Monday, November 17, 2008

Messages from Venus

The experience of being a stay-at-home mother is irreplaceable. I never could have imagined what an other planet it is. The culture of motherhood - it's like I've stepped through the looking glass.

Time has a different meaning here. I spend whole days just sitting with other mothers in parks. I wander through the house with a drowsing baby while the other plays in a noisy battery-operated flashing-lights wobbling-up-and-down toy car (courtesy, of course, of Granny). I wander (ok sometimes trudge) for miles with the big red pram even though it threatens rain. I talk to old ladies in the street. If both babies are asleep at the same time, I stop for a coffee so I can read the headlines of a paper. If only one is asleep, I stop in the park and put down the blanket so the awake baby can have some solo time. Sometimes I'm begging for the day to pass, for Lovergirl to be due home any minute. Sometimes I remember to be overwhelmed at what I am achieving - moment by moment, I am creating two confident, creative beings. Most often, I am running banal lists in my head: 'The nappies are still in the washing machine. What can they have for morning tea? What has she got in her mouth? His nappy's clean, he's recently slept, he's fed - why is he grizzling? What was it I wanted to do as soon as I got a minute to myself? - oh, too late' and so on.

What's important has different meaning. Someone (who?) called early motherhood 'a temporary psychosis'. It's certainly a distorted sense of reality, a disproportionate focus on the importance of these two small beings. I don't really care about whatsername Palin and her tearaway daughter. Apparently there were Olympics somewhere recently. But I've read a library's worth of parenting books. I try and remind myself not to talk about my children, or parenting in general, unless someone specifically asks. Then I try and keep my answers short. It's hard - I never imagined there was so much to think about, with parenting. But is that a distorted reality? Or just not the one that the rest of you are preoccupied with?

I don't want to return to work, yet. I know money will become an issue when we lose the single parents' pension. Some days I think I'll go crazy with the frustration of never getting anything done. Even going to the postbox two houses away is a big deal with two babies - get the pram out of the car, put babies in (insert back-arching and outraged screaming at being strapped into seats here), walk to post box, repeat actions in reverse. I've started making lists of very small tasks and sticking them up so I can cross my achievements off (I'm up to 'update blog').

Other things about the culture of motherhood: career doesn't matter. Sexuality doesn't matter. Age doesn't matter. What seems to matter most is hooking up with people who have a similar childrearing philosophy. This appears to cross all demographics - I've seen parents, complete strangers, mysteriously gravitate towards each other only to start muttering about how touchy-feely do-gooders are trying to take away their right to discipline (read 'hit') their children. The mothers I am closest to, my Friday group - I don't know what they did before they had children. But we all agree on general attachment/gentle parenting principles. The blogs I'm returning to ponder how to apply feminism to mothering.

Before I became a parent, I was concerned about preventing the descent into the world of children. Now I can see that even that attitude - that it is bad to be seen to be preoccupied with children - is part of the way we devalue parenting. 'Be a rounded person,' say friends and family, when actually most of my heart and soul is longing to be a singularly focussed person. We admire this in athletes, just not in mothers.

When I’m successful, the mindless activities that consume my days are a form of meditation. Wiping bums, consoling the crying, the perpetual treadmill of breastfeeding/ mush feeding/ wiping down babies, walls, floors, me - I can only do that and stay sane with a kind of lightness, remembering I am not what I do. ‘What I do’ is still there, eyeing me over the fence surrounding this uneventful walled garden. It will wait. The only way to stay sane is to sit here quietly and take in the flowers, rather than drive myself crazy trying to get out.


owlie said...


Elsewhere007 said...

Well, if you're on Venus, I'm on Pluto...

My mother's psychosis seemed to be permanent. What was that thing Duras said about every woman believing her mother was mad? (Clearly I'm still on the other end of the mother spectrum). Hope I'm not being too depressing.

Mwa said...

Thanks for the beautiful post.
From another mother of two

Kelly & Sam Pilgrim-Byrne said...

Truly brilliant post.

Thank you for finding the time to say it.

E, SS and the Little Man said...

Fantastic observations. I think the thing that is hard about being a stay at home mom is the lack of appreciation. The babies are too young to appreciate. Society doesn't see it as a valuable contribution. The sexist history of being a stay at home mom doesn't help. It's a hard job, and your babies will be glad you're doing it (someday).

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post honey from within your walled garden. You really are an amazing gardener. Lou Lou xx

Suze said...

I enjoyed this too and I really empathise with what you said about how pre-parenthood you hoped not to get too drawn in and now you see that attitude for what it was.
I find that I'm drawn to other parents who don't necessarily have exactly the same approach to parenting but who have the same general feeling of loving and enjoying and being amused by their kids.

Deborah said...

'Be a rounded person,' say friends and family, when actually most of my heart and soul is longing to be a singularly focussed person. We admire this in athletes, just not in mothers.

Oh! Wonderfully said.

I'm sorry - I've been out of circulation for a while, and just barely keeping up my own blog. I've been a bit preoccupied with the election back home in NZ. But I'm starting to catch up with old friends again now.

This is a wonderful post.