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Archive for December, 2007

Questions, Part 2

Martin and I were watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas on Christmas Eve, probably one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

During that fantastic song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” Martin hears:

You’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch.

Your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch.

Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing
with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable
rubbish imaginable,
Mangled up in tangled up knots.

and asks, spurred, I’m sure also by our recent heart-wrenching conversation, “What’s a soul?”

Fighting an urge to run to dictionary.com, which didn’t seem particularly motherly or Christmas-y, I say: “Errr….well…” for a little bit, and then: “Your soul is the place inside you where you keep your love, and your compassion, and your feelings.” Hmmm, not bad, not bad at all, I think.

“Oh!” he exclaims. “So I’m your soul! And you’re my soul. And we’re each other’s soul.”

My heart stopped for just a second before I hugged him. Oh, you’re so right, little boy.

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Questions

I was lying with Martin last night as he was falling asleep, telling him a story. I thought he had already drifted away; he was very still. Then he said, “Mom, when I am very old, are you going to be killed?” His voice broke, and he sobbed; I could see tears stream down his cheeks by the glow of the nightlight.

Uh-oh. My mind started racing. I believe in telling him the truth, worded appropriately for a three year old perspective, but this was not like telling him where the truck filled with stacked cages of chickens was heading on the highway the other day. How to say: Well, yes, I am going to die. Odds are, you’ll probably be in your fifties–that is, unless I succumb to one of the cancers that seem to cut down certain women in my family when they’re quite young–but, really, it could happen at any time, even tonight. . . . which would be, morbid as it is, the truth.

“I’m here right now,” I said, hugging him, “and I will be in the morning [please!] and I think I’ll be right here with you for so long it will feel like forever.”

He was still choking on his sobs; I could feel it in his little body as I held him. “But I’m going to have you when I’m three and four and five and six and seven, but then when I’m very old, you are going to fall off of a bridge and be killed.”

My odds of falling off a bridge to my death seem staggeringly low, and I reassured him on this point fairly well, and hoped that the conversation would turn to the various unlikely ways I could meet my end. I’d be on stable ground convincing him that a bald eagle wasn’t going to snatch me from the front yard, for instance. I wasn’t so lucky.

“Where will you go if you get killed? And where is Grammy’s family?”

I am not religious, but I sorely wished that I had a religion-based, this-is-what-happens-when-we-die answer for him. I had a fleeting thought of a mother, long ago, inventing the whole idea of heaven to soothe her child asking this very question…

I admitted that I didn’t know where people went when they got killed, but floundered for something remotely consoling. “Did you know that when I’m right here next to you, or somewhere else, or anywhere, you still have me with you? All the little pieces that make up your body are from Dad and me.” I went on a little in this vein, and he seemed to like it.

His last question: “If Dad gets killed, how is he going to teach people how to use computers?”

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If you know me, or read this blog, you probably know that I have always valued myself above all else–I don’t really care much for my family and friends or strangers as long as I get my way. I’m also very uncomfortable about being a mother at home, mostly because of things I don’t understand, and I’ve only a residual feminism left–sort of like the flour that I’m trying to brush off my shirt after making pizza dough with toddlers this morning.

Wait a second. Actually, that’s not right at all. Although, if one reads my responses to bluemilk’s ten questions about feminist motherhood, and takes bits out, and twists and turns them to suit, I suppose that this is the impression one could create. At least, this person did on his self-proclaimed conservative web site. The post has the feel of a jigsaw puzzle completed with no attempt to actually make the pieces fit together. He read responses from several mothers, and slipped some impressively condescending language into his analysis–if “an analysis” means “a mis-understanding and mis-reading.”

This person, or anyone else, is welcome to anything I read or say, and welcome to use it or abuse it. No problem at all.

A word of advice, however.  Better evidence and more convincing data for the conservative and/or anti-feminism stance must exist than, say, my life, or it is an even less credible viewpoint than I thought. Manipulating a few details of these feminist mothers’ lives into an erroneous portrait of who they are will not further any anti-feminist crusade because, very simply, the conclusions are incorrect.

I don’t want to speak for the other mothers mentioned, but in the little section devoted to me, I found such ludicrous conclusions made about my life that it amused me. The section I’m referring to is tacked onto the end of this post, but it would be too tiresome to go through and explain how wrong it all is sentence by sentence. Instead, I can sum it all up pretty easily like this:

1. The most amusing conclusion, perhaps, is that I’ve valued autonomy and independence above all else. That seems lonely. I’m glad it’s not me. (The “Me do it myself,” anecdote was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that I have not needed or valued assistance in carrying out my responsibilities successfully so much until now. There’s no lunch break or sick day when you’re taking care of children, and I’m very lucky to have the support that I do. Parents who do not have reliable support, and can still do this, are remarkable in their strength and capabilities.)

2. There’s nothing residual about my feminism. Having children was, for me, one of the life experiences that made me more feminist than ever, and more aware of oppressive gender constructs–for boys as well as girls–than ever.

3. I’m not conflicted or confused about my own decision to follow
“a traditional gender pattern of stay at home motherhood.” (Although . . . is it awfully traditional in a conservative definition of “stay-at-home motherhood” to be spending all this time writing and reading about feminist motherhood? To have feminist principles central to our childrearing practices?) It is, instead, the stereotypes and the mistaken conclusions about mothers and parents at home with children that piss me off and leave me without a whole lot to identify with out there–thank goodness again for the mothers I can communicate with through blogs . . . and the rare alone and relaxed conversation time with mother friends in real life.

An excerpt from the post to which I was referring:

Marjorie was the second feminist mother interviewed. She too is a woman who followed an autonomist culture by valuing independence above all else, by intending to remain childless and by intending to return to work once she had children. Again, though, after she had children she began to value family more highly than these forms of autonomy:

I am shocked and bewildered by how much I love my kids and love mothering them. I have a vague recollection of swearing I would never have children (and double- and triple-swearing that I would never have children), but I can’t remember why now …

I have also been surprised that I absolutely need my husband and family and friends to get through it all. I think I first said, “Me do it myself,” at two years of age and said it until the moment before Martin was born. I absolutely need them to help me.

I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed my career in a negative way because the alternative was sacrificing this time with my children, which, to me, would have been the worse option. I thought I was going back to work, but I didn’t even consider it once I had the baby.

The one aspect of patriarchy theory Marjorie still clings to is that of gender being an unnatural, oppressive construct. Yet, given that she herself is following a traditional gender pattern of stay at home motherhood, she feels conflicted:

I sometimes feel compromised and have trouble identifying as a feminist mother since I get so bogged down by the stay at home mother/housewife stereotype.

It’s a pity she doesn’t realise that once you no longer hold autonomy to be the one, overriding value, there is no reason to judge the traditional female role as inferior and therefore no need to attack gender as an oppressive construct. Her residual feminism is making her feel unnecessarily uncomfortable in what she is doing.

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When children are sick, and changes are afoot, and midnight and 3pm seem about the same, and other things besides blogs need to be written, the only things I can come up with seem to be Twitters.

Twitter: Yet another technological thingamajig that I had a good laugh at my husband for suggesting to me–I believe my exact words were something like….”Ha, ha, you’re a narcissistic stalker!” He showed me his account–his colleagues use it at work for telling each other…well, I didn’t really read it, read it because it was too boring, but they use it to give updates to each other. Why I would profess to assume that anyone would want daily, hourly, minute-by-minute updates on my life was beyond me, and I certainly don’t need to get quite so involved in other people’s business.

But….then my sister moved far, far away, and I did want to know what she was doing all day as she acclimated to a new place, and assumed she wanted to know just what book I was reading to my children and what we had for lunch. And then I thought I recalled seeing this strange Twitter thing on a blog or two that I love, looked around, and there it was. If it’s good enough for Christine, it’s good enough for me.

And the true glory of it–I now know that a friend on the West Coast was making homemade desserts with her girlfriend to prepare for Thanksgiving, and know that today, a friend on the East Coast is getting out early from her job due to snow. These are friends that I have known since elementary school, and I used to know those daily details, but now I don’t. I always want to plan an hour of uninterrupted time to talk on the phone with them, or write a four page email, and really, it’s hard to do that often for all of us. But these little twitters–you can’t go beyond 140 characters no matter how much you want to–give me all those details that might not make it into a phone conversation or an email, and keep up that closeness we had when we were playing softball together or sitting in science class discussing our true 9th grade loves.

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No, Mommy? No Mommy?

I have escaped from a pile of vomit-stained laundry to write this. I can already hear it moving through the hall toward me, though–oh, no, now tentacles of dirty sheets are snaking around my ankle pulling me back to the laundry room, so this will be short. . .

I was at the grocery store when my husband called to tell me that two-year-old Chris was throwing up. I checked out and rushed home. Chris was sitting in Jack’s lap when I flounced over, “Don’t worry, dah-lings, mummy’s here!” while unbuttoning my shirt, ready to work my motherly magic, (yeah, this kid is still nursing–for the love of god, when will he stop?) and went to pick Chris up . . . but was met with a little hand in my face and an unearthly shriek: “NO, MOMMY! NO, MOMMY!” He turned back, in true dramatic-Chris fashion, toward his father, and buried his face in Jack’s chest. Muffled sobs of “No Mommy . . . no Mommy . . . no Mommy” went on and on . . .

The choice: Remain standing in front of him, having my feelings hurt, reminiscing about when he found comfort only with me for every tumble or runny nose, and wondering what happened to change that . . . or back slooooowly out of the doorway to go read with Martin, listening to Chris throw up on his father from the safety of another room.

Final tally from a week of Chris being horribly ill:
Dad thrown up on: 678 times
Mom thrown up on: 8 times

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