Friday, May 12, 2006

You Other Mothers Can't Deny

Maybe I’ve just been reading too much Salon, or New York Times, or New York Magazine, or Slate, etc. lately, but I can’t seem to escape the great Mommy debate. I’m so sick of it, I want to give it a spanking and send it to its room. Is it anti-feminist to be a stay-at-home mom? Is feminism bad for children? Why do we all live in Brooklyn and own the same two-thousand dollar stroller and $300 pair of jeans? The answers, respectively, are: shut the fuck up, shut the fuck up, because you’re yuppies.

Is it any wonder I don’t want to have kids? Because, no matter whether they side with Cleaver or Clinton, apparently all women want to do anymore is think and talk and write about their kids, or more specifically the conditions of existence of being a mother, and the truth is I don’t care. I don’t care about their kids. I don’t care how disenfranchised some women feel working at home. I don’t care how empowered others feel working at home. I don’t care that some people think women who don’t stay at home are ruining the foundation of the nuclear family. These are rich people problems.

My mother always worked full-time to support our family. In fact, pretty much everyone’s mother I knew from growing up had to work, especially when I was younger and lived in North Liberty, which used to be blue collar, when Iowa City, North Liberty and Cedar Rapids were actually separate towns, instead of one long run of housing developments.

All over the country, mothers have always had to work. And they’re the people whose voices I don’t hear in this melee. I hear lots of stay-at-homers and/or professional writers like Rebecca Traister, Caitlin Flanagan and David Brooks weighing in. But I haven’t heard from any women who actually have to get up every day and be a nurse, or a pilot, or a waitress, or a banker. I suspect that this is because these women are workers and parents and probably don’t have much time for abstract debate. It seems to me that raising a family doesn’t have a lot to do with the abstract. It’s in the specific details—the health insurance that pays for the antibiotics for ear infections, the peanut butter & jelly sandwiches that everyone eats for dinner sometimes because Mom and Dad are tired after work, the night shift you have to trade for so you can go to a school play. I’ve never been a parent, but I would think holding together a family is kind of like being in a twelve-step program: you take it one day at a time. And the idea of being the feminist paradigm for your generation of mothers probably doesn’t mean much when you’ve just pulled a 60 hour work week and have come to refer to the weekend as Laundry Day.

My mom worked as a nurse manager at the University hospital when I was growing up. She didn’t sit at the dinner table extolling the virtues of being a working mother, or bemoaning the fact that she didn’t get to sleep in on Monday mornings. She talked about work. She talked about the weird shit that went down at the hospital on her watch. She and my dad, who was a social worker, talked about the professionals and patients they had in common. The disturbed children who stole cars and robbed banks and ran away from Dad’s youth homes only to end up in Mom’s psych ward. We heard stories about schizophrenics eating magazines and Quiet Room takedowns and the political agendas of movers and shakers on the local social services scene (aw yeah, baby).

I once asked my mom about working versus staying at home and she said that she worked because she liked to work. That she had never considered not working, which was a good thing because she had to work to help finance our nice life. That she “never wanted to be one of those women who check their brains at the altar,” but that she had certain regrets about not being around to raise us during the week, as we grew. Just like anything in life, being a mother’s a mixed bag, but my mom didn’t attempt to debate this point into the ground. I don’t think she was tortured by it. I think she did the best she could, which, lucky for us, was excellent. She talked to us about the world and showed us what it was like to be out in it among the criminals and psychos and saints and comedians. She was supremely warm, loving and supportive, but she could give her co-workers a what-for when she had to and we got to hear about it over dinner. When my parents got divorced in 1994, she seemed to move effortlessly into the role of single parent. Though I’m sure it was frightening and sad and very, very difficult, she never let on.

My mom is the best. She is funny and intelligent and articulate and weird and smart and interesting and empathetic and understanding. She exemplifies the idea that being a parent is really about being a humanist. It’s about bringing the world into your home and letting your kids dissect it, and study it, and wonder about it and eventually run off into it. She is my hero.

Happy mother’s day, Mom.

6 Comments:

Blogger thatkidinthecorner said...

If you haven't read any of her stuff yet in The Atlantic, Sandra Tsing Oh writes about precisely this topic. And she's freakin hilarious (like you!).

Kindred spirit, indeed. I'll see if I can dig it up and I'll mail you.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Screwsan said...

Ooh, I haven't read her and I'd love to!

8:15 AM  
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Blogger Kyle said...

What the bleep, indeed.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Screwsan said...

Damnit, Jim, I'm a blogger, not a mechanic.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

screws, i'm tearing up. you'd be a great mom, but only if you want to be one. you're already damnfine human being. and you're my hero. nif.

10:58 AM  

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