Her Bad Mother

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Weekend Reality Check

There has been much waxing poetical 'round here recently, and much deep thinking inspired by motherhood. One might think that the Bad Mother household was a haven of blithe domesticity, a tranquil domain wherein mother wiles away the hours in cuddle and play with an angelic baby, pausing only to reflect upon the sweetness of maternal love.

One would be mistaken.

WonderBaby is a lovely, lovely child. I adore her. But she is not remotely angelic, unless we understand 'angelic' in the strict Old Testament sense of mighty and punitive and very often bearing ancient weapons of mass destruction.

It may not LOOK like a flaming sword, but trust me. It's an ancient weapon of mass destruction. You do not want it in your home.

She capable of the greatest sweetness, but she is heaven-bent on destroying me. Every exercise of our day involves a mighty struggle, an intense battle of wills that I, inevitably, lose.

To wit: the thrice-daily Battle of the High Chair. WonderBaby has decided that high chairs are for chumps. WonderBaby has decided that she, mighty being that she is, should not be restrained in a high chair. WonderBaby has decided that, should she deign to eat, she should not be expected to do it in such ignominious conditions.

She has further decided that she should not be expected to do so while fully clothed.

So, last night, WonderBaby took her evening meal while standing, facing backward, in her high chair.


While I crouched on the floor behind the chair, plying her with toast and yogourt.

(No, there is no picture. My nine-month old baby was balancing naked, on two sturdy but nonetheless unreliable baby legs, in an assembly line high chair. You want that I should have run for the camera?)

(Fine. I was tempted. But I resisted.)

I think that we can safely say that it is now official: I am her bitch.

Guided by the not-so-benelovent spirit of Michael Landon,* WonderBaby's quest for world domination proceeds apace...

*With thanks to the Junipers for iconographic playwear.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

How Far We Have Not Come

Last night, I cried. Big, fat wet tears.

While blogging.

I almost never do this. I tear up from time to time, at the occasional post, moved by its language or its imagery or its story, but I almost never get to the point where my heart presses hard against my chest and my eyes burn and the tears spill hot and wet no matter how hard I blink to hold them back.

They spilled last night.

Last night, I read and re-read the beautiful comments to my post of the other day, the post in which I expressed my concerns about my ability to write about - and my comfort in writing about - my physical love for my daughter and in which I asked that somebody, anybody, join me in trying to overcome fears of inadequacy and fear of being misunderstood in order to express this love. So that I might be inspired and encouraged. So that I might understand my own hesitancy better. So that I wouldn't feel alone.

I followed the links that some of you had left, links to the posts that my post had inspired, or to posts that you had already written but which nonetheless answered my call, posts that I promised to (and will) pull together with my own thoughts in a post that will celebrate this amazing, complicated love. I read these posts, and I felt overwhelmed, in a way that I've never felt in the short time that I've been part of this community (more overwhelmed than when visiting the hundred some-odd Mommy Blogger Love-In posts. Yes.)

I felt overwhelmed because the full force of what it means to be in community, to speak with and listen to and have conversations within a community, struck me while reading these beautiful posts. Other women were writing my words, speaking my feelings. These complicated feelings, feelings that I expected other parents to share, but that I did not, I suppose, expect to see shared in the same language, with the same depth of complexity, with the same unabashed and unrestrained amazement.

You know how I feel. You have these feelings, too. You are not afraid to speak these feelings. I knew all of this, of course. But last night I saw it living and breathing on the page. And I thought, how silly to have been afraid. How silly to have thought these feelings, these ideas, unbloggable, unwriteable. How silly to have felt fear in such a community.

And then I received this in my inbox:

As the "Other Mommy" in a two mommy household I have to say that I could NEVER write such a post. I would be too damned afraid of the authorities coming and taking my child from me. Ever since he came into this world the one thing that has terrified me the most is that someone might come and take him from me - because of my sexual orientation, because I'm not the "real" mommy. I lay awake nights thinking about it even though I am on his birth certificate and have adopted him... I am constantly censoring myself to make sure no one can say I'm not a fit mother. Am I touching him for too long? When I change his diaper am I wiping for too long? Don't linger with that kiss on his cheek, etc. Every scratch or bruise he gets because he is an extremely active young one, I obsess over because someone might call Child Services to report the "evil lesbians".

I love my son more than I can adequately express but frankly I would be afraid to even try. Losing him would kill me and I just won't risk it.

And tears came.

I cried because I was right to be afraid, and because I couldn't see beyond my own privilege far enough to imagine that the most serious implications of those fears might not apply to me. Because I was cocky in stating that I didn't care if some self-righteous puritan thought that I was bad mother for talking about sensuality in relation to my child, because I have the luxury of knowing that as a white, married, heterosexual mother I can stand up to anyone who questions my mothering. Because although I need to worry about the pervs out there, I will probably never confront, in any serious way, the soul-wrenching possibility of being seen as a perv myself.

Because we live in a world where that's a real fear for some women, and for many men.

Because I prattle on about the amazing, empowering possibilities of this virtual space, where women and men speak their truth to power and empower and inspire one another, and I forget that that inspiration and that empowerment does not come easily to all of us.

Because I speak with the voice of privilege, and I take that voice for granted.

Because one woman out there can't speak her love for her child in all of its force and complexity, for fear of the unimaginable, and because while I want to say that that's one woman too many, I know that she is just one of many women. And men.

Because I lack the words to express my frustration and my rage and my shame, at this.


Okay, so maybe I'm overwrought with the whole white/hetero/liberal guilt thing. But still. Words fail, and I feel terribly that words fail me here.


All that I can think of, as a response, is to ask that you respond. And that you keep shouting out your love for children in all of its messy glory, so that we make one small stab at demonstrating how ordinary, how natural, how good is that extraordinary love. (And if you'd prefer to do it in the Basement, anonymously, I'd be honoured to host.) I am more determined to pull this all together, with my own thoughts, into a post about this love.

I don't care what it looks like, how you speak it. Just speak.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Of a Joy Which Can't Be Words*

Yesterday, WonderBaby turned 9 months old.

Nine calendar months is roughly the period of time that she spent in my womb. (41 weeks to the day, to be precise, which, counting from November 14, puts us pretty near to today. Yes, I counted. On my fingers. At 3am.) She has now, then, been out in this world for as long as she was in the cozy little world of the womb, where she grew from the tiniest microscopic speck to the eight and half pound miracle that somehow managed to work its way out into the world through the most unlikely - in my view - of passages. And: I have been a mother, now, for the same amount of time that I was pregnant and dreaming of becoming a mother.

I thought about marking this day, these days, with some reflection upon my evolution as a mother. I thought about writing my post about fear, about how fearful my experience of motherhood has been at times and what I am learning about this fear, to mark the passing of these first nine months. I also thought about writing that promised post about why and how parenthood really is, in some respects, like a secret club. I thought about all variety of musings on motherhood, all of which seemed particularly appropriate as reflections upon these first nine months, the first nine months of our life together, here in this big bright world.

But none of these musings and reflections could capture, perfectly, the extraordinariness of this experience, of these nine months and the nine months that preceded them.

So I decided to try to write the post that I've been struggling to write for some time now, a post that I have sat with and worried over and laboured over. A post that I was not sure I could tend to with the proper care, a post that I was not sure that I was qualified to write. A post that I have wanted, desperately, to write, but that I have been afraid of writing. A messy post.

The post that I have wanted to write is this: a reflection on the physical beauty of my child, and my fascination with and attraction to that beauty.

I do not want to write about the beauty that pleases superficially - the roundness of eye, the curve of eyelashes, the sheen of her pale blond hair. This would not be an analysis of her physical assets, nor a reflection upon the possibility that she might escape the burden of physical quirkiness only to acquire the burden of beauty. What I want to write, rather, is an ode, of sorts, of whatever sort I can manage, to the real, the pure, the heartwrenching and heartlifting beauty of her form. To the impossible harmony of strength and fragility and softness in every curve of her limbs, every tilt of her downy head, every grasp of her fierce little hand.

And I want to write about this, too: how my love for her is physical, desperately physical. How my love for her wants to cleave to her, always, to feel her pressed against me, her breath on my cheek, her tiny hands tangled in my hair, her wee proud belly warm against my chest. How there is something of the erotic - the Platonic erotic, Socrates' eros as a yearning for beauty, for the Form of beauty, of the Good - in that love.

But here is where I stop short. We cannot, must not, speak or write of our children in these terms. And even if poetry - the natural (perhaps forced?) lyricism of motherhood - affords me the right and the space to sing hymns to Eros extolling the beauty of my child, the muck and the filth of our culture, and of this virtual world, calls into question that right, and sullies that space.

I have dared to use the word erotic here, in writing about my child, and that I speak in terms of daring says it all: I am, I think, taking a risk. One aspect of that risk is not so frightening: that some puritanical parent, or non-parent, will find these words offensive, and take me to task for sexualizing my child. I am not sexualizing my child: I am trying to find language to express a non-sexual love that is nevertheless deeply physical. Our culture confuses the physical with the sexual, and so I expect that many would perceive even this effort to write the physicaly beauty of my child as troubling. But I can live with that.

What is more difficult to live with, even for a second: that in using the language of the physical and of the erotic - even in a pointedly Socratic sense - I am opening the gates of Google pervdom and waving in the creeps, the monsters, the card-carrying N*MBLA members. Here! Physical love mother and child! Translate to filth.

And this is what stops me. And it pains me. My mind swirls, my fingers twitch: I have words. I have sentences, phrases, similes, metaphors, paragraphs, stanzas. I have poetry. I am aching to spill it. I am aching to shout out to the world the sharp joy, the stinging bliss of this physical love, this love that will, I know, lose its sharpness, its edge, become blurry as she grows into her own self and I back into my separate self. I want to capture it. I want to tell the truth about it.

Will you help me? Would you - could you - tell me how you would write this? Show me? What I am asking is: would you write an ode to your child, to your children, that is both forceful and safe? And if you do not think it possible (in the context of safety, or any any other context) would you tell me why? Is this - really, frankly, writing about our love for our children, about the physicalness of our connection to them in that love - unbloggable? Is this even more true - as I suspect it is - for fathers? Am I overthinking this?

I'm going to labour through this post over the coming weeks. My objective will be to give it birth by the end of this ninth month (August). Between now and then, if you write a post about your love for your child, or about writing about your love for child, or about why it might be imprudent to write such love, please leave the link for me here, in these comments. If you prefer to not write such a post, leave a response (if you have one) here. I'll look to these for inspiration and insight, and when I post my own, I'll give all due credit and, hopefully, situate my words within a broader discussion about love for our children and writing that love.

*Apologies to e.e. cummings...


Currently, in the Basement... our first ever circle share! Come, join in...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Most Sensational, Inspirational, Celebrational...

Edited below: a question for the blog-addled, mainstream-media-deprived masses...

The Lovely Mrs. Davis has told me what to write about today, and so any complaints about further pre-emption of regularly scheduled HBM programming should be directed to her.

But it's such a worthy subject: Sesame Street kicks off its 37th season today! And to celebrate, I must wax nostalgic about my favorite childhood televisions programs... Which is easy, because, for me, there were really only two.

(This is, um, sort of a lie. I loved Zoom, and The Electric Company, and The Banana Splits, and Little House on the Prairie and - Canadians will get this - Mr. Dress-Up. But you wouldn't want this post to get out of hand, now, would you...?)

I loved Sesame Street. I loved Big Bird, and the Snufflupagus. I loved Ernie and Bert. I loved the Count. I loved Oscar the Grouch. I loved Cookie Monster. And, of course, I loved Grover. Sweet, friendly, lovable old Grover.

I wrote about Grover a while back. I wrote about how a Little Golden Book featuring Grover stands out for me as one the more important books of my childhood. This is part of what I said about that book, The Monster at the End of This Book:

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 did not seem a monster: 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 and well-constructed 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."

These words address the nature and character of the book, and of reading, but for me they also capture something of the magic of certain television programs and movies. They certainly, in my opinion, capture the magic of Sesame Street and its edgier cousin, The Muppet Show.

Sesame Street grabbed the attention and gripped the imagination of children (I'm using the past tense here because I have only my own childish experience of the Sesame Street of the late '70s to go on; I can't speak to the magic or lack thereof that attends Sesame Street in its 37th season). It grabbed attention and gripped imagination because it walked, steadily, perfectly, the childish tightrope between the expected and the unexpected. Animals that speak and monsters living in garbage cans do not surprise children. Giant talking birds who have giant fuzzy elephantine friends that may or may not be imaginary do surprise children, and delight them. As do monsters who love cookies and monsters who are a little bit shy and who like hugs and grown-ups who see and hear and love such monsters. Talking animals aren't surprising, monsters aren't surprising: it's the unexpected details (details that are at once fanastic and banal) that unsettle - thrillingly - childrens' assumptions and so provoke delight.

The Muppet Show, which still delights me, pushed the envelope of the unexpected - of 'unsettling (viewers) assumptions,' and of 'bringing to a crisis (their) relation with language' and image and narrative - to another level entirely. In the Muppet Show we see the same agglomeration of walking/talking/dancing/singing animals and monsters as we do on Sesame Street, but these are not the (mostly) child-like creatures of Sesame Street, and nor are their relationships defined by the simple junior politics of the schoolyard/neighborhood. The Muppet gang is a rag-tag band of ne'er-do-well performers and hangers-on and wannabes who strut and fret their full-grown-human-style neuroses and anxieties and issues and agendas upon a surrealistic stage before a largely disapproving crowd.

It's life, man.

When a sinister-looking monster lurks in the corner of the set while Gonzo's chickens disappear, we discover very quickly that, yes, as we should expect, the monster has eaten the chickens. And this is what we should expect - this is life. Bad things happen to good chickens. But this element of the Muppet Show packs the same whallop of surprise that comes with Sesame Street's unexpectedly sweet and playful and co-operative monsters: we don't expect Muppet monsters to be nasty (and, indeed, they're not - they're just hungry), we expect them to be like Grover, or, at worst, just grouchy like Oscar. In the world of Muppets, which is really only down the road a ways from Sesame Street, where frogs run theaters and pigs develop crushes on frogs and bears do stand-up comedy (badly) and a tripped-out band of puppets keeps a monster chained to a drum-set, we expect playfulness. We, who have learned to play and count and hug and be nice to other people even when they don't look like us (one of these kids is not like the other!) from the denizens of Sesame Street, expect harmless fun in Kermie and Piggy's playhouse.

But we discover there - and here is where we are brought 'into crisis,' blissfully, happily, with our relationship to story - that play evolves. We discover that play can become all the more exciting when fear and discomfort are re-introduced. It is lovely and heart-warming that Grover is a sweet monster who only wants hugs, and as children we are delighted by the surprise of his unexpectedly sweet monsterness. But as we grow a little, sweet monsters remain only that - sweet monsters - and the lesson of the sweet monster (don't judge a book by its cover, love friends for their hearts, not their appearance, etc. etc.) gets - dare I say it - stale. As does the thrill of cozying up to a monster. What the Muppets bring to the playground: the scary monster, who is hungry and who lacks impulse control but who is nonetheless ready to play. Sweetums brings excitement back to play by bringing danger back to play. And, he reminds us that the sweet lessons of Sesame Street (love your neighbor!) must always be tempered with caution (make certain that your neighbor does not want to eat you!). Or, in the case of Animal, beat you about the head with his drumsticks.

As an adult, I'm tempted to insist that The Muppet Show is really a show for adults. But I loved it as a child, and I can keenly recall loving the scarier monsters and the bad temper of Piggy and the recurring accidents and the borderline violence of puppets flinging, kicking and/or pummeling other puppets (and in some cases, real grown-up Guest Stars doing same.) It was a childish, surreal representation of the world of adults that allowed me laugh at that world while at the same time both yearning for it and dreading it.

It was genius. Still is.

The It's Not Easy Being Green Dancers had hoped to have completed choreography and rehearsal on their epic revision of Swan Lake, "Frog Lake," but, alas, the corps-des-tadpoles walked out (er, flopped out) after learning that the pointe-shoes would not be customized to accommodate their tails...

So, a question (and yes, this takes us away from Mrs. Davis' assignment): what childrens' programs, movies or books do you think are perhaps best appreciated by adults? And - what quote-unquote adult-oriented material - if any - is perhaps better appreciated by children? (Can you even think of any, other than movies made by SNL alum?)