A meandering meditation on being a mother, because it’s “Mothering Sunday” over here in the UK, that is, their version of what we call Mother’s Day, which is in early May.
The best thing I’ve read in a long while on the subject of being a mother, comes from Caitlin Moran in yesterday’s Times. Moran talks about the word ‘Mum’ as a pejorative, as in “Mumsy clothes” etc. and how mothers are represented in popular culture (with the exception of yummy mummy) whereas the reality is that those of us lucky enough to have carried a child to full term have spent “nine months being a LIVING WALKING FLESH-NEST; casually absorbing [our] foetus’s excreta while running an international business”. Moran adds, “something, which, in later years you will find a perfect metaphor for raising a teenager”. Then in typical Moran-style she continues, “Then at the point you have grown a skull and a brain [inside you] big enough to make humans the dominant species on earth – but still small enough to emerge from your pelvis without blowing your legs off – a homunculus will effortlessly punch its way out of your “special flower”.
Moran reminds us that all of this is frequently done by women, without drugs, unlike ‘a man who’d just passed a microscopic kidney stone would be wheeled onto a ward, dosed with morphine, treated like a brave hero, then left the hell alone – [a mother] magically [turns] her tits into a milky heaven-buffet and starts cranking out 15 meals a day into a tiny, screaming, ungrateful creature who resembles an enraged otter in a jumpsuit”. Oh this is classic Moran.
She then says, “to get this into perspective – when the most magic man who ever lived, Jesus, turned water into wine once, for one party, people went on about it for 2,000 years, and formed a major man-religion around it. Meanwhile, for millions of breastfeeding mothers every day, turning their bodies into lunch the reaction is -“Bitch, please – don’t do that in Claridges”. Moran’s is a brilliant exposition of mothers as people, and our truly conflicted attitudes towards motherhood.
Last night, as I washed my brain of 3 days of 1914FACES2014 conference (and boy was that an amazing experience, the culmination of 2 years’ research, and being in the company of artists, surgeons, historians, etc.), I read the first chapter of “In Praise of the Messy Life” by Katie Riophe. In this she writes about becoming a solo parent and how this scenario foists upon one’s children the reality that the mother is actually human. Without “father” in the house, there is no time for mother to withdraw and regroup behind the curtain of “can you look after child while I straighten myself out?”, especially in times of great duress (e.g. when “father” walks out to begin a new life elsewhere, either metaphorically, through, say, alcoholism or workaholism, or literally, as into another’s”sympathetic” company, a strangely common theme). The result is that our children see us as real, fragile, fallible human beings. And this is usually a very disappointing, and sometimes unforgivable thing for some, especially, if the first half of “the show” one has been “uber-mumsy”, that is, willing to drop one’s life utterly to keep “father” and “family” going. And this is why I love Moran. She pulls no punches. She has a new sitcom coming out this week in which a solo mom is raising 6 kids. Moran talks about the actress in the lead role coming to the audition and saying, “I’m going to play [the role] like Clint Eastwood . Is that okay? Like an f***ing glorious super hero!” Of course the actress got the gig. Because, as Moran’s piece clearly articulates, the act of mothering IS heroic under any circumstance, but solo…
I count among my best-beloveds (BB) one of the most fierce mother warriors I’m sure there has ever been. Her beloved forever (BF) happened to have been born with Trisomy 21, and because of this, warrior mother has spent 18 1/2 years of fierce defending, negotiating, educating, advocating, etc. etc. on behalf of her BF, and has become a major community leader. I remember visiting BB and her BF as a tiny baby and seeing how diligently, how utterly without fail, mother taught her babe the fundamentals of independent life. I remember being amazed at how hard it was, how much dedication it took, for BB to teach her little one things I knew my own little one would most likely do automatically (like hold a spoon, feed herself etc.), or with just a bit of instruction.
When BF was 12 (forgive me if I have the dates incorrect friend), BF’s father was killed in a hit and run, and so mother had to help her child through unbelievable grief at the same time as she grieved, and also the same time that BB was becoming a teenager, as well as so many other things. Then more unbelievably misguided actions were taken against grieving mother of grieving daughter by people who turned their own grief into anger looking for the scapegoat, and in the most cowardly methods of all, using the court system (truly an enabling process for cowards). It was ugly. And then, mother became ill. Deadly so.
With help from others, and with time, and with her fierce mother warrior spirit, BB got better, but oh how it frightened her child who had already lost one parent. Perhaps the guiding force was the beloved forever (who happens to be one of my best friends). And as I write this, they are doing oh so well, but now BF is approaching 19, mother is back in the role of advocate, negotiator, educator, etc. etc. as the daughter transitions from the “protection” (I use that advisedly) of being considered a child by the state, into adulthood, thus all the supports and programs etc. etc. for her will be challenged and changed. BB is advocating that age 25 be the age of adulthood for “non-typical” citizens. And this makes sense in all ways, as brain science now identifies 25 as the age of adult reason in “typical” development any way.
Well this is meandering. But I’d like to reflect upon those who are not mothers either through choice or fate. I was almost of this group of women. I, like other dear, dear friends, lost never-to-be’s. It was devastating beyond belief. And for me, Mother’s Day was one of the most painful days of the year. Though I had never defined myself through child-bearing capability, the fact of my losses made me feel, well, barren. A harsh, horrible word. The minute one becomes pregnant, an envelope of 18 years opens up in one’s brain. The love letter that is freed contains violin lessons, paddling in tidal pools, stockings on the Xmas hearth, graduation, then the tears of letting the beloved forever go out and into the world. Then, when one loses, or cannot conceive, (and I know mother hood is not for all women and that is good to have the choice), theirs is an ambiguity of destiny. And curiously, of judgement, or worse, of the loss totally being ignored.
Then too, there are women who choose not to have children, or by accident of fate, cannot (for whatever reason). And oh how they are judged.
So how do we take all of this? Especially on Mothering Sunday?
Call me corny. Old-fashioned. But I believe mothers, women, little girls who may or may not become mothers, may best be served by being honoured with respect every day of the year. And by respect I do not mean reverence, but respect for their autonomy as individuals, as humans with all their graces and fallibilities. Then too, not to judge, but to help, to really help the solo woman with children, not to scorn, avoid, blame, or suspect, but to help. Help her cut the winter’s firewood. Help her change the tires on the bicycle or the car. Help fix her broken fences so the dogs don’t keep getting out. Help her cut the grass, or make a meal. Anonymously drop flowers at her doorstep. Anonymously send her a letter of admiration. Stand by her when others take actions against her (usually cowardly, usually born of their guilt). Help her and also, celebrate with her, her messy, human life.
Hear her cry. Hear her laugh. Because she is all mothers of all times. Mother Courage. And she is one of us. Utterly.
I hope you have a lovely Mothering Sunday BB. I am sending you xox from England all the way across the sea!