By Surprise

Some time back, after shaking the last bit out of a salt canister, I had a brainstorm. I looked at that big cardboard tube and thought, planetarium! We got right to it, poking star holes with the pointy end of a candy thermometer, removing the metal spout to make a peep hole and lastly painting the whole thing night sky blue.

I finally stood back with pride while my girl squinted up one eye and gazed into her private galaxy. And then it hit me.

Holy fuck. I am a mom.

I looked at a salt can and saw a galaxy tube. My brain thinks in scissors and paint, my house is littered with toys in every room, the walls are plastered with children’s drawings, I stroller my kids to library story-time every Tuesday morning, and I almost always remember to pack a variety of wholesome snacks.

I wasn’t exactly terrified. It just…. caught me by surprise. It always does.

Back when I was a mere three months pregnant with the first and our kind-hearted neighbors started bringing by boxes of second hand kid stuff, I freaked out. I was not going to be one of Those Parents. Whose house is overrun by kids’ toys, whose lives are overrun by kids’ activities. Babies don’t need stuff, I told myself. This pre-stockpiling is completely absurd.

There was one moment in particular– A woman I vaguely knew had called to see if I wanted a baby bassinet. “What’s a bassinet?” I asked. She explained and said she’s bring it by for me to look at. I must have missed her knock at the door, because two hours later when I opened it to go out for a walk, there was an enormous monstrosity of white lace blocking my exit. I gasped. I felt dizzy. I considered taking it straight to the trash, but I am too pragmatic for that. As quickly as I could I stripped off the white lace, hauled the bassinet upstairs and exiled it to a dark closet. Similarly the four huge boxes of cloth diapers. I think I might have even made the woman who brought them by feel bad for dumping them on me.

Lo and behold, a few months later that bassinet became critical to my every day. I would lay the babe in it in the kitchen while I did the few necessaries (a really few).  And the diapers, jesus what an ingrate. I didn’t realize I was being gifted hundreds of dollars worth of extremely nice cloth diapers.

But, they just…. caught me by surprise. I hadn’t thought about diapers and bassinets yet. I was still coming to grips with the fact that I could hardly breathe enough to walk up the mountain trail by our house.

Things have continued at such a pace. I am perpetually several steps behind in the ‘gracious acceptance’ department, always suffering from the arrogant expectation that I would be ‘different.’ Having a second helped drive the point in. I had been adamantly against strollers, but come 6 months pregnant, carrying an almost 2yo up the hill in the Ergo with 20 pounds of groceries strapped on back, my resolve began to melt.

These days I look more or less like any mom. Like a real mom. Kids in the stroller, diaper bag bulging, unwashed hair flying everywhere. Life more or less completely folded around my littles.

I do sometimes long for those footloose days when I imagined what kind of mama I would be, imagined how I would be ‘different.’ Everything is possible in one’s imagination.

But I am becoming more and more comfortable with my place down here amongst the human people. Being a mom with a diaper bag. Thinking in scissors and paint. Finding delight in an old salt can. Being overrun by kids.

In fact on the days that I manage to surrender to my role, I sometimes find myself blissfully happy about the entirety of my mom-ness. Like some earthy Madonna, I feel full with motherhood. Peace descends from above. And it’s good.

Which above all is what catches me by surprise. I am mom. I am okay.

Screen Time for Ludites

You may have noticed I’ve been posting quite a lot lately, especially considering my ages ago decision to write only on Saturdays. Slowly, over the almost year since that cleansing fast, I’ve crawled back off the wagon into the deliciously wicked addiction of The Blogger. Oh, but isn’t it glorious down here in the dirt!

I have lately given myself reprieve though. After many months of fighting, not just the writing addiction, but also what I can only describe as an addiction to myself, I have given in. I survived a year of incredibly intense mothering, the lips above water kind. Now, things have evened out a bit. My job is still crazy hard, don’t get me wrong. But I am not losing my mind. My Man can sometimes look me in the eye when he gets home from work and still want to ask how my day was.

And as life has become more possible, survival more definite, I have found myself sometimes becoming bored. The typical desperate housewife syndrome I guess. Where is the me outside of the mother? What do I have to show for myself? Where is the space that is mine? All the same regular bullshit.

What of my grand epiphanies? My submission to the noble cause of motherhood, my neo-feminist punk housewifery? Wendell Berry’s pride of home economics; frugality and responsible action and the independent spirit; the garden, the kitchen, the homemade laundry soap? Kids swirling in my undertow, me the brave heroine, brandishing my homegrown parsley.

Despite all that very good stuff, I’m bored.

Fuck. I hate it when I find I am suffering from the same pedestrian maladies as the general population, which I apparently thought I was better than. But there it is.

I am not in my homeplace. In case you are new here, we are in New Orleans for My Man to go to school. Next year we’ll return to Alaska, our little blip of a town in the enormous maw of coastal wilderness. There I have much more to do, much more to focus on, much more that belongs to me. It is my element, the life I spent the other 32 of my years learning how to live. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been desperately homesick, in fact I’ve just recently started to feel homesick at all. This move has been wonderful in many ways and if life were rewound, I would choose it again unhesitantly.

But considering this is a time in life when women are classically groping for what of themselves is left after the tsunami of small children, being out of my homeplace is a bit extra extra.

I realized recently that, for better or for worse, writing has stepped into that place for me. Given me a thing to do that is mine own, and it’s no wonder I find it devilishly addictive.

I am a person who needs an all encompassing project, a kernal to fold my life around. I am happiest in the midst of an Obsession. And mothering… It’s all encompassing for certain, and my life is quite origami-ed around it. But it’s not like it’s my project. The work is very challenging on all levels, but the outcome does not belong to me.

I think that’s what we need as mamas, an outcome we can own. Maybe it’s self-indulgent. Maybe we would be better spending that time meditating, releasing our grip on ego, submitting to the universe. Not to belittle spiritual practice, but friends, if I couldn’t meditate in my 20s– alone in the woods— that shit just ain’t gonna happen with two kids under 5.

So. Outcome it is.

And with that in mind, I have lately given myself permission to write more.

Accepting that my obsessive alone habit involves staring at a computer screen has been hard enough. I spent the majority of my 20s living without electricity, quite passionately in fact. I am a Ludite by nature, skeptical of anything with a cord or battery pack, but especially scorning of what I consider The Era of the iBrain.

But if that’s hard to answer to, here’s the next question. Where do you think a mama of two littles can find the many hours required to indulge in an outcome based activity such as blogging? Some mornings I get 30 minutes or more in the wee hours to glom my face onto a screen, all alone in a quiet room. But other than that, I have to steal my time from my 4yo’s brain, by plugging her into her very own screen during the Babe’s nap.

Just typing that out hurt. Because unlike the more reasonable opinion of most parents, I do think that any little bit of screen time, on a regular basis, is bad for developing brains. I never, ever thought I would have kids who watched tv. I mean, we don’t actually have tv, we have dvds, so that cuts out my biggest beef– commercials. And of course I try to cherry pick from the enormous onslaught of hideously bad children’s programing. But, that still adds up to my daughter’s face slack jawed in front of a glowing screen.

For… (deep breath)… an average of… (deep breath)… 1.5 hours per day.

Wow, is that hard to admit.

I spent a long time fighting it. Really I’ve been fighting from the beginning– when I was 6 months pregnant, packing up our entire house for a move across country, and my MIL sent some childrens’ books on dvd which I found would hold the (no longer napping) 2yo in one place long enough that I could slide my eyes closed for 15 or 20 minutes. I fought it, but then– I did it. So, not a very strong fight I guess. The fight was all in my own heart, and has continued to wage right there. Her mid-day dvd watching became a daily thing and over time an almost unshakable habit, my internal wars notwithstanding.

What is the difference between submission and giving in? How do you know when to fight and when to let go?

This parenting job is tough, and I don’t believe our world is set up to support us right now. I want to choose some moral high ground, to make The Right Decision for my kids. I want to practice no compromise ethics. But this is not a single variable equation. If my girl stares at a screen for 1.5 hours of her day and has a happier mama for it, where is the moral high ground?

I am rolling over that old submission a lot lately, like a pea under my mattress. Sometimes I feel like I tried and failed to submit to motherhood. But really what happened is that I did it, and it really helped for some time, my hardest time. Now I have moved on, we are in a new phase. My job as mother is (perhaps imperceptibly) loosening, and I am looking around, taking a breath. There is a little space for me now, not much, and I can’t help but want to run in there and muscle it open. It’s intoxicating, and confusing.

If I were a better mother, perhaps I would take this opportunity to ween my 4yo off of the afternoon movie. We could spend that time on the floor inventing elaborate pretend play, and she would lap it up like a puppy. I wish I were that mother sometimes, that I could annihilate my ego, truly and absolutely. Become Budhamama.

But here I am, so very human. So very pedestrian. Instead of seeking motherhood nirvana, I think I will leave the housework undone and get in my own 1.5 hours a day.

Here’s to us humans.

Breathing Fire

I had a blessed epiphany sometime after my first born turned two. She was fantastically, dramatically two, down to the last detail, and it suddenly occurred to me that she and I were living shockingly parallel lives. We experienced pretty much the same angsts. We both felt completely marginalized. Our own lives were not under our own control, and we couldn’t stand it. Someone else made all the decisions, and we had to make do with whatever was left over.  Everything felt unbelievably intense. We were both attracted and repelled by the ones we loved best. We tried our damndest, yet still felt all our efforts to communicate landed on deaf ears. No one ever listened to us, no one cared. They just dragged us around through a day in a life we didn’t get to conduct.

Consequently, we both did a lot of screaming and crying and gnashing of teeth. My daughter’s fits were considerably more impressive than mine. I was often jealous of her fits and even strangely, vicariously sated by them.

Only, she was two. And I was 32. It doesn’t seem fair that I have matured so little in all those 30 years. Parenting has been a continual reminder of the fact that I’m really not so grown up as I like to think. I had always thought of My Man and I as pretty laid back folk. But since having kids, I have realized that we were really only laid back because we had constructed just the life we wanted, and got to make all our own decisions about everything. Denied the ability to make all my own decisions I discovered a part of myself I had hardly known.

Rage.

I never used to be a rageful person. I am the sad kind by nature, when the going gets tough I crawl into bed and cry. I had to listen to a lot of Ani DiFranco in my 20s, just to discover some requisite anger for survival.

But since I had kids, everything has changed. And I do mean everything.

Mostly I stifle my rage. Letting it out seems to makes things worse, my babies reflect what they feel from me in magnified detail, not to mention the flood of self-loathing afterwards. So I swallow it down like a double shot of turpentine. Gulp for air. Try to remain standing.

This stifled mama rage is almost an emblem of motherhood to me. The job is just so insanely hard, the ability to take vengeance so completely off limits. Some whole days have gone by in which I just kept swallowing. The feeling is indescribably clostrophobic.

Fortunately, I suspect I don’t need to describe it. Although it is rarely revealed in public, and almost never in the fantasized media we are all drowned by, I am quite certain that most mamas feel this poisonous rage. Some more than others, to be sure. The parenting books always cede to this by saying, ‘sometimes, every parent gets angry.’ Is that an attempt to assuage my guilt? ‘Sometimes?’ Seriously? Try every fucking day, and some days without ceasing.

Of course, that’s how it feels in the heat of the moment. I know it’s not really every day, and no day is really all rage. Nevertheless, I sure don’t feel like they pay heed to this extreme and extremely dangerous emotion of parenthood.

What are we supposed to do with our flaring bellies full of turpentine? Obviously, you can’t just keep swallowing that shit down, something’s gonna blow.

I don’t believe it’s good to hide anger from kids. They get angry themselves of course, and since they learn by emulating, they need to see us get angry so that they can learn how to be angry. They need to see us deal with our anger constructively. But that to me is where anger stops and rage begins. If I have myself enough under control to go outside and scream, or pummel a pillow, or otherwise model appropriate angry behavior, then there’s really not a problem.

Rage, on the other hand, is the feeling of being out of control. Which is exactly what a screaming fit is, only our two year olds are about 28 inches tall. Although I am continually surprised at how strong little people can be, they still look relatively innocuous when they are out of control. When you invert the situation– and their small bodies are faced with our enormous mama hurricane, all five foot eight and Kali arms everywhere, howling all the air out of the room– how truly terrifying.

I’m sure it is terrifying on a physical level, but more importantly, their tiny hearts and spirits are all wrapped up in ours. At the tender age of two or three, we are still the beginning and end for them. Their view of the world and themselves is through our lenses. It is worth everything that we give them the best possible view.

All this is to say that I absolutely believe that it is our responsibility to give our best self to our kids. Stop playing martyr and make whatever decisions it takes to be your best self. Circumventing mama rage does not start when the heat flares, it starts the day before when you feel yourself flagging, and muster the courage to ask your man for an hour alone.

But what of the rage when it does come? When you have done what you could do (or didn’t but it’s too late), after you have been the mama you never wanted to be and the wave of remorse drowns you, let it go. Accept yourself as you are and have been. Love yourself, just as you love your two year old, even in the midst of a 40 minute screaming fit. Forgive yourself when you storm and rage, just as you teach your three year old that she is not the sum of the mean words she uses. Believe in your own true, kind spirit, just as you explain to your daughter that she is not the emotions that pass through her, but the enduring beautiful soul beneath.

We cannot be the perfect parents. It is a strange kind of arrogance to feel you are falling short of such an ideal. We are human, and therefore a constant work in progress. Being 34, I am hopefully not even half finished. I am growing myself up. Swallowing the turpentine some days, breathing fire other days. Forgiving myself when I can.

A mama’s heart is splendid and fearsome. We are the all-encompassing force of the world. But underneath our storms and passions, we are still little girls, trying to love ourselves.

A Love Letter to New Mamas

Dear you,

I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately.

I’ve been thinking about how crazy our broken up lives are, all separate and sequestered behind our closed doors. I’ve been thinking about my first year as a mama, how isolated and confused I felt. And I’ve been thinking about you out there, alone behind your door.

The world you used to inhabit has fallen into pieces at your feet, like so many mismatched socks. The friends you used to spend days lazing in the sun with, plotting the overthrow of The Man or a hike in the mountains with equal fervor. The friends who now kindly tolerate the drastically downscaled walks, the baby fussing during potlucks, the constantly interrupted conversations. And then go back to their quiet, own homes and self-structured lives.

You try to explain what your life is like now. Why you feel so dragged out. But it always comes out like bitching.

You don’t mean to be bitching. About your tiny, beautiful unfurling flesh of flesh. If it’s difficult to explain how hard this new life has made your own, explaining the surge of devotion for it is all but impossible.

You search for a new friend. A mama. Someone who understands the caged feeling that strangles you daily, the guilt that crushes, the fury that lights in you sometimes like wildfire, and terrifies you no less. Someone who understands as well the spiking joy. The immeasurable sweetness of that tiny new soul birthed from your body, taking shape in the world. The quaking in your heart when she stares wide open into your eyes. The way her body yields to yours, trusts you entire.

Someone who understands the roller coaster that is your life.

But everyone else seems to be doing fine. The other moms have their shit together. They play with their kids, clean the house, make dinner, all with a smile. Don’t they? Or are you just recalling movie moms? I myself look back and try to count the moms I’ve actually known in my life, on a personal level.

Two.

Did they have babies when I knew them?

No.

You feel the rug ripping from under you, and wonder suddenly how you can be 30 years old and have no idea what babies or their mamas are like.

In your loneliness you look to the Wide World. You nurse your baby to sleep in your lap while staring into that glowing screen of possibility.

If real life is peopled by mamas who appear to be surviving so much better than you, the cyberworld is full of super-heroines. Blog after blog, written by cool, green mamas. They wake in the morning perky and fresh. They craft colorful happy things out of wool before the children wake up. They prepare healthful homemade breakfasts. They take their kids on walks in natural landscapes, which they photograph in macro. They sew their own cloth diapers. Make their own whole grain breads. That they never scream at their kids is a given. Never fight with their man about money. Never swear. Never forget their reusable cloth grocery bags.

These super-mamas are a curse and a blessing. You’re addicted to the fantasy they peddle. But, this is your first baby, you don’t know yet that it’s a fantasy. You think it’s just you that’s failing. Just you who screams at the baby at 2 AM to go the fuck to sleep. Just you who bread dough won’t rise for. Just you who can never for the life of you remember to bring the goddamned grocery bags.

I have three very important things to tell you, dear new mama.

1. It is fantasy. It’s a tale we blogstresses spin, for ourselves as much as anyone else. In the cyberworld you can choose your character. You can construct just the person you always wanted to be, and carefully photograph your proof. Anyone would want to show their best self to the world. To focus on the positive, turn toward their sweetness.
But the outcome of our selective presentation is that we all look to one another and see nothing like the tangled ball of dark threads inside our own secret heart. And the rift grows.
I call our bluffs! All of them! I speak brazenly for all bloggers, who carry closets full of everything. We are you. We try and fail daily, hourly. We are doing what we can with what we have.

2. The insanity eases. Motherhood is a slow stretching– of what you know to be true, of what you think yourself capable– and the beginning can be the most painful. No matter how much you think you might be drowning, you’ll be okay. You’ll make it. Babies grow. It will get easier.

3. Cut yourself some slack. A lot of slack. However much slack you need. If you are just now awakening to the green, DIY revolution in homemaking that I champion herein, cut yourself several extra fathoms. If you lived a passionately self-made life full of responsible action before, understand that you will slip– possibly all the way back down– for awhile. That’s okay. There’ll be time later to build or re-build. Babies need you so completely at first. Surrender yourself for now.

And in the meantime. Read all the inspiring, edited stories of mamas who kick ass. Enjoy them for what they are– a celebration of the good parts. Know that in private they fall short, several times a day. Just like you. They are discouraged and disillusioned and ravaged by guilt sometimes. They soar on the ecstasy of motherhood sometimes. They do it all with a smile. They say fuck the world from under the covers and order out pizza for dinner.

Their life is a roller coaster.

Our lives are a roller coaster.

Here’s your ticket.

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?

The Madness of Motherhood

Today is Saturday. My day off! It’s really just half a day, but enough time for me to gloriate in my garden and bring the computer to my favorite coffee shop for some writing. I feel blessed!

Mid way through the next and last installment of the cast iron cookery series, I got up to get more water for my tea. At the counter I happened to look over the headlines of the Wall Street Journal, not a typical activity for my eyes. Up in the top corner, where they put the “human interest” spots, I saw

Erica Jong on The Madness of Motherhood

Hmmm…  How juicy. To which of the madnesses could she be referring? Haven’t I heard of her before? Rather than pay for a Wall Street Journal, I looked it up online.

Wowza. This chic packs a punch. After the first waves of rage passed, I found her article and my reaction to it fascinating. Thought provoking. I’ve always liked to read extremists, on any side. If you are feeling up for getting yelled at to relax about parenting, go check it out. There’s some really true stuff, bound up into an argument who’s spoken point I can agree with wholeheartedly, but who’s underlying passion and adjenda are everything I write against.

Very interesting.

Discuss.

Staking Our Claim, Learning to Ask

Wow, you ladies really did yourselves justice with all those heartfelt comments. I wanted to respond to every one, but it’s that or write another post with my few moments. So, like a true posting junkie, here I go.

I surely didn’t mean that we should feel guilty for carving out our own place. A completely self-less mama is not any kind of goal. And guilt ain’t no good anyways.

I don’t think it’s our responsibility to be ever-present and ever-delightful. I do think it’s our responsibility to try and try and try some more to find that balance between our Selves and our Mama-ness. I think it’s my responsibility to be thoughtful and creative and try to figure out what exactly I need in order to be the best mama I can be, and then take steps to make it happen.

For example, I know some mamas who need to get daily physical excersize to be able to keep their shit together. Myself, I need daily time for mental contemplation, brain excersize. Which is exactly the thing I get angsty for. It seems almost backwards, but if I get the thing that I need, even in relatively small quantities, I won’t go crazy for the thing I want, even though it’s the same thing. If that makes any sense.

In order to be selfless, we have to be self-full. It’s almost a cliche, right? The times I get into the worst bitch-mom mode are the times I have let stuff slide and slide, and neglected to stake my claim for too long. Then I snap and ain’t nobody happy.

But I do think I need to keep it all in perspective. I can get really wrapped up in MeMeMeMe, and forget that there are two other whole souls rafting around with me, who have no choice but to follow.

Note to Self:

Figure out what you need, separate from what you want. Do your absolute best to make sure that you get what you need. Don’t let the evil Martyr Mom chain you to a life of slavery. Be brave. Stake your claim. Ask for what you need.

Then take your full-self and turn it outward towards your family.

For me asking is really, really, really hard. I just want to be the I-can-do-everything mama. I see this in many of us revolutionary housewives. We want to think we can do it All. We think women of the past did, so why shouldn’t we?

Because women of the past had aunties and grandpas and cousins and a whole integral society set up for doing what we are trying to do in our tiny island way. Let’s give us a break. Give your kids a break by not expecting yourself to do it All. And by you, I mean me.

But also, I keep thinking that if I offer up all the things to my mate that I want, he’ll just catch a clue and start giving them back, unasked. Advice to women: Men need asking.

[I hate to get into any sexist realm here. I’m not the sort of woman who secretly (or patently) thinks women are Better. I perhaps used to be, but having partnered with a woman for almost eight years will drive that silly thought right out of your mind.

Women are infuriating.

And so are men.

Sharing your life with someone year after year, giving them your whole heart, is almost as challenging as parenting! And just as incredibly rewarding.]

It’s not fair to your mate to expect them to read your mind. Or even read between the lines of your actions. Particularly if your mate is a man. Men have other strengths. Be brave and ask for what you need and want.

A. S. K.

This is my task now.

To whomever it may concern:

Please grant me the clarity to see what I need, and the courage to ask for it.

Real Life

On this new day the sun pours through our windows, greeting us upon our awakening with a joyful hello.

We slip on our woolen slippers to buffer our toes from the chill of the wood floors. The waning embers in the woodstove from the night before have gently settled. One by one the children gather in the kitchen to greet this new day together. My youngest follows me to the wood bin to help me load up the wood stove for the day. My daughter and eldest son gather up their wooden bowls and we all sit down to homemade granola and raw milk for our morning refreshment. We sit together in the quiet of the morning joined around the long wooden table and shaker chairs set up in front of the wood stove. Daddy lights our lantern, and fills Mason jars with fresh orange juice that was juiced the night before.

Found this on another blog yesterday, which will remain nameless. It is apparently meant to be a true account of any morning at the writer’s house.  Here’s a morning at our house. Not this morning, or even any particular morning, just a collection of morning realities:

After an argument about money the night before, I wake up feeling cold and tense. Toddler’s newly re-found night waking routine means we’re all exhausted. I change two poopy diapers before I can get into the kitchen to make coffee. Since she didn’t sleep well, the Toddler’s already whining. I finally get her settled in with some granola, me with my coffee, try to read a few blogs, to get my brain in order. The Babe (who rarely likes to be set down for more than 10 minutes, meaning I wear him most of the day) hates when I sit down, and immediately starts fidgeting and fussing. I feel at the end of my little rope already and it’s only 8 am. I silently curse him as I get up to bounce/walk/cajole him. All I want is just 20 minutes to get my shit together, is that so much to ask? Then I look down at his amazing tiny person and feel the dreaded, crushing mommy guilt. How could I resent this little gift. What an ingrate. What a horrible mother. I want to go lay in my bed and cry, pull the covers over my head, but there’s last night’s dishes attracting cockroaches in the sink, diapers to wash, babies to bounce, toddlers to take on outings so she can interact with other little people. I try buck up and get on with my day, but the world feels sour.

Sorry this isn’t funny. When I was young, I escaped my real life into a fantasy world of my future, much like the glowy one above. Still I am sometimes tempted to recount my life with a rose tint, to tell myself pretty stories. More often I fall for the equally escapist technique of cynical or ironic humor. Which is what y’all were expecting from this post. And I could have, even wanted to deliver.

But what I really want to do, with my writing, with my life, is lay bare the real stuff. We all feel so alone, especially us mamas, in our feelings of disillusionment, failure, inadequacy, loneliness. Everyone is so busy pretending to the world that their life is either perfect or hilarious, that then everyone thinks they’re the only one suffering the dark corners. It’s backwards and wrong, and makes everything harder. When you expect perfection, everything short of it feels like a failure.

Life and motherhood are full of beautiful, miraculous moments. Also some really hilarious ones. Also lots of shit, real and metaphorical.

We have to stop telling ourselves these are all mutually exclusive! It’s not just okay, but the absolute way of the world for all this occur in one life, in one day, in one hour sometimes. You don’t have to wipe away your resentment to love your kiddos. You don’t have to never fight about money to love your spouse. You don’t have to have a perfect life to have a good life. Let’s try to remind each other.

A Typical Day

Ever wonder what everyone else does with their day? Here’s our Today, a typical day for us of late.

Not so typically, I got a full hour to myself this morning, before the toddler woke up. I used it to write a blog that got sucked away into the internet version of the sock-black-hole. Goddamn it.

Toddler woke up. Breakfast of Green Eggs and Salm(on)– (This is a modified version of my dad’s invention to get kids to eat healthy. The special name and hoopla is unnecessary for Toddler who loves salmon and spinach. But it’s a tasty brekky, so we eat it whenever I have the where-with-all to do more than plop granola in front of her while I drink my coffee. ie: not often) Fry some onion up in plenty butter, add a generous handful of frozen spinach and some home canned smoked salmon (my dad used chopped up frozen salmon burgers from Costco) Cook till thawed, add eggs and a little cheddar if you like. If yer kiddos are against spinach, and you’re trying to play up the Dr. Seuss angle, whiz up the spinach and eggs in the blender first, so you’ll truly have green eggs.

cooking GE&S

A cold day today, a great day for baking! Started a new batch of bread and realized I was out of flour. Filled the sink to wash the looming pile of dishes, and there was instantly crying and yelling from both the shorties in the family at once.

At 9:30 Hubby went off on his bike for school, and I rallied as fast as I could to get all three of us ready to go to Monday morning music at the nearby Parenting Center. (It should really be called the Children’s Center– they have a giant play room with all kinds of great toys and play mats open anytime to members ($65/year) plus Monday morning music and Wednesday morning crafts) It’s only 5 blocks away, so we walked. Me with the Babe strapped on, wheeling the empty stroller, Toddler walking beside and “helping.” We stayed for an hour after the music program, so the Toddler could play with the other kiddies. I’m doing my best to provide her with opportunities to be around other kids. More on that quest in another post…

Then we walked to the store to get more flour, this time Toddler in the stroller. At home, got the dough made and rising. Lunch of salmon salad on the last of the old bread. Kind of tired of carrying Baby, whose been in the mei tai all morning. Tried to set him down. He woke up. Sat down to give him one peaceful nursing session. Then tried to put him back down for some of what we call “project time” (independent learning, ie: staring all around with those big horse eyes) while I filled the sink yet again to get back at the dishes. Not happy. Not in the mood for project time. Back in my arms I saw he was sleepy again, or- still, however you look at it. Didn’t take too much walking and singing and he was asleep, and then, praise jesus! lay-down-able!

Toddler was meanwhile playing sweetly by herself in the living room, not even ripping or spilling or anything. So I got back to the dishes while the water was still hot. Phew! Whoever thought you’d be thankful to “get to” wash the dishes? Ah, motherhood.

Then, being around 3-ish, it seemed a good time to set the toddler down in front of the boob tube (ever since the naps faded out, at 1 1/2! I’ve allowed myself to plug her in for an hour or so in the afternoon. We don’t have tv, but we have several videos, which she seems quite happy to watch over and over. Oh, the guilt!)

And a good time for me to have that Second Cup (coffee) and blog a little more. Hopefully this one will stick.

After this break, I’ll hop up and form my dough into loaves, make an apple pie, some cookie dough, and a batch of granola (gotta fill the oven, it’ll get some yams too for dinner) At 4:30 Papa comes home, he and toddler always have a big time together until dinner.

(editor’s note: this over expectation of what I could accomplish between 4:00 and dinner time resulted in a late dinner and resultant Toddler meltdown)

Dinner will be two little Louisiana wood ducks! Traded from a friend for salmon. I considered roasting them in the oven with everything else, but I think I’ll pan fry them instead so their skin gets yummycrisp. Those yams and some frozen veggies will make dinner a quick proposition. With– don’t forget!– apple pie for dessert. I almost never follow a recipe for apple pie, but this recipe from Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook is just too intriguing!

(editor’s second note: the duck skin did not get crispy, just rubbery. The apple pie was not a pie exactly– it was really good, but super rich and sweet. I like apple pie for it’s simple not-to-sweet appley flavor with contrasting savory crust. Think I’ll stick to me own recipe, which is also much easier)

Then, between 8 and 9 pm, two adults plus two kiddos equals all hands on deck for bedtime! Once they’re both finally down, I probably just crash into bed, and Hubby stays up to do homework. But we do have a good looking netflix that we’ve had and not watched for like a week (I’ve got to cancel our subscription, there’s just no time anymore) and I might rally to watch it, just so we can send the damn thing back.

And that’s a day! Holy smokes!

PS. There follows night. In which I get anywhere from 5-7 hours of real sleep.  Repeat ad infinitum. Or, oh yeah, only until the growth of said kiddos changes everything.

Grant Me The Serenity

Nothing in this world takes patience like motherhood, Holy Smokes! Now that I have two, I’m getting quite the test. Each day is a new opportunity to learn….

(That last bit was not through an angelic smile, but more like gritted teeth)

It’s a rollercoaster, for sure. Motherhood has been twice as joyful and rewarding as I ever imagined anything could be, and also twice as hard. We get the full ride every day, sometimes all in one hour.

Today was a typical mother of two day. We went to the store.

Yes, only you mothers out there can understand the portent of that simple sentence.

Leaving the house is probably the worst part. If all goes well, it’s annoying enough just having to think through and gather what three different people will need. If all goes to Hell– which it seems to usually, especially when there’s a little person asserting her budding sense of individuality and free will– leaving the house can take upwards of an hour, and 90% of your energy.

The other hardest part, that I am really still coming around to, is the two-at-once phenomenon. When both toddler and baby are having A Moment. In the same moment. Which of course happens often as they tip each other off. Getting out of the store today involved one of those Moments. Me trying to juggle nursing a crying baby under the stupid “privacy blanket” while checking out in the self-check aisle, with Toddler trying to climb up the stroller backwards. Suddenly felt something wet dripping on my foot, and realized my other tit was leaking straight through my shirt in drippy faucet fashion.

But then on the way home we stopped at the local family run bakery for a muffin, and Toddler and I sat outside having an adorable mama/daughter moment. Wild curly locks framing her glowing smile as we talked about the trees across the street and watched the birds beg crumbs. And I felt so good about allowing that little person to exert her Self into the world, even if it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

making faces

Energy: The Loaves and Fishes Principle

The Toddler Learns To Use An Alan Wrench
Rasing a Happy, Healthy, Capable Child-- Check

Ever notice that the more you do, the more you want to do? And the more you sit around, the more you want to sit around? That’s how it works for me anyway, to a surprising degree. And I’ve been sitting around for awhile now. Being pregnant and in a new place. I thought once the baby was born I would have this huge surge of energy, and run out to do all the things I hadn’t been able to do. But apparently I sat around too long, and got stuck.

It’s not like I’m ever one of those people. You know the annoyingly productive kind. Like Riana and her three page long list of what she got done before lunch (don’t get me wrong, I love Riana’s blog, and suspect I would love her) I always wanted to be one of those people, who doesn’t? Isn’t that precisely why they’re annoying? Because we’re not them, and we wish we were? I’ve always fought hard for the medium level of energy I do have. And since having a kid, it’s become a true uphill battle.

That’s been the single hardest thing about motherhood for me. Sacrificing my standard of what I can get done in a day. Of course, if I felt like I could put “raising a happy, healthy, capable child” on my mental list of what I got done every day, I’d feel a lot better about it. But somehow it’s too long and ongoing of a project to put it on any list, mental or otherwise. Raising your kid isn’t something you finish and get to cross off.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like kids make me tired even when (or maybe especially when) we’re not doing much of anything. You have to slow down so much with little ones, and maybe that kicks in the energy principle. The slower we go on a walk, the tireder I get. Of course, then there’s the hyper kid phenomenon, which makes me tired too. Hmmm, maybe it is just me. My good energy is simply too precariously balanced.

But, I swear, I am about to bounce up and start kicking ass! Really! As soon as I get in my groove. As soon as I get my belly back (I’m only two weeks out from birth right now, my muscles haven’t even finished contracting into place, let alone re-strengthening. I tried to do some simple yoga the other day, and just about collapsed) As soon as the heat dies down. And once I get going, I’ll surely hit my stride. I’m gonna tackle that  To Do List with vim, and vigor!