Another Letter to Gwyneth

Dear Gwyneth,

I can’t say that this is my normal thing. I don’t usually spend too much time thinking about celebrities and the things they say. I also don’t spend a lot of time writing “open letters.” I think the epistolary form is sort of lazy writing (unless you’re writing an actual, closed letter), but I don’t know, it felt right here.

I believe the middle-class mothers of America owe you a bit of an apology. The other day you said that you thought it might be easier to have a 9-5 job instead of your glamorous job and my fellow mothers went ballistic. Actually, I don’t think it was that stupid a thing to say. Well, it was a stupid thing to say because you are a celebrity who cares about public opinion, but it wasn’t really a wrong thing to say.

Like you, I’ve always been very lucky. I’ve always been able to find work that I love that I can fit around an unusual schedule. But, sometimes when the juggling and the expectations get too much I think, “It would be easier to just have a 9-5 schedule, then I’d have everything in place all the time and it would be easier.” Sometimes I even think, “It would be easier to have a job I didn’t care about, a time card job that I didn’t have to think about once I clocked out.”

Now, I know that isn’t really true. I know that while my work stress would be less with less fulfilling work, other stresses, including financial, would be higher. Like you, I get paid pretty well for doing something I love. I know that a 9-5 schedule seems easier, but all it would take is one case of a kid with Strep Throat to show me that wasn’t true.

You may not know that, because although I’ve worked 9-5 jobs, you haven’t. You were raised in Hollywood royalty and you have stayed there, and that isn’t your fault. You don’t know much about “regular” life. Here’s the thing though, my fellow middle class American moms and I don’t know much about your life either. We’re yelling at you for not knowing about our lives, but we don’t know about the lives of the millions of mothers who have it harder than us, and we don’t know about yours.

We don’t know what it’s like to be gone for weeks at a time and then wake up one morning and be expected to act like you know what’s going on at home. I go away on a three-day business trip and come back and all hell has broken loose. Sometimes the hardest part is actually going back in to “mom” mode. I mean I’ve had 3-4 days where I can just be “Marta.” Usually, if I’m away I get to be an expert and efficient and get my work done. I get a full night’s sleep in a comfy hotel room. I love that woman, and when I’m in my day to day life I don’t see much of her. You go away and you get to be fun and glamorous and petted and admired. You probably like that woman a lot and have a hard time moving back to mom, just like I do.

Then there are the other women. The women who spend weeks, months, and years away from their children. Not because they’re being paid well to sleep in mid level hotel rooms like me or play dress up on movie sets like you but because they’re being paid crap to take care of other people’s children or clean those hotel rooms. Can you imagine what it’s like to try and shift between being nanny and mom? Or what about those moms who spend years away because they’re in the military or in jail? How do they make that transition?

I just spent way too much time trying to hire a new part-time sitter to fit with my weird schedule. I can’t imagine wondering what it would be like to just trust that the people I’m leaving my children with while I go fight a war or try and earn money in a different country are trustworthy. I also can’t imagine being like you and having to do that and also have to wonder if that wonderful nanny was actually planning to write a tell-all book about me one day. Or, see if she could steal my rock star husband.

By the way, I’m sorry about your upcoming conscious uncoupling. Like most people, I think it’s a stupid thing to call a divorce, but you know, when my husband and I fight, no one reports on it. At one point in his life my husband would have loved to be a rock star, the money would be nice, but I have to think it would be pretty hard to be married to one. I know a lot of women who have gotten divorced. Some because they cheated on their husbands, some because their husbands cheated on them. I even know some who got divorced because they’re husbands were drug addicts or criminals. You know what, no one has ever written articles about how happy they were to see the marriages of those women fail. You on the other hand, you’re getting a lot of grief just for trying to find a decent way to face your future.

Speaking of stupid stuff, Gwyneth, you say a lot of stupid things about food and beauty in your GOOP magazine. But, I don’t know, if every single bite I ever ate was analyzed by the media, I might have some screwed up ideas about food as well. Also, I wear yoga pants pretty much all day, every day. My husband and I joke about how infrequently I shower. You won an Oscar and all anyone could talk about was how you were so flat chested your dress didn’t fit right. They are still talking about it. Seriously, I just read some women online calling you flat chested. By the way, these are women who think it’s wrong to judge people for being overweight. I think looking like you must actually be harder than looking like me.

We middle class American moms, those of us who work outside of the home and those who don’t, spend a lot of time complaining about hard moms have it. We spend a lot of time inventing things to be angry about and blaming each other for it. We call it the “Mommy Wars” and thankfully, we fight them mainly online. I think you were sort of a casualty of that.

I know a lot of people reading this don’t feel sorry for you. They don’t feel sorry that you have to deal with paparazzi or take drastic measures to never appear to age or gain weight. They don’t feel sorry that your very livelihood depends on things over which you have no control. They feel you’ve chosen this life, and you have. But what they seem to forget is that for the most part, they too have been lucky enough to be able to choose their lives, too.

I would guess that any woman who has time to go online and complain about you dear Gwyneth is a pretty lucky woman. It may seem harmless to them to cut on you, a celebrity. But in  my mind, cutting on you, judging you for how you look, judging you for saying something stupid, judging you for how you choose to be a parent, how you choose to survive a divorce, how you choose to get through life isn’t that different than judging their next door neighbor for the same. It’s not actually that different than judging someone else whose life they don’t understand. Someone who appears to be less fortunate, not more fortunate.

Celebrity culture has done a lot of harm in our world today. But I think one of the worst things it has done is made us feel that shaming and criticizing each other is ok. If it’s not ok to go up to a random 21-year-old and call her a slut for the way she dresses or dances, why is it ok to do that to Miley Cyrus?

If it’s ok to call you a stupid skinny bitch for the choices you’ve made, how far away is that from calling another woman a stupid fat bitch for the choices she’s made?

In short Gwyneth, I’m sorry you’ve had a rough week. I hope it gets better for you. I hope the next time a celebrity says something or does something or wears something my fellow moms and I don’t like that we realize that talking about it, yelling about it and complaining about it is not harmless.

When we start judging and criticizing, where do we stop?

Take care Gwyneth. I’m rooting for you. Not because I’m some big fan or I think you have all the answers but because you’re a fellow human being on this Earth, doing the best you can with the hand you’ve been dealt.

Best,

Marta

 

 

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A Weekend at Ten

St Patrick's Day

This weekend my daughter had Irish Dance performances. On Friday we rushed from Girl Scouts to the hair salon to get her hair done, then to her first performance. At the salon she wouldn’t talk to the people trying to make conversation with her, but sat patiently while a stranger pulled and braided her hair.

On Saturday she and I walked to the EL to go downtown for her to be in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. At the EL station we ran in to a group of girls and parents from her dance troop. These girls all go to school together and know each other well. My daughter goes to a different school and so we don’t really know them. It was comforting and fun to be in the group, but awkward, too. They had all obviously arranged to meet at the station, and while we were certainly welcome, neither my daughter nor I is the kind of person who is 100% comfortable with inserting herself in to someone else’s conversation. So we alternated between making small chat with others, and chatting with each other.

Some of the parents had younger siblings in tow and I was amazed at how easy and free things were for me. No strollers, no snacks, no large bags. Just my girl and me, holding hands and riding along. While we waited for the parade to start there was a little whining and some heavy leaning on me, an annoying insistence that I play a clapping game. But when it came time for the parade my girl shed her coat in the 30 degree weather and joined her dance line in front of the float. No complaints, no hesitations. She danced and waved, a beauty queen smile plastered on her face.

After the parade we went to the Art Institute for lunch and again I was amazed at how easy it was. I had nothing extra to carry. She found a table while I got the food. She sat, alone and unafraid in the loud, crowded room. I surprised her with a Cherry Coke instead of the usual water. We ate lunch peacefully and chatted. I wanted to see the Chagall windows, she did not, but agreed and stood patiently while I reminded her that Chagall was simply the French version of Segal. Then we went to our two favorite galleries. We walked along commenting on the art, like any two people in a museum.

After the museum we walked back to the EL. She clung tightly to my hand, a little fearful of the drunken parade crowds. They were mainly 20-somethings and I realized that these adults were closer in age to her than me. From the EL I dropped her at a party. A costume party with little girls shrieking. When the door opened everyone oohed and ahhed over her hair and her dance outfit. She did not even turn around to look at me as the door closed.

The next morning there were tears, huge tantrum throwing tears. We had tickets for a special Irish dance show at a downtown theater. She had wanted to go, but now, she was regretting her decision because she otherwise could have had a playdate with her friend. They wanted to get their Furbys together. Her inability to see that the dance show was an expensive, special event, whereas a playdate could be arranged at any time was infuriating. Luckily, her friend was free in the morning and the day was saved.

She and her friend played and baked with no adult supervision required and afterwards our family went off on the EL to the show. It was her third EL ride in two days and she did not stumble or falter. She sat and watched the show, no distractions needed and after that she asked to go to dinner at Rainforest Cafe, and we acquiessed. She was as thrilled with the roaring elephants and waterfall as she had been watching professionals dance on stage.

We had parked near the EL. When we got in the car her brother promptly threw up. She calmly provided him with a bag and tissues and when we arrived home she said, “Mommy, I’ll walk the dog so you can help clean up Joey.”

This is how our weekend was. She was a little adult, she was a little girl. She was impressive, she was aggravating, she was shy, she was bold. She was ten.

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Suburban Mouse in the City

Once a year my husband and I go see the tax guy in Rogers Park and then have lunch at a restaurant in our old neighborhood of Andersonville. We drive by our old apartment and look for ways the neighborhood has changed and ways it has stayed the same.

We usually have a conversation about how our lives would be different if we had bought one of the places we looked at in the city. I always mention the suburban joy of neighborhood schools and affordable park programs that don’t require me to wait in line for hours. He always mentions the joys of having grown up in the city, the exposure to diversity and learning to navigate the streets and public transportation. A few years ago when it looked like we might move to New York I heard this line of thought a lot. Not just from my husband, but from my New York friends as well. “You learn a lot living in the city” is what people say.

Today, my husband had a meeting after our lunch and so he dropped me off at the EL to make my way home. On the platform was a young man full of nervous energy. He was carrying a bag from Neiman Marcus. The CTA workers were joking with each other and one woman said something about getting drunk on Tuesday just so she wouldn’t have to get up on Wednesday.

The guy and I looked at each other and laughed. We got on the EL and sat across from each other. “I just bought a $1,000 pair of shoes,” he said. “It’s my birthday next week.”

“Really?” I asked, “Can I see them?”
“Sure,” he said.
I moved next to him and he took the shoes out of the box. They were hideous. Some sort of black leather high top with zippers. When you unzipped them, there were crystals. I have no idea where you would wear shoes like that, but then again, I’m a middle-age suburban woman.

“Do you wear them with the zippers undone?” I asked.
“Yeah. That’s how I’ll do it,” he said. “OK, I’m going to take the sticker off the box now, I’m not returning them.”
“Why don’t you just leave it there for a little while longer, ” I cautioned “Just sit with it, make sure you’re OK with them.”

An older man sitting across from us said, “I just bought these boots on sale and they’re the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever worn.”

“Yeah,” said the young guy “The boots I’m wearing were $500 but I haven’t taken them off in four months.”

“You spend a lot of money on shoes.” I commented.
“Why don’t you buy a car or something?” The older guy asked.
“I got a car, but you know, you can’t drive in downtown Chicago. Look, I don’t mind walking, I’m not lazy.”
“What kind of work do you do?” The older guy asked.
“I’m in school, but you know, I do some construction work. But you know what I do mainly, I go to banks and I ask for their list of foreclosures and then they’ll pay you like $600 a property to go in and fix it up, mow the lawn, shovel the snow, make it look like someone lives there. It’s great, totally legit. I don’t know why anyone would spend time selling drugs on the street corner, risk going to jail or get killed. You can make totally legal money but you just got to know where to look for it. I’m 21, I’m online all day, I might as well look for ways to make money online. Anyone can do it, you just go and ask the bank for the list, then once they know you, they call you. I’m never going anywhere near a jail, I can tell you that.”

“Where do you go to school?” I asked him.
“Northern, you know in DeKalb.”
“Isn’t that kind of far?”
“No, I live there now, but I finished classes for the day, so I came to get my shoes and see my mom. I’m graduating soon, then I’m going to Howard University in D.C. for graduate school.”
“You know you won’t be able to buy thousand dollar shoes when you’re in grad school,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s why I got them now. I’m getting off now, you be safe.”
“Happy birthday,” I said.
“God bless you little brother. You take care of yourself,” said the older man.

I think you can learn things whether you live in the city or the suburbs. The trick is that when a young man tells you he bought a pair of shoes for a thousand dollars, you have to ask to see them.

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Childhood Cancer Is Not Cute

childhood cancer

This post is part of the Donna Day blogging event to raise money for St. Baldrick’s.

Last November the country was swept up in Batkid Fever! Everybody loved Batkid, a San Francisco five year old in remission from Leukemia. The Make a Wish Foundation had made his “wish” come true and involved the entire city of San Francisco in an elaborate scheme that allowed this kid to be a super hero for the day. The entire country got on board, even President Obama sent a message of support.

My Facebook feed was full of videos of Batkid and instructions that no one was allowed to be cynical about Batkid, that Batkid had saved the day and restored people’s faith in humanity.

Did you know that Batkid went out of remission and died a month later?

OK, I made that up, and it was a little cruel. But, do you have any doubt that as much as we all reveled in Batkid, we would all overlook the sad reality of a child dying of cancer? I have nothing against Batkid or the Make a Wish Foundation or anyone who found hope and joy in the idea that the country would come together to make a good thing happen for a sick little boy.

What I do have a problem with is the way the cancer industry markets cancer in this country. Breast cancer is all about women taking long walks together and wearing pink shirts while holding pink teddy bears. Childhood cancers (the primary disease-related cause of death among children) is all about cute, smiling, bald kids having their wishes come true. If the kids aren’t cute and smiling then they are heroic and teaching us all important lessons about the true meaning of courage and life. Their funerals are all attended by police officers and fire fighters, and we miraculously never see parents grieving over a too-small casket.

I don’t deny that Batkid and other children with cancer are courageous and cute. But they are also scared and scarred and desperately ill. The picture above is so rare because on the few occasions when we talk about childhood cancer, we never talk about a child in pain and suffering.

You know what those kids’ real wish is? It isn’t to go to Disney World, it’s to not die. Not to be sick. Not to watch their families crumble. Not to be scarred for life if they survive.

This is the third year that I’ve participated in  “Donna Day.” Donna Day is  a day where bloggers around the Internet come together to try and bring awareness to the real horrors of childhood cancer. Not to depress you, but to get you to act and frankly to get you to donate money. If you want to donate money to the Make a Wish Foundation and help create more feel-good events like Batkid, that’s great, I fully support you and think you’re doing a good thing. The world needs all sorts of help, and that is certainly one way to help.

But, if you’d like to support children and families with cancer and make their dearest wishes really come true, may I suggest you donate to St. Baldrick’s instead (or hey, how about in addition to, in addition is always good).

Donna Day is organized by Jeremy and Sheila, Donna’s loving parents who continue to parent Donna by raising awareness of and funds for childhood cancer. You can contribute directly to their annual St. Baldrick’s Fundraising event here.

You can learn more about St. Baldrick’s and the pitiful state of funding for childhood cancer here.

And to prove that I have nothing against super heroes, pint sized or otherwise, may I also suggest you purchase this adorable superhero/cancer themed tshirt.

marvel-shopify2_1024x1024

Here’s the link to do so: http://shop.stbaldricks.org/products/super-heroes-t-shirt

If you know someone that you think this message will resonate with, please share this post. If this message doesn’t resonate with you, that’s fine. Check out the Mary Tyler Mom blog or FB page (MTM is also Donna’s mother) or the Donna’s Good Things Facebook Page. She’ll have a list of other blogs participating, maybe one of their posts will hit the spot for you.

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A Possibly Depressing Fable (Starring Seth Meyers)

Later this month Seth Meyers will take over as host for NBC’s late night talk show. Here is my claim to non-fame, I once led a committee that decided not to hire Seth Meyers for a job … as a comedy writer.

I read his writing samples and they were well written and funny. I went to see his improv duo act, and it was funny. When it came time to vote, I voted against hiring him. Instead, I voted to hire a couple of other people who have not gone on to Saturday Night Live, or been given their own talk show.

Why didn’t I want to hire Seth Meyers? Other people who had worked with him reported that he was a little difficult. He was talented and smart, but had a hard time combining his funny with other people’s funny. My guess is that his individualism is part of what makes him so successful today. But he wouldn’t have worked in the context of the job for which I was hiring.

Three other people  I did recommend hiring at different times have gone on to have successful careers in television writing. They are not Seth Meyers famous, but famous enough in their fields that it would be tacky for me to drop their names.

I was thinking about Seth Meyers and my non-hiring of him the other day because I attended a story-telling workshop being developed primarily for people in marketing. At one point we were all assigned to retell a well-known fable. Everyone retold their story, adding in details and making the story exciting. I retold the Grasshopper and the Ant turning the Grasshopper in to a tragic hero.

Did I mention that I was the only one in the room with zero agency experience? Also, except for the woman looking for a job, I was probably the person in the room who makes the least money.

If the workshop had been a job interview, I would have failed miserably. My dream business to own would be some sort of specialty employment agency where I help writers get jobs. But, to me this would be the most challenging part. This is what I think so many creative people looking for creative work don’t understand. Getting a writing  job isn’t about being the most clever or most creative person. Getting a job is about showing how your creativity can be put to use for the good of the company.

Obviously, I have a lot of love for the grasshoppers of the world. I think they make the world a better, more fun, more interesting place. Sometimes, they are clearly the heroes of the story. But I probably wouldn’t hire a grasshopper to write B2B articles about marketing. For that, you need a really smart ant.

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This Week in Marta

I’ve spent the past few weeks feeling like I’m stuck in meetings and working very hard but not getting anything billable done. But, this week the meetings started to slow down and I actually started to get some work done.

I like thinking about the absurdity of how many unrelated subjects I write about on a regular basis. Here’s what I published this week:

Monday
Choosing a Wedding Date in 5 Stress-Free Steps

Tuesday
Valentine’s Day Wedding Inspiration

also

A post about my childhood sure to upset my mother

Wednesday
An article about Super Bowl Ads

also

Job Searching Tips

Thursday
Nada! But, I did attend a workshop about storytelling, so there will be more things to write in the future.

Friday
An article comparing weirdly protective parents and weirdly protective business owners.

Have a great weekend!

 

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Non Lethal Adventures in Childhood

If you know me, you’ve probably heard this story before:

When I was in first grade I rode the bus home from school. At least some days of the week my older sister must have done something else after school because I came home from school alone. I was five and either couldn’t work the lock, or wasn’t tall enough to reach it, for whatever reason I didn’t have a key. My mother was usually home just as I got home, but sometimes she wasn’t. She must have taught a class that got out around the same time I came home, and sometimes the timing didn’t work out. If she wasn’t home I was supposed to wait in the backyard for her.

I was five and I had to pee and I would wander over to the neighbors’ house. They were an older couple and would give me cookies and keep me there until my mother came. This drove my mother insane. I think she thought it made her look like a bad mother. She would yell at me and tell me that I should have just held it.

One day, I decided to listen to her, I peed in my pants while waiting for her to come home. Her response, “Why didn’t you go over to the neighbors?”

You see why this is one of my favorite childhood stories.

I was teasing a friend of mine with this story after she reported that her nine-year-old had been locked out of the house. In response, she sent me this article about a five-year-old who accidentally got left at the wrong house by a bus driver. The mother is stunned that the bus driver would take the child to her house, where he was supposed to take her, and leave her without ensuring that there was a parent home.

When I was sixteen, I took a plane from Malawi to Louisville, KY by myself. Two unfortunate things happened on this trip. The first is that a man asked me if I wanted to change seats so I could see better during the movie. I went and sat by him. He started kissing me and when he stuck his hand up my shirt, I told him to cut it out and I returned to my own seat.

The second was that my aunt met me at LaGuardia. She took me out to lunch and then returned me to the terminal, where I promptly fell asleep and missed my connecting flight. I had to take a cab to Kennedy and catch a new flight home. The cab driver was virulently racist and had many choice words about my parents leaving me to travel from a god-deserted place like Africa by myself.

When we got to Kennedy he refused my money (which is good since I didn’t have enough to pay for the cab ride) and gave me his card with his daughter the police officer’s name and number written on the back. He told me to call either of them if anything else happened and that he would come get me. It was an amazing and disturbing experience that greatly influenced my understanding of people and politics.

Should my parents have left a five year old alone after school? Should they have allowed a sixteen year old to travel across the world by herself? Probably not. In both of those cases a parent’s almost-worst fears came true. A child wandered off, a child felt abandoned, a child was molested, a child was left alone in New York with no money.

I know that compared to a lot of people, I’m on the “free range” side of parenting, but I parent very differently from my parents. I can not imagine making many of the choices my parents made. Still I have to admit that not only did I survive those choices, the sense of independence and capability I developed from those experiences has allowed me to go on and do more independent things (at more appropriate ages).

It’s natural to want to protect your children. I do not believe you have to actively put your child in harm’s way in order to foster independence. But sometimes your kid gets on the wrong bus, sometimes your kid loses a key, sometimes an adult fails to follow through. It’s important to remember that not only are those missteps very rarely fatal, they’re frequently just a little bit helpful.

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