OSFO gets the last, feisty, word

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Last week, the Oh So Feisty One told Smartmom that she can write about her anytime she wants. Phew.

Smartmom felt vindicated — and relieved.

This came after weeks of turbulence that began when OSFO and Teen Spirit told Smartmom that they were sick and tired of being the subject of her column.

Naturally, Smartmom wrote about it and her readers weighed in, mostly with nasty rants:

• Some said she was exploiting her children.

• Some said that she was a terrible parent.

• Some said that her kids were going to need years of therapy.

Smartmom knew not to have a nervous breakdown about all this negative criticism — a Herculean effort no doubt. And she tried to be strong — also a difficult proposition.

But she couldn’t help feeling bugged big time. She knew that there were plenty of people out there who didn’t bother to write in because they like the column the way it is.

For instance, why no public comment from Divorce Diva, who felt so bad about the nasty comments on that she even called to offer sympathy to Smartmom?

Couldn’t she have typed up a nice little note of support on the Web site? Hello?

How about Smartmom’s other friends and neighbors? Quite a few people stopped her on the street or wrote e-mails to tell her that they thought the negativity was over the top and a tad ridiculous.

But how many of them took the time to type in a few words of affirmation to The Brooklyn Paper?

Not one as far as she knows (though she is grateful for the people who had positive things to say).

Most of all, she felt bad about OSFO and Teen Spirit’s reservations. Who wouldn’t?

While she knew in her heart of hearts that she wasn’t doing anything wrong, if they really wanted to be left alone she would have to leave them alone.

This caused much writerly agitation. What was Smartmom going to write about?

Sure, Smartmom considered inventing a new family. She even came up with their names: Zebulon, Jasper and Phoebe.

But that went nowhere.

Sure, she knew she could still write about Hepcat, Diaper Diva, Divorce Diva, Mrs. Cleavage, Mrs. Kravitz, Best and Oldest and Gluten Free, who have given her permission to write about them and seem to enjoy it (Smartmom hopes).

But they’re grown-ups and this is a parenting column.

Smartmom even got defensive (so what else is new?). She lashed out at her readers and asked them to imagine a gag order on all kidtalk in Park Slope. Try not saying even one word about your little darlings, she wrote nastily.

But then something happened.

OSFO changed her mind and she went public on The Brooklyn Paper Web site. OSFO speaks.

She didn’t tell Smartmom at first. But then she wanted Smartmom to know that she was going to bat for her mom — and that she was annoyed at what people were saying. And no surprise, she was bold and feisty about it:

“Get your own problems,” OSFO wrote. “I gave her permission to right (sic) about me!!!! Then I took it away. Now I gave it back!!!!! Take that, suckers!”

Then OSFO went to town in her inimitable prose.

“The only problem with this column is the readers!!!­!!!!!!”

Later she wrote: “Don’t like it, don’t read it.”

And: “You’re going to need years of therapy.”

Smartmom really loved that one. Later, in response to someone who questioned Smartmom’s use of the English language, OSFO wrote:

“This is the language of a kind, loving, proud person … a language u wouldn’t understand!!!!!

That comment stopped Smartmom short. She lost her breath. It brought small, salty tears to her eyes.

When she saw it, she and OSFO were sitting in the dining room eating cinnamon toast. She felt a warm wave of mother love.

“Do you want some more cinnamon toast?” she asked and immediately popped two more pieces of white bread into the toaster.

Later, a wise reader wrote in to say,

“Well, if everyone gets to mouth off, it’s only fair that the subject matter (OSFO) get in her two cents as well. In fact, she’s one of the few people who have actually addressed the topic — ‘Is it OK to write about the kids?’ — instead of venting irrelevant blahblah.”

To which OSFO wrote: “FYI!!!!!!! I love the name OSFO.”

Smartmom beamed with pride.

Not just because OSFO defended her mom and loved her moniker.

Not just because OSFO is a confident and secure young woman who feels comfortable in her own skin.

Not just because OSFO is one awesome person.

Smartmom beamed because she was proud to be her mom. And that made her all tingly inside.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
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Reader Feedback

Bob from Park Slope says:
"She knew that there were plenty of people out there who didn’t bother to write in because they like the column the way it is ... But how many of them took the time to type in a few words of affirmation to The Brooklyn Paper?"

I wouldn't know you (SmartMom) if I collided with you.
But if it makes you feel any better: The more the critics chimed in, the more utterly noncredible [read: total-nutjob-loonier] they looked.
Feb. 17, 2009, 1:42 pm
Sandra from Park Slope says:
I thought I wrote in before that I thought your column was good, interesting, and informative. Now I'm not sure if it ever posted. In any event, hope all is well. Sorry for all the drama but glad to see the people who matter most are all fine with it.
Feb. 17, 2009, 3:14 pm
Semele says:
How does Teen Spirit feel?
Feb. 18, 2009, 12:17 am
Alia from P.S. says:
"And: “You’re going to need years of therapy.” Smartmom really loved that one."

Me too.

Too bad those 'negative critics' didn't get therapy - or a healthy hobby - a few eons ago.
Feb. 18, 2009, 3:49 am
Rocky from South Brooklyn says:
Please. Make it stop!
Feb. 18, 2009, 12:04 pm
Rob from Bklyn says:
Rocky from South Brooklyn says: 'Please. Make it stop!'

Who's making you read it?
Feb. 20, 2009, 12:50 pm
Farrell from Windsor Terrace says:
It's all so ripe for parody. To wit:
Feb. 20, 2009, 1:56 pm
Janis from PS says:
To Farrell:

Slopers' criticisms re this column (in the past few weeks) were even riper for parody. It was like "Park Slope stereotypes on 'roids."

If it went on any longer, they'd have accused her of committing carbon-footprint abuse, using non-organic print cartridges, and stifling every adolescent psyche in her ZIP Code.
Feb. 20, 2009, 10:53 pm
Louise Crawford from otbkb says:
Thanks to all!! Except Rocky.
Feb. 22, 2009, 6:56 pm
Rocky from South Brooklyn says:
Uh, oh, it curtains for you Rocky, it's curtains ...

Yeah, Rocky's really mad now!
Feb. 23, 2009, 10:45 am
Too-Ticky from Park Slope says:
I don't really get what you're going for with this article. In fact, a lot of it just reads like someone who's entirely new to the nature of the internet, and more importantly, criticism.

Half this article is just spent praising your daughter for defending you, and in a way that really comes across as narcissistic. I naturally have nothing against any of your children, but it seems the only reason you're praising her is because she's praising you. Meanwhile the kids who don't want you to write about them get that "in your heart of hearts" you know they're wrong and how oh-so disappointed you are. Quit trying to guilt-trip any of your kids into letting them write about you.

On a related note, what's with those jabs at your own fans earlier in the article? Some people are for whatever reason supporting you, but the second they don't type in some complimentary posts, you berate them in your column?

Most importantly, CRITICISM. LEARN TO DEAL WITH IT. You want to be a writer, but as soon as you're faced with criticism you lash out and go into denial. Well guess what then? Don't write. It's a package deal, so quit with the whiny moaning.
Feb. 23, 2009, 9:48 pm
Fried Haggis from PS says:
Too-Ticky from Park Slope says: "You want to be a writer, but as soon as you're faced with criticism you lash out and go into denial. Well guess what then? Don't write.'

Geez, why are you THAT piqued, waspish, prolix, and pop-psych-y about this thing? It's a casual local column, not an investigative crusade, rezoning plan, or civil liberties brief.

And the criticism DID become a hot issue -- because, for weeks, the paper touted the criticisms to keep the flak flying; and a lot of critics didn't focus on the writer's writing, but got very insider-y personal and ugly.

Also ... "denial" presumes that someone is ignoring objective reality. But this woman is just describing her reaction to this %$@! -- disappointment, anger, defensiveness, relief that her kid thinks she's okay.
I mean, so WHAT? She's not "in denial" just because she doesn't agree with you -- unless you (narcissistically) believe that your opinion defines objective reality. (New rule of thumb: From now on, everyone who disagrees with me is in denial about Truth.)

I do NOT get why you and some others are so fixated on, and hyperventilesque about, this column. Maybe it's because I don't know anyone involved, or some esoteric personal subtext -- but to "outsiders" like me, the hissyfitting looks far, FAR disproportionate to the issue and content at hand.
Feb. 24, 2009, 1:15 am
Too-Ticky from Park Slope says:
"Denial" may have been a poor word choice. I suppose I was referring more to the rather blatant one-sidedness to her reasoning. Like how some online poster saying she needs therapy is wrong and evil, while her daughter saying the exact same thing just makes her sooo proud.

And much more noticeably, her choosing to continue the style of her column over the privacy her family requested. She didn't think from the perspective of anyone but herself, and I don't see how anyone can take a parenting column written by a mother who would make that decision remotely seriously.

You could argue that this is being blown out of proportion, but I do have a problem with how long Ms. Crawford has been making a career out of writing this drivel. I think the fact that she's putting this hack work before her family (and then decides to through a temper tantrum when people call her out on it) deserves some backlash.
Feb. 24, 2009, 1:55 am
Fried Haggis from PS says:
To Too-Ticky:
--- "I suppose I was referring more to the rather blatant one-sidedness to her reasoning."
The reasoning is called "opinion," and we're all free to have a few.

-- "I don't see how anyone can take a parenting column written by a mother who would make that decision remotely seriously."
It's entirely conceivable to me that she's working this out with her family. (Maybe you should ask them?)
And from what I see, this column isn't supposed to be the ne-plus-ultra textbook of child-rearing advice, and she's not presenting herself as the Madame Curie (or Jim Jones) of parenting: It's a columnful of random Brooklyn-mom musings.

--- "You could argue that this is being blown out of proportion"
You sure could!

-- "but I do have a problem with how long Ms. Crawford has been making a career out of writing this drivel."
I have problems with a lot of writers, columnists, and authors. Unfortunately, I'm not the boss of everything.

-- "I think the fact that she's putting this hack work before her family (and then decides to through a temper tantrum when people call her out on it) deserves some backlash."
You're entitled to your opinion re: "hack work." But to draw the other conclusions, you must (unlike me), either
(a) know these people and their private dealings personally (which might explain your intense interest); or
(b) be making lots of assumptions, based only on what you read in a few columns. [Again: The family could have worked this out - since the column isn't clinical evidence or a complete legal transcript of every blasted private family discussion!]
If you think her response qualifies as a "temper tantrum": You have a low tantrum threshhold, or haven't seen how some other columnists (including local ones) respond to their critics.

And I still do NOT get why all of this is worth busting a gasket or keyboard over.
Feb. 24, 2009, 5:04 am
Too-Ticky from Park Slope says:
That last sentence is always invalid criticism, but especially so seeing as you're putting the same amount of effort into responding to some anonymous commenter. Not holding it against you or anything, just putting it out there.
Feb. 24, 2009, 1:22 pm
Fried Haggis from PS says:
Too-Ticky from Park Slope says: "you're putting the same amount of effort into responding to some anonymous commenter."

Fair comment. But I've watched this Parade of Horribles (nyah-nyah criticisms) go on for more than a month, and am vexed that this dopiness has consumed SO MUCH of people's attention.

It's as if they deflected from larger issues (economy, jobs, money), used it as a proxy punching bag for free-floating anger, or had too much time on their hands (pink-slipped?). In addition, much of the criticism
#1, has looked like a private brawl. As in: these people know each other, there's a subtext/history, and the rest of us are clueless. Which is very small-town-PTA boring. Or
#2, has involved bullying, such as: airing unrelated personal issues (attempted stifling-by-embarrassment); or dissing her qualifications to write a parenting column - as if this thing were a heavy child-psych Q-and-A, not neo-Erma-Bombeck-ish commentary. And:
#3, has added to the Goofy Slope rep, which is NOT a good thing.
Feb. 24, 2009, 4:05 pm
Norton from Bensonhoist says:
Re: Fried Haggis @ 1:05pm:
#3 is the winner.
Feb. 24, 2009, 5:09 pm
Dan from Downtown says:
Yeah, it's #3.
The 'goofiness' is a 30-yr tradition.
Feb. 25, 2009, 2:22 am
louise crawford from park slope says:
Actually, Too Ticky, I LOVE criticism. Doesn't everyone?
March 1, 2009, 11:50 am
Michele Somerville from Park SLope says:
I came late to the question of whether Louise Crawford should continue to write about her kids in her Smartmom column, and want to chime in, even late. (I do not know her children well, but Louise and I are friends.) I’m not sure whether Louise should write about her kids, but I am sure that the question is not a simple one. I am certain that to accuse Louise,or any writer in her situation, of placing work before family is to put a reductive and simplistic analysis on the matter.

Children must be honored, cherished and protected -- that should go without saying. But children need to be taught also, and piling on a writer because she writes in a candid way about sends a creepy message: “Be a mom or a writer; you can’t be both.” What bad, backward news for young girls who might be developing an interest in writing.

I’m a writer and mother of three adolescent children. Though some of my work is autobiographical in recognizable ways, I do not write much about my children in work I publish/aim to publish. When I do, I have the luxury of doing so in a genre (poetry) in which a certain amount of obliqueness is expected, allowing for things to be well- veiled, and it is my practice to discuss content with my children before trying to publish or planning to perform these pieces.

A few years ago, writer Stanley Crouch chastised actor Donna Hanover, one of Rudy Giuliani’s former wives and the mother of his children, for taking a role in The Vagina Monologues. How embarrassed her children would be, he wrote, when the kids at school found out their mother was performing in a play with the word “vagina” in it. My daughter is embarrassed when I compliment her friends on their outfits. Our three children are mortified when my husband and I dance together in public. Should I spare them all embarrassment every time? Should all children be protected for all that might land them on a therapist’s couch? And is winding up on a therapist’s couch necessarily a bad thing?

Many parents believe that certain difficult lessons are worth the rigors that accompany them. Parents serving in the military, parents who report news in “danger zones,” parents who are police officers and firefighters, gay married parents, actors who do nude scenes, bi-racial couples raising children, parents who divorce -– all find themselves accused of not putting the comfort of their children first, yet we all know that it us through the kind of heroism such struggles demand that the world changes for the better.

I don’t mean to say that Louise is a hero because she writes about her children -- what I mean to suggest is that no parent does parenting 100% correctly -- we all regularly make mistakes -- but standing for something is important, and teaching one’s children to stand for something, even if such standing is difficult, is one of the great gifts a parent can bestow. Louise is a serious writer with a substantive body of work.

If teaching our children about the power of the pen and the glory of books is something we're going for -- and let’s face it – in “Brownstone Brooklyn” most of us are – (which might be one of the redeeming social values of which we whiny, over-privileged Park Slopers can properly boast!) isn’t it critical that we truly teach them about how important it is for writers to be committed to telling their truths?

As a stay-at-home writer mom, I can, all too well, attest to how the stay-home mom’s world becomes a world of tot lots and Music Together and middle school applications. This is true to some extent for all conscientious parents, wherever they work, but for parents who work at home, this realm becomes the central one. The old adage “write what you know” is still pretty good advice, especially for young writers. Can we teach our kids to try that on Monday and then point the “bad Mommy” finger on Tuesday at a writer for the transgression of writing what she knows?

Or should stay-at-home moms (for whom “what they know” becomes the world of nursing, math homework and soccer fields) simply throw away their pens and turn off their computers the moment the Baby Bjorg gets strapped on? I’m not comfortable telling any writer with a body of work – and Louise is one such writer, who has a body of work -- what not to write. It is part and parcel of a writer’s gift is to know what to write about; a writer’s discernment, in this, calls her to chase down her fascinations. This is what good writers do.

I am generally wary of those who point the “Bad Mommy" finger -- but in this case I am especially suspect, for Louise has such a string public track record of caring about children! And not just her own either. That Louise’s column (when it’s not the means for catapulting the writer’s children onto the therapists’ couch!) is most often dedicated to offering readers opportunities to improve the lives of their Brownstone Brooklyn families suggests much about her good faith.

Thousands of hours and dollars each year are spent (or wasted) at Teacher’s College on figuring out how to teach educators to teach children to write. It seems to me the juveniles at Louise Crawford’s dinner table are probably getting a fine education about the power of the pen, the writer’s obligation to tell the truth, and the challenges unique to women writers.

My husband and I are both writers. Our children have grown up steeped in awareness of how important writing is and how privileged one is to be blessed with the gift for writing. My husband has written much about First Amendment rights. My children know there are places in the world, today, where writers are silenced, incarcerated and murdered by governments. They know that writers in their own nation’s history have sacrificed their lives for this freedom.

My two daughters are gifted writers who have tackled lofty and personal topics in their own writing. I regularly remind them they have “carte blanche” when it comes to writing about their mom. “Write any hideous thing you want about me, just try to write it well.”

The rearing of children is colossal. It’s a ride and feast of extremes of love, desire, fear, physicality, metaphysics. People should be writing about it. Mothers, especially. Do Louise’s critics feel that no writer should ever tackle this enormously vital and unwieldy subject matter? Do they feel that the work of all artists and writers who happen to be parents must necessarily be circumscribed by the fear of their spawn winding up in therapy? If so, this a is perilously anti-intellectual point of view – and a quietly sexist one.

All writers using the true-to-life stories of loved ones need to strike a balance between the needs of their beloved subjects (their muses) and the integrity of the work at hand. I often question the wisdom of my own restraint this, wondering whether I’m not mistaking discretion for gutlessness.

I asked my three children, all contemporaries of OSFO, two of whom are regular Smartmom readers, to weigh in on this question. They threw down with OSFO and Teen Spirit at first. But oh so tentatively. But after we talked awhile about freedom of expression, the writer’s responsibility to tell the truth, the challenges particular to women writers, my daughters changed their tune. The girls thought communicating with her children before publishing material concerning the kids would help Louise and her children.

From what I can tell the Crawfords have reared/are rearing intelligent, creative children who seem poised to make their own marks as thinkers and artists. These are kids who have been taught that a writer’s integrity matters, that making art matters and is work, that telling one’s truth is okay, and that wielding one’s quill bravely is worth trying. There’s another way to see all this; many would say that OSFO and Teen Spirit are lucky -- or blessed -- to have access to such wisdom. To have a mom who can teach it by example. Maybe Crawford is stepping over the line in writing about Teen Spirit and Oh So Feisty One, I don’t know; but there is no doubt that those children have grown up with invaluable exposure to a fine and gifted thinker and writer who is not afraid to put her neck on the block for a story. What a loss it would be for Louise’s children, (as for her readers) were Smartmom to postpone being a writer until her kids were married off or out of college.

March 2, 2009, 1:27 pm

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