Monday Musings: 2008 CHEERS and JEERS

Monday, December 29, 2008
I am still relatively new at this blogging thing and was having a hard time figuring out how to treat this week--such a liminal period, the end of one year (a tumultuous one at that), the beginning of a new one, affording, at the risk of sounding cheesy (like you don't know I'm cheesy by now), hope, opportunity, promise. How do you sum it up, especially through the lense of motherhood?

Luckily enough, 30 Rock provided some inspiration. I was slow on the uptake with this show which I am now obsessed with. In one of the early episodes, the sinewy 20 year old receptionist/eye-candy girl (who explains that she and her betrothed will have been dating "2 months in about 3 weeks") tells Liz Lemon: "We want to have kids when it's still cool."

Spot on, just like so much in the show: Parenthood, parenting, motherhood, babies--it's all ubiquitous right now. Whether it's the international press corp following Brangelina, special editions of popular magazines devoted solely to children, politicians being forced into the work-life balance debate, or the ever-ranging back and forth on nursing: The narrative of parenthood is hot. We're lucky, in a sense, to have kids when it's so au current. At the same time, it's difficult, sometimes, to navigate all the "noise" and just be a mom, isn't it? It's enough to mother and feed and caretake without reading about J Lo's parenting style or what 342 people think about the fact that Facebook has taken down photos of breastfeeding mothers.

So, without (even) further ado: My CHEERS and JEERS for all the news that was fit to be called "parenthood-related" in 2008:

JEERS to Trainwreck Teenage Pregnancies

With Jamie Lynn Spears giving birth at age 16 to Maddie Briann Aldridge, 17 year old Bristol Palin due any second, the ABC family show The Secret Life of the American Teen, and the media hailstorm over the eventually untrue "pregnancy pact" in Manchester, 2008 may be known as the year of the pregnant teen. Although I almost gave the phenomenon a CHEERS since it led to one of my favorite quotes of the year--Tina Fey as Sarah Palin: "Marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers"--it's just horrific. Not to mention in-a-bad-way retro (remember the old Sally Jesse shows devoted to "Babies having babies"? Haven't we gotten past this?) . The most saddening part of this is when the teenagers in question claim to want our lives because of the "unconditional love."

My goodness, get a puppy.

to Iphone Apps for Parents

I constantly make fun of my husband for his love-affair with his mistress, the Iphone. But when a reader sent in this article about applications specifically tailored to parents I had to admit that the Iphone can do some pretty remarkable things. Whether you need a nursing tracker, a portable baby monitor, a recipe-maker, or a white-noise provider the Iphone has you covered. Next up it will nurse for you, watch the baby, and cook the food.

JEERS to the Man Who Gives Birth

The image and story of "the pregnant man" caused visceral reactions in almost everyone. First, there was the fact that a man, Thomas Beatie, was with child. It turned out he was born a woman, and when he went through the process of becoming a man, he did not have his ovaries removed, which made the pregnancy less of a scientific wonder and more an issue of gender politics. The LGBT community was torn on whether this man should have told his story so publicaly, concerned it could cause more damage than good and the jury is still out on whether telling the story to Oprah hurt or helped.

I'm happy for the happy couple, but the public fascination warrants the JEERS. Enough already! And, if Beatie really wanted to just have a family like "regular people" as he claims--why is he now writing a book about it. Just goes to show you how timelessly sensationalist pregnancy is.

CHEERS AND JEERS to Monster families

Two big families were in the media's eye this year, and they illustrate two completely different ways to have kids. The Duggars--Michelle and Jim and their 18 children--follow the controversial, conservative "Quiverfull" movement, which in general opposes using either birth control or infertility treatments, and is unequivocally opposed to "feminism"--hence my JEERS. The most recent addition to the family was Jordyn-Grace, born December 19 of this year. The rest range in age from 17 months to 21 years old and, cloyingly, also have names starting with "J": John-David, Jana, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jeremiah, Jedidiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah Jennifer, and Joshua. The family's life is now being chronicled in a reality show on TLC called 17 Kids & Counting.

"Jon & Kate Plus 8" also shows the daily life of a family that went from Jon & Kate and their twin girls, to Jon & Kate, the twins, and a new set of sextuplets. Unlike the Duggars, this family was the product of modern fertility science. Everything they do happens in sextuplicate (is that a word?) and--this is why this garners a CHEERS-- it really makes having one or two kids seem cake-walk easy...!

Though not as publicized as with the Duggars: J&K+8 are also highly religious. It makes you wonder if you need to believe in God to be able to sustain a life with more than one of these little monsters...!

CHEERS AND JEERS to the "Momification" of Michelle Obama

Not surprisingly, with the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president, quite a bit of attention has been paid to his accomplished wife, Michelle. Michelle has a distinguished career in law and a history of working on behalf of the underpriveleged, and, in an early NPR interview, many of the Harvard professors that taught both Barack and Michelle almost sheepishly admitted that they would have pegged M to go onto a life in the national political spotlight. Perhaps relatedly--as part of the campaign, there was an effort to make Michelle more "palatable" to more conservative America, giving her a fashion make-over, even advice to speak more quietly so she would not seem so "militant." Hillary redux. On top of that, a great deal of attention has been paid to what role she will have as First Lady, something she herself has defined as "mom-in-chief." Debate now rages on the internet about whether she has been too "mom-ified," transforming a formidable working woman into a docile stay-at-home mom. Some argue that she is "throwing away her achievements" by not keeping a paying job, others say she is "reinventing stay-at-home motherhood." No doubt this debate will rage on for the next four (or eight??) years while Michelle is in the White House--and after that as well. CHEERS to having such a role model of a woman and her young kids in the national spotlight, JEERS to a culture of questioning and judging everything she does in the name of "motherhood."

CHEERS to finding the silver-lining of this recession.

According to this article, the recession may be good for marriage. The argument is "elegantly simple" (I for some reason always remember that bio text books described the double-helix like that--we remember the oddest things): Since money is the root of most marital problems, the lack of money reduces fighting. Hmmm...many missing links for sure...but according to the article, the strongest marriages were born during the Great Depression and it is nice to read something about the recession that doesn't make me want to jump off a bridge.

JEERS to "Twilight Moms"

This seems to be an example of people LOOKING to be cultish. There is an actual movement of crazy moms who are obsessed--and I mean obsessed--with the teeny-bopper "Twilight" books that this year's blockbuster movie was based on. Although the general assumption was that the movie would draw only teens and tweens, it turned out that women over the age of 25 made up 45% of the audiene for this film, and many of these people were mothers, either attending with their daughters, or going on their own with other moms. At first blush, this seems fine--moms reclaiming a bit of their youth and bonding with their daughters. But look a bit closer and see that these moms have websites, online communities and travel plans devoted to "Twilight." Debate rages amongst the moms about which 17 year old character they would rather date; they are booking trips en masse to visit the town where the books are set; one mother tried to buy the cheerleading outfit of a girl in the town--while the girl was in it. My interal crazy meter is going off. Plus if we have learned everything from after-school specials (can you believe our kids won't know what "after school specials" are??) it's this: We aren't really supposed to be our kids' friend, we're supposed to be their parents. A natural corrolary? We probably shouldn't be lusting after the same 17 year old who is on the poster in their rooms.


Was she a saintlike role model for working mothers, a privileged, book-banning control freak, or a pregnancy-faking cue-card-reading huckster? Probably none of the above, but every description seemed fitting at one point or another during the last couple months of the U.S. election. While Obama urged us to stick to the issues, Sarah Palin drove the electorate into a frenzy of half-truths and hearsay — and no one took her candidacy more personally than the mothers of America. With some distance on the election--and with the election ending how I wanted it to--I am starting to feel a bit sorry for Sarah, having been thrown into such a shark tank of media and national vitriol. But you know what? She was an idiot, she has made a mockery of intelligent women everywhere, and she has made it so I can never use the word "maverick" every agin. She never should have been thursted into the VP spotlight to begin with.

CHEERS to the Brangelina twins

You probably were expecting JEERS? A comment about the media's fascination with two people simply having babies and getting to do it with a small army of help in the form of nannies, cooks, trainers, more nannies? Perhaps a tie-back to the "monster family" topic above?

But you know what? I love Brangelina. I love that Angelina was a blood-wearing sociopath who has become a smiling mom in the park by day, a U.N. ambassador by afternoon, a red-carpet fixture by night.

I love that the trainwreck has transformed because she became a mom. It's inspiring. Plus she's just hot and wears tons of black and I might have bought aviator sunglasses beause she looks like such a badass in them.

Oh yea, and the twins are cute.

JEERS to Josef Fritzl, the Most evil parent of the year

The discovery of the family locked in seventy-three-year-old Austrian man Joseph Fritzl's basement — including his forty-two-year-old daughter and three grandchildren by incest, none of whom had ever seen the light of day — was one of the year's most gut-wrenching parenting news story. Fritzl is currently facing charges of rape, incest, false imprisonment and slavery, all of which should result in a nice long jail sentence before he rots in hell or whatever bad place you happen to believe in.

JEERS to the Most enviable toddler wardrobe of 2008: Suri Cruise

Suri is rarely photographed wearing the same thing twice (except her metallic shoes, which are de rigeur). She has a penchant for dresses, and the last year has seen her wearing high-end threads from Burberry, Juicy Couture, Phillip Lim, Bonpoint, Helena, and Splendid Little.

JEERS...yes, because it is excessive to dress a child like this and because there has got to be something wrong about the amount of time this child spends in the shoe section of Barney. But really? JEERS because I am jealous of the wardrobe of a 3 year old...!

JEERS to Bisphenoal A, Melamine, and other scary things

Last year it was lead in toys; this year, the toxic chemical BPA emanating from plastic containers and water bottles. There's nothing scarier than finding out that something as innocuous as toys and baby bottles may be causing your family harm. Then, the melamine scare. It came from China when, starting in July, alarming reports began emerging that the industrial chemical melamine had been found in Chinese-produced infant formula, leading to kidney stones in thousands of infants. Just this past month, though, the story took a turn for the local when news leaked that even U.S.-made infant formula contained the dangerous chemical, prompting the FDA to release new guidelines for what it considered a "safe amount." The substance, used to make plastics, apparently turns up in a lot of products whose manufacturers are hoping to boost protein levels of dairy and powdered-dairy products. Far from being a mere accident, this was the kind of contamination that makes you wonder whether you can eat anything you don't grow yourself.

JEERS AND CHEERS to Vaccinations and Autism

If you want to immediately spur eye-rolls, utter "Jenny McCarthy," "vaccinations" or "autism" to a bunch of moms, but be prepared for some vehement reactions. This year, Amanda Peet got reamed on the internet for calling non-vaccinating parents "parasites," while Dennis Leary's jokes about autistic kids' parents backfired bigtime, and singer Kimya Dawson (of Juno fame) provoked the ire of commenters with an off-hand comment about not vaccinating her daughter. CHEERS for promoting conversation, JEERS for celebrities undermining accepted medical science. (Go ahead, send me the hatemail, I am ready).

JEERS to the Loss of a Father: Heath Ledger

The passing of any young man is a tragedy. The passing of a young man just as he is beginning to really get noticed for his craft, even more so. The passing of a young father just as his child begins blossoming into her young life--the biggerst tragedy of all.

The images of little Matilda being hugged by her devastated mom brought home an obvious truth: It doesn't matter how much money or fame you can still drop dead at any time.

Hug your kids.

to the Most well-intentioned legislation that utterly backfired: the Nebraska Safe Haven law

Nebraska legislators thought they'd make life easier on desperate parents when they passed a blanket safe haven law. Little did they know how desperate some parents were. Parents traveled hours--to abandon their teens. One dad dropped of nine kids before the law was amended. What started out as a way to decriminalize parents who were responsible enough to take steps to ensure the safety of their newborn children, even when they couldn't take care of them themselves, turned into a "get out of child-jail free card," making regular parents everywhere scratch their heads in amazement.

CHEERS to the Best Sesame Street guest star ever: Feist

It's not easy to find something or somebody who transfixes parents and toddlers alike, but Feist did the trick.


Finally, CHEERS to TINA FEY.

If you can't tell yet, I am obsessed with Tina Fey.

A mom who is witty and self-deprecating, accomplished and humble.

Her interview in Vanity Fair, full of tidbits about how a "regular" girl achieved the sort of confidence and comfort in her own skin to serve as a moral compass through life, has informed my thoughts on how to raise children--and especially girls--more than anything else I have read this year.

And she just seems so normal. CHEERS to normal moms...!

Happy New Year! Look out tomorrow for fun ways to ring in 2009 with your kids...

SM said...

Great list but I would watch out about the vaccination opinion, hate mail might be the nicest thing you receive! Seriously, I was talking about the link (or possible link) between vaccinations and autism over Christmas and we had to eventually agree to disagree and everybody walked away angry.

India Arts said...

Cheers to this blog, my new favorite of 2008! Happy New Year.

Tani said...

OH how I hate Jon and Kate plus 8! I can't put my finger on exactly what drives me nuts and yet, I watch it whenever I land on it. She IS pretty organized I guess...

PAW said...

I not-so secretly love Anjelina Jolie too. Team Jolie! But the "army of help" does give me pause--why are they never photographed and why does she make it seem like she does everything herself. Also, what does she REALLY do for the U.N., you know?

How about some Devi moms in the news. I know one from this blog: the 100 year old who had a child!

Iphone Geek said...

Those Iphone applications are AMAZING. I have used the portable baby monitor and it works: You just program it to call any number you want as soon as it senses the baby crying. Steve Jobs is a freaky man but is also a genius!

sdutta said...

I am with you on most of these but I can't condone the glorification of a husband-stealer (anjelina) and are the twilight moms really THAT bad?

Janie T said...

How funny, I thought the same thing after I read the VF piece on Tina Fey. What struck me was how she sort of knew she was "different" and a "dork" (remember that part about her playing flute at home or something and never dating) but she had some sort of confidence that made her not care. I don't know if you remember, but in her acceptance speech at some awards show she explicitly thanked her parents for instilling her with that confidence. I wish I could talk to them and figure out their secret! It seems like most pop culture and culture in general about being a woman centers at this point about insecurities that are almost accepted and Tina Fey breaks that mold.

Anonymous said...

That article on the recession bolstering happy marriages is hilarious! Thanks for sharing, great round-up!

Lyvia said...

CHEERS to D -- who's never afraid to try something new, BE interesting, and take the road less traveled! I'm a Brangelina fan as well ... for the same reasons!

Priti said...

I second Lyvia! I love that I found this blog (I came here through somebody's comment on the Motherlode). I have never found something so tailored to South Asian women who are NOT in India--CHEERS to Devis with Babies!

Anonymous said...

whoaaa is that twilight mom stuff legit? it reminds me of that mom who killed a cheerleader to get her daughter onto the team. gives all of us mommas a bad name!

Shanti Niketan said...

favorite quotes of the year--Tina Fey as Sarah Palin: "Marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers"--it's just horrific.

Horrific? Under what circumstances do you think your grandparents were married? Or mine? Or practically any desi's grand and great grandparents???

It was most likely a case of a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers. Or worse, a teenage girl and an adult male.

reena said...

Umm yes but "shanti" don't you think times have changed? Would you want your teenager getting married and having kids?

Shona said...

The Tina Fey quote was hilarious! And the idea of modern teenagers unwillingly entering into marriage is obviously unpalatable. Shanti, are you saying that in addition to being unpalatable it is also historical? And that we should respect it?

Ashanti Niketan said...

I am saying the present day community of NRIs are either out of touch or hypocritical. Our grandparents, great grandparents and so on back were arranged to marry people they did not know in their teens more often than not. It has been a part of desi culture for eons and is still taking place today in thousands of Indian villages. Don't believe me? Ask the domestic help when you go back to India to visit relatives.

I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying it is a big part of desi culture.

Meena said...

I echo the cheers for this blog, I think it serves an under-represented niche!

Ahsanti, I find your point of view fascinating. I am a present-day NRI who would be aghast at any teenager of mine getting pregnant. Does that make me out of touch? Hypocritical? Because my grandparents got married young? How does that follow? I don't wish many of the things our ancestors had to endure on my children, do you? As for the phenom still being ongoing--why do we need to exotify it with reference to "Indian villages"? Obviously it's still ongoing in the pages of US magazine--which is why it's included in this post I'm guessing!

Ashanti Niketan said...

Arranged marriages and forced sexual relations of teens and kids is not going on in USA. In the USA teens like Palin's daughter and Spears are entering into sexual relationships based upon mutual desire and getting pregnant as a result of being careless with regards to condom use. So they fix their mistake by getting married and having the kid.

I would not want either for my child but would prefer the latter if I had to chose the lesser of two evils. At least she would not be forced and would not be a victim of marital rape at an age when she was not even taught what "sex" is.

Anyway, you can probably guess I sat my kids down early and taught them the birds and the bees. Next talk on schedule is how to prevent unwanted pregnancy and disease. I'm going to drill condoms into my son's head til he has nightmares about not using them.

Meena said...

Well, I am with you on that point Ashanti: Early and explicit education for our kids. I don't want to be raising any grandkids...something Ms. Palin is about to start doing now no doubt...!

There is definitely something about Indian parents that makes the birds and the bees talk uncomfortable. Let us know how it goes with your son and if you have tips for the rest of us.

Ashanti Niketan said...

As far as Indian parents sense of shame around the taboo topic of sex, my parents were like that. However, I still remember clearly when I was a kid coming into sexual awareness. I think because coming into sexual awareness for my parents and their generation was something they were ashamed of is the reason why acknowledge of the same for their children was not honored. I mean, even up until my parents generation MARRIED SEX was considered "chee chee" worthy! Once I overheard my grandmother in India say that it is an embarrassment for a wife to express sexual desire to her husband and initiate it. So when you have concepts like that floating around in your culture and in your head about MARRIED ADULT SEX for god's sake, then what to speak of acknowledging that your young, unmarried, pubescent son or daughter might be coming of age sexually.

But hopefully our generation is going to change all that.

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