’t rock stars, that’s great too.

I think if I lived back east, I would find more parents who do see prestigious careers and status labels as the pathway to happiness, and I would probably feel a lot of pressure to pour all my resources into producing the next Bill Gates and Marie Curie. I would worry about choosing the right daycare that will get them into the right school that will get them into the right college that will get them access to the right people, so they can climb into a prestigious career that I believe will bring them happiness. When I talk to many of my east coast friends, the accepted wisdom among most of them is that this is how you create a good life for your kids.

In the end, I don’t necessarily think either parenting style is right or better. I think it’s just a cultural difference. The Cult of Perfect Motherhood tries to tell us that if we’re not parenting perfectly, then we are horrible people and our children’s futures are doomed. But, if different cultures place different value on things like financial success and status and prestige, then clearly there isn’t one perfect way to parent, and we are not failures for parenting differently. And that’s why competing with each other to see who’s the best parent because of how their kids turned out is futile. Because, some of us aren’t trying to produce rock stars. Our goals are different.

On Assholery: Part 2

A few weeks ago, my angry blaspheme-filled blog post On Assholery blew up. By blew up, I mean I had 200 times the usual hits on my blog, and zillions of comments. You’d think that would be a good thing, but it turns out that when your blog gets a lot of visitors, it doesn’t mean people actually read the blog and understood what you were saying. And the comments got extremely nasty. One woman posted about her post-partum depression and another commenter called her weak (in less nice terms) for having a mental illness. On a post about NOT BEING AN ASSHOLE. I deleted that one. My first deleted comment, pretty sure that means I am a real blogger now, right? Sigh. The little troll-free corner of the internet I had was fun while it lasted.

There were also a zillion “yeah, fuck breast feeders, they’re assholes” comments on that post. In fact, yesterday (which you may recall was CHRISTMAS), someone posted that breast feeding is child molestation and that women who breast feed are mentally ill. No, I am not making that up. I deleted that one too.

Guess what? I breast fed and pumped for The Girl, and I exclusively pumped for The Boy, for a year with each of them. The Boy got formula added to his breast milk in the NICU to help fatten him up faster, and we fed our kids the free can of formula you get in the mail unsolicited when you get pregnant, but otherwise, I fed them from my boobs. In fact, with both kids, I produced so much breast milk, we gave it away to other families to feed their kids with. I had boobs of steel, I was a poster child for the model breast feeding working mom. And you know what? I STILL think people who shit on formula-feeding moms are assholes. AND, I also think people who shit on breast feeding moms are assholes. Breast feeding is a perfectly healthy normal way to feed your child. It is not child molestation. It is not a mental illness. If you call someone a mentally ill child molester for feeding their child from their breast, you are an asshole. You are the reason we can’t have nice things. You are ruining our world.

Like, do I not make it clear, in every fucking post on this blog, that I think people who shit on other moms for doing it differently are being assholes? How could I be more clear about it? What would I need to do to make it more clear that this blog is, and always has been, about accepting that there are lots of different ways to parent, and there is no one right answer? DO I NEED TO WRITE IN ALL CAPS TO GET THAT THROUGH TO PEOPLE?!?! Christ on a cracker.

And what makes me the most frustrated is that I am probably feeding some trolls with this post. I wanted to share a post today about The Boy and his adorableness, because it’s the fucking holidays, and instead here I am, asking people yet again to stop being assholes. Just, seriously, stop it. I don’t want to have to write any more posts like this.


The other night, The Hubs and I had a long discussion about my blog. The Hubs is an IT guy who gets a high from being useful. So, whenever friends have IT problems, I tell The Hubs to go help them out, and he does. The day of our discussion, The Hubs had helped a friend out with her blog’s technical side. The Hubs said, “That reminds me, I need to do some stuff so your blog pops up more in search engines.”


Look, I am not a professional blogger. You will notice there are no ads on this page. Nobody pays me to write any of this stuff. I don’t get people sending me free products asking me to write about them (I did have someone once ask me to share her product’s website on my Facebook page, but she didn’t offer me a free one and I didn’t ask for one because it felt too spammy.) Professional blogging is wicked awesome, and maybe I would want to do that some day, but today is not that day. So, I don’t need people to find this blog.

“But, why not?” asked The Hubs. “What you write is good, more people should read it. There are people out there who need to hear what you’re your saying.”

OK, so, this is where I admit that I am suuuuuuuuuper selfish. Because, I don’t write all this for you, dear readers. I mean, it feels good to have people say they dug something I wrote, and on the couple of occasions that someone really big has shared my blog and I got 100 times my normal hits? Yeah, that was exciting. But honestly? I would write all this if nobody read it, or if nobody liked it. I write it because I have something to say, period, full stop. That it speaks to other people is a pleasant byproduct, but it isn’t the point. I’m not saying I don’t give a shit what people think of my blog…except yeah, I kind of am saying that. Actually, take the “kind of” out of that last sentence.

Because, I feel like if I wrote this blog to generate readers, I would write a lot differently. I would take on whatever the hot topic was that day on the Internet, the one that gets a lot of hits and that they start talking about on Ellen and Conan and CNN. Instead of writing what I have to say that day, just letting the ideas vomit out here in run on sentences with the words “so” and “like” starting every other paragraph. In short, it wouldn’t be me anymore, and honestly? I spend too much of my professional life not writing for myself, to spend my free time writing for someone else. It feels too good, after so many years of having someone else tell me what to write, to just say what is on my mind, at that exact moment.

NOT THAT I AM SHITTING ON PROFESSIONAL BLOGGERS. Look, there are a lot of serious enterprising writers on the net who are speaking their truth and who have interesting, funny, powerful things to say about the hot issue of the day. It works for them to write that way, and it’s awesome that they can make a living from their writing and be happy and proud of their work. I give them mad props. I am just not one of them. It’s just not how I roll. If I tried to be them, I am pretty sure I would lose my joy that I am finding with this blog. And then, why bother?

The Hubs then said, “But what’s wrong with writing what you do and having more people read it? I’m not saying change what you write, I’m saying, reach more people.” And that’s when my ego really showed how ginormous it is, and also how small it is. See, I think this blog kicks ass. I am proud of what I write here. And I think if lots and lots of people saw it, it might take off. In my head, my enormous ego says that I might get calls from literary agents and TV shows. And I am sooooooo not interested in that right now. I am sooooooo not ready to be famous. I like my little pond–frankly, it took me a while to decide to dip my toe into the pond at all. So, I don’t feel comfortable or safe or ready to swim into a big ocean filled with sharks right now.

The Hubs thinks I am being silly and that I’d beat the shit out of the sharks. Maybe he’s right. But, he agreed not to use whatever Internet magic voodoo you use to increase your page views these days. And for now, I can live with the fantasy that although my writing is on the Internet for the whole world to see, I am really just having a conversation with a few people.

Privilege and Choice

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the writing I have been reading lately about motherhood. I love reading mom blogs, and there are so many good (and funny) ones out there. Sometimes, though, I feel like there is a voice missing in all the conversations about PTA fundraising, minivans, tantrums in restaurants, and leaning in and opting out. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but something was nagging at me…a little thought in the back of my head that said “This is all awesome, but something is missing.”

And then I read something from Al Jazeera America. Just, go read it right now. (“OMG SHE READS AL JAZEERA SHE MUST BE A TERRORIST” say my Glen Beck-loving readers. Hahahaha, I don’t have any Glen Beck-loving readers.)

This article hit home for me SO much.

Second wave feminists made it possible for middle and upper class women to work outside the home. They got us civil rights, like equal educational opportunity, employment discrimination protections, and rights to fair treatment in the courts. They made it theoretically possible for women to have choices in their lives. And for that, we should be grateful. (Don’t get me started on people who shit on Second Wave feminists for not bringing on a feminist utopia. Have you seen Mad Men? I am glad I’m not living like that, aren’t you? Then thank a feminist.)

But the work left for feminism to do post-second-wave is to make it so that all women have enough economic stability that those choices are no longer just theoretical. So that women really are making choices based on their hearts, not their pocketbooks. Really choosing how to live your life–leaning in or opting out, going to college or going to work, SAHM or in-the-workforce mom–isn’t possible for every woman. Being a 20-year-old low-income mom with two kids? Yeah, your choices are going to be WAY more limited than mine were as a 20 year old, when I had parents able to pay for college, and no children of my own to take care of. I could go to a college back east and spend my free time playing in the pep band and drinking cheap vodka, because there were no kids waiting at home for me.

Which brings me back to that missing voice. I think the mom blogs that get the most attention tend to be women who are at least middle class, women like me who are writing from a place of privilege. Our lives aren’t perfect or easy, but they do give us the freedom to have time to write. And what we write about reflects our lives, as it should–we shouldn’t try to speak for others, that’s a recipe for disaster–and we lead lives where not every opportunity is open to us, but a hell of a lot more of them are than they are for poor women.

There ARE mom bloggers who are poor, but you have to seek them out. I wish the HuffPo’s and Upworthy’s of the world would pick them up more often. I think listening to their voices, understanding the particular flavor of their struggle, is important. And I am going to try to do a better job of sharing them on my Facebook page. To kick things off, check out this awesome blog post from a mom named Tara–it’s an oldie but a goodie.

Who’s That Lady?

A few folks have asked me who that dour looking woman is here on this blog. She’s one of my personal heroes, Julia Ward Howe. The Indigo Girls (who I discovered at Girl Scout camp as a teenager) have a song called Virginia Woolf about becoming a friend of Woolf’s through the pages of her books. I feel that way about Julia Ward Howe. I think if she was alive today, she and I would have a laugh and a cry together about motherhood and writing and balancing family and work. That is to say, I think she’s one of us, and I’d like to introduce you all to her, Drunk History style, except I happen to be sober right now (alas).

Julia (we’re old friends, so I am allowed to call her by her first name) was born in 1819 into an affluent family in New York. Her mom died when she was very young, and so she was raised by her extremely overbearing dad who didn’t let her go to parties or meet people. She was a total brainiac, and read EVERYTHING, and was super serious about learning and writing, even as a child. Eventually her dad died, which meant she was free to go out and meet people and find herself a husband. And she did: Samuel Gridley Howe, a social reformer who ran a school for the blind outside of Boston. Everyone called him The Chevalier, or Chev for short, even Julia.

Now, the problem with fairy tales is that they end with the happy couple getting married, and they don’t show what happens AFTER the honeymoon. In real life, a lot of people don’t live happily ever after, and in Julia’s case, man, was there a lot of drama in that marriage. It turned out she had married a guy as overbearing as her father, who didn’t want her to have any kind of public life or be a writer–he wanted her to only run the household, and be completely dedicated to their children, and that’s it, nothing else. This was Cult of True Womanhood time, and Chev wanted his wife to be a True Woman all the way. Living so far outside Boston, she rarely got to hang out with friends or go out to dinner or the opera or do much of anything, other than run her household and watch her children. It didn’t take long for her to get really sick of having no outlet for that giant brain of hers.

So she started writing poetry about how shitty it was being stuck out in the country with a bunch of little kids and no adults to talk to but her overbearing husband. And THEN she got the poetry published, anonymously but EVERYONE knew it was her. Chev was super embarrassed, AND pissed, and he told her to stop writing. And she told him she’d be more domestic and compliant, but she was like, “Whatever, I am going to keep on writing, good luck trying to stop me.” And she wrote more angsty poetry that she had published that pissed Chev off and he yelled at her some more. And she cried a lot and felt hurt and frustrated, because it’s not easy being a writer in 1850 when your husband, who you love, wants you to have no life beyond raising your kids and running your household.

And then she wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and got suuuuuuuper famous, and she published more and made a lot of speeches and tried to change the world and get women the vote and stop war from happening. And Chev got more pissed, and sometimes her kids took Chev’s side and yelled at her too, and she still said, “Whatever, this is who I am, I can’t change who I am.” And she kept on writing and making speeches and just doing Julia as best she could. Then Chev died, and she didn’t have to balance pleasing her husband and being domestic, with writing and speaking and trying to change the world.

Julia is also famous for kind-of inventing Mother’s Day. But not like Mother’s Day that we celebrate today. She wanted moms to take a day away from their regular domestic chores to come together to talk about how to make the world a better place for their children. She was an idealist, and believed in the power of motherhood to work as a positive force in the world, that moms working together could make the world a better place. I believe that too.

Reading Julia’s letters and poems, what strikes me is how honest she was about how she felt and what was happening in her life, AND how relevant her writings still are 150 years later. I know so many women who struggle with being their own person and also being a good mom. They feel guilty for taking time away from their children to have a career or even hobbies or other activities that aren’t directly related to their children. Being a parent DOES mean making choices and doing stuff you’d rather not. But if they give up those outside activities, then they feel bored, or worse, like they have lost who they are. As Julia said, “In giving life to others, do we lose our own vitality and sink into dimness, nothingness, a living death?”

Julia didn’t find escaping the Cult of True Womanhood any easier than it is for us to escape the Cult of Perfect Motherhood today. It came with tears and arguments and feeling like everyone around her was judging her for not being what the world told her she should be. But she fought against the cult anyway, and she found satisfaction in being both a mother AND a fully realized human being. She’s an inspiration to me and I wish I could have met her in person instead of through her writings. I like to think that wherever she is now, she’s reading this blog and saying “Rock on sister!”

Blogging Kicks Ass

When I started this blog, it was mostly so I could write stuff down and get it out of my head. I didn’t know if anybody would bother reading it, or if they did, if they would find it interesting. What’s been coolest about this is, people HAVE found it interesting, and have shared it with each other and had conversations about it on Facebook. Even famous people (whose book you should go buy right now. No seriously, I’ll wait. And no, she’s not giving me any kickbacks, I just like her book that much) have shared stuff I’ve written. And what my readers think about what I write, what they say about what I write, is often not what I thought people would think when I wrote it. Which is just WAY WAY WAY cool.

Let me give an example: the Judgy McJudgerson post. I wrote it not thinking about this one friend of mine at all–she’s never Judgy McJudgerson’d me and I think of her as super supportive of the moms in our circle. But when she read it, she thought, “Oh wow, that is so me. Beth just called me out on my BS and she is right.” What? Really? Turns out she’s what a mutual friend of ours calls a “car seat nazi.” I had no idea, perhaps because I don’t post photos of my kids in their car seats that often, or when I do, they are properly buckled? Anyway, she read what I wrote and took away the lesson I intended (take a deep breath and remember your friend isn’t an idiot before you comment), even though, I didn’t intend that message to be directed at her.

Meanwhile, some other friends had a discussion about it in the context of feeling like you are a crappy mom who doesn’t have it together and being bitter about the moms who DO seem have it together. So, they are not judging someone for being a bad mom, they are judging them for being too good of a mom. Which also comes from a place of fear of our own inadequacies as parents, right? And THEN they talked about Judgy McJudgersoning themselves. Because we are all Judgy McJudgerson. Deeeeeeeep.

All of this reminds me of good times in college, living in the dorms and staying up waaaaay too late talking about deep thoughts. It felt cool, like our brains were going to change the world with their amazing ideas that got better and better as they bounced around the room off each other’s brains. That’s what blogging feels like to me–I launch an idea, and the people who read it take it and add to it and make it richer and more powerful.

So, thank you to all of you for reading, and then thinking and talking about what I write. This blogging thing kicks ass!