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May 8, 2011

Mothers are people

Before I had a baby, I thought the song “Parents are People” from Free to be You and Me was about the wide range of employment opportunities available to men and women everywhere in this brave new world– that some mommies drive taxis and sing on TV, and daddies play cello or sail on the sea. And then I had a little baby and for a while (in retrospect, a very little while, but at the time I didn’t know this) my entire self was erased, and it dawned on me that the song was about how parenthood doesn’t have to constitute the entirety of a parent’s identity (though I’ve got no qualms about those for whom it does. Parenthood is a noble and worthwhile calling).

Lately I’ve been extending my thoughts on the song and imagining it in terms of a mathematical equation though. (This is the kind of thing that occupies my mind as I push a stroller down the sidewalk looking kind of vacant.) If Mommies=People [with children], therefore People=?  The logical answer is that People are People, but even Depeche Mode didn’t manage to get to the bottom of that matter. Indeed, why should it be that you and I should get along so awfully? But it does clear up the matter of why mothers can’t seem to get it together and support each other. Because mothers are people, and people just don’t do that.

Case in point, the story in the Toronto Star this week: “These moms refuse to wear sweats”, which makes the argument that motherhood doesn’t mean we have to stop wearing skinny jeans and motorcycle boots. My initial response is “ugh” for many reasons, chief among them being that I never looked that nice even before I had a child, and also because I don’t have the money, figure or talent to ever look like the skinny jeans moms do.

But I realize that these women are fighting the same mommy stereotypes that I grapple with. “Motherhood doesn’t have to mean sweat pants, baggy tops and bad perms” so the article goes, which is analogous to my own crusade, which is “Motherhood doesn’t have to mean being an idiot”. I’m not sure who exactly are these mythical frumpy idiotic mothers we’re all running from, unless we’re all running from the very worst fears we harbour of ourselves. And these selves are so various, and we’re all running so hard that it starts to look like we’re running from each other, but we’re not.

Or perhaps what I mean is that we’re not mothers divided as much as people with children who never had all that much in common in the first place.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be out of the first year or so of motherhood. Those months when everything is so urgent, so terrifying, and so unsure that you just cling to something that may be true in order to make sense of a chaotic universe. On top of the practical matters of new motherhood was how threatened I was by other mothers and their choices. I was told that this would lessen as I became more assured, and it’s true. I think we all muddle through, and there’s no one way to do it, and that families are people as much as mommies are, and people are.

(I also think that that Tina Fey’s Fuck You to breastfeeding in her book Bossypants should be required reading for anyone who gets upset at the sight of formula fed babies. And I think that anyone who finds breastfeeding evangelicals offensive should consider the innumerable ways that breastfeeding mothers are only superficially supported in our society. And then should go read the Tina Fey chapter and feel better about everything.)

Lately I’ve noticed my failure to find my place in the mom dichotomy. Either I should be always putting my children’s need first (this rarely happens. Harriet is a fairly robust human being, and therefore under normal circumstances, her needs are pretty much on par with my own) or taking time for myself and having a manicure (which has never happened. Because it is very difficult to read and have a manicure, or so I imagine. See notes above about me being frumpy). The great thing about this lack of inclusion, however, is that I don’t have be involved in the mom dichotomy at all. Because, well, mommies are people with children, and people are…

And in such open endedness lies liberation and infinite possibility.

There is a book called The Happiest Mom that I’ve been eager to get my hands upon, most because, like all the best parenting books, it might validate all the choices I have already made. (Also, if you’re newish to this blog, read Dream Babies by Christine Hrdyment, which will teach you that all baby/parenting books are faddish fluff, and you are your own best parenting expert if only you have the confidence to believe it). I love the idea of a book suggesting that happy motherhood is possible (it is!) and that there’s a way to get there (and there are many!).

For me, the way to get there has involved a husband who’s as good a mother as I am, a life that gives me plenty of time to myself, and not having another child anytime soon because I think it would probably break me. An individual path, but it works for me, and so I feel so lucky to be celebrating my second Mothers’ Day (or my third, if we count the Mothers Day I spent having an external cephalic version).

First, because we had a lovely evening with own mom. And because my husband and daughter gave me a basil plant and license to run wild in the bookstore this afternoon (I got I’m a Registered Nurse Not a Whore by Anne Perdue, and The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk, whose novels I can’t get enough of). They also accompanied me on A Pro-Choice Jane’s Walk around downtown Toronto today in the glorious sunshine, which is fitting because my own reproductive freedom is part of why I get to be a happy mother.

I’m so grateful for the choices I’ve been able to make on the road to here.

8 thoughts on “Mothers are people”

  1. Melanie says:

    So well said Kerry. Brilliant, really.

  2. judy pollard smith says:

    Harriet’s red hat!(a modern version of Strang’s portrait of Vita Sackville-West “The Lady In The Red Hat” that I keep on the wall in front of my computer.)
    So where’s Harriet’s hold-all today? No point going to a Jumble without one.
    Judy 🙂

  3. HB says:

    Hear, hear Ms Kerry Clare!

  4. m says:

    Yes, yes, yes!

    When I was a new mum with my eldest, I was lucky that I had a couple of friends with new/ish babies. I did go to a couple of mom’s groups that the public health nurses were pushing on us and hated them so much. I always felt uncomfortable and judged–it was like the worst aspects of high school, but with an undercurrent of sleeplessness to it. I stopped going.

    When I moved to Edmonton, where I knew no one, again I was encouraged to attend these groups. I didn’t, but desperately searched out other mothers. It was hard and I made some mistakes. I found a couple, not many, and very thankful I did. But I do hate so much how there is a sense that just because one decides to have a child, that the motherhood aspect of her life trumps everything else and will be able to be friends with any other mother. It’s stupid, annoying, and a little insulting.

    Hmm…I guess I needed to have a little rant this morning. Hope you don’t mind it in this space! You’ve written such a lovely piece that just makes me want to shout: YES!

  5. Heidi says:

    Yes yes yes from me too.

  6. Carrie says:

    Well, I just love this post, Kerry. You’re just so right. Mothers are People and People are … not the same at all … complicated … individual.

  7. Alex says:

    I loved all of this, but the section on Tina Fey was brilliant!

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