Reflections on motherhood...


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Virtual cacophony: how feminism and technology have given mothers a voice

This week we're celebrating 125 years of Women's Suffrage in New Zealand.  It reminded me of this post I wrote a few years ago but never got around to publishing.  And now seems as good a time as any to dust the cobwebs off this poor neglected blog...

As I’m rocking my baby to sleep in the middle of the night, I think of mothers through time, doing the same thing.  I picture a cave-woman, a woman in the Middle Ages, a Victorian mother (garbed in a frilly nightgown of course) shushing in the ears of their babes, and hoping against hope that this might be the night for a good sleep.  When these women got together, at the Neanderthal, Middle Age or Victorian equivalent of playgroup, what did they talk about?  Did they examine their lot as mothers, comparing stories of their worst night’s sleep, exploding nappies, snot-covered toddlers, postpartum bodies, and absent fathers?

Or was lamenting a mothers lot not the done thing? 

Motherhood hasnt changed much in the last few thousand years.  Sure, theres more technology involved - but in general, once you have that baby in your arms, you are the latest in a very long line of women to experience the unique highs, lows and other-wises of mothering, bodily substances, sleep deprivation and all. 

What has changed is our ability to talk about - and question - the mother position.  We have feminism to thank for that (as well as a few other things of course).  Far from being silenced by biological destiny, there is a whole army of women out in the blogosphere, writing about motherhood, challenging its depiction in the mainstream media and authoritative parenting guides through humour, honesty, advice, reflection and rebellion. While some of these mama-writers may call themselves mummy bloggers, others will detest the title.  You dont need a cyber-ethnographic approach or techno-feminist lens to tell you that the title, unless reclaimed as a badge of honour, is diminutive, demeaning, dismissive and probably a few other d-words (if not to say reductive).  However, no matter what you call us, mummy bloggers are a large and powerful group.

You might ask whats so feminist about the modern (and very public and immediate) equivalent of publishing a mothers journal.  A blog, though in a sense a journal, is the start of conversation.  Its a shout into the void.  And without feminism, as well as the platform for launching our uncensored thoughts on the world, these conversations wouldnt be happening.  And these are completely new conversations.  Conversations that women didnt have before, with people they wouldnt have previously interacted with, on topics that cover new ground.

Its a virtual - and viral - cacophony.  While perhaps not truly radical, theres something inherently rebellious about mothers writing publicly and usually very honestly about their experiences.  Not only do mommy bloggers construct versions of their own motherhood, but in doing so, they construct entirely new versions of motherhood, challenging traditional constructions, and creating communities of support for alternative motherhood paths.

I didnt need to look too far to confirm my theory that these are new conversations.  I called the closest person to the Victorian era I could think of.  My Nana.  I asked her if she had friends she could talk to about parenting, or who else she turned to for advice.

We didnt really discuss that much at all.  You never sort of talked about how to do things with kids, you just seemed to go your own way.  If you wanted advice, you went to your mum. 
 I wouldnt have talked about [parenting] with everyone, just family.  And sometimes youd like to say to people, huh, husbands are a damn nuisance and if I could pack up and go, I would.  But you kept that to yourself.  You dont always want to confide in people, even good friends.  I guess too, you seem to make a lot of friends when you have a child - coffee groups etc - that didn't happen in our day - we just didnt make a lot of friends.  We didnt have the same support networks.  Quite often your old friends fell away if they didnt have children at the same time, or people moved away or didnt have phones. 

So it seems they werent having these conversations back in Nanas day.  I checked with my mother.  Nope, they werent either.  And frankly, neither am I.

I might share a funny parenting-fail story, or hint at the bewilderment and helplessness I felt after my second child was born (the feeling hasnt passed, by the way), but its rare for us to talk, really talk, about the challenges of modern motherhood.

My blog, on the other hand, is a different story.  Like hundreds of thousands of other mommy bloggers, on there, buoyed by the false confidence of anonymity and by the reassurance that my known readership includes only my mother and a few friends, I am free to share what I like.  And through this vehicle, again like so many other mummy bloggers, I try to make sense of my position as mother.  Its sometimes a one-sided conversation, but then, sometimes just getting it out there helps.

And what was once a relatively homogenous group of educated, white, middle-class bloggers is changing as fast as the internet is spreading.  A quick google reveals that mommy blogging is a thing in any country that has good internet access.  Sure, its still predominantly a middle-class pastime, but that is changing too.  Dads are joining the party, and mothers in unlikely places are using blogs to connect, share and educate.  One example is China, which now boasts the greatest number of internet users in the world.  Chinese mommy bloggers are a fast-growing group.  Because of its seemingly innocuous subject matter, mommy blogging in China is considered safe from the confines of political censorship.  Perhaps this is the best form of feminist subversion - so subversive that even its authors are unaware of it.

In one hundred years, what will future mothers think of mothers in this, the Internet age?  Its my hope that our generation wont be known for the mummy wars, or for attachment parenting, or even for that controversial Time magazine cover.  Theyll think yeah, those mothers found their voice.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mama reads: a review of Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1

Mama's been busy.  She's barely had time to read, let alone blog.  So when, six months ago, I was presented with 5 days of uninterrupted tropical poolside reading time (at a ridiculously luxurious resort in a developing country), there was nothing to do

The chosen tome was Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1 (it really was a tome, at close to 900 pages, and having the dubious honour of making my carry-on luggage almost heavy enough to be checked in).  Leonard Cohen's The Favourite Game was hurriedly stuffed into the side-pocket of my luggage as a backup (just in case it was unbearable), though I needn't have bothered.  While I made a good go of the 900-odd pages in between sipping mojitos, it's taken me another 6 months to finish it.  Hence only blogging about it now.

On March 3, 1947, one Mr Archibald Ferguson is born.  So begins the four lives of Archie, told in parallel instalments of 5 years, at their heart the same boy and same characters, but each with slightly different details and minor characters.  At once a writerly conceit and stroke of brilliance (you get the sense that Auster rather enjoyed writing four stories instead of one), he deals gently, playfully, with the question posed by the movie Sliding Doors: but for the small choices, big choices, luck and coincidence, how different would life be?  In telling four quite different stories, he also gets to experiment with the other big questions of life.  Is a person's character innate or formed?  What sacrifices should parents make for their children?  Does God exist?  Does money buy happiness?

So we grow up with Archie, in a vivid romp through 1950s and 60s America in all its pain and glory, with the four Archies undergoing their own trials, but each receiving the literary and filmic education that some of us could've only dreamt of.  There's a sense of these childhoods being autobiographical in some sense, either in truth or in a wish-fulfilment sort of way.  I got to wondering if Auster's literary roots were tightly bound in each chapter of this book, and then (on my impatient days), wondered if he was simply showing off.  That's the Kiwi in me talking.  Archie as a child has a vivid inner world, and Auster does well in the first years of Archie's live(s) to remind us that children are experiencing the world as well as processing it in their own weird way.

Following the intricate threads of the same-but-different lives of the four Archies was not a task to be undertaken in short bursts of reading.  I realised I needed to create a little cheat-sheet when, during a swimming break, my better half asked,
"How's your book?"
"It's great" I replied, "Stanley number 2 has just gone off to school"
"Stanley? I though his name was Archie?"

Clearly the mojitos and sun had been too much, but only three chapters in and I was mixing up the father with the son.  So I indulged my desire to make order from chaos and made myself a little guide bookmark, which really wasn't necessary, because the lives were different enough and each chapter well-signposted.  However, its creation did satisfy some of my OCD tendencies.

Auster, writerly conceit aside, does two great things with this novel:

  1. He expertly weaves throughout American historical events, and each of the four Archies' experiences of them - which, because they are each different, they experience to a greater or lesser degree.  The Kennedy assassination is a case in point.  It shakes one of the Archies to his core - to others it barely gets a mention.
  2. He leaves you wondering, with each turn, "what if?".  What if my life had taken this direction, or that? 
Granted, across the four Archie's we never really leave the safety of white middle-classness - none of the Archies become criminals, heroine addicts, anarchists or homeless.  None of his lives are so different or miserable as to make you think "well, he really screwed that up".  In some ways I was waiting for them to diverge so substantially as to allow the reader the pleasure of pinpointing when it all went wrong.  The extra drink, words said that shouldn't have been, a childhood trauma.  But it was in the blandness and lack of diversity between each life that Auster shows that the lives of others really are a mixture of circumstance and chance.  Or as Archie puts it so well:

"the persistent feeling that the forks and parallels of the roads taken and not taken were all being traveled by the same people at the same time, the visible people and the shadow people, and that the world as it was could never be more than a fraction of the world, for the real also consisted of what could have happened but didn't, that one road was no better or worse than any other road, but the torment of being alive in a single body was that at any given moment you had to be on one road only, even though you could have been on another, travelling toward an altogether different place."

As we left the ridiculously posh resort on an air-conditioned bus filled with other rich, white tourists, we drove through shanty villages and abject poverty, the question of luck weighed heavily on me.  I wanted to stand up and shout "Isn't there something not right about this?!" 

Truth be told, I would probably have wanted to shout that anyway, Auster's book or not.  Because we'd all like to believe we made our own luck, our own lives.  The truth is, we're just damn lucky.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Milkbaby and my heart fly

As he's longer a baby any more, I gleefully took advantage of Milkbaby turning five to book him on a flight to his grandparents' place as an unaccompanied minor.

Taking it all in his stride, he nonchalantly kissed me goodbye, and strode onto the plane with the tribe of ELEVEN other unaccompanied minors (it was school holidays).  I tried to play it cool.  The other parents seemed to be doing the same thing, over-cheerily waving goodbye and shouting last minute instructions to their small people as they handed over their boarding pass and stood in a group together.

Finally the gaggle of children formed a semblance of a line (as instructed by the steward!), and walked off down the gangway in a semi-orderly fashion.

The other parents seemed to wander aimlessly.  I stared at the plane, thinking it unlikely that he'd be looking back at the building, searching for me from his window seat.

Before turning to leave, I thought about that quote, the one bandied around about parenting, something about having your heart walk around outside your body.

- quote: Elizabeth Stone, photograph copyright
(It took me ALL DAY to find this photo, so appreciate the cute for a moment.)

Bet she never thought about flying.  I could get my head around my heart walking around outside my body, but getting on the equivalent of a large tin can and flying - in the sky - 1200kms away?  That is some next level shit.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Time - the long and the short of it

When you become a parent, it dawns on you that sooner or later you will no longer be around. Perhaps it dawned on you before becoming a parent, but something about becoming a parent makes it starkly real, slightly horrifying.  Time speeds up.  One day, you're at home with a newborn, all bewilderment, exhausted love and never ending piles of laundry, and then boom, he's about to start school, all backchat, skinned knees and running for the sheer joy of it.  This is the type of time that goes too fast.

Are we there yet?
Time also slows down.  Some days it drags like the long hungry walk home from school in the baking hot sun with your kid sister.  You. Are. Never. Going. To. Get. There.  This type of time is known as are-we-there-yet? time.

Then there are the nights.  The nights stretch out before you like a black abyss.  You are unsure whether this is the seventh or the fifteenth time you've gotten up, You are pretty sure you spend more time in pjs than day clothes, and you smell, just faintly, of sour milk.  This is night time.

The five stages of baby bedtime
Then there's bed time.  Sometimes it closely resembles are-we-there-yet time.  You enter the five stages of baby bedtime.  The first is denial.  You book a time in the evening to leave the house.  You tell yourself that your baby reliably goes to bed at 6.30-7, so you should be able to leave the house at 7.15.  In technical terms, the parent is trying to shut out the reality of their situation, and begins to develop a false, preferable reality.  This is denial.

The second is anger.  Once in this stage, the parent realises that denial cannot continue.  Surely this can't be happening to me tonight.  It's the only night in the last year that I need to get somewhere by 8pm and the baby is babbling and wriggling like he's snorted coke.  Perhaps I shouldn't have had that third cup of coffee today...

The third is bargaining.  This stage involves the hope that the parent can somehow bargain their baby to sleep.  If I do this bum-patting routine one hundred times, the baby will be asleep by then.  Just start counting.  You may or may not get there.

The fourth is depression.  During the fourth stage, the parent begins to understand the certainty of never getting the baby to sleep.  It is, like, NEVER going to happen.  You have possibly been patting the baby's bum for at least three hundred pats, your arm is about to drop off from the effort, and you have no idea how long you've been in that hell-hole of a bedroom.

The fifth is acceptance.  That is, the baby accepts the inevitability of sleep and finally, finally drops off, or you accept that it's never going to happen, bring the baby back downstairs to play some more, and cancel your plans.  He will sleep when he sleeps.

That is the fives stages of baby bedtime.

The time warp
Then there's the time warp.  This can happen at any time, day or night.  It commonly occurs at bedtime.  You might think you've been in that room doing that bum patting routine for three hours.  Turns out it was 15 minutes tops.  Or you might say "I'm just popping out to the supermarket to grab some milk."  Slightly giddy with freedom, you get a little distracted in the supermarket and surrounding stores.  You get home three hours later.

Travel time
Then there's travel time.  Each journey is carefully planned and timed to coincide with nap-time.  You know you need to leave THIS INSTANT or there is going to be HELL to pay.  Or you should have left two hours ago.  You're screwed.  The car journey is going to be a white-knuckle scream-fest.  You wish you could time travel.  Preferably back in time to that moment when you had a perfect body, very few responsibilities, and a bit of disposable income.

It may only have been a brief moment, but it's one you'd like to savour again.  Much like many other moments.

So, white-knuckle scream-fest or not, savour this moment, as it'll be over before you know it.  The lifetime equivalent of fifty more bum-pats.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How did you get here?

Not in the metaphysical sense.  If you can operate a computer, you probably have at least a basic understanding of the chain of events that led to your arrival on this planet.

More in the google sense.  How did you find this blog?

I get the stats.  I know the google chain of events that led you here.  And let's just say some of you weren't looking for a mummy blog.

Some of you were looking for information on co-sleeping.  Or a picture of co-sleeping.  Here's another, taken for posterity as the last co-nap of maternity leave.  As you can see, the baby's nose is dangerously close to my armpit.  Lucky for him, we live in the 21st century, where personal hygiene is not a matter to be taken lightly.  Nor is co-sleeping for that matter.  I wasn't really sleeping anyway.

In cinéma vérité fashion, the camera focuses on
the armpit of doom.

Some of you googled Miss Lily White.  My deceased cat, creme de la creme of burlesque dancers, or vintage fashionista extraordinaire.

Some of you googled Santa Claus.  Sorry about that.  Instead of mistletoe and snowflakes you got this post on Santa Claus and other lies.

Some of you googled "poker" and "boobs".  Or "hot poker pain in breast".

Not sure everyone was after the same thing there, but hey, you learnt something about mastitis right?

Some of you googled "Elisabeth Badinter".  What can I say?  I can see the appeal.  Badinter = Badfeminist.

Some of you googled "breastfeeding positions".  I hope my drawings were enlightening.

Yesterday I added a new one to the mix.  I call it "the dancing Grumet".  Picture one wriggly baby, dancing and feeding.  Oh the unmitigated joy.  And today I witnessed "the calf".  This is the one where the baby, behaving rather like a milking calf, pulls at the nipple, then nuzzles and nose-butts the udder with impatience.  Moo.

Some of you might have found a link to my blog on Kiwi Mummy Blogs.  A very large number of you found your way here via Rhonwyn Newson's article in the New Zealand Herald.

Some of you googled no mum is an island.  

And some of you googled "".  This one is beyond explanation.  

However you found your way here, come, stay a while, sit by the fire.  Leave a comment or a suggestion.  Enjoy, or travel onwards through the big wide web until you reach your destination.  Watch out for hot poker boobs on your way... they're worth steering clear of.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Santa Claus and other lies we tell our children

Last week I came across a blogger who claimed that they didn't have Santa in their house because they don't tell their children lies.  And because Christmas is not about Santa, it's about God.  Um, hello??  Old white guy with beard, lives and/or flies in clouds, just "knows" if you've been naughty or nice, is watching you all year...


Yeah yeah, I know, there's more to Santa than that.  For a start, the guy he's modelled on was once a real person - Saint Nicholas.  Sure, his image seems to have been misappropriated for dastardly commercial reasons.  If Saint Nick was around these days he'd probably be living the high life on the proceeds of his lawsuit against Coca-Cola for portraying him as a ruddy fat bastard in their latest ad campaign.

Coke Time: otherwise known in my house as
Wine Time.

Santa, like all white lies, serves a very important purpose.  And that purpose is to allow the gift-giver to remain anonymous, so either a) that uncreative gift of socks and a hanky can be blamed on Santa; or b) as your child unwraps the latest toy, everyone is focused on the sheer delight beaming from his face, rather than the chagrined faces of his parents, who are wondering how they will pay the credit card bill in January.

And you know what else?  A bit like God, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, unicorns and whatever else you believe in, Santa brings just a little bit of magic into our lives.  And it's magic that makes a childhood.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On why I write

This is one of those blog-linkup things, wherein I've been nominated by another blogger (thank you Rachiebee) to write a blogpost about why I write.  And at the end I'll nominate two more bloggers to do the same.  If you follow the trail back you find some quite interesting blogs.  First in the virtual breadcrumb trail is Rachiebee - her blog really is true to its description of being a picnic of thoughts.  When I read Rachel's blog it's like she's right there in the room with me, as it's written exactly how she talks, which is to say in a bubbling stream of consciousness, full of delight and wonder at life.  I love listening to Rachel talk, mostly because I'm sort of quite introverted and don't do chatter, but I'm very happy to listen to someone who likes to give voice to all their thoughts.  And I could listen to Rachel all day.

Why do I write?
I write, I think mostly, to make sense of, and make fun of, my world.  At age thirty, I found myself in charge of a small human being, and very much not in charge of the thoughts and feelings that accompanied that new role.  My first blog posts were timid, a testing of the waters.  I kept my blog secret for quite a while, before sharing it with my mum.  Buoyed by her encouragement, I pressed on, finding a voice and style that suited me.  My blog posts often, but not always, use some combination of humour, some research, and some pithy reflection on the whole subject.  I like the discipline of a blog post, of having to get my ideas out there in 1000 words, to bring everything together in a neat, organised and thoughtful way, and having to find some pictures which neatly illustrate what I'm saying.  And secretly, I quite like watching my blog stats, and seeing how many people stumble on my blog every day.  It's not many, but hey, at least it's being read by someone.  And maybe, just maybe, my sons will one day read my blog and gain a new appreciation of the young woman who was their mother (and why she so frequently lost her shizz with them).

How does my writing differ from others in its genre?
My blog is most definitely a "mummy blog" (or a "mommy blog" if you're in North America), though there is a part of me that feels quite uncomfortable about that label.  There are many different types of mummy blogs.  I would say that one point of difference in mine is that I make a point, usually, of not blogging directly about my kids.  Usually I use something about their development or recent behaviour as a jumping off point for a post - but I try not to prattle on about the clever thing they did today.  Some stories are too good not to share, but for the most part I use them to mull over some aspect of the broader context or relevant research.

How does my writing process work?
It's pretty stop/start.  If I have an idea for a post, I try and get it down as soon as possible, with some notes on what I was thinking.  Then, when I have time to come back to it, I will write a bit more.  At any one time I have around 4-5 pieces I am actively working on, and I have another 30 or so draft posts in various states of completion, some of which will never see the light of day.  When one is getting near to completion, I'll often stay up late feverishly working on it, reading it, rereading it, adding photos, and checking it.  Even once a blog post is finished, I'll often leave it overnight before I post it, just to be sure I'm happy with it.  My time alone is minimal, so I write when, and where, I can.  Today I'm writing this post from the waiting room at the doctor's surgery, where I'm waiting to be seen for what I suspect is tonsillitis.  Writing is better than reading those germ-laden and outdated mags anyway, and it is a welcome distraction from people-watching.  The waiting room is crowded and there's a young woman across from me sobbing into her hands while her friend rubs her back.  I'm trying not to stare and hoping she gets seen by a doctor really soon, since we all know it's bad when you can't hold it together in front of 30 people in the waiting room. 

What am I working on?
Urgh, too much.  Lately I'm working on balancing motherhood with working, and trying not to lose my shit with my kids because of the sleep deprivation.  Did I mention that I'm really tired?  I'm working on getting more sleep.

I am struggling with this, first because I don't have many blogger friends, and second because I don't like to force this self-expose of bloggery on the ones I do know.  However, if you're looking for some interesting reads, I recommend Tui Mamaki's blog on her adventures in Bulgaria - her writing is lush, like her gorgeous singing, or this new blog by another mama - she has an original and irreverent approach to healthy food.  Blog on!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...