There is No Such Thing as an Un-Natural Birth

I had a C-Section.  From the moment I found out I was having identical twin girls the possibility of a C-Section loomed large in any and all discussions about delivery day.  I also had one of the most un-New Agey pregnancies you can imagine.  I had sonograms every two weeks until 28 weeks to check for twin to twin transfusion syndrome.  I had 2 amnios – one for each fetus – and a third shot full of blue dye to make sure they weren’t pulling fluid from the same sac twice.  That Maternal Fetal practice was my second home for 37 weeks.  And never once did I feel like all that medical care distanced me from the experience of pregnancy, or intervened in the “natural” process of gestation.  As a data geek I actually loved having the inside look at my developing babies, charting their progress and having the documentation.  But, there were plenty of forces out there telling me that everything I was doing, that my doctors were recommending, was somehow unnatural at best, and plain out misogynistic and corrupt at worst.

I started writing this a few days ago, as I sat and waited while my sister was in the midst of a long, painful, drawn out labor delivering her first child.  My sister threw herself into creating the perfect circumstances under which to give birth “naturally.”  She fought her insurance company – and won – for the right to have a midwife instead of an OB/GYN.  She did hypno-birthing, acupuncture, massaged places you’d rather not ever have to massage, bought flameless candles for the delivery room, and basically focused for 9 months on making sure that the delivery day would be exactly the way she envisioned it – with minimal medical intervention.  And, boy did I hope it would go that way for her.  But, anyone who has been through the process knows that anything can happen once labor begins.

The problem is that an entire industry has cropped up telling women that the pain and complications are mostly in our heads; that with enough focus and determination – and not giving in to the evil “business” of birthing – we can attain the beautiful, connected birth experience women are meant to have.   This movement that was meant to empower women to feel more in charge and less scared of the birth process has now become one more source of pressure and judgement on women at their most vulnerable.  When I was in my 36th week of my twin pregnancy my girls were in two very different positions.  Baby A was head down ready to go.  Baby B was transverse, stretching under my ribs, and she was bigger than Baby A.  My really wonderful doctor said to me, “Well, we could try to deliver Baby A vaginally and then try to turn Baby B, but chances are you’ll end up having both  - vaginal and C-Section.”  He tried to say this matter-of-factly, but I immediately blurted out, “BOTH? Are you nuts?”  He looked so relieved and the nurse laughed.  So, scheduled C-Section it was.

And yet, still, even after my multiples childbirth class where C-Section was a major topic, a part of me felt like I was copping out.  That I was somehow not getting the full birthing experience, that my babies wouldn’t be properly prepped for the world, by having a C-Section – scheduled no less.  When my water broke at 37 weeks, 3 days before my scheduled date, I took a taxi to the hospital, met my husband there, went right in to the doctor’s office, was then whisked into the pre-op room,  and then hung out for 6 hours reading and watching TV until they decided enough time had passed since I had last eaten that they could now do the C-Section.  20 minutes later my girls were born.  Healthy, adorable, and raring to go.   I never regretted that decision, I actually often thought to myself that 90 years ago both I and Baby B would most likely have died during the birth, but I also have to admit that I still thought that I didn’t have the “full” experience somehow.

My sister’s 30-hour, excruciating marathon labor ended in a C-Section – and a beautiful, healthy baby girl.  My sister was literally in shock.  She said she felt like she was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress afterwards.  And, she was disappointed.  She couldn’t shake that somehow it was her fault she didn’t have the delivery she had planned for – that she came to the hospital too early, that somehow her “mental” state changed and caused her body to slow down the labor, that the pain soared because suddenly she was too anxious.  Of course, none of this is true.  And it made me angry.  My sister was wiped out, cut off, and sad.  The exact opposite of everything the “natural” birth movement is supposed to encourage.

The actual birth?  That’s a blip, and as far as I’m concerned, if they gave out medals for that sort of thing, my sister would have won the Iron Woman prize three times over.  The fact that women are now made to feel guilty and less-than because they couldn’t have this idealized, magic, essence of womanhood moment is infuriating to me.  We should stop condemning the “business” of birthing, and start thinking about supporting women through birthing – no matter what.  C-Sections and epidurals are not a sign of failure, nor an evil plot by doctors.  In the end, you have to do what is necessary for the health of mom and baby, because that is the ultimate goal – a healthy mom and baby.

I have friends who delivered “naturally,” friends who trained for months with the Bradley method, friends whose babies were crowning by the time they reached the hospital, and friends who ended up with emergency C-Sections, more than once (because they were convinced that they should try VBAC and have the experience they had missed out on the first time).  Guess what?  In the end, they all, thankfully had a baby arrive in the world – and then had to start the really hard part – being a mom.

This is what makes me angriest of all about my sister being disappointed in herself and trying to replay what she did “wrong.”  She is now a mom.  A mom who made sure for 9 months that she ate healthy food, took her prenatal vitamins, avoided alcohol, caffeine and pesticides – and then carried that baby 10 days past her due date!  She had already put in the first foundation of caring for her baby and considering its needs over her own.  She should be proud that she brought this healthy, sweet baby into the world, that she already tried her best to give her baby a solid start to life.

And she will be a great mom.  As she gets her mojo back, physically heals, gets some distance from the actual birth day, and settles in at home I know she will feel connected and more present.  In the meantime, she will realize that her birthing experience taught her the first important lessons of motherhood:

It’s a long, long journey full of things she won’t be able to control.

Things won’t go exactly as planned.

There’s plenty of guilt and judgement to go around.

Confidence in your choices is key.

And never feel bad for admitting you need help, need to change course, or need a little something to help get you through.

So, maybe, in the end, she got exactly what she needed out of that harrowing birth experience – candles, tubs and hypnotherapy be damned.

What Does the MOM Media Blitz Teach Our Daughters?

A few months ago I received a pre-release copy of Jill Smokler’s book, Confessions of a Scary Mommy.  I had it out on my kitchen counter, on the couch, on a living room chair – basically I would pick it up read a few pages, laugh, sigh and put it down.  It was the perfect book to enjoy in small bites, letting the voices of all those women resonate and relate.  What I didn’t expect was for my 9 year-old daughter to pick it up and basically devour it.

I didn’t know she was reading it until I heard giggling coming from a corner of the living room where we have the one big comfy chair.  (also the only chair, but that’s another story)  I hadn’t read through the whole book, but figured I knew it was mostly funny, tongue in cheek – whatever.  Then it got really silent.  About 20 minutes later my daughter came out of her room and approached me with a confused and concerned look on her face.  “Do you like being a mom?” she asked me.  And my heart sank.

Now of course a nine year-old doesn’t understand that moms venting and needing to commiserate is actually one of the joys of motherhood – and certainly of mom blogs and forums like Scary Mommy.  When my daughters were born and I was literally trapped in the house because I was pumping every 3 hours to make sure my twin daughters only got breast milk, and I held one of them in the dark in our walk-in closet for hours because it was the only way she’d be calm – and then felt guilty because I wasn’t holding the other one as much since she slept so well by herself in her crib – the days had so many shades of wonder, exhaustion, self-doubt, minor victories, and overwhelming love, that I couldn’t tell one from the other or have time to think about what other new moms were doing to get through those initial months.

But, when I recount those early days to my daughters I don’t go into the parts that drained me or made me almost burn down the apartment building when I fell asleep while sterilizing my pumping tubes and gear.  They were babies of course.  Babies can’t help the demands they make of you.  But we can help the demands we make of ourselves.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot with Mother’s Day coming up, and all the silly Mommy Wars talk and the new ridiculous Time Magazine cover meant to shock.  My daughter saw that cover yesterday and couldn’t even make sense of it.  I couldn’t either.

But, it became a discussion about motherhood, about choices, and most of all about how the media will try to make huge issues out of topics that are not that huge at all.  That a real article about a woman being “MOM Enough,” would include her being mad enough.

Mad enough to demand better health care for babies and children like they are doing at Shot At Life and R Baby Foundation.

Mad enough to demand quality education for kids starting in preschool like they are doing at Save the Children.

Mad enough to demand that the media stop trying to pit moms against moms and realize that the highs and lows of motherhood are what unites so many women – no matter how they choose to parent – like you see in all of the incredibly honest and real mom blogs across the net from all parts of this country and beyond.

Mad enough to tell their daughters that being a mom is personal, not political.  That just as no one has a right to tell them how or what to do with their own bodies and minds, no one has the right to tell them what a “real” mom looks like, if and when they choose to become a mom.

Most of all, mad enough to know when to take their daughters by the hand and lead by example.  We moms can be a very judgemental lot – that’s what the media is counting on, after all.  So this Mother’s Day I am giving myself a gift.  I am not going to fall into the trap of rolling my eyes at the moms on the extremes of the parenting spectrum.  Or the moms whose choices are so blatantly different from my own.  Or the judgement I pass on myself every day for feeling like I fell short in some way or another on the Motherhood scale.  It’s not just a Mother’s Day gift for myself, it’s a gift to my daughters – so when they grow up and choose to be mothers – and I hope they do – they feel empowered, self-assured and excited, even in the midst of feeling scared and unsure.  It’s about winning the Mommy War that goes on inside myself every day – and that’s a war worth winning.

 

 

 

 

 

I Love Your Blog – But Not You

One of the unanticipated perks of being a mom blogger is all of the amazingly talented, funny, witty and inspirational women that I’ve gotten to know.  In New York I am fortunate to have a group of women (and a couple men too) whom I regularly see at events or record with or work with for days on end.  When I head out of town for an event or a conference I am usually extra excited because it means I will meet women whose work I read regularly and I feel like I know even though I’ve never actually seen them face to face.  So it is strange when I meet someone in this world and I really don’t like them.  But, it happens – and it’s very uncomfortable.

Celebrities often talk about how regular people assume that they know them because they relate so much to their character on TV or in films.  I think the same thing happens with bloggers.  While many journalists have followings bloggers are more personal in their writing for the most part.  Even political women bloggers tend to take on a personal note, sometimes relating their views back to their family or community.   When you add in the fact that bloggers feel banded together by being outside of mainstream media there is an added feeling of familiarity among the group.  I have had moments when social media made my day – when Judy Blume tweeted me, when Diane Ravitch retweeted me to name a few.  It’s not that I felt like Judy Blume and I were suddenly BFF (though my 11 year–old inner self hoped really, really hard for that) it’s that there was a feeling that this person whom I admired got me.  For that instant I was recognized by someone that mattered to me on a gut-level of giddiness.  When the opposite happens it’s like a slap-tweet (sleet?) in the face.

Last year at BlogHer I had that discomforting experience.  I met a blogger whom I admired online.  I sometimes dabbled in her niche, but it’s not my regular beat.  We both wrote for several common outlets.  We had commented back and forth occasionally – though looking back I think I commented on her posts more than the other way around.  But when I met her at BlogHer she was beyond dismissive.  There were brighter lights to stand near and she clearly had an agenda in mind for that day – and it was all about getting to some very big non-blog fish.  I get that.  But it totally changed my view of her and her blog.  I still read it when a tweet or FB post grabs my eye but I don’t participate in her community.  I also don’t respond to her fairly regular calls to action on her behalf – voting, entering giveaways, retweeting, etc.  I realized that while her blog is about bigger picture issues, she herself (at least to me) is all about promoting herself.  And that’s fine.  I just have to come to terms with the fact that I can like the blog without liking the blogger.  Maybe that means blogging really has entered the mainstream after all.

Why Aren’t Parents Rioting in the Streets?

PREPARATION: Education Budget Cuts Protest

Image by infomatique via Flickr

This is the question an educator asked me yesterday.  A private school educator in New York City.  We were among over 200 people invited to Barry Diller’s IAC headquarters in Chelsea to have lunch and listen to the presentation for a brand new private school in Manhattan called Avenues The World Schools.  I wasn’t invited to this lunch as an NYC blogger, I was invited as the Co-President of the Parents’ Association of my daughters’ NYC public school and went there with my Co-President.  To be honest, it’s hard to explain this sort of event to people who have never been to a NYC media and money filled event.  This was not red carpet, this was not celebrity – this was the kind of thing that reminds you where the real power lies in this world.  Money.  Bankers, publishers and mostly bankers.  I haven’t been to something like this in more than 10 years – since I worked for a billionaire family here in NYC.  It made me sad.

That sounds weird right?  Here I was at an event where some of the top educators in NYC were pitching their new school.  I happened to be sitting at the table with the new head of their lower school and their head of the entire school.  These are serious people who have spent their life in education – in private, uber-privileged education.  Joel Klein, our ex-Chancellor was there and all I could think was he’s got some nerve.  You see, part of this school’s pitch was to show the incredible growing demographic of children under 5 in the city and the dynamic increase in the number of families staying in the city rather than leaving when school-age hits.  The irony to watching these men use these numbers to sell their school hit my co-president and me in the face.  For the last 4 years public school parents have been trying desperately for the Department of Education (DOE) to recognize this fact but they staunchly denied it.  As schools have become overcrowded and people are now waitlisted for their PUBLIC school the DOE has shrugged and said you can always take your 5 year old on the subway to another school.  Those numbers this school was using to show the need for more seats in Manhattan?  Those were our numbers – the ones we culled independently of the DOE – the ones that they finally admitted were true after years of arguing.  And there was Joel Klein smiling away in the front as these numbers flashed on the screen.

So after they show us the 30% increase in school age child growth what do you think their answer is?  Let’s create a school where the tuition will be $50,000 for kindergarten (yes you read that right.)  A for-profit school costing 100s of millions of dollars.  I won’t go into the curriculum goals or the giant presentation of what the building will look like when it’s completely renovated, etc.  The whole thing just left me sick.  And sad.  I keep coming back to the fact that it made me sad.  When I saw that educator I spoke about in the beginning I knew she’d have a good perspective on the school.  She herself had been involved in the creation of a new private school in Manhattan a few years back – and she still heads a large private preschool group.  We talked about how all schools have these goals and lofty ambitions but at the end of the day any new school is going to take whomever can write a check.  What I wasn’t prepared for her to say was “I don’t understand why parents aren’t rioting in the streets.”  And she meant it.  And she was right.

The same day I went to this event to see the future school which will educate the most privileged children in NYC who already have every advantage imaginable Governor Cuomo announced the steepest cuts to education EVER in New York State.  Most of it cutting the city’s education aid.  I sat in a room full of people eating petit fours and drinking wine who all earnestly talked about the dire state of education and how our children are falling behind in the world – so they were building a school that would service those for whom none of this was true.  And at the same time I thought about the teacher lay offs, crumbling buildings, slashed arts programs and lack of basic supplies that were about to become even more entrenched realities.  The NYC public school system has 1.2 million children in it.  That means there are at least 1.8 million parents I’m thinking who should storm Bloomberg’s office and Cuomo’s office and the White House and demand better.

But here’s the one thing that got me most of all.  In that beautifully windowed room, with gorgeous centerpieces and ladies in Armani and men who have been running the world forever there was a lot of passion about education.  There really was.  That is what made me sad.  Imagine if these resources and talents – and money – were being put towards public education.  Not for charter schools, not for tiny little programs – but a serious discussion about what it’s going to take to change our school system.   And I’m not going to talk here about unions – I know.  Trust me I know.  I used to joke about imagining a city where private school was not an option – how quickly the schools would change if those with the most power to change them had to be part of the system.  Now I’m not joking.  The inequality is so gross and glaring and this event just focused that to such a sharp degree that I almost feel like it’s hopeless.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Look at Egypt this week – now read this article in Think Progress about the greater income inequality in the US.  Then ask yourself – WHY aren’t parents rioting in the streets?

This post was republished, with permission, in the Washington Post. They made me sound a little nicer.  Thanks.

I also have a problem with people telling parents HOW they should be involved.  Check out this post about Thomas Friedman’s misguided op-ed for more.

The Phrase That Makes Me Cringe – And it Includes the Word “Mom”

super mom cartoonA few months back I wrote a post called Mommy Blogger is Not a Dirty Word about the term “mommy blogger” being derisive but needing to claim it in order to take the power back to the moms.  I had a huge response from that post both here, in real life and on Twitter.  Mostly women want to be recognized beyond the label of Mom and Mommy and as the writers, bloggers and savvy business women they are.  For brands and PR companies however they find the label useful because what they are after is the mom consumer demographic and what makes sense more than using mom bloggers to speak to real life moms?  That’s fine.  I get it.  What I can’t stand however is PR or Marketing people, or talk show hosts for that matter, trying to win me over and show me empathy by saying the most patronizing phrase in the world, “Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.”    YUCK.

This is the topic I’m harping on this week on our Blogging Angels podcast.  But it goes even deeper than the condesension we talk about on the show.  What bothers me most of all is that sure some days being a mom is hard, some days it downright sucks, and some days it’s really not that difficult at all but the thing is I don’t need someone nodding their head at me and trying to sell me on something by paying lip service to work of motherhood.  What they’re trying to say of course is “I get you.”  When all I want to ask them is “Really, what about it makes it the hardest job in the world?  Is it because I don’t own your shiny new set of appliances?  Or your fabulous floor cleaner?”

Here’s why being a mom is hard:  You aren’t paid, you aren’t appreciated most of the time, you never know if you’re actually doing a good job, it can be physically and mentally exhausting especially in the beginning, your time is never your own again and it never, ever ends.  OK.  Some new iphone app or laundry detergent isn’t going to change any of that.  And you know what?  Women have been mothers forever.  Some people are good at it and some people suck at it but there it is. In the end it has an intangible reward that cannot be quantified.  I don’t need an outside person hyping it, promoting it or using it as a come-on – or god forbid a tagline.

You want to have a real discussion about motherhood being the hardest job in the world? Put away your swag and coupons and  show me healthcare, childcare, public education, universal Pre-K and after school on the topic agenda.  Then we’ll talk about how much you understand that being a mom is the hardest job in the world.  Until then, retire that tired empty phrase and talk to me like the businesswoman you need me to be to work with you and your brand.

We’re All Ears: Mombloggers and Disney – What Went Wrong?

Let me start by saying I love Disney.  My family took fairly regular annual pilgrimages to Disneyworld – and even as an adult I kept going.  We grew up on Disney movies and became animation snobs, even today preferring the beautiful depth and detail of Disney‘s style over all others.  I still have all of my Disney figurines because I kept them to hand down to my children (that I assumed I would have.)  We celebrated my mother-in law’s 60th birthday at Disneyland, all 13 of us, including custom matching Mickey T-shirts that only at Disneyland didn’t seem dorky to wear as a group.   So, it’s with great disappointment that I think about what transpired over the last week between Disney and Mom Bloggers (and with a tinge of fear to even write about it, this is Disney after all.)

For months now excitement has been building in the mom-blogging community over the impending Disney Social Media Moms Celebration in Disneyworld in March 2011.  Details came sporadically through Twitter – a save the date that explicitly stated registration would be on a first come, first registered basis, a vague time line for registration, and finally the actual registration date and time.  When that time came the floodgates opened, servers crashed and mom bloggers everywhere were stuck looking at a twirling orange circle in place of real registration page with pure panic setting in.  When I was finally able to register the registration process included giving all of my social media stats as well as the names of my advertisers and affiliates.  In the end your ability to register was not a guarantee of conference admission anyway.  The completely opaque process left many bloggers frustrated, angry and disappointed and Disney with a treasure trove of information.  This would’ve been fine if that data was being used to “verify” my stats as the confirmation email implied, but I don’t think that was the case at all.  And actually left me feeling pretty used.

Last year Disney invited the bloggers they wanted and they caught a huge amount of flak for seeming exclusive. This year was supposedly open, but I believe that they knew exactly who they wanted to attend and the open registration was in fact a farce.   I received the rejection letter that stated “Unfortunately the conference reached capacity before your registration could be confirmed.”  That would be fine if people who were literally registering at the same as I (and I mean I was on the phone with them!) didn’t get in.  But they did.  And I’m glad they did – but I wish I hadn’t spent 1 1/2 hours of my time trying to register for something that I never had a shot at being a part of.

In the end I don’t blame Disney for wanting to have a specific group of women at their “celebration.”  When I look at the women I know who are going they are my friends and colleagues – women I would put at the top of any list I was making – what I wish is that Disney had just been honest.  Take a page from The Sun Valley Conference and be open about the fact that you are inviting the select few who you want to invite.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Will people feel excluded?  Sure.  But so what?  Not every business owner gets to go to Sun Valley.  But they do know what it takes to get there and they can aspire to it.  The awful process Disney chose turned mom blogger against mom blogger, made people feel bad for being chosen and others resentful that they weren’t.  That’s the most unmagical outcome imaginable.

(By the way I know many people (or PR reps)  will say “why air this publicly?” and not just send a private email and to that I say that this conference is about social media and if these conversations can’t happen in that world then companies truly do not understand the power and use of social media at all.  I think mombloggers everywhere are eager to hear answers)

Parental Involvement in Schools – How Thomas Friedman Missed the Point

This past week Thomas Friedman wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times, U.S.G and P.T.A, about parental involvement making a difference in student achievement.  When I first read the article I yawned.  Tell me something I don’t know.  Kids do better when parents are involved?  Of course.  Kids do better when parents lay down boundaries, set expectations and create study spaces and structure?  Obviously.  None of this is new or interesting to me.  I’m not sure what his point was other than to say American parents have become lazy while first generation parents are way more effective at encouraging and pushing their children to excel.  Again – snore.  What was actually interesting to me in this article was how off the mark and off point it really was when trying to talk about the role of the P.T.A.

As Co-President of the Parents Association of my daughters’ large NYC public elementary school I have seen the benefits and limits of parental participation.  As budget cuts have slashed every cent of our school budget down to the very core – teachers and staff only – parents have had to pick up the slack to pay for everything from paper and supplies to substitute teachers to professional development for teachers.  Our parents are in our school everyday – helping in classrooms, overseeing a new healthy school lunch program, raising money, coordinating assemblies, dealing with overcrowding and rezoning issues – the extent of the involvement goes way beyond the normal into areas that used be covered by actual Department of Education employees but now have to be done purely by volunteers.  Yet, with all of this involvement the one thing Thomas Friedman harps on is perhaps the hardest to achieve – the extension of the school into the home rather than the other way around – and this cannot fully lie at the feet of parents.

Parents can only be as effective as a school lets them be.  A parent cannot help with homework if they themselves do not understand it.  Parents cannot help a child reach academic goals if those goals have not been clearly defined by administration and teachers.  Parents cannot be the regulators of technology in the home unless they have a thorough understanding of how that technology needs to be used for classwork vs. fun.  All of these aspects of helping a child succeed take some teaching from school to parent.  If schools truly want a partnership with parents then they have to be willing to put in the time and thought to let parents know what is expected of them, and the tools to make it happen.

Yes, there has to be some parental responsibility.  I am constantly working and talking with other bloggers about social media and technology in our children’s lives.  I often find myself repeating the same mantra, “Parenting doesn’t stop at the screen.”  So no your kids shouldn’t have their cellphones near them when they work at home, and there are endless ways to track your child’s online activity.  But, in my mind, while parents need to be pushing their kids to excel academically they also need to do something bigger – VOTE.  Vote for candidates that actually have a plan for education, not just charter school mania and Race To the Top.  Show up – at parent teacher conferences, at PTA meetings, at community board meetings – and make your voice heard.

Hold people accountable.  Your kids are a good place to start but don’t stop there. Hold administration and teachers accountable for providing clear and consistent academic goals and curriculum information (we’re still working on this at our school).  And hold yourself accountable for providing a space where your child can do their work, for making it clear that you expect your child to do their best, and to impart to your kids that school is important and that learning is something that never ends.   But, most of all, hold your elected officials accountable for funding schools properly, for giving teachers professional development funding instead of just putting all the money into evaluation systems and for giving our kids and parents the resources to learn at school and at home.

That’s the true power of PTAs – banding parents together to create a deafening voice that cannot be ignored.  Thomas Friedman may be sounding the bell of laziness and apathy (which is ironic since every other day we are told there is an epidemic of helicopter parents) but everyday I see the tremendous efforts of parents to enrich our school, thank and encourage our teachers and make public officials take schools seriously.  I don’t think we need the Education Secretary to tell parents how to get involved, I think we need the Education Secretary to look at successful PTAs and learn from us instead.

The Eye Man – An Upper West Side Small Business That is Big on What’s Important

Thanks to American Express for sponsoring my writing today about small businesses.  American Express is presenting Small Business Saturday, a way to honor the local merchants who are the backbone of the economy, this Saturday, November 27.  They’re offering statement credits to people who shop at small businesses, advertising for small-business owners, and donations to Girls Inc. for “Likes” of the Small Business Saturday page on Facebook.  Join the celebration by clicking the “Like” button and then visiting the Facebook page to learn more about the program and read the terms and conditions that apply.

New York City is a notorious melting pot – of people, cultures, ethnicities, religions and businesses.  The big box stores have slowly begun to move in, national chains have taken over major storefronts, but New York is thankfully still full of small businesses that make our city unique, colorful and most importantly, personal.  One of these businesses is my neighborhood eyeglasses and optical store, The Eye Man.

Both of my daughters wear glasses.  One thing I’ve learned in the 3 years my daughters have worn glasses is that kids are constantly breaking, twisting, dropping and scratching their glasses.  If there’s a way to dislodge a microscopic screw by tapping it against the edge of a desk my daughters will do it.  Having a neighborhood eye store isn’t just a perk – it’s a necessity.  I have gone to The Eye Man with my daughter in tears, convinced that the mauled mass of wires that used to be beautiful frames were now destroyed, only to come back the next day and be given back the frames in shiny perfection.  When we walk through the front door, which we do at least twice a month, we get the look of empathy – “the don’t worry we’ll fix it” grin.  My daughters head straight to the jelly bean dispenser in the back and the sales staff immediately take the injured glasses to the magic area behind the wall where somehow, miraculously, all turns out well.  And, they fix the glasses for free, every time.  That’s what a family owned business that has been around for over 30 years looks like – they know their customers because they are part of the authentic fabric of the neighborhood.

I never thought about how integral small businesses are to the success of a community until I went door to door soliciting donations for my daughters’ public school auction.  The small business owners gave readily and were proud to support a school whose families they saw everyday.  They knew how dire our budget cuts were, how vital the fundraising was to the success of the school and its students, and essentially understood that we are one community giving to each other in countless ways.  In contrast, the national chain outlets in our neighborhood maybe passed along a phone number at some corporate office and shrugged.  They had no power to give and no real desire to either.

I make a point to support the small businesses in my neighborhood and in particular those that support our school because when they support our school they support the local children and families.  Of course that is good business – after all those families are their customers.  Feeling connected to each other and recognizing the ways in which a strong community can build upon itself are what makes New York City neighborhoods distinct and still pretty special in a world increasingly becoming over run with sameness.  The Eye Man is one store that exemplifies this small business ethos and I’m happy to highlight it today.  Of course tomorrow I’ll probably be in there with a pair of mortally wounded glasses hoping once again for an Eye Man ER miracle.

Please join us in supporting Small Business Saturday by visiting the Facebook page and “liking” them!

I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

A (Conference) Room of One’s Own

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about girls – the way they socialize, the way they learn, the way they are taught and the way they are perceived.  We’ve been looking at sleep-away camps for my daughters over the last couple of months and the one thing both of them requested is an all girls camp.  This never would’ve occurred to me just a few years ago when they were 5 and played equally with boys and girls, but now that they’re 8 I can see how a summer of girl power would be just the right thing.  Watching the camp DVDs and reading the literature has made me realize that there is something special, something that deserves to be nurtured in a single-sex environment, something freeing about just being at a place that celebrates being female – and it applies to grown women and women’s conferences as well.

This past month two major women’s blogger conferences announced that their next conference would include male bloggers and stop being “mom” focused and become “parent” focused.  Type-A Mom will change its name to Type-A Parent - they already added a dad track this past year, and Mom 2.0, one of the largest momblogging conferences is now looking to focus on “innovation”  meaning bringing in men to speak and attend.  How that is innovative I’m not sure.  This past August many dad bloggers crashed BlogHer to mingle with the brands and attend the parties, which many female bloggers, myself included, felt was mildly annoying in some cases to outright rude and schnorr-y in others.  Here is a movement built by women, conferences created for women by women, with sponsors and companies finally recognizing the power of those women – and yet we are still so damn accommodating that we smile and welcome the men into the scene because hey we’re all in this together right?  Wrong.

According to Technorati’s 2010 State of the Blogosphere only 1/3 of bloggers are women, in some areas this is vastly smaller like science, technology and politics – and few women bloggers make it on any major media’s Top 25 or 100 blogger lists unless it’s a specific list for mombloggers.  So why then are we so eager to cede the one space we have carved out for women when we should be expanding it to push more women into the limelight and up the rungs of the general blogging ladder rather than cannibalizing our own space?  This has nothing to do with not liking dad bloggers in general. There are dad bloggers I think are great and read regularly.  When I’m at PR events or blogging conferences that are meant for everyone I love seeing the male bloggers and writers I know and respect.  But these conferences  – these women centered conferences – they were created for a reason and that reason has not disappeared:  women’s voices are still marginalized.

I’ve been thinking about this so much lately that I reread Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. Though she talks about women and fiction the same ideas apply to all writing and especially to blogging since having a blog/voice of one’s own has never been easier.  But, the same stereotypical impulses survive.  Women bloggers who have children are categorized as “mom” bloggers when in fact, according to that Technorati survey, only 13% of “mombloggers” write about parenting.  The fact that they still label them “mom” bloggers probably best illustrates my point.

So yes, invite everyone to your Blog World Expo and Web 2.0, invite a man to speak at BlogHer if he’s the best person for the job, but keep the conferences for women.  To find their voices, share their stories, lift each other up, make a fool of themselves singing at the tops of their lungs or cheering when they finish the high ropes course (oh wait, that’s the camp DVD I just watched – or maybe not…)  Hopefully you get my point.  There’s nothing wrong with saying these 3 days, they’re for women only, and while we love you guys too this is about something else.  We don’t need to apologize or explain.  We should just be proud of what women have created and think about how much more work needs to be done by and for women.  I for one can’t wait to see my daughters grow up and thrive in dynamic real and virtual rooms of their own, without making excuses for why the signs on the doors say “no boys allowed.”

Blogging is Hard.

Really it is.  For the past two weeks my real life has kicked my ass and I’ve watched as day after day my computer has functioned as a giant Twitter stream and email board.  My writing, my real honest to goodness writing has taken a backseat to the whirlwind that swept through the month of September.  It’s not that I haven’t been going to fabulous events or seeing friends or thankfully recording podcasts it’s just that my writing groove is hopelessly out of sync.

For a writer this state of non-writing is like being in a haze.  I know my days are packed with important tasks, meetings and obligations but without real focused writing time I tend to feel untethered.  What I’ve realized is that this new school year requires an entirely new schedule not just for my daughters but for me too.  What I’ve also come to realize is that as I’ve piled on new projects and responsibilities I haven’t given up or delegated anything old so by default it’s my writing that has suffered.  This is not OK.

I know I’m not alone in my stack of posts in draft mode, the events I attended that I still haven’t written about and the running mental conversations babbling through my brain at all times that I’m sure I will write down just as soon as I can.  This is why blogging is hard.  Maybe the hardest kind of writing I’ve ever done.  Once you are established there is an expectation – from loyal readers and subscribers, from PR people who invited you to events and from your own nagging inner voice – that you must produce on a regular basis.  I suppose for people who blog their everyday life or who can shoot out a quick 150 words this is no biggie.  But for me, a girl who constantly edits, rewrites, is never happy with the final product and instantly wants to make another change the moment I hit “publish” the act of blogging is constantly stressful.

When I wrote fiction and screenplays (a lifetime ago) there was a different kind of investment in my writing time.  There was a big picture I could feel my way through with an endpoint in mind.  I loved spending time in whatever world was being created on the page, following characters, crafting dialog – telling a story so far outside myself.  Having that final “THE END” was both mystifying and exhilarating.  In contrast,  a blog has no end.   Every post leads to another.  The characters?  They are real.  And the world?  Well it’s not terribly escapist for me the writer.

So while I love my blog – and I really do – I have realized that every once in while I need a break:  A blog-cation.  As from any hiatus I have to hope I come back recharged and with a new perspective in the blogosphere.   Or maybe I need a Twitter-cation instead – ’cause Twitter?  That’s disgustingly easy.