Internet Roundup: Education, Part 6

I’ve been keeping myself informed on education policy for a few years now, and am beginning to get involved in local efforts to improve laws and programs. There’s a lot going on in Nashville in this arena; for some great commentary on our local education politics, follow TC Weber’s blog Dad Gone Wild. Now that I’m no longer in survival mode with a brand-new baby, I am starting to go to meetings and get to know the people here in Nashville who are making a difference in our schools. I even spoke at a school board meeting last month!

I like to share some of the things I read and find noteworthy, but there’s been so much happening this year that it’s hard to tell what to link. This time rather than highlighting specific policies or changes, I picked some articles that address overarching themes in the debate.

“Education Does Not Cure Poverty–It Cures Ignorance” by Steven Singer 

So much of education policy is driven by the idea that if more people graduate high school and college with useful skills, they’ll be able to get good jobs, and the economy will improve. But improving your income is not the point of education. It’s a nice side effect. And counting on schools to improve our country’s economy lets a lot of people off the hook–the ones who are paying low wages, the ones who speculated irresponsibly and crashed the stock market. I love how Singer gets into big questions about what makes life worth living, and turns lawmakers’ conventional wisdom on its head.

“Stop Humiliating Teachers” by David Denby

It’s past time for the attacks on teachers to stop. The assumption behind so many education “reform” laws is that teachers are lazy idiots who do the bare minimum for their cushy benefits, who won’t do any real work unless they’re in fear for their jobs. This insult does more to hurt teacher morale and scare bright young people away from the profession than anything else, except perhaps the low pay, which is insulting in a different way. Denby puts the blame squarely where it belongs, on poverty.

“The Myth of the Superhero Teacher” by JP Fugler

If we depend on teachers to be superheroes in order to adequately educate our children, we’re going to be disappointed. First, there are not enough “rock star” teachers out there, and second, it’s a recipe for burnout. And as Fugler points out, it’s patronizing, substituting fawning praise for tangible rewards. I wish he had addressed the data-driven arguments I often hear about how giving students a “good” teacher three years in a row can reverse the achievement gap. That bogus research is based on formulas that predict the growth of corn. But I love how Fugler points to the movies that perpetuate this myth.  Teachers are just normal people trying to do an emotionally taxing, cognitively complex job, and we need support and resources and freedom from excessive, unfair scrutiny more than we need a pat on the back.

Internet Roundup: Education, part 5

Here’s another set of links to recent articles and blogs on education. The theme this time seems to be the way we treat teachers, and the ideas of accountability and respect.

The New York Times recently had an opinion feature on “What Makes a Good Teacher,” which was really a way to discuss teacher quality and how to improve it. Most of the debate gets bogged down in the question that I told Lamar Alexander was exactly the wrong one to ask: how do we get rid of bad teachers? The one voice in this conversation worth listening to was Mercedes Schneider, the only classroom teacher participating in the debate, who said teachers need respect, autonomy, small classes, planning time, and freedom from punitive evaluation systems based on student test scores. Schnieder has a great blog as well, which I’ve added to the blogroll.

This blog contrasts the idea of accountability with a teacher’s daily interactions with students. It should already be clear to everyone that teachers can’t be responsible for a majority of the factors that influence student learning, but this vivid illustration makes that clear.

Recently, there has been a little bit of talk about holding states and school districts accountable for inputs, in addition to, or hopefully instead of, holding teachers accountable for outcomes. This means that governments and local education authorities are responsible for providing teachers with adequate resources and making sure that children have health care, nutrition, and safe homes, as these are prerequisites to learning. If we’re going to focus on “accountability,” it’s only fair to apply it across the board, rather than to focus only on teachers, who have little influence compared to home environments. I hope that this idea gains momentum and that people start to see how unreasonable and unfair the current use of “accountability” rhetoric is to teachers.

Thomas Weber of Dad Gone Wild has a great essay that uses a common sense metaphor comparing teachers to parents. He does a great job pointing out the reformers’ fallacy that teachers’ and students’ interests are opposed. In reality, just as parents fight for their children’s best interests, teachers always have students’ best interests at heart, even when they advocate for policies that appear to primarily benefit themselves. Just as a mom who’s not getting any sleep can’t do her best for her kids, a teacher who’s paid so poorly she needs a second job can’t teach to the best of her ability. Children benefit when the adults in charge of them feel secure and supported. And when teachers aren’t constantly afraid of losing their jobs and have the resources they need to do their best work, they improve continuously and stay in the profession longer, so that students benefit from their growing expertise. It’s easy to imagine a virtuous cycle of healthy classroom relationships, where now we have a vicious cycle of tense, exhausting relationships destabilized by outside influences (high stakes testing and poverty). I’m glad Thomas is continuing to write and speak out about these things. His perspective as a parent makes him extra credible when he speaks in support of teachers, and I thank him for that.

Internet Roundup: Education, Part 4

Since learning about and becoming involved with the Bad Ass Teachers Association, I’ve been directed to lots of great links and articles about education and the real problems in our schools. I wanted to share a few of the best ones and comment on why they’re right.

Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post has become my favorite education journalist, just as Diane Ravitch is my favorite education expert. Often she merely gives another writer a forum, as she does here, allowing an education leader from Finland to compare how our two societies treat teachers and how that relates to educational outcomes in the two countries. Pasi Sahlberg concludes that child poverty is a bigger problem in the US than bad teachers, discusses three fallacies on the topic of teacher effectiveness, and gives three policy recommendations. Here, Strauss devotes her column to a principal’s discussion of the Senate hearings on education (I wrote Senator Alexander about what I’d like to see happen in those hearings a couple weeks ago). The principal criticizes “the superstructure of education supervision” which I think is a perfect way to describe where we’ve gone wrong in our approach to education.

The Atlantic has had some good writing on education in the past month as well. Here, they review Anya Kamenetz’s new book on testing and the way it has distorted schools. I’ve liked Kamenetz since her first book on student loan debt, and now she’s writing with the perspective of a parent and the experience of NPR’s lead education blogger. Her book is on my long list of things I want to read.

My favorite of the Atlantic articles might be this one, about the all-important place of joy in the classroom. I love the vision of education painted here, of teaching students to appreciate and enjoy different experiences. The standardized test is about as far opposite this approach to education as as you can get. You can’t assess joy. Another thing that’s hard to assess? Wisdom. But that’s what I have always sought in my education; it’s what motivates me to continue to learn and read as an adult. That’s what I want for my students and my son. In high school English classes today, the current focus is supposed to be on skills over content–but the content is the stuff that makes the skills worth learning and using! It’s what makes the class more interesting than repetitive drills. If we want students to be “engaged” (another buzzword), we can’t abandon literature in favor of teaching students how to read technical manuals and textbooks for other subjects.

This smart essay made me realize I didn’t go far enough in my letter to Senator Alexander. I suggested that we should only have standardized tests if they are developmentally appropriate, transparently graded, and returned promptly with detailed results. Of course, I knew what I was asking was impossible, and that was the point. But Steven Singer points out the simplest and most radical solution to the problems created by standardized testing: chuck it all. Get rid of every bit of it. It’s pointless as a learning exercise, it’s abusive to children, it’s a waste of money, its purpose is merely to create data to justify its own existence. It’s harder to stand behind the continued use of standardized tests than to just stop putting anyone through this data-driven madness. Trust teachers to make their own assessments, and stop interfering. That’s the first step to improve the quality of education.

Internet Roundup: Motherhood, part 4

As usual, I’ve got lots to say about this mom gig, especially when I read things about moms on the internet that are either brilliant or terrible. Over the course of this year, I’ve accumulated lots of links to articles that hit a nerve with me when I read them (maybe months ago), and I can’t just forget about them, even though the news cycle has long since moved on. As I said before, I have to speak out in whatever small way I can, and not let my dearth of free time quiet me. So here are three of those articles and my comments.

This one qualifies as terrible. “A Letter from a Working Mother to a Stay-at-Home Mother, and vice versa” by Carolyn Ee is supremely well-intentioned. It’s about mothers appreciating each other and recognizing that we all work hard and make sacrifices, whether or not we work outside the home. However, the terms for that appreciation are retrograde and guilt-inducing. Jessica Grose at Slate did a great job explaining what’s wrong with the letters. Grose especially emphasizes that working or not isn’t really a choice for most women, and that when it is, it’s a choice that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. That’s an approach to the issue that I’ve read and appreciated before.

The vision of gender roles in these letters is really old-fashioned. The husband/father/partner figure is only even mentioned once, when he comes home and fails to relieve the stay-at-home mom because he had a hard day too. The mom doesn’t demand help, but simply dissolves into tears. There is no sign of a partner in the working mom letter, as if all working parents were single mothers. This really doesn’t give enough credit to involved dads who work hard to be equal partners and co-parents. The “second shift” is referenced, but as a fact of working-mom life, not as an injustice that needs to be rectified in our larger community and in individual families. One of the main reasons given for why working moms are admirable is basically because they are everywhere and we all need them to do their jobs. As if our economy’s dependence on the work of parents were remarkable at all, and as if the community’s reliance on them were necessary for us to permit them to leave their children in day care without calling it neglect.

These “letters” are a great example to me of the rhetorical dangers of using the second person to address an entire group of people. By saying, “all of you stay-at-home moms do a, b, and c,” or worse, “every one of you working moms feel x, y, and z,” the author alienates all members of that group who do not do or feel exactly those things. She implies, for example, that the working moms who don’t enjoy the time they spend at home with sick kids don’t love their kids or something, ignoring the fact that sometimes kids are their most insufferable when they’re not feeling well. I was offended by this line about working moms, because I have committed this sin, and plan to do it again, as often as possible:

I know that you often feel guilty about having any more time away from your children so you sacrifice your leisure time. I know you can’t bring yourself to take a “day off” for yourself when your children are at daycare.

So am I supposed to feel guilty for working half days over the summer while keeping my child in care full time? I thought the purpose of these “letters” was to alleviate mom guilt. Lines like that present a single acceptable version of motherhood, whether working for pay or not, and judge all who fail to conform to it. And that single version is an oppressive one; it’s total motherhood, and it’s exactly what’s making stay-at-home and working moms both feel so insecure that they end up judging each other to make themselves feel better. So Carolyn Ee has really just been feeding the fire she says she’s trying to put out.

Instead, this is the kind of discourse we should be having about stay-at-home moms and working moms. FaithM will be working less because she’s having her second child soon, and she puts that ‘choice’ in the context of the wage gap, family policy, and our cultural assumptions about families (mother = primary caregiver, and worker = breadwinner = man with wife and children at home). She points out that parenting is hard work that society doesn’t value the way it should because there is no dollar amount attached to it, and that to some extent, some versions of feminism have bought into that devaluation of domestic work. We need to talk about the larger context in which we make ‘choices’ about our families and careers, while also appreciating people who don’t get enough respect because of our screwed up ideas about work and family.

Internet Roundup: Education, Part 2

Yesterday I introduced a handful of random articles about education that I thought were worth sharing. But today’s three are the best I’ve read in a long time. I feel like they really get to the core of the biggest problems in schools, and I only wish the people making big decisions about education, especially the ones who have never been in charge of a classroom, would take these ideas to heart.

This article is great because it reveals the unstated assumptions behind most of the rhetoric we read and hear about education, and shows why they’re wrong.  I love the description of test-prep-driven schooling as a “hamster wheel”:

“Five Bad Education Assumptions the Media Keep Recycling” by Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post

My favorite points are the ones attacking standardized testing, the international competition mentality, and the idea that students should be motivated to learn because it will get them a good job someday. This last myth, #4, is spurious for a couple reasons. First, learning should be intrinsically motivated. Second, the idea of eventual financial reward is only motivating if a student can look that far into their own future and reasonably believes they will get that reward. Very young students have no concept of adult careers, and don’t know how present effort is related to eventual success (and when they’re young is precisely when they begin to fall behind). But what’s most depressing to me is how cynical some students are about whether their hard work will ever pay off. They have never known anyone personally who succeeded in real life, so they figure there’s no point in trying too hard because they’ll be discriminated against, or be unable to afford college, or success will elude them in some other way that’s out of their control. When that’s the case, it’s totally rational and even smart for them to put in a bare minimum of effort. Sad but true.

Once you’ve debunked and rejected those myths, the question remains, what is wrong with schools and what can be done to help the situation? This article does a good job of explaining why trying to reform schools by focusing primarily on teachers is misguided:

“Poverty Is What’s Crippling Public Education in the US–Not Bad Teachers” by Anthony Cody

I don’t think many people know that the statistic about four years of good teachers in a row closing the achievement gap is based on extrapolations, not on some experiment with lucky low-income children who had four great teachers. Researchers took measurements of student growth from one year of good teaching, and projected that out to see how many years it would take to close the gap, using equations based on predicting the growth of corn, because children’s learning is exactly as predictable and regular as the cultivation of a genetically engineered crop. Policy makers are focusing on teachers because of research like this, but they’re ignoring the biggest factor, poverty.

Poverty is one main focus of Diane Ravitch, who may be my new favorite education policy person. She has a new book out, called Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. I’ve started reading the book, which is long and involved, with lots of graphs and charts and citations. I’ll review it here eventually, but no promises as to when. Ravitch has been giving great interviews to promote her book:

“Diane Ravitch: Testing and Vouchers Hurt Our Schools. Here’s What Works” by Sara Scribner for Salon

And what does work? She suggests better prenatal care, early childhood education, and health services in schools. My favorite of her common sense solutions:

The research on class size is overwhelming — kids who are struggling do better in a small class because they get more attention. A teacher can spend more time with the children who are behind and figure out what’s going wrong.

I guarantee you will never find an actual teacher who will disagree with that. And here’s more Ravitch, summing up all of our problems in education in about two sentences:

the research is very clear that family is far more important than anything that happens in the school, and when the family is economically secure and when the parents are educated and when they pay attention to what happens to their children, their children get higher test scores. When families live in poverty and their kids don’t get medical checkups, and they have eye problems, ear problems, asthma, they have lower scores.  That’s just a reality. That’s not an excuse.

Amen, Diane. This is the bottom line: our schools and our communities are reflections of each other. You can’t improve our schools without improving our communities at the same time. Any effort that focuses too narrowly on one or the other will fail. As long as our society has incredible income inequality, there will be incredible inequality in educational opportunity.

Sharing the Magic of Harry Potter

This is the kind of blog post that I hope I’ll be writing in a few years.

Why Harry Potter? Reflecting on the Magic as It Hooks My Child by Molly from First the Egg

I think this aspect of sharing literature with a kid is what has me most excited:

It’s the first bit of our culture that’s really his, too. Eric and I have been making Harry Potter references since before Noah started listening and talking. … He’s been looking forward to reading Harry Potter and joining that conversation. It’s not just us, either: if he’s carrying the book around or just mentions it, other adults can talk plot points and characters quite warmly. It’s like a ticket to actual conversations about shared reading experiences with other people.

In the spirit of sharing the books I love with my son, even though he’s much too young to ‘get it,’ I’m taking him to a Harry Potter party at my mom’s library tomorrow! A whole day of events are planned, beginning with a baby program. There will be owls and a costume contest. Here’s a video starring my sister as Hermione with a little more info:

The Red Book

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan


Deborah Copaken Kogan recently published a startling essay on the sexism she encountered in marketing a memoir she wrote about being a war photographer. The book was called Shutterbabe, and I think that title says it all. If this novel hadn’t been on my reading list before I read that essay, I would have added it then.

The title, The Red Book, refers to a Harvard alumni publication in which former students brag about their accomplishments from the past five years. The novel has an interesting format, alternating between entries from the Red Book for each character, and then telling the story of their 20th reunion. The main characters are four women who were roommates in college and have kept in fairly regular contact. Addison is an old-money prep school legacy, an unsuccessful artist in a bad marriage raising her kids on her trust fund. Jane is a war reporter based in Paris with a young daughter. Mia is a frustrated actress married to a successful director/screenwriter with several kids. And Clover is a former hippie child turned ousted banking executive who’s trying to concieve.

This book reminded me a lot of Motherland, another novel I read recently about privileged women around age 40 with children and troubled marriages. Motherland focuses more on the comedy, while The Red Book is more dramatic or tragic, with funny moments. Of the two, I think I prefer The Red Book. Adultery is a major theme; the only couple in the book that doesn’t struggle with it is the one with the worst relationship of all. That’s kind of depressing. There’s a strong message that says carpe diem, encouraging the characters, and through them the readers, to hold on to the dreams and aspirations they had when they were young. Kogan’s sentences and dialog are sharp, perceptive and wise. The book was a pleasure to read.

Likeable Characters

Do characters have to be likeable? Is there more pressure on female characters to be likeable, and more pressure on female writers to write likeable characters? Is this an issue of genre, of high and low culture, of literature versus popular fiction?

In an interview about her new book, The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud was asked about the fact that her female protagonist is not very likeable. Here’s her response:

For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t ‘Is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘Is this character alive?

Messud got a lot of attention for this answer, mostly positive. It’s a pretty appealing and articulate denunciation of a double standard, a nice statement of what’s important in a character and what’s not.

Jennifer Weiner responded to Messud’s prickly answer with an article of her own called “I Like Likeable Characters.” Now, Weiner has plenty of feminist cred in my book for her involvement in the annual VIDA Count, which keeps tabs on how many women vs. men are published and reviewed in the country’s best literary magazines, and I respect her for that. Here’s her main point:

What bothers me about this latest flare-up is that it feels like just one more way for literary women writers to dismiss commercially successful women writers. … Calling a novel’s characters the L-word doesn’t just imply that the author in question is writing like a girl; it hints that she is writing like the wrong kind of girl—a dumb, popular, easy girl.

So on the one hand, we have women writers who are insisting—repeatedly, at top volume—that their books are real writing, “serious literary endeavors,” and holding up their unlikable characters as evidence. On the other hand, we have writers being urged by their agents and editors to make their characters more likable, in the interest of sales.

I think for the most part Weiner is reacting against the percieved elitism in Messud’s remarks. Weiner is someone who seems to have borne the brunt of a lot of literary snobbishness, so I think her sensitivity is somewhat understandable. Weiner has some criticisms of Messud’s character and writing that go far beyond the issue of likeability; I’ve added the book to my reading list so hopefully I’ll be able to weigh in someday on the validity of those criticisms. It may be somewhat arrogant of Messud to implicitly compare her character to those of Nabokov and Shakespeare, but I do think she had a good point in calling the interviewer out. I think she’s right that a male writer would not have been asked this question, and a female writer might not have been asked this question about a male character. For example, Hilary Mantel probably hasn’t been asked about whether she considers Thomas Cromwell to be likeable.

Women are socialized to be likeable above all else: the best part of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was her exposition of this expectation and her strategies for dealing with it. I think it’s only reasonable to observe that this pressure to people-please translates into literature and to the way we read female characters. We expect female characters to conform to sexist ideas of what a woman should be, and are surprised and put off when they don’t. It’s easy to see why Messud got so much applause for pointing out this reality. She put into words what we’ve all been thinking and experiencing. Perhaps some women readers are socialized by schools and book clubs to look for and enjoy characters who are like them. Books with cupcakes on the covers seem to have inoffensive, docile protagonists who generally conform to gender norms. However, just because a character conforms to gender norms and has a positive attitude, doesn’t necessarily mean she’s not “alive.” Weiner gives tons of counterexamples herself, of interesting, likeable characters who would make great friends, roommates or coworkers, from high literature and popular novels. To her stellar list I’d like to add Elizabeth Bennet (“I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know”), Hermione Granger, and Sookie Stackhouse.

I think a character’s likeability is not an important issue. An interesting character may be likeable or not, and to me being interesting is more important than being likeable. That’s true for male and female characters, from male and female writers, as far as I’m concerned. I think this is the same thing that Messud means when she asks “Is this character alive?” I think this is also the same thing that Weiner means when she says, “Ideally, our shelves, and even individual books, should contain the rainbow. There should be room for everyone: for the lovable and the despicable, for Humbert Humbert and Hannibal Lecter, for Bridget Jones and even the poor, scorned Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” These two writers are both feminists and I don’t think they actually disagree on all that much.  I believe Weiner when she says that in popular genre fiction there is pressure to write relatable, likeable characters that shallow readers can imagine sharing a coffee with. I also believe that sometimes writers trying to be “literary” might begin by trying to be edgy and provocative, and one shortcut might be an anti-hero character who would not be very good real-life company. However, I’m not quite sure I believe Weiner when she says that a novel must be full of unlikeable people in order to be considered literary today.

There is more to being a complete human being than being likeable, and that goes for characters as well as for people. Messud was right to point that out. I think I lean toward her side of this debate. Weiner has some valid objections about genre divisions and the way they encourage women writers to gang up on each other, but for me they don’t undermine Messud’s larger statement about our expectations of women, women writers and women characters.

On Dreams

Slate had a great article criticizing the Barbie Dreamhouse in Berlin. Buried in the essay was a great quote explaining what’s wrong with encouraging kids to “dream”:

a dream is not the same as a plan or a vision or an aspiration. It is the ultimate in passivity, something visited upon you while you are asleep. Or it’s what a princess does as she gazes out the window and waits for her happy ending. Do we need to telegraph to girls that the be-all and end-all of their young lives is spinning out beautiful mental pictures that have no basis in reality?

I have vivid memories of buying this dream rhetoric wholesale when I was much younger. I honestly thought that through some magical alchemy, dreaming my dreams with a true and pure heart would actually make them come true. I thought I didn’t have to do anything to look beautiful, attract a handsome, kind boyfriend, and live in happy prosperity; these things would simply drop into my lap if I was just the right kind of person and wished on enough stars. It was a nice delusion. The passivity of this stance was actually part of its virtue. It would be wrong or dirty or maybe even slutty to put myself out there and work hard for these things on my own. It would somehow devalue them if they weren’t unearned gifts from the universe. And I had no responsibility for changing things if I wasn’t satisfied. I had a vague promise of eventual happiness and nothing to do to make it happen. It made for a contented, empty, passionless, childish existence. I’m endlessly glad I grew out of this phase, but I’m embarrassed to say exactly how long it took.

I think this is a gendered thing. In general, girls are taught these messages more frequently than boys are. (Although I do see some of my male students express equally deluded hopes of becoming rappers and NBA stars, despite doing zero work toward those goals.) I can trace them directly back to Disney movies and sweet sentiments like “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” It’s nice to encourage kids to aim for big goals, but the emphasis needs to be on them doing the work and making it happen for themselves, instead of on passively wishing. Instead of dreaming, they should be planning, and putting those plans into motion.

Writing and Mother’s Day

I’m a writer in a writing rut. I’m feeling myself lose interest in my blog, in my journal. I’m having trouble focusing; I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to say. It’s not a new feeling. I’ve had it before. But this time I feel like I have something to blame it on: I’m pregnant.

I’m very largely pregnant. My house is cluttered with baby gifts that haven’t yet found a place to belong. My last month’s calendar was full with showers, midwife appointments, and family visits. The little person inside me makes sitting (or standing or lying down) for long periods uncomfortable and distracts me by kicking painfully at my ribs. If I went into labor today, the baby wouldn’t be considered premature.

So I kind of feel like I can let myself off the hook. It’s only natural that I turn inward and focus my attention on the life that’s growing inside me, on the ordeal I’ll soon endure giving birth. No need to wallow in non-writing-writer guilt like usual. This is one time it’s ok to be lazy. One thing that I think will help me to survive motherhood is being kind to myself, and I know I should start that now.

But I also want to resist that urge to slow down. My biggest fear in becoming a mother is losing my identity, losing the things that are most important to me. In order to avoid resenting my child, I know I’ll have to hang on to the things that make me who I am. So I need to keep writing. It’s more urgent now than ever.

One comforting thing that I’ve heard from other young mothers I trust who have an outlook similar to mine is that when you have a child, your priorities do shift, but you can still make time for the things that are truly important.

I’m making time for other things that aren’t writing. Easier things, less mentally draining things. I’m still going to the gym about five times a week, for example, though my pace on the elliptical machine has significantly slowed. The choice to prioritize gym time probably has more to do with my poor body image than with my love for exercise.

Part of it may be that I’m afraid of writing. Afraid of reflecting. Afraid of what I’ll discover if I think deeper about this transition and go beneath the surface of onesies and diaper bags. But I need to face that fear. It’s important for women to write about themselves and to make their struggles public if they can take the heat. Letting others in can make all of our struggles a little more bearable because they feel less solitary.

So I want to make writing a priority, while also being kind to myself when it doesn’t go well. That’s kind of hard when my main source of motivation in life has been the conviction that if I don’t accomplish X task then I’m worthless. I need to balance that motivating writer guilt with the need to be kind to myself. Balance–as elusive as that concept is–is the goal, and it begins not just with my actions, or how I spend my time, but with my thinking.

I guess this is my pep talk to myself as I face the biggest change in my life so far. To put this new focus into action, I feel like I need to inject some life into this blog. One thing I’d like to do in order to keep the blog going and make it fun, sustainable, and engaging, is expand somewhat beyond book reviews to repost articles that I read online. A good amount of the reading that I do is online, and I believe this is the case for many, many people I know too. I like it when facebook friends direct me to interesting articles, so hopefully my audience here will appreciate these links as well. These posts will be similar to the “internet roundup” posts that I’ve done a couple times and similar to what I’ve seen on blue milk, a feminist blog on parenting that I admire. I’ll offer a quote from an article I’ve read online, with or without commentary. I’ll keep using the internet roundup tag on these posts for organization and clarity.

So, since it’s the season, I wanted to make my first internet roundup post in about a year about Mother’s Day.

“Why I Hate Mother’s Day” by Anne Lamott

Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is, sadly, true. …

I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s. …

It should go without saying that I also hate Valentine’s Day.

Mothering has been the richest experience of my life, but I am still opposed to Mother’s Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents. …

Don’t get me wrong: There were times I could have literally died of love for my son, and I’ve felt stoned on his rich, desperate love for me. But I bristle at the whispered lie that you can know this level of love and self-sacrifice only if you are a parent. We talk about “loving one’s child” as if a child were a mystical unicorn. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly feel that if you have not had and raised a child, your capacity for love is somehow diminished. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly believe that non-parents cannot possibly know what it is to love unconditionally, to be selfless, to put yourself at risk for the gravest loss. But in my experience, it’s parents who are prone to exhibit terrible self-satisfaction and selfishness, who can raise children as adjuncts, like rooms added on in a remodel. Their children’s value and achievements in the world are reflected glory, necessary for these parents’ self-esteem, and sometimes, for the family’s survival. This is how children’s souls are destroyed.

I guess I’m about 96% done with my pregnancy, so I guess that gives me about 96% of a right to celebrate Mother’s Day as a mother and expect others to shower me with flowers and greeting cards. But Lamott’s article really makes some great points that I totally agree with. Mother’s Day celebrates the ideology of total motherhood that frightens me so much. It excludes childless women and men in the same way that Valentine’s Day excludes the uncoupled. It’s not an equal opportunity holiday. Lamott makes me want to boycott Mother’s Day forever.

The problem is that I would feel horrible explaining these objections to my mother, mother-in-law, and my husband’s grandmother when they wonder why I’m not giving or accepting gifts on Mother’s Day. I don’t want to insult them or the sacrifices they made to raise their kids. At the same time, though, I think I will make a point of honoring my husband’s childless aunt, who is like a second mother to him, and I might bring up Lamott’s main points if the opportunity arises. I will probably celebrate Mother’s Day the same way I celebrate Valentine’s Day: tongue-in-cheek, fully aware of its problematic exclusionary nature, with no sense of superiority, and most of all privately. I hated Valentine’s Day growing up, because I spent all of high school single, and that experience still colors my feelings about the day. The only reason I celebrate Valentine’s Day is because it happens to be the anniversary of the beginning of my relationship with my husband, but I still feel sympathy and solidarity with those who find the holiday annoying or depressing. Personally, I don’t have any similar baggage with Mother’s Day because I didn’t struggle with infertility and have/had good relationships with my mother and grandmothers, but in the abstract I definitely see how the two holidays are comparable in the way they enforce traditional gender roles through celebrating them.

I think social media makes holidays like these even more oppressive than they have to be through the relentless sharing of pictures of flower arrangements and the competition to have or be the best partner. The comparisons that these joyful status updates engender in those who are excluded from the holiday are what make the celebration’s exclusionary nature so oppressive and hurtful to them. Resisting the urge to show off how loved I am is the best I can do to keep my celebration from hurting anyone else.