My one year anniversary for this blog came and went sometime in September. Looking over Apron Strings with a critical eye, I noticed my sidebar explanation is a bit… overzealous. Written from the vantage point of only one kid. Whilst I aspire to having my daily life be divided among ”digging dirt, tending vegetables, dumpster diving, punk sewing projects, making all our own bread, household fix-its, and salvage construction” I seem to be mainly (and occasionally entirely) overtaken by just the “raising up little ruffians.”

As I mulled over the feeling of shortcoming, I had an epiphany.

We neo-feminist punk housewives have started to bring back some respect for the lost arts of homemaking, but it suddenly hit me that even still we are leaving the most basic female art in a dusty corner, covered by a pile of moldering towels. Making and raising babies has not experienced any of the fad-ish comeback. Canning? Oh yeah, it’s hot. Baking, ditto. Knitting, don’t even get me started. There’s a blessed wealth of new energy in the sustainable living, urban homesteading fields. Thanks largely to Shannon Hayes, we can tentatively start to call ourselves homemakers in public again.

But you’d better have something to show for it. You’d better have your house littered with DIY projects and several kinds of ferments. You’d better have a big shiny blog detailing your obsessive late night crafting and cooking exploits.

What? You’re too busy peeling small people off your legs and circumventing disasters of flour and paint to can up that 20 lb box of farmer’s market peaches? How gouche. Get a babysitter.

Because really, raising babies into mature, adjusted, respectful, independant, happy people? Where’s the glory in that? Nothing to prove yourself at the end of the day. No beasts slain or monuments erected. It’s women’s work.

Suddenly the absurdity of it hit me. Sure I am bucking the social norm by forgoing the career world and choosing to make a home and a family instead, thereby honoring the female in my own neo-feminist way. But in the end I am buying right back into the patriarchal paradigm by disregarding the humbling and dirty mama work for more glorious objectives.

I am assuming the above paragraphs rings as true in your cultural ear. But, seriously? How in the hell did we get to think that birthing and raising human beings is anything short of monumental. Suppose there were a laboratory scientist who under microscope inseminated human eggs, grew fetuses in an artificial womb, then provided just the right environment for physical and mental growth into a mature human specimen. I can only suspect this would be lauded as the highest post in the scientific realm. Heady stuff. Playing God, it sounds.

But no. It’s just playing Mom.

Because birthing and raising kids is commonplace does not mean it is anything less than absolutely extraordinary work. The highest post in the human realm (to risk making enemies). Worthy not just of respect, but outright worship. And I don’t mean I expect anyone else to bow down, but that I myself need to bow down before my own power. Yank it out from under those dank towels and worship my mothering self.

Which brings me to the kernal my life has been folding around for the last year. What is worthy of worship is worthy of Submission.

We are not taught to respect submission. Domination, that’s our bag. But I will dare to speak against the grain again and say that we whatever-we-are kind of feminists might want to reconsider. Submission in it’s pure form, shed of the baggage of polar duality, is beautiful, useful, and essentially female.

Now, don’t get yer panties in a bunch. By “female” I don’t mean only for women, or that only women naturally submit. I mean that it is the female in all of us that submits, and the male in all of us that dominates. I think we are all of us twisted up combinations of male and female qualities.

Before I get off track, let me explain further what I mean by submission. Such a dangerous word merits definition.

Because I do not mean submission to a god, or submission to your husband, or father, or priest, or pope or any of that. I mean submission to your chosen path, a gracious yielding to something beyond self. It’s what marriage means to me, and why I wanted to be married. Submission not to My Man, but to the union of Us we have chosen to make. Submitting makes it so much easier. You can let go the constant questioning, the wondering, the judging. You can stop re-examining your relationship every time you have an argument and put that energy instead into solving the conflict.

I started ruminating on submission regarding motherhood when I was visiting with a friend back home. We were talking about a woman we both knew, a mama who has given herself over entirely to being a mama. I couldn’t help but feel disdain. My friend swore this woman was happy, blissful even. I narrowed my eyes,

“But don’t you think that in some secret dark part of herself she’s all locked up and screaming?”

“No. No, I really don’t.”

I felt blind-sided.

“Maybe that’s what true submission means. Really, actually, honestly letting go of all your shit.”

I’m still not convinced that some bitter poison of stifled self will not leach in later years. Nevertheless, this shard of possibility which rubbed so wrong at first has been gathering like a pearl ever since. I feel there is something I’m missing. A keyhole empty.

I have always harshly judged the chic, city “accessory mom” who wants kids because they look good with her Saturday leisure outfit, and certainly would never let parenting get in the way of her career. Yet at some point recently I realized that I had shockingly similar expectations, just with a drastically different looking “career.” I also expected child-raising to fit into the corners of my otherwise me life. I would just keep at my illustrious Woodsy DIY Career whilst my babies played quietly with sticks and rocks in the corner, right?

When the truthing point arrived three years ago, in the form of an angelic and opinionated infant, the hardest part for me was lowering my expectations of production. I understood I had to give some things up, but it was only through gritted teeth. I was relenting. I was not gracious.

Enter the second. A seeming clone of the first. Not the “easy second child” I’ve heard tell about. Another beautifully spirited, curious, passionate and yes, opinionated baby. It’s amazing how early their little opinions exert themselves on your world. Size is not relative, let me tell you.

Two kids is a world away from one. It’s almost hard for me to really get a mama of one now. They seem so spry, so peppy, like fireworks compared to the dragged out way I feel. I’ve heard that this close spacing will pay off later, but so far all I can say is that having a newborn and a two year old at the same time was complete insanity.

Submission in the loosest sense of the word is inevitable. There is no escape hatch, no side halls, and the ground you walk over disappears as you pass. The only way is forward. But the spirit with which you go is everything. No hour passes slower than an hour of gritted teeth. To resist with your mind what you are in body doing wastes precious energy.

I am continually surprised by how pregnancy and, especially, birth prepare us for motherhood. Did you read the hippie birthing books? Submission, man. It’s all about submission. I can’t remember if they actually use that word, but that’s the concept behind pages and volumes of birthing books. Fight the pain and the baby will stick in there like a barb. Let go your fear, release yourself into the pain.

This is of course a fuck of a lot harder than it sounds. And I’m not sure I did such a keen job of it, which might be why my first labor lasted for three days. Obviously this is my special little lesson.

In labor you learn, above all else, that you are capable of completely impossible shit. In fact, it seems impossible and then the pain doubles. And then doubles again. And then, if you’re like me, when it gets to the pushing part the double double impossible is suddenly dwarfed by a mind boggling infinity of un-fucking-believable.

Which is good in a way. Because you come out the other end understanding that you are capable of feats as yet un-dreamed. If you can push a baby out of your vagina, mothering is all downhill from there.

We can do it. It’s the hardest job I know, and maybe it doesn’t offer immediate and tangible rewards like the more glamorous homey arts. Maybe you have nothing to show for the end of another hardest day of your life. Nothing to tally, nothing to photograph in macro, nothing to blag about, but we’re making mother fucking people. Beat that sister.

35 thoughts on “Submission

  1. you’ve got to be kidding me! I get this in my inbox the day that I kick my family out of the house – then decide that, no, even better – I am myself *leaving* the house to, basically, see if I can assert myself and figure out what the hell I want to do with my life, and maybe even allow myself to dream a tiddle because my current career of mothering is boring and unfulfilling. I was, in fact, in the process of emailing a medical professions adviser and googling neuropsychiatry.

  2. Hands together in front of my chest with a slight bow, and then a deeper one from the waist, to the ground, to child’s pose. Thank you CJ.

  3. YES. I’ve been thinking about this very subject a LOT lately, but couldn’t articulate it. Thank you for that, because I so very needed to read this. I might just print this off and keep it on my wall to read every so often as a personal reminder.

    <3 to you CJ.

  4. CJ, in all the years I have known you, I have always admired your eagerness to learn and your relentless pursuit of knowledge. You are always reading this book or that book and gleaning every tidbit offered. While that is a crucial part of learning, you have advanced far beyond that, and turned your search inward as well. You have taken this learning and decided just how was the best way to fit it to your needs. I believe you have achieved the best of both worlds. You have scads of abilities and now, as you raise a family, you can practice your crafts and attitudes while sharing your wisdom and teaching by example, by far the most meaningful way to teach. You, and all great mothers, belong on a pedestal. A bright shiny one!
    As a philosopher, you are first rate.

  5. Love it. Love, love, love. Echoes in the house are loving it. My babies are loving it.

    You, my dear lady neo-fuckin-femo-chikko, are rockin. Don’t go starting to post all the time again, this kind of opinion, out there, completely awesome. And it takes a lot to do that, ‘specially when you’re submitting yourself to the love that is surrounding you and your marraige and your bubs.


  6. Yeee HAAAAA Baby! Wanna give you a mammoth hug of gratitude. You’re a ledgendary commentator, philosopher and better than that … a fantabulous Mamma.

    I’m with Bob… a pedalstool for us all!

    Love – Katj

  7. Fairly new to your blog and quietly stalking but felt I had to commment on this fantabulous post. Submission and acceptance have been the only sane way forwards for me. It’s harder some days that others but not giving a monkey’s arse about what anyone else thinks helps a lot. I’m English by the way so when I say “monkey’s arse” imagine it in a posh English accent and then it sounds almost polite!
    Love your writing. Thanks.

  8. oh my god, I only just found you? I have, what, a year to back-read? Alright!!! This is a spectacular post and I too am on the ground in prostrated respect. awesome awesome awesome.

  9. this is beautiful, well thought, well said. i need to frame it. right next to the card i saw but didn’t get that says ‘the obstacle is the path’…

  10. Awesome, awesome post, which I read in 20 second spurts whilst having both arms tugged at by different children wanting different things done for them RIGHT NOW whilst the third attempted to debrief me on her day at school by shouting over the top of the other two.

    God I wish I was as articulate as you. You rock.

  11. yes yes.. this is exactly what im always thinking about (but really i dont feel like a sprightly mother of one…more like beaten and thrashed)

    I get the ‘have them close together idea…” this was our plan too…. So im 3 months pregnant with a 14 month old… wow this is hard. way way harder than i ever thought

    I laughed with tears in my eyes (i’m not sure if they were happy or not) when i read

    “Two kids is a world away from one. It’s almost hard for me to really get a mama of one now. They seem so spry, so peppy, like fireworks compared to the dragged out way I feel. I’ve heard that this close spacing will pay off later, but so far all I can say is that having a newborn and a two year old at the same time was complete insanity.”

    Insane eh…. oh boy!

    I guess ill have to practice the submission for now..
    submission to a wild one year old
    submission to the nausea, heartburn and gagging over.. well really any food

    and hope i have it a little better by then!

    thanks again for an amazing post!

  12. Thank you. So very needed. I often do it with gritted teeth, ungraciously and whiney, whiney.

    I should read this every day.

    And now my little girl is saying,”I am more hungry. I want nuts and kiwifruit and cake.”

  13. Interesting post but for me the surrender to labour for a day or so is a whole different kettle of fish to surrender for 5/10/15/20 years that it takes to raise our children. This mama has some dreams of her own too and my kids need their dad in their life so much more than if he were working full time. We’re sharing the care role between us, combining work and study and it can be a wobbly old balance but allows us both to nurture our dreams and nurture our kids.

    1. Hi Kel, welcome!
      i’m so glad you brought this up. another of those ubiquitous ‘buts.’ as much as i end up championing it, i don’t really believe it’s completely healthy for one person to be the all and everything parent. it’s the way many of us end up doing it, because it’s the way our world is set up. ideally i think parenting should be split between both parents, and even the greater community. but it’s pretty challenging for both parents to find work that can be done part time. and the distance, both physical and mental, between extended families is great these days. i loved that shannon hayes payed real tribute to interdependence in her book. but for us right now, and many more around the country/world, like it or not it comes down to one parent bearing the brunt. congrats to you and your man for finding a way to split it!

  14. This post blew me away. Thank you so much for writing it. It spoke so much to me – I don’t even have children yet, but the theme of submission plays such a role in my marriage. I’m an over-achiever busy-body who feels lousy when I’m not in the middle of trying to work on fifty projects at once, which is fine for me, not so fine for ‘us’ all of the time. Learning to submit to my commitment to myself, my husband and our marriage, set down what I’m working on and “do” nothing more than have a conversation with my husband has been a hard, but important lesson for me to learn. Thanks for the wisdom that you bring from a place I’m sure I will find myself in soon enough once my own children arrive.

    I so appreciate your voice and your writing, keep up the wonderful posts in between raising your ruffians!

  15. I had 4 boys in 5 years. No twins.

    They’re 19 – 14 now. Believe me… it DOES get easier, by far more interesting and they all grow up together (which equals a lot more “me” time for you than if you had widely spaced children gazing at you saying, “Entertain me Mum.”)

    *By “widely spaced” I don’t mean very obese children…. I meant widely spaced apart by birth years….*

  16. Thank you for this beautifully articulated post. I am working from home at the moment, and finding it rewarding, but in many ways so much more challenging than when I have two or three days away from home, at work, can can then “submit” to the mothering role when I am home.

    I’ve found if I don’t carefully structure things to keep the working time in its own place, it spreads into everything – I am constantly wanting to do just one more thing – and the family disintegrates into a squabbling mass.

    That said I have a question for you about your use of the terms female and male. If it is just the female and/or male in all of us, and not something that is or should be specifically related to woman, why use those terms? Doesn’t their very use ensure that we continue to think that while submission might be for everyone, it’s *mostly* for women? Or is that your intent?

  17. I’ve read this post a few times. I come back to it with some regularity. I agree that submitting to childbirth is far different than submitting to parenthood. Getting the baby out is essentially a project, and we all like to give our all to a project. Also pretty hard to multitask when you are in transition.

    But raising them up is…well, it’s everything, isn’t it? Everything that is best and everything that is hardest. And there is no end, no “and now the baby is out and it was all worth it!” moment. Just more and more and more…more needs and snuggles and more tantrums and kisses and joy and defiance and exhaustion and learning to let go and all the rest.

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