The Parking Lot group tried, very hard, to get into it this morning. Conversations would start with, “Are you going to the meeting?” (There’s apparently going to be a meeting today.) “No, I have to read a book at my older son’s school.”
And I could see two or three moms opening their mouths to jump in. And I would access my inner Jersey Girl and talk really fast to say, “Oh, really? What are you going to read?”
I did this six or seven times.
Occasionally, two moms would break off and their voices would get really low and they would dart glances at P. (L wasn’t there yet). And I’d drag them, rather suddenly, into our conversation about pancake breakfasts.
The meeting will happen while I’m here, pretending to work. There will be a policy statement and that will be it.
It bothers me that I spend this much time and energy on the group politics of a bunch of women whose names I sometimes forget. I mentally mock, just a little bit, the women who spend so much energy worrying that a pedophile might see their son’s picture online, but I just spent almost the same amount of energy worrying about the high-school politics of the situation. Who’s nuts here? I know they are… and I’m almost certain that I am, too.
And why are moms all attacking each other instead of… I don’t know? Attacking pedophiles? That doesn’t make any sense. But I feel like a whole lotta energy and effort — mine, L’s, P’s, everyone’s — just got expended upon something useless, pointless, and divisive, where upon it could have been spent on something constructive. Why is modern motherhood all about attacking women who do it differently than I do it? Do men do this — as parents or in any other field?
I’m developing a theory, slowly, about how society can no longer use fear of sex/getting pregnant to control women, so instead, its shifted to using fear about motherhood to control women. It’s hazy, still, but I’m thinking about it. Thoughts?
My sister in law is a reading teacher in inner city New Haven, one of the worst slums in the U.S. She has been a teacher forever, including stints at Kindergarten and preschool. So I called her up to ask her about the Scholastic Book Club thingy.
According to my darling s.i.l., I haven’t precisely been had. It was sorta kinda a fundraiser…. maybe.
Turns out that Scholastic “takes good care of teachers.” For every dollar that we unsuspecting parents spend on the books, the teacher gets some number of “points.” She can then use those points to buy books. One assumes that the books will be used in the classroom. Yay books! Yay reading in the classroom!
However, and this is a big however, the books go with the teacher usually. Not the classroom. When my s.i.l. gets shifted from this school to that, from K to Reading Recovery, she brings her library with her. So if Miss P., the head teacher for The Child’s preschool, decides to hare off to a better preschool next year, say Wonder Canyon, the books go with her.
I’m now sort of torn about this. There are a number of variables — it’s a good cause, it’s my daughter’s classroom, reading is important. But I pay a buttload of money for that place, can’t they buy their own flipping books without hitting me up for more? What’s the socially acceptable amount to spend? Will I get dissed if I don’t spend as much as the other parents? Those other parents own second homes — I can’t spend as much as those other parents! Then again, I bought $30 worth of books. Maybe I’m spending more than the other parents? Does that get me any special mom points?
On a related note, I mentioned that there are only two other girls in The Child’s class. Well, those two little girls are best friends and have been since birth — apparenlty their moms are good friends and neighbors, too. The moms — K and H — often arrive together and just start conversations in the middle, the way that old friends do.
Here’s the funny thing. H is always really friendly to me. She’s outgoing and easy to talk to and laughs a lot. I like her. I’ve never seen K without H around. But whenever I find myself walking or talking with them both — often, since we’re usually the first ones there — I noticed something. K makes a point (a subtle point, but a point nonetheless), to turn the conversation away from general stuff and back to personal stuff between the two of them, conversations I couldn’t partipate in.
At first I thought I was imagining it. But I started paying attention and yes, she was deliberatly excluding me from conversations, going so far as to put herself between me and H. (H, incidentally, is usually fine whatever is happening, conversation wize. She has a 6 week old baby, however, and probably isn’t at her best, mentally.)
Wow. A preschool mom for two weeks and already I’m being regarded as a friend stealer. It really is like being back at middle school. I’m tempted to bake some cookies and share them with H when K isn’t around, just to really indulge in the genre, you know?
This is the crap that made me dread eating lunch in the cafeteria when I was 10 and it’s the crap that’s going to make me cranky as an adult.
So every once in a while, a person stumbles into my life (usually in a cameo), and I think that this person is clearly a bad actor sent up from central casting to fulfill some kind of cliche walk-on role. Today was one of those days. The stock character was Crazy Self-Involved Rich Mom #4.
The park near my place is full of mostly nannies at 9 a.m. I was there with The Child and about four nannies and their charges, all of us clustered around the swings and hanging out, when in walked this tight, tanned, toned, blonde woman. She was ripped and hadn’t an ounce of pudge on her, a fact which was subtly and discreetly played up by her au courant casual wear from Eileen Fisher. Her two boys were about 2 and 4, I’d guess, and running well ahead of her as she chattered away on her cell phone. I didn’t notice them carrying any large toys, but they must have been. More on that later.
One of the little girls on the playground turned on the sprinkler/fountain. Cliched Rich Mom sighed into her phone and gestured for her four year old to come over. Without stopping her gab fest, she stripped the boy down to his water shoes and let him run off. He will henceforth be referred to as Naked Boy.
Now, I couldn’t help overhearing her conversation. In fact, no one in the park could help it. It went, as far as I can recall, “I’ve had just an exhausting summer. We’ve been home total of a month all summer — we’ve been on vacation everywhere. And Carla has just been awful! She’s just so negative! We’ve been in mediation with her. She keeps promising to be more positive, but I think we’re just going to have to let her go. It will break the boys’ hearts, but she’s just so negative…. we flew her down to a private island in South Carolina for my cousin’s wedding and…” Here she launched into a story about how awful her nanny was. Having hear the story, I don’t think the nanny was all that out of line. At all.
I will point out, however, that all this complaining was done in loud voice in front of five local nannies. Nannies have their own network around here and you know that story is going to get around.
My favorite was when she said, with acid in her voice, “Carla told my mother last week that she really wants to do something more exciting with her life! As if!”
Anyway, while she was gabbing away, complaining about how hard her life was, all those vacations, perish the thought, my daughter found a large plastic trike that we’d never seen at the park before. (There are a large number of large plastic toys that are communal property at the park.) She rode it happily for a while and decided to get off to push. The moment her hand was off the trike, Naked Boy grabbed it and ran away.
I looked at his mom for a moment and waited for her to react. She saw it happen, but said nothing. So I said, “Excuse me! I’m sorry young man, but we were playing with that. Perhaps you’d like to play with this toy?” which is my usual reaction to when someone grabs something from my girl.
The mom heard me and sighed into her phone, “Hang on a minute Sally.” She looked at me and said in a hurried tone, “It’s ours.” And went back to talking.
Well, that put me in a weird position, huh? I picked The Child up and walked away, trying to distract her so I didn’t get a full fledged meltdown. Then I realized that Naked Boy had been riding the trike earlier… while naked. I decided that I was really not too interested her getting back on the trike. I’m not uncomfortable around nudity, but he’s a kid and probably not so great in the wiping/hygeine area, you know? Also, now that I was paying more attention to Naked Boy, I realized he was very very interested in his penis. He had it in his hand most of the time. Nope, I decided, I really didn’t want The Child playing with anything he touched.
The minute The Child wasn’t interested in the trike anymore, Naked Boy abandoned it. And a little boy I know, under the care of his nanny, grabbed it. And Naked Boy repeated the same routine…. but the mom did something different.
“Oh, it’s ours but I’m donating it to the park,” she said, after hastily getting off the phone. Naked Boy wrestled the trike away from the little (much younger) boy and rather than interfere, Cliched Mom shrugged, “Don’t worrry, honey. He’ll get bored with it in a minute and you can have it back.”
Then she turned to the nanny — the only pretty, young, white girl in a sea of black, Hispanic, and older nannies — and said, “So, you’re his nanny? Did you find the job on your own or through an agency? Do you like the agency? Do you have a contract with them?”
Oh dear, it was a pick up! I saw this in Desperate Housewives and read about it in the Nanny Diaries! The girl was polite but clearly not interested but Cliche Mom was not to be deterred. It was like watching a 40-something rich guy try to pick up a college student at a bar. Finally Cliche Mom flipped open her phone and started complaining to someone else about how the mechanic just couldn’t get her Beemer back to her before Friday.
I was howling. Other than the slight awkwardness of the Child/Naked Boy trike incident, it was like watching a movie. Okay, a badly cliche movie with a two-dimensional villianess, but a movie nonetheless. These are the moms that give other moms a bad name.
But they also provide entertainment.
If you’re not a sci-fi geek or physics type, you may not know that sound doesn’t carry in a vacuum, like outer space. The only noises you hear are those that you make yourself in your self-contained atmosphere. And the occasional crackly transmission over a headset or radio.
Much of my experience of motherhood has been like that. I’m out here on my own in the depths of soundless space. I’ve got The Husband and the Best Friend on radio, but it’s me who has the breasts and the no job and it’s me who is dealing with the nitty gritty of a baby from hour to hour. I read the manuals and I can consult with Houston periodically, but I’m a woman alone.
When I started this blog, I figured I’d be beating a drum, but it would be in that deep black vacuum. I was ranting and raving and getting the noises out of my head but I didn’t think they would go anywhere. You can not imagine my shock when people were actually commenting on my blog! (All thanks to Karrie’s link from her blog, I’m sure.) I was pretty sure that meant that they were reading my blog.
I wasn’t alone.
Or, if I was alone, I was alone in an outer space filled with other mothers making the same noises. We might be talking over tin cans, but we were talking. When I see everyone get excited about a blog entry like my “Doctors Bill and Ferber” one, it’s like I hit just the right note on my drum and we all felt it resonate. And it’s fantastic to know that I’m not the only one singing that song.
I will stop torturing metaphors well past the point of usefulness now and go nap. I just wanted to thank you all for letting me know I’m not alone out here.
Sorry about the lack of postings. It’s been one of those weeks where there’s no real reason (other than the plethora of usual ones) for me to be exhausted, but I was. So, I was silent for a while. But now, finally, The Child is napping and I have plenty else to do, but no will with which to do it. So here I sit. And write, though I write mournfully.
Because, in sad news for the mom-blog-o-sphere, “One Weird Mother” has gone silent for good. My life is a little more barren for its loss.
In fact, I would argue that all mothers, whether they know it or not, are more barren for its loss. We live in a culture where the meme of motherhood is poisonously sweet and fraught with impossible contradictions — where working moms feel the need to apologize for having a career and stay-at-home moms need to apologize for not having one. Moms simultaneously get berated if they let their kids eat Fruit Roll-Ups and watch TV and dunned for being an uptight control freak if they don’t. Science, cultural norms, and the latest studies all offer irreconcilable advice, and family structures are fraying without any institutions to replace them, leaving moms adrift in a sea of information and opinions but no real support.
In that climate, Karrie’s blog offered neither advice nor judgment, just a mental space where you could step back and observe the sheer hilarity and absurdity of motherhood in the 21st century. She was funny and honest and had a great voice that I’ll miss. When I read her blog, I never felt as alone as I do when I’m in a playground full of other moms who all seem to be in on the secret super-cool-mom handshake. I felt like Karrie would be there with me, hanging out on the picnic table, instead of clumped together in chick-lit flocks of slender giggles. In fact, I felt like she would be making fun all the ‘yummy mummies’ and their talk of pedicures and tennis bracelets and tofu shakes.
We need more weirdness in motherhood. More acceptance that weirdness is okay — that kids and moms are people as well as family units and that it’s okay if those folks do it differently than we do. Karrie was a champion of that, by sheer dint of her own, unique voice.
So take a moment to mourn “One Weird Mother.” And take a moment to promise to be a little more weird, in her honor. I know I will.
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!)
So I went to the gym today and left when I wanted to, rather than when the nursery people called my name to pick up a screaming, hysterical child. Yay me!
She’s a pretty independant little thing, but she’s around me, often in arm’s reach of me, 24/7. I can see where being abandoned in a room full of two old ladies and a dozen other screaming kids you don’t know would be upsetting. So, all the other times I’ve tried to leave her at the nursery, I’d get five or fifteen minutes into my time on the treadmill and hear that ominous page. “M–‘s mom to the nursery, please. M–‘s mom to the nursery.”
I haven’t tried in a while.
Still, I had high hopes this time. She’s very independent and outgoing and fine when I leave her with The Best Friend or The Grandmothers or the one time I left her with a babysitter. But the minute she saw the room, she started clinging and crying and fussing. I petted her and comforted her and she seemed okay and then I stepped onto the other side fo the gate and her face collapsed into crying. I popped back in and scooped her up and told her it was okay, mommy would be back soon.
The old lady who runs the place — old — looks at me and says, “That’s not helping. You need to just leave.”
So kissed her, I put her down, and left.
And I feel awful. I mean, part of me says this old lady sees this forty times a day and I should take her expert advice. But it sounds to me a lot like the cry-it-out folks when it comes to sleeping. “She has to learn that she can’t get you to come back just by crying.”
Well, why? I mean, why should my daughter learn that when she makes frantic signals that she needs her mommy, I’m going to ignore her? Why should my child, a pre-verbal 17-m0-old, learn that her one clear means of communications — crying — is useless. Learned helplessness isn’t what I want to teach her.
Also, the old lady was kinda bullying. I don’t like other people telling me what do to. And I don’t like that I just caved to this brusque “advice.”
But I really wanted to go to the gym. I wanted 50 minutes to walk on the treadmill and read my book. I wanted her to learn to enjoy herself at this place so I could go back to the gym on a regular basis. I need to lose weight and I can’t do that if I spend all my time walking at a toddler’s pace.
I’m conflicted, in particular, about the fact that it worked. That she calmed down and was having a good time when I came back. She immediately reached for me and held on tight, but she wasn’t freaking out. What lesson did I just teach her? What lesson should I have drawn from this?
Or am I obsessing about something tiny and irrelevant?