In this, her last column of 2009, Smartmom takes a look back at the stories and trends that put Brooklyn on the parenting map during the 0’s, the decade that sounds like a breakfast cereal. Our borough was clearly the hotbed:
1. Park Slope Parents: This invaluable list-serve, which simultaneously informs and annoys local parents, began in 2002 when Park Sloper Susan Fox started an on-line exchange where parents could discuss a broad range of topics such as “Does anyone have an idea of how to get a baby to take a bottle?” or “Where’s the best place to get shoes that fit?” or “What do I do when there’s a squirrel in my apartment?” The continuing vitality of this online community proves that parents need a way to connect and share information during the tumultuous years of child-rearing. And it’s also given journalists a new way to find “trend” stories without leaving their homes.
2. The Bugaboo Generation: Brooklynites were definitely on the cutting edge when it came to buying designer baby products like $1,000 Bugaboo strollers. No one is saying that those old Maclaren’s were so great, but Brownstone Brooklyn’s sidewalks are now even more grid-locked with their expensive replacements.
3. The “No-Stroller” Movement: Who can forget the bartender at Patio, a bar on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue, who wrote in 2005 the infamous “Stroller Manifesto” on an A-frame sandwich board? “What is it with people bringing their kids into bars?” wrote bartender Andy Heidel back in 2006. “A bar is a place for adults to kick back and relax. How can you do that with a toddler running around?” This incident marked the beginning of the baby backlash. Non-breeders (another term that emerged in the O’s) were sick and tired of parents — and kids — being the center of attention. And who can blame them?
4. Parenting blogs: With the rise of hyper-local Brooklyn blogs came a bounty of parenting blogs like A Child Grows in Brooklyn, Hip Slope Mama, Brooklynometry, My Sidewalk Chalk, Mommy FTW, and Eeensies. The vast — and growing — number of parenting blogs proves that parents need to read, write and whine about the pleasures and travails of life with children.
5. The saga of the “Lost Boy’s Hat”: In March, 2006, a post on Park Slope Parents with the subject line “Lost boy’s hat” set off a conflagration that consumed Park Slope. And it all started out so innocently. “Friday, at the corner of 11th Street and Eighth Avenue, [I found an] adorable navy blue, or maybe black, boy’s fleece hat with triangles jutting out of it of all different colors,” the Hat Lady wrote. It was practically poetry — but those jutting triangles quickly became daggers. The Hat Lady was chastised by another poster: “I’m sorry, I know that you are just trying to be helpful, but what makes this a ‘boy’s hat’? Did you see the boy himself lose it? Or does the hat in question possess an unmistakable scent of testosterone?”
With this incident, Park Slope Parents became the muse for snarky writers everywhere. It was also the moment when the neighborhood realized that the rest of the city was probably right to think that Brownstone Brooklyn parents were a bunch of progressive, child-centered, politically correct whack-jobs (or just a tad self-involved).
6. Mommy and Daddy rage: In 2006, a mom who threw a can of beans at the back window of a car because the driver cut her off when she was pushing her toddler across the street. Such an incident would have gone unnoticed in most neighborhoods, but in Park Slope, where every casual eye is actually a microscope on the minutia of everyday life, the bean-can toss was quickly posted all over the Park Slope Parents Web site. This event was emblematic of the self-centeredness of Brooklyn parents, who seemed to think that their children were god’s gift to the world.
And in December, 2009, there was the slap heard around the world. One witness told the Brooklyn Heights Blog that was in the Montague Street Starbucks when a baby kept crying in his stroller. With no relief from the wailing, one man complained to the child’s father, who did not leave — in fact, he stayed and waited for his drink. “That’s when the non-dad man slapped Dad on the back of the head.” Ouch. Once again, in this incident, it was the parents being attacked by the non-breeders, who were mad as hell and were not going to take the screaming children anymore.
7. Stay-at-home backlash: In 2006, Amy Sohn, who would go on to write the best-selling satirical novel about Park Slope moms and dads called “Prospect Park West,” ranted about Park Slope’s Stay-at-Home-Moms in her New York Magazine column, Mating.
“Here in my neighborhood, Park Slope, I am constantly encountering insane stay-at-home moms. And I have come to the all-too-un-PC conclusion that stay-at-home motherhood, despite the way our culture lionizes it, is bad for the child and bad for the mom. And bad for society. It’s just plain bad.”
’Dem was fighting words from Sohn, who disrespected the legions of women who had decided that staying at home was the very best thing they could do for their kids. Smartmom would have been angry, if she wasn’t so busy being jealous at all the books Sohn moves.
8. Moms at Union Hall: Jim Carden, the owner of Union Hall, a bar in Park Slope, was under fire in 2008 — and also hailed as a drinking-class hero — when he posted a “No strollers” sign in the bar’s front window. Plenty of mommies took to the blogs to slam Carden, but just as many defended him. “I went to Union Hall [and] was appalled to be sitting next to toddlers while trying talk to my girlfriends (sometimes graphically) about life,” wrote one poster on Brooklynian. “So I’ve not been back. I’ll give it another try if it’s not going to feel like a preschool.” But the moms were mighty miffed about losing their group hangout. The story made national news, and Carden backed off a week later deciding to open the bar to mom groups at selected times of day.
9. The “I’m a bad mom” trend: Newspaper columnist Lenore Skenazy was declared the worst mom in the world when she allowed her 9-year-old to ride the subway home. The ensuing hysteria landed Skenazy on all the talk shows defending her seemingly indefensible position: she let her little baby — just a few years out of Mommy and Me classes! — ride the big bad subway. She must be chastised! She’s worse than that woman who drowned her kids in the tub or Ayalet Waldman who announced to the world that she loves her husband more than her children. Skenazy subsequently wrote a book called “Free Range Kids” that called for “giving our kids the freedom we had without going nuts with worry.” Hence, a new tongue-in-cheek movement was born: how bad a mom are you? People struggled to outdo each other with stories of their bad parenting. At the same time, helicopter parents everywhere were lambasted as overprotective and overbearing.
10. No More Homework: Park Slope authors Nancy Kalish and Sara Bennett wrote a book in 2006 called “The Case Against Homework” that revealed very little evidence that homework helps elementary students achieve academic success, and there is just as little reason to believe that it helps older students, too. The authors drew on academic research, interviews with parents, educators, kids and their own experience as parents at a Park Slope private school. This book confirmed something that Smartmom had known for a long time: homework is ruining everyone’s life. And it taught parents how to approach teachers and administrators about this mounting problem.
11. Sex Positive Education: At Babeland, Park Slope’s sex toys shop for women, popular workshops for parents about talking to their kids about sex are changing the way local parents think about sexuality. And that’s a good thing, because most of us are dissatisfied by what our parents did and didn’t say and want to at least attempt to do it right this time.
12. Edgy Mother’s Day: An annual literary reading at the Old Stone House celebrates motherhood without sanctimony. Writers like Michele Madigan Somerville, Smartmom, Sophia Romero, Amy Sohn, Mary Morris, Jenny Offilli, Marian Fontana, Beth Harpaz, Jill Eisenstadt and many more write about motherhood as they see it warts and all. Audiences love the unabashed outpouring of spicy mother’s milk.