Her Bad Mother

Friday, November 24, 2006

Do They Give Awards For Long, Self-Obsessed Speeches?

Type-A. Alpha Female. Perfectionist. Competitive. Bitch.

I’ve been called all of these things. And, with the exception of that last term – which I think was more expressive of the ressentiment of the speaker than aptly descriptive of yours truly – I think that all of these terms describe me fairly accurately. I am a perfectionist, I do aim at accomplishment, I am tremendously self-critical, I do have high-expectations of myself. And, I am competitive.

Mostly, I compete against myself. As I’ve said before, I often feel that I am in a race with myself, that I have set myself against my own expectations of myself and have applied myself to the lifelong challenge of defeating and exceeding those expectations. As I have also said here, this is exhausting: it’s a race that doesn’t end, no matter how fast you run.

One of the great gifts of motherhood has been that it has forced me to become more reasonable in my expectations of myself. It has forced me to move the finish line, to reimagine the finish line. I’ve been compelled to recognize that so far as parenting goes, the only ‘finish lines’ that matter are those that you cross in each and every beautiful/vexing/heart-wrenching moment: those ‘finish line’ moments that come when you have made it through a difficult night, when you finally get that latch, when you have convinced your husband to attend to a shitty diaper change, when you manage to get pajamas on your squirmy baby, when that baby finally takes a nap, when that baby wraps her arms around your neck and nuzzles her cheek against yours, when that baby smiles at you, coos at you, says mama. These are the moments of winning. These are the moments that I live for, now.

One of the things that I love and have loved most about my participation in the parent corner of the blogosphere is that it has provided ongoing comfort and reassurance in my struggle to appreciate those moments for what they are. It has provided me with the space and opportunity to really become self-reflective as a parent, and, not incidentally, as a writer. It has given me the space and opportunity and encouragement to make my experience of motherhood self-reflective, and honest, and creative. It has encouraged me - in a way that no book or expert or public-health authority could - to view being a mother as an act of creativity, as an exercise of my heart and my brain, as a work of art that cannot, ultimately, be judged according to any objective standards (other than those imposed by such obvious concerns as the health and welfare of my child.) It has helped me to let go (perhaps not entirely, but substantially) of my concern with winning. It has taught me that there is no such thing as Mother of the Year, it has taught me that there are only ever just Mothers, and that there is glory in that. It has taught me - you have taught me - that my satisfaction with myself as 'Mother' has far, far less to do with standards of performance, whatever those might be, than with how enriched I am by every moment of this great (sometimes fun, sometimes harrowing) adventure.

Writing in the blogosphere, being part of this community, has taught me these things in large part because it has allowed me and encouraged me to really understand what it means to write a life and to live a life, and the difference between these. Because it exposed me to other parents doing the same thing: parenting and living and writing and writing and living and parenting and exulting in the messy mix of these things. Embracing not being Parents of the Year. Just being parents, and writing parenthood, and inspiring each other with the artistry - the wonderful, messy, beautiful artistry - of their lives as these are splattered upon the virtual page.

The idea that any of these works of art could be identified as 'Best' seems to me to run against the grain of what these works – the work of living, parenting, put into words – really are. They are brilliant in their uniqueness, they are brilliant for their honesty, they are brilliant – in the literal sense of shining, producing and reflecting light – because they are (like the lives that they recount) works of love. They are, for these reasons, incomparable.

There are some that I love more than others. There are some that I think are funnier than others, some that I think are better written than others, some that I relate to more personally than others, some that reach deeper into my soul or down to my funny-bone or press more heavily upon my brain. But I couldn’t name any one of them Best, or Blog of the Year, or even My Favourite Blog. And I wouldn’t want to: because to subject these works to some measurement, to some method of evaluation that would separate and deconstruct and rank them, would be to attack the very thing that makes them special. It would be like naming Best Work of Art in History. Best Poem. Best Composition of Music. How do you measure? Is it even possible to measure? Why measure?

I don’t think that you can measure. I don’t think that you can quantify what makes a blog good or great or resonant. Some blogs get more traffic, more comments, more linkage, more advertising (all of which I am in favour of, by the way) – but these aren’t necessarily the best blogs - not necessarily the best written or the funniest or the most touching or the most anything. They’re popular, so they obviously appeal, but beyond that what can we say? They're popular. Britney Spears is popular; opera and experimental jazz are not. But these are not comparable.

(I am not arguing that popular things have no merit beyond mass appeal. I'm just noting, for the self-reflective record, that popularity does not necessarily equal greatness, or even mere quality, in any measure. I like popularity, because I like being liked, but I'm well aware that what might make me popular is not necessarily what is the best of me, and that being popular is not a reason for self-congratulation.)

All of this is a very long-winded, convoluted way for me to say this: I’m removing my name from the list of finalists for the Canadian Blog Awards.

I’ve been uncomfortable with this whole exercise since it began, and so I’ve decided to forego further participation. I didn’t, and don’t, want to lobby my readers to check off my name on some dubious shortlist of Good Blogs (highly dubious. So very many amazing blogs are missing from these lists.) I don't want to get sucked into the mudtrap of measuring the value of this blog - my blog, my creative space - according to the standards of a vote and a list. And I don’t want to try to convince you that my blog is better than any other blog on that (again, wholly unrepresentative) list.

I like my blog, I think that it is good, and I hope that the exercise that it represents in terms of my writing yields other opportunities (even if only in allowing me a space to practice my writing.) I like that it is well-visited, and that so many thoughtful people respond to it. But it is what it is – just one blog among a great many wonderful, inspiring blogs. If you like it, I hope that you’ll read it. But that’s all that I want you to do – read it, and, if you’re so inspired, talk to me about it or carry on the conversation at your own blog or around your dining table or wherever.

So. That two minutes that you might have spent on voting? Use that time to leave a comment telling me that I’m deluded or insightful or that I’m obviously engaging in some lame attempt to boost my own popularity. Or use that time to go discover another blog that might inspire you. Go tell someone that you like their blog, or that you like what they had to say today or that you disagree with what they said today or whatever. BLOG. Find some way to remind yourself how and why it is that you love blogs.

You don't need a vote to do that. I don't need a vote to do that.

'Nuff said.

WonderBaby tried to train a clutch of monkeys to overwhelm the CBAs with random votes but she didn't have enough bananas and they mutinied. They're out there, somewhere in the Greater Toronto Area, holding up produce stores and looking for an open wireless connection.

*I remain really, really grateful to those who nominated me and voted for me and put me in the finals. Really - I loves me the flattery, and this was truly flattering. So, thank you.

**I am in no way maligning any blogger who embraces these awards and who does lobby for votes. I’ll certainly continue cheering on some of my favourite bloggers, because I’d love to see them acquire some bloggy bling and get the good linkage that comes with an award like this. I’ve made this decision for me; I’m not insisting that it’s what everybody should do. This isn’t a boycott.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Happy Thanksgiving, all you south-o'-the Canadian-border types.

Hug your babies, and everyone that you love, and maybe some random strangers, just for fun.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The other morning I awoke to hear WonderBaby chortling in her crib. I lay, listening, letting the sweet sound fill the room and herald the morning, the warble of our very own songbird.

And then I realized that she wasn’t warbling, or chortling or chirping or babbling. As I lay there, listening through the cottony muffs of sleepiness in my ears, her sounds started to take shape. She was calling. She was calling a name.




Daddy. Daddy, who usually rises and plucks her, giggling, from her crib each morning, was still sleeping, deeply. So I rose and went to her room.



I picked her up and drew her to me and toted her back to our room, to our bed, to Daaah-y, who sat up and sang her name back to her and we fell upon him and tangled ourselves into the blankets and we whispered each other’s names, over and over and over again…

WonderBaby has been fumbling toward speech for some time, and she fumbles still. But it is nonetheless exciting – it is immeasurably exciting – to hear her efforts in such moments, when the word bursts forward with delicious force, when she realizes that she has made herself understood, or when, as with her Daddy-Morning-Song, she plays with the words and gives them rhythm, makes them her own. They’re rudimentary, these words, but they are, still, words; she hesitates, stumbles, drops consonants, but still they come, the words… hi, bye, cah (cat), Daah-y, Ma, all-oh (hello)…

Sometimes, very rarely, the words come with surprising clarity and self-assurance – a ‘hello’ comes out clear as a bell, or a prompted ‘thank you’ bursts forth as a confident tank oo – and I am stunned, speechless. Did she really say that? Did she really speak so clearly? I goggle at her, and she smiles back, and I whisper, urgently, say it again, and she gurgles and giggles and babbles, keeping her words a secret. In these moments, I am convinced that her power of speech is already fully formed but withheld from me, guarded as a secret power, one that she holds in reserve, saving it for moments of maximum impact. I am convinced, in these moments, that one day, I will ask her, rhetorically, what do you have to say today, sweet baby, and she will look me in the eye and solemnly reply, hermeneutics.

The ancient Greek word logos means both reason and speech. Human beings reason through speech, they make meaning through words, use words to give form to meaning, to share meaning. Watching a baby begin to form words, to experiment with speech, to move from the rudimentary attachment of sounds to things – hoot! = ball, hoot! = cat – to a manipulation of sound for the purposes of making simple meaning – Ma! Da! Ba! – to the manipulation of sounds for the purposes of commanding meaning, playing with meaning – Da to Daah-y to Daaah-y DAAAH-Y Daaah-y sung in repetition as a playful, plaintive, lyrical command.

Watching her, listening to her, hearing her voice begin to take shape, hearing her give voice to the meaning that she is making of this strange, wonderful world, my heart pounds with love and pride and panic. For months, now, a year, I have been her voice, I have made voices for her, I have fabricated meaning on her behalf and wrapped it in my own sounds (these sounds, according to my husband, approximating closely the sound of the South Park character Cartman, perhaps made more feminine.) Now, she is beginning to make her own meaning, and to give that meaning shape with her own sound. Her own voice.

Her own, sweet voice.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

OK, so tomorrow I'll shut up about her birthday already...

But, really, how could I NOT post this picture?

Girl meets cake. Girl LIKES cake.

Also, I have this to say on the general subject of birthdays: you never enjoy a birthday quite so much as when it is your child's birthday that you are celebrating. Not only because there is no joy sweeter than seeing your child's face smeared with cake - obviously - but because there is something just inexpressibly heart-swelling about that moment, or that series of moments, somewhere around the anniversary of the day of the birth of your child, when you realize that this is your day, your celebration, the anniversary of the moment that you gave life to her, and she gave new life to you.



Also, it has to be said that, as much she likes cake, WonderBaby would have been just as happy with a block of cheese. In fact, when faced with the dual temptations of candlelit birthday cake and hunk of sharp cheddar, she went for the cheddar.

A cake made entirely of a block of sharp cheddar sounds like a good idea, but it doesn't hold up well to candles...


Also, about birthdays? They seem a good reason to throw a party. You know what parties require?

1.) Tidy house.

2.) Tidy house.

3.) Tidy house.

4.) Tidy child.

5.) Tidy self.

6.) Drink wine.

Numbers 1 through 5 can be a challenge, I tell you, especially when child learns the unique pleasure of tossing clothing - hers and yours - and hairbrushes - yours - in toilet. Number 6 smooths out the rough edges, if you can remember where you set down your wine glass amid the (admittedly wonderful) fray of a dozen knee-biters jacked-up on cake.

But I don't need to tell you that it was all worth it. More than worth it.


Footnote to last post's discussion of the Canadian Blog Awards: someone snarked at me about writing about not wanting to campaign for votes, claiming that to do so was just a sneakier way of campaigning. To which I can only say - if some petty Canadian blog award (in which anybody can nominate themselves and vote for themselves, every day, for the fooking love of Elbridge Gerry) provokes such Machiavellian suspicions, then there is something seriously wrong with the world. Sure, I'd like votes. But that post was about my sincere discomfort at the prospect of making a pitch for votes against my friends and their excellent blogs. I don't want the votes that badly.

If that rings false to you, well, then, bite me.

Her Bad Mother would never, ever exploit her child for the purposes of punctuating a political point. Nor would she employ sloppy alliteration.

And, just to prove that I am not above a little bit of crass self-promotion: if you really, really like this blog, then do go vote for me. But if you do, do, for the love of all that is orange, also click around and acquaint yourself with some other blogs, and maybe spread the votey love around a bit, too.

Canadian Blog Awards


Twp more things... there's someone in the Basement sharing their own story of muscular dystrophy, a variation on the disorder that my nephew has. Please go listen. She's speaking the words that I have trouble speaking.

And Sunshine Scribe is pushing the karma over at MommyBlogsToronto, and you know that you want some of that.