Her Bad Mother

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Blog Exchange - Freedom's Just Another Word For Who Are You F***ing Kidding?

*The Daily Edit: my reflections on the first ever Toronto Mama Blogger Hoe-Down are coming, and will pre-empt the perpetually pre-empted Feminist Smackdown. My local home girls are more worthy of my words than Flanagan and Hirshman, so they'll come first. Well, second. After sleep.

First - oh the shame at having neglected, in my Perfect Post and PIMP Awards Post, to thank Sarah and Krista for recognizing two of *my* posts for PPs. I edited the post to add my thanks, but, still, am self-flagellating at having been so ungracious. Bad Bad Mother! (Thanks, Sarah and Krista, many times over.)

Second - you can find me today over at Knitting Spells, reflecting on this month's Exchange topic, Freedom (I know. When was the last time you tasted that sweet liquor? Never ago? Seems that way.)

And now (drum roll): A great big Muppet welcome to my very special guest blogger, Vicki from Knitting Spells!

Freedom or Fleedom?

I've been accused by, eh-hem, certain people of fleeing from relationships or, more specifically, of dropping the axe quickly, with a big, surprising, smooth whoosh. N would constantly tell me how quick I was to end things. (But I ask you, if you've given someone 14 chances to suck it up and stop being weanie, is that quick?) Sometimes it isn't even an accusation. My friend L often says that she couldn't believe how quickly may marriage ended after that fateful moment when I said the words "I could leave him" out loud. There's evidence, for sure. There's evidence that I'm not going to stick around in a crappy situation.

There's a generation, or maybe its not a group that falls into generational lines, but there is certainly some sort of group of people that will always chastise you for not sticking it out. They'll tell you how there will always be tough times and if you aren't willing to stay through those, than you don't know what love is, what commitment is. These people, and their voices that echo in my head, are better than a martyr mother at causing a nice guilt reaction. And they make me wonder, if N's right, if L's right....if I'm just a wussy who does have the fortitude or love or whatever the hell it takes to stay with someone and work it all out. I start to wonder if I'm selfish and flighty.

And then I stop.

Because though I think it's a good thought to weigh against my heart and my gut, it cannot take over my actions. The people who purport this idea know exactly what their doing. N knew that he was using it to try to guilt me into staying with him, further changing who I was and what I felt. And he would be safe, not having to change anything, not having to face anything, as long as I thought that staying together was bigger and better than any other issue. And I don't think that. And I doubt I ever will.

There's an insidious sexism behind this thought especially now that the world does not require a woman to be attached to a man just to survive. Now that we can be fine, happy, and successful on our own, people want to scream the commitment and duty ideals even louder because what else have they got anymore? What else have they got to keep us in unhappy, unfulfilling, and useless relationships?

And as usual, Little A is the person that makes me wonder about this most of all. Am I teaching her that relationships are completely disposable? Am I teaching her to not work at things? Or am I teaching her to follow her own path, make her own decisions and know that she doesn't have to stay in any relationship that makes her unhappy? I hope its the latter, but I've found this parenting thing to be the biggest experiment I've ever known. So all I can do is hope.

Maybe I am fleeing. Maybe I'm exchanging long term security for temporal happiness and comfort and freedom from constant anger, frustration, and disappointment. But that is a freedom that I will not give up. If I cannot be free to be what I am, and feel what I feel as I'm securely bound to someone, then freedom will have to win.

(V detests bios, but loves her daughter, knitting, and maybe a few other things, maybe...depending on the day. She likes to blather on about all of these things at Spells With... )

And now... check out the other participants in this month's Blog Exchange.

Cape Buffalo
Soul Gardening
Another Mommy Moment
Mommy's Dirty Secret
Chicken n Cheese
A Mommy Story
A Crack in Life
Divine Calm
Taste the World
Knitting Spells
Motherhood Uncensored
Zach's Day
Her Bad Mother
Clueless in Carolina
Izzy Mom
Mother Goose Mouse
Chaos Theory

If you are interested in participating next month, email Kristen at kmei26 at yahoo dot com.

Freedom? Don't talk to me about freedom, Momtard. Free WonderBaby!

Friday, June 30, 2006


We interrupt regularly scheduled Heavy Blogging (the long-promised but ever-elusive Feminist Smackdown) for more Happy Blogging: this month’s Perfect Post Awards! (And tomorrow: the June Blog Exchange!)

I’ve never awarded a Perfect Post Award. I’ve thought about it. Every month I read dozens of posts that deserve to be called Perfect Posts, and every month I tell myself that I’m going to sling some awards around. Then the end of the month approaches, and I start reviewing all of the posts that I’ve mentally bookmarked as Perfect and I get overwhelmed. How to choose?

This month, I decided to just suck it up. I narrowed my list down, with difficulty. But I couldn’t get it down to just one. So, unable to follow the rules, I simply ignored the rules and sent in a short-ish list of awardees. Whereupon MommaK asked me really nicely if I could please just narrow it down to one, the better to avoid starting a trend of free-for-all award-slinging (which, while nice in theory, would turn the elegant Perfect Post Awards Ceremony into a bloated festival of sycophancy, hosted by Billy Crystal.)

So by this morning, just in time to have missed the Unveiling of the Perfect Post Awards Recipients, I sent in my revised nomination. I’m hoping that the ever-gracious MommaK will still put up notice of the award on the list, but, as it happens, it’s a moot point, because my awardee and her post are already listed there.

My Perfect Post Award went, this month, to Marla of Hello Josephine, for her post Wherein I end with a poem that I used to think was maudlin. Which is a beautiful piece of poetry, accompanied by beautiful pictures, and is fully deserving. Unofficially, however, this award goes to a post that she wrote earlier in the month and has since deleted. That post described her relationship with her mother and her fears and desires for her own relationship with her daughter, and although it described a relationship that is very different from the one that I share with my own mother, it gripped me completely and left me in tears. It was tremendous. She removed that post because she did not (to paraphrase her) want to have those feelings, in all of their rawness, living in front of her. I completely understand that. But I’m grateful that I caught them while they lived.

But alongside Marla's wonderful posts, there were a host of other posts by other wonderful bloggers that I also wanted to recognize: among them, BubandPie’s post about keeping a diary, Christina’s thought-provoking piece about her c-section and how art has helped her come to terms with it, and all of the pieces that Scarbie has written about her struggles with anxiety. These were just a few of the many posts I read this month that compelled me to leave banal comments to the effect of wow. And - that was just beautiful. And - the surest sign that I am at a loss for words - thank you.

And, and... I would have liked to have given an award to Amalah, for Nobody Tells You. I know: part of the point of the awards is to spread the love, introduce people to new blogs and great writing that they might not have otherwise come across. And it might be said that there’s something sucky about cruising up to one of the Very, Very Popular Girls and presenting her with a friendship bracelet. Like she needs it, like she cares, and isn’t this all just about getting her notice you?

Whatever. Her post on the experience of losing her temper, however momentarily, with her baby knocked me off of my feet. It was breathtaking in its honesty. It was brave. It described an experience that all of us have – or will – undergo. One that we will all have a great deal of trouble talking about, if we ever speak of it at all. That she spoke of it will make it a little easier for us – for me – to own up to it and to speak honestly about when it happens.

It was also a post that demonstrates the power of writing through the difficulties of motherhood, and of life more generally. And so, in a way, it honors all of those women (and man) who have been blogging their fears and hurts and anxieties in the Basement. Writing through pain or fear or insecurity is powerfully difficult, regardless of whether one does it anonymously or in their own name. But it’s also, simply, powerful. It helps the writer and, perhaps more importantly, it helps all of those who read it. Writing like this demonstrates to both writer and readers that we’re not alone.

So, to Amalah, and to the ladies mentioned above, and - last but not least - to all of the writers of the Basement: I offer you my own award, for writing that demonstrates the power of writing in community. I’m calling them the PIMP awards: Prima Inter Mater Pares (First Among Mother Equals. Latin bastardized for acronymical effect.) You've been PIMPed.

Take a bow.

WonderBaby is impressed. Really. On the inside.


A Perfect Post

So, I only realized after this post had gone to press that I had not thanked two super-awesome ladies for bestwoing Perfect Post Awards upon me. Kristi of A Beautiful Mess presented me with Award for 'Sticks and Stones,' the post that wrote about my terminally-ill nephew struggling to find a place among his not-always-welcoming peers. And Sarah of Sarah and the Goon Squad honoured 'How to Lose a Friend in Ten Months,' my post about being dumped by a friend for being a mommy and a blogger. Thanks, ladies! Those awards made my day, because the posts they honour were difficult to write. Truly lovely to know that you liked them.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Here Be Post-Modern Muppets

Thanks to all for the tremendously supportive comments to my last post. They were, each and every one of them, so appreciated.

*Edited below. Because you've come to expect it.

The Feminist Smackdown is up next, but I need a breather from Heavy Blogging. And in any case, the Smackdown needs a little work. At the moment, my engagement with the lady-tardage that is (in this corner!) Caitlin Flanagan and (in this corner!) Linda Hirshman is not so much critical analysis as it is expletive-ridden rant. (WTF Flanagan? WTF Hirshman? WT-effing-F?)

Also, I have mood swings. And I do not feel like being angry today.

So today we will reflect upon happy things. (Flipping through the Happy Files... what to choose, what to choose... Babies - already on it - Barcelona, Books, Chocolate, Dalwhinnie Single-Malt, Ella Fitzgerald, Elephants, ... wait... go back to the Bs... BOOKS.)

Books. Today we shall reflect on books.

Before you click away - yes, I saw that - thinking that this is going to be a dreary Bad Mother lecture on what fiction you should be reading (although, since you asked: Tolstoy, Austen and Stendhal.), give me just a second. This is not about what you should read. It's not about what I read. It's about what I read, past tense.

It's about one of my very first books. One of the first that I can remember holding in my own hands. No, this book was not Herodotus' Histories (although I do recommend this as a source for great bedtime stories). It was not Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan or Ivanhoe or any of the tales told by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson (all of which were read aloud to me many times before I ever got my hands on them.)

It was this:

It was a Little Golden Book. Starring Grover. The plot (such as it is) hinges upon the promise made in the title: that there is a monster at the end of the book. Every time you turn a page - against Grover's exhortations that you not, for the love of all that is blue and holy, turn the page - you get closer to that monster.

Every time that I opened this book, I thrilled at the suspense. When either of my parents read it with me, I would squeal and grab their hands: Careful! Turn the pages slowly! Slowly!

Every page was turned carefully, slowly, one corner at time, so that I could peek around the printed corner. I knew well what was coming, but I still squirmed with anticipation and the teeniest, tiniest flicker of fear...

... and a delicious sense of naughtiness. Grover - lovable old Grover - says please don't turn the page. Mom or Dad would say, are you sure you want to turn the page? Grover says don't turn the page. But still, always, I turned the page.

And I would, always, shriek with delight when I reached the end, where, as promised, the monster was revealed.

That the monster was Grover was never a surprise, not after the first reading. What thrilled and delighted me, I think, was the reminder - the ever unexpected reminder - of Grover's monsterness. I knew that Grover was a monster, of course. But I never reflected upon his monsterness. I never - that is, when I was not turning the pages of this particular book - gave any thought to the fact that Grover was a monster, or to the fact that his monsterness put him in the same category as Boogeymen and werewolves and all other manner of frightening creatures that lived under my bed or in my closet. Grover was familiar and safe and comforting (in a way that the Cookie Monster, for example, was not. I always suspected that the Cookie Monster could turn on a kid at any time, revert to his monster-ish, Mr-Muppet-Hyde dark side while in the grip of a bad cookie trip.) Grover was not monster in the sense of being Other: he was a sweet old furry blue uncle, very possibly with bad breath, but certainly generous with the hugs.

The book gripped me with the revelatory reminder that he was, indeed, a monster. It also, of course, gripped me with its narrative suspense. I think that this book was a wonderful introduction, for a very young reader, to the thrill of the page, to the incomparable magic carpet ride - destination unknown or anticipated or delightfully feared - that is a good story. And it demonstrated amply that a good story can boil down to just a few simple, well-directed lines.

It was all of these things. But it was mostly the thrill of being reminded that Grover's a monster I'm supposed to be afraid of monsters but I'm not afraid of Grover the monster that kept me pestering my parents to sit down and read this book with me.

Roland Barthes argued that there is pleasure in narrative suspense - the "gradual unveiling" of a story - but that this pleasure is not the true pleasure of the text. The text of pleasure, he says, submits to and offers comfortable reading; the text of bliss, on the other hand, discomfits. It unsettles the reader's assumptions, "brings to a crisis his relation with language."

The thrill of There's a Monster at the End of this Book was, for me, exactly this. It exploded my childish understanding of 'monster.' And, more to the point, it broke the comfort of my readerly relationship with Grover; it unsettled my assumption that Grover was just like me (because do we not assume that those whom we love are always and ever just like us?) and forced me to confront dear Grover as the alien being that he is. If I love Grover, I love monsters. The book was thrilling because it was sort of dangerous. It provoked a little bit of fear and then asked me to reconsider that fear. It asked me questions. It made me ask questions. Why was I - am I - afraid of monsters? Who else is a monster? WHAT is a monster?

That book (and others like it) turned me on to the thrill of having my assumptions challenged. It fuelled my love of questions. And, it made me love books. It made me love the adventure of opening books to see what surprises they held.

It was good stuff. Still is. I nearly wept when I found There's a Monster at the End of This Book at a second-hand store the other day, and when I sat down with WonderBaby to flip through the pages (and found myself doing a strange, Yoda-ish impression of Grover that completely failed to impress) it provoked the same old thrill. Well look at that! This is the end of the book and the only one here is ME! Grover!

Well, Grover, and some good old-fashioned structuralist/post-structuralist literary analysis. Here be monsters.

What were your favourite books as a child? What's the earliest reading experience that you can remember?

WonderBaby, in case you're wondering, currently prefers Anna Wintour to Grover. (The Devil, clearly, wears onesies...)

(And? WonderBaby's current editorial layout is here. She is also featured, alongside the incomparably fierce Bumper, in a photo-essay presented by Mother Bumper, here.)

*(The Dan Brown joke that previously appeared in this space will no longer be seen. It has been re-scheduled so that the following announcement can be made: there's a new visitor in the Basement, talking about a very difficult subject. Go chat.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

How To Lose a Friend in 10 Months

**Edited below
As promised, more Heavy and Really Sort Of Morose Blogging. Don't say I didn't warn you. If morose bores you, scroll back a post and reflect upon roller-skating, Steve Zissou, David Hasselhoff, and the retirement of the It's Not Easy Being Green Dancers...

I read a lot of books and magazines and websites about parenting and motherhood while I was pregnant with WonderBaby. I read about breastfeeding and sleep schedules and sleep arrangements and Attachment Parenting and baby whispering and swaddling and SIDS and PPD and all variety of issues and ideas related to Having a Baby. I learned a lot, and nothing at all. End of the day, even with all of the relevant information swirling around in my head, I was on my own. The books and magazines and websites gave me tools, but they didn't tell me how to distinguish between the tools (most of which, as we all know, have competing functions), or how to choose which tools to use. I was on my own.

I expected this. Even as I studied, frenetically and, ultimately, fruitlessly, about how to cope with sleepless nights and endless feedings and the constant anxiety, I knew that nothing could prepare me for the challenge that I would face on my own, and for being alone (even with my phenomenally supportive husband) in that experience. I knew that I would feel isolated.

What I didn't know was how isolated I would feel. And I didn't know that new motherhood would bring new forms of isolation. I didn't know that it would isolate me from old friends. I didn't know that it would cause me to lose friendships.

I had read about this, of course, losing friends after becoming a mother. I think that it's an editorial rule at all pregnancy and parenting magazines that a story about losing friends as a consequence of new motherhood must appear at least once every three issues. I'd seen the articles. I'd seen the discussions at parenting websites. I just didn't think that the issue applied to me.

My friends were good friends. Life friends. The people that I spent time with and shared myself with were - are - people that I enjoy and trust and really, really like. There aren't a lot of them. Acquaintances come and go, and I assumed that I would have a lot less contact with acquaintances once the mother ship landed. But my friends, I assumed, would understand that I would no longer be able to dash out for coffee or spend long, lazy evenings drinking wine and chatting. Not for a while, anyway.

So I was gobsmacked to read, in a recent e-mail from someone with whom I have been very close friends for over a decade, that I had been neglecting the friendship and that, accordingly, she viewed the friendship as dead. We had been exchanging e-mails and occasional phone calls, but it wasn't, in her view, enough. So that was it. It was over. "I've already mourned the loss," she said, "don't e-mail me back."

There's much that could be said about this, about the shock and hurt that accompanies the sudden and unexpected death of a friendship. About how and why new motherhood - parenthood - might cause such a death. How new motherhood affects one's ability to maintain normal levels of social contact. About how I thought that I was doing pretty well, making sure that I stayed in touch, making sure that I explained why it was so difficult to get out of the house anytime other than weekday afternoons (weekends being reserved, largely, for making up lost time with a very busy Husband). There's much that I would like to say about this, because I know that she'll read it and I want her to hear it. But it wouldn't make much of a difference, because, end of the day, she did not end the friendship because my ability to socialize became impaired by new motherhood.

She ended the friendship because I blog.

Not because I have blogged about her or about the friendship. Not because I have violated confidences or said inappropriate things. This friendship was not dooced. What happened was this: she ended the friendship because, despite the constraints that new motherhood imposes upon my time and energies - constraints that limit the time that I spend socializing - I find time and energy to blog.

You make time, she said, for what matters.

True enough. I do make time for blogging. But I make time in 5 or 10 or, maybe, if I'm very, very lucky, 20 minute increments. I blog late at night, or first thing in the morning. Sometimes, I do it with WonderBaby latched to the boob. Often, I am unwashed and in pajamas, munching on an already-partially-teethed teething biscuit. (I know. I have just shattered the widely-shared romantic vision of HBM seated, with her laptop, at a tidy secretaire in an oak-panelled library, clad in stylish loungewear and sipping tea from a china cup). It is not, in other words, time that would otherwise be spent maintaining real life social networks. If any relationship takes a hit from the blogging, it is my marriage: many an evening, after WonderBaby is abed, the Husband gets assigned dinner duty while I finish a post. And so far as I know, Husband is not planning on leaving me because blogging matters more than helping him make dinner. (Um, Husband... right?)

But 'making time' is not really the issue here, either. I'm pretty sure that my old friend wouldn't begrudge me time spent writing, if writing was - and it certainly is this, as she well knows - a sanity-saver. The issue is that I am writing in what amounts to a public forum. I am not only writing, I am communicating. I am sharing my secrets, confiding my fears, telling my stories - to the Internet. To blog-friends. Secrets and fears and stories that I otherwise would be - should be - confiding to real-life friends. To her.

I get this. Sort of. Which is to say, I would get this if I had been the sort of friend who regularly confided secrets and fears. But I wasn't. Oh, I would, certainly, regularly catch good friends up on what was going on in my life, things that were bugging me, that kind of thing. But I've never been the sort of friend who easily shares her anxieties and fears and griefs. Hell, I'm not really that sort of wife: the Husband knows that the surest sign that I'm upset about something is if I stop talking. The more bothered I am by something, the less likely I am to talk about it.

Stop the presses: I do not like to 'share.'

To be more clear, I do not like to talk about things that bother me or hurt me or grieve me or move me beyond my comfort zone. I do not like hearing the sound of my own voice drone on about something that pains me. It's like fingernails down a blackboard. And I do not like to cry - hurt cry, pain cry - with other people. I do not like being held by anyone - other than my mother, my father or my husband - while I cry. I hate it. It unnerves me. Makes me feel exposed.

I don't know why this is. There's probably a good long post about why I am emotionally reserved. My psychiatrist thought that it was cause for concern: someone who hates talking about her worries and fears is, she said, going to struggle more desperately with the worries and fears that new motherhood can bring. She was right. But I still never talked about it.

I hate talking about 'it' - about fear or pain or sadness. When my nephew was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I withdrew from everybody but my husband. When we had to go through genetic testing and counselling to address the very likely possibility that I carried the same gene that will kill my nephew - the gene that I would almost certainly pass on any son I might bear, that would certainly kill any son that inherited it from me - I clammed up entirely. Didn't speak of it, unless pressed to. Because I couldn't bear to.

And this - this emotional reservedness, this clamming up - has never been more true for me than it has been during this first half-year of motherhood. It has been hard. Real hard. And I have not wanted to talk about how hard it is. Nor have I wanted to talk about how those challenges, those sometimes painful challenges, are well-steeped in joy. Motherhood has not only challenged me, it has pained me and confused me and amazed me and filled me with such joy that I sometimes cannot breath. And I have found it hard to talk about this, because the sound of my own voice seems to take the feelings away from me, make them not my own, disassociate them from me. It breaks the intimacy of my own experience of those feelings, it removes them from me in a way that is, to me, strange-making.

But writing doesn't do that. Writing about my fears and anxieties and sadnesses and joys - some of them, anyway - brings me closer to those feelings. Somehow, seeing them on the page makes them real in a way that is not strange-making. I don't know why that is.

And sharing those feelings, through writing, with family and friends and other parents, makes them even more real and accessible. It brings them alive for me, to share them in this way, to know that others are reading and nodding their heads or shaking their heads or engaging in any way with those ideas, those feelings. I don't share all of those feelings, and I don't share many details when the feelings are rooted in very personal stories. I remain circumspect on many fronts. But I am saying more - much, much more - out loud, in writing, than I ever have using my own voice.

It would not be the same, exactly, if I reserved all of these stories for utterance in my own voice, in the privacy of a friend's living room, or the intimacy of a coffee-shop huddle. I don't know why. I do know, however, that this is why I blog. This, and the desire to find community with other parents, other people who are going through the same, or similar, experiences as I am, and who are grappling with the same, or similar, fears and anxieties and joys that I am. Who find shit - real shit, in a diaper - funny. Gross, and frustrating, but also fascinating, and funny. Who understand that one can feel profound anxiety and frustration and joy all at once. Who understand that these experiences are sometimes difficult to talk about.

I'm not saying that I can only share myself through writing. I'd be in real trouble if that were true. I would not be able to sustain relationships if that were true. And, so far, I have been able to sustain relationships, while I have struggled through the challenges of new motherhood and while I have sought solace and release in writing. I think, actually, that writing openly has done much to enrich and enliven my relationships. I'm sharing so much more of myself with friends and family, near and far. Getting the shit that bugs me or causes me stress out of my head and onto the page leaves more room for talking about things that matter: I have more space in my mind and heart for chattering about the immense joy that WonderBaby brings once I've gotten the kickin' my ass kickin' my ass kickin' my ass complaints out of the way. And it has reignited my love of storytelling, and my desire to tell stories, stories and more stories. With my keyboard and with my voice.

But this friend does not want to hear them, not now. Not under these circumstances. She does not, she said, want to be "a window-licker," reading about my life alongside other readers. Reading, rather than participating.

I can understand that feeling, and I would be fully sympathetic, and apologetic, if I had shut the doors on her, or on anybody in my life. But I haven't; I really, really haven't. The doors that she begrudges me were never fully open, or were only ever opened after some well-intentioned, loving prying. What's changed is, a new set of doors have been opened, doors that I feel comfortable opening, doors that I enjoy opening. And they open, it seems, onto a public square, rather than a private, exclusive courtyard.

I can't change that. I don't want to change that. I am very, very sorry that this makes my friend unhappy. I didn't want the friendship to end; any perceived neglect was unintentional, the result of the circumstances of a new, strange life, a life that is no longer fully my own. But that friendship could only live in these new circumstances under the terms of these new circumstances. Circumstances that put new loves - WonderBaby - first. Circumstances that draw me toward new friends, friends that share and understand these circumstances. Circumstances that have drawn me out into the world in a different way. Circumstances that have changed me, and my stories.

I didn't want those circumstances - as if a baby, a new life, a new love, the greatest love, is only a circumstance - to undermine our friendship. I didn't expect them too. I'm sorry that they did. But I am not sorry for those circumstances. I can't be; I won't be.

Am I wrong? Have I violated the terms of a friendship? Is it unfair to expect to old friends to adapt as my life changes? Do the changes that parenthood brings necessarily sound the death knell for pre-parental relationships? (And - I have to ask this, I'm sorry - is this a girl thing?) Is blogging - blogging baby, or blogging anything - bad for real-world friendships? Must it be?


There's someone new hanging in the Basement, sharing her feelings and anxieties. Go visit with her, and give her some support.

**And - NOW PLAYING at MamaBlogsToronto - When WonderBaby Met Bumper (Baby). It's a mommy-blogger/blogger-baby love story, and it's nice. Check it.

Mama loves. Better than ever. And, for fun, sets babies adrift on random bits of styrofoam...