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Too many books have addled her brain

So I had to run some errands downtown yesterday. And thanks to a line of storms, I got a late start. The Child was restive and fussy because we were trapped in the apartment for an extra two hours after we were ready to go. To be fair, I was also restive and cranky. I’ve got a green-spitting snot-thick cold clogging my head and throat and it’s been hot and sticky and steamy here in Boston. So I was looking forward to reading my book in the air-conditioned coolness of the T — The Child is usually quiet in her stroller on the T.

I parked the stroller at the end of a largely empty car and checked the brakes. Then, because I don’t trust brakes, I put my foot on the axle and cracked open “The Bolyen Inheretance.” But three stops later, the child was fussy so I spent the rest of the trip playing games with her and doing so, I think, cheerfully.

I got off at Charles because the elevator at Park is nasty. As I was heading to the elevator, I noticed a woman walking next to me and talking to me.

Now, I don’t hear well. Ruptured eardrums as a child. Add to that the noise of the T station, my general fug of exhaustion, the snot clogging my head, and the fact that this woman had a thick accent (Southern American black), and you can see that I was having trouble hearing her. Most of what she said I’ve reconstructed from context. I’m pretty good at figuring out what people are saying, if you give me enough time.

First she said something about my book and gestured to the stroller. I smiled and said it was a good book (always a safe response). Then she said something about the baby. Then something about how it was a scary world nowadays. Finally it dawned on me that she was criticizing me for having been reading on the T. I was “too absorbed” in my book. I figured she meant that I wasn’t paying enough attention and she would be fussy so I said, rather coldly, “She can always get my attention.”

Then she continued — following me onto the elevator — insisting it was a scary world and someone would take my baby or hurt her or something.

I was stunned. It was so… Victorian. Books will addle a woman’s head, she seemed to be saying, and I was a selfish bluestocking for allowing myself the smallest pleasure of reading fifteen minutes. To be a good proper mother, I needed to renounce my Self and submit entirely to the role of Mother, anything else was going to land me in the last, tragic chapters of a melodramatic ha’penny dreadful from 1882:

…lured by the seductive whisper of words from a page of the forbidden knowledge, the woman read on. Her head bowed over the book, she licked her finger and turned the paper carefully as she aped her betters, her small mind needing to focus wholly on what would be, for a man, a light afternoon’s entertainment. The thought of the story was too much and she began to breathe heavily, her pupils dilated, her bosom heaving, the dark recess of her brain warming to a hot fevered pitch. Thus, body and soul absorbed in such illicit pleasures, she did not notice the dark figure looming over her pram, the long diseased fingers reaching out and snatching the golden-haired child , who, in her innocence, cooed up at the dastardly stranger….

Is this what motherhood means to America? Complete submission? I have other thoughts on the issue — more examples and a comparison to BDS&M porn, it’s all very interesting — but the cat just shat on the bed where the baby is sleeping so I gotta run. (Clearly this is my punishment for engaging int hat most forbidden of female pursuits — writing!)

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