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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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The lie.

Dear Wonderland readers: there's a new post up.

Tonight, after dinner with my parents, we all settled down to watch the tape of Melissa stomping on Meredith Viera's head. And by that I mean "Melissa showing remarkable taste and restraint in not stomping on Meredith Viera's head." (As Henry likes to say when he utters something nonsensical, that’s what it means in my world.)

I was all set to give you the full commentary from the Bradleys, because they're known for their amusing commentary, but mostly there was puzzled silence, along with some sighing and head-shaking. (Also, whenever Meredith said Janet Taylor's name, my mom would say, "Wait, did I hear that right? Genitalia? Is Genitalia really her name?" and “Well, her name is Genitalia—there’s her problem.")

And right now I feel mostly the same way about the show: puzzled and weary (if eager to mock Janet Taylor). On Friday morning, as I sat in the green room, watching Melissa more than hold her own against the bullshit, I was completely unsurprised at how events were transpiring. My expectations had already been rock-bottom. I knew the piece would be slanted against Melissa and her booze-loving ilk from the start. But at least she sounded good. And she looked good. And that, I thought, was enough.

But all weekend, I felt vaguely sick about it: both about the segment, and my own apathy. You know, it sucks that we're trained to expect so little. An issue is raised, and instead of meaningful debate, we get a condescending, judgmental puff piece designed only to incite public disapproval. It's meaningless and shallow and dispiriting. And not at all surprising.

It may not seem like a big deal, a short segment on whether moms should or shouldn't have a drink when they're with their kids. But behind it, behind the supposed concern about this new trend (quoth my mother: "Give me a break") is one message. It's the same one we get day after day. And it's simply this: we are not capable. Women are not capable. We need to be watched. We need to be told what to do. We must be monitored, judged, and corrected.

This message is so pervasive, we don't even hear it anymore. We just internalize it, and fret, and compare ourselves to everyone else, and point fingers at other mothers who we think are worse than we are. And then the media turns around and asks, why are mothers so neurotic?

It sucks, and I don't know what the solution is. It's difficult when you're lost in a funhouse to find the exit. Maybe we just point out the lie whenever and wherever we see it. It's not much, but it's a start. And maybe after that first step, maybe we'll know which way to go.

Reader Comments (69)

That was a great post - you said so much more eloquently what I've been trying to reply with at Melissa's blog (and just ended up whining about life being unfair, et cetera). Hopefully all this online debate might help us a little bit to all step back and see the bullshit when it is in front of us, and maybe call people out on it.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commentersuperblondgirl
I'm glad I missed it, because I'm getting tense just reading about it. And I second Mary (above), this was a great post, and eloquently got the whole issue.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSusanna
The first step to freeing ourselves may be to just exclude the "sanctimommies" from discussion alltogether. As Melissa said in the interview, she doesn't want to hang out with people who can't deal with her truths (wanting to sell her kids on ebay some days). Neither do I.

Most of the judgements of fellow mommies come from a place of looming insecurity.

It's also intellectually lazy (and very safe) to leap on the pedestal of sanctimony and resume finger-shaking every time a serious debate about motherhood arises. I am talking to you, Ms Viera.

The rewards of these judgements (the false feelings of superiority and safety) perpetuate the problem. Much like Pavlov's dog salivating when the bell rang. If we start making people who offer that knee-jerk response uncomfortable, maybe we'll make progress?At least if we exclude the finger shakers from the discussion (because they have NOTHING worthwhile to add in my opinion) we may actually learn something, and feel better about the realities of our lives and of motherhood.

January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan
As usual, you've put it all together better than anyone. My kids are in their 20's and just starting families. They can both tell you about watching Mom & Dad have a beer/glass of wine in the evening or at a neighborhood gathering. Some new trend.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatt
Basically this seems to be just another way for the media to make something out of nothing. They have to have stories, so why not this? I wonder what sort of story they would come up with if they could see me typing on the computer while my daughter watches TV and plays with a plastic farting ghost that she got as a prize with a fast food meal.

Also, someone said Margarted Atwood LOVED bacon. past tense. Did she die? That would really bum me out. I would have to have a drink to recover.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterHeather G.
I believe Ms. Atwood is alive. Maybe she no longer loves bacon? Maybe they had a falling out. If you eat enough bacon it could happen.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteralice
Your thoughts about the Today show piece were well put. Pure sexism on Today's part. Women are childlike, must be watched, and must at all times be "good." Sigh.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMaddy
OH MY GOD. I just watched the segment and was squirming in front of my computer. The puritanical zeal with which it was presented was disomforting. Also, the way every woman had to stress that she had "only" one drink. As if, two drinks made you an alcoholic. No one (other than Melissa and Stephanie) seemed to get the concept of moderation. The "expert" is right that people (mothers, fathers, non-parents) need other ways to relax. And as Melissa pointed out she does other relaxing things. As do most other sane, functioning members of society.

I've just decided to serve alcohol at my next playdate. Never done it before but this zealotry has forced me to choose sides.

P.S. Margaret Atwood is very much alive. She lives not too far frrom me so I could spy on her in lunch spots and see if she eats bacon. (She's notoriously crumudgeonly.)
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMJ
Ever since I saw that video I've been waiting for your commentary and you did not disappoint. Thank you for this piece, Alice, well done.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle
Nail-head? Let me introduce you to Alice.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbirdgal
I haven't wandered over to Wonderland yet but I will get there. For now, I just want to say that I really liked you point on revealing the lies about motherhood and mothers. No fancy or witty comment just the fact that that particular piece is powerful.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterVikki
I meant "your point" not "you point", of course. Please excuse my typing...I've been up since 5 a.m. (We ditched the pacifiers in our house this weekend).
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterVikki
I just happen to be reading M. Atwood's latest at the moment. And I think Alice writes even more eloquently. I keep getting lost in Atwood's metaphors.

Good post, Alice. I can't think of anything more in-depth to write, because my big, strong husband isn't here to guide me. ;)
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterkaryn
I don't want Sarah to feel lonely, so I'm going to agree with what she says, even if she doesn't need my support. There's been something about all the chatter in the blogiverse regarding this Today Show segment that's been bothering me all weekend and I haven't quite been able to articulate it as well as Sarah did.

I'm not saying that the interview wasn't shitty or that comparing a mother to a babysitter is acceptable. But I also find myself uncomfortable with all the "let's drink! huzzah!" reaction. Because the truth is, alcohol can be really really horribly dangerous. Maybe Janet Taylor feels similarly frustrated that she couldn't make that point, that responsible drinking is all well and good, but for many many many, too many parents, responsible drinking isn't possible and that a discussion about the "Momtini" might be better served by acknowledging that, too, instead of merely glamorizing the new chic of the modern American mother and her playgroup cocktail.

See, the problem is that this issue is complicated. And I haven't noticed our media to be especially skilled at handling complexity very deftly.

I'm not disagreeing with you, Alice (because who would do that?), just trying to highlight another possible side.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterborneochica
Actually I agree with you, borneochica; my point is that neither side is served by a piece like that.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteralice
So let me get this straight and just for future reference: As a mother, you're not allowed to drink or be depressed or work (or not work). But you are allowed to pass judgement and cause friction and be a pain in the ass?

I didn't know you mothers were robots.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterHeather B.
What a great point, Alice. I wonder if a piece ever would have surfaced about a few Dads who stood around a sandbox watching their kids play, while sharing a laugh and a beer.

If TODAY were to do a piece on that and got all judgmental toward the Dads, well, the Dads would probably just ignore it, and not care about being judged. They probably would roll their eyes at the women on The View.

Maybe we should, too.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commentersisterfriend
Well, I didn't see the piece. I like to make sweeping conclusions and gross generalizations. And are some of them. First, my mother drank beer at the freaking public swimming pool, with her friend Sandy while smoking her Tarryington 100's and slathering on her ban d'solei (she always had a great tan even in the dead of winter - she looked great in her snowmobile suit). Women were off the grid then, so to speak, and maybe there is nothing wrong with that.Second, the Today show is looking for shit to consider a problem. Pinot Grigio during a play date is not a problem. Our foreign policy is a problem. Our middle class apathy about the war is a problem. Our gas guzzling SUV's are a problem. Mom's drinking wine is a made up problem. Third, the whole idea of considering this a problem really speaks to the stupidity of and cattiness of our people (going back to problem #2). Fourth, my husband makes his own beer and if anyone wants to stop by, we will be serving drinks right after work - shall wey say 4:30pm?
Woo! I have beenn thinking about this (and noticing a lot of parenting bloggers wiritng about it). All this incitement of finger pointing is really sexist, depicts women in a horrible light, and distracts us from the real issues facing parents today (shrinking middle class, creeping materialism, and few choices for parents other than "work full time" or "stay home full time").

And Sarah and Borneochica, I see your points, although I don't think "Cool Mommies drink, nondrinking Mommies suck" was what either Alice or Melissa were saying (although I have seen some of that sentiment in the comments on both their blogs, so I get where you're coming from). I think they are both rejecting this prevailing attitude of judgement and finger pointing about every little thing mothers do or don't do. I don't give a rat's ass about who does or doesn't drink in my circles of friends, I do care about who makes me feel supported and approved of, and who makes me feel judged and wanting.

January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAmyinMotown
I like the point about neither side being served by the segment. Actually I find it hard to believe this has to be an "issue" now since this can't possibly be a new "trend." It's a trend because someone started paying attention to it and is now clapping their hands in glee as everyone fights about it.

The language that bothered me most in the interview was the question about mothers deciding to "go this route." PUNCH.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMG
GOD. That interview was an absolute crock. I completely agree with you, Alice.

The question about the babysitter was complete bullshit. Who drinks at their JOB? And yet mothers are expected never to have a cocktail again (you know, just in CASE they have to drive someone to the hospital). Motherhood is 24/7, NOT 8 hrs a day, and these sanctimonious assholes seem to forget that.

I would NOT have a beer with Meredith Viera or Genitalia.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterHeath
But, don't you understand? Parents aren't allowed to drink...EVER! From the minute you find out your pregnant till the day they turn 18, you are not allowed to consume so much as a thimbleful of Nyquil. Don't tell me about how you're aware of your limits and you know how to drink responsibly. We all know you're just going to get sloshed and pass out while your children run wild and naked in the streets, smearing sticky jam and cheerio graffiti on public property. You should be ashamed of yourselves! What would your mothers think if they saw you now? Don't you remember how innocent your parents were? How your mother used to sip grape juice at dinner parties and your father would enjoy a nice root beer during the game? You people are animals! Oh how times have changed with this new vice, this ALCOHOL! Why can't we go back to the old days, when women in dresses and pearls cooked, cleaned, and reared the children like the dutiful little robots they're meant to be? Have you no decency? See, this is why women shouldn't be allowed out of the kitchen. Damn, hippies! I need a drink!
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMonkee
Thanks for this. I have been reading glowing blog posts about the piece being decent and balanced and how Melissa did (yes, very well) and feeling a little disappointed that no one else seemed to feel let down but it. I’m just glad I’m not the only one who felt like it wasn’t so fair and balanced and great. You describe the main problem perfectly.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermama without instructions
If they showed Dads sitting around, drinking beer and watching the kids, it would be, "oh, good for you, Daddies, for watching the children! Now don't forget which end the diaper goes on! That was hard, wasn't it? You deserve a beer."

Which is insulting to both Moms and Dads.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMary
Very well put, Alice. It is sad that so many of these news magazine shows (and even what passes for the actual "news" shows) already have their point of view before even putting together the piece. What ever happened to real journalism, where you take a subject and actually examine it thoughtfully?

And, both my parents had a cocktail before dinner every single night of their lives. My dad lived to be 92 and my mom is 88 and still going strong. She also smoked and drank while she was pregnant (everyone did in the 50's - her doc just said to "cut down a little" on the smoking). Needless to say I survived and actually thrived. Amazing, isn't it.
January 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMauigirl52

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