because—IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! It’s a full moon, and I need to do something special. Also, when I read over last week’s post I noticed some dangling threads (I warned you about the perfectionism) and since this blog is the enactment of my poet/writer/artist/worker/ mother multiple-personality disorder, the poet/writer artist part was complaining there was too much baby stuff and not enough of the “other”. Too much domestic narrative, not enough critical theory? Hmmm—anyway, in honor of my birthday I will interrupt myself to talk a bit more about the “path” thing. Next week I promise to get back to fertility comix.
So, remember in the last post I said I wondered if I chose to get pregnant because I was afraid that the other path—the one of “successful” career poet, was closed to me? And that made me feel like my mother, because my mother you see, was smart and talented and wanted to be a dancer. She studied with Pearl Primus and Martha Graham, and danced barefoot in black cut-off leotards just like a character in a Jules Feiffer cartoon. She had a vision of herself.
She also ran away with my father when they were like, 17, and had her first baby at 19. She had another baby two years later, and basically, while my dad (who was a set designer/painter/poet) was getting’ his artist on, my mom was staying home with the babies. Who were not, by the way, my brother and me—because eight years after that, when she could maybe start thinking about what she’d like to do with the rest of her life, she had my brother, and two years later—me. Yes, I’m the baby—but you probably guessed that.
When I was in my early twenties I asked my mother why she decided to have two more children at that critical time in her life. Because what I remember growing up was that she was angry a lot, and depressed, and didn’t seem to enjoy being a mother at all. Now that I’m a mother AND…I look back at what she was doing and can hardly believe it. Four children! Big, decrepit house with lots of stairs and the washer & dryer in the basement! No takeout—ever—everything cooked from scratch. No car of her own and a husband who did not “share” the housework, no household help of any kind, unless you count my sullen performance of a few weekly chores. No money, not much fun, and certainly no dancing.
When I asked her why she got pregnant again she looked truly surprised and hurt and then really pissed. She sat up straight with that dancer’s turn of head she could still pull out, and said. “I wanted to. That’s all. I just wanted to.”
I’m sorry to say that I didn’t believe her. I don’t believe her now, either, but I also don’t think she was lying. I think she was tired and chose the path she knew. Not an easy one, but maybe less scary than re-making that lost vision of hers. Or did she, like me, feel it was too late? The bloom being not only off the rose but the petals curling and a little brown at the edges? Did I mention she was a perfectionist?
Was I holding that image of my mother when I made my decision to have children? Of course. Was I terrified that my choice would deprive me of my art? Absolutely! Not just my mother but all the famous, angry, suicidal mother artists I revered were dancing around my head.
I did, however, want to have a child. Whatever that meant, because really—I was clueless about what I was getting into. No idea. But I had a strong impulse toward the re-making of motherhood as I’d experienced it, as well as the remaking of what a woman artist could be: I would have a close, loving relationship with my children. I would write while they were napping. (Please don’t laugh in front of me.) It would all work out. Ha!
But it was a good impulse. And it’s hugely necessary. We have to remake the paradigm so that it works for us, and reflects us, not some caricature created by people we don’t know and obediently internalized by us. We’ve chosen this path of having children, and unless we have the financial means to have lots of childcare and no other job to go to, this is our reality.
Now that I’m not in the panicked newborn state of motherhood I find that the juicy, frustrating, crazy-making piece of that reality is in the struggle toward synthesis—both in the practical choices I make (dishes or blog post? more freelance or more writing?) and the aesthetic ones (in what way is my mother-self present in my work?) Because we may adore our children and find parenting immensely satisfying. But we have this other part of us that’s hungry, and when we don’t feed it, it makes everything hard, because it’s a giant chunk of how we need to be in the world, as parents, and as people. Because we are artists, too. Mothers AND…
Once again I’ve managed to write an entire post without touching on critical theory (please hold your applause). But I’ve done a lot of thinking about the aesthetic impacts of motherhood on the work of women poets. I’ll talk more about that, probably to the point where you want to scream. But for now, just hold the possibility that your status as mother AND…is full of possibility. There’s oodles of art-worthy stuff to dig into, don’t let anybody tell you different.
BTW, after another 10 years or so went by, my mother did go back to school and go for her Master’s degree. She decided to study dance therapy which was pretty cutting edge at the time, and she did it—with four children.
This post is dedicated to her, and to my friend’s mother, who’s being memorialzed this very day. Two Mothers AND…who are no longer with us: Virginia Arlene D’Azzara Dryansky and Ruth Greenberg-Edelstein.
And now I must eat the delicious cake Minnie’s prepared for me.