Boxes

April 7, 2014

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Computers are boxes that hold information. They are solid, finite. Computers rely on an algorithm of complete ideas. Computers categorize our lives, our files, our ideas.

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Humans are not boxes. We are fluid forms, soft, curvy. Our ideas are amorphous and infinite. I worry that the coming generations are going to be trapped in these boxes, these categories.

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I am a woman. I am in my forties. I am married. I am a mother. I am college educated.

These are categories in which I fit but this is not all of me.

I think of the challenges of checking off answers. The other day I called the United States Post Office. I needed to find out where a package was that my oldest daughter accidentally had shipped to our home address instead of her dorm. I needed to know if I could pick up her package even though it was not in my name.

There was a recording asking me various questions including the tracking number. This number was illegible as I imagine author of said numbers was in the habit of checking off boxes and not actually used to writing. The tracking number option was not an option. In fact, none of the boxes the recorded voice wanted me to choose was of any help to my situation so I said “Operator.”

She responded in confusion. So I said “customer service.”

She still wanted me to choose: send a package or repeat previous options.

I then said “Human.”

Her reply: I am sorry, I do not understand, do you want me . . .”

“FUCKING HUMAN!!” I screamed in to my phone. She didn’t flinch. I hung up.

Another recent situation with computer options was a package ordered form Target. My eight-year-old son has a new position: General of the Spy Club in his third grade class. For this position he needs to wear a jacket and tie. My husband ordered a crisp white shirt and sharp navy jacket. It was supposed to be delivered on Wednesday the 26th. On Thursday the 27th I tracked the package from an email with all of the ordering details. I tracked the package through UPS. They handed it off the USPS. On Friday March 28 I called and checked and tracked. According to USPS it was on time for delivery on Wednesday the 26th – remember I am calling on Friday the 28th. I placed several calls. The only human I talked with was from Target and every word uttered was from a script which I imagine had little check marks for each situation.

“I am sorry you feel this way. Your package is scheduled for delivery on Wednesday the 26th.”

“Do you know what today is? It is the 28th.”

There was not a way for anyone to help me because computers do not have arms, eyes or hearts. They cannot call and speak to UPS or the USPS and ask where my son’s General suit is.

My worst box checking experience was when I was sitting in the pre-op for a D & C at St. Vincent’s Hospital. I had been 17 weeks pregnant and a Doppler could not pick up my baby’s heartbeat so I went for a sonogram. The baby inside me had died. My body still felt pregnant and I did not physically miscarry. We decided on a D & C.

The Physicians Assistant asked me a series of questions before the procedure. Then this one:

“Are you pregnant?”

“Do you know why I am here?”

“I just need to know if you are pregnant.”

“I don’t know,” my eyes filled with tears for the thirtieth time that day. I didn’t think I could produce another drop.

“I need to check off a box.”

“How about: yes, I am pregnant, with a dead baby? Do you have a box for that?”

When people are trained to check off boxes they should get sensitivity training. There should always be an “other” box with a line for explanation. And that line should be endless.

I worry about so many new mothers these days. It must be so hard to be instinctive. They are encouraged to follow a set of rules that they can track. They have apps for everything: feeding, diapers, pee and poo.

When I had my babies and I was nursing them in the early days I was trying to keep my breasts balanced. When it was time to nurse I would gently squeeze my breasts to see which felt fuller so I could start with that breast. Ask many moms today and she may say, “hold on, let me look, I have it on an app.”

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Technology has a its place but not at the price of humanity. We are culturing the instincts out of ourselves. New mothers are following all these concepts:

Are you any of the following?

  • Attachment Parenting
  • Co-sleeping
  • Ferber
  • Sleep training
  • Home birth
  • Planned Caesarean
  • Home school
  • Public school
  • Private school
  • Breastfeed
  • Bottle feed
  • Homemade food
  • Prepackaged food
  • Baby led weaning
  • Blonde
  • Brunette
  • Bald
  • Young
  • Old
  • Friendly
  • Shy
  • Silly
  • Frustrated

It is my hope that we can learn to live in harmony with computers, that we not let them do our thinking.

Step outside of the box. Look into someone’s eyes. Think for yourself.

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Do you remember falling in love? The excitement of seeing that special someone? Your heart speeding up? Remember catching each others’ eyes? The way it felt when your skin touched? The vulnerability you allowed yourself?

As your relationship developed both of you revealed your flaws because you let your guards down. Sometimes you got angry but you recovered because love created a place of safety, forgiveness and acceptance, unconditionally.

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This happens with babies.  We have to negotiate our time and space to accommodate this feeling. Our hearts have unending abundance. There is an excitement and fear because we did not realize our capacity to feel such profound emotions.

Welcome to parenting. This journey is all about falling in love. Love can be wonderful and scary, frustrating and exhilarating.

Fall in love amidst the chaos of a life that is no longer yours alone. You find that you have lost control of your environment. You don’t have time for yourself, your home is a disaster. When did you last shower? Did you eat breakfast?  What happened to your body? Will you ever make love again?

But then you catch your baby’s eyes and all the mess fades away, if only momentarily.

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Your baby doesn’t care about dust bunnies and dishes piled high. She simply needs you.

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Remember in the early days with your partner wanting to be together constantly? This is how your baby feels. She wants you to hold her and feed her, to talk to her and to touch her. Your baby does not want to leave your side.

As you fell in love with your significant other there were times of uncertainty. If you put limitations on your time together would that make you feel secure or insecure?

Babies feel the same. Putting limitations on touch, holding and feeding can make a baby feel unsettled. She may build up defense mechanisms. Allow yourself to dive deep into this new relationship.

In this new phase of your life you will find you tap into your intuition. Trust this gift. Listen to your baby and listen to your heart.

Life is messy. It is speckled with moments of great amazement and awe but mostly it is ordinary. Life with a new baby can be overwhelming all of the time but after an adjustment period it will be mostly ordinary. You will find the comfort of this new kind of love extraordinary.

Here are some strategies to help you enjoy this new chapter of your life:

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~Talk to your baby, tell her your life story – she loves the sound of your voice

~Ask for help – and accept it!

~Tell people honestly what you need: food (prepared), to clean your house, to hold your baby while you sleep or shower

~Sleep when your baby sleeps – yes, take naps when the sun is shining

~Wear your baby – this can let you move about while still keeping her happy on your body

~Keep diapers and changing gear in more than one place – the nursery, your bedroom, the living room – so you don’t have to travel

~Set up nursing stations – a glass of water for you, snacks, a burp cloth in various areas

~Put an outgoing message on all your communications – “Hello, thank you for contacting the Smiths, we are busy bonding with our baby, please leave a message and we will call you back when we get a chance.”

 

Be vulnerable, take emotional risks, fall in love.

 

 

The Myth of the Perfect Mom

December 30, 2013

We moms sure are sold a load of crap! All the images of mothers are glorified and sterilized and glamorized.Image

I am not talking about Giselle. We know she is glamorous and we also know she has a team that makes her look that way.

What about the rest of us, those of us in the trenches of motherhood? Why do we think we have to achieve some unattainable goal as high priestess of motherhood?

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Once in a while I may get what many would call a compliment – and frankly, I let my ego suck it all in for a while and I may hear, “Oh, Leigh Anne, you are an amazing mom!” or “You are a perfect mom!” If this comes from one of my children I will take it and toll around in it for days, even years because I know that it will be followed by some balancing statement like “I hate you, you are the worst mother ever!” And that will be followed by a hug or a request for mommy time. It is all in the job description.

Please, please, please do not throw that horrible label of PERFECT on me. I am imperfect and I embrace that.

But look at advertising for new parents and you see styled and glamorized images.

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What do we really look like after a new baby.

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This is me after my first baby was about two days old – see the look of bewilderment in my eyes? 

Most new moms are in a bit of shock. I hear repeatedly “No one ever told me . . . .”

We hide babies, we hide our breasts, we keep quiet about the dark side of parenting.

I wonder if the dark side would be so dark if people talked about it.

Did you know that breastfeeding in the beginning is very time consuming?

Did you know that newborn babies are not typically chubby?

Did you know that you can bleed from your vagina for days and weeks?

Did you know that sometimes you will pass a clump of blood?

Did you know that you may feel angry that you have a baby – not all of the time but some of the time?

Did you know that you would be riding an emotional rollercoaster?

Did you know that sometimes you will plan to take a shower in the morning and the next thing you know it is 7:30pm and you still have spit up and baby shit on you and you have only eaten stale leftover cake that wasn’t even home baked in a flavor you don’t even like?

Did you know that in all of that mess you will look into the eyes of your baby and feel a deep, confusing kind of love? A new protective kind of love?

Did you know that your baby doesn’t give a damn about your hair?

Did you know that your baby just wants to get to know you? He knows you from growing inside you but now that the courtship is settling in he wants to really get to know you. And he wants you to know him. Did you know that some moms fall in love immediately while others take time.

I think we all want to put on a good face when we go out with our babies. We feel a sense of accomplishment from just having gotten dressed and out of the house. Maybe we feel like we are failing so we have to put on a show and say all the right things. The problem is that other new moms believe what you say. Then other new moms compare themselves to you. Or maybe you are comparing yourself to the woman who says “childbirth was a breeze, my baby latched right on and has grown beautifully, she sleeps through the night and her poop doesn’t smell, also, my husband is a saint, he cooks every night and bought me this gold chain with my baby’s birthstone and a tiny haiku he wrote inscribed. He waits patiently for me to want to get intimate and my belly just seemed to pop right back into place.”

I play a game with myself. When I am feeling the stress of parenting and I really do not want to yell at my kids again or I do not want to scream at them in public, I pretend I am the subject of a documentary on parenting. I want to be prime example of keeping my cool. I stop and think: “what would be a productive action to take here.” I often fail at this game but sometimes I succeed. When I succeed I am setting an example for my children and possibly for other parents. But, I am not perfect, dammit!

One of the best gifts my mother gave me was the gift of imperfection. She let me see her flaws. I was not blinded by a sense of glamour and always being right. This was great because it made her accessible and it took the pressure off of me to not be a perfect mom. Don’t get me wrong – I do have my moments of genius. Mostly I am ordinary but to my children I am MOM.

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Mother Anger

July 1, 2013

We openly talk about being angry at our teenagers, our mothers and our partners but how many of us openly admit to being angry at our babies?

I recall late on night, or was it early one morning? This was in the summer of 1995.  New to parenthood, Rob and I were trying to figure out how to integrate a new baby into our lives. Phoebe kept waking and crying. We were still at that point of reading books and not our baby.

The newborn cries impaled my body and I understood the story that my mother repeated often about the eighteen-hour drive up I95 from North Carolina to Massachusetts when I was a six-weeks old. She described a constant bloodcurdling cry and openly said she wanted to throw me out the window. I now knew that feeling, that longing to dispose of ones precious newborn.

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Just as I was trying to figure out how to quit my job as Phoebe’s mom, Rob threw the sheets off himself and I thought he was going to hurdle her into the neighbor’s house. I immediately shifted gears into protective mama bear. I scooped Phoebe into my arms and put her to my breast for the millionth time that day and I wept.

How could I be so angry at my sweet baby girl? Didn’t I love her? Hadn’t I signed onto this job? Did I really want to give her back?

A few days later I attended at La Leche League Meeting. Lucta, the Leader, was a transplant from South Carolina. I loved listening to her deep drawl. I loved how everything that flowed from her mouth was like reading a Fannie Flagg novel. She was funny, self-deprecating, maudlin and full of wisdom.

A mother of five, Lucta spoke of how her vanity saved her first born child. When she wanted to hit him or throw him out of the window she would walk outside onto the sidewalk and hold him out for all to see.

“Ah was vain. I would never do somethin’ regretful in front of anyone,” she proclaimed. “Mah vanity saved that poor child.”

And then she said it, out loud. “Ah was angry.”

The guilt I had about my feelings of anger at Phoebe began to fade with her words. Then she said it was normal to mourn your old life. Normal. I was normal.

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I have learned to respect those words in my life.

Grief is real and it is a process. Once you have a baby, one chapter of your life is closed, forever. No matter how much you love motherhood you have lost the innocence of childlessness.

One brave mother brought it up at my support group the other day. She said out loud that she gets angry at her adorable baby.  Relief permeated the room. Acknowledgement that it is normal to have all different feelings as a new parent is priceless.

It is taboo to talk about anger towards a baby. New parents suppress these feelings because we romanticize babies and new parenthood.

Parenthood is wonderful – some of the time. Parenthood is challenging – some of the time. As long as you do not actually throw your baby out the window or into the neighbors yard you are pretty normal.

One game I have played with myself when I am either out with my three children or if I am feeling on the edge of losing my mother cool is, I pretend I am the subject of a documentary. I pretend that I am being filmed and I want to set a good example. Silly? Yes, but this little game has gotten me through hard moments in my mothering.

Love your baby. Remember, you have a relationship with this little person. Do you ever get angry at your best friend or your spouse? And so you ever just have the best time ever with these people? It is the same with your child.

And, if you ever feel like you want to act on your anger let your vanity step in. Go out and stand on the sidewalk with your baby.

 

  

When I go to the home of a new mom I am often shocked to see all of the stuff in the home. I shouldn’t be. I once had a new baby and had more items than I needed. And these days there is more. Aren’t we supposed to be paring down? Saving the environment? Living simpler? Remember, I am seeing families in New York City. These are not big homes. Most are less than one thousand square feet.

In winter 2002-2003 I  had been a mom for seven years. I had two children at the time. I had been in the mom trenches for some time. I was in Chelsea a neighborhood with a new baby superstore. I wanted to lay my eyes on the new store I had heard so much about. Well, as I walked into the city block sized behemoth my eyes filled with tears. I was so overwhelmed with the thousands of items targeted at new and expecting parents. This explained the piles of unnecessary items in these homes.

I recently did a quick Google search to look at baby registries. The suggested registries had between 8 and 12 categories with 6 to 30 items in each category. That would be as many as 630 items for your new baby! That is a lot of real estate!

Let me guide you through a realistic registry.

First thing: avoid superstores! They overwhelm and oversell. You do not need 80-90% of what they would have you think you need. You may WANT some items but you do not need most of the items suggested.

Clothes: do not over buy.  First, your friends and family love buying baby clothes! Leave something for them. Yes, you want to be prepared with a few onesies and some soft blankets, socks and hats but your baby will grow and you do not need too many of the tiny clothes.

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For sleep you may want to wait for a crib to see if you will actually use one. In the first several weeks your baby will sleep in your room in a bassinet, a Moses basket or next to you, so either one of these or a bed rail will get you through these first couple of months. This will give you time to look around and see what kind of sleeping arrangements you will decide upon.

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I do like a night light for the middle of the night so that you do not light up the room and have your baby thinking it is party time. You want to be able to see while keeping the nighttime atmosphere.

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Diapering: whether you use cloth or disposable diapers it is a good idea to have plenty on hand. Babies pee and poo a lot! Having a space to change the baby is good. Better is to have more than one place for changing the baby. In New York City it can be considered a luxury to have a changing table. Many will have the table on top of a dresser – this saves space. I also think everyone should have a portable changing pad so that you can change the baby in your bedroom and in the living room.

You can get wipes or you can make them by using water and paper towels, or better yet, those soft baby washcloths.

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Diaper ointment? You do not need to use it unless your baby has a diaper rash and if he does you can use raw virgin coconut oil. You can use this on the baby’s bottom, on her skin to moisturize, on your own skin and you can cook with it. There are no mineral oils or other harmful additives. You can have a jar in the pantry and in the medicine cabinet.

You may want a few baby towels and those washcloths. A portable bathtub is a good item.

I love the lists for feeding. If you are breastfeeding you do not need anything from the store. The stores will certainly make you think you need to buy breastfeeding items.  You do NOT need a special pillow – they mostly get in the way of comfortable feeding. And please, please do not get a nursing cover! Do you get a cover for any other feeding in your life? Why put a tent around your baby? If you are trying to be discreet it just draws attention to you.

Regarding pumps, if you really need to pump at the beginning you will do best to use a rental grade pump. Before you purchase a pump you need to see what your situation will be. Will you be back to work full-time?  Do you need to pump only occasionally? Do you even need to pump?

Regarding bottles please do not fall victim to the marketers who want your money. All bottles are not created equal and no bottle will mimic a human! Consider something slow and not too big.  The formula sample bottle nipples are super fast.

Strollers! Ah! How will you get your baby around? I did not see any baby carriers on my samples of registries. Wearing your baby is essential no matter where you live. Put that baby on in urban settings for getting from place to place. Put that baby on in the suburbs to go for a walk or go to the grocery store. Put that baby on in your home so you can get things done like make yourself a sandwich.

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Now, back to strollers. Where do you live? Is it a walk up? You certainly do not need a huge pram going up and down the stairs.

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In an urban setting a sturdy lightweight stroller is a must. Something you can quickly fold and unfold with a strap to go on your shoulder and a pouch at the bottom to carry your sling! This stroller will be great for grocery shopping- you wear the baby and put the groceries in the stroller.

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Of course, if you are ever going to put your baby in a car a car seat is a must.

Safety gadgets: So there are certain things like outlet covers that are good and a gate or two near stairs or a particular room. But please do not cordon off your entire home. A baby needs to learn to be in space and to understand that there are some areas that you respect and learn to live with; for example, a bookshelf. Babies need to learn that a bookshelf holds books and they are not to be tossed about. Plants – a baby needs to learn that plants are to be admired and watered but not ripped apart.

Walk around your home, then crawl around your home and see what danger looms but do not restrict your baby as she learns to crawl to a padded cell. She will not know how to behave in the real world.

When people ask you what you want or need tell them to start a college fund or to buy you food. Maybe real estate but do not buy things just because there is a store wanting to sell you stuff. Ask your friends what they really used and think about if you have the same personality as that friend or the same size home.

Until your baby arrives pamper yourself and practice taking naps. Naps are one of  new parents best survival tools!

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Formula and Clinique

July 18, 2012

Why are people up in arms about Mayor Bloomberg banning formula “gift” bags in NYC hospitals?

People think he is taking away a woman’s right to choose how to feed her baby. No, this is not the case.

Let’s talk about marketing.  Basically the hospitals are marketing formula and they are not getting paid for this.  In fact, it takes money to manage the storage and distribution of this product. Yes, the product. Formula is a product. The formula industry is a for-profit enterprise.

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Let’s take Clinique. I love Clinique Bonus time.

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I even subscribe to an e-mail alert system that tells me when and where Clinique is having their next Bonus. I remember in high school going to the Cross creek Mall with Mama and Traci and we would go to Thalhimers or Belk to the make-up counter and inquire about the next Clinique Bonus. Eventually the finely made-up ladies behind the counter saw we were loyal consumers and would clue us in – the Spring Bonus starts next week. Or the Fall Bonus is begins October 3.  I became a customer. Not so much of Thalhimer’s or Belk but of Clinique. You had to spend a minimum amount of money to get the “gift.” This is how is started using Clinique lipstick and mascara. For many years I wore Crystal Violet. I was truly saddened when they discontinued that color – it was what I wore on my wedding day.

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I never thought I would like myself in a frosted lipstick until I got a sample of Heather Moon – my replacement for Crystal Violet. I use Bamboo Pink on those days I don’t wear make-up – like when I go to the beach or gym (yes, I wear lipstick to the gym but that is all – I have very pale lips and well, I am a southern woman.)

I even became a Freelance Fragrance/Make-up Model in the late 80’s when I moved to New York and was a struggling actor. I loved getting the Clinique gig! Twice a year at Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales and Saks.  I learned a thing or two about make-up and I learned a thing or two about the cut-throat Store Modeling industry. But I always got the Bonus!

I don’t use every thing that comes with the Bonus. I used to trade items with Mama and Traci. Then I gave the unused products to varying roommates and friends. Now, I share with my daughters.

I would be sad if Clinique stopped their Bonus. But I don’t think they will. They got me hooked over twenty years ago and there are millions more to hook to keep them in business.

They spend lots of money promoting their product. The lines at the Clinique counters during Bonus time can be more competitive than getting the Select bus at 14th and First at 9:00am (lots of shoving and elbows.) The last Clinique Bonus I got just recently at Lord & Taylor took up a good percentage of the first floor. They will rotate it for the next Lancome or Estee Lauder Bonus.

This is what the hospitals do so freely.  They donate their space for the formula companies to store their product. The companies that make the formula make the hospitals sign a contract to only give their brand. This then makes the parents of new babies believe that the hospital endorses this specific brand. And guess what? By giving away this product the hospital is endorsing the Brand.

Formula companies want your business. The formula industry rakes in billions of dollars annually. And your hospital is helping to promote and pay for the promotion of their product.

And, it has been proven over and over that when formula is promoted breastfeeding is compromised.

If you want to feed your baby formula no one is stopping you.

Remember this story: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/opinion/sunday/10sex.html

And then I wrote this:

Dear Erica Jong

July 13, 2011

Dear Erica,

I read your essay in the New York Times “Is Sex Passe?”

This passage really got my ire up!

Better to give up men and sleep with one’s children. Better to wear one’s baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him. Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion? The question lingers in the air, unanswered.

Well allow me to answer!

I remember when my first child, Phoebe, was a few weeks old and we attended an afternoon barbecue at my in-laws. The topic of sleep – the ultimate new parent topic – arose I shared that we had Phoebe in our bed. Cousin Norma jumped right in, “You can’t do that! It will ruin your marriage!” I was shocked.

I kept Phoebe in our bed initially as a survival method. When I placed her in the bassinet at the end of our bed in the tiny house in the NYC suburbs she looked like she was in California. Neither Rob nor I needed to leave our bed to attend to our baby. We adored her and loved having her close to us. It also made it much easier to feed her through the night. Rob and I could cuddle and make love without disturbing her. Having a baby in bed increased our intimacy. We were more focused, more intense.

At this backyard shindig I learned that Cousin Norma had  been married and divorced three times. She was the one with marital problems.

And Erica, I know you breastfed your daughter. Did you co-sleep? Did you put Molly between you and your husband?

When you parent you have to have a sense of humor. You have to laugh if one moment you are a sexual goddess caught up in the moment and suddenly you switch gears, twist your body toward your baby, offer a breast, keep skin-to-skin contact with two people, be two at once, settle the baby down and go back to being the passionate goddess. You have to be able to laugh.

You do not have to divide yourself into sections. Similar to parenting more than one child – you meet the needs of a younger child and an older child. You can be a present wife and mother.

Oh, dear Erica, I think you feel you need to be an orange – all segmented. Me, I am a juicy peach- no segments, a complete package.

After 18 years of marriage, twelve years of breastfeeding and even more years of a family bed Rob and I are a happy couple with an enviable sex life.

As a woman who writes essays about the guilt of mothering and feminism please do not discount attachment as anti-woman. You are stoking the Mommy War fires.

Sincerely,

Leigh Anne

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Well, I sent my letter directly to Erica as the New York Times was no longer accepting responses. And she wrote back.

Leigh Anne–

Thanks so much for writing. You’re right: we don’t need to be segmented. 

I don’t think I was writing so much about myself as about my view of other parents who are not as whole and loving as you.
I so appreciate your taking the time to write your beautiful letter!
Erica Jong
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I imagine as a writer you have to stir things up a bit. I will take her lead and not hold back. Not always be the sweet polite southerner. I can be tough and opinionated! So look out, y’all!