Her Bad Mother

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Survivor: Child Island

So many things to write about, so little energy and time, and the distraction of this terrible, nagging, obsessive thought: that I am a bad mother.

A really bad mother, not a bad-as-in-cool mother: a mother who does not know what to do, who is totally and completely at loss when it comes to managing her ten and half month old baby. I am currently thoroughly convinced that I am doing something wrong, that there is some secret mothering practice pertaining to the care and feeding of babies-cum-toddlers that I have somehow overlooked or that has been kept from me. It’s either that, or WonderBaby is a freak-baby who can totally dominate adult human beings without stirring one of the twelve fluffy little hairs on her downy blonde head. (Some months ago, someone – I think that it was Blog Antagonist – e-mailed me to suggest that perhaps WonderBaby was a ‘spirited’ baby; she said that based upon her reading of WonderBaby’s energy level and general baby comportment, she felt that there was an argument to be made that she, WonderBaby, might be more precocious than the average baby. So we’re not ruling out freak-baby.)

She is constantly on the move. She runs, she clambers, she climbs, she programs and re-programs the DVD player. She slows down occasionally to pluck the glasses off of my face and dangle them before me, hooting her command that I put them back on now, only so that she can repeat the action. Sometimes she comes to a complete, if brief, stop, to place a book upon my lap and hoot at me to turn the pages and read. (Today, that book was, I shit you not, Aristophanes’ Clouds, and no Eric Carle or Lucy Cousins board book would distract her from the tissuey pages of that small Loeb Classical Library hardback. I did not, it may comfort you to know, read to her from the Greek text on the facing pages.) But the pauses in action are only ever brief, and it is never long before the running, hooting and climbing begin anew.

And I - I am only ever part of her circus. There is no sitting quietly aside with book or laptop or cup of coffee (oh god for a quiet cup of coffee); I am compelled to join in her leaping and frolicking and hiding under blankets. And I am, I really am, happy to do this – I love these moments of play. But they are never only moments. The circus, in our house, lasts the whole day long and into the evening, and woe betide the mother who tries to interrupt the revelry for meals or naps or any other activity that involves containment or restraint. The mundane tasks that are necessary for the collective survival of our mother/child dyad – sleeping, drinking, eating, toilet – are hard fought and hard won, if indeed I do manage to win, which is by no means a given.

Each day is a battle of wills – a battle of wills between a thirty-something woman with multiple degrees and a ten and half month old baby.

The baby almost always wins.

Something is wrong with this picture. It cannot be this way for everyone. It simply cannot. How has the human race managed to propagate itself if babies have always been able to overpower their mothers? It is inconceivable to me that, if this is indeed how hard it always is (and don’t get me started on the brutality that labour is, or that breastfeeding can be), more women haven’t just said ‘fuck this’ to motherhood and marched off to convents or the academy or Hollywood or wherever else women go when they want to try to reject their biological calling.

I must simply be a bad mother.

Today, I spent nearly an hour in the toy section of a department store because WonderBaby refused to be put back in her stroller and refused to be carried. I had forgotten the carrier at home, and because we had traveled by subway there was no easy retreat. WonderBaby was entirely engrossed in racing up and down the aisles and removing toys from shelves so that she could climb those shelves, or perch there herself. There was, curiously, no interest on her part in the actual toys on the shelves – just the shelves themselves (and, briefly, some Hot Wheels). Any efforts that I made to restore her to her stroller yielded screeching and arching of back and flinging of tiny self to floor; and efforts that I made to simply lift her and cart her out of there in my arms yielded exactly the same result. I was helpless. At one point, finally, I began to cry.

WonderBaby just looked up at me, pointed at my tear-streaked cheeks, frowned, and hooted. And then dashed back down the aisle.

All that I could think was, this is shameful. I have no control. I don’t know how to parent.

I am a bad mother.

I’m trusting that anyone reading this will understand that I am not in despair about my maternal capabilities. I’m surviving, and I’m loving my child, desperately, through this experience. Every day that I spend with this brilliant little being is filled with great joy. But most days are also filled with tremendous frustration, and confusion. How can it be this hard? How can such a sweet-natured baby be so complicated? Why can I not figure this shit out?

Bubandpie wrote recently about maternal rage, the anger that bubbles up when we feel frustrated beyond measure, and wondered whether the subject was unbloggable. Kristen of Home on the Fringe wrote about struggling with the feeling that she was the only mother in the world with a challenging child, because so few parents seem to blog about such hard times. Well, these are my hard times, and my feelings of frustration, so I’m going to say them out loud: I feel, sometimes, that I cannot manage my child, whatever that means, and I fear that that makes me a bad mother.

I know, deep down, and not so deep down, that I am not really bad. I love my girl, I love her something fierce, and she lives in the light of that love every day. For that, if nothing else, I am a good mother. But I feel like a terrible fuck-up with the rest of it.

Could somebody please tell me that it's not just me, that it is, sometimes, this hard? Maybe not for all mothers, all of the time, but maybe, just maybe, for some of us, some of the time?

And? How, exactly, does one manage a hyper-mobile, precocious baby? She's too young for any sort of reasoned discipline - for any discipline - and can't be argued with. How do I stay in charge?

Will to Power in repose.


So many thanks to all of you who had such kind and supportive things to say in response to my gloomy Charlie Brown post of the other day. And, ditto to all of the whoots and rah-rahs in response to my Mommybloggers.com profile. All of it was wonderful, and all of it made me feel better during this very challenging week.


I'm aware of this whole content-theft issue, and the Bitacle debacle, which you can read about here and here and here. There are a zillion things that I want to say about it - not least, fuck you sploggers for causing MamaTulip to shut down - but it hurts my head too much, and my limit for head-hurtage is very low right now. I will say this for now: if you are reading this on Bitacle, you are reading stolen material and if you know this already but continue to read, you should be ashamed of yourself. Oh, yeah, and? Fuck Bitacle.

*This content is the copyright of the author and may not be used without express permission.*

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tiaras are hats, too

Nothing cuts through the gloom quite like a virtual party thrown in your honour - Meghan, Jenn and Jenny of Mommybloggers.com are celebrating all things Bad Mother this week and damn if it doesn't make me feel good. Check out the decidedly non-roasty round of toasts that some of you beautiful people made, and their interview with me, and, later today, a very special Her Bad Mother post.

(And, while you're there, do leave your best wishes for Jenn, who had a health scare this past week.)

And to the reader who wanted the contact info for the Basement: send posts or questions to herbadmother@gmail.com...

Monday, October 9, 2006

Listening to silence

I haven’t been able to blog in days.

It’s not because there’s been too much else to do on a holiday weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving.) There’s always too much else to do: blogging is usually my break from that ‘too much else.’ And it’s not because I haven’t anything to say: there are a zillion things racing through my mind, all of which are screaming to be worked out in writing.

I just feel stuck, and uninspired, and blah, and maybe just a little bit low. I haven’t been able to shake the rougher edges of this cold or flu or whatever viral thing it is that I’ve been labouring under for going on three weeks now. And I’ve been having too many moments of quiet bluesy lowness, not quite sad, not quite not-sad. Just, low. The low of rainy days and slow melodies on trombone and falling leaves and gray sky and the earthy, musty smell of summer in decay. The low of fall, when the dark and the chill come too fast, when even the brightness of the crispest and brightest of days has a sort of stark, mournful edge. I've been feeling low, in that way. Morose.

And stuck. Every time that I sit down at the keyboard, head crowded with ideas, my fingers freeze. The words won’t come. I type a sentence, and then almost immediately backspace and delete. It doesn’t sound right, doesn’t flow, doesn’t cohere. The ideas are there, the thoughts are there, but they just won’t work themselves out into words.

So I stop. I close the screen and flip the laptop closed and walk away. This was the deal that I made with myself some time ago – I would never force myself to write. I would only write for the joy of it, or for the release, or for solace. I would only write when it suited me.

I don’t why, exactly, it hasn’t been suiting me these past few days. I have ideas – about feeling low, about the blues, about the existential glum that autumn can impose after the brisk optimism of September has passed. About coming up on a year of motherhood, about my child leaving the first blush of her babyhood behind. About the torrent of ideas that constantly swirls in my brain, soaking it to a heaviness that sometimes feels beyond my capacity to bear. About feeling, sometimes, that my reach exceeds my grasp.

About feeling, maybe, just a little bit tired. It’s been a busy year. Lots of heavy lifting. A lot of joy and wonder and excitement, too, of course, but joy can also exact a toll. Life can sometimes just take it out of you, and no amount of exercise and vitamins can put it back.

So I had to take a short break from blogging, a few days of laying low. And I might be slow in getting back up to speed in the coming days – I’ll likely be doing more reading than commenting, and it might be a few days between posts – but I’ll just be doing what I can to coax the muse out of hiding and to orient myself to a new season of motherhood and writerhood and life.

And if the words won't come, there will still be pictures...

'Cause if nothing else, fall is a season for hats.

And hats are a special kind of joy.