On Motherhood

“Are you my mother?” I read that book to my kids when they were young. It was written back in 1960 about a little bird looking for its mother. It was difficult reading the book to my daughters when my first wife and I separated. They wanted both their parents and I wanted time with them. I’ve thought back on this book since my own mother’s death, and in light of recent images of motherhood.

On the biological level, motherhood is pretty straight forward. It is the social constructs around motherhood that are challenging. The mother is a source of comfort and protection. We talk about things being as American as motherhood and apple pie. Others speak about the motherland and there are books like “Are you my mother?”

Then, there is the traditional black spiritual, “Motherless Child” where the absence of a mother is intermingled with the absence of freedom for slaves.

Yet it is the recent Old Spice commercial for body spray that has prompted my latest thinking about the social construct of motherhood. Friends have described the mothers spying on their sons as they start out on their dating lives as creepy or funny. It provided an interesting opportunity to think more about my relationship to my own mother.

I remember being in seventh grade and going to the Junior High School dance. I was shy and awkward and managed to ask a girl to dance a few times, but mostly stood on the north side of the gym where the guys stood, not managing to build up the courage to cross the dance floor to the south side of the gym where the girls stood with their own shy, awkward nervousness.

Afterwards. my mother picked me up in the old green Chevy pickup truck. She drove out of the parking lot and as we made our way home she asked me how was the dance. I didn’t want to reveal my moments of nervousness, disappointment or elation and simply muttered, “Okay.”

There was silence in the car as she continued to drive home. Finally, her curiosity led her to ask who I danced with. I mentioned a few different names of girls that I knew she was acquainted with and would approve of, but didn’t mention the name of my secret crush.

I was embarrassed and didn’t want to talk about it. But at the same time, I was glad my mother was giving me a ride home, and was interested in what was going on in my life, especially during those awkward years of developing my own identity and growing away from my family.

I remember when my mom got me deodorant. I was embarrassed, but at the same time pleased that she had gotten it. Being an unaware preteen, I didn’t know about such things or my need for them.

Now, forty years later, I look back at those days. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a young boy in the twenty-first century. Yet I imagine those same feelings of embarrassment and gratitude a youth of today must feel when his mother gets him some body spray.

The other day, I noticed on the dining room table a small plastic bracelet loom my wife had picked up for our daughter. It made me think of the looms of my childhood. Some of which were in our garage from when my siblings and I cleaned out my mother’s house after her death. I made a coaster and introduced my daughter to weaving, passing on some of what I learned from my mother.

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The Technology Adoption Lifecycle – @Nextdoor

So far, it’s been following a fairly predictable and familiar pattern. One person heard about the new site and asked others about it. In this case, the person received a postcard and asked about it in a Facebook group.

The new site is Nextdoor. The about page describes them as

the private social network for you, your neighbors and your community. It's the easiest way for you and your neighbors to talk online and make all of your lives better in the real world. And it's free.

Information was posted about it in a Facebook group focused on my local community. The responses were fairly predictable. One person wrote:

I've heard of it. A new start up. It's pretty much what this group already does. I for one don't need another social site to login to.

My response was to do research on the site and sign up. I later commented about this in the Facebook group. I referred to the Technology adoption lifecycle. I am an innovator/early adopter. I am the sort of person that, when I hear of something new, wants to go out and try it. According to the model, innovators/early adopters make up about 2.5% of the population.

With a population of around 9,000, this would put the number of innovator/early adopters in Woodbridge at about 225. It is worth noting that there are currently 230 members of the Woodbridge – Bethany Residents Forum. It would seem as if the forum still hasn’t crossed the chasm. Trying to attract people from this forum is likely to be challenging. So far, Nextdoor Woodbridge only has 25 members, and only seven have posted photos of themselves. It probably needs to at least double to reach critical mass.

When a new site comes along, those who are not innovators/early adopters start piling on about why it is going to fail. Given the success rates of startups, they are usually right, but when they are wrong, they are often spectacularly wrong. So, on Facebook, people are talking about why Nextdoor is going to fail. The argument typically ends up around what they already have is working fine and why would people want anything new. The standard story that fits in here is of companies missing the opportunity to get into the dry copying business because they didn’t understand the concept, or thought the market wouldn’t be big enough.

When a potential disruption comes along, some people don’t see the use cases for it, and figure it will not make it. Others go in and try to find unexpected use cases. It takes me back to the great old quote from George Bernard Shaw, “Some men see things as they are and say why - I dream things that never were and say why not.”

Back at the Facebook forum, “For those that have joined what is it that you can do there that you can't in this FB forum?” My response is, “not much”. For that matter, there’s not much on the Facebook forum that couldn’t be done at Woodbridge Gathering either.

Yet there are a few different things in Nextdoor that I find interesting. To get back to how the person mentioning it found out, Nextdoor gives uses the ability for users to send postcards to neighbors inviting them to join. This is something that has been used in political campaigns in the past, and has the potential to reach a different audience than Facebook.

This gets to a second thing that Nextdoor does that I find interesting. It has given me the ability to connect to a bunch of people that I don’t know in Woodbridge. Some people may feel that they know enough people in town. I always like to meet new people. Perhaps that too, is part of the innovator/early adopter mindset.

The site also provides a map, so you can contact people by their location. Again, this reminds me of some of the geomapping aspects of campaign sites.

Of course, this raises an issue. Members don’t want to be spammed. They way to know that the other members of their group are in fact from Woodbridge, or whatever neighborhood. Nextdoor provides verification functionality.

Will this be enough to gain critical mass, to make Nextdoor a success? It was listed in 43 of the best Android apps launched in 2013 by Next Web and it has already received $82 million in two funding rounds.

The questions remain, whether or not it will cross the chasm from the innovators and early adopters to the skeptical early majority, and whether or not it will become profitable. Or, will they have an exit strategy, like so many other startups, which includes cashing in before profitability.

It’s probably too early to say, but as an innovator/early adopter, I’ll play with Nextdoor as long as it keeps my interest.

Old Spice - Know Your Audience

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook,

I'm confused... Is this going to make teenagers buy old spice? This is the strangest commercial I've ever seen....

Old Spice | Mom Song :60

I remember going to a digital advertising conference a few years ago in New York where one of the discussions was about Old Spice's success online.

Remembering some of the points from that, I added this comment to my friend's status update:

I think it is brilliant. One of the keys to Old Spice's advertising success has always been knowing its market. While other deodorant makers would have ads with sexy women trying to boost sales, Old Spice came to realize that it is women who buy the deodorant, not the men. (As an aside, Kim buys my deodorant. I didn't know what brand she buys, without walking into the bathroom and checking. It is Old Spice.

No, I don't think teens, or pre-teens will buy Old Spice because of that commercial, but I can think of a lot of moms, proud and frightened, and struggling with their little babies growing up and starting to need deodorant that will see that ad and it will resonate deep down in their core.

When they go shopping and pick up deodorant for their sons, they will think of that ad, perhaps smile, a bit wistfully, and pick up Old Spice for their baby boys who are now becoming men.

Know your audience, it may not always be what you think.


It is a dark Monday morning. The sound of the rain has ebbed but the weather says it is fifty and foggy. It is hard to get out of bed and face the day and the coming week. I glance on Facebook and it is the same old statuses. It is about the same on the news sites.

I put on the same old hot water for coffee and prepare my oatmeal and wonder what to write about today. I’ve been stumbling across automatic writing more and more often these days and am kicking around ideas there. Yet there is one important thing to write about.

Today is Epiphany. I remember hearing the word when I was young and it not meaning a lot. It was just another liturgical season; Epiphany, Pentecost. Then I read a poem Denise Levertov which used the word epiphany. If I recall properly, it was Reading Chekhov on Weston Heath, about her childhood in London during World War II. She spoke of childhood epiphanies.

Where do great ideas come from? What is the starting point of inspiration and creativity? Perhaps some of it comes from just making oneself ready and sitting and waiting. Perhaps some of it comes from dreams and from letting our thoughts flow in automatic writing.

So, on this day of Epiphany, I hope all of you will find a chance to be still and wait for your epiphanies.

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Castle and Punishment

The scene outside the living room window looks like a pen and ink wash. The stark black strokes of tree trunks towering above the white of newly fallen snow has mellowed with the freezing rain, bringing out shades of grey, on the trees, in the snow, the sky and the house in the distance.

Today, I stopped at the nursing home as part of our church’s ministry. The signs warned of a gastrointestinal illness at the facility and urged visitors to consider rescheduling their visit. Many of my friends have been posting about stomach bugs online and I hesitated for a moment. Yet I suspected that the residents may have had less visitors than usual and my visit might be all the more important.

The greyness and illness have dampened my enthusiasm for research and writing this weekend. I was thinking about installing Neo4J and playing with that a little bit, but that is more than I’m up for right now. I had been thinking of writing more about some of my recent dreams, which have been intricate and complicated.

Then there are the books I received for Christmas. They’ve been giving me ideas for various writing projects that I haven’t been able to launch into.

Meanwhile, Fiona is listening to ‘Castle’, which she does a lot. As one episode ended and the wrapped up all the pieces, it struck me, an episode of Castle that might be particularly interesting would be of an impoverished ex-student who kills a pawn broker.

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