Her Bad Mother

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Princess, The Cowboy and The Narrative of Footprints

When Princess Diana died, I was bothered by the fawning coverage of what seemed to me to be the excessive displays of public grief. This was at the tail end of my undergraduate years - I was working on my honour`s thesis, about the post-modern politics of community storytelling - and I was as pious a Marxist-feminist as you could hope to find, anywhere. The collective global wailing and rending of garments and tearing of hair was, I thought, an overwrought symptom of the cultural opiation of the masses. She was just one woman, I thought. Why did her death matter more than the death of any other human being? Why had the world gone into deep mourning for one woman - however kind, however pretty - when millions of people died every day? Wasn't there so much greater tragedy in the world, more deserving of mourning?

I thought it all disturbing. Still, I watched the funeral on the television. One has to keep up with popular culture, you know. I was prepared to be outraged. Instead, I cried. Just for a moment - and it was just one moment that provoked the tears - but it was, for me, a revealing moment.

You know the moment that I'm talking about: Prince Harry, then just a little red-headed boy, fists clenched in grief, placed a card on his mother's casket. The cameras zoomed in: the envelope read, simply, Mummy.

I cried, and I got it. I wasn't crying for Diana, or even for little Harry - I was crying about the idea of her death, and the idea of the loss suffered by her family, especially her children. How terrible to lose one's mother. How terrible to be torn away from one's children. How terrible to have one's life, one's future, one's participation in the futures of their loved ones, torn away.

I no more identified with Diana that I identified with the middle-aged Italian cheese merchant down the street. But I knew Diana's story, I was familiar with the story of her life, and with the story of her children's lives, and so I could experience some visceral grief at the tragic turn that the story had taken. So it was that when I saw the image of little Harry's attempt to reach out to his deceased mother, my gut was wrenched much more intensely than it was during any Foster Parents Program commercial.

A similar thing happened while I was reviewing (for my paid gigs, of course) the coverage of Heath Ledger's recent death. I am, in my dotage, much more sympathetic to public grief over the deaths of celebrities than I was as a callow and ideological youth, but I still tend to remain detached from the collective gasping and hand-wringing. So while I was unsettled by the sudden and unexplained death of the actor, I wasn't shedding a lot of tears.

Until, that is, I saw this:

It's a little family memorial that Heath made for his daughter, Matilda, who is two years old (only a month older than Wonderbaby). It's her footprints, pressed into concrete, alongside her name, which Heath scrawled in the pavement outside their home in Brooklyn. It was a special secret between father and daughter, something that they created together, said a neighbour. There are now, apparently, bouquets of flowers, wrapped in plastic, piled upon the concrete over Matilda's footprint. The memorial created by father for daughter is now, simply, a memorial for the father.

It made me cry because it reminded me, sharply - more than could any picture of Heath and Matilda together - that he was a dad who loved his daughter, and that Matilda is a daughter who has lost her dad, and that whatever future they had together - whatever adventures lay ahead of them, whatever sidewalks they might have lovingly defaced - is now gone. Whatever story was unfolding for them - a story that you and I only knew from a distance - has ended, tragically, and what remains is just that poor little girl and her loss.

Children lose parents every day, and - worse - parents lose children. But we don't know most of their stories, and so those losses remain abstract, statistical, at a remove from our own stories. And that's a shame - that we are so removed from each other's stories, that the more distant those stories the less they are able to move us. And maybe it's a shame that we are more likely to be moved by the story of a death of a celebrity than we are by the deaths of 54,000 Congolese every month - it is certainly a shame - but it is, for better or worse, understandable. Heath Ledger, and Princess Di, and Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears and all the other denizens of Celebrityland are much closer to us, or at least appear to be, because we follow their stories and compare our own against them. We trace the narratives of their lives and look for some traces of ourselves - as parents, as citizens, as dreamers - within those narratives. And so when those narratives, those stories, come to a sudden, tragic close, we are affected. Perhaps to an extent disproportionate to the actual events, given our very real distance from those events and the people involved, but still. We are moved.

End of the day, if even one story can move us to hug our children, or our parents, a little tighter, or maybe work a little harder to ensure that we are weaving beautiful stories for our own families, leaving our own footprints in our own sidewalks, that's a good thing.

Now excuse me while I close my computer to go carve my daughter's initials in the tree outside our home.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Sun Will Come Out

It always does. Even when it's been totally, star-obscuringly dark, it always comes out, the sun, and it shines. Not every day, not even every week - and sometimes it can feel like whole lifetimes go by without the sun - but it does come, eventually. Maybe only for a day, or a few hours, or just one brilliant minute as it peeks from behind the clouds - it always finds a way through. It always, always does.

So although it may be the tritest of trite things to say to someone for whom it seems the sun has been hiding its rays, it must be said: the sun will come out, if not today, then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then some day after that, and when it does, it will. feel. glorious.

Send a little sunshine Whymommy's way. She went into surgery today, and surgery for cancer - for anything - is a dark thing. So send some rays - a little comment, a little post in her honor, a few good wishes. Whatever you've got. Let it pierce the clouds, and let it be warm and bright.

Warmest, sunniest wishes to you, lady. Be well.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Snakes And Snails And Puppy Dog's Tails

Wonderbaby is fiercely independent and extremely strong-willed. This will, no doubt, come as no surprise to anyone who has followed my stories about her exploits, but, oddly enough, it comes as a fresh daily surprise to me, the person who spends most time with her, that she has the will and demeanour of a hyperintelligent adolescent jacked up on Twinkies. Or a rabid anthropomorphic badger, the kind that a crack-addled Disney might imagination, the kind that has the determination and the ability to lift your keys and steal your car, if there happens to be something down the road that it wants. Take your pick. I'm never quite sure, myself, what life-form she most resembles. Toddler, I suppose.

Whatever it is, and for whatever reason, it's a constant source of surprise to me. Why I keep waking up each morning expecting to find a child that can be defined in terms of sugar and spice and everything nice, I don't know. But I do. And so I'm always taken just a little bit off guard when I get smacked by a puppy dog's tail. Or by a diaper full of fresh toddler shit, removed by said toddler and not-so-neatly carted around until she can find something that looks like a trash-bucket in which to discard it (perhaps the laundry basket, or the oven-cupboard of her toy cook-stove/kitchen), so that she might go on the toilet - the real toilet, mind, and not the potty, which is FOR BABIES - and finish the job, ALONE. (MY DO IT! NO HELP, MOMMY! NO HELP!)

She is all movement and noise, starting the day at a brisk trot-and-bounce and finishing it at full-tilt run-and-leap, with no deceleration in-between. She will brook no quiet time, unless it is spent in some sort of moving vehicle, in which case she will holler, repeatedly, FASTER GO FASTER! LET'S GO HILL! UP! DOWN! FASTER! And if we do attempt to force some quiet time, either by buckling her into some sort of toddler containment facility or such whatnot, she will break free and - woe betide you if you are not hot on her trail - seize the opportunity for a fast game of public hide'n'seek or scaling walls or breaking into cupboards and stealing chocolate or busting into bathroom cabinets and finding potions to pour into the sink or, maybe, just going to the bathroom unsupervised where one can experiment with defecation and disposal techniques uninterrupted.

So although she is the darlingest thing, and is certainly as sweet as pie in most respects - she will always say please and thank you and excuse me, as she rushes past you to grab your handbag in her search for candy or car keys, and will always insist upon cleaning up the poo she has inexpertly deposited in exactly the wrong location (CLEAN UP! CLEAN UP!) - there is nothing sugar and spice about her.

What, then, am I supposed to do if I produce a male version of this child? What if her little brother is everything that she is, but with a urine-spraying penis-thingie, too? Won't that be, like, Wonderbaby armed?

I'm so thrilled to be having a boy, I really, really am, but that thrilledness carries with it the distinct vibrations of fear. Real fear. Palpable fear. The fear, I think, that only a mother who has had the experience of feeling totally under siege by her children can know.

There are going to be two of them, soon, and one of them is going to have a built-in spray hose. I should just go ahead and wave the white flag right now, shouldn't I?

For Julie, who will be under spray months before I am, and so who will, I hope, pass on some good sources of peenie umbrellas to me. (Part of the not-so-golden shower hosted by Kristen and Cathy)