Monday, May 19, 2008

I'm Getting the Mother Beat into Me

It dawned on me Mother's Day week that mothering makes servants out of women. (This is not to mean that fathering doesn't make servents out of men or that only mothers are servants).

Boot camp begins after the baby is born. I can imagine the 19-year-old who's signed up for the Marines, "You know, they're gonna cut all your hair off, and yell in your face if you don't make your bed right and give you 3 minutes for showers." And he knows all that; he's heard all that; he's forced on a couple weekend sessions where he gets a taste. And pregnancy is similar: You wake every 2 hours to pee; your body takes that shape you have been fighting since junior high; you wake screaming in the night when your leg goes rigid with cramps.

But, then you become a soldier. They hand that baby to you and without them even saying it, you immediately know, "If I don't figure out how to at least minimally care for this thing quick, it's not gonna make it." And "minimally caring for this thing" is no minimal task. They've got you feeding it from your own body every 2 hours, round the clock. This means drinking a swimming pool of water every day, eating food portions the size of the accompanying deck-side chairs, and for sleep, you get 45 minute increments whenever you are not feeding or wiping up this baby.

It does get less physically intense, but soon, you are on to sleep schedules. Doctors abound telling you of the, at best: irresponsible citizens; at worst: inmates (not kidding) that have poor sleep schedules. So you read books, you stay home between 2 pm and 4 pm while your house is sweltering at temperatures to make demons repent, you snip off the head of anyone who dares knock on your door or ring your line during said hours, you develop a philosophy of good sleep and discuss it endlessly with anyone who will feign listening.

The being does not have language, so you learn to read its grunts and giggles and you teach it hand motions for communicating its desires (it comes up with some hand motions of its own). Water? No? Milk? No? Poop? No? Tired? No? Bored? No? A tag I forgot to take off your clothes? No? Food? No? A little more attention? No? . . .

Here's the thing. I'm not complaining. I'm only recognizing that it's changing me, that I've got no choice but to change. I made no intentional character development plan, but I am certainly engaged in a character development curriculum.

This is going to sound feministic (and I'm okay with that), but I don't think women are natural mothers. Nurturers. I would guess that some really do have a special gift and are servants, but I think the idea that women are these natural servant-nurturers, well, I think that's mustard-poopy. But, good luck getting through motherhood without becoming a servant-nurturer.

I've got this friend, a mother of four (okay, Mina). I walk into her house and within 3 minutes she's got toys out for West, a glass of water for me, a place for me to sit down and she's asking me, "So how is your brother's wife doing, the one who just had a baby?"

What happened to Mina? Was she ever like me? In my house, you're lucky if you've got a glass of water in your hands within the first 30 minutes. It's likely, if you came in with a group, that a third of you have water, a third of you have none and the other third is still outside because I got distracted and shut the door after the first two-thirds came in.

Okay, it also strikes me that the servant-nurturer myth may be why women are abandoning their posts. I don't mean that being a mother is a woman's post, only that women, who of their own volition, said, "I'm going to be a mother," eventually say, "You know, I am NOT GOING to be a mother." Within the last few years, I've seen several marriages fall apart (No, I don't think it's only the woman's fault), and it's the woman who says, "You can have the kids; I'm outta here."

So, why are they abandoning their posts? Because they get into this and go, "THIS IS NOT NATURAL TO ME. Those other women are natural mothers, but I do not have what this job requires." Maybe it's because we always talk about how great it is to have a job "we love," "something we're excited to do every day," "something that fulfills us" and when we find ourselves NOT LOVING 3 am and NOT LOVING baby food bingo ("Okay, what are you going to eat today? Banana? No? Carrots? No? Cheese? No? Oatmeal? BINGO!") we lurch, "I was not made to do this."

I wonder if royalty thought peasants had a genetic pre-disposition toward service. In The Emperor's New Groove (a movie worth quoting at every opportunity), a peasant brings his request to the Emperor's Advisor and she replies, "It is no conern of mine whether your family has . . . What was it again?"
"Um. Food."
"Hah! You really should have thought of that before you became peasants!"

People may think we're pre-disposed. I don't think we all are; I'd even wager that 90% of us or better, aren't. But, I have this vision of the day someone walks into my home and simultaneously feels that it is thier home and (in this moment) I submit to this character development curriculum because I want what the graduates have. Yeah, it's a cliche, but, I want the heart of a servant.


Suzanne said...

What a fantastic picture of motherhood. And I ask myself...why did I do this a second time? The answer isn't so difficult to figure out, though, when Nathan does something amazing and I get excited by the fact that Isaac will do all of those things, too, and my heart is over-full.

Paula said...

Yeah, they're doing something new & cool every day. It's an character development plan with great perks!

Michael and Abby said...
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Molly Aley said...



Paula said...

Thanks for reading, Molly. Love your family pic!