I remember a poignant conversation with my sister when our children were young. Our biggest fear at the time? How would we ever manage if one (or several) of our children refused to speak to us as they grew into young adulthood? Stories swirled around our social circles about a son or daughter who wanted nothing to do with their family of origin. These estranged children frequently put physical distance between themselves and their parents.
That fear eventually became my reality. I despaired.
Like many parents, I lacked experience and maturity while raising my children. I didn’t have the wisdom to understand, trust, and apply the message of the Lebanese-American writer/poet, Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931). Had I done so, not only would I have avoided a lot of grief, but my children would probably have had an easier transition from childhood towards independent adulthood.
Today is my mother’s birthday and although she has been dead for more than a decade I still think of her almost every day. At the time of her death I had not seen her for twelve years. Not by choice. After my father’s sudden demise my mother chose my children, her two adult grandsons to be her protectors, and dismissed me from her life, permanently.
When she died, my mother divided her assets evenly between my children and me, forcing her only daughter to live beneath the poverty level for the remainder of her life.
The final betrayal.
At the time of her death I was teaching Women’s Studies at the University.
Here in the high desert it has been raining off and on for the last few days. A giant puddle sits in the driveway and all the trees range in color from subtle shades of sage to emerald. Fringed Chamisa, spun gold and salmon wildflowers are bent low but stems are luminescent. Seedlings are sprouting in unlikely places.
I can’t think of a better mother’s day present for the desert than these ongoing cloud-bursts that are nourishing the earth with water and minerals from the sky. I am profoundly grateful for this year’s spring greening.
The earth is experiencing a sense of renewal. I wish I could say the same for me with respect to mothering and mother’s day. I cross this cyclic threshold with the same feelings of dread and grief that overpower me each year. Neither of my children acknowledge me as the mother who once loved them so fiercely, but oh so imperfectly in her own confusion and despair.
I was such a young wife, barely twenty when I became pregnant with my first child. Two years later I was a mother of two sons. Within five years I was divorced and on my own.
Although I tried to repair the damage as soon as I was able, neither child was willing to join me. I desperately suggested counseling – many times. As adolescents and young adults both Chris and later David, responded with chilling silence and apparent indifference to every frantic attempt I made to bridge the gap.
Well over 100,000 people and counting have read a blog post called “Nothing But the Truth: A Word to White America After the Recent Unpleasantness in Washington DC” that I wrote. Going on 400 commenters have weighed in on my website. I have not been able to keep up with replying to all the comments, but I have read them all. And a few cluster around the topic of childhood innocence and the role of adults in nurturing/protecting/informing children around the realities of things like racism, sexism, and the ugly layers of American history.
This exploration of the nature of childhood and our culture’s role in nurturing what we value about childhood calls out for feminist reflection. So, I put this out to the FAR community of conversation for discussion.
Some of the comments that interest me the most are those who gave the young men from Covington Catholic a pass because they are “just kids.” And they felt media and others were being too hard on them to expect them to understand what was going on in front of the Lincoln Memorial when competing narratives about our country converged.
This has been another hard month. I don’t feel it to be hard. I just know objectively that it is. The typical challenge of balancing my work with the children’s needs and the management of a household has been intensified by the onset of a serious medical condition in my family. I now enter that phase of elder care, which I understand is more or less bound to bankrupt the average household. I have become the much-begrudged adult child, compelled to make decisions for other people’s lives and regarded in the fog of suspicion. My intentions are now under scrutiny; my time is usurped; my efforts are thankless. I’m not complaining really. I am just describing.
In the midst of things, I have managed to take my older son to the seeming ends of the earth to visit potential high schools. I am managing a Destination Imagination team for my fourth grade son’s class. I am teaching six courses, and my home is relatively clean. I am running a weekly lecture series, I volunteered at the Church this month, and no one has missed any meals. I even managed to sew a blanket for a friend’s new baby. There are many more serious family, medical, and economic issues that underlie my day-to-day, but along with everyone else, and perhaps a little more so than some others, I just accept that I am amazingly over-extended.
It breaks me down. My anger, my revulsion, my powerlessness. I have been searching for the way since I was a child old enough to remember my mind. For a time, I thought Jesus was a white guy knocking on my door after having seen a religious pamphlet placed under our windshield wiper. I’m not sure he has blond hair anymore, but I still feel him knocking. I have been in love with him for as long as I have been a self, so much so that I baptized myself as a little girl.
Somewhere along the way, I figured my little, lonely way wasn’t good enough, and I wanted a church home. I finished a doctoral dissertation trying to find some place I could hang my hat. I picked the Roman Catholic Church, despite what I knew of it and what I had to defend about its patriarchy and history to family and friends. I loved the conversation, the so-called “Catholic Intellectual Tradition.” I always felt myself to be a covert, a conversa, a definitive outsider, and someone not to be trusted entirely as a cradle Catholic might be trusted, yet I tried to be family. I’ve been bringing up my kids in the Church, volunteering, working in Catholic education, paying the boys’ tuition. I do work-arounds, making excuses for the exclusion of women, defying the Church’s stance on sexuality with a critical repertoire of cross-disciplinary scholarship. Lord, I even had to help my Seventh-Day Adventist mom with a hostile annulment process that was dropped on her unsuspecting by a horrendously insensitive marriage tribunal. It wounded us all. Yet, here I have sat, until this.
It was maybe twenty-five years ago that I first got addicted to the Sunday morning news/talk shows. I’d turn on the TV at 7 a.m., watch an hour of local news, then Stephanopoulos at 8 a.m., then MSNBC until noon or later. Not anymore. This morning, I turned the TV off at 10:00 and immediately got into the shower to wash off what I’d been hearing. I’m worn out by the news!
Now don’t get me wrong. I am totally against any “normalizing” of the Troll-in-Chief. In fact, I’m convinced we ought to pack him into capsule with about a hundred cheeseburgers and without his phone and fire him off to one of the outer planets. Maybe Saturn, which astrologically forces us to face ourselves and to get to work and learn our life lessons.
It happened in the blink of an eye. So much of how we got here is blurry. I try to parse out the moments that came together to add up to this many years. I pause to absorb fragments, moments of the past.
Hunkering down to watch a spider waiting patiently on her web. I can see his tiny hands balancing on his knees peaking out from his blue overall shorts.
Here we are, as I write this, a week after the horrible shooting of 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Florida. And the beginnings of a new student led movement: #NeverAgain—never another school massacre like what happened in Florida.
Today, one week after this horrific event, you had massive student walk-outs all over the country to protest the government’s refusal to do anything substantive about it. Here are images of student protests.
One of the out spoken survivors of the Parkland shootings, Emma Gonazlez, has turned into a spokeswoman/teen, for the movement, fueled by her fiery speech the day after the shootings.
She has continued to speak out as have the other students.
I am a college teacher, a college teacher in two public universities. I teach students one to four years older than the students at Parkland. Last week at one of the public schools I teach at there was an active shooter warning that turned into a hoax. I have in the past been on lock down because an active shooter was on campus. This is a very real problem for me.
Today I heard the president of the United States suggest that the solution to the every growing problem of gun violence is to arm teachers or other school officials with weapons. As a black belt in karate, I have had gun training and gun safety as part of my training and it is part of my self-defense resume. I had to learn it. What I can tell you about owning a gun (which I don’t) is that having a gun is not the same as knowing how to us one. I know how to disarm someone, if I am lucky and the fight goes in my favor. Anyone with any experience in self-defense will tell you that the quickest way to escalate a situation is to introduce a gun into the situation.
I lie in bed with him, cementing the details in my memory. The way the morning air is heavy and green. The sound of last night’s raindrops continuing to drip from the overfull gutters on the roof. The insistent stab of a single-note bird song in the air. His head nestles in the crook of my arm the way it has done every morning for three years. Blond hair against my nose, breathing in the slightly baby smell of him. “This is the last time,” I whisper softly. “We are all done after this. This is the last time we will have nonnies.”
This is not the first last time for me, but it is the last, last time. The first baby was born 14 years ago and gathered to my breast with all the tenderness and uncertainty and instinctiveness of a first, first. “Do you want nursies?” I whisper to that new little boy, and we begin the next steps in our bond, nursing for nearly three years, until one day, six weeks away from the birth of the next baby boy, I decide that we truly have to be done. I am a breastfeeding counselor for other nursing mothers and I feel like I should want to tandem nurse my two boys. I fondly envision their hands joining across my body, the easy love and camaraderie between them blossoming through this shared time with their mother. But, I feel an intense irritation with nursing while pregnant, nearly a sense of revulsion and the almost irresistible urge to shove away my sweet little boy as I prepare to greet the life of another. I talk to my midwife about my feelings and she explains that with her own two daughters, the agitated feeling at nursing the older one did not go away with the birth of the second, but instead became dramatically worse. After hearing this, I feel panicky and I decide we do, in fact, have to wean. He is a very verbal and precocious toddler and I am easily able to explain to him that it is time to be finished nursing. One night though, he lies in bed with me crying and begging to nurse. He says he really needs to. I tell him, “remember, we’re all done, but if you really, really need me, if you really, really still need to have nursies, you can.” He doesn’t nurse, but instead falls asleep, reassured that while our nursing relationship might be over, I’m still here.
When the wheel of the year turns towards fall, I always feel the call to retreat, to cocoon, to pull away. I also feel the urge for fall de-cluttering—my eyes cast about the house for things to unload, get rid of, to cast away. I also search my calendar for those things which can be eliminated, trimmed down, cut back on. I think it is the inexorable approach of the winter holiday season that prompts this desire to withdraw, as well as the natural rhythm of the earth which so clearly says: let things go, it is almost time to hibernate.
Late autumn and the shift toward winter is a time of discernment. A time to choose. A time to notice that which has not made it through the summer’s heat and thus needs to be pruned away. In this time of the year, we both recognize the harvest of our labors and that which needs to be released or even sacrificed as we sense the promise of the new year to come. Continue reading “Winter Solstice Meditation by Molly”
Yes, I said it, but Mother’s Day invokes within me a certain hesitancy. Now before you say, “Well that’s because you don’t have children of your own so you don’t understand what it is like to be a mother or because your relationship with your own mother is awful, you hate the day.” I would respond that that is an unfair assessment of the situation. First, Mother’s Day doesn’t bother me because I don’t have children. (By the way, I find the idea that I don’t truly understand love or commitment and/or motherhood because I don’t have kids unbelievably condescending. Yes, motherhood can give one gifts and insights but those can also come from other areas of one’s life and/or other experiences.) I am also not hesitant about Mother’s Day because my mother and I have an awful relationship. We don’t. In fact, it is quite good.
Rather, Mother’s Day bothers me for three reasons. First, it often seems fake. People seem to go through the motions because it is expected and not because they sincerely want to honor their mothers. Second, I often wonder if Mother’s Day isn’t just some consumer-driven, capitalist, patriarchal creation asking us to buy expensive cards and “remember” all our mothers have done for us this one very special day of year.
Third, what are we celebrating about mothers? Most of the cards at the store and advertisements on television (if we would take them as research on what the general sentiments on Mother’s Day are) honor a mother’s love, support, guidance and acknowledge the child’s needs. They thank mothers for all they do. Continue reading “Feminist Musings on Mother’s Day.”
The stork is delivering as we speak! I hope you can join me in celebrating this joyous news – although you should know, the stork is the United States Postal Service, and I am expecting my first book, not my first baby!
It sounds somewhat crass (even to me whose book this is) to even try and pass off a book in the same way in which women announce they are expecting baby/babies. Sadly, writing books, which is one use of a woman’s creative energy, does not seem to be as valued as a woman’s ability to procreate, another use of a woman’s creative energy. Among the circle of friends I grew up with, children still seem to hold a more cherished place. On facebook.com, my “friends” post weekly updates as to the progress of their babies, pictures of their “baby bumps” and pictures of their newborns. Just through reading comments, the excitement is palpable. Continue reading “Motherhood: Still Women’s Most Valued Creative Contribution to Society? by Ivy Helman”