It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Between Interruptions

One of the mothers gave me a book for Christmas, a collection of essays on motherhood. “Between Interruptions: 30 Women Tell the Truth about Motherhood”, edited by Cori Howard.

I was dubious. For starters, there is no one “truth” about motherhood. And generally, books like this are filled exclamations by Earnest Mommies, sweet and saccharine cliches that leave me with a level of impatience and exasperation that is hard to describe.

“Motherhood is so hard!” they are almost certain to say. And yet, (and yes, I know I’m lucky, blessed, fortunate, skilled, whatever), I never found it so. That distinction goes to trauma of the fearsome and gut-wrenching changes demanded of me by my divorce. (My necessary divorce, which I do not regret for an instant. But hard? Oh, it was hard.) Mothering is challenging, it is all-encompassing, it is demanding. Unlike any other task I’ve ever tackled, motherhood goes beyond “something I do” to “who I am.”

But hard? No. I’ve generally felt that I know what to do next. I’ve generally felt confident in my decisions. Yes, there have been times when I’ve been overwhelmed by indecision and uncertainty, paralysed by a sense of helplessness, but these are the exceptions. Generally, I’ve known where I was going and how I was going to get there.

I get a great deal of pride and satisfaction from my children, pretty nearly daily. Yes, they also irritate the crap out of me bytimes. I’ve been exasperated, and bored, and frustrated, and angry. There are aspects of their characters that cause me concern, and I worry how these will impact them as they leave home to establish independent lives. But mostly, I am proud. The consistent undercurrent of feeling regarding my kids is one of satisfaction, of pride in a job well done.

So, essays of hand-wringing about the fearsomeness of grocery shopping with a three-year-old? Paralyzing angst about the possibility of a three-day trip with a friend? I have little time for this.

The foreward was not propitious. The pre-mother whose story it tells did absolutely nothing to inform herself of the experience that awaited her, in fact, seemed to actively avoid thinking about it, and was then — imagine that — blind-sided by reality. Things changed! She didn’t expect them to change! “I expected I would give birth, figure out how to feed, clothe and bathe the baby, give it a few hugs and get back to work. Really.”

This is beyond stupid. I mean, yes, we’re almost all astonished by the depth and breadth of the change, but to not understand a change was coming? At all? Where had she been living the past 30 years?

She manages to learn the basics, she goes back to work, and then, when her son is a year and a half, she has the opporunity to go out of town for a few days. To say that she was ambivalent is a gross understatement.

She buys her plane tickets. She cancels them. She buys them again. (She obviously has MUCH more money than I do.) She cancels them, again. She buys them A.Third.Time. (Much, MUCH more money than me. We poor folk do not have the luxury of this kind of neurosis indecision.) Her friend, whose book launch is the cause of all this fraught-ness, tells her not to sweat it, to do what seems right.

She goes, and has a miserable time. She learns some useful life lessons. Sometimes we all have to learn lessons the hard (and expensive) way.

But did I have any confidence that a woman with so little self-awareness and such a grand sense of the drah-mah of it all was going to compile a set of essays that would have anything to say to me? No. Frankly, I expected it to irritated the shit out of me. But it was a gift from a woman I like. And it was a book.

The first essay (by Maria Jimenez, war correspondant) was nothing like the foreward. Sure, this woman felt profound anxiety about leaving her baby, but she was leaving him to travel in a war zone, not to pop to New York for a book launch. A war zone, with real bullets and bombs and actual danger. Anxiety seemed the only normal response.

I was hooked.

These essays are great. They don’t all resonate with my experience, and yet, even when they don’t, they often do. (Am I making sense yet?) What do I know of being a war correspondant? Nothing. But do I know about the pull of not wanting to leave a child? The fear of dying before you see your child turned adult and launched into the world? Sure I do. These feelings don’t prevent me from doing things, from going places, from seeing that my needs are met, but feel them I do.

And that’s how it proceeded. These essays are rich, they are real. They don’t skim the surface of popular cliches about mothering; they plunge the depths of individual mothers’ experiences, and come up with truths for all of us.

I am two essays into the section titled “Guilt” at the moment. (After “Ambition” and “Anxiety” and before “Devotion” and “Redemption”.) And now, if you’ll excuse me, the tots are arriving and I’m about to be interrupted. Tomorrow I’m going to share with you the paragraph that made me cry.

So good.

January 28, 2008 Posted by | books, Canada, individuality, parenting, parents | 10 Comments