Her Bad Mother

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Di and Me

Everyone said that she was so pretty. I didn't think that she was so pretty. I mean, she was okay, but she had short hair. She wore pants. She looked like she could be one of my teachers. She didn't look like a princess, not at all.

He, of course, didn't look like a fairy tale prince, either, but I knew that princes weren't always Prince Charmings. Grandma had told me. 'You can't always judge a book by its cover.' That's what you learn from stories like the Frog Prince: just because someone's a little warty on the outside, doesn't mean they're not handsome on the inside. Prince Charles wasn't handsome, she said, but she was sure that he was very, very nice.

Princess Diana, on the other hand, she was lovely. Such a pretty girl. So sweet. Just like a storybook princess.

I didn't see it. What was so special about her? She had feathered bangs, just like my friend Wendy, who was a whole year old than me and very sophisticated, but not, you know, special. not like a princess.

We watched the wedding together, my grandma and me. We got up really early in the morning, and grandma let me have alphabet cereal, and she drank coffee, and we had blankets pulled up over our knees and we watched as Lady Diana's carriage rolled through the street - it was a real carriage, like the ones you read about, maybe not the kind that come from fairy godmothers, but a real carriage, with big wheels and flags - and we watched as she got out, in that big fancy dress - a princess dress, for sure, but her hair still looked ordinary - and walked up the stairs and into the church and all the music and Grandma dabbed at her eyes a bit and said that she hoped that Nana was watching this from heaven, because Nana would have loved it. I said I hoped so, too.

Grandma sipped her coffee and made a little noise in her throat and said that someday I would have a wedding, too, maybe not as fancy as that, but it would be really nice and I would be just like a princess.

I won't have hair like that, though, I said. I'll have princess hair.

You'll have lovely hair, no matter what, she said.

Princess hair, I insisted.

Being a princess doesn't have anything to do with hair, she said.

I'll be a princess when I get married?

You're a princess now.


Yes, to me you are.

When I get married...

You can have a fancy dress and be all dressed-up like the princess that you already are. But you're already a princess. To me.

You'll be at my wedding, right, Grandma?

I hope so.

You will be.

She wasn't. She died the following year. But she was there, in my princess-heart, in that part of myself that knew, because of her, that my pretty dress that day was only window-dressing, that I was a princess already, no matter what I looked like. Just like that princess with the feathered bangs so many years earlier, who was princess, my grandma told me, because she was loved. Just like me.

Brought to you by the weekly Friday Flashback coffee klatsch. This week, we're jawing about "Where Was I When...?" (something big and important happened in the world - Elvis died, John Lennon died, the Challenger crashed, there was that solar eclipse, whatever - our parents did it with JFK, right? And if our parents did it...) Join and in and let us know - links, comments, whatever floats your boat - how to find you.

"Where Was I..." posts as of late morning:

Mrs. Flinger
Oh The Joys

Want mores? I wrote about Di's death here, if you're interested. Or, you could read my review of Barney's ABC. Up to you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Our Motherhood, Our Selves

When I wrote that MILF post the other day, I was sort of expecting that there might be one or two people, at least, that might say that they embraced the term MILF. To which I was fully prepared (and even set up the groundwork in the post) to say, hey, fine, whatever floats your empowerment boat. I have no interest in telling people what they should or should not find empowering; I just have some clear opinions about what seems to me to be unempowering. But although some people said that the term didn't bother them (which, again, fine; I'm not looking to ban the term), no one said that they embraced it or took it seriously.

That, however, wasn't the thing that most surprised me in the comments. What surprised me most was that someone turned up and read the whole discussion as an affirmation of the general tendency of mothers to view themselves as superior to other women and to other human beings in general:

Um. The statement that mothers are sexually more interesting is just as offensive as the suggestion that they're not... Mothers are women. Childless women are women. There's no "winner" but there seems to be this divisive battle going on, particularly in the blogging sphere. Problem is, I don't see any non-mothers claiming superiority in the way I see mothers doing so.

My response - admittedly knee-jerk - was to defend the intended literal meaning of what I'd actually said:

I said that *I* was sexually more interesting, as compared to my pre-maternal self. It was a personal reference, not a universal one (although I would argue that sexual self-awareness and maturity does make one more interesting as a sexual partner generally. This, however, does not apply exclusively to mothers...) The fact is - as one anonymous commenter above makes abundantly clear - that mothers, as a group, are often regarded as asexual or unsexual by the culture at large, and certainly by popular culture.

When I gave it another moment's thought, however, I realized that my irritation at the comment wasn't that I'd been misunderstood, or that the commenter had missed my point about the whole MILF thing being demeaning to women generally, but rather that someone was bringing up this old saw about mothers having a superiority complex, and that I was going to have address it lest my head explode.

There are a lot of things that I could say about this whole 'mothers think they're special'/'parents think that the whole world should revolve around them' nonsense, not least among which would be that until you've had a child, you can't possible realize how many facking obstacles the world throws at human beings who pack children around with them. But my primary argument would be this: yes, actually, mothers (and to some extent, parents generally) do think that they are special. Not as a matter of superiority, but as a matter of difference. We have a differiority complex. We view ourselves as fundamentally different in many respects from people who do not have children. (Note this important point: NOT BETTER THAN. DIFFERENT THAN.)

Once you have given birth to or adopted a child, your entire world changes. Your entire world, and THE entire world, changes. You come to understand love in an entirely different way than you could ever have possibly understood it in the absence of the human being that is entirely dependent upon you. You come to understand your body, and bodies generally, in an entirely different way. You come to understand faith and morality and safety and security and learning and dependence and independence and fear - oh my god the fear - and passion and defensiveness in ways that you could not possibly understand if you did not have that child. This is, in my opinion, just fact. Children change you fundamentally and uniquely. Someone who has not had a child simply cannot understand the nature of this change firsthand.

This does not mean that people without children are less than, or inferior to, people with children. It just means that our life experiences are different. Parents - and especially mothers, I think - know things that non-parents cannot possibly know, because of those different experiences. If you do not have a child - by birth or adoption or whatever - or have not had a child (it does not matter for how long - five seconds or five years or five decades - or under what circumstances children might have been lost or given up, the experience of the having, however briefly, is what is fundamental) you cannot know how having a child changes you, how it changes your perspective, how it changes your relationship to yourself and the world. How it changes your heart. This is no different from saying that people who have faced death, or gone to university, or travelled the world have fundamentally different life experiences and different knowledge than those who have not experienced those things. It's just that mothers, and parents, are a larger group, and so their recognition of themselves as a group with certain fundamental likenesses is perhaps more obvious in the culture.

So, yes: mothers do identify as a group and do bond over the similarities in their experiences (not least among these: oh my god did you know that it would be like this?) and do sympathize with each other over certain common struggles that they - rightly or wrongly - perceive to be unique to their experience as mothers. Because they want to, and because they need to. It's a whole different world out here in Mommy Land, and for many of us it will take the whole rest of our lives to get used to it.

And if we sometimes (and I do hope that it is only sometimes, because we do spend time in other places) act or speak or write as if you need a special passport to get to this place and to really experience and understand it, it's not that we don't respect your travels and experiences - we do, because we've been on many of those same journeys ourselves. It's just, well, you do need a special passport to get here and understand it for yourself.

It's called a kid.


You all? Have made this such a TREMENDOUS discussion. I encourage anybody coming to this post for the first - or the eleventh - time to read the comments, and (of course) my contributions to the comments. Some of you have made me rethink some specific elements of my argument - ALL of you have me think, period - and I've explained that rethinking below, in the commentary. I heart you, Internets, I really do.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Monday morning post-caffeination confession: I hate the term 'MILF.'

I know that there are a lot of moms out there who've appropriated the term and use it as a term of self-empowerment, especially in the context of maintaining some pride in appearance, (which I'm all for, notwithstanding certain evidence to the contrary) but still: I hate it.

It's not that I think moms shouldn't regard themselves as - to use the vernacular - f*ckable. Moms are eminently f*ckable, and usually have demonstrated themselves as such in the most convincing way possible: by bearing the children that unadulterated, unhindered f*cking yields. What I reject is the idea - the idea that I think underscores and gives the term 'MILF' its force - that mothers, as a group, are ordinarily so obviously unf*ckable that society needs a whole separate category and term for mothers who escape that norm. To say something along the lines of 'her? Oh, she's a MILF, totally' is really to say, 'her? She's not like other mothers, who are, as a group, entirely sexually unappealing. SHE's a woman one could see banging DESPITE the fact that she's had children!'

Which, you know, is - obviously - demeaning to mothers, and to women generally. (Also? Referring to one's self as a MILF? Grammatically confusing. Unless you are suggesting that you would totally be into doing yourself - as the use of the personal pronoun, signified by the 'I' in MILF, implies - which you might, in which case, more power to you - you should avoid the term. Just say, I AM HOT. That tells us everything we need to know.) Not because it categorizes some of us as sex objects - objecting to objectification is, really, a little bit futile in a society that frames the Pussycat Dolls as an example of feminine empowerment - but because it does, simply, categorize us on the basis of our sexuality and organize that categorization according to the assumption that mothers are ordinarily not f*ckable.

Which is bullshit. I might not be at the peak of my primping powers - and I may, in fact, be too goddammed cranky these days to be sexually approached without extreme caution - but damn if I couldn't if I wanted to. I am far more interesting as a sexual being having had children - I've looked at sex from both sides nowwwww - than I was in my days of undimpled thighs and bra-optional t-shirts and forty-dollar lipsticks. So I resent feeling that I have to carry some outmoded idea of moms as asexual creatures in high-waisted jeans on the back of my psyche, and I resent even more the idea that I can only release the weight of that load if I beat it away with some titty-hoisting bra while proclaiming, loudly, to the world, that horny young men everywhere should want a piece of me. (They should want a piece of me - that, I think, goes without saying - but that shouldn't be the measure of my physical and sexual worth.)

If it's good enough for Tori Spelling, it's not good enough for me. Because, you know, shouldn't we be reaching a little higher (and deeper) than silicone and tank tops in our quest to feel good about our bodies and our sexuality as mothers? As women?

Or am I just too jacked up on coffee and hormones this morning to think straight?

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