Thursday, November 19, 2009

If this is bad - we should all be doing it -and be proud.

When I was a child, not once can I remember listening (yes, small girl, big ears, and not afraid to use them) to my mother and her friends talk about motherhood or children like something that needed to be talked about, or was interesting to talk about for that matter. They never sat around the kitchen table and debated whether they had enough time for their kids and if this was something they stressed about. They never defined themselves as mother's, it was something they happened to be, not something that they were consumed by.
If they ever talked about us, the kids pretending to play under the table while they drank coffee and smoked Blend Ultra, it was usually because one of us had behaved badly and had needed to be punished, or because one of us had had a stomach bug that made us vomit all over the living room carpet, as something that had disrupted the rest of their day by annoyingly stopping a halt to everything else they had to do.
Most of all they talked about work, or Dallas, or the new Jackie Collins novel. It made them sound interesting. It was a world I was yet to be invited to, something that was a mystery to me, something I was dying to be a part of. To be a grown woman, and sit around a table and talk to your friends about things that only they understood.

(I can only imagine what those small ears would hear, and what impact they would have on me had it been today, and the conversation around the table would have been about my child, my child, my child, my child, taking care of my child, finding the best organic and locally grown broccoli, and my child, and my child's Gymboree class, and swim class, and music class, and me child my child my child. I would probably have grown a pretty large head to go with those big ears, I tell you.)

Most importantly, no one considered them bad mother's. In fact, they were all (maybe except for one, but that was only because she served bolognese sauce without meat to save money, so that was done out of necessity, not evilness, strictly, I guess it doesn't count) very good mother's. They were loving, affectionate, funny, devoted and no-nonsense. Most of them worked full-time, while the kids spent their days in state-funded day care (you gotta love Scandinavia, even in the early 70's). When they didn't work they cooked basic meals while we watched the one hour of TV that was suitable for kids (and often more hours that was not so suitable), they made sure we were dressed and had our gym kit together and they left us with our grand parents at weekend's to get a break. They had fun parties where they all got merry and would dance around with us standing on their feet and had us fall asleep on a pile of coats in the hall-way. They would sleep in when they were tired, ask us to make them coffee when they woke up, and if they had any energy at all they would take us swimming, or for a walk in the park, but if it didn't happen, no one would think they had failed us.

It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong in how we define and perceive ourselves as mother's today - and how we judge all the other mother's around us by comparing them to ourselves. You are not a sufficient mother unless you get down on the floor at all times and actively play with your child for every awake moment of it's day. You have to sign up for activities, and play-dates, and do the home-work assignments, and still have time to show your kids how to relax (because they can't figure that out for themselves). As a mother, your life should be your children - and nothing else. You should not be happy unless your child's needs (which we have ourselves created by obsessing) are completely taken care of down to the very last detail.

And this is still not enough. Only yesterday, Kate moaned because there are so many movies coming out over the holiday's and when I had told her that we simply can't go and watch them all in the theatre, that we have to wait for them to come out On Demand (as if there were ever the luxury of determining your viewing schedule when I grew up - watch your fifteen minutes of Tjeckoslovakian puppet-show right now, or miss it forever).
- It's just not fair, she scowled. Everyone else can go with their mommy and daddy. They have time!

I felt huge pangs of guilt for about ten seconds, until I managed to shake it off.
- They probably can't, I said. And even if they could, I don't care. Different families have different rules.
It felt good saying it (not so good that it stopped me from lying awake later that night, agonizing over how horrible I'd been, though). It felt like I was finally putting my foot down. Making a stand. Separating me from the group and going it on my own. Taking charge of my life, all that sort of stuff.

It seems that in today's hyper-obsessed society (or should I say obsessive) we are not happy until we have completely, totally, one hundred percent thrown ourselves in to playing our roles as mother's that we are quite happy obliterating ourselves, and the people we were before we had children, to the point that what's is left are empty shells, mere cut-outs of what used to be a fully functioning human being. God forbid, we should have time to do anything else - let alone take a break and read a book, or do something that we'd take pleasure in doing for us, for me, not for my child. Only bad mother's take time out for themselves. Only very, very bad mothers.

Which is what I have been doing over the last day or so.
I couldn't put down memoir Bad Mother, written by Bay Area (Berkeley more precisely which makes her observations even more interesting at times) author and mother Ayelet Waldman , until I had finished the last page. This book is funny, clever, thought provoking and sometimes very, very close to the heart (when you read about how she nearly - unknowingly - sacrificed her son's life for breast-feeding, I had lock myself in my bedroom and reach for the tissues).
Waldman has been in the spot light before. To a lot of people she is most famous for a column she wrote about loving her husband more than her children, which led her to a sit on Oprah's sofa where she had to endure much harsh and personal criticism by the audience.
When I read Waldman's book I struggle to find anything even remotely offensive or inappropriate in her stories. They are all very nice and polite reflections on a society gone bonkers over Motherhood. Her book is open, truthful and very honest without being provocative for the sake of shocking. Waldman comes across as someone I would like to have a conversation with. Someone who has found an ideal balance between home, work and herself and who should be praised for that, rather than chastised.
She can come and drink coffee by my kitchen table any day - it would be an honor!

Bad Mother - A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet Waldman is published by Doubleday.

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