Her Bad Mother

Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Miscellany

1. Further to Wednesday’s post

As Christina noted in her comments to that post, it is possible to argue that the most disturbing thing about Vogue’s ‘yummy mummy’ editorial spread is not the 90lb, 14 year old Eastern European model masquerading as a Southern California MILF, but rather the numerous examples of negligent parenting displayed throughout the spread. The ‘yummy mummy’ (for that is indeed how the photos are captioned) is shown, variously, feeding what looks to be a 9 month-old baby French fries, carting exposed baby around in full sunlight with no hat or sunshade, and jimmying a very flash Philippe Starck for Maclaren stroller onto an escalator. This, in addition to teetering precariously in four inch heels while clutching baby in open arms.

To which I can only say this: if these are the reproductive/childcare practices of Social X-rays/Extreme Fashion Victims, well, then, I guess that’s just Nature’s way of culling that particular herd.

2. Continuation of the same subject

In this same issue of Vogue – which is either trying to attract or repel (it's not clear which) the elusive and possibly mythical Sophisticated Young Urban Mother market – you can also find a story about Melania Trump’s pregnancy and preparations for baby. In which you will be treated to a picture of a scantily-clad Mrs. Trump coated in gold paint. In case you were wondering, yes, gold paint applied to one's skin is probably on the What to Expect When You're Expecting list of Things to Avoid During Pregnancy. See above re: Social X-ray/Extreme Fashion Victim reproductive practices and the greater logic of Nature.

You will also discover in this artice that, in addition to resting his or her Trump-heir bottom upon mink coverlets lined with cashmere, Baby Trump will be inhabiting his or her own apartment in Trump Tower. Which leads me to surmise that not only are Mr. and Mrs. Trump not following the advice of the What to Expect books, they are not following Dr. Sears and will not be practicing Attachment Parenting.

Although maybe if Gucci made baby slings and there were such things as carved giltwood Louis XV co-sleepers… Nah. I didn't really think so either.

But on to happier stories!

3. WonderBaby had her first non-booby meal this week! Delicious, delicious rice cereal, eaten with lovely plastic spoon!

It was beautiful. Mommy cried.


4. ... WonderBaby is on the move!

WonderBaby and her court are currently excursing to the provinces to receive homage from her adoring subjects. Travel diary to be posted imminently...

OK, so it's no tiara. But it's still pretty freakin' regal headgear.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Strike a pose, there's nothing to it

So, something about me that is not remotely interesting but provides a useful segue to this post: I read Vogue magazine. For the articles, of course. (1) And because it makes me feel inferior, which helps to temper my enormous ego.

And this month's Vogue, as it happens, is the perfect antidote to any Mommy-ego that I might have been developing in these heady days that comprise Baby's fourth month. Because just when I thought that brushing my teeth and putting on matching socks represented the gold-standard of mommy-togetherness, Vogue goes ahead and mocks me with this:

Mommy-Fashion Do #37: Always match shoes to belt to infant car seat

And this:

Corset Belts as Post-Partum Must-Haves. There's a Women's Studies Masters' Thesis in here somewhere ('Motherhood Bound: Defining the American MILF through the Patriarchal Sign')

I know that editorial fashion spreads are by definition unrealistic. I know too that that model is probably 14 years old and has a eating disorder and a drug habit that are shrivelling her ovaries as we speak. But still. I look at these photos and think to myself, just for a moment: Damn, girl. You are a slob.

For the record, I usually don't have time for lengthy oral dissertations on the Culture Industry's Oppression of Women through the Propogation of Unrealistic Standards of Beauty. I mean, duh. We all know it and we all still buy the magazines and watch the TV shows and go to the movies and say to ourselves damn but that Angelina is smokin' hot. (2) (Except, I suppose, those of you out there who still wear black berets and sport Down With Patriarchy tattoos and shun all media in favour of reading Sartre in smoky cafes. But I probably lost you at 'I read Vogue.') Me, I make my living reading Very Important Books and exploring Very Important Ideas and so when I'm not totally preoccupied by High Culture and Philosophy (and, of course, not otherwise engaged in baby-wrangling or blogging), I like to indulge in a little mindless entertainment, even if it is, on some level, Fundamentally Oppressive.

But these days, I'm feeling a teensy-weensy more insecure than usual and so pictures of very skinny models wearing very high heels and pretending to be mothers grated. Just a little bit. But you know what grated more? The product and lifestyle-lust that the layout inspired. A Maclaren stroller designed by Starck? The slick portable baby chair that would blend perfectly into a slick modernist dining room? Want, want, WANT.

Not so much because I like having beautiful things - I absolutely do, but I don't need beautiful baby equipment. (I got over that issue really fast. Baby equipment must needs be functional. It's got a job to do, and if the ugly plastic thing or piece of cardboard does the trick better than the High Design Model, then we go with the plastic or cardboard. And? Babies ain't cheap. The usefulness of the Oeuf bouncy chair does not correspond to its price and when there're a thousand other things to buy and save for, well, might as well go with the cheap or secondhand Fisher Price model...)

No, the reason that these things got to me was that they spoke to my pre-Baby ambitions for my New Mother Self. I did not expect that I'd be gallivanting around in four-inch heels and Marc Jacobs trenchcoats (although, hello? Spit-up would roll right off of a slick patent leather trench...) But I did imagine myself maintaining some respectable level of hipness and traipsing hiply around the city with my super-hip baby by day and lounging with martinis while hipster baby chortled peacefully in a discrete, black bouncy chair by night. The truth of life with Baby, however, looks more hippy than hip. We've been over this before, but here are the facts, again: yoga pants are stretched over the child-bearing hips, and running shoes are strapped onto newly-widened feet for balance. And instead of well-designed baby equipment tucked discretely in the corners of our tidy home, we are buried under mountains of red and yellow plastic. (Martinis, in case you haven't heard, now give me seventh-circle-of-hell hangovers.)

I don't mind this at all. In fact, most days, I love it. I wear spit-up stained t-shirts with pride, and sip happily at the Guinness to boost milk supply. The superficial trappings of hip are much, much less interesting now. But that Vogue spread? That pushed some superficial buttons.

Which is what it was supposed to do, so don't read this as a complaint, or as the foundation of a treatise on the Evils of the Fashion System. Truthfully, I laughed as much as I salivated and fretted. Four-inch heels? Carrying a baby that looks to weigh about 30 lbs (in other words, about half the size of the model) in four inch heels without a Baby Bjorn Active Carrier? Ha Effing Ha.

(And? WonderBaby has more hair than slickity-slicker-Vogue Baby! Triple HA!)

So even though that Philippe Starck stroller would be lovely to have, if I have to give up the comfortable shoes (am working up to ballet flats) and the comforts of outfit-creasing baby carriers to make it work, I don't want it. And I don't want the life that goes with it. I like this one just fine.

This is how we rock it in the real world. (3)


1) Am not kidding! OK, mostly kidding. But seriously? Jeffrey Steingarten is the best food writer in the world. And where else would I find out that Frank Gehry is going to be designing for Tiffany?

2) Angelina is hot (not going to touch the issue of her slutty man-thievery, tho.' Or the grottiness of the man that she thieved.) But she's not my girl-crush. Catherine Keener is my girl crush. Catherine Keener rocks! But most people don't see this, so I go with the more obvious example.

3) This unveiling of Bad Mother was inspired by Mom-101, who is an inspiration to us all.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A mommy by any other name would still smell like spit-up

(This is not the Dull and Pedantic Post that I warned about in my last post. No, this is an entirely new Pedantic Post that may, in fact, also be Dull. And Long. LOOOONG. Consider yourself warned.)

(But! There are pictures!)

The debate about what Women-Who-Are-Mothers-Who-Not-So-Incidentally-Blog should call themselves rages on. Apparently, to refer to one’s blogger self as a Mommy is, in some circles, considered jejune. Mommies, after all, are not taken seriously, and so any blogger looking for a serious audience ought to avoid the sticky taint of such a juvenile term and refer to themselves as Mom, Mother or Parent.

To be honest, my reaction when this topic first hit my blogdar was: you’re kidding me, right? RIGHT? Who (expletive, expletive) cares? And then, more expletives, sotto voce.

But then I gave it a second thought, in part because other literate and thoughtful WWAMWNSIBs had something to say about it, and I pay attention to literate and thoughtful people. (Not so much to ignorant dipshits, but then I try to avoid such persons as much in the blogosphere as I do in real life.) Why does it matter what we call ourselves?

I'm not fully certain why it matters to the blogging public, although I agree with others that it has something to do with securing respect in the public space that is the parenting blogosphere. There's weight attached to the terminology used in parenting, and the names that we use to identify ourselves as parents carry a tremendous share of that weight. In an environment where language is the primary means of identifying and characterizing ourselves and our peers, what we call ourselves takes on an enormous significance. You don't like women who call themselves mommies? You might not like me, then, even if you've never read a word of my blog. Does that matter to me? Absolutely.

But beyond its obvious relevance to my desire to be liked (please oh please, blubber), why does this matter to me? And why do I call myself what I do?

What I said today at Kristen’s site, in a comment to her thoughtful post on the topic:

I’m still trying to figure out what my thoughts are on this subject. In part, I think, because I am still trying to figure out my thoughts on being called a mommy, a mom, a breeder or whatever. At 4 months, Baby isn’t calling me anything yet, but I imagine that when she does it will be ‘Mommy.’ (If she calls me ‘Mother’ immediately, or refers to me by my given name, I'll take that as just weird.) So I usually think of my new identity as Mommy. But I’m sensitive to it being perceived as less serious than other identities I might have.

And I’ve also spent far too long in academia to be insensitive to the Politics of Naming. In fact, I would say that I am now so sensitive to such politics that I develop a rash when exposed. I once participated in a meeting at the university to discuss the formation of a women’s caucus within our department. The entire meeting was spent debating whether it would be alienating to women to even call the group a caucus because, you know, COCK-US. The penile reference might Intimidate and undermine the Inclusivity of the Group. I never went back.

I’ve gone a little off-track here. What I wanted to get across was the following: a) I usually get hives and so run off in pursuit of salve when the politics of language rears its ugly head, but b) I recognize that it *can* be a part of important and necessary discussions… It is in this case (important and necessary, that is), because what we call ourselves as mothers has everything to do with how we identify ourselves as mothers, and that happens both individually and collectively…

So how do I identify myself? That question is so loaded for me that it almost put me off writing this post. The fast, dirty and painful answer is that I have very little idea who I am in this new life. I've addressed the question of my greater existential turmoil elsewhere, and will no doubt do so again (because I know that you all burn, burn to read about it.) But what I can say, right now, is this: I’m a Mommy. For now, for today, for better or for worse, I. Am. A. Mommy.

Ceci n'est pas une Mother

Why not Mom, Mother or Parent? I do use those terms, sometimes. But not often, because they all carry connotations that don’t, or don’t yet, comfortably apply to me.

Why not Mom? It’s what I call my own mother. I view it as indicative of a greater maturity in one’s role as the maternal parent, and also of a more mature relationship between parent and child. Or of a completely immature relationship that has nonetheless advanced to later stages (as in ‘gawd, MOM, stop embarrassing me!’ spat through the braces of a livid 14-year-old.) Some day I’ll be a Mom. But I’m not there yet. It may be the case that calling myself a Mom would earn me more respect as a parent or as a blogger. But, again – Not There Yet.

Why not Mother? This is more complicated. The maturity issue, referred to above, obviously applies here. But there's more to it than that. I refer to myself on this blog as Her Bad Mother, and not Her Bad Mommy (the Google hits would be too disturbing, and in any case, there’s a story behind HBM), but the 'Bad' detracts from the seriousness of 'Mother.' This, obviously, is part of the intent of the moniker. Although I am A Mother, I cannot refer to myself simply as ‘Mother’ with a straight face. And, not without thinking about nuns, the movie ‘Psycho,’ and expletive-laden hyphenations. I can talk about motherhood, mothering, and about being Her Mother and a mother generally, so long as we’re sticking to the abstract third-person. But I can’t call myself Mother, at least not as a proper name. And I can’t imagine my own daughter ever calling me Mother in anything other than a voice of outright exasperation.

Why not Parent? I don't really mind the term 'parent' to describe myself. It's safe, I'll say that. I use it in discussions with my doctor and other professional support persons. But 'parent,' to me, has the same feel as the term ‘partner,’ when used to describe a husband, wife, co-breeder, whatever. It’s devoid of any personality. It tells me nothing about the person being described. Which is, I suppose, the point. But I’m not entirely comfortable with de-gendering parent roles: parenthood is gendered, even when it’s Dad at home and Mom at work and/or when Daddy is the softie pushover and Mommy the hard-ass and/or whatever. Fathers are boys and mothers are girls, and this is true even when there are two of either in one household. But that’s a whole other post.

I like knowing whether the person at hand is male or female, and – here’s the rub – whether they describe themselves as Mommy/Daddy, Mom/Dad or Mother/Father. Even if our respective understandings of those terms differ, your use of one or the other or all of them tells me something about you. Not, I want to stress, as fodder for the Great Filter of Judgment – my preferred fodder for the Filter are demonstrations of stupidity, extreme illiteracy and blatant disregard for norms of civility. (And maybe, also, acid-washed denim. And camel toes.) I’ll always make every effort to avoid judging a parent by how they refer to themselves. We all have our reasons for identifying ourselves the way that we do. The interesting question is, why? Why do you call yourself a Mommy? A Dad? A Bitch with Baby? A Dude with Diaper Bag?

Right now I usually refer to myself as a Mommy. ‘Mommy’ resonates with me because it connotes immaturity. I am absolutely an immature mother. I’ve never done this before. New motherhood baffles me, so I can’t pretend to be anything other than a total neophyte. ‘Mommy’ also resonates with me because this stage of parenthood strikes me as a profoundly ridiculous enterprise. Not ridiculous in the sense of unimportant, but ridiculous in the classical sense of inspiring laughter (following the Latin ridere, to laugh). It's silly. I’m tripping all over myself as I find my mother-legs, and this is a silly, risible thing to behold. It’s clumsy, crazy, goofy Seussian parenting and I’m not going to – can’t – cloak it in a veil of seriousness. So I refer to myself the way my immediate live audience would, and will, refer to me – as Mommy. Say it with a giggle.

Giggle, dammit.

If you’ve looked at more than one post on my blog, you’ll know that I sometimes mock my own Mommyness. But you'll know too, I hope, that I also take that Mommyness very seriously. I hope that you’ll take me seriously. But to do this, I think, you have to appreciate that I am, and why I am, a Mommy.

I’ll do the same for you, whatever you call yourself.



And! Thanks to the super and amazing Blog Makeover Diva for the fantabulous makeover of Bad Mother Headquarters! Check her out!