Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


So we're watching Grey's Anatomy the other night (I know, it's bad for us, like fish 'n' chips) and Izzy the hot/kind med student is talking to this teen mom-to-be from her hometown of Chehalis, whom she'd seen reading Shakespear to her tummy -- sign of ambition about to be stifled by trailer-park motherhood -- and suddenly Izzy pulls out a photograph of a girl of about five years old from her pocket.

"She's a birthmom!" I said to Eric, who just huffed, but then of course I was right, causing my mate to marvel at my great adoption radar/insane obsessiveness.

How did Grey's Anatomy do on the subject? I'd give them a B-. The main reason the show's not geting into med school is that no mention was made of openness -- a huge opportunity missed. Izzy does know where her daughter landed after being entrusted, but she doesn't know where she is now. Bad adoptive parents? Or was that Izzy's choice, to let the openness drift? No clarification is given.

"They're supposed to be in Seattle!" I shouted. "OA&FS could have had a cameo! Katie could have been a walk-on (that's our wonderful social worker, except she couldn't have, because she's on leave in Japan.)

Oh well. The good part was that Izzy offered a totally heartfelt and reasonable view of how adoption benefitted her, and when her teen-mom friend asked, Do you ever wish you kept her? She says, honestly, no. It's totally clear that she misses her daughter and that it's a weight on her shoulders, but it's also clear that she still trusts herself and her decision, as she did when she made it. Thanks for that, Grey's Anatomy. Now how about a big ol' reunion where Izzy can "hug it out" with her daughter and her daughter's parents? Bring on the Kleenex!

In other AdoptTV news, Clark's dad died on Smallville. A loss for those of us seeking positive portraits of adoption on the tube. The Kents are (were?) perhaps the only example of a truly healthy adoptive family on primetime -- it's sad that we had to go into fantasy to make that a viable scenario, but I'll take it. I do wonder if one reason they killed Daddy Kent is because Clark's birthdad, Jor-El, is slated to make a bodily appearance (beyond his lustrous voiceovers) next season. Two dads in the same room too much for you, Smallville creators?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Not such a desperate housewife

Felicity Huffman rules in so many ways, and here is another one. Thanks to my pal Jeanne for directing me to the clip. The best part is how Lesley Stahl touches her tongue to her upper lip when Huffman says she resents the fake question every mother is asked a million times -- fake, because, as she says, any answer but "yes, being a mommy is the best thing ever ever ever" is unacceptable. Huffman calls her on it, and you can just see Stahl's whole paradigm refusing to shift.

And yes, Jeanne, I need to post more Bebe pictures. My camera's busted. That's what kind of bad mommy I am!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Roe Must Stand

It's the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade today, and I'm taking a couple of minutes to stand up for it. I'm sick of reading/hearing from/discussing with progressives who feel that Roe needs to go away for feminism/the Left/the Dems to recover. Some now say that, with the popular tide turning against abortion (the rate is dropping among all but the poorest women), Roe is just getting in the way of the important issues. But if abortions are becoming less prevalent among the voting citizenry, wouldn't it make sense that the issue will fade in importance except among fanatic pro-lifers? With better contraception preventing more and more unwanted pregnancies and the vogue for middle-class single motherhood reducing the shame factor for some, Roe could become a kind of "blue law." The Left/feminism/the Dems will move on naturally if that happens.

Whereas if Roe gets overturned, we'll have to devote our energies to dozens of state-level battles and the inevitable Underground Railroad to make sure women who do choose abortion get it. The Left/Feminism will be COMPLETELY preoccupied with the fight for abortion rights.

Doesn't that seem like cold, practical logic? That said, my own conviction that the right to choose still matters is unwavering, even though -- in fact, because -- I am a mama because a brilliantly compassionate and brave woman "chose life," as they say. Mallory's choice was the beginning of our family-building, the first step in the many incredibly hard choices that unite us all today. Open adoption needs this choice, too, to be the open-eyed and open-hearted process it can be.

It's become a cliche to say that the abortion wars are a matter of faith; well, my faith tells me that whatever the soul is, it doesn't cease existence when the biological vessel expires, whether that happens in utero, at thirty, or at eighty. It finds another vessel. That's the soul's choice, as one lapsed Catholic bad Buddhist maybe someday Quaker sees it.

Oh, and by the way -- for now, it seems "Jane Roe" has been forgotten by those pro-lifers who've used her as a mouthpiece all these years. I hope "God" does provide for her soon, as she says.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Open Surrogacy -- it's the future

Did y'all see page one piece in the NY Times today about the trend toward open surrogacy? This is SUCH a good thing, for surrogate families, adoptive families, and the whole retooled "nuclear family" concept in general. It's fascinating that the EVIL EMPIRE of the fertility industry is reiterating so directly the mistakes of the old-fashioned adoption model (in that case, the agencies kept things closed long after all members of the triad wanted more openness.) This guy's in the Darth Vader role:

"We want the recipient to feel she's getting genetic material from the donor with which she can make a baby that is very much hers," said Dr. Brian M. Berger, director of the donor egg program at Boston I.V.F. "If you then try to create a personal relationship between donor and recipient, it becomes more murky. The donor has an investment which we'd rather they didn't have."

So that means a non-genetic mother has to lie to herself, her child and the world to make her baby hers? And that the genetic and sometiimes gestational mother should just "get over," forget, her baby? Gee, that sounds familiar -- exactly what the well-meaning fools at yesterday's Homes for Unwed Mothers told birthmoms who gave up their kids for adoption. Concerned United Birthparents (though I don't endorse their utter fear of adoptive parents) shoudl get on this.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Friends and acquaintances around the net today:

-- Thanks to O-Dub for linking to this awesome moment of zen. Two kings and a Prince! Or is it two princes and a king? Either way, it's before Neverland, before Jehovah, before PCP. All three legends are on fire.

-- Douglas (congrats, by the way, on the book deal!) inspired me to read Eric Kronigsberg's New Yorker piece about Brandenn Bremmer, the eminent "gifted" rural Nebraskan who killed himself at age 14. (A good round-up of the discussion about "Prairie Fire" is here, at the New Yorker readers' blog emdashes.) Douglas identified with the kid's vulnerability and isolation and mentioned his own semi-salvation via certain "gifted programs," and I appreciate his insight. My own overwhelming feeling about the story, though, was, what a tragedy of "helicopter parenting." Who am I to judge -- I know -- especially since my Bebe's only two! And perhaps it was Konigsberg's sly slanting of the story that led me to shudder at every word from Brandenn's parents' mouths.

But their utter fetishization of this boy, including their marketing and publicization of his giftedness (they sold his New Age CD's online), s ure seems to embody the extremes of ego-driven parenting that I'm finding so threatening right now. Threatening, because I can get sucked into showing off my little darling as easily as anyone can. But while I hope she is as talented as makes her happy and able to make her way in life, Konigsberg piece made me PRAY that she not be "gifted." Or at least that we don't really notice it if she is, until she's old enough to make her own choices about how to use her particular genius.

-- Katha Pollitt rocks the house as usual in her Nation column this week. She's calling the bull on conservatives who get up in arms about the fact that more girls are in college than men now, saying that it's because of the woman-centric nature of our ed system. Here's where Pollitt slayed me:

For the record, in middle school my daughter was assigned exactly one book by a woman: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. In high school she read three, Mrs. Dalloway, Beloved and Uncle Tom's Cabin, while required reading included male authors from Shakespeare and Fitzgerald and Sophocles to (I kid you not) James Michener and Robert Adams, author of Watership Down. Four books in seven years: Is that what we're arguing about here?

So much of the backlash about feminism --especially as the movement is perceived culturally -- seems like that to me. So much umbrage about so little gain. What's the emoticon for rolling your eyes? I'm doing it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Just like a woman

The girlgroup list is up in arms about Alessandra Stanley's aggro-femme comment in her review of the new bad show "Love Monkey" -- to wit, that no woman actually likes Bob Dylan, but we all fake it to pleasure our men, the way we fake liking camping or golf. Oh dear, it must have seemed witty when she wrote it. Yet though I am a living refutation of her statement, I must admit that when I was peripherally working on the Dylan exhibit at EMP, I ran across very few Bob fanatics. So ladies out there, let me know -- how do you feel and live your Dylan love?
(photo of Bob and Suze Rotolo courtesy the Telegraph of London.)

Double agent Mommya

"Mommya" is my new name, according to the B. I love it -- blending "mommy" with "mama" for the double whammy delight. We've been having the blast of the century lately here in rain-dead Seattle -- walking around the mall swinging our purses (I got her a three-buck blue vinyl version of this here), making foam-bead necklaces at Library Story Hour, cooking green beans on her stove and mine. But before I transform into a Hallmark card before your very eyes, let me share some treasonous thoughts.

One recent afternoon, as I was enjoying some of this domestic bliss, it occurred to me that this mommy job really isn't as hard as a full-on, ambitious professional life. I should stop right here and declare that creating such hierarchies are pointless, offensive, and patently anti-feminist. I do believe that women like this one deserve the state and social support all workers, all people, do. But let's face it -- the feminist strategy of assessing "women's work" on a scale with "real" jobs hasn't worked too well in economic terms -- affordable day care and health care for children are still nonexistent and flex time, while available to some professional women (though not the ladies of Wal Mart), tends to turn into a fiction in light of how worloads really shake down. No, I fear that what's resulted from the inculcation of the slogan "Every Mother is a Working Mother" is simply a bigger ego boost for those mamas privileged enough to have the time and headspace to ponder such things.

I am getting sick of showoff moms. I am one myself, sometimes, I know. It's hard to resist -- you have this Instant Cuteness Generator toddling around with you, how not to use it? But really, it's not an accomplishment to have a cute little child. (Even if you made him or her -- that's just genetic luck, though I thank Mallory for ours.) Parenting is a vocation, in the Latin sense -- a spiritual calling, serious as it gets -- but it is not a profession. The minute I as a parent start assessing myself the way a lawyer or a salesman would, as "better" because our child accomplishes more or is convincingly adorable/smart/sweet in public, I am dangerously deluded. Because I am not "creating" Bebe the way I create a piece for Blender. I am her advocate, her bodyguard, the attendant on her airplane. But she is not a job I do well.

I'm sick of all the rhetoric about the awesome creative genius of mothers. I'm not saying women don't do amazing things with and for their kids, and of course there is the miracle of childbirth, which I'll never deny even though I'll never experience it. But the self-congratulation has gone too far. (Let's not even get into what happens to dads when mothers hog the spotlight -- we bitches in the house have no right to complain if we're not willing to share.) Whatever happened to putting our kids first? In real life, the moms I know and love so that. At he same time, because most of us have worked to be successful, cutting-edge, hip, it's hard to not try to be that as mamas too. But what I'm realizing, I guess, is that as a mama I don't need to be all that. I just need to be loving and fundamentally there. (Even when B's at daycare and being "there" means winning bread and co-supporting our family.)

This tirade came about because of something that happened at the gym the other day. I walk into the locker room after my workout and there's a new mama breastfeeding her baby in the corner. Fine, I'm pro-breastfeeding, but this woman was WORKING it. Cooing to the sprout in precious babykins lingo so everyone, even in the shower, could hear. She was showing off, waiting for all of us to turn and say, how adorable!! To make HER feel adorable, not her daughter. And this in a zone where I go to be quiet and alone -- a zone where kids are officially not allowed.

I'm politically incorrect and perilously anti-hipmama to say that woman should have found a quieter corner and interacted with her child in solitude. But she should have. It wouldn't have been solitude after all; her daughter was there to appreciate her. Why did she feel, why do so many of us often feel, that we need to whole world to coo at us too?

(and if you still want to buy the t-shirt pictured at top after that rant, go to

Monday, January 09, 2006

The awesome power of the press

Slogging through a million Ray Davies interviews for a big Kinks project for Blender, here's something he said to Charles Shaar Murray in 1989:

"I found myself confronted with frightfully well-educated interviewers, people from The Observer actually reading things into my songs that I hadn't intended. Until a smart girl called Janet Maslin came along and pointed out in the New York Times that I write from an unconscious stream of thought and it bypasses any kind of analysis that I might do. So then I went through a stage of trying to analyse what I was doing and play it by their game, and that didn't work and the music became pretentious and I did. Not me," he adds hastily, "but 'I' through my work, because my work was me."

So is the great Janet Maslin responsible for ponderous early/mid-1970s Kinks efforts. like "A Soap Opera"? Scary thought, for her and for all journalists who inject their left-brain thinking into the right brains of our fave artistes....

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Old Guys

During our awesome toddler-dominated New Year's Eve party, we tuned in for the last five minutes of what most of America probably hopes was Dick Clark's last stand. It seemed to us like a bit of funny after too many bottles of champagne, but of course the minute the stroke survivor appeared, our stomachs sunk. Clark extolled the neatness and order of the Times Square fete with the enthusiasm of a....I could whip out some witty analogy here, as Virginia Heffernan did rather mean-spiritedly in the NY Times, but Clark's aged determination doesn't seem like a joke or a metaphor to me. It seems familiar. So I'll say it -- Clark did what he did with the enthusiasm of my late dad.

My dad died this past April of pancreatic cancer. It's a late-presenting disease; turns out that the lethargy, lack of appetite and scattered, distant nature of his communications were symptoms of his disease -- which made my brother and me feel abashed after the fact, since we'd been pinning his Beckett-like distance from life on lifelong drinking and a bad attitude. One thing I remember now about my dad is that, despite the waning of his physical self, he did keep trying to express enthusiasm. He'd make "yummy" sounds at holiday dinners, though he just pushed his food around his plate; he'd greet his grandkids with a hearty how-de-do even when he couldn't get out of his chair. Even in his last days, bed-bound, he'd lock eyes with me when I brought news of a potential new job; he was barely there, but he was all there for us.

I'm sure that Clark's ego helped propel him toward the falling ball last Saturday, but so did his sense of duty. Duty of that kind -- a feeling of your own steady, fated place in the world's hierarchy and your need to fill it-- is such an old guy concept. I abhor many things associated with such impositions of obligation; militarism, for example. But I can't help but be touched, at times, when I see an old guy acting upon it. Masculinity may be mostly a power trip in our traditional hierarchies, but it's also a burden, and in these delicate moments of concord its weight feels soft and heartbreaking.

I'll be sad when today's old guys are all gone. (Old gals, too, but that's another column.) Another one I appreciate is that guy up in the corner, Dan Schorr, NPR's cranky personal historian. What will we do when he's gone? I treasured my "older" dad, as I still do my mom, for bringing direct knowledge of a time before my own era into my life. When these old guys and gals go, we'll have to start thinking about taking their place as the bearers of the polis's memory; I don't know if I'll ever be ready for that.

All that said -- on another level, I agree with my brilliant pal Emily, who declared, when Clark came on TV, that it was a sign of our imminent apocalypse. The gods of nature are pummeling us with hurricanes, tsunamis, and brush fires, a hand puppet spring to life is in the White House, and millions seem to care more about the next round of American Idol than the fate of their fellow human. In light of these developments, Clark did indeed come across as an Orwellian figure -- the paralyzed , yet still controlling, voice of a Draconian regime. Old guys,after all, aren't always sweet.