Monday, March 29, 2010

18 is Not a Magic Number — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

My twins turned 18 last November and are seniors in high school. Since last spring break, my daughter has been researching and visiting colleges, completing applications, filing for financial aid and pacing the floors with worry and excitement over where she'll be going to school in the fall.

My son has been going to high school. He gets up every morning, does his routine and goes to class. He hears and sees his sister whirling dervishly around the house, and spouting words like "deadlines", "recommendations" and "essays". It has had no affect on him. When asked what he plans to do after graduation, his eyes kind of glaze over and he launches into a brief nondenial denial that he has pieced together from things he's overheard.

"I'm not quite sure yet, but I'll probably take a few community college classes, do some volunteer work and get some kind of part time job. I'm just not ready to think beyond that right now."

It's a reasonable statement, I suppose, except that he doesn't really understand what any of that would actually entail, and he has done nothing to find out more information.

I have been a nervous wreck about him, but getting one kid ready for college has taken a lot of energy, so mostly I've been working with the girl, fretting about the boy, and feeling guilty all around. And hyperventilating my way through sleepless nights. And yelling gently hinting things like: "You are not living in my house for the rest of your life," and "Playing video games is not a viable career choice."

Then, one day, I listened - really listened - to my son's press conference statement. Especially the last sound bite. "I'm just not ready to think beyond that right now." And I realized that 18 is not a magic number; it's just a number, just the next birthday in what we hope will be a long line of birthdays to come. And that, in and of itself, is a miracle.

Born at 24 weeks and just 1.5 pounds, we didn't really think he would see any birthdays. Both twins were significantly delayed. Just to put things in perspective, he was born November 17 and came home from the hospital on March 27; he walked at 23 months; he talked at 4.5 years old. He weighed just 27 pounds when he started kindergarten, and 47 pounds when he started middle school.

Now, he's 18. He has finally caught up physically. He is intellectually very bright, but has a short-term memory deficit, a sequencing disorder (part of his learning disabilities) and some ADD issues. He will be graduating with his sister and his peers in June. He is among the kindest people I have ever met.

This spring break, we are visiting Beacon College, the only accredited college offering BA and AA degrees for students with learning disabilities, ADHD and gifted LD. My mom heard about the school and sent him the link. I suggested that we could visit, but he went to the college resource center at school and he made the appointment for us to tour the campus. Will this be the right place for him? Who knows. Will he be ready to go in the fall, or even the spring? I doubt it.

Why I ever thought that 18 would be a magic number, that he would suddenly start to reach milestones on someone else's schedule instead of his own, is only proof that I'm the one still suffering from developmental delays. My son is right on schedule. So, what comes next? I know what we're doing for spring break. I'm just not ready to think beyond that right now.

When Susan isn't worried about developmental delays, student loans and sending her kids to college, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and on her freelance writing Website, This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2KoP on the Chicago Moms Blog

Anybody recognize these cute mugs? I thought this old shot was a great illustration for my latest Chicago Moms Blog post called It's Not Nurture, It's Nature. I bring it up here because it is a Two Kinds of People post — perhaps the ultimate two kinds of people, boys and girls. Points for anyone who can guess how old the twins were in this shot; bonus points if you recognize the location. Leave your comments about it here.

Blogging and Feminism

How good does a female athlete have to be 
before we just call her an athlete?
— Anonymous

There are two kinds of people in the world: bloggers and mommy bloggers.

I've been thinking about this post for some time, not necessarily in terms of blogging, but in terms of feminism and the role it plays now that we are a decade into the 21st Century. I'm getting ready to send my daughter off into the world. She is bright and shiny and full of expectations about college life and beyond. Throughout her childhood, I've been reluctant to saddle her with baggage from times gone by.

On the other hand, I'm a little dismayed at the number of women I've met (many just a shade younger than I) who think that feminists are man-hating, humorless old windbags who have no relevance in today's world. Today's Chicago Woman editor Cassandra Gaddo wrote a great post called Dropping the F-Bomb: Why is Feminism a Dirty Word, that speaks to many of the controversies surrounding feminism and invites us to reopen the conversation.

And we do need to reopen it, because even if feminism is dead (although I hope not), sexism isn't. In fact, it's alive and well in the venerable New York Times, where just this week writer Jennifer Mendelsohn penned an article insultingly titled Honey, Don't Bother Mommy. I'm Too Busy Building My Brand. Not surprisingly, it's gathered a lot of buzz in the blogosphere.

Here's the thing: I don't mind being called a Mommy Blogger (although in this house, I'm Mama, so I guess that would make me a Mama Blogger). After all, I'm a mom and I blog. On this blog, sometimes I write about being a mom, sometimes I don't. I am a proud contributor to the Chicago Moms Blog, where I write regularly about my experiences as a mom.

I guess it's the language that gets to me, because I'm picky about words. Words are powerful — they carry weight and meaning and subtext that is both subtle and profound. "Mommy Blogger", like "Soccer Mom" before it, carries a wide range of connotations, as illustrated a full year ago by the social media guide Mashable, which posted a list of 10 Misconceptions About Mommy Bloggers.

Most style guidelines advise using gender-neutral language whenever possible: server vs. waitress or waiter; manager or executive, not businessman; actor, not actress. In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "actor" was originally used for both sexes (1581); we didn't see "actress" introduced until 1666, 85 years later. The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) puts it this way in the LSA Guidelines for Nonsexist Usage:

"Sexist practices are those that contribute to demeaning or ignoring women (or men) or to stereotyping either sex; sexism is often not a mater of intention but of effect."

I am arguably a member of the very first post-feminist generation. Women were pretty much done burning their bras by the time I got my first one. (Thank God, or gravity would have taken a bigger toll on me than it already has.) I didn't really follow the doings of Gloria Steinem and Betty Freidan back then, though I have certainly come to appreciate them.

My hero (some might say shero) was my mom, a quiet, reluctant feminist who fought sexism throughout her life and career, even in the female-centric world of primary education. After years of substituting in our school district and many wonderful recommendations, she did not get a job that she and most people in the community expected her to get. When a colleague asked the superintendent why my mom didn't get an offer, he said: "You know her husband. He's a bank president. She doesn't need this job." My mom forged ahead and got a job in higher education.

Sometimes sexism is blatant; sometimes is hard to discern, but it definitely still exists. I worry that our young women won't even recognize it until it has stymied them in some way. As part of that first post-feminist generation of young women, I believe we were sold a bill of goods. We were told we were equal. We were told not only that we could have it all, but that we should have it all. We were still being told how to live our lives.

Most of the women (and many of the men) I know have learned the hard way that it's not possible to have it all, and it's certainly not possible to have it all at once. According to the International Labour Organization, "the redistribution of financial responsibilities within the family has not ben matched by a redistribution of work responsibilities in the home. It is still women who do a disproportionate share of the work around the home. Women are working harder than ever, and many are now working a 'second shift'."

Like Cassandra Gaddo, I strongly believe that we need a new discussion in this country — not just about feminism and its role, but one that examines our core values about work, family, money and priorities. I hope it will be an interesting discussion — a kind, thoughtful one, not the screaming and yelling that today's media uses to mask the real issues.

Back to blogging for a moment. There are a lot of bloggers out there. The most recent statistics I could find, from way back in early 2009, claimed that Technorati had indexed more than 130 million blogs since 2002. Bloggers come in all stripes and colors: there are mommy bloggers and daddy bloggers, business bloggers and entertainment bloggers, rude bloggers and earnest bloggers, successful bloggers and defunct bloggers. This fascinating, evolving and almost indefinable world of the blogosphere is really nothing but bits and bytes, tiny pieces of data zipping around the Interwebs. It is at once profound and deeply personal; and ironically, in light of the backlash against Mommy Bloggers, perhaps the most democratic, egalitarian form of communication in history.

So, while I really don't mind if you call me a Mommy Blogger, why not just call me a Blogger? And while I definitely believe in equality, I don't believe that all bloggers are equal, so how about if you call me a Damn Fine Blogger? In fact, I would prefer simply Writer — Damn Fine Writer, if you insist.

Thanks for stopping. If you want to see me present the other side of the coin, where I argue that males and females are completely different, be sure to catch my latest Chicago Moms Blog post. And I love to read your comments — just click here.

"All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are sides, and it is necessary for one side to beat another side."
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, 1929

Photo credit: Whistler's Mommy-Blogger by Mike Licht, via Creative Commons License

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's Not Nurture, It's Nature — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

News flash — there are two kinds of people in the world: boys and girls. A long time ago, BC (before children), I used to believe that most of the differences we observed in female and male behavior was almost entirely the result of the way we raised them. Then I had twins — a boy and a girl — and I realized I was wrong. Boys and girls are different.

For example, my daughter has not once in her 18 years felt a need to make a vehicular noise. My three boys, on the other hand, practically came out of the womb saying "vroom, vroom". They know every kind of car/train/truck/plane/boat, what it's called, what it does and the particular noise it makes. In fact, my boys are virtuoso Foley Artists. Every action, game and story is accompanied by myriad sound effects. Let's face it, boys are noisy.

You may not believe me (unless you are a mother of twins), but I did not treat my boy/girl twins differently in their formative years. Frankly, I didn't have time. I changed one diaper, then I changed the other diaper, then … well, you get the idea. They had toys. They played with them. I did not tell them which ones to choose, and they often played together. My daughter would play with her doll, rock it, feed it, scold it (can't imagine where she picked that up), and put it to sleep. My son would sing "Ahh, ahh, ba-by," then toss the thing over his shoulder. My son would crawl around the floor for hours with his toy cars and trains; my daughter would occasionally join him by bending at the waist and using two hands to push a vehicle across the room. Then she was done.

It didn't take me long to realize that girls are not nearly as enamored of bodily fluids and functions as boys are. My daughter does not fall on the floor laughing when someone in the room passes gas. She has never once competed in the practically nightly belching contests that go on after dinner (that's all on their dad; I've tried to stop it).

Girls and boys have very different ideas about fashion. Since the age of two, I have not been able to tell my daughter what to wear. She has distinct ideas about her wardrobe and accessories and, thankfully, has grown into a young woman with taste and style (which she does not get from me). Fashion for her brothers means just one thing: comfort. "Mom, I don't like these socks. The line on the toe bugs me." "Mom, you know I don't like jeans. They're too tight and the zippers are a pain." That's right, my boys prefer elastic-waist pants because zippers present too big of an inconvenience.

Don't get me wrong. My boys are plenty vain. They love to gaze at themselves in the mirror. They are supremely confident about their perceived good looks. They pat their hair, check out their smiles and wink at themselves in the mirror. Maybe I should stop telling them how cute they are.

And in terms of personal bathroom habits, let's just say that girls have much better aim. I can't tell you how often my boys have tried to blame the mess around our toilets on their sister. How dumb do I look?

You may protest that this is all anecdotal evidence, that there are plenty of noisy, unkempt, fart-loving girls out there; and plenty of quiet, fashion-forward, fastidious boys, as well. All I can tell you is that as a stepmother of a boy and girl, and a mother of three boys and one girl, I have gathered extensive evidence about these basic differences. Call it stereotyping if you will. I call it fact.

Throughout my parenting years, I have been fascinated to be an observer of this vibrant laboratory of psycho/social experimentation that we call home. So why am I suddenly obsessing over these gender-based differences? Simple. My daughter is going off to college in the fall and leaving me alone with her father and three brothers. The balance of power in this household is about to tip decidedly away from my favor and I'm terrified slightly anxious about the transition.

Don't get me wrong. I love all my boys more than I can say, but I know things are going to change and I think I'm going to need some help. To that end, I am setting up a nonprofit charity to save my sanity. Donations of estrogen, chocolate and cash are welcome.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't busy charting the differences between male and female behavior, she writes a blog about all the other Two Kinds of People in the world, and freelances at

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

There are two kinds of people in the world: those satisfied with naming their own children and a few pets throughout their lifetimes, and those who obsess about names, collecting them and hoarding them like precious gems and jewels.

Guess which one I am?

My family has collected names since I was a little girl. There were Ben Zen, Terry Berry and Pam Schram. Back in the day when, as children, we still called all the grownups "Mr." and "Mrs.", I knew a woman named Mrs. Carden. Her husband's name was Bob. I remember snorting with laughter when I found out that her first name was Arden. Arden Carden. If my name was Arden, you couldn't pay me to marry a guy named Bob Carden.

Then there are the lyrical names, like Marissa Madrigal and Asha Bhataley and Tenley Overseth. And the funny ones, like Hortense Wigdorf and Prudence Dalrymple (don't you think it's perfect that she is a librarian?). Perhaps my favorite is a parent of a child from my kids' high school whose name is Evanella Fullalove. These are all real names of real people.

You would think that having the privilege of naming four children would have been enough to satisfy my fascination with nomenclature. I took the whole thing very seriously, gathering baby name books around me and reading them cover to cover (I was on bed rest, so I had a lot of time on my hands). When we chose Isaac for our first son, people looked at us like we were from Mars. That was back in 1991. By 2008, Isaac had risen to the 37th most popular name for boys in the country (according the Social Security Administration Website on baby names — Internet heaven for name geeks like me).

I have to admit, I'm not fond of my own name (sorry, Mom), but I would be terribly sad if my children hated their names. My husband, a thrower-outer, nearly lost his arms one day when he tried to chuck my baby name books. "Put those back," I yelled. "But, why? We're not having any more babies," he said. That's logic trying to squash creativity.

I think I first became interested in writing fiction when I realized that every time I create a new character, I get to make up a new name — and I'm not limited by pesky legal last names or honoring dead relatives, either. I can choose any name I want.

Still, all that freedom doesn't necessarily make choosing a name any easier. I've enjoyed several recent blog discussions on the topic, including this one on Christi Craig's blog, Writing Under Pressure. Some of the same constraints to naming a baby apply.

For example, my good friends recently had a baby girl and their family's tradition is to give every first born girl the middle name Marie. They loved the first name of Piper, but the sweet girl would have ended up with the initials PMS, which simply would not do, so they called her Zoey (a lovely name). Just like my friends, writers want to make sure their character's name or initials don't have unintended connotations (although intended ones could add nuance; for example, if you're main character is a real bitch, perhaps you would want her to have the initials PMS).

If you need the name of a good villain or troublemaker, ask a teacher. Every teacher I know can reel off a list of names of the most rotten kids in school. Seems they go in cycles, but certain names are sure to mean trouble every time.

You probably won't be surprised to hear that Smith is the most common surname in the US, but did you know that Jones ranks only fourth, with Johnston and Williams both being more prevalent? The most common surname in the world, Chang, ranks 687th in the US, just behind Leach and just ahead of House.

I think of the writers who have gotten names right — names that have crept into the lexicon and paint a complete picture in just a word or two, like Scrooge or Romeo or Lolita. Finding just the right name for a character seems to require a combination of art, craft and inspiration.

Proper names are poetry in the raw.
Like all poetry, they are untranslatable.
W.H. Auden, poet, 1907-1973
(whose given name was Wystan Hugh Auden)

My kids hate that I sit through movie credits to the bitter end, scanning the names of key grips and best boys for inspiration. I ask them: "If you were a key grip or a best boy, wouldn't you want me to look for your name in the credits?" They always counter with the logic that they are not key grips or best boys or even gaffers, and those people all have their own moms to sit through the credits. Once again I have to explain that sources of inspiration trump logic every time.

If you really want to have some fun wasting time, go to this great site where you can generate all kinds of character names: Medieval names, trendy names, villain/villainess names, even gnome names. Fair warning — it's addictive.

What's your favorite moniker? Is it a real person or a character you've come to love? Do certain names carry positive or negative subtexts that you can't shake? Do you like your own name, or hate it? Tell us here, because we are all onomasticians at heart.

Ed. Note: Want more? There's a great discussion going on at SheWrites on the Mother Writers group.