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July 30, 2005

Power Moms: The Wisdom of Breeders

The first time I travelled to Houston I was surprised by a number of things, but the biggest surprise was with something I discovered about myself. I didn't understand children.

I married when I was 33, relatively late, but right on my schedule. I had a ball as a single guy, and I lived in all the cool places. I can recall checking through trashcans looking for empty Haagen-Dazs & Lean Cuisine packages to see if a neighborhood was yuppy enough for me to move in. A decade of that kind of living made me oblivious to the very basics of children. A particularly lazy weekend found no seminars, gallery openings or decent movies. So I ended up wandering to, of all places, a shopping mall. As I stood relaxing over the bannister at the ice rink at the Galleria in Houston, I realized I had no idea how old the children I was looking at were.

Although I haven't made much of it here at Cobb, I can say most decidedly that raising children has made me a much wiser person than I might have otherwise been. It defies the sense that Bhudda might have brought forth, but he was a man out of his time. It's difficult to imagine in the time of Bhudda there might be so many people living a decade of 'single life' before having children. So I wonder if the enlightenment of Bhudda couldn't be matched by anyone today with access to a wealth of research and an extra decade of family-free life. The greatness of the discoveries of the ancient world was that those innovators put together their insights in the absence of clues, whereas today it all seems obvious. Yes, now that the original deed has been done.

The other day at the Bear Flag League Meetup, TCB colleague JC Phillips said something which impressed my by its simplicity. "Community is the first political entity." I've been thinking about how implementations of XRepublic can affect bottoms-up representation. I expect new dense networks to emerge as people start using computers to mediate more of their communications. In fact, this summer I intend to build a parent's networking portal for the folks in my neighborhood. So when polling organizations become disintermediated by groups like this, interesting dynamics will ensue.

As we began discussion about community over at VC, the issue of community organizing arose. My response was this:

One of the fundamental questions is the role of the mom. Having lived in So Cal for 8 years in 3 different neighborhoods, I can tell you that unless and until you have moms sharing responsibilities for each other's kids real community isn't happening.

In the first neighborhood, we had our kids interact with other kids at the public park through their various public programs. There were maybe three full-time staff, and my wife made pals with the number one woman who ran the program. We had her over for my barbecues and we wer basically tight.

In the second neighborhood, more of our kids were in school and most things were school based. There was a real friendliness among the parents at school but we weren't there long enough to establish a lot of bonds.

In the third neighborhood, where I live now, we can see things coming to a real fruition at about the fourth and fifth grade level. This is where kids really start to choose their friends, have sleepovers and parents are making the commitments to get to know each other. (You have to if it's going to be a sleepover). There are three or four families where we are close enough to spontaneously have their kids over our place or ours at theirs. This is a very different level of cooperation than just doing the 'activity based' relationships. When kids are playing sports on the same teams or scouting or going to the same church school, that's one level, but the sleepovers and family outings - that's a different level.

So for me personally there has been a progression of integration with other families that really doesn't seem to get into gear until kids are in the third grade. It becomes clear after a while, who the power moms are in the community. It's all about knowing the power moms.

Now I would say there's going to be a big difference in the quality of community based upon how many women are working. In the last two neighborhoods, there were plenty of stay at home mothers, and if you ask me, that is the single most important determining factor in the quality of community life. It's all about what's going on at 4:20, and if mom is not watching... well, you know what happens. If you shift the burden of organizing and watching children to public institutions, you will by definition get results that are not up to par. I don't believe you can invest properly without fundamentally altering the relationship between kids, the school and parents - which is to say that the school has to be greatly expanded. Where there are working or single mother families, the school has to be day care, park, babysitting, homework monitoring, communications exchange and trusted surrogate. I don't think that there is enough public money for that or that there ever will be, but I could see how making school a place where parents can pick up their kids up to 9pm at night would work.

The term 'community' gets applied to just about every group imaginable here in this country. Yglesias has been mentioning SuicideGirls as porn, but I know that there are such communities of 'pierced lesbians'. What has Conservatives behaving defensively with such things as the Defense of Marriage Act is their interpretation of how politically valid all such communities aim to be. And of course since Liberals tend to speak for everyone, they have managed to pervert, if not invert, concepts of liberty and equality to suggest that all communities are of equal value. Anyone on the outs from the central and traditional core communities are considered political allies, even and especially when those communities of interest are counter-cultural and anti-social. All I need to say is one word: 'Insurgents'.

Despite the popularity of extended childhood and bohemian living amongst our nation's youth, it is reasonable to assess their political value to society independent of their popularity. If they are given political 'voice' which is disproportionate to their contribution to society, then we end up creating democratic institutions which are caustic to the fabric of society. Let me not get to Randian here, but it is not logically consistent to have disinterested parties determining the fate of society. Equal time is not the proper principle, but balance and perspective. Mark dissent for what it is, dissent. Not an equally valid position if only society could be reconstituted.

My personal tar-baby in this discussion is that acerbic comic Janeane Garofalo. While she may or may not be a pierced lesbian, she strikes me very clearly as a chick, in otherwords the anti-mom. She appears by my eyes both intellectually and physically incapable of motherhood, but I am not shunning her for a handicap. Rather I'm saying this is a choice. She needs to be childless and has decided to be precisely that, in persuit of her happiness - the kind of hip happiness that spits at the very notion of taking her kids ice skating at the mall.

I argue for the humility of parenthood, and in fact I take not a small bit of pride from the fact that as a father of three, I am outnumbered. I cannot exercise control over my children at all times and yet I am constantly providing for their safety and upbringing. This is the humility I find directly incompatible with the hipness of American alternative culture. In other words, hippies make lousy parents. And the whole Hollywood vibe we conservatives can't stand is the self-righetousness of selfish, stylish loudmouth people who believe their politics are the substance of American life, and not the dissent from it. They believe that their alternatives are a flight from oppression, more often than not it is flight from humble responsibility. Doesn't Sally Struthers have her own children?

I am interested to see how the gap is bridged between the priorities and emergent politics of a networked suburban power mom framework and that of the dual earner or single parent framework. When these groups aggregate, howe will their direct priorities influence local politics? Moreover when they inevitably conflict with those who are antagonistic to the fundaments of straight marriage with children, how much leverage is going to be taken by the bohemians? How much will our society give?

It may take a village to raise a child, but let's make sure that the village elders are parents.

Posted by mbowen at July 30, 2005 10:28 AM

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