Her Bad Mother

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Yesterday was my blog birthday. This blog is one year old.

I know that most people like to call it an anniversary, or a blogiversary, but I really prefer to think of it as a sort of birth. One without the pain and the drugs and the torn-up hoo-hah, but a birthday nonetheless. One year ago yesterday, I created something. I took part of myself and made something of it and thrust it out into the world. I gave something birth. That thing was, is, this blog.

I'm not going to get all cheesy and call it my baby. It's not my baby. This is my baby:

But it is possible to give birth to other things - things, works, states of being - things that are not babies, not even, colloquially, 'our babies' (such a mother, so literal - only a baby can be one's 'baby'), things that are nonetheless much beloved, much treasured, the products of much work.

This is what I said, one year ago. This was the first yell, the first red-cheeked holler that announced new life: welcome to the first day of the rest of my life.

My life.

I was referring, specifically, to the day of WonderBaby's birth, the day that I became a mother, the day that my universe changed, the day that I changed, forever. But I might have been referring to the day at hand, the day of the birth of the blog. Because that day was also a day of transformation, a day of fundamental change. It was the day that I decided to tell my stories. It was the day that I became (again? for once and for all?) a writer, because it was the day that I leapt - blindly, happily - into my love of writing and stayed there. Swam there, splashed there, frolicked there. I'm still there - sometimes frolicking, sometimes dog-paddling, sometimes floating on my back, resting tired arms, but still - still - there. (Waterbabywriterbaby. Writerbaby? Uck. Writer, baby.)

What I gave birth to: a new (a rediscovered?) part of myself, a new (found?) identity. 'Her Bad Mother' (the name came late, as names often do) is me - me-the-mother, of course, but more fundamentally, me-the-writer.

I'm thinking about that a lot these days, about this transformation, this (re?)birth. How do I nurture this work, this thing, this me? I don't quite know how to mother this creation. I'm learning as I go. I'm making mistakes, I think, but I don't mind my errors. I'm learning. I don't know how this work will turn out, but for the moment, that doesn't matter. The joy is in the doing.

And, of course, always, the inspiration... there is joy, so much joy, in celebrating the inspiration, that which gave (who did give) this breath...



I don't know where this goes. It doesn't matter. It can only be good.

Cheers, and thanks for sharing this year with me.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bad on Bad

I was not, as a child, overly fond of Beatrix Potter books. I did like the witty renderings of hedgehogs in waistcoats and ducks sipping tea and rabbits losing their trousers, but the stories were, I felt, either excessively dull (Jeremy Fisher the frog is unsuccessful in catching the lunch that he has planned for his friends but it all ends well because they bring salad!) or excessively alarming (Squirrel Nutkin narrowly escapes being skinned by an owl! Peter Rabbit narrowly escapes being speared by a pitchfork!)

I didn't usually mind being alarmed - one of my very favorite stories was the tale of Three Billy Goats' Gruff, which is nothing if not harrowing - but there was something about Beatrix Potter's stories that took all of the fun out of being alarmed. The moralistic finger-wagging (if you don't listen to your mother you might end up cooked in a stew! if you're too mouthy you might end up skinned by an owl!) was just a little too overt, a little too gleeful. Every mishap that occurred in Potter's anthropomorphized countryside was the direct result of disobedience and deliquency. If you are a bad little bunny (or squirrel, or mouse, or, presumably, butterfly - what sin did the butterfly commit who ended up in Jeremy Fisher's sandwich?), bad things will happen to you. Very bad things.

Now, Potter was certainly not the first to wring morals from her stories - storytelling has been used for moral education for as long as stories have been told (bad Eve for taking that apple!) I think that the thing I resented about the Potter books, as a child, was that the moral was so obvious, and so heavy-handed. See the bunny! See the bunny be bad! See the terrified bunny face death! See the terrified, exhausted bunny crawl home in shame to his mother! What was worst, in a way, was the fact that every recalcitrant little creature narrowly escaped his fate, only to be reduced to a silent, quivering, figure of shame. They didn't escape, like Br'er Rabbit, by their wit, or by some inner strength, or through some redemptive transformation of character - they escaped by the skin of their teeth, through some accident, and survived to be ashamed. Not only will you face terrible, horrible things - death! torture! - if you are bad, you will face terrible, horrible things and then crawl home, ashamed, and be sent to bed without dinner and made to think about what you've done.

It isn't quite the same thing when, in Hans Christian Anderson's story about the girl who trod on the loaf, a vain and selfish little girl becomes the architect of her own terrible doom. It isn't quite the same thing, in part, because the fate of the girl (becoming petrified in the loaf that she steps in to save her shoes from becoming soiled) is appropriate to her sins (vanity, selfishness, childish cruelty.) Reading the story, as a child, I recall wishing, fervently, that Inger wouldn't be so terrible, that she would recognize the wisdom in her mother's assertion that she will bring about her own misfortune. I can recall, too, feeling my heart contract as Inger faces the moment of her redemption, as she confronts - too late! so tragically too late! - and repents the error of her ways. The danger in the story really is moral danger - it's the not the alarmingly banal danger of errors in judgment made in a world full of nasty owls and farmers with pitchforks. The danger in Peter Rabbit's story is the danger that comes with not wearing a helmet on your tricycle and venturing beyond the border of your driveway - and then very nearly getting flattened by a speeding bus. It alarms more than it frightens. The danger in Inger's story, on the other hand, is terrifying because it is clearly a danger that threatens her very soul, and a danger that she herself creates, and unwittingly embraces. I was haunted by the story, as a little girl - haunted and thrilled and deliciously, terribly, terrified.

The story of the girl who trod on a loaf and the tale of Peter Rabbit are very different kinds of stories, obviously; the tale of Peter Rabbit is, after all, a tale for the very young. But I can't help but think, now, as a mother, that the moral lessons I wish to teach WonderBaby (that's another post entirely) should - even in her babyhood - reach somewhat beyond bad things happen to bad bunnies!

In any case, if I do decide to pursue alarmist moral lessons, I will choose one of Potter's lesser-known works, The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit, which, I think you'll agree, makes the bad-is-as-bad-does argument much more clearly:

This is a fierce bad rabbit...

...This is a man with a gun...

...This is what happens.

Any questions?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Served with whine

The other week, after I had written that post about parental vanity, I remarked to my husband that I was a bit concerned about ending that post on a down note. It was hard, I said to him after publishing the post, to find a way to end that discussion without getting all sad and low and woe-is-me...

'Sad and low and woe-is-me'? he replied, his tongue not-quite-firmly-in-cheek. Isn't that your thing? Your SHTICK?


My mother likes to tell me that I've always been a worrier. But I'm not, ordinarily, constantly all tied up in knots about whither this and whence that? and what the fuck am I doing? I'm not, ordinarily, a big fat mess of anxiety and angst and worry.

Parenthood, however, has ripped out my heart and my guts and my nerves and scattered these across the nursery floor and this has rendered me - understandably, I think - somewhat more vulnerable. Still, even with this heightened and deepened vulnerability, I consider myself to be a fairly emotionally-balanced human being. Sure, I cry more, wring my hands more, press my fists into my temples more often - but on the whole, I'm pretty together. (Right? Right?)

Whatever the case, the picture is always going to be skewed here, on this blog, because this is the place where I vent and rant and rave. Where I - ahem - write. Because despite all of my efforts to focus my writing here, to really use this place as a forum for exercising my writing muscles, I invariably end up writing posts about about how I'm feeling. About what's bothering me. About all the issues - big and small - that I'm wringing my hands about. This blog has become therapy. You have, like it or not, become my therapists.

I've been feeling a little bit uncomfortable about this. I've written about this discomfort before; I won't belabour the issue here. I'll just say - I'm a bit uncomfortable. Part of this discomfort has to do with the not-altogether-pleasant feeling that I'm doing a little bit too much dwelling on certain issues (To worry or not to worry about declining naps, that is the question/Whither 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the pains of outrageous sleep habits/Or take arms against this troubled sleep). It is possible, I think, that I might be more inclined to just let some issues go if I did not have a forum in which to drag these issues for flogging again and again and again...

Then again, I might have already driven myself insane with the effort of containing all of these issues within the confines of one tired brain, if I hadn't had this outlet.

I am, for the moment, comforting myself with the latter idea. Therapy is good - no? - even if one never intended to lay bare one's soul for therapizing (wd? sp?). So I'm trying to chill out a little bit about the hand-wringing. I'll probably feel better once I get back into the groove of visiting other blogs and lending an ear to other hand-wringers. I've been so remiss in this lately, for which I apologize. I've been visiting, but not talking. I need to get talking again... that's what drew me into this community in the first place: the conversation. And the first step toward really good, really fruitful conversation comes with relaxing one's guard, letting go of one's full preoccupation with one's own issues (not to mention, letting go of one's preoccupation with one's preoccupation with one's own issues, holy hell) and saying what one really thinks and feels so that one can learn what others really think and feel. Relaxing, speaking and listening.

So... Hi! I'm Her Bad Mother, and I'm a bit of a basket case these days! A lot of a basket case! Stressed, and tired! In love with my daughter, but getting my ass kicked by her, and by motherhood generally!

How are you?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pho-ning it in...

I had, I promise you, all manner of fascinating anecdote and deep thought to share with you this weekend, but I am, simply, TOO TIRED.

So you will just have to make do, for today, with this little piece of WonderBaby trivia: her current favourite food - preferred over such adored, but lesser, delicacies as blueberries, yogourt, cheese (old cheddar), tofu and cake - is pho. With chopsticks.

Moments later, she lifted the bowl and attempted to slurp all of the brothy goodness from the bottom, most of which ended up pouring down her front and into her diaper instead. A messy but noble effort.

Why am I sharing this? No reason. I can wring no special significance, no commentary on childhood or parenting or culture, from this particularly piece of trivia. There is no obvious poetry here, no obvious point of departure for philosophic reflection on the beautiful mess that is babyhood, childhood, family.

Just this baby, this mess, this joy. A snapshot, or three, of these.

That's all, for now.