Her Bad Mother

Saturday, October 28, 2006


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

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

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

Out the door I went.

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

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

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

My smile vanished.

"Your baby was at the window. She was waving. You didn't see her."

I didn't see her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Love pedantry? Try this on for size!

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

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

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

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

Bored yet? No? Really?

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

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

So, yeah. We’ll see.

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


And, because we all loves us a little miscellany:

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

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

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

4) Mrs. Chicky has also been whipping up cures for the momospheric blues. It's a Very Special Chicky Love Cure (not tested on animals), and as I am nothing if not a proponent of unfettered love-spreading, I must insist that you participate.

5) The Basement has been really, really quiet these days. It’s a slow, reflective time for many of us, I know, so it’s to be expected. Just remember that it’s there, if you need to get anything off of your chest. There's always someone there to listen.

6) Speaking of chests, mine is gone. Poof. Vanished into the post-breastfeeding air. Anybody seen it? Will it ever come back? I know, love something - 36DDDs - set it free - stop breastfeeding - if it comes back it was yours - doesn't a drawerful of jumbo catch-and-release nursing bras prove ownership? - if it doesn't, it never was - well, fuck you then, stupid, faithless titties.

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

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More evidence that the gods have it in for me...

Edit: WonderBaby update, below

You know how it goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help a girl out. I need a laugh.


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

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

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

Thank god for modern medicine.

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

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

Regularly scheduled blogging will resume shortly.