DG Q&A: Lisa Belkin On Glamorous Mothers
Motherlode blogger Lisa Belkin has worked for The New York Times since the two of us graduated Princeton in 1982--and, except for an updated hairstyle, she looks almost exactly the same. (That twinkle in her eye is characteristic.) She may call herself "an unbalanced mom," the self-deprecating subtitle of her 2003 book Life's Work: Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom, but she's struck an impressive balance between her life as a writer and her life as a mother of two teenage sons. Now a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, she spent nearly a decade as the Life's Work columnist for the Times, exploring the balance (or imbalance) of home and work. In addition to Life's Work, she has written books about doctors facing ethical dilemmas (First, Do No Harm, 1994) and about battles over public housing and segregation in Yonkers (Show Me A Hero, 2000). For old times' sake, she agreed to answer our questions about glamour and motherhood.
DG: Is "glamorous mother" an oxymoron?
LB: I don’t think it is. But I do think it can become a burden we put on ourselves. Glamorous anything is higher or better or more effortless than real life. And “glamorous motherhood” – a concept I have to say I never thought of until you asked – to me means the ability to be the epitome of a loving, hands-on mother while doing it effortlessly. While staying physically perfect (in shape, chicly dressed, an outward manifestation of polished and buffed) and emotionally calm.
DG: Does "glamour" mean something different in the context of motherhood?
LB: Glamour, in its non-motherhood sense is completely about surfaces, and gliding smoothing over them; about money and oomph. Motherhood (parenthood) is messy. So when I think of glamorous motherhood I think of the ability – lord knows I don’t have it, most mortals don’t – to make it less than messy.
DG: Who is the most glamorous mother you know of? What is it about her that makes her glamorous?
LB: That I know in real life? My sister-in-law. Looks like Jackie Kennedy, never frazzled or mussed. Gorgeous and chic and slightly funky even without make-up. Great biceps. Two wonderful girls who seem happy and well adjusted, and well- (but not smotheringly) parented, and there is a lot of laughing going on.
That I watch from afar? Michelle Obama. She’s my sister-in-law with a bigger stage, and access to better clothes
DG: How do you and the women you write about incorporate glamour into life as busy mothers?
LB: Not always successfully. For many women there is a feeling that these are years apart, particularly when kids are young and you do your best to get some sleep and get through. That’s why I am loving Mrs. O. She’s a model of what can be – okay, if your mother is willing to pitch in full-time.
DG: What kinds of Mother's Day presents make a mother feel glamorous?
LB: The clichés are clichés for a reason. They are the easy go-tos. Flowers, chocolates, perfume. I always hate the gift of perfume – if seems like someone is trying to tell me how to smell. Much too intrusive a gift. I think if you are trying to make Mom feel glamorous, give a gift that assumes that she is. Pampering at a favorite spa. A sleek bauble. Heck, an extra hour or so of sleep is what I am going for this year. A Porsche would be nice, but I assume we are in the realm of reality here, right?
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour? When the cracks and fissures don’t show.
2) Who or what is your glamorous icon? Present – Michelle Obama. Past – Grace Kelly
3) Is glamour a luxury or a necessity? A luxury, and often an unrealistic goal
4) Favorite glamorous movie? The Philadelphia Story/High Society
5) What was your most glamorous moment? Walking the red carpet at an admittedly second-rate award show, but the paparazzi were kind enough to pretend otherwise
6) Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)? Black dress that (still) fits just so and Grandma’s diamond necklace
7) Most glamorous place? Poolside at the Peninsula Hotel
8) Most glamorous job? Not mine. Working in your pajamas – a treat, but not glamorous
9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't. A decade or so back I would have said smoking. Now I think it would have to be those annoying little yippy dogs that celebrities seem so fond of.
11) Can glamour survive? Not sure. We are becoming so casual and egalitarian (not necessarily in a bad way) and glamour is the antithesis of one if not both of those things.
12) Is glamour something you're born with? You are born with the instinct to make use of the opportunity if it comes along
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Cate
2) Paris or Venice? Venice
3) New York or Los Angeles? New York
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Grace
5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Never been to Kyoto
6) Boots or stilettos? Stilettos
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Not my area
8) Jaguar or Astin Martin? Astin
9) Armani or Versace? Armani
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Anna
11) Champagne or single malt? Champagne
12) 1960s or 1980s? Umm, 1940s?
13) Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds are glamorous, pearls are classy
14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Oh lord, neither
15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Both