Tag Archives: fathers

He is the very model of a modern multitasking man

The Man works from home on Wednesdays, a fact both I and Vulva Baby adore (he’s pretty happy about it most weeks, too). Here he is giving my back a break, bonding with his baby, keeping Vulva Baby happy (and vestibularly stimulated), participating in a group interview for a new potential hire, and chatting in the back channels about said interview:

He wears a baby now. Babies are cool.

This picture brings many thoughts to mind, none of which I have time to explore fully (because she’s back on my chest now):

  • I know not everyone has jobs that can be done from home, but so many do who aren’t being allowed to (even The Man is only able to once a week). This is a part of the strict separation of “work” and “life” in most current societies — a ridiculous division which fails both at honoring and valuing home-work and at acknowledging that most of us want to work1 and want to have it be part of our lives.
  • Similarly, though many people don’t have work that is baby-friendly, many of us do who aren’t being allowed to. Even The Man’s work-from-home guidelines include a ban on performing any form of child care during paid work hours. It is true that having sole care of an infant while working would be exceedingly difficult for most2, but again, the expectation that any parent have sole care is a result of the work-life separation mentioned above. There could be so many creative approaches that make far more sense, if we were willing to consider them.
  • This is life in a “social media” world: communicating in multiple channels at once, often with the same people. Pundits who deride the “current generation” (usually teens or young 20s) for their “technology addiction” are utterly missing the point that communication technology3, is changing how we work and live. But the fundament remains the same: humans communicating and connecting, as we always have and will. Only the particulars differ.
  • I have a damn adorable baby.4

Your thoughts?

  1. That is, to engage in activity that is meaningful, part of something more-than-us, and connects us with others, whether our family or our tribe. Sometimes, in capitalism, we are paid for this work, and sometimes we do not, but we nearly all seek it in one form or another.
  2. It is not coincidence that the days I have been able to write have been when The Man is also working from home, and we are able to trade off.
  3. As it always has and will, from the start of spoken language through writing, printing presses, telegraphs and telephones, and whatever is developed in the future.
  4. C’mon, like that wasn’t one of your first thoughts looking at this picture!

Heroes, bumblers, abandoners, and patriarchs: Fatherhood on Doctor Who

I have a new piece up at Global Comment: Heroes, bumblers, abandoners, and patriarchs: Fatherhood on Doctor Who (don’t be scared by the title, my non-geekling friends; it should be entirely1 accessible to those who have thus far avoided sullying their gaze with my dorky obsession):

Fatherhood strode from the sidewings to center stage in the form of the Lone Centurion (aka Rory Pond, nee Williams) in “A Good Man Goes to War,” and continued in “Night Terrors” and “Closing Time”. In these episodes, we see first a portrayal and then subversion of the most common tropes of fatherhood; respectively, the Hero (the aforementioned centurion-slash-nurse Rory), the Abandoner (Alex), and the Bumbler (Craig). Assisting each we have, of course, the Doctor — a man who, 10 incarnations and nearly 50 boringly linear human years ago, was himself a grandfather. Although most versions of the show between 1963 and now have glossed over the central character’s implied fatherhood, here he is portrayed in full Wise Patriarch mode, taking these three men — and the viewer — on a transformative journey that amounts to a guide to Moffat’s vision of Enlightened Fatherhood.

Finish reading at GC, because it’s good and because I managed to write it with a newborn — often one handed — so click over if only to be amazed that I formed cohesive sentences and semi2-cogent arguments.

Speaking of, one day I will write a memoir, and in it will be a piece about sitting in the living room holding a sleeping baby over the potty with one hand (because she fell asleep immediately upon finishing her business and if I moved her she might wake up again and that would just be unacceptable), breast hanging out of the nursing tank, laptop balanced on the arm of the chair, typing with the other hand because I was In the Middle of a Thought and also On Deadline. Because if there is a more perfect metaphor-and-example of balancing parenting and paid employment, I haven’t heard it.

  1. My editor says semi.
  2. My editor says entirely.

Further conference thoughts, and some Big Questions

So, I arrived home safe and relatively sound, though I’m still dying from this cold1 and I left my notebook at the conference2, but Thoughts have been swimming in my head. Well, I say Thoughts, but I mean Questions, or Observations that I’m not sure what to do with yet, and, me being me and this being a blog, I thought I’d share them with you3:

How can we have a (singular) “motherhood movement” when what we want, as mothers, is not all the same? Cindy Sheehan evokes her motherhood in her pacifism; Sarah Palin does the same in support of her pro-war, pro-gun stance. My motherhood most definitely informs my support of gender-neutrality or gender-prescriptivism-abolition. Andrea O’Reilly argues that there is a motherhood movement, with a “diffuse style of organizing… reflective of the eclectic and democratic nature of maternal activism.”4 But where, if anywhere, is the line between democratic and discordant, between non-hierarchical and non-cohesive? Further, is it possible to create a cohesive “us” (to say “yes, we are part of the same [motherhood] movement”), without necessitating an opposition to a “them” (“you are not a part of this movement”)? Does it even matter whether we acknowledge or create this cohesion currently, or do we get on with our lives and our work and let history sort it afterward?

Speaking of our work, where is the balance between big picture thinking — knowing where we want to go, and specifying what is wrong with where we are — and single-step action? Does working to address one small injustice “bog us down in the details”, or is it the only way the whole is ever changed — or do a bit of both? And how do we — do I — pick which one (or few) small step(s) to work on? When we — I — care about so many parts of social justice (breastfeeding support and rights, birth choices, abortion access, disability rights, queer rights, just to name a few), how do we say “this is where I shall dig in my teaspoon”5, leaving the rest to “someone else”?

I adored being at a conference where for three days the topics, and the majority of attendants, were mothers. And yet… We cannot — will not — achieve gender equality until men, as a class6, are spending as much time on their fatherhood and their fathering, are as worried about work-family balance, are as invested in the domestic sphere as women, as a class, are. But, the “fatherhood movement” equivalent has so far shown to be patriarchal and misogynist, focusing on holding on to their society-granted status as “head of the household”, not moving toward doing the housework. So what would a non-patriarchal parenting movement look like? Can we only get there via a motherhood movement, just as we required feminism to gain what small equalities we’ve achieved outside the domestic sphere? How do we simultaneously keep in mind and move toward the equality we desire while acknowledging the all too real power differentials that currently exist — whether the topic is parenting, or race, or gender, or sexuality, or insert privilege/marginalization axis here?

And finally7, and far more personally, when am I going to get to do The College Thing? Will I be able to do it this time? Is this a socialized desire based on a hierarchy that places Official Academics above non-institutional thinking and lived experience, a needy feeling born, or borne, of my feelings of insecurity at academic conferences and around those with Important Letters after their names, or a real longing reflecting my joy in intellectualism and all the better parts of academia? And how long will it take after the new baby comes for my brain to de-mush itself enough to me to attempt, again, The College Thing, and figure all this out?

If motherhood and activism and women-with-children “speak[ing] out on why we need to change the world and how to do it” is your thing, check out MIRCI. Get your hands and eyes on a (heavy! huge!) copy of The 21st Century Motherhood Movement. And if you are able, get thee to a MIRCI conference. Sure, it’s smaller than BlogHer, and you won’t be bringing home a Potato Head or a KitchenAid unless you pay full price for it, but oh will your brain thank you.

At least, if it’s anything like mine.

  1. Not really — I think — but very much Not Enjoying it, especially the coughing-until-I-piss-myself-or-vomit aspects, and no one in Toronto actually ever heard what I sound like, but, y’know, I’ll heal…
  2. Thank the God/dess for meeting someone Very Nice there who lives not two miles from me, found it, and brought it back to Portland for me. But we haven’t managed to meet up here in Oregon yet, so I still don’t have it.
  3. In no particular order except which ones came into my cough-addled brain first.
  4. The 21st Century Motherhood Movement, page 3.
  5. I don’t know if Liss coined it or merely popularized it, but I learned of this metaphor — not the same as the spoon theory — at Shakesville.
  6. And not merely a few individual men, whatever one pseudoenlightened egotistical mansplainer on Twitter says.
  7. For tonight, at least.

“Too crazy to parent”

“I couldn’t subject kids to my craziness.”

“I’m not sane enough to be a parent.”

“I’m doing the world a favor by not passing on these crazy genes.”

All these and more are phrases I’ve heard — excuses from the childless, defenses from the childfree.

The very last thing I want to do is attack those who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to have children. So many women — though far from all — are pressured to reproduce, or at the least (as though adoption is a consolation prize, a mimicry of “real” parenting) become mothers in some way. I support without reservation the choice to remain childless/free, and consider it my duty and honor to protect and defend all the reproductive choices of women, and to counter the misogyny of external pressure to procreate.

But I am a crazy mom. And the child of a crazy parent. And when I hear these excuses — when no excuse should be needed for what is a respectful and deserves to be respected choice — it gives me pause. I squirm. I do not speak out, because the last thing a woman-under-attack needs to hear is how her defenses against unacceptable insinuations hurt me — but hurt me they do. And I remember.

A disclaimer: in defense of the childfree

I am the last to argue that parenting is universally good for one’s mental health. I entered the experience armed with terrible-truth telling tomes like Mother Shock, Operating Instructions, Inconsolable, and though I was filled with an irrational ache, an indescribable emptiness that itself adversely affected my instability, and would trade it for no other life path, neither would I do readers the disfavor of lying that it has not, in measurable ways, challenged and, yes, harmed me. From uncontrollable hormonal waves to sleep deprivation to insanity-inducing sensations, to triggery toddlers and more-triggery preschoolers: parenting has not been easy or kind to my mental wellness. I fault no one for hearing these honest, if one sided, truths and deciding to say “no thank you” and book another cruise to Cuba. This isn’t about attempting to persuade anyone to parent if they lack the wholly irrational drive on their own.

But it is about what else is said when, hearing of diarrhea diapers and untameable tantrums, one announces “I’m too crazy to parent.” Because meaning to or not — and it mostly isn’t — it says parents aren’t supposed to be crazy. It says children are better off without crazy parents. It says my life, on both ends, is wrong.

Unattainably high ideals for parents, unacceptably low ideas of craziness

Whenever I write posts like this, someone says it isn’t about me, and I’m being too sensitive, and I take words too seriously. And it’s true, to some extent: I don’t believe anyone who says these things to me is intending to speak about anyone other than themselves, and their truths. I am not trying to (as though I could!) ban anyone from using phrase “too crazy to parent” referring to themselves. I don’t think these words are spoken of oneself out of malice for others, nor do I wish to silence the stories of those who have desired children, weighed the possibilities, and decided the risk to themselves and their health was too great. Because that is the truth of many, and deserves respect and recognition no less than any other honesty.

But for many others, it seems not a deep-thought truth, but a talisman waved to ward off “and when can we expect pitter-patters in your halls, hmm?” I do not blame the inclination to reach for whatever will shut those over-nosy voices up, but I protest when what reached for harms me.

Harm me it does, twice over, for the idea of “too crazy to parent”, outside of a deeply reflective context, is based on impossibly, unattainably high ideals for parents, and on insulting, unacceptably low ideas of craziness. When spoken of oneself, it may be either an honest assessment of ability, or internalized ableism (or some inseparable tangle of both). From here, outside the speaker’s heart, I cannot know which it is, and so I do not disagree; but I hear it so frequently from those who I know consider themselves more stable than I (or no less so) that I know not all instances can be free of this internalization.

Parents are not perfect. Parents are not meant to be perfect; I consider it inevitable, nigh on my duty, that in some way I fuck up my child — just like every other parent. Us crazies certainly don’t have a monopoly on fucking up our offspring; indeed, I dare you to find me one parent, anywhere, anywhen, who has not burdened or blessed their child with some form of awkward, hindersome baggage. Craziness, uncontrolled, might affect the quality or degree of mess we make of our kids, but in the fact of its existence makes us different not at all.

All parents fuck up our kids in some way, to some degree, but some fuck them over. Some fuck them — unfortunately not merely metaphorically. Some people — people I love — were abused, abandoned, neglected, never allowed the abundant love and adequate parenting that was their birthright. Some people are parents in name only, and need to be disallowed from damaging their children any further. I do not pretend that these things are not true. I do not wish to silence those whose parent(s), crazy or broken or both, were very much not a blessing or gift or growth opportunity. Sometimes “crazy” and “abusive” go hand in hand.

But they are not synonymous.

Not crazy, not sane, but… self aware?

My dad is not neurotypical — there are many diagnoses he’s been slapped with over the years, and suspicions of others abound, but I find an appropriate approximation of his challenges is communicated with the combination “bipolar” and “Asperger” — and his craziness has wound around the deepest parts of my psyche, choked off some growths, clouded some areas, heaped manure on some ground. He fucked me up, unquestionably, inescapably.

And yet — I was also gifted tools to cope, skills to survive, and (paradoxically with my pathetically low self esteem) an absolute arrogance that I deserve to exist. As I am. As fucked up as I am. As broken as I have been made. I, understandably I’d say, bristle when however unintentionally someone supports the meme that crazy (fat, different, indebted) people shouldn’t parent — that I should be other than I am. Whatever burdens were placed on me by the parenting I received (and they are numerous, and heavy, and uncomfortable to carry), I was also taught how to be strong; to ask for help when needed; to take a rest when needed; that those that love me would share my load — and though they are lessons I will spend my life repeating, striving always to get right, I am better off for having the introduction early on in my life. Rather than lessons taught in spite of the craziness I was exposed to (that was inflicted upon me, at times), they were wound up together, one growing in response to the other. It was not the crazy per se that granted me these lessons, but awareness of what the crazy — as well as not-crazy human failings — could do, and would do, that allowed them to be given me.

I do not have the name for what this quality is, but it is what matters far more than crazy or sane, neurotypical or not, patient or prone to agitation. It seems some form of self-awareness, some ability to reflect on the whys and wherefores of one’s failings, some meta-parenting that makes up for many imperfect micro-parenting moments. (Which is not to encourage overthinking this whole ridiculous enterprise-called-parenting either — as I said, I don’t have the words, and that always leaves me flailing, circling around in oft vain attempts to flank and flush out the exact idea I am attempt to pin down so I can communicate it.) Whatever it is, it allows one to recognize and acknowledge the fuck-ups and then teach (or at least search for) ways to cope with them.

What frustrates me perhaps most of all is that this nameless quality seems so very closely related to the awareness that leads people to state they are “too crazy to parent”. Rightly or wrongly, it makes me want to shake the speaker and say “You’re wrong! You could be exactly the type of parent the world needs more of! You know your challenges, and you know enough to take steps to compensate for them! I want you by my side! I want you raising my children’s peers!”

I won’t, of course — no one needs more outside opinions on their reproductive choices. But if you say to me “I could never have kids — I’m too crazy to parent!”, and you see me cringe, this is why: this frustrating mix of hurt and anger, of thwarted desire and repressed opinion, of raised brow and bitten tongue. I’m not going to tell you not to say it. But I will ask you to think about what you really mean when you do.

Onion

I am an onion.

I am made of layers, and peeling them back will bring about tears and pain and I don’t have the time and I don’t have the energy and I don’t have the safe space (never chop onions on a slick glass cutting board) and I don’t know when if ever I’ll get the time-energy-safety but I need it. I need to peel, to pull away the old, to be new and raw and growing — but I sit, wrapped in skin, my own dying flesh, some layers paper thin, some rotting, some bruised and broken and hurting, hurting me, holding me in.

I cannot peel them, but I have started, tried, been wounded and cut and am bleeding, and can see some of them clearly.

***

A layer: no more playschool. Running out of preschool options. Have run out of that-which-makes-it-possible-to-look (spoons, energy, willpower, willingness to overcome phone phobia, whatever it is).

Another: urgings to take care of self, and build strength, and get well, and make an appointment for this and that and now this other thing and this one also — while at home is a child screaming for me not to leave him.

Another: Holistic Pelvic Care appointment that brought huge physical and energetic shifts, bringing up memories of birth and

another: not having the words to describe the sensations then or now, and a birth story never written for want of those words.

***

And

A child, screaming, yelling, fighting, pushing me and pushing and pushing and pushingpushingpushing until I am afraid not of him but of myself, of hurting him, of losing it in even worse ways, and so I cry –

and he calms and suddenly I am five, ten, sixteen, and my father is pushing me and pushing and pushing and pushingpushingpushing until I lose it, until I am yelling just as he is, until I cry, and then, then he is calm and I hate him for it, I hate him and I hate me for giving in, for letting him win, and I am there but this is my progeny not my procreator and I cannot yell at him, not for this, and I cannot trust myself, and so I shut down.

***

I shut down.

And here I am. Shut down, shut away in the cellar, unable to be whole, unable to grow, unable to renew. Alone in the dark.

An onion, twisted. Afraid of my layers.