|(Photo by Kevin Miller)|
About two weeks ago, I began a post I titled “Significance.” Then the jury in the Trayvon Martin trial came to their verdict, and I was unable to think of anything else for a while.
I have been trying to pick up the thread of “Significance.” I have, in fact, almost 900 words of the original Part 2. But, for the moment, I have to scrap them all. I have been writing around what I want to say, because I wanted to keep elements of my personal history private.
I started “Significance,” in part, to explain why I am currently a stay-at-home/sort-of-working-at-home-if-you-call-this-working mother. But I realize that none of this will make emotional sense unless I talk about the situation of my childhood.
My parents divorced when I was 2 years old. They came up with a joint custody arrangement where I would spend four days with my mom, then four days with my dad. In the 1970s, divorce was still rare, and in addition to being one of the few brown kids at my school whose grandparents came from the here-there-be-dragons unknown lands of Armenia and Philippines, having divorced parents made me ... well, you can imagine.
Unto itself, the divorce wasn’t that bad. I don’t remember when it happened, and I don’t remember a time when my parents lived under one roof. Living in two houses was my “normal.” I remember the aftermath, overhearing tense phone conversations between my parents. I remember being afraid when my mom cried.
My parents married when my dad was 25 and my mom was 22. I was born the day after my mother’s 24th birthday, an age that seems incredibly young to me, considering I was a decade older when I gave birth to my own daughter.
A therapist once told me that if I wanted to avoid a divorce, I shouldn’t marry until after the age of 30. “You need to know who you are,” she said. “You want to be fully formed as a person.” My mother was not fully formed when she married. Like many women, she essentially transitioned from her role of daughter to wife. So after her divorce, she started on the path to figure out who she was as an adult and what she wanted out of life.
During this search, my mother didn’t mother me very much. Our closest times revolved around books and food. I can still hear my mother’s voice when I read certain favorites from my childhood to my kids now. And I remember my feelings of delight and belonging over several shared ice cream sundaes. But I also remember being alone, a lot.
I don’t want to delve into unhappy details of my childhood. It is now in the past, and my mother and I have forged a new relationship as adults. In addition to her responsibilities as a professor, my mother is a loving and attentive grandmother to my children.
I recently read the article that Rebecca Walker, Alice Walker’s daughter, wrote about growing up as the daughter of a feminist author and leader.* Not only does it sadden me to read about the ways she felt neglected and ignored as a child, but it also sickens me to see her words churned through right-wing sites like Breitbart and the National Review online as a testament to the failure of feminism.
I want to be clear on this: my mother’s shortcomings in her duties as a parent were not because of work or feminism. I am a feminist, and my parenting is infused with feminist ideals of gender equality and radical redefinitions of masculinity and femininity. My parents’ divorce can be attributed, in part, to a lack of equality. My mother mentioned, as an example, familial and social pressures for her to regularly put on dinner parties where, of course, she would be solely responsible for cooking and serving—which is why the dish I associate most with her is instant ramen noodles. (My father, on the other hand, knuckled down with cookbooks and put a home-cooked meal on the table almost every night.)
I fully believe that a woman can work and also be an engaged and devoted parent. Indeed, for many women, the fulfillment of working makes them better parents.
But I can’t quite escape that feeling of loss from my childhood. The wound is there, and it aches sometimes, like the scar at the bottom of my belly where my babies were pushed out of my body.
So now, right now, when my children are small, when I am still the center of their worlds, I want to be here for them. I am not with them all the time—they go to preschool while I grocery shop, juggle the finances, do the laundry, tend the garden, take a nap if I slept badly the night before (e.g., wedged between my two thrashing offspring), read articles, talk on the phone, go to doctor/dentist/acupuncture appointments, schedule the plumber, prep for dinner, have a weensy bit of an adult social life, bang my head against my laptop while I try to write, and do all the things that are difficult or impossible to do with two strong-willed kids in tow.
But all those hours when they are not in school, and it feels like a lot, I am here to play with them, read to them, keep them from fighting with each other, feed them, take them to dance class and swim lessons, talk with them, and, mostly, to hold them when they need to emotionally fall apart.
They will not be little forever, as every parent with older children reminds me. Later, they will have friends and activities, other interests and people to fill their time and share their thoughts with. And this is not what I want to do forever: tending to hearth and home and little ones. But for these few fleeting years, this is what I want. And I don’t see why that can’t be a feminist choice, too.
(To be continued in Part 3.)
*Excellent feminist responses to Rebecca Walker’s article here and here.