Her Bad Mother

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Shit and Spit...

... and sleep. Remember sleep? I used to loooove sleep. That sweet, sweet feeling of sinking into bed, into a nest of blankets, into your own body, wrapping your arms around a cool soft pillow and letting yourself drift quietly away on a magic blankie ride to the land of Nod.

You can still have that when you're a new mother, you know. You can sink into those blankets, drift away on that sweet ride.

It's just that odds are it's going to be a very short trip.

I was going to do a sweet little post about WonderBaby today. One of those lovely 'letters to my baby' posts that serve to both celebrate and record all that is amazing about the loves of our lives. Apropos of nothing at all - no birthday, no significant date - I was going to talk about how I love that she loves avocadoes, how I love that she smears them across her face and hoots for more. About how she reserves her turbo-crawling for really important projects like cat-hunting and climbing slides, and how she devotes most of her physical energies to standing and trying to walk. About how her crawling calls to mind the movements of a miniature gorilla on crack. About how she is more amazing to me than any creature that can be found in a zoo or in the wild or in any imagination, cracked-up or otherwise. About how much I love her.

It's not Sisyphean if you can make it to the top

Yo, Ma? How d'ya say 'bite me, Sisyphus' in ancient Greek?

But despite all her crazy turbo-charged jacked-up-on-avocado adorableness, all that I can think about is how little she is sleeping these days, and how much she is - once again - kicking my ass.

She's got a cold, and she's cutting her first teeth. And she's working on standing and walking 24-7 (in her sleep, people. In her sleep. Nothing weirder than checking on your baby middle of the night - 'cause, you know, if she's been crying every hour on the hour any protracted silence becomes unnerving - and finding her fully upright and slumped against the bars of her nocturnal jail.) What we are currently living through (barely) is, I think, the mother of all sleep regressions.

I have, during a few of these nights, resorted to desperate measures: I have pulled WonderBaby into bed with me and suffered the Wild Kingdom sleep that is sleep with a rabid badger disguised as a baby. I wrote about that sweet torture for this month's blog exchange, and don't particularly feel like revisiting it. I will say only this: I know that someday I will look back on those nights and miss, keenly, the experience of laying awake while she kicks me in the boob with her tiny velvet feet. But for now, that experience gets filed under desperate measures.

And that, my friends, is a file that is getting pretty thick. Because when we aren't bringing WonderBaby into bed with us, we are Crying It Out.

I know. I'm combining two entirely incompatible approaches to getting baby to sleep. It's a recipe for disaster, if the quote-unquote experts are to be believed. Ferber and Sears are, both of them, spontaneously combusting as we speak.

But we're doing what we have to do. We're living under extreme conditions here, people.

To be clear - and to ward off any Sleep Training Nazis that might come goose-stepping at me with dog-eared copies of Mein Kampf der Kinder Schlaf (My Baby Sleep Struggle, by Dr. Ferber S. Weissbluth) and yelling about the One Right Way and Correct Sleep Solutions - we're not crying it out and co-sleeping at the same time. We're just doing what works in any given moment. I know WonderBaby's cries. I understand her language. I bring her into bed with me when her cries are frantic, when I know that her crying is going escalate. We've had a few nights like this, nights during which she wakes up a few hours after going down and begins crying inconsolably. Really crying. Such that no amount of soothing and nursing settles her enough for her to go back into her crib without shrieking. Those nights, I send the Husband to the couch (so that he can get enough rest before rising at dawn to shoot all those Swiffer and Budweiser commercials that the world is so sorely lacking) and pull WonderBaby into bed to nurse and cuddle to sleep. The rest of that story, you know.

The other nights, we cry it out. WonderBaby no longer likes going to bed. WonderBaby protests bedtime. WonderBaby pulls herself up to standing the moment she hits the crib mattress and rattles her cage. She refuses. She will not have it. She will fight the good fight, she will resist, she will shout out against the tyranny of The Mom, she will... yawn... say it loud... hmm... shout... Ma Ma Ma Ma... zzz... (slump... thud.)

The Cry of Protest and the Chortle of Sleepiness are very different from the Distress Call, the Keening of Discomfort and the Warble of the Very Sad. The latter cannot be ignored (or, at least, I cannot ignore them.) The former, however, fall best upon deaf ears.

Once upon a time - not too long ago - I was convinced that I would never, ever be able to tolerate hearing my baby cry and not responding. The slightest whimper from her was like a dagger to my heart and I could not help but obey the impulse of my body to leap to her and clutch her to me and do anything, anything, to dry her tears. Now, not so much. Oh, my heart still clenches when I hear any variety of distress call, and I will sometimes wake to find myself leaping out of bed towards the nursery in response to those calls. But my tired body sags a little when a certain kind of crying starts, and a little voice inside my head murmurs oh sweetie I'm sorry as I shut the door of the nursery and wait for the cries to run their course.

I walk away from the door and let her put herself to sleep, or back to sleep. She usually does. I'm happy about that. But I'm still a little sad that we've turned this corner - this first corner of independence, this first of many such corners, where I insist that she do something on her own.

And a little conflicted. Because it's hard to let go of the idea that a Good Mother clutches her child to her chest and never lets go, that she becomes a little wild at the sound of her baby's cry. That only a Bad Mother ignores the pounding of her heart as she shuts the door on her crying baby and walks away. That only the heart of a Bad Mother calms itself easily as the crying fades behind that door.

This shit is hard.


Please visit the Basement this weekend; there's a guest there who'd like some company as she tells her story...

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

War (What is it Good For?)

Edit: More links added below!

I've been promising this for a while: a smackdown post wherein I drag Caitlin Flanagan and Linda Hirshman into my bloggy ring and bash some heads together. Problem was, every time that I started putting my thoughts to screen, I'd get mad and start ranting. No matter what corner I started from, I'd end up shrieking HI-yaah! and flinging myself footlong, Miss Piggy-style, at my antagonists. And then screaming and clawing and pulling hair.

That is, I would have done. Except that my opponents weren't really there and it was just me cursing at the page.

So I needed to retreat to the corner and calm down.

And I needed to figure out just what was making me so mad.

The obvious source of frustration for me is, of course, my disagreement with their respective positions. I've already addressed Caitlin Flanagan's argument that it is simply best that, where possible, mothers stay at home with their children and have stated that I think that it is, for the most part, bunk. And there's much that I could say, and someday will say, about my thoughts on Linda Hirshman's argument that life in the home is not particularly conducive to human flourishing and that women should, therefore, reject any assignment to the home. I want to say more about it someday - soon, I hope - because the question of whether and how women, and especially mothers, contribute to public life, and so whether and how they flourish, is central to my academic work. And although I am merely a flea in the academic microcosmos that Hirshman inhabits, I'm a pretty fucking ballsy flea and am pretty comfortable stating that she is, in my own academic opinion, wrong.

(And, how many opportunities to I get to pretend that my years and years of - in Hirshman's estimation - useless study in the field of political philosophy might qualify me to contribute to a public debate? Mama-blogging isn't just about keeping track of shits and spits, you know. It's mah soap-box.)

But I'm going to save that for later. 'Cuz that's a long post and a pedantic one and I haven't been sleeping because WonderBaby hasn't been sleeping blah blah blah and it would probably just degenerate into another rant about gods and penises. And in any case, I'm more interested, for the moment, in figuring out why this all makes me so angry.

It's not just that I disagree with Flanagan and Hirshman. I've spent enough years in undergraduate and graduate seminars reading crap theories about crap nonsense - including plenty of crap-assed feminist and post-feminist and I-ain't-no-feminist theories that only ever amount to so much useless gynobabble - to be really bothered by one or two more dumps in the bowl.


What's bugging me - and here I am not going to win any awards for originality - is that women, women, like Flanagan and Hirshman continue to force the dynamic of disagreement among women and insist that that disagreement is grounds for war. They demand that we choose sides, even as they insist that we are not within our maternal and/or feminist rights to freely choose our lives. If you wish to be a true mother, a truly good mother, says Flanagan, then you have no choice: you must stay at home. If you are a true feminist, a truly good feminist, says Hirshman, then you have no choice: you must not stay at home.

Pick your side. You're either for us or against us.

Flanagan and Hirshman have been holding opposing fronts in the so-called Mommy Wars, dictating hard lines from their respective sides. And I hate hard lines. I'm not interested in either of these women telling me or any other mother what is best for us as mothers and/or as women. I didn't sign up for this war, I don't support this war. Don't ask me to march, don't ask me to fight. Don't ask me to wave a flag on behalf of our side.

'Cause I don't know what side I'm on. More to the point: I don't want to have to choose a side. I'm not comfortable with the absolutist character of either of these sides.

But I want to be clear: this isn't a cry for unfettered freedom of choice. I do think that the single greatest contribution of feminism to the lives of women in the West has been the propagation of the principle of choice, for women, as an ideal. But the resolution of the Mommy Wars is not going to come about through a simple affirmation of the principle of choice. The Mommy Wars continue, I think, because we are reluctant to whole-heartedly embrace the idea that one side is as good as the other - or to reject the idea that there may in fact be one right way.

The notion that there may be 'one right way' - to live, to believe - is a tremendously compelling one. It has fuelled and sustained empires and religions and civilizations. It promises to simplify things, to make life clearer. And there is, I think, no life that so provokes the desire for clarity - for salvation through clarity - than that of a mother (and perhaps that of parents more generally.) And I think that there is no state of being (human being) that so stimulates the desire for truth as the state of being a parent. We want to know what is truly best for our children, what is right. And I think that most of us believe, or at least suspect, that when it comes to parenting, to protecting and nurturing children, not all choices are equal. We know that there is such a thing as bad parenting. We know that there is such a thing as neglect. We know that some children - many children - turn into unkind, unpleasant, inconsiderate, nasty adults. There is a wrong way.

And because we love our children, we want to know what the wrong way is, so that we can avoid it. And if there is a clearly marked right way, we want to know that, too. And if someone with a degree or a publishing contract comes out and says publicly that the path we've chosen is the right one, we cheer. If they say it's the wrong one, we get nervous. Or mad. And we fight.

And so the War continues. And will continue, I think, until we are prepared to admit two things. One: that there are right ways and wrong ways, good choices and bad choices, and that a simple affirmation of choice qua choice is not enough to allow us to identify the good and avoid the bad. Two: that the correct path is not going to look the same for every woman, mother, father and family.

I don't know what the right way is. I do know that there is more than one right way. And I know - and I'm comfortable making a knowledge claim on this - that whatever maximizes the stock of love in our families is what best points us in the direction of the 'right way.' That's not going to look the same in every family, but it boils down to the same things: love and care and respect - for our children and our partners and ourselves - and love love love. Everything else is so much detail, so much window dressing, so much she said/she said.

That's what I say, anyway. Bad Mother out.

I told her to say all that.

For further reading: check out what Mo-Wo, L., Sheryl, Christina (in her July exchange post over at Cape Buffalo) and TOMama (at Literary Mama) had to say on this subject.

And - more links! - check out what Kittenpie said about the whole Mommy War thing back in March, BubandPie's take on Hirshman here, Toyfoto's recent thoughts here, and what MotherGooseMouse had to say. And Laural Dawn wrote this after reading my words. Also check out what Beanie Baby had to say, and Moonstruck Mama, and Veronica at Toddled Dredge.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

I Have Found the Village, People

Now with new editing action below!

What they don't tell you #673: that having a baby may be one of the loneliest things that you will ever do.

Sure, people come around and visit and bring you casseroles (or, in our case, ready-for-oven yummies from Pusateri's and Whole Foods) and flowers and offer to clean your kitchen (sometimes, these will be the same friends that will later abandon you because you blog). Your mother comes to town and sits in the dark with you while your ever-wakeful new baby - dubbed Baby No Sleep by the nurses at the hospital - chews away at your tattered nipples and tells you about how she gave you sedatives as an infant (formula and sedatives. Ah, the seventies...) because you too were a wakeful baby and drove her crazy. Your awesome Husband takes some time off of work to hang around home and gives you all of the love and support that is in him to give. You're not actually alone.

But you're lonely.

There's a lot to be said about why this is, and how this is. About how every time your husband walks out the front door you panic, your heart clenching with resentment as you realize that you're on your own with this strange new creature that is entirely dependent upon you and that you will always be on your own with this creature precisely because she is entirely dependent upon you. About how you think that nobody will never fully understand how it feels to know that you are, now, forever burdened, forever shackled, and that no matter how sweet those shackles, no matter how much you love the shackles, they are just that - shackles. About how you don't want to talk about the experience of new motherhood with anybody because it's impossible to talk about without falling into an incoherent rant about how hard, how very hard, how very fucking hard it all is. About how you're scared that if you talk about it people won't understand that at the same time that you are overwhelmed with anxiety and fear and frustration, you are also overwhelmed by love. About how you're scared that you are a bad mother for being so afraid. About how you're scared that everyone else is going to think that you are a bad mother for being so afraid.

So you sit in your ratty sweatpants and unlatched nursing bra in the corner of your sectional sofa, infant tucked to your breast, surrounded by bottles of water and pumping gear and dog-eared copies of What to Expect The First Year and The Baby Whisperer and the tattered bags of cookies that are the mainstay of your diet when Husband is out. And you think about how very, very alone you are.

New motherhood can be lonely. I was lonely. So when I was invited to join a mom's group-slash-baby playgroup I was thrilled. New moms! A bunch of new moms! They would know. They would understand. It didn't matter who they were, I would like them. And if I didn't like them, for some bizarre reason, I wouldn't care. They would still be moms and they would understand and I would no longer be alone. I would join them no matter what. I would embrace them no matter what. Like (spoiler alert if you have not yet seen Season I of Lost) when the Lost survivors on the raft meet up with that boat of people at sea and are delighted to see them even though they totally look like extras from Deliverance. I wouldn't care. I was adrift and alone on a spit-stained mommy life-raft. I'd take salvation in any form.

So when the mom-group boat approached, I jumped on. But although I was initially glad that I did, it wasn't too long before my grateful enthusiasm wore off. They weren't extras from Deliverance, but still, I didn't like them. I didn't dislike them, exactly. It was just that although they nodded at some of my stories and I nodded at some of theirs, we didn't really respond to each other. They didn't laugh at my jokes; I didn't laugh at theirs. They were sometimes judgmental of each other, and of me (you shouldn't do this you shouldn't do that it's too early to let her do that why on earth would you buy THAT kind of stroller?) They were sometimes nasty about their husbands. The conversation always felt strained. There was no quote-unquote connection.

I just wasn't that into them. But I stuck around. Because I was lonely. Because there was nothing better. Because sometimes you just need a baby-call and any mother will do.

But as I got more into blogging, and discovered that there were dozens of mothers and fathers out there whose jokes I could laugh at, whose stories I was interested in, I started to feel a bit ripped off. Why was I stuck with bitter, competitive mommies who knew all about Baby Einstein but cared nothing about the real Einstein or his cultural equivalents, when somewhere, out there, were hosts of crazy smart funny mamas and dads? When some of them were actually in Toronto?

So when Sunshine Scribe wrote her post about getting iced by some snotty MILPs (Mommies I'd Like to Punch), that was it. I'd had it. I came out of the closet and said publicly that I was lookin' for mama-love and did anyone care to hook up?

And they did. And we did. And it was awesome.

MotherBumper and I hooked up on our own last week and had a roll in the park. Then, on Friday, Sunshine Scribe, Kittenpie, MetroMama, BubandPie, SomethingBlue, Scarbie, Petite Gourmand, two soon-to-be-bloggers (send us your links!) and yours truly indulged in some rollicking group action. (TOMama missed us because we changed locations, and for that I am truly regretful. We'll be making reparations at the next gathering.) And later that evening, a smaller group of us convened at a bar and got drunk on liquor and good company - really, really good company - late into the night.

It was a Total Mommy Hook-Up. It was knock-off BlogHer in the T-dot and It. Was. Good.

(Pause for long drag on virtual cigarette. Slow exhale. Aaah.)

Others have already run through some of the details of the events, and Sunshine Scribe did an newsfeed-worthy recap that I couldn't possibly improve upon. But I will say this: I loved it. Every minute of it.

And I hoped that they still respected me in the morning. Because I'd really, really like to see them again.

(And, FYI, all you other bloggrrls out there? I am now going to be insufferable at BlogHer, demanding that everyone be my friend. Because having tasted the sweet, sweet goodness of real life cool-girl-on-cool-girl action, I cannot get enough. I warn you now.)

I done got dressed up all purdy for the bar and Mama left me at home...


(TO blogger baby smackdown photos - evidence that the TO mama-blogger love-in is not just urban legend in the making - ARE UP at Mama Blogs Toronto)

(There's someone new in the Basement. Go, hear her. I sure did.)