Policy Update: April 24, 2015

Policy Update: April 24, 2015

imrsA quick look back at events this week impacting women and families, from Valerie Young, a public policy analyst with Mom-mentum.

Happy Friday – the weekend is here, and so is the rundown on family policy news.

It’s Women’s Health Week. Don’t forget to take care of yourself while you’re taking care of everybody else.  A quick checklist from the US Office of Women’s Health will keep you on track.

New data keep coming about the importance of the earliest years in brain development, and how intelligent policies can support families with young children and really pay off when they become adults.  Nick Kristof takes a look in this New York Times article.

The campaign to get a woman on the $20 bill is gaining steam, and four finalists have been selected.  Send in your vote for Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Wilma Mankiller, or Rosa Parks right here.  My fave, Shirley Chisholm, sadly didn’t make the cut.

The US Breastfeeding Committee has released state fact sheets.  The benefits are legion, but it can be complicated by personal factors and a lack of support.  Practically every state has a coalition if you need resources. Find your fact sheet through this page.

Following last week’s White House push for pro-family policies, the President reminds us that nothing will get better unless we go public with our stories and insist on  solutions.  There is just no substitute for sharing stories and coming together around common frustrations.  You have a role to play – don’t sit on the sidelines for yourself and your family.

Image courtesy of Women on 20s

photo (662x800)Follow Valerie on Facebook (Your (Wo)Man in Washington) and Twitter (@WomanInDC) and find her on the blog at Mom-mentum.

Learning to Love Motherhood

Learning to Love Motherhood

By Chantal Panozzo 

Girl enjoying snowtimeRecently, both my two-year-old and I had “aha!” moments. Hers was: “Snow is cold.” Mine was: “Oh, so this is why people have children.”

I was never one of those women who felt born to breed. I didn’t have dreams about bridal gowns or babies. Even though I met my future husband when we were both 19, we felt no particular rush to do anything but enjoy our lives. We got master’s degrees at 25. We got married at 26. We moved to Switzerland at 28. When I wasn’t working, I concentrated on one thing: seeing the world’s wonders.

My husband and I were DINKS (double income, no kids). And we lived like it. We traveled when and where the spirit (and great airfare deals) took us. Warsaw for the weekend? France on a Friday? Notting Hill next week? Takoui, and sign us up. I printed out a map of the world and hung it on our fridge. After every trip, I colored in the countries I had visited.

Thirty-two years and 32 countries later, my biological clock began dinging and donging as much as the medieval clock tower across the street. The possibility to add a little bundle of joy to my life was slowly announcing its expiration date. Didn’t babies define happiness? I loved happiness. And even though I had plenty, I got greedy; I wanted more. So a year later, I was pregnant. When “joy” arrived I took her home, jubilant. But it wasn’t long—maybe 72 hours—before “joy” made me feel something else: sorrow. Instead of seeing the world, I was seeing spit up. I couldn’t help it; I missed my old life.

Did I have a mental disorder? Everyone I knew was congratulating me, saying how wonderful a baby was and how I should enjoy every moment. But all I could do was smile and nod and silently wonder, which moment did they mean?

Was it the moment when I dripped from every orifice in my body (orifices that before giving birth I didn’t even know existed)? Was it the moment at 3 a.m. when I was reminded I wasn’t a woman, but a cow?  Was it the moment when poop became the main topic of conversation at breakfast? (That is, if I even remembered to eat?)

The truth is, after I had a baby, my life as I had known it took a free fall. Warsaw on the weekend? I had taken less baggage to Warsaw than I did now to go across the street. Work out? Even if my husband was home, I felt like I had to ask his permission to leave the house. Go back to work? Great. I could feel guilty. Stay at home? Fantastic. I could feel like I had wasted my education.

The worst part was my dining room table. Where the silver candlestick holders had once been was a big, yellow electric breast pump slowly sucking the life out of me every time I looked at it—never mind when I used it.

I don’t know what I expected, but as a member of the Google Generation with everything from instant coffee to instant answers for “what airline flies direct to East Timor?” perhaps I assumed I’d also be graced with an instant love of motherhood. But instead I found myself silently regretting it.

Why did you want a baby? Stop. I wanted to stop asking myself that. But since that thought usually happened at the same moment I was sleep deprived and spilling some preciously pumped breast milk, it only egged on other troubling questions, especially if I saw a reflection of myself in a mirror. I had bags under my eyes and an extra ten pounds around my hips. My God, what did you do to your life? Stop. I didn’t want to ask myself that either. Especially when my daughter finally began smiling. But my protests did no good. My thoughts babbled more than my baby. And since they were mean and selfish thoughts, I didn’t share them with anyone. Instead, I let them ferment inside me like a Swiss Gruyere. For two years.

Then it snowed.

Of course, this particular snow was hardly my daughter’s first snow, but at 25 months, it was the first snow she registered. We watched it from our window. “Snow!” she yelled, “Pretty!” She remained mesmerized for at least nine minutes, practically an eternity for a toddler. “Out,” she said, “go!”

We prepared to go outside. That took approximately one decade. She wanted to wear her dirty diaper. She wanted to put her rain pants on backwards. And she wanted to wear her sandals. I tried not to remember my old life, when I left the house exactly eight minutes before the train to the airport was coming, tantrum-free and perfectly dressed for the weather.

Practically a lifetime later, which included several bribes in the form of Saltines, we were at the park. I took my daughter out of her stroller and set her in the snow. I was sweating from the effort it had taken to go two whole blocks from the apartment. Do something, I willed my daughter. Do something to make all the effort in getting here worth it. But she didn’t do anything except stand there as frozen as an ice sculpture. Then, to remind me she wasn’t a sculpture, she whined. And held up her arms for me to pick her up.

I sighed and held her for a few moments, debating whether we should just go grocery shopping instead. But something—let’s call it renewed patience—made me set her down in the snow again.

I began making little snowballs as she stood there. First I threw them. As her frown began to melt, I handed her little snowballs and she threw them. “More!” she said, until we had made so many snowballs that a patch of grass surrounded us.

“Walk,” she said. She took a hesitant step. “Snow,” she kept saying, as her pace quickened

When we reached the park’s fountain, that mercifully, was finally turned off, we made more snowballs and threw them into it. Each time a snowball self-destructed at the bottom of the fountain, my daughter shrieked with joy. “Snow!” she sang, her face registering total bliss, as if snow were the most amazing thing ever.

At that moment, I realized it was. Snow was amazing. It was white and cold and beautiful and I loved it. And that’s when I realized how much I loved my daughter for making me remember that.

I felt nothing but peace and happiness then. Thanks to my daughter, a new way of appreciating life had opened before my eyes like a flower. It was a world where small things were big and wonderful. It was a world where an airline ticket to an exotic country wasn’t necessary to find wonder. Instead, wonder was right in front of me, waiting to be discovered. It was in the form of my little girl in an over-sized pink coat and pink boots. She was going to make sure I didn’t miss a minute of it.

“Walk! Snow,” she said.

Inspired by her words, I began to sing a song I had sung as a child, with a newfound sense of awe floating along with the melody: “Let us walk in the white snow, in a soundless place. With footsteps quiet and slow, at a tranquil pace…”

My daughter smiled. “Mommy. Snow,” she said. She couldn’t have summed up the moment better—even with a verb. We threw another snowball in celebration of her 35-year-old mother’s ability to finally see snow as clearly as a two-year-old. I held her close, my lips warm on her cold cheek.

Then she decided to take off her gloves and my newfound love of motherhood took a commercial break.

“Aren’t you going to put your gloves back on?” I asked.

“No!” she said.

I shrugged, feigning indifference and made her another snowball, which she took with her bare hands.

“Oh,” she said, “cold!” She dropped the snowball like a hot potato and looked at me with the most wonderful expression: as if she had just watched a horror film.

“Snow is cold. That’s why Mommy wants you to wear your gloves,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. Then she cocked her head and looked up at me like I maybe, actually, might have had a few words of wisdom to offer.

Now there was something to love in a daughter. So as she held out her hands for me to re-mitten, I was smitten. Her tiny appreciation for my common sense was yet another reason, two years after becoming a mother, that I finally loved my new and wonder-filled life.

Chicago-based writer Chantal Panozzo has written about parenting, expat life, and Switzerland for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. She is the author of Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. Follow her on Twitter @WriterAbroad.

First Communion

First Communion

By Rowen Wilson*

First Communion ArtIt is a school night, and my daughter, in first grade, tries to set the table in the cute way that first graders try to help.  She sets the silverware all around, then the plates and napkins, and the glasses.  “And for you, Mama,” she smiles, setting the wine glass at my place.  An unsettling thought rises in the back of my mind and I push it back.

I am a high functioning person.  I am a teacher, a distance runner, a book reader.  I have a Master’s degree and I teach graduate courses.  I read to my three children daily and I help my daughter practice the violin each morning before school starts.  I don’t smoke and I eat healthy foods.  I enjoy my wine.

I am not an alcoholic.  I can control my drinking.  I don’t drink until after five. I drink chilled Chardonnay while I prep dinner at night on autumn evenings, a couple of glasses during dinner and while we move through bedtime.  I read to my kids every single night.  I bathe them and brush their teeth, and I often get up to run five miles or more before they wake up for breakfast.

The hours between when I pick up the kids from school and when Andy gets home from work are long.  The kids are tired and wild.  I try not to turn on the television, to help with the math homework, to negotiate peace between my three and six year old, to keep my toddler busy, to make something resembling dinner.  I reward myself with the bottle of wine and a plan for a nice meal.  The package store sells pretzels; the children call it the pretzel store.

I do go through a lot of wine. My husband drinks less beer.  My empty bottles pile up in the recycling bin.  Sometimes I throw a few soda cans on top.  My husband suggests we switch to drinking only on the weekends.  I agree.  Bath time is long and the kids slop the water out of the tub.

Winter drags on.  The winter coats are dingy now and the sky is dull.   I can’t drink only on the weekends.   Eventually, I go underground.  I start to hide my wine.  I drink before he gets home.  I pour wine into a water bottle and leave it behind the house.   I pay in cash so there is no record of the sale.  I have a secret now.

Something takes control of me in spring.  It is cunning. It begins planning our day.  It plans when we will get wine, how much we will need, how we will hide it, when we will drink it, how we will hide our drunk.  This becomes the priority of our life.  It is getting warmer; daffodils coming up through the earth.  On weekends I am drinking much more.  Sometimes I can barely read the words of my kids’ books at night; the letters spin.

One morning I wake up and I cannot remember putting the kids to bed.  I look in on them.  There they are, in their footsie pajamas, tucked in and sleeping with their sweet flushed cheeks and peaceful mouths.  At breakfast I ask my daughter what books we had read, hoping it will spark my memory.  “Mama, why did you ask me that?” she says.

Near the end, I have blackouts.  I hide wine in my closet.  I have to be careful to remember to throw it away when I am out.  Sometimes I drink in the morning.  One summer day my husband comes home to find me and the kids in the yard.  We are playing “Drive-in Movie.”  I have blown up a camping mattress and set it up behind the mini-van and let them jump on it and watch DVD’s in the car.  I am there on the mattress with a smile on my face and my eyes closed and the kids are climbing all around me.  I have been drinking all day.

I am afraid now.  I wake up in the morning sick.  I feel sick until I have something to drink.  I look in the mirror and I feel panic rise and I tell myself it is not going to happen again.  But it does.  I do not have control anymore.  I have lost control.  I am not the driver.  Alcohol is the driver.  I have not been the driver for a long time and now it is too late.

One of the last times I drink I almost die.  I go to the liquor store alone at ten o’clock in the morning.  I buy a bottle of wine and a bottle of brandy and I drink both of most in my car right there in the parking lot.  I do not know why.  A small voice inside me asks me to stop but we push it back.

I went into a store.  That’s all I remember.  I was very, very drunk.  Somehow, a clerk in the store helped me.  She called my husband with my cell phone.  He got me to his car using a shopping cart because I was too drunk to walk.  He thought I might die.  I was forty years old, the mother of three.  He thought that I might die.  And I got drunk again all the rest of that week, just as soon as we got the chance.

Alcoholism is a terminal disease.  According to the World Health Organization, it is the third leading cause of premature death.  There is no cure.  However, people who seek treatment and stop drinking can fully recover.

I am powerless over alcohol.  I cannot manage my own life.  I must admit defeat or die.   I pick defeat.  I let my husband take my car keys, my cell phone, my credit cards.  I let my father leave me at High Watch Recovery Center in Kent, Connecticut, where I spend three weeks in treatment.  I let the therapists and counselors tell me what to do.  I don’t fight.

I stop with the rationalization.  I stop comparing.  I begin to identify with who I am.

In rehab, I have the profound experience of sharing a secret with a room full of strangers that I had not shared with myself.   Out loud, I say I am alcoholic.  I say I can’t drink safely.  I say I lied so I could drink and say I schemed so I could drink and say I drank around my children.  I shake and I cry and I rail and other women meet my eye, they don’t look away and they say “Me too,” and they say “I know,” and they say “oh, that was me.”  I see I am them.  I identify.  I see I am a million other women, alcoholic women suffering from this disease, keeping this awful secret and dying from it alone and hating themselves for it silently while loving their children like all mothers do, all while alcohol wants them nothing else but dead.

We sit in a circle and we say our names.  We say we are alcoholic.  To hear so many others say these words aloud is an affirmation.  I begin to breathe.  We begin to speak.

The communion I experience among these women saves my life.  I learn that in fact I am not alone. I learn that lies and secrets corrode my self-esteem and waste my dignity.  I learn that damage to my self-respect fuels my disease to drink.  I hear their stories, and in listening I see the cycle.  In their stories I become awake.

Today, I consider myself pretty lucky.  In the U.S, only 11% of alcoholics seek treatment.  Only 11% of the people in this country who have this disease, from which more than 75,000 people will die from every year, will seek treatment.  I am in that 11% and alcoholism is not going to take me down.  But my God, did it try.

One of the darkest factors of this disease is the stigma that is attached to it, and particularly to those who are parents.  People who have diseases like diabetes or heart disease do not develop resulting behaviors that cause them to drive recklessly, act belligerently, black out, or engage in other types of socially inappropriate and dangerous conduct.  People don’t worry about letting their kids sleep over the girl’s house whose mom has diabetes.  Nobody wants to carpool with the alcoholic mom.

Alcoholism is a disease of the mind and the body.  The shame that comes with this disease makes it difficult for the alcoholic to talk about her disease with doctors, friends, and loved ones.  To make matters worse, her disease tells her brain not to, because her disease doesn’t want her to stop.

I can’t be left alone with the whispering voice perched on my shoulder and I shouldn’t be.  I enter into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and I am no longer alone; I break my silence; I find communion; I hold the hands of my sisters.  I do the next right thing.

I will always be an alcoholic, just like I will always be a redhead and I will always be a mom.  My disease is a part of who I am.   There are many things that I am still afraid of.  I am afraid that one day I will slip and drink again.  I am afraid for my three young children, who will have to navigate their own course through life, with its many liquor stores, its college days, its interstate miles.  I am afraid they might inherit my disease and be alcoholic like me.  There are plenty of things to fear.  More important, though, for me to focus on today and watch my seven year old set the table for supper, fully present.  She smiles at me, gap-toothed, the way that second-graders are.  What a gift.  What an incredible gift life is.

About the author:  Rowen Wilson is a pen name. The photo used here is stock photography.

 Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.


Barbie in My Shoes

Barbie in My Shoes

By Mindy Goff

Barbie Art 2We began our lives at about the same time, Barbie and I.

She was born in 1959, and I two years later in 1961.

By the time we first crossed paths, I was a 7-year-old little girl in 2nd grade.

She was already a successful young woman.

I lived in a suburban two-story in America’s Heartland.

She lived in a fabulous dream house anywhere in the world.

Barbie was my fantasy. Every year I searched the Sears Wish Book for the newest model to put on my Christmas list. Every week I saved my allowance for the latest Barbie fashions. I spent hours playing Barbie. I spent hours being Barbie. Every year, her life got better and better. Teenage Fashion Model Barbie, Ballerina Barbie, Flight Attendant Barbie, Executive Career Girl Barbie, Astronaut Barbie, Miss America Barbie…

She could do anything!

Who loved Barbie? I did! Who wanted her glamorous life? Me! I would have traded my life for hers in a second! Things would’ve been a whole lot different for Barbie that’s for sure. What if instead of me living my life vicariously through Barbie, she lived through me. What if Barbie had my life?

1968 Broken Home Barbie: Comes with Mom, Dad, and older brother Doug. Also included, extra male and female bodies with interchangeable heads. Who’s dating who? Will Barbie & Doug have a new Mommy or Daddy soon? Exercise your creativity as you split up and reunite Barbie and Doug in all kinds of crazy family scenarios. With seven different houses and six new schools between them, the possibilities are endless. Meet all of their short term friends and acquaintances. Who will be the role models for these latchkey kids? Barbie comes with a suitcase and name tag. Brother Doug comes with a GED and an Air Force Uniform. Optional accessories include, a rusted out Ford Maverick, and the Neighborhood Friends Juvenile Delinquent Variety Pack.

1980 Love is Blind Barbie Deluxe Set: Comes with pink-heart-shaped-bubble carrying case. And introducing Malibu Mike, a California native that knocks Barbie off her feet. He’s gorgeous and sexy, her first love. With Kung Fu grip and super articulation Malibu Mike is more than a doll, he’s an action figure! But Malibu Mike has a temper. Push his button and hear what he has to say. “Shut-up!” “I love you,” ” You make me sick!” “I’ll never hurt you again.” “Get over here…NOW!” “I’m sorry, Baby” “Can’t you do anything right?” Each time you push Malibu Mike’s button it’s a surprise, you’ll never know what to expect. Makeshift apartment comes with breakable furniture and fully stocked beer cooler. Barbie comes with insta-bruise technology, magic ice pack and cover-up concealer. Black and blue marks seem to disappear like magic. Restraining order available but must be 21 or older to order.

1983 Collegiate Barbie: Malibu Mike has been recalled, and Barbie has been redesigned for an independent lifestyle. With eyes wide open and able to stand her own two feet Barbie goes to college. Book Smart and Streetwise she’s got so much to give…But who will win her heart? Enter Dream Date Ken. He’s sensitive, kind and passionate, an Artist. He makes her smile, he makes her laugh, he makes her feel like she can do anything.” Barbie & Ken,” Hmm has a nice ring to it.

1987 Newlywed Barbie and Ken Set: Complete with 2 bedroom bungalow. Ken and Barbie begin their lives as Mr. and Mrs. – Each come with a business suit. Ken has a briefcase and power tie, and Barbie has a pair of killer heels. All business by day and homebodies by happy hour. Also available Barbie brand nightwear by Victoria’s Secret. Barbie and Ken now have bendable waists, knees and elbows. These ultra- flexible lovebirds are easily posed in hundreds of positions.

1992 Mother Me Barbie: While Ken’s off to work, spend the day with the new mom on the block. Barbie turns in her timecard for a library card and her sports car for a minivan. Adorable infants come with many, many, many, many accessories. Bendable Barbie can stoop and kneel, so she can pick up baby’s toys over and over and over again. Programmed to sing 12 different lullabies and recite Dr. Suess verbatim. Eyelids close whenever you set her down. Additional children available.

1995 European Expansion Set: Ken’s got a new assignment. Come along with Barbie as she and Ken and all the kids move overseas. Set includes tiny third-floor walk up apartment and right-hand drive Eurovan, complete with real working horn! Spend day after day with Housefrau Barbie as she navigates the streets of Switzerland, young children in tow. Complete with German to French to Italian Phrasebook. Barbie says “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Please,” “Thank You,” and “MacDonald’s Happy Meal,” in three different languages. Ken speaks only English. Available for a limited time only.

2005 All Creatures Great and Small Barbie & Ken Adventure Set: Barbie and family move back to the States. Welcome home Barbie! Set comes complete with 2 dogs, 2 birds, 2 reptiles, 4 fish tanks, and a dream house full of teenagers! So many things to do, busy Barbie, she can do everything! Taxi driver, referee, child psychologist, animal trainer, housekeeper, tutor, chef, mother, wife, and lover extraordinaire. She’s an all-around domestic goddess! The fun never ends! All-night slumber parties? Early morning sports camp? High School Algebra homework? 24/7 teen-angst management? No worries! With a long-life lithium battery, Barbie can keep going non-stop for years!

2012 The Special Edition 50th Anniversary Barbie: She’s been so many places, done so many things. She’s got a new outlook on life and a whole new look to go along with it Easy hairstyle, sensible shoes, practical wardrobe. There’ll be no plastic surgery for this doll. Each line tells a story. That dream house full of teenagers? They’re all off on their own adventures. Ken is still here, He’s changed a bit too. Still sensitive and passionate, his hair is just beginning to grey, his chiseled physique has worn a bit smooth in places. They’re both a little thicker in the waist, a bit broader in the hips, makes for a lower center of gravity. It’s stable design. Reliable. Familiar. They still fit together, Barbie and Ken, like they were made for each other.

Mindy Goff is an actress, writer, and mother of three living her real-life adventure with her husband and children in a dream house in Connecticut.

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.