I've read about a billion
books on mothers who work, how it's okay--good, actually--for mother
and child, but I still feel guilty. Every mother I know feels guilty.
Here's why I feel particularly guilty: some days I'm home, my kids
are not, and what I'm doing looks like Sitting Around. And yet I
don't sit around nearly as much as I think would be good for my
writing. I'm scared the Bad Mommy Patrol might drive by, see me
without a pen in my hand and turn me in: "That woman's not
a writer, she hasn't written a word in five minutes, and her kids
are in daycare! She's just a bad mother."
A friend of mine has
just completed an impressive 900-page manuscript over the past three
and a half years. She has a four-year-old daughter. When I saw her
last week, she asked how I deal with the issue of productivity.
I mumbled something like, "not well," and she said, "Writing
for me has become like hammering nails. I feel I have to write a
certain amount every day. Otherwise, I feel too guilty having my
daughter in daycare."
I think there are relatively
few types of people prone to write 900-page books. Perhaps it will
surprise some, but I think women who have just had a child are a
very likely group. It is absolutely terrifying to be a woman and
have a child. What will happen to you? Will you ever think again?
Will you ever, ever, have autonomy and leisure again? Will anyone
ever take you seriously as an individual again? It is a hideous
thing our culture does to mothers--erasure is how I would sum it
up in a word--erasure and assumed, prescribed domestication. Although
I did not just write a 900-page manuscript, I kind of wish I did,
and I can totally see the appeal in doing it.
Let me assure you that
my friend's manuscript is not some crazy rant. It is meticulously
researched analysis, written to be irrefutable and exhaustive. I
think this is how mothers feel we have to be in order to have a
shot in hell at being taken seriously. This is how women in general
often feel--the work-twice-as-hard-to-be-seen-as-half-as-good deal--and
this is hiked up exponentially for mothers of young children. Everyone
assumes, in a sick, clucking sort of way, that you now have diaper
brain, couldn't keep a real thought in your head if someone paid
you. Conveniently (or so they think), some employers will actually
offer to stop paying you, to "let you go," now that they
assume you "want more time at home." More time to clean?
To create the hearth we are all programmed to feel our children
Right after our second
son was born, we hired a well-meaning, yet terrifying born-again
woman as a "doula" (mother's helper) for a few days. She
basically shopped, cooked, and cleaned while I breast-fed, ate,
and cried, and my husband comforted me, changed diapers, and took
care of our toddler. The first day, she brought me a lovely, nourishing
meal on a white bedtray with a note, scrawled in her shockingly
childish hand that read: "If You Don't Know What Day It Is,
Your Mind Is Where It Should Be. On Baby."
Did I really want this
woman in my house, especially when I was suffering from intense
perineal pain, postpartum depression, and overwhelming exhaustion?
Yes, I realized I did. I was really hungry--starving, in fact--and,
as usual, our house was a sty. I thought the baby deserved something
better for his entrance into the world, so I had hired a Christian
to clean our house. Now, I was paying the price.
The doula's note haunts
me even now, more than a year later. Is it so bad to want to know
what day it is, maybe even glance at the paper, for God's sake,
when you have a newborn? Falling into some morass of undifferentiated
Mommydom has always terrified me. And it is most terrifying with
a newborn, when you might as well be a cow for most of the day.
Many intellectuals aren't used to living consciously in their bodies.
So pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding can be potentially positive
and counterbalancing experiences for thinking women. But also totally
terrifying--at least for me.
I'm willing to entertain
the possibility that I could just be some kind of pessimistic, enraged
nutcase. I'm aware that I'm fairly neurotic, perhaps out of step
with a majority of mothers. Here's an example: the parents of our
son's best friend just had a new baby, and three days after the
baby was born, they invited the kids and me out to play putt-putt.
The father began playing intently and seemed disappointed that I
was his only lackluster competition since his wife was carrying
the newborn in a Snugli. As he and I played and the older kids raced
around, the husband would periodically yell to his wife over the
sound of an irritatingly loud leafblower: "2 for me and 4 for
Faulkner!" She would dutifully record our score, reaching deftly
over the newborn's tiny head to write it down. (I had offered to
alternate shots with her, but she was afraid she'd hit the baby
in the head if she tried to putt.) I was totally amazed by this
situation. I knew for sure that if my husband had told me to keep
score while he played putt-putt and I carried our three-day-old
baby, I would have told him where to stuff the putter.
Would this have been
ill-placed anger? Am I wrong to want equity at every instant with
my "domestic partner?" What's wrong with a little putt-putt?
I admit, I could be more
flexible. The putt-putting incident took place on the man's birthday,
and I don't think his wife felt particularly deprived not to be
playing. (It is a relatively silly sport.) Still, I’m afraid--at
least now--to let go of my anti-domestic, anti-I'll-stand-on-the-sidelines-with-the-baby-while-you-engage-in-the-game-of-life
stance. It feels like I could slide all too easily, too unwittingly,
into something hideous, something about much more than who golfs
when. So we live in relative chaos at my house, and my husband doesn’t
play sports with clubs.
I'd like a calmer, less
embattled solution. Sometimes I think science fiction might have
an answer: time travel, another dimension, a wife who can morph
into my body (my husband would still not have sex with her.) If
they can clone a sheep, why not a wife named Dolly? Some days, motherhood
already seems like a sci-fi flick--invasion of the body (or mind)
snatchers where plenty of new moms have already been abducted. I've
had my struggles with the aliens, but they haven't taken me yet.
I'm pretty much the self I've always been: I live in a sty, and
I spend time writing. This will have to do, for now.
mmo : march 2003
Get A Wife:
Confessions Of A Slob first appeared in the Summer 2000 issue
of Brain, Child Magazine (www.brainchildmag.com)