It’s Not All Mary Poppins


I stood in my kitchen that winter morning in 1991, my 5-year-old and my 2-year-old playing at the table behind me. Perhaps I was doing the dishes; I often listen to the radio as I wash dishes. And over the radio came the news: the Americans were bombing Baghdad.

I was not surprised. A friend, who was working in the newsroom of a local radio station, had deliberately extended her shift that night, so certain was she that “something dramatic” was going to happen, and soon. She was right.

I was not surprised, but I was shocked. My daughter’s voice, chattering to her brother, was a dissonantly cheerful backdrop to the instant picture in my mind: children screaming in terror and clutching their equally terrified mothers in the dark, as their world shook and shuddered with the impacts, the mothers gaining strength through the act of soothing, even as their hearts threatening to pound right out of their bodies, mothers uttering noises of reassurance when their minds are too filled with chaos to manage words, as their children scream.

These pictures flashed in an instant through my mind — visceral, tearing — and I sagged against the counter and the tears flowed. Tears for those terrified women and children. At that point, I cared less than nothing for the reasons behind it, for the possible rights and wrongs, the necessity or gratuitous-ness of the action.

People were dying. Other people’s children were being terrified and killed. Right now. While I stood in my comfortable Toronto home, listening to my beautiful, perfect children play behind me. Peaceful and safe. And I cried for those mothers and children, terrified in the dark.

Which is why, when I read Joanna Streetly’s essay “Treading Lightly” in the book I’m reading this week, I cried again.

She writes of her response, as a mother, to a Russian hostage crisis in which 331 people, most of them children, were killed by Chechen rebels:

Dead children! This was monstrous! Motherhood stripped me of the filters that keep such atrocities from piercing the heart. I wept and wept. I felt as if these were my children. What is war, I realized, but humans killing each other’s children?

“Motherhood stripped me of the filters…”

It’s true, isn’t it?

And you know what? That’s a good thing.

January 29, 2008 - Posted by | aggression, books, parents


  1. Motherhood stripped me of my filters.

    I think that thought is going to resonate with me throughout the rest of this day.

    Comment by Dani | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  2. I think of the Chechen hostage crisis every single morning when I drop my son off at school. I never, ever leave him without kissing him and telling him I love him. Never. Morbid maybe. But those images have never left my mind–they are fresh there every morning.

    You speak truth, Mary. I’ve often said that becoming a mother made me a part of a worldwide sisterhood that you can’t understand until you get here.

    Comment by McSwain | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  3. My husband notices it too. We notice children’s issues in the news. We’ve turned off medical dramas when kids were involved. We empathize more.

    And, in addition to “having the filters off”, which I sort of see as “getting it” comes an understanding of other generations. I can imagine life during the depression, during the Civil War even. Always, it is parents worrying about the lives of their children. Only the occasion varies.

    Comment by Jill | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  4. I’d say that’s as good as any explanation of why I went from almost 0 emotion to an 11 on the emotion scale around the time I was 5 months pregnant. And it hasn’t stopped. Thank you for sharing this story.

    Comment by Undercovermutha | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  5. It’s SO true. I teared up just reading this.
    I remember that night, too – I was doing homework, and my dad came into my room to tell me. I was too involved, too young, to really feel it in the same way then, but I remember being shocked and angry or disappointed, perhaps.
    Now, I can just imagine the horror, the terror of a bad storm magnified by thousands.

    Comment by kittenpie | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  6. I think that becoming a mother taps you into the universal and unconditional love that transcends culture, race, religion and language.

    The love you have for your child is indescribable, it is immeasurable, it is unwavering and it is the same as every other mother’s love for her child.

    And it is also why I believe that if women (especially mothers) ruled the world there would be no such thing as “collateral damage”.

    Wishful thinking maybe…I hope not.

    Comment by Sheri | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  7. I cried at the Chechnian massacre too. Motherhood made the awful stories with children in them seem real . But I think I became more emotional after my brother died. I can keep my intellectual head on for most children things – they are very rare, in different circumstances to my own, etc . But when my brother died it suddenly seemed that it can happen to anyone, any time, any where.

    Motherhood made me understand the world better and empathise with the people in it. A close death stripped the filters i had placed around me.

    Comment by juggling mother | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  8. “And it is also why I believe that if women (especially mothers) ruled the world there would be no such thing as “collateral damage”. “

    Margaret Thatcher was a woman and a mother, yet she orderd the bombing of the Belgrano, whilst it was 200 miles out of the war zone and heading away from it. I know there have been female suicide bombers. i vaguely remember one being caught with her child(ren) who she had taken with her as part of her “disguise”. There have been many strong and sucessful guerilla fighters and leaders who have been women, and who have targeted civilian businesses and places.

    Sadly, men have no monopoly on war.

    Comment by juggling mother | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  9. juggling mother – Though I won’t argue with the facts, I do have to wonder how much pressure these women were under by the “men in their lives” to pursue such actions.

    I wasn’t denying reality, I just meant that if all heads of state in the world were women with children, one would hope that our differences would be settled without the annilihation of each other’s children.

    I’m sure we both agree that even one child’s death to further any political agenda is criminal.

    Comment by Sheri | January 29, 2008 | Reply

  10. Sheri, this is probably not the place to debate the issue, but I doubt there was much male pressure on many of these women. The evidence coming to light about Thatcher was that it was pretty much all her idea, against/without the advice of her male colleagues generals. I expect that most women wo fight do so because of the cultural/social/economic pressures on them rather than specific men in their lives suggesting it. I just know about Thatcher because she did it in my name, in my lifetime.

    it has long been contended that an army made up entirely of mothers would be the most fearsome in the world. I was a pure pacifist for ost of my life. there were few things i would have laid my life down for, and none that I would have killed for. I do not think can still say that as a mother. I would die for my children. And I expect i would kill for them if I saw it as necessary. It just depends on what the individual sees as necessary.

    I would like to think tha if we had more female leaders there would be less wars, but I very much doubt it is true. I fear it is the type of person who becomes leader rather than the gender of that person that is the deciding factor.

    Comment by juggling mother | January 30, 2008 | Reply

  11. It’s a really good thing to have the filters taken. More people should be so exposed. Society would be the better for it.

    Comment by nomotherearth | January 30, 2008 | Reply

  12. […] following post was inspired by a debate in the comments section of Mary P’s post “Stripped” over at It’s Not All Mary […]

    Pingback by Medieval Affaire » Mothers and War | January 30, 2008 | Reply

  13. After I had my first child, I couldn’t even stand to watch the World Vision ads they show in between Oprah. My hubby tells me that he’s also more sensitive to these kinds of images and news items now.

    Comment by Kat | February 8, 2008 | Reply

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