Monday, March 21, 2011

Between Interruptions...

My kids are on the trampoline in our backyard as we speak. Apparel is as follows:
-Matthew, fleece sweatshirt and basketball shorts
-Ayden, blue trousers, bare feet, shirtless
-Riley, naked as the day he was born, but for a pair of winter boots
I apologize for not posting photos, but Riley might kill me in future if I do...

Amarys has slept 8 hours per night four times this week. And then Friday night she was up freaking out and screaming til 4:30. Last night? Freak out central til 5:30. I have slept for a total of six hours in the past 48. I feel like a mosquito on a windshield.

While nursing these days I'm re-reading "Between Interruptions," a compilation of thoughts on motherhood by Canadian writers: some of them journalists, some of them novelists, some of them everything in between, and I love it. I love it more this time than I did the first time I read it, several years ago. Here are a few snippets;

(from the introduction)
I don't want to be too hard on myself. There's enough judging of mothers and mothering by friends, family, and perfect strangers. I'll leave the criticism to them. I'm more interested in figuring out how this happened. How a woman like me, raised with more opportunities and choices than any previous generation of women, could be so unprepared for motherhood. Just like women in the 1960s, mothers today are discovering that the ways we are brought up and the goals we set for ourselves are strangely, and often painfully, contradictory. Liberation, autonomy, and equality are all good principles for women to aspire to, in theory. But they don't fit so well with mothering. How can you put yourself and your kids first at the same time? And then, where does your partner, assuming you have one, fit into the picture? You get the idea.
But it's not just women from the sixties who will find parallels in today's mothering experience. As any reading on the history of motherhood will reveal, cycles repeat themselves and mothers today are struggling with many of the same issues as mothers of previous generations. Perhaps the one mark of distinction for today's mothers is our widespread sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are: with our "motherload" (the career, the kids, the house, the husband), with gender roles, with society's expectations. It's hard to be satisfied when you are brought up to believe you will have a fabulous career, a fabulous family, a fabulous social life and a fabulous house, and when you suddenly find yourself with all those things, you realize it's not at all fabulous; that having all those things means losing yourself; that motherhood has much more inherent value and joy than we were ever taught to believe; that having a job and kids and an "equal" relationship or marriage is highly stressful, and not always possible.
Maybe I wanted to write this book to write myself out of madness. That is what it feels like every time I write something about motherhood--a big exhale. Except I didn't want to do all the writing myself. So much of what I've found interesting about the struggles of motherhood has been hearing other women's stories, sharing their experiences. It can be vindicating, depressing, surprising, or just a plain relief to know I'm not the only one having trouble, say, weaning my two-year-old or swearing in front of, and sometimes at, my kids.
(Cori Howard)

Since the submissions written for this book are by professional writers, some of them are remarkable, and they are all beautiful to read as well as insightful. Some describe lives very similar to mine, others very different. Some of my favourite bits;

"Sacred" is the word that immediately precedes "sacrifice" in the dictionary. It is defined as something that is unassailable, inviolable, highly valued and important. Women like me were brought up to believe that our personal aspirations and identities were sacred. So we hang on for dear life, loath to let go of our hard-earned uniqueness of self. Instead, we layer on a new life--the life of mother. And what motherhood demands of us is not just our love and desire but a deep cut into the essence of who we once were. A cleaving apart of the life we were once driven to create for ourselves and our new reality. How could any of us be ready?
(Carol Shaben)

I used to love the adrenaline rush of all that pressure and all those deadlines: that flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants energy as you took on way too much, and the huge sense of accomplishment when it all fell into place. I think the magazine editor Bonnie Fuller has it right. It is exhilarating to have much too much. It's absolutely affirming to take on great big chunks of life and revel in the fact that you took it for all it was worth.
I never imagined when I was single that having children would give me the same kind of rush. Life with four kids is full-on, an all-hands-on-deck kind of challenge.
(Monika Deol)

The truth is, I don't think any mother can be perfect. And the definition of a good mother seems awfully narrow these days. Have your own identity but don't seek paid employment. Breastfeed for at least a year, but don't be seen breastfeeding in public. Be close with your children but not too close or you will smother them. Eventually, we all set foot in the bad mother camp. We find ourselves shouting at our kids in the supermarket. Or using the television as a babysitter. Or giving up breastfeeding too early. Feelings of guilt seem unavoidable.
(Jen Lawrence)

"Couldn't you have kids of your own?" people used to ask me. Assuming, of course, that adoption, as a second choice, must be second-best. Our culture, like most others, begins in the procreational imperative. To adopt a child, especially one who cannot be passed off as "one's own" is to insist that family can be bound by invisible threads of love as surely as by chains of genes. To adopt a child is, intentionally or not, to threaten the foundations of patriarchy. People tend to get huffy when you do that.
...When it comes to ideas about adoption, Mark and I werent' all that different from anybody else. Adoption had presented itself as a magical solution, a promise of "happily ever after." Now, we brought our baby home and found not our perfect fantasy child but a real person with needs and strengths and weaknesses of her own. And we faced a welter of unanticipated questions, a thicket of unexpected problems. Here, too, we were no different from most parents, bu the extremity of our daughter's needs and their unfamiliarity walloped us, sent us reeling.
When you adopt, there is no way you can analogize Matthew's dyslexia to your uncle Sam's; no way you can compare Emma's stubborn streak to your own. So you tend to read every twitch and tantrum for darker messages. What if your child grows up to be the next Charles Manson? After all, he was adopted...
Becoming a mother--any mother--means learning to see through your child's eyes, to feel with your child's heart. Becoming an adoptive mother means accepting from the start that your child's heart beats to another body's rhythm.
Imagine you're learning to dance. You begin without the warm-up and you miss the first few classes, so you and your new partner are clumsy. You tire easily, lose confidence, lurch and tread on one another's toes. Sometimes you even fall. The steps you're learning are different--more intricate than the ones that other dancers need to learn, so while your classmates dip and swing, you'll still be practicing your basic moves. Sometimes you'll envy them, wishing you had it as easy; ironically, a few of them may envy you because you got to skip those dull introductory lessons. Never mind. Keep dancing. You'll need to improvise a lot of the choreography. After all, unlike most of the others, your combining moves from more than one dance form and more than one tradition. But improvisation is freeing, and drawing on multiple sources adds texture and richness to your art. As you gain grace, you'll glow with pride at your own achievement. Because you're unusual, you may attract stares in public and the kind of attention that nobody wants. But in time, you'll move so fluidly that people will comment on how miraculously you're matched. By then, like most dancers you'll have lost your self-consciousness, forgotten the pain and embarrassment of your first halting steps. By then, you'll wonder what gave your life meaning before you learned to dance.
(Susan Olding)


sara said...

Cori Howard teaches a course here, the "Momoir Project" and I've been wanting to take it every time but can never scape together the money. One day. It's supposed to be an amazing writing course focusing on documenting your children's lives.

Jen said...

In my brand-new-motherness I feel desperate to read something like this. I'm gonna pick up this book while we're home. Thanks for posting this.

melissa joanne said...

Thank you for finding time to share this in the midst of the craziness of life with a newborn! I really, thoroughly enjoyed reading those beautiful words!