Breastfeeding wars: Who’s the enemy?

THINK POLITICS is a brutal, hateful business? Try motherhood. And look at the flood of triumph and frustration that poured onto the Internet last weekend, after Rhode Island hospitals announced they would stop giving out formula gift bags in maternity wards.

The “ban the bag’’ movement considers this a substantial victory against a global anti-breastfeeding conspiracy. Apparently, the thinking goes like this: Breastfeeding is hard; women are weak; formula is an easy out. So if that can of Similac is instantly available, it’s too likely that women will succumb.

But the backlash proves that women don’t take kindly to the prospect of being saved from themselves.

Read the full column from the Boston Globe here.

Why Generation X loves the Muppet Movie

GOOD NEWS on the culture front: Yes, the latest “Twilight’’ film topped the box office last weekend, but a lot of Generation Xers dragged their kids to “The Muppet Movie’’ instead.

This is partly a matter of deftly marketed nostalgia: Now that a generation raised on consumer culture is immersed in parenting, everyone is trying to cash in. This holiday season, Toys “R’’ Us is re-airing vintage 1980s ads. Nickelodeon is thinking of airing “Brady Bunch’’ reruns at night, with pop-up thought bubbles that tell us what Carol was really thinking. At the movies, I’ve sat through computer-updated versions of “The Smurfs’’ and “Alvin and the Chipmunks,’’ all of which seemed calculated, unnecessary, and largely unfunny.

“The Muppet Movie’’ feels different: not a reboot for modern sensibilities and wallets, but an effort to recapture something lost. At the multiplex last weekend, it was the parents who were laughing the loudest, bouncing up and down blissfully at the sight of that old “Muppet Show’’ set. The world of the Muppets is as crudely low-tech as ever; Kermit the Frog’s head presumably still has a hand inside it. But even to jaded GenXers, his personality feels real.

Read the rest of the column from the Boston Globe here.

Introducing “Milkshake”

“Milkshake,” a satiric novel about dueling moms, sexy pols, and the breastfeeding wars, is available on Kindle and Nook.

Join the conversation about books, boobs, and the absurdities of motherhood at

(Cover art and design by the amazing Wendy Wahman.)

Stoking the panic on obesity

DR. DAVID Ludwig knew he was peddling a provocative idea: that children who are so obese that their lives are in danger

He just thought the debate would take on a reasonable tone.

What he’d co-written, after all, was a short, sober piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association, aimed at doctors and riddled with caveats.

“I expected a spirited scholarly debate,’’ Ludwig told me last week in his Longwood office, where he directs the Obesity Prevention Center at Children’s Hospital. “I did not expect this to be the commentary heard ’round the world.’’

Ah, but this is the modern media world, desperate for clicks and powered by rants. And Ludwig’s mildly worded piece hit a bundle of public nerves. Fear of government intervention. Stress about parenting skills. Concern that fat people are stigmatized, that pressure on parents has grown too great.

Read the rest of the column from the Boston Globe here.

Here’s a story…

IN HONOR of Sherwood Schwartz, the “Brady Bunch’’ creator who died last Tuesday, I spent much of this week bingeing on his most enduring show. I was struck by how many scenes I recalled with perfect clarity: Cindy Brady freezing in front of a TV camera. Peter Brady holding a magnifying glass to his eye. The family singing “Clementine’’ in the station wagon, en route to the Grand Canyon.

“The Brady Bunch’’ feels different from today’s kids’ fare, and that’s partly due to its time-capsule quality, spoofed so lovingly in the 1995 “Brady Bunch Movie.’’ The clothes are vintage ’70s, and in a way, so is the wholesomeness: Today’s TV teens warble pop songs, not old Americana.

But really, it’s not the Bradys’ innocence that sets them apart. It’s the fact that their lives, and their troubles, were usually so mundane.

Read the rest of the column from the Boston Globe here.

Thomas and the cult of obedience

This one got a lot of feedback from parents and grandparents: Ruminations on the pull of Thomas the Tank Engine, and why I hope his obedience doesn’t rub off too much on the little guy.

Read the whole thing from the Boston Globe here.

THIS ONE goes out to the parents, grandparents, and friends of toddler boys. Tell me if this sounds familiar: Preschooler walks around in a happy daze, ignoring the world around him, mumbling catchphrases about cheeky trains on the Island of Sodor.

Yes, it’s the mind-grip of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, as documented in a study from last year’s Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. A fellow Thomas inductee recently showed me the story: A 3-year-old in California watched Thomas episodes on TV for five hours a day, and descended so deep in his train reverie that he wouldn’t talk to anyone at preschool.

Boys, toes, and pink

THIS MONTH, I committed a couple of parental sins involving the scourge of nail polish. As I was painting my daughter’s toenails pink — buying into the culture of girlishness — my 2-year-old son wandered in and announced that he wanted his toes painted, too. I splashed yellow polish on one big toe before he lost interest completely. But apparently, I was setting him up for a lifetime of gender confusion.

That was the point of last week’s pseudo-controversy over a J.Crew e-mail ad, which showed the company’s creative director at play with her towheaded young son. Their Saturday pastime, the ad suggests, is painting his toenails the color of a plastic lawn flamingo. “Lucky for me,’’ it reads, “I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.’’

Read the rest of the column from the Globe here.

Why I will never be president of the PTO

AM I a terrible person for saying I no longer derive joy from volunteering in my daughter’s first grade class?

I realized this last week as I was helping, for the 10th or 12th time, with a weekly enterprise known as “math games.’’ The class is divided into groups of six, who sit at tables helmed by parents, taking part in some math-y activity. Every 15 minutes, a bell goes off and the kids rotate to the next table. Sometimes, a parent gets an actual game — bingo or somesuch — and things go reasonably well. Last week, I was handed a stack of worksheets and told to make the kids write equations, sorted along such lines as whether they added up to 10.

“Hi, guys,’’ I said cheerily. “Today we’ve got a worksheet and Fact Triangles!’’ It wasn’t long before one seven-year-old looked up at me morosely and said, “I am not having fun.’’

Well, that makes two of us, I thought.

(Read the rest from the Boston Globe here.)

‘Hunger Games:’ Darkness starts early

As I was complaining once again about the “Twilight” saga the other day, a pop-culture-savvy friend suggested I read Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy. So when I ran across the first installment in a store, I picked it up. Now I can’t put it down. It’s a brilliant, impeccably-paced book about a dystopian nation that rose from the ruins of North America, and it’s also a biting commentary on our culture of reality TV. (In essence it imagines what would happen if  “American Idol” were a death match instead of a singing competition.)

When I like something this much, I tend to get obsessed, which is why I’ve also been Googling reviews and Collins herself. One thing I learned: She’s in her late 40s. It always makes me happy when someone who’s been slogging away finds hard-won, mid-career success. Even more intriguing: She used to write for “Little Bear,” one of the preschool shows that’s on Jesse and Ava’s frequent-viewing list. At first, it seemed incongruous. How could someone so steeped in the gentle preschool world create something so gut-wrenchingly dark?  But when I think about it, “Little Bear” isn’t as cloyingly sweet as some of its competition. Out of the corner of my eye, I’ve seen goblins and funerals for dolls and bears who briefly take the shape of monsters. I’m going to have to watch more closely.

Teachable moment

How do you explain parody to a six-year-old? The other evening, with Ava and Jesse in the room, we turned on our DVR’ed episode of “Saturday Night Live,” prepared to fast-forward through the blue parts. When we saw this spot-on parody of Miley Cyrus, we laughed uncontrollably. But Ava wasn’t amused. She loves Miley Cyrus – I just bought her a Hannah Montana mask for Halloween, after she resisted my efforts to steer her toward the kitty cat ears and tail — and she did not enjoy seeing her heroine besmirched. “You’re not supposed to tease,” she said.

On the positive side, this means she has internalized our messages about why she shouldn’t act like the kids on “iCarly.”  Still, I’m not sure she fully understood when we explained that Miley herself might not have minded this.  And I’m a wee bit worried that she now thinks Mommy and Daddy are meanies. Poor Miley!