Big Birthday #21: You Asked for It (Notes for a New Mom)

JOSH AND CINDY IN MUIR WOODS 50pNOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 29, 2007.

That’s me with my older son, Josh, in Muir Woods outside San Francisco  — pretty many years ago.  I don’t know if you can tell but I’m pregnant with his brother.  Happy to join the virtual shower although despite my adoration of and respect for both Liz and Catherine, I’m from the generation that put their babies to sleep on their stomachs and so may sound a little old-fashioned*.

1. Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right no matter whose advice it is.

2. Trust yourself.

3. Remember that everybody makes mistakes and anyway a child is not a product, she is a person. You’ve heard that kids are resilient. They are. Do your best with love and if you don’t dwell on your mistakes neither will they.

4. You can’t turn a child into someone. You can only help them become the best somebody they already are.

5. Don’t be afraid to say no. Parents who don’t set limits and help their kids learn self-discipline are selfish. It’s easier but it’s not right.

6. No experience is wasted on a child. Maybe they’re too young to remember, but if it happened, it had an impact. So share as much of what you love as you can – music, museums, trips to Timbuktu or Target — poetry, cooking, washing the car.

7. No child ever went to college in diapers.

8. Listen to experienced people you respect, preschool teachers, friends, even, God forbid, your mother.  Experience really is a great teacher.  Then, though, think it through and then do what you think is right.

9. Everything is not equally important. Pick your fights and win them. 10. Leave time to just be. Lessons are great but quiet time is where imagination and a sense of self emerges.

10. LISTEN to your kids. They are smart and interesting and wise and if you respect them you have a far better chance of having them respect you.

11. Did I say trust yourself?

With love, admiration and the joy that comes from knowing all you wonderful, poetic and caring, committed and in one case, very new mothers on the occasion of this lovely virtual baby shower.

*This post was part of a “baby shower” if pieces by friends of this about-to-be new BlogHer mom.

Big Birthday Memory #19: Thanks to the Man Who Sent Me to BlogHer ’06 and Now It’s ’14 and I’m Still Showing Up

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from August 2, 2014.


In 2006, I was working with David Aylward and the National Strategies firm.  He doesn’t know this but there’s a story (If you know me you know there’s almost always a story.)  We had a client who wanted to reach parents.  David hired me to help and I had this big idea about making a parent website to promote them.

David sort of said “What about these blogs I keep hearing about? Would that be better?” I knew so little about blogging that I had to go look it up online. I found a story about this little conference in San Jose called BlogHer, meeting for only its second year. David and I convinced our client that I should attend this mysterious event and off I went along with fliers for our product and real curiosity about who these women were and what they were up to.
Cindy and Kelley cropped2 Me with jenn pozner smaller

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Cindy and Sarah G cropped






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Shebooks blogher 14Stacey and cindy cropped






Here is what I received – from BlogHer 2006 and every one since:

1.   Access to an entirely new world of remarkablewomen (and men too.)   Including ( a little bit of a yearbook list) Elisa Camahort Page and Lisa Stone and Jory Des Jardins and Morra Aarons-Mele and Cooper Munroe and Emily McKhann and Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase and Asha Dornfest and Jennifer Burdette Satterwhite and Mary Spivey Tsao and Danielle Wileyand people I haven’t mentioned here (Sorry – some I’m notcompletely sure who I met in 2006 and who later.) Feels like I’ve known you all forever as well as Sarah Granger and Kelly Wickham and Jill Miller Zimon and Joanne Bamberger andStacey Ferguson and Cynthia Liu and Anita Sarah Jackson andJenn Pozner and  Cheryl Contee (and and and)  And that doesn’t count the new (to me) folks like Sharon Hodor Greenthal!.

2.  An entirely new way to communicate and create.

3.   More fun than a barrel of groovy blogger women knew they could deliver. And – here’s the reason I’m writing this post at all:

4.   Another decade at least of being part of and participating in the new parts of the world – online and on screens, instead of watching from the bleachers.

Lots of boomer women have joined me and the other early birds each year and I am certain they feel the same way (I’ve asked several and besides they’ve written about it.)  At a time when many of our friends are settling into a more and more peer-centered life, we have the gift of having broadened, rather than narrowed, our world and hearing the voices of women we never would have known about, much less known for real. So David, thank you for the gift of my entry into this universe and for the imagination and vision that opened your mind to its possibilities.  It’s a beautiful place to hang out and I’ll always remember who sent me through the door.

Big Birthday Memory #18: Want a Feminist Son? Tips From a Veteran

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. This one appeared on BlogHer on January 19, 2011

Running Boys

“So Dan,” says I, “What would you think if the woman you wanted to marry decided to keep her name?”

“Well mom,” says he, “I don’t think I’d want to marry a woman who didn’t want to keep her name.”

He was around ten then (he’s 30 now), in the car with us, listening to his dad tease me, as he has for years, that he “wouldn’t have let me” have his name if I did want it.  Not a serious discussion of male oppression exactly, but humor teaches lessons too.

Someone asked me how we raised feminist sons.  I don’t have a checklist.  And if I were to respond seriously, I’d start with something really corny: teach them to respect people – all people.  The elevator man.  The bus driver.  Their best friend’s mom.  The guy at the candy counter.  Their friends.  Their parents’ friends. Their baby sitter.  They were Manhattan kids, but they were raised to think of the feelings of every person they met.  Of course, that meant all women, too.  That was an advantage.

Oh, and we respected the two of them right back.

In the families they knew, most of the moms worked as hard as the dads.  Since moms at home were an exception, they were used to two-income families.  The daughters of these moms, the girls they went to school with, wouldn’t put up with much nonsense, either.  That also helped.

We preferred offering choices over fiats.  Most boys go through a Playboy phase.  Call it curiosity.  When the magazines began to stack up behind the old-fashioned radiator in our bathroom, we didn’t seize them.  We talked about what it must have been like for the women in the pictures and how their parents might feel.  I may have said (of course I said) that it offended me, but if they wanted to keep buying Playboy, they’d have to pay for it from their allowance and keep them all put away.   Eventually the fever broke and the magazines disappeared.

Boys Hug

I also changed the endings of a lot of stories I read to them when they were really little.   No princess was given by her father to the guy who solved the riddle or won the quest in our versions. (I also had to change stories like Mr. Poppers Penguins because of terrible racial stereotypes, by the way)  We read Harriet the Spy and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great as well as Encyclopedia Brown and Superfudge.

Also, back then when it was new, we listened to Free to Be, You and Me  until the tape wore out.  When we did come across unpleasant images of women on TV or at a movie, we talked about them.Those movie moments were also “teachable moments.”  As any parent knows, those scenes can enable a dialogue that might otherwise be impossible, whether it’s about smoking and drugs, bullies, sex, or the partnership between women and men. They’re always popping up; not just in entertainment but also on the street, with family and friends, and in easy conversations.  We made the most of those, too.

I’ve sort of written things down here as I thought of them and now as I reread this, I realize how much I’ve focused on image and media.  I guess that’s because those sorts of opportunities were overt and therefore highly productive tools.

The modeling that went on at home was also critical of course.  We were nowhere near as exemplary as couples are now in their parenting and household equity.  It was the 70’s and 80s.  Even so, we were very aware of the issues we needed to pass on and both worked to do it. (For a more contemporary look , try The Feminist Breeder, who, in a consciously egalitarian marriage, describes her own thoughts on raising feminist boys.  or Penguin Unearthed as she offers her own perspective.)

Our boys, from when they were little, learned to cook, iron (that was our babysitter, not us), do their laundry and clean the kitchen.  They made their beds (mostly) and helped out at our parties.   Each has always had close friends who were girls, and later, women.  They still do.

Boys on Boat

As I conclude though,  I return too to the concept of respect.  If you are steeped in a respect for all people – not as a political habit but a deep, personal value, it’s a lot tougher to use your maleness to seize control of a household, a family or a workplace.

Finally, beyond all the values and logistical and modeling issues lies a fundamental fact.  A child who is well-loved and respected is far more likely to accept the values we choose to pass on, and that underlies everything else.


Big Birthday Memory #12: Oh Those Candles! In Honor of Shabbat (Posted Before)

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from March 16, 2007.

shabbat candles sized

One of the great gifts of an observant Jewish life is the lighting of Sabbath candles.  At a prescribed time each Friday, 18 minutes before sundown, it is the obligation of the Jewish woman to light candles as a symbolic acceptance of the Sabbath upon herself.  The prayer is said AFTER you light the candles because once they’re lit, the Sabbath rules – ignite no fire, do no work etc. preclude the lighting of a match.

Here’s how it works: you light the candles, move your hands above the candles three times to bring their warmth toward you, then cover your eyes and say a simple blessing.  It’s in Hebrew, but it means “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who sanctifies us with his commandments, and enjoins us to light the candles of Shabbat.”  Yes,the words of the prayer are plain; women say them in every corner of the earth – educated or not, every week and have been doing so for thousands of years.  Many of us add prayers of our own, for those we love, for peace, for the lifting of burdens, for a better world.

I always take a very deep breath — the kind they taught us when I was quitting smoking — and exhale very slowly, releasing a lot of the stress of the week before I begin.  One of my friends told me that when she was in medical school and having babies at the same time, she’d weep, every week, as she felt the burdens fall from her in the glow of the flame.

Makes sense to me.  Something about this ritual is transporting.  I also love the idea that this is a woman’s privilege.  Much has been written about what observant Jewish women are NOT permitted to do – and much of it is true.  That’s another conversation.  But the impact of this particular duty is profound, beautiful and serene and I am grateful for it.  So, as we move toward the close of this day and toward what I have found to be the true peace of the sabbath – I send to you, whatever your faith – a peaceful wish — Shabbat Shalom.

Big Birthday Memory #11: Remembrance of Things Past – Tom Jones and So Much More

Albert Finney and Susannah York as Tom and his love Sophie

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from September 17, 2007.

Not to be too obscure here but think about this: Marcel Proust’s REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PASTwas inspired by the scent of one cookie (a fancy one called a Madeline.) Sense memory is a powerful thing.

I saw Tom Jones 44 years ago, with my high school “film club.” The club was just 6 seniors and our creative writing teacher. Our mill town high school wasn’t a culture haven but this young teacher was. He handwrote Irwin Shaw short stories onto “ditto sheets” because there was no budget for the books, started a literary magazine (I was the editor, naturally) took us to Shakespeare performances and — started the film club. At first we rented films (screened on a projector in his classroom) and then moved on to evening journeys “downtown” to local art houses. We saw LA STRADA and THE SEVENTH SEAL, SUNDAYS AND CYBELE and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER — and TOM JONES. The films were so intelligent, so clearly different from the “movies” we saw on our own; the theaters served espresso andeveryone was smoking. How sophisticated we felt!

This morning as I watched this nearly half-century old film – still funny and charming even though the playful sexual innuendo recalls a more tender time, that 18-year-old girl I’d been came back – all of her. I didn’t know whether to be sad — miss all that I was then – all that’s changed — lost — or just plain passed – or to be grateful for the remarkable kaleidoscope of experiences that my life has been. From the adventure of a 36 year old marriage to the joy of raising two of the most spectacular young men on the planet to presences at royal weddings and presidential inaugurations, travel all over the world and great music experiences to a gentle childhood with talents acknowledged and appreciated to memorable private moments at weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations and other celebrations with family and friends, a lot has contributed to the wiser woman I am today. I know there’s no way to live the life I’ve lived – or any other – without losing some of the shiny stuff of youth but even so it’s a shock when awareness of those losses lands on you in the middle of an unambiguously optimistic movie 44 years old.

Here’s what I think: there isn’t a person on the planet (despite Edith Piaf) who has no regrets. Recalling days that seem idyllic is a privilege – many haven’t got many to recall. Sadness about the joys of the past emerges only from an accumulated reservoir of happiness that is a blessing in itself. As Auntie Mame used to say“Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” My sisters and I swore we would live by that.

I’ve tried – and I’m still trying. That’s why this blog is called Don’t Gel Too Soon. Wherever that 18 year old film fiend has gone, parts of her are still part of me – informing and enlivening the person I’ve become. The real challenge in this portion of my life is to hang onto the enthusiasm and curiosity of those years – never freezing in place. The last line in Tom Jones, one of my favorite anywhere, was written by John Dryden – way before movies or even radio. It still works though, and I offer its wisdom for us all. “Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own; he who, secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”

Big Birthday Memory #7: Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still ….??

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 17, 2007. 

Cindy Rona Coby2Saturday night we went to my friend Rona’s 60th birthday party in LA.  The photo is me, Rona and our Today Show colleague Coby. It was really fun – how often does Famous Amos bake you cookies and Brian Wilson sing to you on a Bel Air tennis court turned party heaven?  How often do you see photos of yourself, your friend and your husband at Today Show shoots and crazy parties?  And how often, in the unexpected chill of an April Los Angeles evening, do you see a pile of blankets for guests that includes the one you made their now 14-year-old son when he was born?

I’ve written about Rona before but Saturday night was a real reminder of the nature of a gifted friend.  She asked everyone to stand up.  Those who knew her 5 years or less, sit down.  Then ten years.  Then fifteen.  We were feeling pretty cocky since we were in the 20 years or less category – until we saw how many people – from New York, DC, Hawaii, San Francisco, LA and God knows where else – were standing at 30 – and even 40 years!  And Rick and I knew many of them; we’d been to birthday parties or holiday events or just dinner with them over the years. I once heard someone quote Wendy Wasserstein as saying that you could judge someone’s character by how well they kept their friends.  In that as in so many other ways she was a star.

On the tables were CDs for all of us – with a photo of her at Woodstock on the cover (one that I’d used in our 20 year anniversary piece (it was really great) to close it out.  Sunday I was driving around LA while my husband was at his conference so I stuck the CD into the player.  The next thing I knew I was driving down the 10 Freeway in tears — not sweet little showers but huge wracking sobs.  Not really sadness, it was more a recognition of all the treasured time that has passed – of how much I loved so much of it and how real it still feels to me.  I’ve never read Remembrance of Things Past but I’m told that the entire epic emerges from memories evoked from the smell of a Madeline (a kind of French cookie – they sell them at Starbucks I think.)

Well each song – Van Morrison or Bob Dylan or Paul Simon or Marvin Gaye took me someplace.  The thing is – sad as I was, I was also absurdly grateful to have the memories and moments so powerfully evoked by the music.  Not until I hit 60 did I realize you really DO get older – that some things are in the past for good.  When the music is there, though, nothing’s really gone.  Memories and senses arise in all their glory and float me back where I came from.  Not for long – and not entirely – but enough to remind me of the privileges of my life and the wonders of life itself.  Corny but oh so true – music brings the gift of memory and joy.  Yet another thing to thank birthday girl Rona for adding to my life.  Happy birthday one more time, my sister.

Three Gorges and a Pioneer

The first girl!

This trip is almost over. We’re about to pass through the final of the Three Gorges: Xiling. The other two are magnificent.

Yesterday we sailed through Wu Gorge in a small, thirty-seat tour boat.  Despite the beauty, most interesting was our guide, who gave us the name “Janine” because “my Chinese name is too hard to say.”   A lovely 26-year-old with a great sense of humor, she was the headline for me.

She is the first girl from her village – tucked into the side of the mountain, several hours walk away – to go to college. The first girl.

She was able to do this, although she’d never been away from home, because Chinese businessmen have begun “sponsoring” college educations for local girls, and she received one of the scholarships.

I asked her about her village, assuming, correctly, that there was a lot of push-back from the community about her choice.  Did neighbors give her parents a hard time, ask them “What are you doing? How can you let her do that?” Yes, yes – especially challenging her dad. Her mother didn’t even want her to go, but her father stood firm and supported her, and off she went.

View from board bow cropped
The view from our boat. It looks like that one in front of us.

It was tough – busy and noisy, especially for a girl from a little mountain village.  “I cried and cried” she said.  But she stuck it out – able to return home only once a year.  She’s very proud of what she’s done and is working hard to enable her two younger sisters to follow.

I’ve been involved in issues regarding women for a long time, and admired groups like the UN Foundation‘s Girl Up, Vital Voices and The Elders‘ battle against child marriage.  Janine, however, was the first person I’d met, in her home environment, who’d benefitted from such undertakings.  It was quite an inspiration  — delivered just down the mountain from where she started, sharing her education and her English major with us as she led us  through the beauty that has surrounded her most of her life.

The Internet of Women: 1996 But No One Would Listen

Ada cartoon
Ada Lovelace, Computing Pioneer

Women were always going to thrive on the Internet.  Connecting, enabling connections among others, sharing information and more importantly, support and wisdom — these are some of the reasons we belonged online from the beginning.  I knew it as soon as I saw my first browser, Mosaic (later Netscape) in the early 90s.

After early obscurity, women have become more and more visible and successful online, not only creating content but entire media operations. Numbered among them were the pioneering iVillage and BlogHer and agencies like Clever Girls, BlogaliciousWomen and Work,  Sway Group, and The Motherhood.  There are plenty more.

When I saw this story today about the emerging Internet of Women, led by Cisco’s Monique J. Morrow, I’ll admit I got a little sad. I had tried to write a handbook (Internet Bootcamp) for women online in 1996.   A friend hooked me up with a celebrity agent I could have never enlisted on my own, and my proposal went to some serious publishers.  The response – and I wish I still had the precise language, was that the writing was “engaging” but women would never buy such a book.  I just pulled it to take a look and am posting it here.  See what you think.   If nothing else it will evoke memories of modems past.

Here is Morrow’s basic message: (We agree, right?)

From connected homes and cars to monitoring our health through smart devices, a woman’s view point in this new age of digitization has never been more critical.

I invite you to follow our publication, the Internet of Women and be part of this movement.

Leia and Rey: The Ancient Grief of Women, Turned on its Head

Leai hanRey cry





One of the most important scenes in The Force Awakens does not appear anywhere on the Web – not as a film clip or a screen shot or even a publicity still.  I know why, I think.  Its power rests largely in its unexpected, heartbreaking,  surprise.  You know what it is: that desperate, grieving embrace between General Leia Organa and the pilot-scavenger Rey.

Since time began, women have mourned the loss of loved ones in battle.  Since time began we’ve stayed at home waiting, worrying: Penelope, Catelyn Stark, Mrs. MiniverSisera‘s mother, the women of WWI

Through the window she looked forth, and wailed,
The mother of Sisera, through the lattice:
“Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why are the hoofbeats of his chariots so delayed?” — The song of Deborah,  Judges 5: 24-31 s

“[I] wondered if he was looking up at that same moon, far away, and thinking of me as I was thinking of him.”— Vera Brittain (Chronicle of Youth: The War Diary, 1913-1917)

But these two brave warriors, forced into battles that would steal their loved ones — their grief is different.  It is the grief of fellow soldiers, not docile ladies-in-waiting.  It is also a passing of the torch – literally and figuratively – between two powerful, wise women: one a grand figure from the last generation, the other an emerging power in the present one.

The loss of Han Solo, lover of one, father figure to the other, at the hands of Kylo Ren, his (and Leia’s) own son, and the near death of Ren himself in his battle with Rey, brought a grief shared by two warriors at opposite ends of the war against the Dark Side.  Despite the pain of loss – and near loss – Leia comforts – and seeks the comfort of — of a younger version of herself.  The battle between Rey and Kylo Ren in no way inhibits the joining of their pain and loss.  It’s similar to the reality male soldiers have described so often: the loss of a beloved buddy in battle.

For women though, that loss has usually been at a distance, learned of and mourned far after the death itself.  Now, just after the United States military has granted women soldiers access to the same combat duties and responsibilities as their brothers, and even as it portrays the generational legacy, the Star Wars tale depicts the same parity.  These preservers of The Force fully share it all as, now, do our own soldiers – and equally know loss as battlefield comrades.  Consider this, too:

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.  — Dwight David Eisenhower, 1946


Come See the Devil Baby

                               Mark Knopfler at the Edison Awards, 2003

The freaks’ll stay together, They’re a tight old crew
You look at them, And they look at you….

Devil Baby, by Mark Knopfler

This is a song about a freak show.  And why not?

Today I turned on the TV and found not one, but two “active shooter” situations going on in California.  UPDATE: One hour after I wrote this, a news conference in San Bernardino, scene of the first of these shooting events, reported 14 people dead and 14 wounded,  by “as many as three gunmen.”  

Before that was Colorado and the viciousness and cruelty of targeting Planned Parenthood — and women.  Before that was Paris.   And the Russian plane.  And always — Isis/Isil/DAESH/BokoHaram.   And of course, Donald Trump.  SO.

This is a song about a freak show. And that’s why.

ALSO we all know I love Mark Knopfler so there’s that.