Archive for October, 2006

Rooms With A Skew

October 31, 2006

(In which I dither and cavil and wring my hands once again! Yay! Maybe we should just call this blog Her Angsty and Unsettled Mother…)

I’ve never really considered myself to be a contrarian. If anything, I’ve always worried that I tend too much toward being agreeable. I’ve always been keenly interested in having people like me, and being contrarian isn’t particularly conducive to that end. That said, I’ve been told that I can be pretty forceful in expressing my views, and my husband has been known, on certain days of the month, to refuse to discuss what he reads in the newspaper with me for fear that I will aggressively insist upon such engagement, but still. I think of myself as pretty agreeable, the sort of person who nods a lot in response to whomever is speaking and who peppers her responses with a lot of ‘yeah-yeahs’ and who generally expresses at least some sympathy with any semi-articulate and semi-reasonable opinion.

(This has been influenced, in part, by years of teaching, an activity in which even outright disagreement should be veiled in the politest of terms: why, no, I had never considered the possibility that Socrates was under the influence of narcotic substances while engaging in dialectic. Yes, you are quite right that he does seem to like a good party. But while that does open up some interesting possibilities for interpretation of the entire Platonic corpus, I think that, for the purposes of discussing his teaching on virtue as outlined in the Meno, we need to proceed from the assumption that he was more or less lucid.)

So I was a little surprise by my reaction to the Motherlode conference, which was a wonderful conference, full to bursting with interesting women and great ideas, but which also provoked in me a powerful desire to shout contrary opinions. Not because I fundamentally disagreed with the principles of the conference or the ideas being bandied about there, but, rather, because I was recoiling from some vague but powerful feeling of being expected to conform.

I know. Confusing. I’m still confused, myself. Bear with me.

Here’s the thing: I broadly agreed with most of the principles – feminism, community, empowerment, yada, yada – that provided the groundwork for much of the discussion at the Motherlode. I identify myself as a feminist. I believe strongly in feminism, if we understand feminism broadly as support for women. I believe in the importance of action, and in human beings helping themselves and each other. I believe that mothers should stick together, support each other, help each other along. I believe in community.

BUT.

I’m uncomfortable in a room where these beliefs are simply expected of me, as a condition of membership in the group occupying the room, and where it is simply assumed that I will nod my head and agree – agree that all women should be feminists, that there is something wrong with mothers who do not identify themselves as feminists, that conservatism is bad, that anything other than social liberalism is bad but that economic liberalism tends toward bad because business and capitalism and power are bad, bad, bad and antithetical to the ethos of womanhood and motherhood. Whether I agree or disagree with any those principles is beside the point – what makes me uncomfortable is the assumption that I will agree, and, perhaps, that I must agree. I’m uncomfortable with any suggestion that there is such a thing as a natural ethos of motherhood (or a constructed ethos of ‘good’ motherhood), universal to mothers, that encompasses a specific and coherent set of values and beliefs.

The momosphere has itself been criticized for this kind of presumed conformity, of course. It has been said that mom bloggers – and parent bloggers more generally – tend to hold similar views and opinions and that we are unlikely to fall into serious disagreement and that the momosphere, for this reason, is a pretty bland place. I think that it is true that the momosphere is largely a community of like-minded individuals – we’re a community of literate and more-or-less technologically savvy adults with children who love to write and who have the luxury of the time and equipment that allow us to indulge in the hobby of writing online. We have a lot in common, so it’s not surprising that we might have certain views and opinions in common. But I do not for one minute expect all other parent-bloggers to share my views. Nor do I believe that other bloggers expect me to always share their views – Kristen’s blog exchange debates, and the recent discussions concerning feminism, among other things, provided ample evidence that there is a tremendous diversity of opinion among parent-bloggers. We’re not KoolAid moms. Far from it: in the blogosphere, I feel free to voice contrary opinions and to disagree openly (albeit politely) whenever and wherever the mood strikes.

But at the Motherlode, I didn’t feel completely free to offer up contrary opinions, or to play devil’s advocate. When someone asked the crowd what right-thinking moms should be doing to set straight mothers who don’t identify as feminists, I wanted to ask (on behalf of Julie and Rebecca and Jennster and countless others) why it was assumed that there is something wrong with mothers who do not fully identify as feminists? When I was asked, outside of the panels, what I was doing as a blogger to avoid being compromised by commercial interests, I choked on my response – why is it assumed that I, as a mother and a feminist, would be strictly opposed to and/or worried about compromising myself for commerce? And when everybody was wringing their hands about the fact we can’t seem to get away from judging each other (this after the hand-wringing about what to do about the misguided mothers who do not identify as feminists), I wanted to ask what the hell was necessarily so wrong about judgment? Isn’t reasonable judgment – the critical evaluation of what we believe to be right or wrong, good or bad – the basis for all political action? For all debate, all discourse? (This is another post entirely; stay tuned.)

The conference – what I saw of it – was full of judgment, it seemed to me, but (with a few moments of exception) this was not the sort of open exercise of judgment that provokes serious debate on fundamental questions. There was a lot of implicit judgment, but no open interrogation of those judgments. (What’s the problem, really, with non-feminist mothers? Why should all mothers identify as feminists? Why should they all be socially liberal? Why should they be wary of Business and Commerce? Why should ‘Business’ and ‘Commerce’ always be capitalized when invoked in these discussions? Why should we view all judgment as bad? Why?)

(For the record, again – and I’m discomfited by the fact that I need/want to make this clear – my politics are emphatically not anti-feminist or anti-liberal or anything of the sort. I just think that, however ‘right’ I think my politics are, I shouldn’t assume that they are the One True Way.)

I want to be careful with what I’m saying here: I’m not saying that the Motherlode conference imposed a silence upon me or anyone else. It was not oppressive: I recognize that it was a wonderful opportunity for women to investigate motherhood on their own terms, in a welcoming space. My discomfort was my own, a product of my own issues and my own ambivalence and my own experience of what it means to be discursively comfortable. I’m accustomed to being one of a very few women in rooms full of bombastic and ambitious academic men who relish the thrill of exposing each others’ weaknesses and defending themselves against such exposure. (Or, flashing pasties at rooms full of pissy women who can only agree that words are good and that blogtards are bad and that Arianna Huffington is tall.) There’s something comfortable, for me – and I know that this sounds weird – about being in a room where everyone expects disagreement, where everyone sits around openly judging the opinions and ideas of everyone else, the better to work out what opinions and ideas are worth exploring further. Being at the Motherlode, in rooms full of so much agreement – rooms full of the expectation of agreement – discomfited me. That’s my issue. And probably a silly issue at that.

Maybe I was just messed up in the head and heart from having messed up as a mother that morning. Or maybe I should blame the patriarchy. I don’t know.

Whatever the case, it’s the thing that has been causing me some post-conference confusion. Shouldn’t I just be happy that a space has been created for mothers to go and talk and revel in their commonality and community and agreement? (I am happy for this, by the way.) Shouldn’t I have just enjoyed all of the rah-rah lovey goodness? Isn’t this what I praise the momosphere for? Aren’t I always going on about how supportive, how warm, how inviting, how agreeable the momosphere is? Why did I get my panties in a bit of twist about all of the enthusiastic agreeability at the Motherlode?

What do you think? Was I being unnecessarily curmudgeonly? Have any of you ever felt a little boxed in by others’ expectations of you – expectations about what you must or must not believe or do – in your capacity as a woman and as a mother? I’d really like to know, because I’m really not sure what to make of my reaction to this experience.

I don’t know, Kermie… I think that most people do assume that you are an environmentalist, and I think that they would be very disappointed to learn that you don’t support the Green Movement…


(Ooh! Hey! Don’t forget to check out the Basement – there’re some folks looking for advice and support and contrary opinions are welcome, if stated nicely. And if you haven’t been around the Mother ‘Hood in a while, you might check it out, too…)

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Heavy

October 28, 2006

Yesterday morning, I was in a rush. I was giving a presentation at the Motherlode conference that afternoon, I had business to attend to at the university in the morning, I had a paper to review, I had ten trillion things to deal with throughout the course of the day. Many, many miles to go before I slept, my head full of those miles, I fretted and stumbled my first steps of the day.

Husband had already left, WonderBaby was happily settled on the floor with the wonderful young woman, M, who cares for her when I am working, and my mind was spinning in sixteen different directions as I gathered up books and papers and laptop and keys and cellular phone – can’t forget this (check), can’t forget that (check), can’t forget, can’t forget – and fumbled around with my coat and absent-mindedly cooed bye-bye at WonderBaby. A distracted kiss blown from the hand, fluttering fingers tracing a harried goodbye.

Bye-bye, bye-bye, see you later, love you love you, bye…

Out the door I went.

Out the door and down the driveway and across the street to the opposite sidewalk where I kept pace a few steps ahead of an older woman who lives down the street and who, like me, was scurrying to the corner to catch the bus, too tired or lazy or frazzled to bother taking ten minutes to walk to the subway. We reached the corner.

I stopped and turned and smiled at her, a smile of transit solidarity: we’ve prevailed. The bus will not leave us behind today, we’re on pace, the day is good.

She smiled back. She said, “your baby was at the window.”

My smile vanished.

“Your baby was at the window. She was waving. You didn’t see her.”

I didn’t see her.

Every day, when Husband leaves for work, WonderBaby and I perch on the sofa by the window and wave bye-bye. Bye-bye Daddy! When M, WonderBaby’s caregiver, leaves for the day, we perch by the window and wave bye-bye. Bye-bye M! When M and WonderBaby leave for their morning walk to the park, before I head off to school, I perch by the window and wave bye-bye – bye-bye Baby! – and WonderBaby always looks to make sure that I am there, waving goodbye. She always looks. I am always there.

Yesterday, she was there, as I left. She was there, and she waved, but I did not turn back to look. I did not turn to see her there, waving goodbye.

And that, that broke my heart. I could think of nothing else for the rest of the day. Work, the conference, the words that I could hear myself speaking about motherhood and love and citizenship and community blah blah blah, words that seemed to come from a distance, that seemed to be spoken by someone else – all of it was blurred, knocked out of focus by the insistent, painful, lurching of my heart.

I’ll recover. I’ll forgive myself. But I will never forget that feeling – that feeling of having let her down, of having disappointed her. The weight of her eyes on my back – a weight that I didn’t feel at the right time, a weight that I missed (how could I miss it?) in the moment that I needed to not miss it – the weight of her eyes, the weight of her expectation, as I walked off down the drive and out into the street, away from her. The weight of her disappointment, the confused disappointment that I know she felt, however fleetingly. I will never forget the feeling of that weight. And I know that that weight will grow, as I make more mistakes, effect more disappointments. I know that there will be times that that weight will threaten to crush me.

I’ll be able to live with that weight. I must – all parents must. Some measure of such weight is inevitable, I think, in parenthood. I’ll forgive myself. And she’ll forgive me, for the future mistakes, the disappointments.

But that weight is there, now. I’m carrying it. It’s heavy.

Love pedantry? Try this on for size!

October 24, 2006

(… if not, just skip to the miscellany and gratuitous WonderBaby photo at the end. It’s okay. I’ll understand.)

“The Public Mother: Motherhood and Citizenship in Political Thought”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ‘Emile; Or, On Education’ was the first work of modern political philosophy to examine the raising of children as a fundamentally political exercise. However, although Rousseau argues in the Emile that the work of mothers serves an important political end – the creation of good citizens – he, like most other political philosophers ancient and modern, nevertheless regards this work, and the lives of mothers generally, as essentially private. Mothers, according to Rousseau, make the greatest contribution to public life in bearing and raising children, but making this public contribution seems to require that they remain outside of the public sphere.

This paper will consider how these arguments, and those of other ancient and modern political philosophers, have shaped our understanding of motherhood and the role of mothers in the public sphere. Does good citizenship require good motherhood? Does good motherhood require a retreat – in whole or in part – from public life? Can good motherhood and good citizenship be squared differently: can public mothering (for example, participating in public discourse about mothering, by involvement in traditional public spheres such as politics, or by writing or creating art about mothering) create a bridge between the exigencies of the home as the nurturing-place of citizens and the exigencies of lived citizenship in a public sphere? And, finally, can the arguments of canonical political philosophers help women navigate contemporary debates (per Hirshman, Flanagan, et. al.) over the impact of women’s choices concerning work and family on the family and community?

Bored yet? No? Really?

Okay then. If the above doesn’t bore you silly, then you might be interested in this: I’m presenting a paper – that prattle pasted above is the abstract for said paper – at the Motherlode conference this Friday. It’s extension of my formal academic work on women and mothers in the history of political philosophy – omg YAWN – and although the abstract probably sounds all stuffy and academonically pretenshus and all, I’m actually thinking that it will be kinda fun. And! I’ll be dragging blogging into the discussion! Where I say ‘participating in public discourse about motherhood’? ‘writing or creating art about mothering’? That is, among other things, academic code for blogging. So this is where I really get to play around with confusing the boundaries of my own private and public activities. Could be interesting. Could be, like, totally, self-referentially post-modern. Could be mind-freezingly, butt-numbingly boring, but I doubt that. I’ll make some jokes, and will very possibly interrupt my own academic blather with some mild cursing, to make sure.

I’m thinking about posting some or all of my presentation – the whole paper would probably numb your brain unnecessarily – on Friday (meta! meta!), but I haven’t decided yet. It might be too much boundary-blurring for one week, a week in which I will also be lecturing to undergraduates about Rousseau on women and the family, which will almost certainly compel me to publicly wax philosophic about WonderBaby and how WonderBaby proves absolutely Rousseau’s claims that babies tend naturally toward tyranny and that mothers are generally very likely to end up bitch-slapped by said tyrannical babies.

So, yeah. We’ll see.

(If you are in Toronto, you can come and see me in action. I have been known to be marginally entertaining when speaking at conferences. I posted details here.)

*******
And, because we all loves us a little miscellany:
1) WonderBaby is, it seems, fine now. I appended an update on her condition, and on the precise character of the WTF mystery object, to my last post. Thank you, all, for your supportive words and your very creative suggestions about The Object That Is Not (Formally) A Sex Toy. (C3P0’s penis. Butt plug. Pickle juicer. Ancient Aztec fertility idol. Pod whence came WonderBaby. Nicely done.)

2) The Crazy Babby Resource Page, which is now overdue according to my own psychic calendar, is currently under development. I hope to get it up this weekend.

3) My beloved Sweetney and the ever-imperial Amalah have a new project and it is just the thing for those autumnal bloggy blahs. Now with more cowbell. Check it.

4) Mrs. Chicky has also been whipping up cures for the momospheric blues. It’s a Very Special Chicky Love Cure (not tested on animals), and as I am nothing if not a proponent of unfettered love-spreading, I must insist that you participate.
5) The Basement has been really, really quiet these days. It’s a slow, reflective time for many of us, I know, so it’s to be expected. Just remember that it’s there, if you need to get anything off of your chest. There’s always someone there to listen.
6) Speaking of chests, mine is gone. Poof. Vanished into the post-breastfeeding air. Anybody seen it? Will it ever come back? I know, love something – 36DDDs – set it free – stop breastfeeding – if it comes back it was yours – doesn’t a drawerful of jumbo catch-and-release nursing bras prove ownership? – if it doesn’t, it never was – well, fuck you then, stupid, faithless titties.

WonderBaby does not recommend pilfering local playrooms for chest-enhancing implements. WonderBaby says that toilet paper has a more realistic feel.

More evidence that the gods have it in for me…

October 23, 2006

Edit: WonderBaby update, below

You know how it goes.

The weekend starts out lovely – say, you and your husband realize that the planets are in such proper alignment that it is finally possible to celebrate your tenth anniversary, a month after the fact – and it’s all going swimmingly – you put on a new dress and go out for dinner and have martinis and oysters and lobster sous vide and multiple glasses of Chateau de Quantin – until later that night when the baby wakes up with a holler and disrupts your boozy sleep and sets you on an insomnia spin until 6 in the morning when she wakes again, all pink-cheeked and warm to the touch and dripping with snot and mad as hell that she has been compromised in her robustness and this continues through the afternoon when you discover that she has a disturbing rash across her abdomen that spreads as you watch and so you call the hospital and are given the distinctly unreassuring advice to just watch her, it *probably* isn’t an emergency but you’ll want to bring in to the doctor first thing tomorrow and do watch her because if anything changes you will want to bring her in yada yada blah and so you spend the rest of the day peering at her belly and monitoring the rash and feeling her forehead and periodically subjecting her to the indignity of the rectal thermometer and generally fretting about whether or not the fact that she is not running means that she is, in WonderBaby terms, lethargic and you make yourself crazy and you know that you’re going to remain crazy and unsettled and anxiously insomniac until you get to the doctor tomorrow.

You cling to the hope that, maybe, if you’re lucky, the hangover will pass before then and that maybe you’ll get some sleep and that you’ll feel strong and capable and in control in the morning.

(Except that, um, you? Lucky? HA.)

Just a few more days in the life of a kick-toy of the gods. You know how it goes.

I’ll be incommunicado until we get some sort of all-clear from the doctor, and I get some sleep. In the meantime, you might consider amusing yourselves, and me – I need a laugh, or at least a weak chortle – by playing WTF: The Guessing Game! with this object:


It is not, I hasten to assure you and very possibly disappoint you, a sex toy. (In any case, you think that I would risk provoking the gods further by waving phalluses about, do you? It’s usually what gets me into trouble in the first place.) But don’t let that stop your imagination from running wild.

Help a girl out. I need a laugh.

********

WonderBaby Update (and secrets of C3P0’s penis revealed!):

So, we’ve been to the doctor, and the doctors don’t know squat. The rash comes and goes – appears and disappears – which makes it seem like hives, except that it doesn’t provoke any itching or discomfort. So they can’t diagnose hives. And the fever was brief and hasn’t returned, so they don’t think that it’s roseola. And WonderBaby now seems healthy, except for the rash that has been coming and going, so they can’t say for certain that it’s viral. Could be a mysterious allergy, could be a mysterious virus. They don’t know. What they do know is that she kicked the asses of two separate doctors – wrenching various medical devices from unsuspecting medical hands and turning the medical tables (‘how’d you like a knobby thing in *your* ear, doc?’) on unsuspecting medical persons – and took off down the hall and that means, apparently, that she is likely in good health. ‘Just keep an eye on her.’ Oh, uh, OKAY.

I expect that I will be stressed for as many days as it takes for her to return to normal. Oh, hey, wait! What the fuck is normal?

Thank god for modern medicine.

And thank you all so much for keeping me laughing through the stress. Now it can be revealed: the strange plastic thingamajig that resembled, apparently, among other things, C3P0’s penis, is in fact this:

Yes, Graham, it is indeed a Banana Bunker. The better way to keep fruit interesting.

Regularly scheduled blogging will resume shortly.

Big Fish

October 19, 2006

My mother was and still is an inveterate teller of tall tales, especially in conversation with children. Any of you who read my interview with Mommybloggers.com will know that the very name for this blog originated out of an incident involving one of her tales, in this case a tale involving a crocodile, a bedroom closet, and one grandmother emulating Steve Irwin. She delights in the wide-eyed fascination of children with all things fantastic, and decided very early in her career as a mother that it was part of her job to keep the eyes of her own children and those of any children who accidentally wandered into range of hearing as wide as possible.

Accordingly, I grew up in a home in which it seemed entirely possible that there were sea creatures living in the plumbing and gnomes hiding in the closets. There were fairies and elves and imps and other magical creatures in the woods behind our house, and they lived in harmony with the animals there – the squirrels and birds that I saw every day, and the raccoons and skunks that I saw less often but knew well from the tracks in our backyard, tracks that my mother was very careful to point out and explain as evidence of the late-night forest creature moondances that occurred a few times each month. I knew that the forest creatures maintained harmony in their community through the frequent town-hall meetings that they held in a mossy stump – I knew this because my mother showed me exactly where they all sat during these meetings and held up various broken twigs and branches (used as benches) as evidence. I knew that I should never, ever pick toadstools, because if I did so I would be destroying the shelter of the littlest creatures of the forest.

I also knew that my sister and I came from a cabbage patch, and that if we unscrewed our bellybuttons, our bums would fall off.

I was reminded of my mother’s proclivity for storytelling while reading one of Jaelithe’s posts the other week, in which she raised the question (discussed with Andrea and, apparently, debated over at the Mom Trap, although I seem to have missed it, as I do everything these days) of whether lying to children undermines our credibility as parents. Do you tell your turkey-averse child that you’ve just put chicken on their plate for Thanksgiving dinner? Do you tell your child that Santa (or God) wants them to put their toys away? When your child asks, as Jaelithe’s did, about where the sun goes at the end of the day, do you tell them the truth or do you say, a la the Von Trapp children, that the sun has gone to bed and now must they?

I thought of my mother when I read this post because my mother, as should be clear from what I said above, never let the hard facts get in the way of a good story. She had it on good authority that the sun left our neighborhood at the end of the day so that he could go light up the neighborhoods of other children, who needed light so that they could play outside. She also had it on good authority that Curious George’s favorite food was lima beans, and that both God and Santa were always very happy when I picked up my toys.

The question is, was this deception? And if it was, does it matter?

In Plato’s Republic, the character of Socrates explains that there is a very great difference between a noble or fine lie, and a lie of the soul. The latter is the sort of lie that deceives in the most fundamental way – it turns a soul away from truth, puts that soul (understood as the seat of reason, among other things) on a path to ignorance. This is the worst kind of lie, because it corrupts the part of our being that is most uniquely human – that is, our reason, our ability (and desire) to seek out truth. The noble lie, on the other hand, tells the truth figuratively. Plato, among other classical philosophers, suggested that not every human soul was capable of perceiving and comprehending ‘truth,’ but that every human soul – every soul possessing the uniquely human faculty of reason, even in its most nascent form – could be turned toward truth. Set on the right path, oriented toward more correct opinions. Noble lies accomplish this work – they orient the souls of those who aren’t able, or are not yet able, to pursue truth directly.

When my mother told me that toadstools were shelters for magical creatures that I couldn’t see, she was, it might be argued, telling me a noble lie. Her lie did not obscure the truth; rather, it illuminated part of the truth for a mind that was not ready to perceive it in its fullness. Toadstools do indeed protect and nurture many creatures that human eyes cannot or do not see, and I should indeed be respectful of toadstools, and other flora and fauna, when I come across these. They are not mine to trample or use for my own amusement, and there is far greater potential stimulation to be gained from them in appreciating them as the remarkable works of nature that they are.

A very young child might not be capable of understanding the laws of planetary motion and the principles of a solar system, but she can understand that the sun has disappeared from our view, that it does so every day, and that it has something to do with the cycle of the day. We can explain that straightforwardly, or we can wrap it up in a story. Wrapping it up in a story presents the truth, or some portion of the truth, in terms that a child can understand. In terms that capture the child’s imagination, and so their curiosity.

There is something to be said for serving up the truth straighforwardly to children – for telling them the facts about the movement of the Earth and the sun, and the facts about the North Pole and about existence or non-existence of Tooth Fairies, and the truth about how little we know about what happens to us when we die. I certainly believe that we should never under-estimate childrens’ capacity for reason, and their ability to appreciate and understand ‘facts.’ And I believe strongly that the ‘truth’ – so far as I or anyone understands it – about the natural world and everything in it is as fascinating as story that my mother ever concocted.

But I think that what we gain from wrapping the truth in a story – and, occasionally, weaving fantastical tales that seem to incorporate no measure of truth – is this: we communicate to our children that the world is not prosaic, that it is a place of wonder. We teach them that the world, that life, holds many unanswered questions, and that even those questions that seem to have been settled are worth interrogating. We teach them to believe, and to doubt. We provoke their curiosity – we make them lovers of discovery, which in turn makes them lovers of wisdom. Philosophic puppies, as Socrates had it, but only in the best sense: joyfully bounding towards that which they do not know. Experiencing the unknown as an opportunity for play.

Still… my mother’s insistence, for years, that if I unscrewed my belly-button my bum would fall off is clearly an example of maternal deception. As was her insistence that there were never any mushrooms in her spaghetti sauce, that marshmallows were made of whipped cloud, and that if I lied the bottom of my tongue would turn black. And there’s an argument to be made that the belly-button lie might have contributed in some small part to some body-image confusion. But do these lies matter? My mother approached motherhood, and every second of interaction with her children, as an opportunity for fun, and my experience of childhood was entirely shaped by this ethos of laughter and discovery. And it had everything to do, too, with my love of story (supported, obviously, by the abundance of books in our household and frequent visits to libraries, but that’s another post.)

None of this is to say that deception qua deception, deception in the form of lies of the soul, should be embraced whole-heartedly. Only that it might have a place, alongside the nobler, poetic forms of lying, in making the worlds of our children rich and vibrant and alive with possibility.

What do you think?

Gratitude

October 18, 2006

You are, all of you, every single one of you who wrote, commented or reached out in any way in response to my last two posts, the most generous human beings. Your honesty about your own experiences, your candour in sharing what has and has not worked for you in tending to your children, and the warmth of your expressions of support and solidarity have been a sanity-saver during what has been a very difficult week. I have learn so much from you all, and I have felt embraced.

Thank you. THANK YOU.

Many of you have sent me links and book recommendations: Lady M sent me a whole list of relevant links (most of which were to the blog of the incomparable Mary P., who has been sending me tremendously helpful words of advice), and some of you referred me to posts that you’ve written yourselves on challenges similar to mine. I’m going to pull this all together and compile them for a resource page on these issues (broadly understood), so that I have them all in one place, and so that anyone else who finds themselves struggling with the remarkable and sometimes challenging changes that occur when baby becomes a turbo-charged toddler, and/or with issues pertaining to ‘disciplining’ small children, and/or simply feeling like a bad mother, can benefit from all of the tremendously helpful and reassuring information that you have shared with me. You have shared gold with me, people, so it’s only fitting that I share it back. If you know of further resources – posts, book recommendations, helpful blogs, sources of advice and support – please leave a note about it here and I’ll include it on the resource page.

It’s the least I can do.

Again, thank you. A million times over.

(WonderBaby, note, is ambivalent about whether or not to feel gratitude for the support that you have provided to her bad mother. On the one hand, the well-being of her bad mother is necessary to her continued well-being. On the other, you have been encouraging her bad mother to resist her attempts at domestic domination. This, clearly, verges on the traitorous.

WonderBaby trusts that you will, in future, resist any and all urges to foment revolution within her household.)

(Her Bad Mother, obviously, hopes that the Mommyblogger Underground Revolutionary Movement in Support of Beleaguered Mothers Everywhere stays strong. But that’s between us, ‘kay?)

Not seen in photo: troops of the Republican Baby Guard, standing by to free their Imperial Leader from the restraining devices and redirection strategies of Bad Mother’s Opposition Force.

This mothering shit ain’t easy, but you all are making it a hella lot easier than it would otherwise be.

You rock.

In Which Her Bad Mother Quite Unironically Seeks Assistance In Her Efforts To Practice Good Parenting

October 16, 2006
I cannot thank you all enough for your tremendously supportive response to my last post (and to my recent, related posts over at urbanmoms.ca): your comments, your e-mails, and your many virtual hugs have been so much tonic for my frazzled soul. Things are still very challenging – WonderBaby is turbo-charged for as many hours in the day as she can keep her eyes open, and then some, if the night terrors come – but the knowledge that I am not the only one struggling with feelings of maternal inadequacy, that so many of you have felt or feel right now the way that I have been feeling, has gone so, so far toward easing my anxiety and frustration. But even though ‘thank you’ is insufficient, it needs to be said: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now to business. I need more feedback and advice: how does one approach discipline with a baby that is rushing headlong into toddlerhood? WonderBaby – 11 months old yesterday – cannot be reasoned or bargained with, and she has only the most rudimentary understanding of what it means to do something that Mama disapproves of. (I think. There have been many moments during which I have been convinced that she knows exactly what she is doing. The deafening silence that falls upon the house when she is about to do something naughty – like, say, reprogram all of the electronic devices in the house – is, for example, suspicious.) Obviously, sending her to a Naughty Corner isn’t going to work.

What we currently do, when she does something that she shouldn’t: calmly and slowly say no, and separate her from whatever it is that she is doing. This, as I related the other day, is sometimes very difficult if not impossible: she’s a strong and willful baby, and if she works her well-honed arch-back-go-limp-deaden-weight move (which makes it near-impossible to lift her), her push-self-against-Mama-arch-and-throw-head-back move (which makes it near-impossible to hold her), or her arch-backward-go-ironrod-stiff move (which makes it near-impossible to get her into stroller or carseat), it can sometimes be – how to put this? – impossible to manipulate her physically. In which case, what is one to do? Obviously, in an emergency or truly desperate situation I would just wrestle her and drag her away, screaming, but I am, as it goes, reluctant to do this under ordinary circumstances. So, what is to be done? Do I just ride some things out, pick my battles, etc, etc? Or will I spoil her by doing this?

She’s a sweet-tempered baby. With so many things, she is agreeable and adaptable: if, for example, I pull her away from my laptop – as I must do frequently – she lets out a holler and stomps a foot but is over the fuss in a split-second and moves on to something else. In some cases, simply saying, firmly, NO, WonderBaby, will be enough to dissuade her from pursuing whatever nefarious activity she has set her mind to. But often, when she is really, really determined to do or not do something (eat, nap, get in stroller), there is no fighting her.

(On that subject: how does one feed a baby who refuses to eat anything but random bits of cheese and cucumber and the occasional lemon, and who refuses – REFUSES – to be spoon-fed? She’s a healthy girl – the energy level described in my last post, and her seemingly superhuman strength are evidence of this, I think – but she can go days just picking at and playing with her food. Is this a problem? How do I battle it?)

I’ve always intended to exercise a form of discipline that utilizes reasoning and discussion and getting down to child-level and teaching. But I fear that that particular resolution is doomed to the same fate as the no-garish-plastic-toys resolution and the no-DVD/television resolution (let’s just say that the week I was sick, I spent hours hunkered down on the floor in front of the television with the remote control and a stack of DVDs, trying to get Miss Business to sit still and get addicted to the screen already. That I was profoundly disappointed with my failure speaks volumes about how very, very far I have fallen.) I can’t have empowering heart-to-heart talks with WonderBaby about why it is very important to not bite one’s mother. I can’t reason with her about how very unpleasant it is to listen to screaming. She’s a baby.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea of raising my voice with her; my heart flips when I think of even speaking harshly to her. I much prefer the idea of firm and gentle – but is it enough with a despot-in-training? (Benevolent, but still.)

Despots-in-training shun toys. Despots-in-training sweep toys from shelves with one flourish of their tiny muscled arms and make those shelves their own. Despots claim territory, and if some idiotic department store employee has left a screwdriver behind with which to dismantle the structures of that territory, so much the better.

What do you all do? What did you do, when your children were very small? When did you begin exercising discipline, and how? And if you have a quote-unquote spirited baby, what do you do now?

Survivor: Child Island

October 13, 2006

So many things to write about, so little energy and time, and the distraction of this terrible, nagging, obsessive thought: that I am a bad mother.

A really bad mother, not a bad-as-in-cool mother: a mother who does not know what to do, who is totally and completely at loss when it comes to managing her ten and half month old baby. I am currently thoroughly convinced that I am doing something wrong, that there is some secret mothering practice pertaining to the care and feeding of babies-cum-toddlers that I have somehow overlooked or that has been kept from me. It’s either that, or WonderBaby is a freak-baby who can totally dominate adult human beings without stirring one of the twelve fluffy little hairs on her downy blonde head. (Some months ago, someone – I think that it was Blog Antagonist – e-mailed me to suggest that perhaps WonderBaby was a ‘spirited’ baby; she said that based upon her reading of WonderBaby’s energy level and general baby comportment, she felt that there was an argument to be made that she, WonderBaby, might be more precocious than the average baby. So we’re not ruling out freak-baby.)

She is constantly on the move. She runs, she clambers, she climbs, she programs and re-programs the DVD player. She slows down occasionally to pluck the glasses off of my face and dangle them before me, hooting her command that I put them back on now, only so that she can repeat the action. Sometimes she comes to a complete, if brief, stop, to place a book upon my lap and hoot at me to turn the pages and read. (Today, that book was, I shit you not, Aristophanes’ Clouds, and no Eric Carle or Lucy Cousins board book would distract her from the tissuey pages of that small Loeb Classical Library hardback. I did not, it may comfort you to know, read to her from the Greek text on the facing pages.) But the pauses in action are only ever brief, and it is never long before the running, hooting and climbing begin anew.

And I – I am only ever part of her circus. There is no sitting quietly aside with book or laptop or cup of coffee (oh god for a quiet cup of coffee); I am compelled to join in her leaping and frolicking and hiding under blankets. And I am, I really am, happy to do this – I love these moments of play. But they are never only moments. The circus, in our house, lasts the whole day long and into the evening, and woe betide the mother who tries to interrupt the revelry for meals or naps or any other activity that involves containment or restraint. The mundane tasks that are necessary for the collective survival of our mother/child dyad – sleeping, drinking, eating, toilet – are hard fought and hard won, if indeed I do manage to win, which is by no means a given.


Each day is a battle of wills – a battle of wills between a thirty-something woman with multiple degrees and a ten and half month old baby.

The baby almost always wins.

Something is wrong with this picture. It cannot be this way for everyone. It simply cannot. How has the human race managed to propagate itself if babies have always been able to overpower their mothers? It is inconceivable to me that, if this is indeed how hard it always is (and don’t get me started on the brutality that labour is, or that breastfeeding can be), more women haven’t just said ‘fuck this’ to motherhood and marched off to convents or the academy or Hollywood or wherever else women go when they want to try to reject their biological calling.


I must simply be a bad mother.

Today, I spent nearly an hour in the toy section of a department store because WonderBaby refused to be put back in her stroller and refused to be carried. I had forgotten the carrier at home, and because we had traveled by subway there was no easy retreat. WonderBaby was entirely engrossed in racing up and down the aisles and removing toys from shelves so that she could climb those shelves, or perch there herself. There was, curiously, no interest on her part in the actual toys on the shelves – just the shelves themselves (and, briefly, some Hot Wheels). Any efforts that I made to restore her to her stroller yielded screeching and arching of back and flinging of tiny self to floor; and efforts that I made to simply lift her and cart her out of there in my arms yielded exactly the same result. I was helpless. At one point, finally, I began to cry.

WonderBaby just looked up at me, pointed at my tear-streaked cheeks, frowned, and hooted. And then dashed back down the aisle.


All that I could think was, this is shameful. I have no control. I don’t know how to parent.

I am a bad mother.

I’m trusting that anyone reading this will understand that I am not in despair about my maternal capabilities. I’m surviving, and I’m loving my child, desperately, through this experience. Every day that I spend with this brilliant little being is filled with great joy. But most days are also filled with tremendous frustration, and confusion. How can it be this hard? How can such a sweet-natured baby be so complicated? Why can I not figure this shit out?

Bubandpie wrote recently about maternal rage, the anger that bubbles up when we feel frustrated beyond measure, and wondered whether the subject was unbloggable. Kristen of Home on the Fringe wrote about struggling with the feeling that she was the only mother in the world with a challenging child, because so few parents seem to blog about such hard times. Well, these are my hard times, and my feelings of frustration, so I’m going to say them out loud: I feel, sometimes, that I cannot manage my child, whatever that means, and I fear that that makes me a bad mother.

I know, deep down, and not so deep down, that I am not really bad. I love my girl, I love her something fierce, and she lives in the light of that love every day. For that, if nothing else, I am a good mother. But I feel like a terrible fuck-up with the rest of it.

Could somebody please tell me that it’s not just me, that it is, sometimes, this hard? Maybe not for all mothers, all of the time, but maybe, just maybe, for some of us, some of the time?

And? How, exactly, does one manage a hyper-mobile, precocious baby? She’s too young for any sort of reasoned discipline – for any discipline – and can’t be argued with. How do I stay in charge?

Will to Power in repose.

********

So many thanks to all of you who had such kind and supportive things to say in response to my gloomy Charlie Brown post of the other day. And, ditto to all of the whoots and rah-rahs in response to my Mommybloggers.com profile. All of it was wonderful, and all of it made me feel better during this very challenging week.

*******

I’m aware of this whole content-theft issue, and the Bitacle debacle, which you can read about here and here and here. There are a zillion things that I want to say about it – not least, fuck you sploggers for causing MamaTulip to shut down – but it hurts my head too much, and my limit for head-hurtage is very low right now. I will say this for now: if you are reading this on Bitacle, you are reading stolen material and if you know this already but continue to read, you should be ashamed of yourself. Oh, yeah, and? Fuck Bitacle.

*This content is the copyright of the author and may not be used without express permission.*

Tiaras are hats, too

October 10, 2006

Nothing cuts through the gloom quite like a virtual party thrown in your honour – Meghan, Jenn and Jenny of Mommybloggers.com are celebrating all things Bad Mother this week and damn if it doesn’t make me feel good. Check out the decidedly non-roasty round of toasts that some of you beautiful people made, and their interview with me, and, later today, a very special Her Bad Mother post.

(And, while you’re there, do leave your best wishes for Jenn, who had a health scare this past week.)

And to the reader who wanted the contact info for the Basement: send posts or questions to herbadmother@gmail.com

Listening to silence

October 9, 2006

I haven’t been able to blog in days.

It’s not because there’s been too much else to do on a holiday weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving.) There’s always too much else to do: blogging is usually my break from that ‘too much else.’ And it’s not because I haven’t anything to say: there are a zillion things racing through my mind, all of which are screaming to be worked out in writing.

I just feel stuck, and uninspired, and blah, and maybe just a little bit low. I haven’t been able to shake the rougher edges of this cold or flu or whatever viral thing it is that I’ve been labouring under for going on three weeks now. And I’ve been having too many moments of quiet bluesy lowness, not quite sad, not quite not-sad. Just, low. The low of rainy days and slow melodies on trombone and falling leaves and gray sky and the earthy, musty smell of summer in decay. The low of fall, when the dark and the chill come too fast, when even the brightness of the crispest and brightest of days has a sort of stark, mournful edge. I’ve been feeling low, in that way. Morose.

And stuck. Every time that I sit down at the keyboard, head crowded with ideas, my fingers freeze. The words won’t come. I type a sentence, and then almost immediately backspace and delete. It doesn’t sound right, doesn’t flow, doesn’t cohere. The ideas are there, the thoughts are there, but they just won’t work themselves out into words.

So I stop. I close the screen and flip the laptop closed and walk away. This was the deal that I made with myself some time ago – I would never force myself to write. I would only write for the joy of it, or for the release, or for solace. I would only write when it suited me.

I don’t why, exactly, it hasn’t been suiting me these past few days. I have ideas – about feeling low, about the blues, about the existential glum that autumn can impose after the brisk optimism of September has passed. About coming up on a year of motherhood, about my child leaving the first blush of her babyhood behind. About the torrent of ideas that constantly swirls in my brain, soaking it to a heaviness that sometimes feels beyond my capacity to bear. About feeling, sometimes, that my reach exceeds my grasp.

About feeling, maybe, just a little bit tired. It’s been a busy year. Lots of heavy lifting. A lot of joy and wonder and excitement, too, of course, but joy can also exact a toll. Life can sometimes just take it out of you, and no amount of exercise and vitamins can put it back.

So I had to take a short break from blogging, a few days of laying low. And I might be slow in getting back up to speed in the coming days – I’ll likely be doing more reading than commenting, and it might be a few days between posts – but I’ll just be doing what I can to coax the muse out of hiding and to orient myself to a new season of motherhood and writerhood and life.

And if the words won’t come, there will still be pictures…

‘Cause if nothing else, fall is a season for hats.

And hats are a special kind of joy.