Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I remember being about eight when we were once driving home from church, my mother seething. This happened pretty often, and we three children sat silently, wondering which of us had misbehaved so badly during the service that she felt she had to drag us out of church. She took a deep breath and began to talk to us about what women do.

Her voice shook as she explained exactly why she worked. She told us how she was not happy staying home; she elaborated on how difficult it had been when my brother and I, only one year apart, were babies and my father spent so much time working. She mentioned other families in the church in which the mothers did stay home, and how for some of them, it worked well, and for others, the women simply suffered and looked gray. She talked all the way home, trying to make us understand how no one answer works for every woman, and how women need each other. She wanted us to understand that the women who stayed home were not the enemies of the women who worked, but they were all the same people trying to find the best solutions for their families.

I also remember my mother often saying how she would crawl into a warm bath with a razor blade if she ever found out she was pregnant again- not a coat hanger mind you, but a razor blade.

There's a Breeders song that goes, "Saw it on a wall, motherhood means mental freeze. Freezeheads!", and I wonder about the neighbor ladies I knew as I got older.  Her best friend was a mess and not our neighbor, but she was like my mother. They could talk for hours about entertainment esoterica or the Hapsburgs or czarist Russia. My mother only saw her a couple of times a year, but she's the only woman, besides my aunt, I remember my mother spending quality time with. Those neighbor ladies watched soap operas and and seemed rundown by their lives. Maybe my mother was fleeing that as much as her three demanding children.

I remember sitting beside my mother in the car one morning when she had taken a day off from work; she was a little sick, but really, she had planned a day just puttering around the house. Between her commute and her handicap, she was too tired at the end of most days to tackle housework, and weekends were not long enough for any real project. Mostly, our house was pretty filthy, but occasionally, she would take a day and deal with some area or another. This particular day, I turned up sick as well. We had just dropped my siblings off at school, and she was headed back home. She said, "I know you're not all that sick, but I figured you needed the day with me."

And there it is; I just needed my mother.

I stay at home because I wanted her so badly. Staying at home has increased my questioning of what I was taught about feminism. I think my mother's speech in the car that morning defines what I believe. I like to think more women know this now--we cannot have it all, and we've given up trying. We know we have to pick.

Her generation also shook the foundations of authority, giving me the breathing room to figure some things out for myself. While she believed fully in experts, she somehow instilled a mile-wide streak of doubt in her children.

That doubt led our family to homebirth and nursing and cloth diapers, things many in her generation had really moved away from. It led to home schooling and homesteading. My life is probably pretty far removed from what my mother might have imagined for me; she might have chastised me for wasting opportunities her generation fought for. Still, I know she believed what she told us in that car that long ago Sunday. I know someone had deeply hurt her for what she had decided was best for our whole family, and I know she would understand that my decision might not look the same but is based on that exact foundation.

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