Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Dangerous Bag

The Littlephant Day Bag by Swedish Designer Camilla Lundsten
Last December my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I had recently spotted a natty bag in a Scandinavian shop on Abbott Kinney, a hip shopping street in Venice, California, and directed her to the store's website. I’m drawn to graphic prints and bright colors, and the bag came in several. Plus it looked big enough to hold a laptop, which would make it useful for work trips.

What I failed to notice on the website was a description of the tote as a diaper bag. This did not, however, escape my mother. When the bag arrived I called to thank her.

“Do you have something to tell me?” she asked.

“Umm, thank you, I really like it!” I enthused, assuming my first thank you had not been a sufficiently gushing response to receiving a $215 bag.

A beat, and then: “Is there a reason you would want a diaper bag?”

“A diaper bag?” I asked, distracted as I unzipped my new purse and started removing wads of tissue paper, then a gray folded pad—must be a laptop protector, I mused to myself about what was obviously a changing pad. And then I saw it, inscribed on the bottom of the bag in a curlicue cursive script:

Maybe for you. And only you.

Or when it's not only your bag. Anymore.
Your belongings helplessly thrown together.
With the ones of a tiny human.
When your bag needs to be more than lovely.

Share the space.
In a bag from the world of Littlephant.

In a flash, that yellow crocheted bobble tied to the metal slider of the zipper with a piece of grosgrain ribbon was no longer a whimsical touch of Scandinavian design. I had been attracted to a soft toy for an infant like said infant is drawn to a set of shiny, jangly keys. Through a combination of embarrassment and horror, I snapped back into the present and explained to my mother that I had just thought it was the right shape for carrying my laptop on a plane.

For a moment, I felt empathy for my mother. The fact that I made a conscious decision not have children is not exactly news to her. I did, after all, write a book in part about just that subject. But despite it all—the blog, the book, the twitter handle—somewhere deep inside she still had an ember of hope, an ember I had unwittingly kindled with my request for a diaper bag for Christmas at the age of forty-one.

Once the shock wore off, I did in fact put my Littlephant into service as my go-to work bag. It turns out all the pockets and zipper compartments a mother needs for a day out with baby are also quite useful for cords and notebooks and pens and adapters. After a month or so of using the crocheted bobble to pull the zip open and shut, the yarn unraveled and it came away in my hand. I went to re-attach it, thought for a moment, then threw the bobble away.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Little Darlings

Nauseous in Notting Hill
I spent two days in London over Christmas, during which I stumbled across this free magazine, Little Darlings: the magazine for London mums, in a Notting Hill coffee shop. It featured riveting reading on subjects like must-have strollers and the best-dressed baby bumps around town. It reminded me of a hobbyist magazine like Runner's World, only the hobbies were kids. It left me aghast, although, in fairness, I would have been just as aghast at a magazine touting being childfree as a hobby or "lifestyle-choice." Babies, or the lack of them, are neither.

Elsewhere in England, the Lake District to be specific, I found a more humorous take on parenting. Here's a picture from a wine bar in Ambleside, where the proprietor's sentiments about unruly children have been inscribed on a timber:

Children left unattended will be fed espresso and given a puppy

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Non-Parent's Belated Defense of Miley

Things I don't need Target to sell
Last weekend's opening sketch on SNL featuring Miley Cyrus (you can watch it here) prompted me to finally go and watch her infamous twerking performance at this year's VMAs. I had, of course, heard all about it, mostly from a dear friend who is the mother of a one-year old daughter. Her Facebook posts immediately after the VMAs made it clear she was concerned with the normalization of over-sexualized behavior in young women, i.e., if the media kept this up, by the time her daughter was twelve she'd be swinging from a pole.

Now it may just be because I don't have a daughter to visualize swinging from said pole, but my response to Miley's "show" was precisely this: what was all the fuss about? I stopped watching MTV sometime in the '90s, but I do catch the odd music video in the gym and can confidently state that young, scantily clad women dancing like strippers is hardly groundbreaking stuff. Instead, for all my mother-friends, I offer two signs of hope from Miley's performance.

First, she was surrounded by plus-sized back-up dancers. Setting aside the fact that they were wearing over-sized teddy bears on their backs, let's hear it for seeing some babes with back front-and-center on a major awards shows. Isn't it a positive trend to show some normal-sized asses on TV?

Second, she was wearing sneakers. Granted she wasn't wearing much else, but, at least from the ankles down, Miley Cyrus looked age-appropriate. She could dance in those shoes, which is more than you can say about Madonna in her Superbowl performance a few years back when she could hardly stand up in her stiletto boots. I am far less outraged about a young pop star gyrating in a sequined leotard than I am about the way stripper shoes have now become part of mainstream women's fashion. It used to be that platform, 4+ inch heels were only available at Frederick's of Hollywood, but these days you can get a pair anywhere from Target to Barney's. And ladies, I didn't spend five years of higher education studying economics not to notice that's down to one reason and one reason alone: we (at least some of us) are buying them!

In my mind, the beginning of the shoe apocalypse happened one morning when I spotted Ann Curry on the Today Show (yes, it was back when she still had that job) wearing a pair of stripper shoes with her otherwise staid attire. I was so outraged I even posted on Facebook about it. Since when did shoes you can't even walk in become go-to professional attire? What ever happened to Audrey Hepburn and the kitten heel definition of femininity? In my mind, it was far darker day for feminism when Ann, a woman representing a strong, successful role model, broke out the stripper shoes than it was when Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter twerked.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Taking Turns as Trailing Spouses

Without a doubt, not having kids has made it easier for my husband and me to be mobile, taking advantage of opportunities to work in London and Berlin. Along the way we have both been in the position of being a trailing spouse, i.e., the person following the one who has a job. We wrote about it on a piece over on, which you can read here. You'll hear all about our failed attempts to re-invent ourselves: I as a modern-day Julia Child, my husband as "David Bowie in the late '70s, but fatter and decidedly less creative." Hope you enjoy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

How to Play & Other Stuff I Learned from my Five-Year-Old Niece

Image from
Based on a very unscientific examination of the childfree community on Twitter into which I have self-selected, my stance on the subject is middle-of-the-road. I am neither a principled objector to kids on the basis of environmental or population issues, nor someone who hates kids. I simply lacked ambition in the arena of motherhood; my life without kids failed to seem incomplete. Congruent with my feelings on the matter, I am entirely comfortable admitting that by not having kids I am missing out on certain things. This seems no stranger to me than acknowledging the equal and opposite truth: that parents make sacrifices for their children.

Last week I spent some time with my five-year-old niece, who lives in another state, and caught up on some lessons I may have otherwise missed. On our first evening together I babysat for a couple of hours while my sister went to an appointment. I had arrived armed with a Disney Princess activity book, and, given my niece, M, is something of a princess aficionado, was feeling rather confident that we would have no problem entertaining ourselves while my sister was away. Upon unwrapping the book, M immediately tore open the pack of gemsplastic rubies, emeralds and topaz with sticker backingsignoring the colored pencils and stencils and coloring book pages of princesses on which we were supposed to draw ball gowns and adorn them with said jewels. Much to my distress, she took straight to sticking the gems to one and other, announcing "I'm making jewels!"

"Shouldn't we save some to decorate the princess' necklaces?" I asked, trying to mask my rising sense of panic while vainly flipping to one of the coloring book pages to try to interest her in a princess stencil.

But it was too late. She was going to use all those stickers right up before she even noticed there were pictures of princesses to decorate with the darn jewels. Gems were everywhere: in the carpet, on her elbows, and, yes, a few successfully stuck together to make what I can now, with the benefit of hindsight, see were her logical attempts at facsimiles of real-life, three-dimensional gems.

And then it dawned on me that my agitation was because M was not playing "right." Of course not being a form from the IRS, the Disney Princess activity book doesn't come with a set of rules. This is just as well because M. doesn't yet have a concept of how to play according to the rules. And long may it be until she gets one because then she'll turn into someone like me who thinks there is a right way and wrong way to do everything, even PLAY. After taking a moment to briefly hate myself, I joined in with M in sticking some jewels together. Later when she used up all the Little Mermaid stickers on the very first page of the coloring book, I didn't even flinch.

My second lesson of my visit came the next morning. When M. woke up, still groggy and in her Disney Princess P.J.s, she went straight to the coffee table, which hosts a selection of construction paper and markers and such, and began work on various crafts. She had produced a kite, a butterfly and a handful of ice-cream cones by the time we lured her to the breakfast table. When I left for work she was busy composing a song and dance about vegetables (admittedly the vegetable angle was my sister's idea). M wasn't going to be nominated for any Grammy Awards, but she didn't care. Her urge to create was native, and there was nothing she couldn't do armed with a ball of hot-pink yarn and a red ukulele.

M reminded me that the act of creation was the ice cream and the hot fudge and the whipped cream of that particular sundae. Any assessment of whether or not the end product is any good is the maraschino cherry, and everyone knows opinion about maraschino cherries is as polarizing as Hilary Clinton. The magic is in the doing. And so, after two days, I left with one of M's creations, a heart-shaped kite, tied to my carry-on bag. It's not as subtle as a string tied around my finger, but I'm keeping it as a reminder to write and live with fewer rules and more abandon.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Americashire FREE Kindle Download

From August 29-31, my childfree memoir, Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage, is available as a FREE Kindle download. To download it from the US Amazon store click here. To download it from the UK Amazon store click here. Happy Labor Day weekend reading!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

David Sedaris on the Madness of Modern Parenting

One of the funniest things I've read this summer is David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls. My favorite essay in the book is Attaboy, in which Sedaris ponders the madness of modern parenting. He skewers everything from the penchant for presidentially-named toddlers (think Madison) to the way children today can apparently do no wrong. When the piece veers down the path to the good old days of when he was a kid, Sedaris draws a stark contrast to the toddler-tyrant-run homes of today, writing of his own parents: "They did not live in a children's house. We lived in theirs." In other words, he articulates what every sane person has thought when subjected to, say, watching a mother ask her three-year-old if he or she would like skim or 2% milk in their babyccino as you stand behind them in a five-person deep line at Starbucks while running progressively later for work (or does that only happen in L.A.?).

Buy the book, but you can also listen to Sedaris read the essay, Attaboy, aloud here.