Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Writer as Mother

Back in the early 20th century, Mother's Day was cooked up as an homage to the Victorian model of motherhood: you know, the self-sacrificing, family-worshipping icon who put her own needs dead last. Sure, there was a ton of "female hysteria" and a whole lot of passive-aggression going on, but the holiday honored -- and still honors -- the mythical Selfless Mother.

My own mother is wonderful, but selfless? Not so much. She goes after what it takes to make her happy and quietly-but-firmly insists that we respect this. She loves her children (and my dad, to whom she's been married since the age of 17) dearly, but none of us believe we're her entire reason for existing.

As a mom, I'd say I fit the same mold. I adore my family, but I think the best thing I can do for them is be a happy mom, a mom pursuing her own goals. A mom who teaches by example that dreams and aspirations have weight in this world, and that a woman's reason for existence has a larger scope than keeping the house (sort of reasonably) clean, the cupboards (more-or-less reasonably) well-stocked, and the child provided (unreasonably) with the latest must-have whatzit. Since my son was small, I've closed my office door for a slice of nearly every day. I've demanded (admittedly with more success some days than others) that he think twice before interrupting and respect my equipment. I've attended writers' workshops and forced him to endure dad's cooking -- and later learn to cook himself. And I've refused to feel guilty about what earlier generations (though maybe not my mother) would call my "selfishness."

Here's hoping that my example will give my only child the courage to go after what he wants from life -- and a respect for women that will bode well for his future. Here's hoping that this Mother's Day you put aside your mommy guilt and remember that a child needs a happy mother more than a "perfect" one.

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