Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother's Day, Part II..and this one has nothing to do with Jackie Turner driving me crazy.

In a post long, long ago, I discussed my contradictory feelings toward rather randomly-and/or-arbitrarily-date-selected "holidays" like Groundhog Day, Labor Day, President's Day, Mother's Day (if you can find the exact post, good work you little sleuth you...because I sure can't find it). The basic point was as follows: Sure, most holidays benefit card companies and inspire us to give the impression, via words and actions that seem offered as much for our own self-aggrandizement as for an expression of gratitude, that we are far more sentimental than we actually are. At the same time, however, those who get on high horses and go on and on about appreciating parents, service men and women, and blue collar workers EVERY day rather than on one designated date on the calendar can be just as annoying as all those hokey, pastel, calligraphized cards I mentioned in the last post. Quit being dumb. Of course I love my country on more days than July 4. Of course I find my mother worthy of recognition on more days than a particular Sunday in May. Of course I know in non-November months that white settlers stole land from Native Americans. Holidays are fun and sometimes it is nice to do something, or buy a gift, for someone you love. How about we just leave it at that?

One article in connection with this discussion that has particularly interested me since I read it a few years ago, is one written by Anne Lamott (a favorite author of mine).  In this article, which I by no means agree with in its entirety, Lamott questions Mother's Day on the basis of these arguments: 1. it elevates mothers above other women who have chosen to or cannot have children. 2. it tends to ignore all those non-birth "mothers" who have nurtured us perhaps as much as, if not more so, than our actual mothers. 3. it plays into the notion that "true" love and self-sacrifice can only be known through parenthood.

As a non-mother, here is my take...

I didn't feel bad last Sunday.  I would never want pity or for others to assume that I sat around wondering, "Why isn't there a day for ME?" If I rolled my eyes when glancing at Facebook it was because public displays of affection of any sort tend to make me gag, not because it was some defensive physical embodiment of my biological clock. I would never want mothers to feel bad about recognition simply because there are those of us who do not have children, just as I would never want someone to feel guilty for mentioning their dad around me on Father's Day. Just because I do not have something, does not mean that I'm so selfish that I can't be happy for those who do.

In regard to Lamott's third point, I do think she is on to something here. Although I am not sure on the accuracy or source of her data, she mentions that roughly 98% of American parents seem to feel that unless one has been a parent, their capacity for love is diminished, that "non-parents can't possibly know what it is to love unconditionally." This point also reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert's in Committed (I highly recommend) whereby she argues, "all too often, those of us who choose to remain childless are accused of being somehow unwomanly or unnatural or selfish." In both cases, the conclusion is the same: "they are not like us." Regardless of the validity of these general claims (and really, how could we ever really test this?), I would guess that they are assumptions most parents do secretly hold to some degree.

And you know, you parents might be right. I'm sure you want to roll your eyes when I talk about how I love my dogs like they are my children.  I know that when I talk about the privilege of being a stepmother to a wonderful, wonderful child, most of you probably think "that doesn't really count." I realize that being an aunt carries very little of the responsibility of a parent.  Nevertheless, I also know, without hesitation, that I would give my life for any of those mentioned above.  I know what I feel is not just something "kind of like" love.

I can't be defined by something I am not; thus to suggest that my ability to give of myself is relative to, and less than, a parent seems just as arbitrary as our national fascination with a groundhog coming out of a hole.
I am fully aware that this quote somewhat challenges the point I just made (that the roles we play do not have to be in competition with one another), but I love Jane Austen and I love that being an aunt is one of the roles that does define me.

"I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible. Now that you have become an Aunt, you are a person of some consequence." - Jane Austen

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The real story of mothers and daughters.

I know what I should do.

I should buy my mother a pale pink, unfathomably overpriced Hallmark card that has a quote about unwavering love in oversized gold calligraphy. I should attempt to compete with all the other Facebook statuses, proclaiming my two sisters and me to actually have the "best mother in the world" (which brings to mind the scene from When Harry Met Sally where Marie says that everyone thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor...but they couldn't possibly all have good taste and a sense of humor). I should write a blog post and make special effort to work this in: 

The truth of the matter, however, is that my mother often makes me want to do this:
or this: 

In short, my mother drives me bonkers sometimes.  She gives unsolicited beauty tips; if I had a nickle for every time she has commented on the width of my eyebrows, I wouldn't have to work. She sits still when I'm trying to talk to her roughly 1 out of 10 conversations. She states the obvious.  She will ask me about stuff I've repeatedly told her that I don't want to talk about or upon which I have already decided. She will do what we ask her not to do, even if our reasoning is "that's really stupid and unsafe, Mom." She is worse than many 15 year olds when it comes to having a phone out all the time.

No ma'am, Jackie Turner, no field-of-flowers-Maya-Angelou-quote-filled card for you.

My card would tell you that for all the reasons mentioned above, and a few thousand others, you make me crazy. It would then say...

I know I do the same to you....and basically for the exact same reasons. I do just as many dumb things for the same reason you once put a step ladder in the back of your gator and painted a barn: because we want it done. Now. Without help. I will press issues when I don't feel like you've given me a satisfactory explanation. If you would put your phone down and look up at me for ten seconds, I would critique your eyebrows. 

But there is one more similarity between us that has become increasingly obvious as I've grown older, a personality proclivity that has both forced tough conversations and ultimately made our relationship more honest and more substantial: You and I have come to accept that at least half the time, we are not going to agree with the other's decisions. In fact, we may occasionally think the other is making a gigantic, possibly life-altering mistake. But the thing is, even though we might hoot and holler about it for a little while, saying harsh things reserved primarily for mother/daughter relationships, we acknowledge that it's the other's life to live. We voice our opinion, but ultimately defer.  We understand that loving someone does not mean that you will always like their decisions, or them for that matter.  

Letting someone be who they insist on being is a wonderful gift. For this, Mom, I thank you. 

Oh, and for....
1. Instilling in us the notion that no man should ever control how we cut our hair. 
2. Making conversation in otherwise awkwardly quiet rooms or cars.
3. Raising us in a home where we had a choice of Kool-Aid or milk only and had dinner at the table nearly every night. 
4. Letting me climb in a pickup truck and drive across the country with Dad when I was about eight years old. 
5. Spending your summers skipping rocks with Leigh and me at the ponds and creeks near the house...or at Greenwood Mall with Sbarro pizza and our baby doll strollers in tow. 
6. Still doing Easter baskets and Christmas stockings for all of us. 
7. For offering to pay to have a horse's sheath cleaned even when your daughter tells you, "That's dumb. We're not going to pay someone without trying it first ourselves."; for nevertheless putting on your overalls and work boots when that same daughter pulls in your driveway at 5:15 and asks for gloves. 
8. For being the type of teacher people describe as "their favorite ever." 
9. For making sourdough bread from scratch.
10. Hell, for occasionally being the wind beneath our wings.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Solitude is blessed."

I finally did it.

Goodbye sliding keyboard phone. Goodbye keys that don't work and thus make my texts illegible. Goodbye surprise presents, ranging from twin decorated tin cans to an old Blackberry, that have been dropped off at the library to both mock and assist. Goodbye all Facebook suggestions to upgrade like a normal person.

Samsung Freeform! You are a much nicer non-smart phone than I had!

That's right; I refuse to cave until phone companies absolutely make me.
Here is why I refuse to get a smart phone:
1. I don't want to be like 95% of the people I know with smart phones. I don't want to be scrolling all the time. I don't want to have my phone out at dinner or when I'm with friends. I want to pay attention to people when they're talking.  I am already distracted enough; I don't need one more thing to fiddle with....and I'm on no delusional high horse; if I had it, I would use it. Hell, I've wasted HOURS watching America's Next Top Model marathons.  My willpower is not that strong.
2. I don't want everything to be easy. I like stopping to ask for directions (i.e. "get a fountain drink"). I like finding recipes in actual cookbooks and taking pictures with an actual camera and reading actual books.  I like trying to figure things out (same reason I am often hesitant to use a calculator) instead of just punching something in and relying on someone else to give me an answer. We are getting increasingly lazy and dependent; I want to prevent or stall that as long as possible.
3. There are other things I would rather spend the money on.
4. I think Louis C.K makes a couple of great points: A) Just because it's available, doesn't mean we have to do it. B) We rely on technology in part because of an inability to be alone.
Speaking of which...
I love this video, not only because it validates my loner tendencies, but because it reminds me to really be present in my life....and to do things like go to an unknown-to-me city and just roam.  I'm not going to lie and say that living alone is always easy. It's not. Sometimes I get stuck in my own head, the silence around me accelerating a medley of "what if"s. Sometimes I just want to cook supper for someone. Sometimes I wish I had kids' ball uniforms to wash.  For the most part, though, I embrace my solitude. I love going to movies alone. It has never bothered me to eat at restaurants alone. I like imagining all the things I can do, all the places I can go, and all the things I can try...primarily because I have few restraints. I like walking into a house that looks exactly like it did when I left in the morning. I like not having to compromise.  None of this is to suggest that I have no desire to be a part of a family unit again sometime or that I am unwilling to relinquish some freedom (I was very fortunate to live in that world for a while)...only that being alone and being lonely are not the same for me.
I like this a lot.