Casting Stones

Thank you all for the many interesting comments on my first Erica Jong post. I don’t tend to reply to comments, but only because my computer time is so limited. I do honestly value every one. This blog is somewhat of a sounding board for me, I like to hear your input.

You might be surprised to hear that I agree with every single comment! That is what has been so fascinating to me about this article. I am trying to make sense of all the seemingly disparate thoughts in my own mind. I’ve had more than a week now, and I’m not sure I’ve gotten anywhere. It’s not because I haven’t thought about it, believe me, I’ve thought lots about it. It has been like a strange fire under my ass. I’ve laid awake at night thinking about it (goddamn it! as if I had sleep to spare…)

Finally I’ve laid housekeeping by the wayside and am taking a bit of time to do a more thorough exploration of all the threads loose in my mind right now. Though it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s quite a tangle in here.

First and foremost (unfortunately) is the fact that yes, I was offended by her article. Specifically by what I perceived as the underlying message– that attachment parenting is wicked, and that staying home to mother your kids is holding all women back in the quest towards equality. Maybe that was not the real thrust of the article. Maybe I’m just being insecure and reactionary, lord knows it’s happened before. But anyway, that’s how I took it.

It was hard to tell actually what was the real thrust of her article. By your comments I can see that I am not the only one who found her writing contradictory and confusing. Calling it doublespeak might be a bit strong (doublespeak is a propoganda technique which “deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.” -Wiki) but this is sure how it hit me. To end her article with the beautiful and sound advice to “Do the best you can. There are no rules.” would be great, except that she just spent the previous 12 paragraphs delivering scathing reviews of all kinds of mothering.

The efficacy of doublespeak is that it’s almost impossible to argue, because what has been stated cannot be disagreed with. This I think is what has made her article so compelling to me. I feel such a profound disconnect with it, even while I profoundly agree with so many of her points.

Maybe my writing reads the same, a stated openness and acceptance thinly veiling judgement and disgust… I hope not. I know that letting go judgement is something I grapple with, one of my special projects in life. It’s one of the things that mothering has helped with tremendously, yanking me down off of high horses left and right.

I do judge, without regret, those women and men who want only to rise in a career in order to gain money, power and prestige. But I don’t judge a woman (or man) who strikes her own balance, wherever that may be, between having kids and pursuing her own vocation, interests and dreams. Let alone those who are just trying to pay the rent.

One of the really fascinating threads rolling around loose in my head is that she has such a different perception than I do of What Society Thinks about Motherhood. She seems to think we are obsessed with it, and that we value it above all else. As you know from this blog, my perception of our cultural valuation of motherhood is the absolute opposite.

This made me step back. Have I just immersed myself in my own line of thought and those who share it? Have I created my own bubble and then assumed it to be the world? I am coming from my context where I feel marginalized for choosing to be home with my kids. She is coming from her context where she feels marginalized for wanting to make her voice heard in the wide world.

We are all rebels I guess. Separated only by what we perceive we are rebelling against.

On the other hand, as the days progressed, I went over in my mind her examples. Super models and actresses might make headline news with their “baby bumps,” but do they make headline news when they choose to take a break from their career to actually mother those babies? I mean sure it might be cool and fashionable to have babies, but that doesn’t mean we as a culture put any value on raising them. And her woman lawyer who quits the firm to be home with her kids and  “is assumed to be pursuing a higher goal.” Seriously? What’s the name of that law firm? ‘Cuz My Man is ready to send in his resume.

I feel pretty sure that if our world actually valued moms they would be allowed to take a few years off from their careers to be with their babies, then be able to come back to the same jobs with the same status, respect and pay that they left. (And then be able to work just half time if they wanted.)

She portrays a world so rife with attachment parenting dogma that she even suggests we might someday have laws requiring breastfeeding. Wow. That one just about got me giggling. I am obviously hanging out in the wrong part of town. Because from where I’m standing, every other mother I ever see feeding her baby in public does it from a bottle. I am the lone renegade, whipping it out at the park like a freak.

And here is where I venture into a strange and foreign land. For the first time ever I find myself wanting to defend attachment parenting. This is a real laugh. Ever since I first heard the term I have had a host of snide things to say about it. Which I guess I’d better explain.

I grew up with some overly attachment parenting going on. Detaching was painful and messy. Even still my relationship with my mom is not stellar. When I first heard the term “attachment parenting” I actually thought it was a joke. It sounded like satire.

I haven’t read much AP literature, so forgive me if I misconstrue anything. I did leaf through one of the Sears’ books enough to determine that yes, I did agree with the basic principle that when parents respond to their baby with warmth and closeness they foster a strong base for a self confident child. But I was still never comfortable with the name (and you know how I feel about dogma in general). It puts all the emphasis on attachment, when really in my view, the attachment is just the first of many steps in the process of encouraging independence.

But much like my reaction to feminism, my childhood just hadn’t prepared me for the need for this kind of movement. Having grown up in a bubble of sexual equality and Snugglys, I didn’t see why anyone would waste their time thinking about either. Of course a woman could fix the plumbing. Of course I’d carry and sleep with my baby.

As I’ve come down this parenting road and found myself the freak playground nurser, I guess I’ve come around a bit. But I still have plenty of beefs. Many of which Jong lists in her essay.

My main beef is the very same as Jong’s– rigid, self-righteous dogma. Hell yeah! I say. As if there were one way and one way only. For some reason narrow-mindedness on my side of the fence has always annoyed me most of all. I am a twice homebirther and the one thing I hate about the homebirth crowd is how much they like to freak people out about hospital births. I know they’re just reciprocating, and I got to hear from our second midwife all the bullshit she’s up against. But still. Come on. Someone has to knock that shit off, or we just go in circles. Imagine what we could achieve if we could let go of that crap!

But because some people have taken an idea too far does not discount the idea, let alone make the idea itself destructive. I think in it’s purest form, attachment parenting offers useful concepts for parents with full time jobs too. The fact about babies is that they are greedy for attention, and the AP opinion is that that attention is healthy for them. That doesn’t mean you have to stare at your baby 24/7, but Jong implies that kids are not worth rearranging a schedule over, and I find that a disturbing view of parenthood.

The fact that a set of ideals makes us feel guilty is our own damn fault. Or rather the fault of a culture warped around guilt and perfectionism. At any rate, it’s not the fault of the ideal itself. What is life without ideals? Rather than just throw in the towel in one big fuck-it-all, let’s keep the ideals and scrap the guilt!

Not to say that I think the singularity of today’s full time motherhood is an ideal. I really agree with Jong’s emphasis on multiple caregivers. Absolutely. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write about for some time. One commenter referred to the way the AP movement often “fetishizes the bond between mother and infant” and yes, fetish is a perfect word for it. Dads don’t win much favor these days. They are considered a pale substitute at best, and a liability at worst. And the stability of an extended family network is almost entirely missing from most of our lives. By our own damn design. I mean, My Man and I have willing and eager grandparents just waiting to help if only we would consent to moving. But we’re all too busy trying to strike out on our own.

The point that I think Jong misses is the difference between family and friends pooling resources, and day care. These are not one in the same. Not to say that day care is bad, indeed there are some truly fantastic and devoted childcarers, but it’s not “a village,” it’s a commercial institution. And more importantly for the younger ages, the “village” model of having mom generally around, in and out of your day while someone else is the constant, is entirely different than having mom drop you off and pick you up 8 or 9 hours later.

It’s all shades of gray, and everyone needs to make their own way. I really liked one commenter who said, “Unfortunately, because one woman chose one way, and another chose another, they feel that they’re at odds… and I think this is terribly destructive. It feels to me that the world is full of people who choose something and then feel that everyone should choose the same thing… The key is choice and tolerance.” Amen to that!

Of course, that’s what Jong says in the end too. I just don’t feel that that’s what she means, I just don’t get the idea that she’s very tolerant of women such as myself who’ve chosen to stay home with our kids. And again, this is my own interpretation, based on my own closet full of skeletons.

The last thread I want to explore is her view of trying to be a good parent as an avoidance strategy,

“What is so troubling about these theories of parenting… is that they seem like attempts to exert control in a world that is increasingly out of control…. Aspiring to be perfect parents seems like a pathetic attempt to control what we can while ignoring problems that seem beyond our reach.”

While I absolutely agree that a balance is necessary, please don’t dismiss parenting as a valid means of revolutionary influence! Everybody balances on a different fulcrum, some of us (My Man) have better focus for farther issues, some of us are just designed to tend to the world at our feet (me). I used to think that trying to change anything on a wide world scale was a hopeless and pointless battle, that true change could occur only within ourselves and our homes (I told you judgement was one of my special projects…) But being with My Man has made me see the essential nature of his work, and the beauty of our two approaches working side by side.

It all comes down, once again, to true tolerance. In fact mere tolerance is hardly enough, we need respect. Whoever it was that got this whole stone casting business started in the first place needs to be spanked. Enough is enough. This world is not black and white, win or lose, grow or die. I do not have to make you wrong in order for me to feel right. I need to gather my wits, slay my insecurities, feel genuinely okay about what I’m doing so that I don’t need to parade myself around with banners flying. Because despite any posturing I might sometimes fall into, I sure as hell don’t feel like I’ve got very many answers.

Writing about this same article on her blog, Mogantosh said “Trends in parenting theory will come and go, but what remains consistent is that the whole caper is hard work.” And that is no joke, sister.

Off a Duck’s Back

Howdy friends, sorry to pop such a controversial and caustic article on you all in that last post and then disappear! It’s been a busy week here at Camp Mayhem, with short naps by the Babe. But I’ve been reading all your comments with great interest, and I have re-read Erica Jong’s article a few times, as well as the one written by her daughter. I am absolutely fascinated by both. I don’t have time to write fully all the things I’m thinking, but I did want to check in with a few thoughts.

I’m fascinated not just by the mothering content of her article– which I agree with and despise in turns– but by her writing itself, which is often pure doublespeak, and appears to invite offense and require agreement, by turns. I am not surprised that y’all came back with such a wide variety of comments. Jong offers such disparate information and opinions that you could come to a variety of conclusions about what the hell she’s trying to say. And it’s not as though she brings this variety to the table with an open and wondering heart. Like someone said in a comment, Jong’s definitely bitter about something, and her piece hits (me at least) like vengeance.

But as quick as she got my back up, she got me thinking about another compelling topic. Judgement and scorn beget judgement and scorn. We have to let the water run off our backs like good little ducks and remember that we’re all in this together and none of us know what the hell we are doing. According to her daughter’s brief biography of her, it doesn’t sound like Erica got much love as a kid (had she gotten a little AP when she needed it she might not sound so bitter right about now…) We all come from somewhere, and we do what we can with whatever we came with. She says some important stuff, and whether or not she really means them, we can still use what’s good, to the benefit of all.

I hope to have a more thorough response to her article sometime soon. Along with the finale to the cast iron series. And all my laundry cleaned, and the floors mopped, or even just swept. Hell, we can dream, right?