Archive for June, 2006

To da PIMPS

June 30, 2006

We interrupt regularly scheduled Heavy Blogging (the long-promised but ever-elusive Feminist Smackdown) for more Happy Blogging: this month’s Perfect Post Awards! (And tomorrow: the June Blog Exchange!)

I’ve never awarded a Perfect Post Award. I’ve thought about it. Every month I read dozens of posts that deserve to be called Perfect Posts, and every month I tell myself that I’m going to sling some awards around. Then the end of the month approaches, and I start reviewing all of the posts that I’ve mentally bookmarked as Perfect and I get overwhelmed. How to choose?

This month, I decided to just suck it up. I narrowed my list down, with difficulty. But I couldn’t get it down to just one. So, unable to follow the rules, I simply ignored the rules and sent in a short-ish list of awardees. Whereupon MommaK asked me really nicely if I could please just narrow it down to one, the better to avoid starting a trend of free-for-all award-slinging (which, while nice in theory, would turn the elegant Perfect Post Awards Ceremony into a bloated festival of sycophancy, hosted by Billy Crystal.)

So by this morning, just in time to have missed the Unveiling of the Perfect Post Awards Recipients, I sent in my revised nomination. I’m hoping that the ever-gracious MommaK will still put up notice of the award on the list, but, as it happens, it’s a moot point, because my awardee and her post are already listed there.

My Perfect Post Award went, this month, to Marla of Hello Josephine, for her post Wherein I end with a poem that I used to think was maudlin. Which is a beautiful piece of poetry, accompanied by beautiful pictures, and is fully deserving. Unofficially, however, this award goes to a post that she wrote earlier in the month and has since deleted. That post described her relationship with her mother and her fears and desires for her own relationship with her daughter, and although it described a relationship that is very different from the one that I share with my own mother, it gripped me completely and left me in tears. It was tremendous. She removed that post because she did not (to paraphrase her) want to have those feelings, in all of their rawness, living in front of her. I completely understand that. But I’m grateful that I caught them while they lived.

But alongside Marla’s wonderful posts, there were a host of other posts by other wonderful bloggers that I also wanted to recognize: among them, BubandPie’s post about keeping a diary, Christina’s thought-provoking piece about her c-section and how art has helped her come to terms with it, and all of the pieces that Scarbie has written about her struggles with anxiety. These were just a few of the many posts I read this month that compelled me to leave banal comments to the effect of wow. And – that was just beautiful. And – the surest sign that I am at a loss for words – thank you.

And, and… I would have liked to have given an award to Amalah, for Nobody Tells You. I know: part of the point of the awards is to spread the love, introduce people to new blogs and great writing that they might not have otherwise come across. And it might be said that there’s something sucky about cruising up to one of the Very, Very Popular Girls and presenting her with a friendship bracelet. Like she needs it, like she cares, and isn’t this all just about getting her notice you?

Whatever. Her post on the experience of losing her temper, however momentarily, with her baby knocked me off of my feet. It was breathtaking in its honesty. It was brave. It described an experience that all of us have – or will – undergo. One that we will all have a great deal of trouble talking about, if we ever speak of it at all. That she spoke of it will make it a little easier for us – for me – to own up to it and to speak honestly about when it happens.

It was also a post that demonstrates the power of writing through the difficulties of motherhood, and of life more generally. And so, in a way, it honors all of those women (and man) who have been blogging their fears and hurts and anxieties in the Basement. Writing through pain or fear or insecurity is powerfully difficult, regardless of whether one does it anonymously or in their own name. But it’s also, simply, powerful. It helps the writer and, perhaps more importantly, it helps all of those who read it. Writing like this demonstrates to both writer and readers that we’re not alone.

So, to Amalah, and to the ladies mentioned above, and – last but not least – to all of the writers of the Basement: I offer you my own award, for writing that demonstrates the power of writing in community. I’m calling them the PIMP awards: Prima Inter Mater Pares (First Among Mother Equals. Latin bastardized for acronymical effect.) You’ve been PIMPed.

Take a bow.

WonderBaby is impressed. Really. On the inside.

********

A Perfect Post

So, I only realized after this post had gone to press that I had not thanked two super-awesome ladies for bestwoing Perfect Post Awards upon me. Kristi of A Beautiful Mess presented me with Award for ‘Sticks and Stones,’ the post that wrote about my terminally-ill nephew struggling to find a place among his not-always-welcoming peers. And Sarah of Sarah and the Goon Squad honoured ‘How to Lose a Friend in Ten Months,’ my post about being dumped by a friend for being a mommy and a blogger. Thanks, ladies! Those awards made my day, because the posts they honour were difficult to write. Truly lovely to know that you liked them.

Here Be Post-Modern Muppets

June 28, 2006

Thanks to all for the tremendously supportive comments to my last post. They were, each and every one of them, so appreciated.

*Edited below. Because you’ve come to expect it.

The Feminist Smackdown is up next, but I need a breather from Heavy Blogging. And in any case, the Smackdown needs a little work. At the moment, my engagement with the lady-tardage that is (in this corner!) Caitlin Flanagan and (in this corner!) Linda Hirshman is not so much critical analysis as it is expletive-ridden rant. (WTF Flanagan? WTF Hirshman? WT-effing-F?)

Also, I have mood swings. And I do not feel like being angry today.

So today we will reflect upon happy things. (Flipping through the Happy Files… what to choose, what to choose… Babies – already on it – Barcelona, Books, Chocolate, Dalwhinnie Single-Malt, Ella Fitzgerald, Elephants, … wait… go back to the Bs… BOOKS.)

Books. Today we shall reflect on books.

Before you click away – yes, I saw that – thinking that this is going to be a dreary Bad Mother lecture on what fiction you should be reading (although, since you asked: Tolstoy, Austen and Stendhal.), give me just a second. This is not about what you should read. It’s not about what I read. It’s about what I read, past tense.

It’s about one of my very first books. One of the first that I can remember holding in my own hands. No, this book was not Herodotus’ Histories (although I do recommend this as a source for great bedtime stories). It was not Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan or Ivanhoe or any of the tales told by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson (all of which were read aloud to me many times before I ever got my hands on them.)

It was this:

It was a Little Golden Book. Starring Grover. The plot (such as it is) hinges upon the promise made in the title: that there is a monster at the end of the book. Every time you turn a page – against Grover’s exhortations that you not, for the love of all that is blue and holy, turn the page – you get closer to that monster.

Every time that I opened this book, I thrilled at the suspense. When either of my parents read it with me, I would squeal and grab their hands: Careful! Turn the pages slowly! Slowly!

Every page was turned carefully, slowly, one corner at time, so that I could peek around the printed corner. I knew well what was coming, but I still squirmed with anticipation and the teeniest, tiniest flicker of fear…

… and a delicious sense of naughtiness. Grover – lovable old Grover – says please don’t turn the page. Mom or Dad would say, are you sure you want to turn the page? Grover says don’t turn the page. But still, always, I turned the page.

And I would, always, shriek with delight when I reached the end, where, as promised, the monster was revealed.

That the monster was Grover was never a surprise, not after the first reading. What thrilled and delighted me, I think, was the reminder – the ever unexpected reminder – of Grover’s monsterness. I knew that Grover was a monster, of course. But I never reflected upon his monsterness. I never – that is, when I was not turning the pages of this particular book – gave any thought to the fact that Grover was a monster, or to the fact that his monsterness put him in the same category as Boogeymen and werewolves and all other manner of frightening creatures that lived under my bed or in my closet. Grover was familiar and safe and comforting (in a way that the Cookie Monster, for example, was not. I always suspected that the Cookie Monster could turn on a kid at any time, revert to his monster-ish, Mr-Muppet-Hyde dark side while in the grip of a bad cookie trip.) Grover was not monster in the sense of being Other: he was a sweet old furry blue uncle, very possibly with bad breath, but certainly generous with the hugs.

The book gripped me with the revelatory reminder that he was, indeed, a monster. It also, of course, gripped me with its narrative suspense. I think that this book was a wonderful introduction, for a very young reader, to the thrill of the page, to the incomparable magic carpet ride – destination unknown or anticipated or delightfully feared – that is a good story. And it demonstrated amply that a good story can boil down to just a few simple, well-directed lines.

It was all of these things. But it was mostly the thrill of being reminded that Grover’s a monster I’m supposed to be afraid of monsters but I’m not afraid of Grover the monster that kept me pestering my parents to sit down and read this book with me.

Roland Barthes argued that there is pleasure in narrative suspense – the “gradual unveiling” of a story – but that this pleasure is not the true pleasure of the text. The text of pleasure, he says, submits to and offers comfortable reading; the text of bliss, on the other hand, discomfits. It unsettles the reader’s assumptions, “brings to a crisis his relation with language.”

The thrill of There’s a Monster at the End of this Book was, for me, exactly this. It exploded my childish understanding of ‘monster.’ And, more to the point, it broke the comfort of my readerly relationship with Grover; it unsettled my assumption that Grover was just like me (because do we not assume that those whom we love are always and ever just like us?) and forced me to confront dear Grover as the alien being that he is. If I love Grover, I love monsters. The book was thrilling because it was sort of dangerous. It provoked a little bit of fear and then asked me to reconsider that fear. It asked me questions. It made me ask questions. Why was I – am I – afraid of monsters? Who else is a monster? WHAT is a monster?

That book (and others like it) turned me on to the thrill of having my assumptions challenged. It fuelled my love of questions. And, it made me love books. It made me love the adventure of opening books to see what surprises they held.

It was good stuff. Still is. I nearly wept when I found There’s a Monster at the End of This Book at a second-hand store the other day, and when I sat down with WonderBaby to flip through the pages (and found myself doing a strange, Yoda-ish impression of Grover that completely failed to impress) it provoked the same old thrill. Well look at that! This is the end of the book and the only one here is ME! Grover!

Well, Grover, and some good old-fashioned structuralist/post-structuralist literary analysis. Here be monsters.

What were your favourite books as a child? What’s the earliest reading experience that you can remember?

WonderBaby, in case you’re wondering, currently prefers Anna Wintour to Grover. (The Devil, clearly, wears onesies…)

(And? WonderBaby’s current editorial layout is here. She is also featured, alongside the incomparably fierce Bumper, in a photo-essay presented by Mother Bumper, here.)

*(The Dan Brown joke that previously appeared in this space will no longer be seen. It has been re-scheduled so that the following announcement can be made: there’s a new visitor in the Basement, talking about a very difficult subject. Go chat.)

How To Lose a Friend in 10 Months

June 26, 2006
**Edited below
As promised, more Heavy and Really Sort Of Morose Blogging. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If morose bores you, scroll back a post and reflect upon roller-skating, Steve Zissou, David Hasselhoff, and the retirement of the It’s Not Easy Being Green Dancers…

I read a lot of books and magazines and websites about parenting and motherhood while I was pregnant with WonderBaby. I read about breastfeeding and sleep schedules and sleep arrangements and Attachment Parenting and baby whispering and swaddling and SIDS and PPD and all variety of issues and ideas related to Having a Baby. I learned a lot, and nothing at all. End of the day, even with all of the relevant information swirling around in my head, I was on my own. The books and magazines and websites gave me tools, but they didn’t tell me how to distinguish between the tools (most of which, as we all know, have competing functions), or how to choose which tools to use. I was on my own.

I expected this. Even as I studied, frenetically and, ultimately, fruitlessly, about how to cope with sleepless nights and endless feedings and the constant anxiety, I knew that nothing could prepare me for the challenge that I would face on my own, and for being alone (even with my phenomenally supportive husband) in that experience. I knew that I would feel isolated.

What I didn’t know was how isolated I would feel. And I didn’t know that new motherhood would bring new forms of isolation. I didn’t know that it would isolate me from old friends. I didn’t know that it would cause me to lose friendships.

I had read about this, of course, losing friends after becoming a mother. I think that it’s an editorial rule at all pregnancy and parenting magazines that a story about losing friends as a consequence of new motherhood must appear at least once every three issues. I’d seen the articles. I’d seen the discussions at parenting websites. I just didn’t think that the issue applied to me.

My friends were good friends. Life friends. The people that I spent time with and shared myself with were – are – people that I enjoy and trust and really, really like. There aren’t a lot of them. Acquaintances come and go, and I assumed that I would have a lot less contact with acquaintances once the mother ship landed. But my friends, I assumed, would understand that I would no longer be able to dash out for coffee or spend long, lazy evenings drinking wine and chatting. Not for a while, anyway.

So I was gobsmacked to read, in a recent e-mail from someone with whom I have been very close friends for over a decade, that I had been neglecting the friendship and that, accordingly, she viewed the friendship as dead. We had been exchanging e-mails and occasional phone calls, but it wasn’t, in her view, enough. So that was it. It was over. “I’ve already mourned the loss,” she said, “don’t e-mail me back.”

There’s much that could be said about this, about the shock and hurt that accompanies the sudden and unexpected death of a friendship. About how and why new motherhood – parenthood – might cause such a death. How new motherhood affects one’s ability to maintain normal levels of social contact. About how I thought that I was doing pretty well, making sure that I stayed in touch, making sure that I explained why it was so difficult to get out of the house anytime other than weekday afternoons (weekends being reserved, largely, for making up lost time with a very busy Husband). There’s much that I would like to say about this, because I know that she’ll read it and I want her to hear it. But it wouldn’t make much of a difference, because, end of the day, she did not end the friendship because my ability to socialize became impaired by new motherhood.

She ended the friendship because I blog.

Not because I have blogged about her or about the friendship. Not because I have violated confidences or said inappropriate things. This friendship was not dooced. What happened was this: she ended the friendship because, despite the constraints that new motherhood imposes upon my time and energies – constraints that limit the time that I spend socializing – I find time and energy to blog.

You make time, she said, for what matters.

True enough. I do make time for blogging. But I make time in 5 or 10 or, maybe, if I’m very, very lucky, 20 minute increments. I blog late at night, or first thing in the morning. Sometimes, I do it with WonderBaby latched to the boob. Often, I am unwashed and in pajamas, munching on an already-partially-teethed teething biscuit. (I know. I have just shattered the widely-shared romantic vision of HBM seated, with her laptop, at a tidy secretaire in an oak-panelled library, clad in stylish loungewear and sipping tea from a china cup). It is not, in other words, time that would otherwise be spent maintaining real life social networks. If any relationship takes a hit from the blogging, it is my marriage: many an evening, after WonderBaby is abed, the Husband gets assigned dinner duty while I finish a post. And so far as I know, Husband is not planning on leaving me because blogging matters more than helping him make dinner. (Um, Husband… right?)

But ‘making time’ is not really the issue here, either. I’m pretty sure that my old friend wouldn’t begrudge me time spent writing, if writing was – and it certainly is this, as she well knows – a sanity-saver. The issue is that I am writing in what amounts to a public forum. I am not only writing, I am communicating. I am sharing my secrets, confiding my fears, telling my stories – to the Internet. To blog-friends. Secrets and fears and stories that I otherwise would be – should be – confiding to real-life friends. To her.

I get this. Sort of. Which is to say, I would get this if I had been the sort of friend who regularly confided secrets and fears. But I wasn’t. Oh, I would, certainly, regularly catch good friends up on what was going on in my life, things that were bugging me, that kind of thing. But I’ve never been the sort of friend who easily shares her anxieties and fears and griefs. Hell, I’m not really that sort of wife: the Husband knows that the surest sign that I’m upset about something is if I stop talking. The more bothered I am by something, the less likely I am to talk about it.

Stop the presses: I do not like to ‘share.’

To be more clear, I do not like to talk about things that bother me or hurt me or grieve me or move me beyond my comfort zone. I do not like hearing the sound of my own voice drone on about something that pains me. It’s like fingernails down a blackboard. And I do not like to cry – hurt cry, pain cry – with other people. I do not like being held by anyone – other than my mother, my father or my husband – while I cry. I hate it. It unnerves me. Makes me feel exposed.

I don’t know why this is. There’s probably a good long post about why I am emotionally reserved. My psychiatrist thought that it was cause for concern: someone who hates talking about her worries and fears is, she said, going to struggle more desperately with the worries and fears that new motherhood can bring. She was right. But I still never talked about it.

I hate talking about ‘it’ – about fear or pain or sadness. When my nephew was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I withdrew from everybody but my husband. When we had to go through genetic testing and counselling to address the very likely possibility that I carried the same gene that will kill my nephew – the gene that I would almost certainly pass on any son I might bear, that would certainly kill any son that inherited it from me – I clammed up entirely. Didn’t speak of it, unless pressed to. Because I couldn’t bear to.

And this – this emotional reservedness, this clamming up – has never been more true for me than it has been during this first half-year of motherhood. It has been hard. Real hard. And I have not wanted to talk about how hard it is. Nor have I wanted to talk about how those challenges, those sometimes painful challenges, are well-steeped in joy. Motherhood has not only challenged me, it has pained me and confused me and amazed me and filled me with such joy that I sometimes cannot breath. And I have found it hard to talk about this, because the sound of my own voice seems to take the feelings away from me, make them not my own, disassociate them from me. It breaks the intimacy of my own experience of those feelings, it removes them from me in a way that is, to me, strange-making.

But writing doesn’t do that. Writing about my fears and anxieties and sadnesses and joys – some of them, anyway – brings me closer to those feelings. Somehow, seeing them on the page makes them real in a way that is not strange-making. I don’t know why that is.

And sharing those feelings, through writing, with family and friends and other parents, makes them even more real and accessible. It brings them alive for me, to share them in this way, to know that others are reading and nodding their heads or shaking their heads or engaging in any way with those ideas, those feelings. I don’t share all of those feelings, and I don’t share many details when the feelings are rooted in very personal stories. I remain circumspect on many fronts. But I am saying more – much, much more – out loud, in writing, than I ever have using my own voice.

It would not be the same, exactly, if I reserved all of these stories for utterance in my own voice, in the privacy of a friend’s living room, or the intimacy of a coffee-shop huddle. I don’t know why. I do know, however, that this is why I blog. This, and the desire to find community with other parents, other people who are going through the same, or similar, experiences as I am, and who are grappling with the same, or similar, fears and anxieties and joys that I am. Who find shit – real shit, in a diaper – funny. Gross, and frustrating, but also fascinating, and funny. Who understand that one can feel profound anxiety and frustration and joy all at once. Who understand that these experiences are sometimes difficult to talk about.

I’m not saying that I can only share myself through writing. I’d be in real trouble if that were true. I would not be able to sustain relationships if that were true. And, so far, I have been able to sustain relationships, while I have struggled through the challenges of new motherhood and while I have sought solace and release in writing. I think, actually, that writing openly has done much to enrich and enliven my relationships. I’m sharing so much more of myself with friends and family, near and far. Getting the shit that bugs me or causes me stress out of my head and onto the page leaves more room for talking about things that matter: I have more space in my mind and heart for chattering about the immense joy that WonderBaby brings once I’ve gotten the kickin’ my ass kickin’ my ass kickin’ my ass complaints out of the way. And it has reignited my love of storytelling, and my desire to tell stories, stories and more stories. With my keyboard and with my voice.

But this friend does not want to hear them, not now. Not under these circumstances. She does not, she said, want to be “a window-licker,” reading about my life alongside other readers. Reading, rather than participating.

I can understand that feeling, and I would be fully sympathetic, and apologetic, if I had shut the doors on her, or on anybody in my life. But I haven’t; I really, really haven’t. The doors that she begrudges me were never fully open, or were only ever opened after some well-intentioned, loving prying. What’s changed is, a new set of doors have been opened, doors that I feel comfortable opening, doors that I enjoy opening. And they open, it seems, onto a public square, rather than a private, exclusive courtyard.

I can’t change that. I don’t want to change that. I am very, very sorry that this makes my friend unhappy. I didn’t want the friendship to end; any perceived neglect was unintentional, the result of the circumstances of a new, strange life, a life that is no longer fully my own. But that friendship could only live in these new circumstances under the terms of these new circumstances. Circumstances that put new loves – WonderBaby – first. Circumstances that draw me toward new friends, friends that share and understand these circumstances. Circumstances that have drawn me out into the world in a different way. Circumstances that have changed me, and my stories.

I didn’t want those circumstances – as if a baby, a new life, a new love, the greatest love, is only a circumstance – to undermine our friendship. I didn’t expect them too. I’m sorry that they did. But I am not sorry for those circumstances. I can’t be; I won’t be.

Am I wrong? Have I violated the terms of a friendship? Is it unfair to expect to old friends to adapt as my life changes? Do the changes that parenthood brings necessarily sound the death knell for pre-parental relationships? (And – I have to ask this, I’m sorry – is this a girl thing?) Is blogging – blogging baby, or blogging anything – bad for real-world friendships? Must it be?

*******
There’s someone new hanging in the Basement, sharing her feelings and anxieties. Go visit with her, and give her some support.

**And – NOW PLAYING at MamaBlogsToronto – When WonderBaby Met Bumper (Baby). It’s a mommy-blogger/blogger-baby love story, and it’s nice. Check it.

Mama loves. Better than ever. And, for fun, sets babies adrift on random bits of styrofoam…

Motherhood is Boring – Globe and Mail article, by popular demand

June 25, 2006

(Disregard the date of this post – I needed a page for this piece for linkage purposes and there was this handy draft space in my archives…)

What follows is Rebecca Eckler’s Globe and Mail article – the article that spurred a few blog posts ’round the blogosphere and was cause for my very first live media appearance as Her Bad Mother. (Woops – second media appearance, second to my AlphaMom interview, which has not yet appeared, which perhaps does make the CH-TV appearance the first…)

ANYWAY. Here it is. Again, I am not the author; I’m just quoted. I discussed it here.

**********


Motherhood is Boring…

Or at least that’s what a new wave of outspoken mothers think. As REBECCA ECKLER reports, these women find kid’s birthday parties deadly, watching Barney tedious. And they aren’t afraid to share the dirty secret of parenting — Mother Love doesn’t always conquer all.

(By Rebecca Eckler. This article originally appeared in the Focus section of The Globe and Mail, Saturday, August 19, 2005.)

I would do anything to not go to the playground,” Cara says. “I am bored to tears in playgrounds.”

The mother of two children under the age of 10, the 39-year-old Calgary lawyer also hates kids’ birthday parties and took only three months of maternity leave — both times. She now has a live-in nanny who she says “basically raises my kids.”

Cara is not alone. American expatriate Helen Kirwan-Taylor recently admitted in Britain’s Daily Mail that her children “bore her to death.” In her new book, Mommies Who Drink, U.S. actress Brett Paesel confesses she would rather hit happy hour with her friends than have “fun with felt.” And the blogosphere is exploding with posts from mothers telling the dirty truth that motherhood is, well, mind-numbing.

Dubbed SMUMs — smart, middle-class, uninvolved mothers — these women are no longer willing to feign interest in watching Barney for the 538th time. They’ve lived and learned before having children. They’ve travelled. They’ve worked. They are adamant that Mother Love does not (and should not) conquer all. You could even call them a new wave of straight-talking feminists.

Take Amalia Jimenez. The Torontonian says bluntly, “We would be in complete denial to say that every element of child rearing is interesting. In one of my postpartum moments, with three sons, I looked at my mother in terror and said, ‘When does it ever stop?’ She said, ‘Never!’ I started to sob.”

Ali Martell, a children’s book editor and the mother of two young children, is equally frank. Her version of freedom is leaving her kids behind (at least sometimes): “You envy your single friends, the ones who can just go out at a moment’s notice for dinner, or a movie, or even to the supermarket without having to think about the kids first.”

Or, as journalist Ms. Kirwan-Taylor put it so candidly, she finds taking her kids to the park ‘tedious” and can’t bear a family film outing without “texting friends.”

“Research tells us that mothers drink the most when they have young children,” she wrote. “Is that because talking to anyone under the age of 10 requires some sort of lobotomy?”
Of course, as Ms. Paesel points out, mothers have been complaining subtly about the monotony of parenting for years.

But she says, “In the past, the complaining has been accompanied by equivocation. A mother might say, ‘I adore my children, but sometimes I think it might be fun to have a few minutes to myself.’ When said that way, no one hears it. Everyone hears it when you say, ‘My children bore me to death.’ “

Catherine Connors is one mother who avoids equivocation. A former university instructor, she now writes a weblog called Her Bad Mother that pulls no punches about the downside to breeding. “Mommy bloggers remind each other all the time that bitching and moaning does not equal bad mother,” she says. “Those who complain about motherhood, especially if they do so intelligently, let other women and mothers know that it’s okay to be honest about what motherhood is really like.”

Joanne Snider goes one step further. “People who admit it’s boring are heroes,” says the 37-year-old single mother of a 17-year-old son. “Some parts of parenting, no matter what age your children are, are dull as dishwater. That’s okay. For people to pretend all of it’s exciting is a big lie, and doesn’t serve anyone.”

Which raises the question: Why the backlash, more painful than natural childbirth, against women like Ms. Kirwan-Taylor? In the aftermath of her article, the 42-year-old has said she’s the most “vilified” woman in England because she doesn’t find changing diapers “interesting.”

Are modern mothers, who have grown up in wealthy and democratic countries, believing the world is their oyster, simply spoiled? Or selfish?

Sarah Bingham, a mother of two and the founder of an on-line directory for new and expecting parents called Canadianbabies.ca, thinks spending time with your kids is part of a mother’s job description. She says parenting is about balancing and that “uninvolved” mothers are really “unattached” mothers.

“Parents bored of their children? Come on! . . . Find a way to get involved with your children and spend time with them,” she says, listing off mother-child activities such as movies for mommies, sign-language classes and infant massage.

But Ms. Paesel suggests that the hostility of what some call Martyr Mommies or sanctimommies against SMUMs isn’t totally selfless. “We all were children once. And we find it hard to accept that possibly we weren’t endlessly fascinating to our parents,” she says.

“I remember being hurt when my mother revealed to me that the happiest time of her life was the period when she went back to work after I was in high school. Now, I think it’s wonderful she didn’t build her existence around me. But at the time, I thought, ‘How can raising me not have been the most fulfilling thing on the planet?’ “

(Interestingly, although Ms. Kirwan-Taylor’s son defended her in an interview, saying he would be driven to drink if he were a mother, one reader wrote in response to her piece: “There’s nothing more calculated to demolish your sense of self-worth than a parent who doesn’t think you’re the centre of their universe.”)

Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock, authors of Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters, and Raise Happier Kids, on the other hand, see wider social pressures at work in the outrage against bored mothers. When women admit that mothering isn’t always as fulfilling or exciting as getting a new haircut, they rebel against notions that women have some sort of inborn, single-minded maternal instinct. (Where these women’s husbands are in the child-centric debate is another issue.)

“Women are not supposed to feel negative about mothering,” Ms. Renner says. “We define ‘mommy guilt’ as all the negative emotions associated with parenting: anger, frustration, lack of control, fear, sadness, boredom. These are things that society does not support women feeling when it comes to taking care of our own children.”

Dare we ask Ms. Pflock, a child-development specialist and mother of three, if she finds motherhood boring herself?

“Of course it is. As is our work, as is our favourite hobby — even a marriage or other relationships can be, at times, boring. Not everything in life is going to entertain us all the time. There may even be entire segments of parenting you find boring, not just a day or a time of day. One mother may love thinking up activities to entertain her preschooler all day long, while another can’t wait for all-day kindergarten to start. As long as we love and care for our children in a way that is fulfilling to everyone over the course of time, we are doing just fine.”

So live dangerously — it’s okay to give Barney a pass.

Rebecca Eckler writes for The Globe and Mail’s Style section and is the author of two memoirs: Knocked Up and the upcoming Wiped!, about her first two years of motherhood.

A roller skating jam called Saturday

June 24, 2006

*Edit – because, in addition to being a scatterbrain, I have far too many things to say (such that my part-Irish mother likes to say, as her uncle said of her, that I not only kissed the Blarney Stone, I swallowed it) and can never remember everything that I need, er, want, to say… a note has been added below.

From the look of my blogging to-do list, there is going to be some Very Heavy Blogging going on over the coming week or two. And we kicked things off good the other day with the morose reflection on death and the human tendency to accidental cruelty that was this post. So before we go wandering any further in the Forests of Deep Thoughts and dipping our toes in the Swamps of Despair and trying our hand in the Boxing Ring of 21st Century Feminism (where I will take on both Caitlin Flanagan and Linda Hirshman at the same time, in a frenzied smackdown that will involve pinching, name-calling and the bashing together of feminist heads. Are you ready to rrrruuuuummmble?!?!?), we need a little ephemera. To lighten things up…

1) Why the It’s Not Easy Being Green Dancers will not appear on America’s Got Talent.

Because – need I actually spell this out for you? – it is beneath them. What greater insult to their art than to be placed alongside Bobby Badfingers (um, eww) and a dancing, milk-spraying cow and judged by the Dark Lord of the Dregs of Inexplicably Popular Culture?

And, because Kermie lost a leg in a crawl-by gumming.

It was entirely coincidental that, instead of Gerber’s Gourmet, WonderBaby dined on cuisses de grenouilles en bechamel that evening.

2) Zanta strikes again:

Dateline: Bloor West Village, 3:45 pm Tuesday June 20, 2006

Yep, that’s WonderBaby in the foreground. Completely non-plussed, intent as she was on gumming that bicky into submission while fighting sleep. And that woman behind him, in the polyester slacks, with the home perm and the shades? No idea who she is. But moments after this picture was taken, she dropped to the ground and did a rolling side-kick to the back of Zanta’s knees and took him down. It was beautiful.

3) You tell me. Lance Armstrong or Steve Zissou?

The Life Aquatic, Tour de France style.

4) Toronto Mama real life liquor-soaked playgroup bloggin’ has gone off-site, to another blogspot location. (No, I am not trying to turn the blogosphere into my own little SimCity. And no, I am not making a run at world domination. I prefer to think of my efforts as falling somewhere between those of Pericles and Mr. Rogers. More Sesame-Street-gone-Socratic than SimCity or world-historical empire-building.)

And this little project is, for the moment, largely functioning in a blog-decluttering capacity. My last handful of posts have all had Toronto Activity Announcements tacked onto them and, you know, that kind of stuff can really interfere with the clean poetic lines (cough) of an otherwise tidy (cough) post. So. All discussion of mama-blogger things Torontonian (that is, at least, those things coming from this corner) will now occur over here, a place that I was so tempted to call Her Bad Mother’s Backyard, or Her Bad Mother’s ‘Hood, but that I don’t want it to be entirely mine. (This isn’t BadMotherVille. If anything, it’s WonderBabyLandia, but we’re trying to discourage imperial impulses ’round here these days.) Check it out, and check back for latest news about the upcoming get-together.

Deep Reflection Bloggin’ and Feminist Smackdown Bloggin’ to commence shortly…

*******

Please visit the Basement for a cookie and chat with our current visitor. While you’re there, you might also check the back corner, where there is a Dad – yes, a DAD – venting over a beer. Give him your support, ’cause Dads need love, too…

Sticks and Stones

June 22, 2006

There are about six thousand things that I’m sitting on posting about.

Okay, maybe just ten:

1) The fate of Kermit, and why the It’s Not Easy Being Green Dancers will never end up on America’s Got Talent.
2) What America’s Got Talent, and the presence of David Hasselhoff thereon, reveals about America’s Capacity for Irony. And the decline of Western Civilization.
3) My further thoughts (which, I know, you all BURN to hear) on Caitlin Flanagan, provoked by this.
4) My confusion around when the right time might be to beg the storks to bring a little sister or brother for WonderBaby to tyrannize, thereby redirecting her tyrannical energies away from me. (For the record, I’m pretty much feeling exactly what Amy is.)
5) My confusion around whether or not to begin weaning WonderBaby.
6) Why I have to break up with my playgroup/mom’s group.
7) The painful and confusing experience this week of being broken up with by a old friend for not rising above the pressures of new motherhood to be more social when I am clearly capable of being social because I BLOG. (Which would be the most hurtful and confusing thing in my week so far, were it not for a) the head-piercing ear-ache that I am currently suffering, b) terrible family crap, and c) what I’ve written about below.)
8) Relatedly, why it is really, really hard, as a new mother, to not only ‘be social’ beyond the playground, but to be ANYTHING BUT A MOTHER, and why that can really interfere with what other people consider to be normal everyday life as an adult with adult relationships.
9) More details on the effort that I am making to be social with real-life moms – because contact with other moms is vital to survival – who also happen to be bloggers (TO Mama-Bloggers-Get-Together Inaugural Event!) and a notice that there is a Dad – yes, a DAD – in the Basement, venting.
10) My second run-in with Zanta.

I have spewed out this list of posts because they are pounding on my brain and hurting my head. They’ll all get posted. But not today. Today, I am sick. And overwhelmed by some family issues. And run to the ground by WonderBaby-Gone-Turbo. So I was not going to post. I’ve been resisting posting since yesterday.

But something is really, really bothering me.

The other night, I received an e-mail from my sister. Among other things, she said this:

“I have to plan for the talk I am giving Tanner’s class about Muscular Dystrophy. It came out last week that some kids are telling Tanner he is going to die soon…”

Children in my nephew’s kindergarten class are telling him that he is going to die. Which is especially disturbing – for those of you who do not know the full story about my nephew – because it is true. He has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. His muscles are wasting away. When the muscles that are his heart and lungs give out – most likely while he is still very young – he will die.

Which is something that, as you can imagine, is handled with the utmost delicacy by his family. Tanner knows that there is a problem with his muscles. He knows that he has to see doctors all the time. He knows that he has to use leg braces, and that there is a wheelchair waiting for him. He knows that he has a very special wish because of these things. But he has not fully understood that this all means that he is going to die, and what it means that he is going to die.

Death is pretty abstract for young children. But even in kindergarten, they know that it has something to do with going away forever. They know – they worry – that it might hurt. Tanner worries. He knows that death has something to do with him. He just can’t yet understand what or why that is.

Which is why it is that these children taunting him about death is so hurtful. His proximity to death isolates him. It’s what makes him different. But unlike having red hair or an accent, it’s not something that he can embrace. The fact of death being in his future in a way that it is not for other children is a painful thing. And so, by calling him out for it, these children are hurting him. Badly.

I’m not angry at the children. They’re confused by death, and by Tanner. But they’re confused because they don’t understand, and they have not been encouraged to understand. Tanner has been excluded from the social world of children since he was diagnosed with DMD. He has never been invited to a playgroup, or to a birthday party (and in the latter case, he is always the only child in the class that is excluded.) When his mother approaches other mothers about playdates, excuses are made. The other children do not play with him. He is isolated among them because they have been taught, however unintentionally, that it is okay to isolate him.

And it’s this, I think, that has created the conditions wherein these children think that’s okay to tease him about dying. And I’m angry about that.

Maybe I’m not being fair. Kids are kids, right? But Kristen’s post today reminded me that WE shape our children. We are responsible for whether or not they are considerate and kind. For whether they pinch or punch or pull or tease. For whether they hurt other children. For whether they understand that ignoring or isolating others can be as hurtful – can be more hurtful – than any pinch.

Please, fellow parents, take the time to find out whether there is a child in your childrens’ class or group who is seen as different. Ask your child why. Ask your child whether that child is teased or bullied or just ignored. And then encourage your child to not participate.

And ask yourselves whether you do anything – however unintentionally – that teaches your child that it’s okay or acceptable to shun those who are different. Have you ever turned away from, or refused to make eye contact with, someone in a wheelchair? Someone who looks funny, or walks funny? I realize that this is a tough one: we don’t want to teach our children to embrace absolutely everybody (this is not safe), especially people that make them uncomfortable. But we should be able to teach them how to discriminate considerately. They don’t have to be friends with everybody. They can and should ignore other children who are mean to them. But shouldn’t we teach them that it is never okay to single out one child for exclusion? That difference in and of itself shouldn’t be a basis for discrimination? That being hurtful is never okay?

Maybe I’m wrong. (Am I wrong? Am I being too judgmental here?) But if I could say one thing to the parents of the children in Tanner’s class (who, I think, need the talk that my sister is going to give more than the children do) it would be this: ask yourselves what you would want and expect from other children and parents if your child were in Tanner’s shoes. And then conduct yourselves accordingly.

Golden Rule, Categorical Imperative, whatever. Do unto others. Play nice, be nice.

And teach your children to do the same.

Feels and Squeezes…

June 20, 2006

…’Cause you know that’s what they really want, right?

Yep, it’s time for the Dad-Blogger Totally Manly Handshake/Laddish Back-Pat/Hey Buddy Shout-Out.

Featuring the It’s Not Easy Being Green Dancers!

Are we on yet?

But first, by way of introduction, a reflection on the Mommy-Blogger Love-In (thereby allowing HBM to jam last week’s forgotten Weekly Squeeze in here)…

When I put the call out for posts celebrating mama-bloggers, I was hoping that it would provoke reflection about what makes this community (YES) and its members so great. That it would give us all pause to consider why we blog, in the fullest sense of participating in this community as both writers and readers. That it would cause us to look around and recognize the tremendous awesomeness surrounding us. That it would make us feel good.

And, that it would allow us all to indulge in some shameless link-whoring. ‘Cause in my view, there ain’t nuttin’ wrong with that. We all got a little blog slut in us – let’s embrace it. Sluts are fun.

So while all us blog-sluts were frolicking with our links, I noticed two things. First, that there were very few – until recently, NO – male participants. I realize that this was a Mommy-Blogger Love-In, but that didn’t preclude guys from shouting out to the moms that they read. I know that they’re reading, and I know that they like us. And doesn’t every guy like parties where the girls all hug and tickle and get drunk and all kissy-faced? Still, I understand if this whole Love-In thing seemed to involve too much estrogen. It might have felt too much like putting on a dress. I get that.

But this lead me to the second thing: despite the hormone-gassing estrogen levels surging throughout the posts, there was still the occasional pause to consider the men. Mostly Dutch from Sweet Juniper, who is, according to some, a Mommy-Blogger in Dad’s clothing. This, in any case, was the assertion of Mo-Wo, in her post ‘Eclectic Kool-Aid Acid Test [Pattern]’ (this would get prize for best title, if I was awarding such prizes), and Melanie in Orygun said much the same thing.* (As it happens, I also talked about Sweet Juniper in my own shout-out post. But I was shouting-out to Wood, not Dutch.)

(Hey. If Dutch is the Mommy-Blogger at Sweet Juniper, does that make Wood the Daddy-Blogger? Does that sort of thing go over in Detroit?)

I think that Dutch’s possible status as a Drag Mom raises some important, or at least interesting, questions about what constitutes manliness in the blogosphere. (Is it possible to be manly while waxing poetic about your family in a public forum? Would one have to include stories about bullfighting and deep sea fishing to really man a blog up? In my opinion, no, but I tend to to be too literal about these things. I’d begin from the ancient Roman ideal of manliness – which is the root of our term virtue [vir is Latin for man] – and work up through the weakening of that ideal of manliness by Christianity, and on towards Rousseau’s bourgeois man before turning to Hemingway and such figures as Michael Landon as Pa Ingalls [here I would be indebted to Dutch.] Finally, I would consider whether Dave Eggers can be considered to be manly, especially in comparison to Dog the Bounty Hunter, who may or may not be manly, depending upon where one stands on the issue of overcompensation with regards to manliness. After all of this, we might have an operating definition of manliness to work with.)

(Loves me this subject. Takes up a goodly amount of space in my dissertation.)

But, as always, I digress. Considerations of manliness in the blogosphere will have to be left for another day. (Men? Care to take me up on these questions?)

For the moment, our business is celebrating Dad-Bloggers, regardless of whether they are manly or only sorta manly or metrosexual (can one be manly and metrosexual?) or totally girly. And so we have…

The Great Dad-Blogger Shout-Out

There were a handful of posts composed for the express purpose of celebrating Dad-Bloggers. Wordgirl did hers before I even got the call for posts out. For her, there is no question that Dad-Bloggers are manly. The measure of a man, she say, is the depth of his love for his children. And a man that wears that love on his sleeve? HOT. A man that writes that love for all the world to read? Ovary-percolating hot. Her hotties: Chris at Rude Cactus, Chag at Cynical Dad and Nilbo. Reading them, apparently, will make you pant.
Mo-Wo carries the hot theme forward with “Red Hot Chili Papas,” in which she proclaims her love for Dad-Bloggers and her indebtedness to them for drawing her into the blog world. It was sweet-talkin’ Daddytypes, she says, that first lured her in; then came ‘all good things t-shirt’ on Sweet Juniper, and then MetroDad, and Dadcentric and Cheeky’s Hideaway, and Jason et al. Melinor, in her post, grumbles that she already did a shout out dammit when she included Dutch in her Mommy Blogger Ode, but then goes all gushy fangirl all over again and repeats her Sweet Juniper praise before gushing all over Kevin, Matthew of Defective Yeti, DJ Blurb (Mr. Dooce), and her friends Axe, George and Fern.
And then just when you’re thinking that Wordgirl, Mo-Wo and Melinor read a LOT of Dad-Blogs, Sarah of Sarah and the Goon Squad, from this day forward to be known as Totally Awesome Ultimate Tomboy Sarah (she sports blogs with the guys. Sports blogs.), says this: ‘I read more Daddy Blogs than Mommy Blogs‘ and offers up the list to prove it: Crouton Boy, The Blogfathers, Dadcentric, Cheeky’s Hideaway, Child’s Play X 2, Cynical Dad, Dad Gone Mad, Dad2Twins, Genuine, Kemp, Lim Babies, MetroDad, Mr. Big Dubya, The Odd Mix and Rude Cactus. And Bump, Dutch, P-Man, Gene and Miles Etc. Aaaand Because I’m Your Father, Two Okapis, Poop and Boogies, Chocolate Makes it Better, The Hygiene Chronicles, Scott Rant Spot, Daddy in A Strange Land, The Jasper Chronicles, Not-For-Profit-Dad , Mr. Nice Guy, IFLYG, Pet Cobra and some sports blogs that are written by men who may or may not have children. And The Kaiser who contributes at Draft Day Suit.
Got all that?
So the blog-girls loves them their bloggy men and aren’t afraid to say it. But MetroDad totally represented for the boy side of the gym and proclaimed loudly (and not for the first time) his appreciation for other Dad-Bloggers. And nobody called him a big ole girl for doing it.
Some that are on his current reading list: The Bradstein Household, And then there was a pickle…, Zygote Daddy, The Hygiene Chronicles, Denver Dad, VampDaddy, and Mo-Wo’s fella, p-man.
Check all of these guys out. And check these guys too (mama bloggers shouted all over my comments about these guys, as well as those mentioned above, who I have not yet included below):
(In no particular order, because I am TIRED AS HELL and attempting alphabetic order would probably cause my head to pop clean off. And it is for this very reason that I cannot – CANNOT – sort through the multiple links above to figure out who was mentioned and how many times in comments and add them to the list below. I’ll get to it eventually, though, and then we will have a big-ass Dad-Blogger list that I’ll put up with the Mommy Blogger List. ‘Kay?)
Rice Daddies
The Blogfathers
Freezio
DaddyPlace
The Mike Stand
Bobo and Joey
Tony from Creative Types
Moobs
Rick
The LawnWhisperer
Cocktails with Kevin
Jeff (ViewFromTheCloud)

Odd Mix
mr. nice guy
Adventure Dad
Rebel Dad
noodad
Laid Off Dad
Woodge
Have I missed anybody? Anyone that you want to add? Let me know!

Are we done? Can I break his legs now?

*********

TO Momma’s get-together!

So it looks like Friday, June 30th is our day. (Not everybody can make these date, I know, but no fear – this will only be the first of many!) The plan so far is this: a daytime gathering in the park with the babes, and reconvening for an evening drink after babes have been put to bed/to sitters/to husbands. Parks have been narrowed down to Dufferin Grove (central) and Withrow (east side). Cast your votes now (leave a comment here or e-mail me), and let me know if you plan to join us for one or the other or both gatherings (day and/or evening). Precise details will be posted once settled, in a few days.

All are welcome (and no – since some of you have asked – you don’t absolutely need to have a baby.) Looking forward to meeting you!

Mêtêr Politikon – Part II

June 18, 2006

This is Part II of a two-part (read, breathtakingly pedantic) post. If you haven’t already, you can catch up on Part I here.

I will prepare a Father’s Day breakfast for Bad Husband while you catch up on your reading.

All caught up? Good. Now that you have been hypnotized by my proficiency in Greek and my food styling talents, I will reveal to you that this post is very, very long. If you’re short on time or bored already, you may skip ahead to the conclusion: (Blog) Party Politics According to HBM.

So, as I was saying…

There has been much talk recently about how political the blogosphere can be, and so how like high school it can feel here. But in my humble opinion – and this is only opinion, so feel free to disagree – our corner of blogosphere is not political, where politics is understood to refer to the pursuit of power, influence or status. (Again, see yesterday’s post for the background to this argument.)

And it is not like high school.

I don’t know what your high school was like, but social life at all of the high schools I attended (we relocated frequently) was defined by tribal politics. The population at each school was divided according to tribal allegiance – usually determined according to such nebulous criteria as whether collars were worn up or down – and the boundaries of these allegiances were rarely if ever crossed. As a perpetual new girl, I was frequently in the position of total outsider: no understanding of the social history of the tribes in any given school, no understanding of the nuances that distinguished members of one tribe from another (jock from prep, art geek from book geek, stoner from rocker), no idea whether collars were supposed to be up or down. So I usually hung on the outside for quite a while, until an art geek or drama geek or book geek or goth chick noticed me cross-legged in front of my locker at lunchtime wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt (Never Mind the Bollocks!) or The Cure’s concert tee and reading The Bell Jar.

I was never admitted to a high-caste tribe until my last two years of high school, when my family moved from Vancouver to Ottawa and I enrolled in a high school that organized its student council according to grade averages. That is, the student government (with the exception of Head Boy and Head Girl) was appointed by the School Powers and the criteria for appointment was good grades (a confused effort, I think, to produce a high school version of the Just City described by Socrates in the Republic. Philosopher-Weenies Rule!) Suddenly, I was in.

And it was political. We all jostled for the plum positions on Council and griped and gossiped and undermined each other. We looked down our noses at students who weren’t ‘university-stream’ and so outside the circle of influence. I was still an art/drama/book geek, but now I was one with power: I insisted that the kids in black get the same concessions for their activities as football players and cheerleaders got for theirs and I won my arguments by disparaging the latter. I thumbed my nose at cliques that I thought were not cool – um, football and cheerleading – and refused, with my friends, to consort with those lesser beings or go to their parties.

I was a cow. I was Tracy Flick in artfully arranged vintage clothing and a serious I’m-too-smart-and-hip-for-you attitude problem. The sort of monster that could only be created by an industrial accident resulting in the personality fusion of a female Duckie Dale and the Shannen Doherty character from Heathers. Which is to say, I became political in the worst way. I had been on the outside for so long that when I got in, I became a tyrant. (Some of my drama buddies called me DBH. Drama Bitch from Hell. I loved it.) I was secretly thrilled at being able to exclude people. And I felt completely morally justified in doing so, because I was excluding members of the tribes that had long excluded me and my kind.

(Having indulged my big pretentious self yesterday by citing Aristotle in transliterated Greek – tho’ I did remove the Greek characters because that was just freaky and hard to look at – I will refrain from rambling into a digression on Nietzsche and ressentiment here. You’re welcome.)

My point is this: I’ve been on both sides of the quote-unquote politics of high school. I have been subjected to such politics, and I have subjected others to such politics. I’ve seen how viewing everything through the lens of politics, how insisting that everything is political, begets – you guessed it – politics. And I’ve seen how it can get uglier and uglier. I’ve been part of keeping things ugly. I get it. I know it. I don’t like it.

And the blogosphere – or at least, our corner of it – is not it. Not on my watch, anyway.

We might end up in all variety of social clusters here, but those cluster are not tribes. In my experience, no one excludes anyone else because they aren’t wearing their collar properly or lacking the requisite scrunchy. I’ve never seen – and if you read Mrs. Chicky’s recent post, you’ll see that I’m not alone in this – a mama or dad blogger get nasty about another blogger, and I’ve never seen gossip or back-biting. (I’m excluding blogtards here.) I’ve seen some discussions get uncomfortably spirited, but I wouldn’t – for the most part – characterize those controversies as political in a social sense. Even when those discussions get uncomfortable, I would still say that they are political in the classical sense (again, see my last post for the background here) of demonstrating the human need for discursive connection and exchange. And there is, always, in those cases, a host of voices calling for everybody to calm the fuck down and speak to each other nicely.

Yes, we cluster. But again, not tribally. Our clusters are fluid, dynamic. They’re the clusters that form in really big, really good parties. Parties where there’s a fascinating mix of people who are meeting for the first time but who know right away that pretty much everyone in the room is fascinating. This corner of the blogosphere, it’s like a big ole salon-cum-symposium-cum-agora-cum-playgroup. Large clusters form around some people more than others, but people still keep moving. There’s much conversation, and some dancing. Some people wander off in small groups to smoke illegal substances in the bathroom and giggle at urinals. But everybody ends up making the rounds in some way or another. Even the really popular folks. Everybody mills about, telling their stories, and listening to other stories.

Yes, we check out each others’ dance cards (blogrolls). We’re flattered and pleased when we get on dance cards. We look to see (check our sitemeter) who is listening when we tell our stories. We check the group that has gathered around us and notice whether or not the person whose story we were listening to and commenting upon the other day is among the listeners. We wonder if they’ll turn up and say something (comment) about our story. We look at everybody gathered ’round and wait for a response. We hurt a little bit if nobody comes to listen, or if a small crowd gathers ’round but stares at us blankly.

Periodically someone starts a party game (meme) – a round of I Never, anyone? – to shake things up a little. We’re secretly thrilled when someone asks us to join in. A lot of efforts are made to make everyone feel welcome. Some of us suggest topics for discussion and invite everyone in. Or we do rounds of introductions, of a sort. We applaud each other. A lot.

We form friendships. We develop crushes. We get excited when someone new walks in the room and tells a story that makes us laugh or cry or remember. We thrill when one of the more popular party-goers listens to and comments on one of our stories, or – be still our beating hearts! – mentions us in one of their stories. We get angry when some jealous tard crashes the party and throws plastic cups (snarks) at our friends. We cry when someone who we’ve come to know – or even, sometimes, someone that we hadn’t noticed before, or someone who is protecting themselves behind a party mask – suffers. Or disappears into the night.

We offer support. Lots of it.

We ((((hug)))).

We get close.

The thing about this grown-up party: it’s a party full of people that we like – a lot – or will like or could like or maybe would like if they stopped swearing so much (someone said this of me in a comment to one of the Mommy Blogger Love-In Posts.) We have the most important things in common. We love our children. We love to write. We are smart and funny. We love our children. And so a strange intimacy develops. We share more with each other than many do in their real life friendships. We make meaning together. For better or for worse, we’re close.

And so we’re able to hurt each other. Not in the sticks-and-stones way, or the high-school-politics way, but in the way that friends and would-be friends and intimate strangers do. Accidentally. By forgetting or overlooking or neglecting. It stings a little when someone you like stops coming ’round. It’s uncomfortable to turn up at a party and not be noticed. It sucks to tell a story, start a conversation, and get no response.

That stuff feels bad. But it’s not politics. It’s the natural discomfort that comes from being in community, from interaction and discourse and friendship. Community is great, but it’s not going to make us feel great all of the time. That’s life.

And this is probably true to an even greater extent in this community – this life, it’s the writer’s life. We’re all here because we’re (yes) writers. We want to be heard. We want audience. If we didn’t we’d just be keeping personal journals. So, for us, it stings a little more bitterly to not be heard. We entered this community of writer-parents to find community as parents and as writers. And although being in community is, as I said in Part I, all about discourse, this is nowhere so true as it is in a writing community. We are making our meanings here as writers and as parents and that, for us, requires speaking and listening and being heard.

So, yeah, it sucks when we’re not getting as much of that as we might like. But that’s life. That’s the writer’s life.

So? Suck it up. Turn it around. Do something about it.

Yeah. Suck it.

So, herewith: (Blog) Party Politics According to HBM (or, How We Rock It In Her Bad Hizzouse.) Feel free to adopt these principles as your own.

1) Everyone’s invited. Except blogtards. If you’re a meanie and you know it, stay away.

2) Introduce yourself. If this your first time to this blog, say so. Make sure that there’s a link back to your blog so that I can come over and say hello.

3) Try to not be hurt or offended if I don’t come over right away. This is a pretty busy party and there are a lot of discussions going on and stories being told and I have short attention span. And, I’m packing a baby. A squirmy baby. Approach me again, remind me that you’re out there. (And, don’t automatically assume that I’ve forgotten you. I read, like, ten thousand blogs. I can’t always comment. And sometimes I forget where and when I’ve commented. I get disoriented easily at parties. Be patient.)

4) Be social. Let everyone know that you’re here. Join in on party games and celebrations and support circles and the like. And don’t be shy about proclaiming your stories. Let’s banish the term ‘link-whoring’ right now. Or rather, let’s embrace it and be unashamed blog hussies and hustlers. Got a story that you want me to hear? Let me know. E-mail me, leave a comment, say it loudly – COME READ THIS. Ask me to link to something that you’ve written and I’ll do it, happily (aforementioned restrictions on meanness apply here).

5) Don’t get too caught up in how many comments you’re getting. We all love getting feedback – it’s one of the things that keeps us writing in this forum. But whether you get 5 or 10 or 20 or 100 comments on your posts, appreciate the feedback that you do get. And remember that comment numbers aren’t necessarily commensurate with writing talent or how loved you are. Girl’s Gone Child only gets a fraction of the number of comments that Dooce gets, but she – Rebecca – is a phenomenal writer (one of the very best, on-line or off) and a brilliant humorist and is much, much loved.

6) Try to take blogrolls with a grain of salt. They’re often not fully representative of a blogger’s actual activity at the pary. I, for example, am disgracefully lazy about my blogroll and rarely update it. So my new policy is this: blogroll is going to go on a separate page. And, like Izzy and others, I’m making it a voluntary, self-inclusive blogroll. Wanna be on it? Let me know and I’ll put you there.

7) Take a time-out if you need it; partying hearty can be draining. Step outside for some air. We’ll still be here when you get back. But if you step outside for a long while, let us know when you’re back.

8) Enjoy the party. And if you’re not enjoying it, give some careful consideration to possible reasons why. If you realize that you want a quieter corner, make that happen. If you’d like to be more involved, attract more people to your stories, just do it. But if you’re frustrated about not being the centre of attention, reconsider your reasons for being here. We’d all love for our writing to bring us attention, requests for ads, paying gigs, and the like (I’ll be honest – I certainly would. Mothering doesn’t pay well. But I curse like a sailor and am incapable of writing succinctly so it’s probably a very long shot.) But if that’s the primary reason that you’re here, you’ll probably end up frustrated and disappointed. Blog because you love blogging, because you love writing, because you love writing about your children, because you love community with other writers who love their children. Write about what you want to write about, tell the stories that you want to tell, and enjoy this great community while you do it.

Enjoy it. Through good times and bad. Embrace the crazy politics that is making meaning and becoming human through community.

And remember that high school is in the past.

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Now bringing the party live! Any Toronto mamas out here who want to start getting together from time to time? Daytime, evening, weekend? Park with babbies? Bar without babbies? Both? Sunshine Scribe’s recent post about how tardish some real-life moms can be got me thinking that it really is INSANE that we subject ourselves to boring playgroups or hostile competimommies when we know that there are lovely, literate, funny ladies lurking out there.

Leave a comment or send me an e-mail with your preferences and I’ll organize something and announce it on the blog…

The Best of Men

June 17, 2006

Part II of Mêtêr Politikon will go up tomorrow (Sunday), after I have made my guy a really nice breakfast and then passed the child off to him. Catch up here.

Tonight, we interrupt regularly scheduled blogging for a Very Special Father’s Day post…

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My Men
Her Da.

Who I love beyond measure. To whom I am oh so grateful – for us, for her, for this family, for this life. For love.

I love every inch, every ounce, every breath, every moment of you. From baby to boy to man to father and beyond, I have loved do love and ever will love you.

Beautiful son (eternal gratitude to your father, for, with your mother, raising such a son)

Beautiful boy (with, already, a glimmer of the man)

Beautiful father (your heart now beats outside your chest)

Beautiful heart

My Dad.

Who was and is the first man in my life. Who has and will always have my heart. Who I love forever.

Who has always given me his heart

Whose heart I have always and will always cherish

Whose heart she will always cherish.

I love you both, best of men. We love you both. Always.

Always.

Mêtêr Politikon – Part I

June 16, 2006
(Mêtêr Politikon: Political Mother)

I swore up and down to myself that I was not going to do any more posts about blogging. This week, anyway. Between Flickian angst and CHBM-MOW celebrations and Dad-Blogger blogging, it’s pretty much been a week of bloggy navel gazing. With an occasional break for sleep-deprived rambling about gods and penises and stories about Zanta sightings.

But I can’t help myself. I cannot resist temptation. And, since it is my blog, why should I resist? It’s my blog and I’ll navel-gaze if I want to.

Both Izzy and Nancy wrote this week about the frustrations of the blogroll. Kristen wrote about the politics of commenting the other week. Scarbie wrote about her frustrations with blog politics some weeks ago. And earlier this week I wrote about my worries about being perceived as a blogger who plays politics. A common theme? That the blogosphere – that corner of it that is occupied by parents, in any case – is political. That it sometimes seems a lot like high school.

It was while reading Izzy’s post – and rambling on in an excessively wordy comment to that post – that it suddenly occurred to me what was bothering me about the arguments concerning blog politics: the assumption that politics is a bad thing. Commenters to the above discussions tended to break into two camps: those who are really bothered by blog politics, and those who try to avoid being bothered by blog politics (I situated myself in the latter category.) In both cases, however, the same assumption: politics is a bother. Politics is bad.

I didn’t question this assumption (shame on you, political scientist!). I totally empathized with everybody who said that they had had moments of frustration with the norms and mores of the blogging community. I nodded silently when ‘high school’ and ‘cliques’ were invoked. I didn’t think twice when the word politics was used again. And again. And again. But even as I nodded, I was a little bothered. I understood and appreciated everything that everyone was saying. But I was bothered, discomfited. Was it because it was all hitting too close to home? (My big fear for a few bloggy moments, especially after Scarbie’s post: that I was, or would be perceived as, big ass-kissy Tracy Flick of a politicker in the blogosphere. Then, after some self-interrogation and reflection, I confirmed for myself that I was not, and fuck anyone who thought otherwise.) No. So if not that, what?

Then, while commenting on Izzy’s post, and wondering again why I was so bothered by the topic (not, I should stress, by Izzy’s treatment of it), it hit me. I DISAGREED.

Entirely.

HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD.

I do not think that the blogosphere, or our corner of it, is political. Or, to be clearer, I do not think that it is political in the sense that people mean when they use the term ‘political.’ I think that to whatever extent the blogosphere is truly political, that politics is nothing to be unduly bothered by.

And I do not think that this little community is like high school.

I’ll explain why in a sec. Which is to say, in the next post. Tomorrow. (So, if you are, because of wrinkles in blog time, reading this tomorrow: in a sec.)

But first, I need to go all POL 101: Introduction to Politics on your asses. And, once again, sickeningly rah-rah.

Politics on a level with politicians is generally and understandably understood to be somewhat unseemly. Calling someone a politician has never been a compliment. Describing a social situation as political is usually shorthand for ‘socially difficult.’

High school, it is often said, is political. There is much jostling for social position and forming of alliances. There is exclusion for the purposes of defining the boundaries of such alliances, the better to demarcate circles of power and identify outsiders. It is competitive. It can be brutal. It is political. But it is only political in the narrow sense of the term, as it refers to the pursuit and maintenance of power, to the practices associated with the acquisition and/or exercise of power within a social body or organization.

(PRETENTIOUS ACADEMIC ALERT.)

The classical understanding of politics is much broader. Man, Aristotle said, is a political animal. (ho anthropos physei politikon zoon, Polit., 1253 a 2). To say that man (and woman) is political is to say that he (or she) requires interaction – rational, discursive interaction – with other human beings in order to fully develop as a human being. Unlike other social animals – ants, bees – human beings make meaning through speech. We reason through speech (the ancient Greek word logos (λογος) refers to both speech and reason.) We require community with others if we are to exercise, and so develop, speech and reason. We do not live in community simply to survive. We live there to thrive.

When we talk about high school being political, we are not thinking of politics in the classical sense, in the sense of that human dynamic by which we – through discourse – thrive. But that is exactly the sense of politics that I think of when I think about the politics of blogging.

I do not think about the exercises associated with the acquisition of status and power. I think about logos.

Tomorrow: why mommy-blogging is not Heathers, with special reference to the incomparable Mrs. Chicky, and blog politics according to HBM. And, a call to Toronto mamas about finally getting the fuck together.

And then, on Tuesday, she will stage a blog-production of Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae. In Greek.

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MISCELLANY
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My post of yesterday was my 100th post. Was I supposed to attach streamers and balloons to it? Or something?
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This week’s edition of Mrs. McFeely’s Weekly Squeeze will appear as part of the Dad-Blogger Shout-Out, to be posted early next week.

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