On Mother’s Day

11 May

It’s Mother’s Day today and I sit in an empty apartment. My daughter’s with her paternal grandparents before her father will pick her up and spend the rest of the week with her as per our custody agreement of week-on/week-off. I have no mother to call thanks to a mutual disowning.

Though all of this sounds incredibly bleak but, to be honest, I’m actually thankful. There’s no crowded cafes to contend with on enforced outings. There’s something about cafes filled with families celebrating Mother’s Day with breakfast, like the addition of 20 prams and soggy French toast casts a warlike pall over proceedings. Conversations always feel taut with tension. So too do I get to avoid the presents, being the disagreeable sort who is hard to buy for and so bad at housekeeping I will stand on torn giftwrapping paper for weeks afterwards.

I take this mindset as a souvenir of being raised Catholic. Spend one Easter avoiding meat and you come to accept that some holidays or special occasions are marked for quiet reflection.

So here is mine: I am sick of the canonisation of motherhood. The soft, dewy filter of servitude and sacrifice we layer over women, a day of enforcing pastel stereotypes that have less to do with actual mothering experience and more to do with cultural expectations of women.

Part of it is the fact when we think of motherhood we cast out so much of the woman inside the mother. That swirling complexity, that morass of origins and intent. So often when we think of women it becomes a filing of ‘before motherhood’ and ‘motherhood’. Before motherhood is presented as a race of experience and adventure, with that slight tinge of anxious doubt you will be able to reach that grand destination, to become a mother. Once you do, people assume things slow down, you slow down, you stand in a single place, easily defined and easily bought off with a single day of celebration.

I craved having children. My biological urge to reproduce was a wave that threatened to drown me; the desperate impatience, missing a stranger I already knew I loved. I worked hard to overcome my fertility issues, knowing there was someone special at the end.

But coming to know the gorgeous and complex child that emerged didn’t slow me down, it didn’t make me stand in a single place. Having that child – cut straight from me and dumped onto my chest, her face a blur of confused anger at being born – brought fire and complexity. There would be no slow pace, no avoiding risk.

Because the minute she arrived I felt brave. I realised in an instant all that I hadn’t achieved and just how much I had to do. The miraculous act of her existence didn’t simplify life the way society tells us, it brought complexity and challenge. You become wholly unconcerned by society’s expectations of you as a mother when you realise your every move is being scrutinised and absorbed by the child you made and raise. If someone was going to watch me live my life, I had better make it an interesting one.

Thanks to her, I take risks. Massive risks. Stupid risks. I refuse to show a growing girl that motherhood will halve me the way society expects. I show her instead it is one aspect to a life that teems with complexity and challenge and where big leaps will always be needed in a crowded world. That we can ignore our personal and social boundaries and just take a running jump at everything that interests us.

So we go to protest marches, we travel, we chase our interest, we lie about in torpor with our books, we chat and beg for silence, we succeed and sometimes sit in the dark and wonder if we will fail. She sees the failure as often as she sees the triumph because I refuse to believe motherhood or childhood are cocooned from reality and life’s inevitable currents.

In attempting to show to show my daughter she can design her own life without reference to rules or social expectation, I’ve managed to redesign mine. Because she was watching, I started living the life I actually wanted. Thanks to her presence, life is a rich, confusing labyrinth of needs, responses and impulses. Together, we’ve built our own world and we’ve built our own family who, though not related, give love, inspiration and support.

I would not have this contentment without her presence reminding me she was watching. My life would be halved had I kept my eyes on what society expected from me as a mother-woman and not on what my daughter would need to get through life. So I don’t need my daughter’s thanks or anyone else’s. They can keep the tepid tea, the ill-bought presents, the fraught cafes, the declaration “motherhood is the hardest job in the world” and the whole damn act of celebrating the narrowest slice of femininity women can offer the world.

I have something much better instead. I have a life and I have her, a whole world.

 

Postscript
Received this response from my friend Sahra Stolz and wanted to share because it’s so beautifully expressed: “The Better Homes and Gardens mother, the Hallmark Card mother, all of these sit like a giant marshmallow weight on my prickly shoulders and I want to cast them off forever, without offending the eggy fingered expectant family standing around offering me poorly wrapped scented candles and kisses for pretending to the stereotype between 9am and 11am on one day of the year.

7 Responses to “On Mother’s Day”

  1. sweetiesmum May 11, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    Amy. This is so like my thesis on first time motherhood. I would like to give you a copy. I haven’t given a copy to anyone else. It’s about the obliteration of the woman in motherhood following interviews with a bunch of new mothers in Melbourne. My
    Mothers day present to you.

    I enjoyed mothers day today. Probably because I’ve nearly finished the lecture I’m giving tomorrow and have got rid of part of the backlog of work dogging me and partly because it was such a glorious morning. My own mother did not celebrate mothers day and the Hallmark greeting card commercialism it has generated. We were outside in the courtyard of the family cafe having
    lunch today with my sons 1/2 aunt – a stand in grandmother for him. We watched the other families with their children and prams through glass before walking home through streets that our son and his Thai ‘aunt’ had walked when he was a toddler. we are a funny. Our little mature age family is a funny mixture of forgotten religions, diverse cultures and different genetic backgrounds but there was a closeness there as there is with the sentiments expressed in yOur article Amy. You are a brave and gifted writer. All love today and always

  2. Duncan McPherson (@22ViewSt) May 12, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    Beautiful. Just beautiful and extraordinary: “Having that child – cut straight from me and dumped onto my chest, her face a blur of confused anger at being born – brought fire and complexity”.

  3. Fiona Ap Rhys May 18, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    ” I am sick of the canonisation of motherhood.”

    God, Amy, you and me both. My experiences of having a mother and being a mother have been so painful I fitfully want to spell the word m***** and have it beeped out in my presence, like in Brave New World. The saccharine celebrations of motherhood and reverent capitalisation of Family make me itch beneath my skin. Read your article, the morning after getting an offer to publish the novel in which I Work Through My Mother Issues (as they say), and it’s struck a real chord. Good on you. Good writing. You tell ’em, sister.

  4. sweetiesmum September 17, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    Hi Amy.

    We are sendi g party invitations for Max’s gymbus party on Sunday afternoon 12 October. I am posting it for Aurora I know you’ve had some trouble with your mail do if u don’t receive it by nxt Monday it’s gone astray – pls let me know.

    Thanks.

    Hugs and kisses.

    Margaret Xx Sent from my iPhone 🙂

    >

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