Friday, January 29, 2010

Maybe I'm not Crazy

An aquaintance of mine, Tina,  posted this on her blog  just  yesterday.  She called it "Occupation":

[My husband] and I were at the post office a few weeks ago jumping through the necessary hoops in order to get a U.S. Passport. We had our photos taken, and then sat across a table from our "interviewer". We had previously filled out the appropriate forms and just needed to turn in the suggested personal identification and have the "interviewer" sign the paperwork. Since we had filled out the forms on the Internet, each blank space required some sort of filler. [My husband] had no problem filling his out, but when I came to the blank space that read: Occupation I tabbed over it, only to find out that Occupation required filling. In a rush I typed Stay At Home Mom. As the "interviewer" looked over my paper work she said to me, "Stay at home mom? Wow."

It wasn't, "WOW!!" It was more like, "wow." with an accompanying, but ever so slight, eye roll.

Feeling embarrassed I added, "It wouldn't let me leave the space blank." In which she responded, "I think it's great. I respect that," which I knew was a complete lie due to the slight eye roll just moments before.

It's been bothering me ever since that day. But what's bothering me isn't what she said, but that I was embarrassed about my answer. I am in no way embarrassed that I'm a stay at home mom. Not at all. So why did I let her get to me like that?

I wanted to post about it, but couldn't, and still can't, find the words to articulate how I feel about it. Amazingly, Laurel (at The Tea Party Place--and the mother of a beautiful 8 year old girl that [my son]has a teeny, tiny crush on) addressed this exact subject on her blog. I'm going to post the links for you to read because they say exactly what I would have, had I been able to put the thoughts into words.

First of all, thank you, Tina, for your kind regards.  That experience makes me feel like these latest posts aren't just crazy rants.  That there are, in fact, real life events that point to a cultural attitude that needs adjusting. 
Those eye rolls and empty spaces are loud voices of disapproval. They ring over and over again in our ears, and if I can be a voice of opposition for women like Tina,  for women like me, then I am glad for it. 

No woman should be made to feel "less-than" because she chooses to stay home and mother her children.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Doing Something Important: Attitude and Motherhood (part 3 of a 3 part essay)

"Why can't women do anything important?" Logan asked a few weeks ago.  She's smart, that one.  At eight years old she has already put voice to an age old question.  A question that every girl struggles to understand and every woman struggles to answer.

It's a great question.  A question that shattered a million glass ceilings.  A question of historical import.  A question that created female heretics and heros.  A question that gave us The Suffragette Movement and Women's Liberation.  I'm blessed by this question.

On the other hand, I'm injured by it as well.  When asked what it is that we do, too many of us feel to answer, "I'm just a mother."  As though motherhood has stolen something of our value.  As though our cultural worth would be more significant if we were engaged in a "real" vocation.  I am not against women working.  I am a teacher by trade.  However, I will always be a mother first.

With the birth of our first daughter I understood that like I never had before.  I looked at Mr. Wicke and I said, "This is the job we can't screw up."  Nothing before or since has held such enormity for me.  It is, and always will be my primary calling.

And that perhaps is why I was most offended by Elizabeth Gilbert's insinuation that motherhood was a waste of intellect, curiosity, and talent.  That somehow those things just disappeared into this enormous empty space called sacrifice and deprivation.  What I got out of her words, "Her marriage and her seven children, in a life of constant struggle and deprivation — it was heavy. And that beautiful mind, that beautiful intellect, that exquisite sense of curiosity and exploration, was gone,"  was the judgement that motherhood  is robbing me of the very best parts of myself.

That, simply, is not true. 

And if I listen to the cultural winds that insist that motherhood stands in opposition to my personal fulfillment, I am in for a lifetime of frustration.  How will I ever find contentment if I am constantly torn between what I am and what I am told that has cost me?

Yes, I have chosen motherhood.  And yes, that choice has required me to close some other doors on things I could have done, but we all make choices.  My particular choice, in no way, means that my talents and abilities are gone or wasted or even dormant.  I am still me, even when no one is watching.  I don't need to dance across the world's stage to know that I am dancing.  I don't need outside approval to be brilliant.  I can be as bright, as curious, as creative as I choose to be.

Motherhood is hard sometimes, and it does require some amount of sacrifice.  What career doesn't?  But it can also be picnics, singing, literature, museums, mountains, zoos, bike rides, libraries and art. Children are the most curious creatures on the planet.  They're ready to learn everything!  My children have opened all kinds of new worlds for me.  I can explain the cycle of precipitation, list more dinosaurs than I ever thought possible, answer the question do cats and dogs dream, explain the principles of a prism, give a brief history of King Tut and other discovered mummies, and recite The Tyger by William Blake by heart to name just a few of my newly discovered abilities.  As we experience the world together, I get the happy priviledge of growing along with my children.

Admittedly there is monotony and drudgery in motherhood, but if my passion were Arabian horses and I had the means to have a stable full of them, I'd still have to dung out their stalls.  The point is everything has a price attached to it.  It's simply a matter of choosing my focus:  The price or the payoff.  Nothing can rob me of my inner life.  I can still read, and write, and think, and create.  I can fill myself up--and fill myself up I must!  Without that, what would I have to pour into these little bodies and minds that I'm building?  My fingerprints are all over them.  Pieces of me become pieces of them.  Some say mothers are divided.  I say we are multiplied, and that is a beautiful thing.

That kind of mothering doesn't happen by accident.  That kind of mothering--intentional mothering--requires focus, planning, organization, leadership, skill, and talent.  Rob us?  Hardly.  It demands that we be the best of who we are.  Intentional mothering requires a deep understanding of exactly what we are called to do. 

"Why can't women do anything important?"

I want to be sure my daughter understands this one thing very clearly: Women, from the beginning of time, have always done the important thing. We give life. And then we take care of it. We protect it; we nurture it; we raise it up, and we can rise with it; however, so much of that personal development depends upon our attitude.  Motherhood, like most other jobs, is what we make of it.  We can choose to just get through it or we can choose to be brilliant at it.

I, for one, am not "just a mother."  This is my chosen career.  It is my calling.  And the next time someone asks what it is that I do, I'm going to answer, "I build human beings."  Who else can say that?  Nobody is going to tell me that I'm wasting my time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cough Due to Cold

sick baby + sick momma = nothing's getting done.
Except extra rest.
And extra fluids.

I'm sure we'll be on the mend shortly.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Honoring Dr. King

This girl...

with the Kool-Aid smile
informed me that she was "thinking about painting her skin black for Martin Luther King Day."
That is awesome.  Not particularly practical, but awesome nontheless.
Her way of being like a hero.

And that is why we should all become as little children.
The world would be a better place.

(p.s.  I haven't punked out.  Part 3 is coming soon.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sharin' the Love

I found this in my inbox this morning, sent from a very dear friend.  How cool is that?  Thanks for sharing your talent with me Ashlee, and for making me smile.  I love it!

And I needed a little pick me up this morning because Mr. Wicke has been out of town.  And nothing goes really well when Mr. Wicke is away.  But he comes home tonight!  Whoot whoot!  This little picture will tide me over until then.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lotsa, Lotsa Words




Are you tired of words yet?  I wish I could be like other blogs who post such lovely pictures.  Lots of lovely pictures that do most of the talking. 

But I don't take that many pictures.
And the ones I take aren't that lovely.
And I have all these my brain...and in my heart.
And this blog has been very good for me
because it makes me put those words and thoughts in order and make sense of them.
And it gives me something to think about when most of my daily duties are pretty mindless.

So thanks for listening.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Author's note post publish:  I pushed the publish button at 1:07 am last night.  I wasn't sure I wanted to.  I wasn't sure I had really gotten to the heart of the matter.  What I wanted to do was publish pictures of Logan's birthday party, but when you say part 1 of a 3 part essay, you kind of feel pressured to supply part two.

And when I awoke this morning--or rather, was awoken this morning--it was, if not the first thing I thought about, then the second.  The thing is, I'm not really clear in my own brain about it all.  There is a basic dogma here that I'm not buying, but how to articulate it, I'm not sure.

What I know:  1) Elizabeth Gilbert and I disagree on some core values.  And that is okay.  She has a complete right to her opinion.  2) There is a difference between micro and macro.  Meaning, what she does in her personal life is her personal business, and I should have no say in that.  But when she affects the cultural attitude, I can and should have an opinion about that.  We should think a second time before we give everything a live and let live stamp.

It reminds me of a time when I watched Hallie Barry on Oprah.  She was saying how she would never marry again because, she didn't "need a man to complete her."  I don't take issue with her words necessarily.  She'd been through a bad divorce.  I get her bias.  But what struck me like a thunderbolt was the audience's response.  Everyone burst into applause.  It was a real women's power moment.  And I thought, "Do we all feel this way?  Are we all supposed to be convinced that marriage is a bad thing?"

I don't think that marriage and children stand in the way of a women's fulfillment.  I don't want our culture to buy into that.  I think that would breed a lot of unhappy women.  And so I pushed the publish button.  Ready or not. 

Feel free to weigh in, but be gentle.  I was up late last night. :0)

Choosing Motherhood (part 2 of a 3 part essay)

Choosing.  The older I get, the more I think that choosing is one of the trickiest part of living.  Here's why:  The most important choices we have to make are made when we have the least amount of experience to make them.  That's another reason why Gilbert's philosophy bothers me.  It just seems a little short sighted. 

See, I had a grandmother, as well.  Two to be exact.  Like Gilbert's grandmother, my Grandma Doty cut up a lot of things, too: Scraps of fabric were made into quilts for beds; old clothes were revamped and resized as needed; cardboard was cut to shelter feet where soles of shoes had worn through.  It was the depression.  It was hard, and it was heavy, but it would be a great assumption on my part to say that she was unhappy.  I was a spectator of her later years.  Much of her life is a mystery to me, and so I wonder:  Is Ms. Gilbert's grandmother's unhappiness a fact?  Or is it her own personal bias talking? 

Perhaps it is just as possible that her grandmother, thinking she would never have the chance to marry and have children, was deeply fulfilled.  Maybe not in the way of foreign travel or exotic foods--those things that Ms. Gilbert values--but maybe in the way of a warm hearth, and Sunday dinners, and kisses goodnight.  I'm sure she wasn't happy all the time, but who is?  I can also safely say that I'm sure she wasn't unhappy all the time either.  And, besides that, who's to say that "happy" is the great guidepost of life, anyway?

Sometimes, what will make us happy in the short run, will not be what's best for us long term.  The question is:  How are we to know that when our experience is so limited?

One of the reasons I am devoutly religious is that it gives me perspective outside of myself through thousands of years of discovery regarding the human soul.  It is not possible for me to live long enough or to conduct enough personal experiments to attain the wisdom I find in religious tenet, and I find it interesting that almost every religious theory has some basic belief in sacrifice or selflessness.  In some way, they all teach that in living for something beyond ourselves our lives will be more meaningful and satisfying--a long term result that often has difficult beginnings.  It isn't easy to give up some of the things I want.  It isn't easy to consider someone else all the time.  It isn't easy to compromise.  What is easy is doing exactly what I want, when I want to do it. 

That seems to be the road Elizabeth Gilbert chose in her book, and you know what?  I'm okay with that.  It's her choice, and I don't have to agree with it.  But what bothers me is the thousands of women she has influenced in both obvious and subtle ways.  She writes a book about her perspective--her truth--and we laugh along with her and nod our heads and get all excited about girl power, and it changes us a bit.  After reading it, how does a girl view motherhood?  How does a young mother feel about her new calling?  Do I, as a mother, consider my life wasted because it doesn't drip with excitement and self exploration?

Elizabeth Gilbert can write what she wants; I just want to be a voice for motherhood.  I believe in it.  We need good, devoted, intentional mothers because the world of tomorrow is riding on the backs of the moms today.  For the most part we are not glamorous; we are not famous; but we are, simply, the life-blood of the future. 

Look, I learned something from my grandma, too, and it is this:  At the end of the very long road of her 102 years, it was not the places she had been or the things that she had done that gave her life meaning.  No.  It was her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren that meant the most.  She was surrounded and lifted up in our love, and while achievements will be forgotten, books will disinegrate, and careers will be ignored, my grandmother has left a living legacy that will never disappear.

Those are long-term results.  One's that aren't always evident in the short run of diaper changes, tantrums, or account balances.  I don't know if Ms. Gilbert is living with the end in mind, but I'm trying to.  Choices are a tricky thing.  Let's at least choose thoughtfully.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cutting Up Coats: Motherhood and Sacrifice (part 1 of a 3 part essay)

I was excited to find out I was pregnant with our third child...mostly.  But about every couple of weeks there would be moments when I would panic.  Heart palpitations, sweaty pits and palms, queasy stomach--I mean real, physical panic, and I'd think to myself, "What am I doing?"

Things had just started getting easier.  Mr. Wicke and I were just now able to take a Sunday afternoon nap again.  After seven years it felt like such an indulgence.  And speaking of sleep, the children no longer woke us up on Saturday morning.  I no longer had to scrub scribbles off walls or clean urine off couches.  Things weren't getting broken as often anymore.  Mostly they had learned to keep their mitts off of my stuff.  No one had cut their own hair in years.  They could shower and bathe themselves.  They carried their own dishes to the sink and put away their own clothes.  They dressed themselves!  I mean the list of luxeries of a life with older kids just goes on and on.  Things were a getting easier, and now what had I done???  Had I honestly gone and got myself pregnant?  With a baby??  What was I doing???

This time around was much different than when we were expecting our first baby and even our second because now I wasn't naive.  I'd been to the rodeo a couple of times, so to speak, and that bull is one tough ride!  Parenthood will wring the selfishness out of you better than anything else.  So you see, I can understand why people shrink in the face of procreation.  Especially when one looks at all she would have to give up. 

Elizabeth Gilbert, I think, looks at it that way. In her book Eat, Pray, Love she tells a story about her grandmother, who, born with a cleft palate, imagined herself unmarriageble and so got an education, worked, and lived independently.  One of her personal rewards was buying a beloved fur-trimmed, wine-colored coat for $20.00.  Later, when she does marry and has her first child, a daughter, she cuts the coat up to use for the baby.  Gilbert seems to use this as an argument against motherhood.

She says, "That's the story of motherhood, in a large way. You take the thing that is most precious to you, and you cut it up and give it to somebody else who you love more than you love the thing. And we tend to idealize that, and I'm not sure we should. Because the sacrifice that it symbolizes is also huge. Her marriage and her seven children, in a life of constant struggle and deprivation — it was heavy.  And that beautiful mind, that beautiful intellect, that exquisite sense of curiosity and exploration, was gone."

I can sorta' relate to that in my pregnancy-induced, panicky state of mind.  There was some stuff I was going to have to give up.  Getting back in the classroom?  Delayed another six years, at least.  Traveling to Europe?  Gonna' have to wait.  Shoot, traveling across town was going to be a little tricky again.  Some of the things I wanted were going to have to be sacrificed.  Sometimes, when that was my focus, it did feel a little heavy.

But then a funny thing happened.  The baby was actually born.  And when they put him in my arms, I did exactly what I had done with my other two:  I wept.  That moment, connecting with a brand new living soul, is the closest I will ever come in my human existence to heaven.  In that sacred space, where love and joy, gratitude and humility, light and limitless potential entertwine, things become very clear:  None of that other stuff even matters.  It is this new understanding that allows us to do crazy-fool things like cut up coats and give up careers; not for some self-martyring notion that it is what one must do, but because those things no longer hold the value they once did.

Believe it or not, there was a time when I could not imagine my life without theater.  Acting, singing, entertaining--I loved it!  I was good at it.  To me, it felt like flying.  And a lot of my twenties was spent revolving around that world.  Then the kids came, and they became the sun and the center of my universe.  I was surprised to find that I didn't like to be away from them every night for large chunks of time.  I missed them.  It made me feel disconnected from my life.  It gave me stress.  I don't do much acting anymore.  Some people call that a waste of talent.  Some people call that giving up.  I just call it being happy.

Those kinds of choices may be hard for some people to understand because they can only be judged by experience; one sadly, that Ms. Gilbert has chosen to never have.  Just as I finished reading her interview, my son began to awake from his morning nap.  Hearing him call for me, I made my way to his room, her description of contant struggle, deprivation, and sacrifice still simmering in my brain.  As I opened the door he turned to me, eyes lighting up in joyful recognition, his chubby arms reaching out for me.  I lifted him from the crib, pressed his soft, warm cheek to mine as he put his arms around my neck, and I whispered in his ear, "You are my trip to India.  You, my darling boy, are my ride on an elephant."

If, in fact, I never do those things, I will not consider my life poorer because of it.  What is sacrifice after all?  It is to give up something valuable for something else.  That something would have to be esteemed as something even better, would it not?  Heavier? Maybe, but what of value in this life is not heavy? Perhaps the weight of our life should be a measure of its depth.  And if to love and to be loved, to feel that one really matters, is the desire of every human soul, I feel I have chosen the better part.

(More to come...)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

On My Mind

This is a portion of an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love from O Magazine. 

You tell a story in the book that is pivotal for you, about your grandmother. She was born with a cleft palate and thought to be unmarriageable, so she got an education and took care of herself, one day rewarding herself with a $20 fur-trimmed, wine-colored coat, which she adored. Eventually she does marry. And when she gives birth to her first daughter, she cuts up the coat to make something for the child.

Gilbert: That's the story of motherhood, in a large way. You take the thing that is most precious to you, and you cut it up and give it to somebody else who you love more than you love the thing. And we tend to idealize that, and I'm not sure we should. Because the sacrifice that it symbolizes is also huge. Her marriage and her seven children, in a life of constant struggle and deprivation — it was heavy. And that beautiful mind, that beautiful intellect, that exquisite sense of curiosity and exploration, was gone.

Hmmm...I feel a post coming.  But not today, because I have to cut something precious up and give it away in the form of cleaning up after Christmas holiday, and while I do, this will be burning around in my brain, gurgling up in my chest, and will perhaps have to pour out onto paper; it's just not sitting well after digestion.  Not at all.

For the whole interview go here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Karma and Penance: part 3

...Giddy with excitement, I pulled the tissue paper back and discovered, instead of the dress of my dreams, the dress of my mother's dreams; that is no small gap at 15, the toddlery of teenhood.  That age when one is determined to do it herself!  To find her own way!  To like what she likes, without the interference of anyone, and maybe most of all her mother, whom she is determined never to become!

I was not this self aware at 15.  I could not make any sense of these feelings nor put words to them.  All I knew was that I hated that dress.  Really, really hated it.  It was 1985, and I was completely converted to the church of bigger, blingier, shinier, and shoulderpadier.  This dress was from a different era altogether.  The 1960's, perhaps, with its paired down and quaint cut.  I could not fathom was she was thinking.  Mercifully, despite my selfcenteredness at the time, I was not mean.  I didn't want to hurt my mom's feelings, so I feigned delight.  I thanked her, but then--and this is the behavior that will haunt me to my death--when she asked me to try it on, I...would...not.  Oh, I didn't outright refuse, I just...uum...postponed it.  "Oh, I will--later.  Mom!  I will.  Just not right this minute..."  And then I NEVER DID.  Not once.

I know.  It's awful.  I don't even know what became of that dress.  It hung in my closet as a silent accuser which I ignored.  Sure, I had stabs of guilt every now and again, but I was a determined soul and pushed it further into the dark recesses of cast off clothes, as if I could erase it's existence.  As if my mother, not seeing it, would forget.  As if I would forget. 

I have not.  Twenty-four years later I am more embarrassed by my truculence than ever.  Now that I know what it is to be my mother.  To sacrifice my most precious resource, which is not money, but time, the one thing that I never have in abundance, because I believe it will make my children happy, because I love them, because I would do anything for them.  And I do, which often includes absorbing their inexperienced, unintended, cruelties and loving them despite them--no, loving them through them.

Beyond the hundreds of Christmas gifts that my mother has given me, some that I remember, some that I do not, that is her real gift.  And though she would never require it, I do feel there is some penance to be paid her.  Some payment for the million sacrifices of her life for me, but I know that it is impossible to be even, except in this:  Love.  I don't know where it began, but it seems to flow from one generation to the next.  My love for her is expressed in the way I love my children.  At fifteen I was so determined to never become her, and now I hope I can be all of the things I love and adore about her.  This Christmas I sewed for my children, and whether they appreciate it or not, this kind of karma is a really good thing.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Karma and Penance: part 2

I was a teenager when it happened--most likely in that awful year for girls that is fifteen: When you still know everything, before you have truly contemplated flying the nest and therefore still believe that you are the center of the universe. I must have been that age.  That is my only excuse.

It was Christmas. And my mom was busy with a sewing project. She was visibly excited, and so was I. She didn't know, but I had taken a quick peek at the material, just to get an idea of what she was up to, and I loved it.  Remember, please, that it was the 80's when I say that it was pink lame. That distinctive shimmery fabric that defined the decade. Now, gold lame had been done: It dripped from the solid gold dancers and from half of the prom dresses sold in 1985, but pink lame with a silver shimmer? This was unusual, and beautiful, and soon to be mine!  Christmas could not come soon enough, at least for me.  Mom, on the other hand, probably needed some extra time.

After all, she had Christmas goodies to make, decorations to hang, cards to address, dinners to prepare, parties to throw, and now, aditionally, a dress to finish.  My glorious, pink lame, party dress. All of that other stuff didn't even enter into my stream of conscious. That stuff just--happened. It always had, magically, and it always would, as far as I was concerned. What caught my attention as I came and went as was my modus operandi in those days, flitting from one event to another, was the drone of the sewing machine.  No, Christmas could not come soon enough.

Then, suddenly, it was here, and I unwrapped the box that could only hold the dress of my dreams. I had at least twelve different plans for that dress.  Giddy with excitement, I folded back the tissue paper and discovered...

(to be continued)