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 »

  1. That sounds wonderful. I think it sounds like it might be worth reading.
    Also, I have to say that you gave a beautiful testament to motherhood there. It isn’t hard. It is everything you described it as; challenging, demanding, all-encompassing. It’s also immensenly satisfying.

    My whole life I thought I would be a terrible mother, didn’t want or like children. Didn’t think I’d have patience. Thought it would be “too hard.” Now that I have Jeffrey I really can’t imagine a world without him. He brings so much light into my life. He drives me crazy and pushes me to be my best every day. Now I’m proud and excited to be a mother.

    Comment by Dani | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. I’ll add this one to my list. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Comment by M&Co. | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. You wrote: “(Much, MUCH more money than me. We poor folk do not have the luxury of this kind of neurotic indecision.)” (slightly edited–the crossout got lost in the translation)

    I think you’re on to something. When I was in college, I discovered “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing. I gave it to my mother to read–I was curious what she would think of it (she had strong socialist leanings, and was of the same generation as Lessing).

    You may recall the protagonist goes rather crazy, and spends a serious fraction of the book in that state. When I asked my mother what she thought of it, her comment was, “Well, I think she needed a job.” (Mom was a working single mother before it got to be such a common phenomenon). Her point was that a job would have given the woman something to do, an anchor to reality, and taken her out of herself a bit. Her comment really stuck with me, and made me a bit less inclined to be enthralled by self-indulgent nutsiness (other people’s, anyway. I’m still rather fond of my own . . . . 🙂 )

    Comment by addofio | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  4. You know, to me it’s the things you talk about – the frustration, the demands, the never being alone again that are the hard things about motherhood. I always figure that’s what mothers mean… is it not?

    Sounds like it could be an interesting read and soemthing a bit different in the genre, because I’m not finding I love mommy-lit, in general. it tends to irk me.

    Comment by kittenpie | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  5. I guess what I’m meaning is that although there are hard things about motherhood, it is not hard overall. Those things are intermittent challenges; the endeavor as a whole was not/is not “hard”. Even at its most intense, I loved it a LOT more than I didn’t.

    I get the feeling from those who talk about how hard it is that they feel powerless and out of control a lot, that they’re never quite sure what mayhem their kids will wreak, and how to deal when they do. I rarely felt that way. I always knew I could take my kids out in public, and they’d behave. I could rely on them to be polite. They never tantrummed after the age of 24 – 26 months. That sort of thing.

    Comment by MaryP | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  6. I’ve heard about this book before. I’ve always wanted to read it and now I REALLY do!

    Comment by Carissa | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  7. Well, it sounds like a good thing that you didn’t judge this book by its over – or its introduction. I think I’ll be on the lookout for a copy myself.

    I can’t say that for the most part, motherhood has been “hard” for me either. Then again, I did limit myself to just one child so that I wouldn’t be excessively tested. 🙂

    Comment by Florinda | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  8. wow, i’ll definitely be looking into that book.

    btw, my friend gave me an amazing compliment yesterday. i was talking about how i responded to one of my charges the other day, and she said, “you’re totally going to grow up to be just like mary p.! that’s so cool!” 🙂

    Comment by Lara | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  9. Addofio: I tend to agree with your mother. Too much money and leisure can give certain people too much time for too much wallowing in too little. Some neuroses are little more than self-indulgance of the bored and self-absorbed.

    Carissa: I hope you get your hands on a copy. It’s worth the read.

    Florinda: Now that’s a telling comment, because I was considering the notion of “hard” some more, and realized the times I have felt overwhelmed are those when all 8 kids (and friends) were bounding around the house. But that’s more the stresses of claustrophobia than parenting, I think!

    Lara: I’m chortling over this comment. “Whee! I’m famous!” People I’ve never met are referencing ME for good child-care techniques. Well, two of you. Heeheehee…

    Comment by MaryP | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  10. Sounds interesting. I like your take on the “it’s hard” thing. Probably why I get impatient, as a single mom, with the category of single moms who spend their lives whining about how hard it is, instead of just getting on with it.

    Parenting is the natural cycle of life. It’s what’s been happening forever. It’s living!

    Comment by McSwain | January 29, 2008 | Reply


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