Susan Estrich played the Mom card a few weeks ago, explaining why she wouldn’t join me as a guest on the Los Angeles talk radio show “Mr. KABC.” My patience for women who do that is by now really wearing thin. Mr. K, as he’s called, had invited Estrich to be on the show with me at 10 p.m. — as a call-in guest, which is easy as pie — but she told him via email that she had to decline because she had two kids to put to bed, one of whom was sick.
Oh, please. Estrich’s kids aren’t exactly preschoolers. In her syndicated column not long ago, Estrich described how upset she was to learn that her 11-year-old son had run into Michael Jackson while visiting the home of a rich playmate:
I don’t claim to be the “mother of the year.” Not even close. I don’t want to count how many times I’ve sent my son to school without lunch because I thought it was pizza lunch day and it wasn’t. My daughter broke both wrists, and both times I told her to be tough because they were just bruises. But it doesn’t take a course in parenting to know enough to keep your kids away from Michael Jackson.
Actually, I wouldn’t have thought it takes a course in parenting to remember to make your kids lunch, or recognize their broken bones. Apparently it does in Estrich’s case. But anyway, Estrich’s son — the one she doesn’t want molested by Michael Jackson — is 11. And odds are that her daughter, about whom she hoped in another column will someday see a perfect world filled with perfect newspapers that contain “memorable columns by smart women who say they’ve never been the victims of discrimination,” is older, not younger.
I mean, Estrich is in her 50s, for God’s sake. Somehow I imagine both her kids are quite grown-up enough to put themselves to bed and survive an hour without her undivided attention– even if one is sick, especially if Mom is right there in the house on a cordless phone. What do they do when she’s on Fox News? Or busy poring over piecharts comparing the ratio of male to female columnists at the L.A. Times?
Not that I was unhappy about being Mr. K’s only guest for the 10 o’clock hour. I’m always willing to do more than my share of the talking, even if that means my 15-year-old daughter has to put herself to bed and blow her own nose. As a matter of fact, she occupied herself quite happily while I was on the phone, live-blogging my radio spot on her laptop. She did, unfortunately, misidentify the lefty L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison as a rightwing pundit in the process– which I suppose proves that disaster’s always possible with kids when you turn your back even for a minute.
Still, I’m getting sick of women playing the Mom card, especially now that my least favorite holiday– Take Our Daughters to Work Day, recently renamed Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day — is just around the corner, it rolls around this year April 28. Mom-card-playing moms always think that anyone who looks even slightly askance at this earnest, Ms. Foundation-created artificial holiday is just an old meanie. But more about that in a minute.
All this doesn’t mean I’m unsympathetic about the peculiar travails of modern middle-class motherhood. I was prepared to be on the side of Judith Warner’s “Perfect Madness,” the much-hyped new book about crazed, kid-obsessed mothers, because I don’t believe children should be raised to expect birthday parties that cost as much as weddings or moms who’ve turned themselves into exhausted, dutiful chauffeurs.
Unlike some true believers on the right, I don’t even think Warner’s plea for a few government dollars to subsidize high-quality day-care is necessarily out of the question. If I’d lived in France– as Warner did for a while– I’m sure that I too would miss paying $150 a month for an excellent nursery school. “This solution may be French,” Warner writes, in an excerpt Newsweek ran at length this spring, “but do we have to bash it?”
But then just a few paragraphs later, she describes running into a friend going crazy shopping for an elaborate first-grade class party:
And I was reminded of the words of a French doctor I’d once seen. I’d come to him about headaches. They were violent. They were constant…He wrote me a prescription for a painkiller. But he looked skeptical as to whether it would really do me much good. “If you keep banging your head against the wall,” he said, “you’re going to have headaches.”
OK, but…wait a sec!…this was a French doctor! So Warner was having those violent, constant, kid-induced headaches even in the land of $150-a-month subsidized day-care? This suggests that her recommendation of “progressive tax policies” regarding child-care vouchers etc. may not actually solve her own “mommy madness” problem, let alone anyone else’s.
To me the solution was to work for myself, out of my home. (I’ve been a freelance writer for 20 years). I realize that’s not always possible (although such businesses are increasing, and at twice the rate for women as for men) but feminists don’t approve even when it is. Ann Crittenden, for instance, took a typically grim and dismissive view of home-based, self-employed mothers in her book “The Price of Motherhood:”
By defining “the consultant or editor who works out of a home-based office” as a working mother, Crittenden complained, the government “contributes to the false impresssion that most mothers are not available to their children during the day.”
What’s made clear here is the tacit message of that annual annoyance Take Our Daughters — and Sons! — to Work Day. Children need to be taken to work because that’s the best, most proper kind of work. God forbid they should witness entrepreneurial parents who manage to combine income-producing jobs with child-rearing, sans the need for full-time day-care. That would undermine the real agenda of the feminist establishment, which has always been more about the leftist cause in general (thus the emphasis on corporate cubicles and government largesse) than what actually benefits women in particular.
This is part of the reason, I suspect, why a high-powered woman like Susan Estrich — whose work life has always been set in actual business offices (organizing those gender-counting projects for her USC students, running Michael Dukakis’s campaign into the ground, etc.) — feels she can pull the mom card when asked to perform some professional task, like talking on the radio, when at home with the kids. Too difficult! Can’t be done!
The other card women like this often play, as we saw with Judith Warner, is the France card. Here’s Ann Crittenden on our friends abroad, where all mothers get free health care and a cash allowance for every child: “Everyone who has ever studied family policy comes away from France with the same blissful expression that one would wear after a great meal.”
That expression can change to a grimace of indigestion, of course, once you chew on the reality of France’s high taxes, or violent French Islamists enraged that Muslim girls can no longer wear religious head scarves to French public schools. But that, of course, is a problem that not even playing the Mom card can solve.
Catherine Seipp is a writer and visiting fellow with IWF.?She also maintains a blog, “Cathy’s World.”