I Have Not Disappeared. I Have Been Reinvented.
I look forward to Rachel Held Evans‘ Sunday Superlatives every week, because I know I’m going to find something (often several somethings) fascinating to read. This week Rachel featured a piece called Disappearing mothers by Katie Roiphe as the “Best Conversation Starter.” It was wise of Rachel not to mention her personal feelings about this particular essay, since I have a feeling it’s drawing some pretty strong reactions from the mommy-bloggers. I know it got a rise out of me.
My very first question as I read Roiphe’s piece was, “Does this woman have children?” Because she is asking a (seemingly rhetorical) question about mothers and I’m not sure she’s looking for an answer from an actual mother. (Or many actual mothers, since there are many different kinds of mothers who make very different kinds of choices for many different reasons.) Actually, it seems as if Roiphe wrote this essay to say something rather than to ask something, which would be fine if she was just honest about it.
Which is not to say that I don’t understand the temptation to put a photograph of your beautiful child on Facebook, because I do. After all, it frees you of the burden of looking halfway decent for a picture, and of the whole excruciating business of being yourself. Your three-year-old likes being in front of the camera. But still.
Oh, so it’s because we’re lazy, right? Gotcha. Further support of this idea comes later on in the piece: “Like wearing sneakers every day or forgetting to cut your hair, it is a way of being dowdy and invisible….”
Forget that we have a feminist lamenting the fact that woman are (supposedly) losing themselves in their children and using mom jeans and gray roots as her evidence – because arbitrary ideas of beauty as a measure of self-worth don’t support the patriarchy AT ALL. Forget the classist and self-absorbed assertion she makes that “the woman with the baby on her Facebook page has surely read The Feminine Mystique, or The Second Sex, or The Beauty Myth, or the websites DoubleX or Jezebel.” (No, I assure you, she probably has not.)
What bothers me most about this article is that it is pitting childfree women against mothers, and once again, it seems the onus is on mothers to stop being so dadgum boring and talk about something besides their kids. It’s assumed that we have been sucked into a blackhole of despair and we need saving. It’s assumed that we’ve been duped by The Man once again, and while our hubsters are having a jolly over cigars and cognac, we’re dumb enough to think our worth is determined by what diaper cream we use.
First of all, I would like to say to any woman who thinks I’m boring because I talk about my kids: Guess what. YOU DON’T HAVE TO TALK TO ME. I find a lot of things that people talk about boring. The people I don’t care about I simply walk away from. The people I DO care about – friends, family members, coworkers I’d rather not piss off – I listen to politely, recognizing that HELLO this conversation is not all about me and what I think is interesting. That’s what relationships are, you know, give and take. Instead of writing an article lamenting how the boring mommy-zombies are monopolizing your valuable cocktail hours with talk of tennis shoes and boogers, why don’t you go talk to someone else? Instead of making a value judgment about how we use our time, why don’t you just piss off?
And guess what, Ms. Roiphe? That woman you were so looking forward to talking to at the cocktail party, the one who used to go drinking til 5 a.m. (I’m sure y’all had some FASCINATING discourses after getting wasted – waaaaay more stimulating than talking about kids) and who wrote her senior thesis on Proust? She’s not any less intelligent or accomplished because she talks about her kids. She just has a new interest, a new hobby if you will (though I know that cheapens the parent-child relationship, but let’s face it, SO DOES ROIPHE’S ESSAY) and just because it’s not something YOU chose doesn’t mean it’s boring or stupid, hokay? Childbirth and childcare are actually pretty intellectual subjects nowadays (which you would know if you were to, say, READ A BOOK or do a half-assed Google search on “childbirth choices” or “parenting styles.” So your assumption that talking about a child’s safety and development means a woman has become some sort of idiot stepford wife only shows your ignorance of the complexity of parenting. Not to mention that the way a woman chooses to parent is in many ways as much an expression of her personality as her favorite color or signature fragrance.
Lastly, let me say as a mom and a feminist that yes, having children changed my life profoundly. It changed the space I live in, the friendships I have, the way I shop for groceries, the way I relate to my husband, the way I think about myself and the way I think about others. This is because I signed up to care for a human being who came into my life completely helpless and needs me to spend the next two decades teaching him how to care for himself (and, eventually, others) physically and emotionally. And I signed up to co-parent another woman’s child with respect and gentleness. That’s a big damn job. It’s not a job that can be done from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, or just on weekends or just when I feel like it. It’s a job that requires me to be on call, one hundred percent of the time, for the rest of my life.
It’s also a relationship that is teaching me about humility and compassion and self-control and humor and time management and priorities and God and art and freedom. Being involved in the ugly parts of someone else’s life – the waste management, the sickness, the bad moods, the sleepless nights, etc. – means that I think and talk a lot about things like diapers and Tylenol. But it also means that I am thinking and talking a lot about how to be a better person, because I want to serve my children joyfully and lovingly.
I want them to know that I don’t see parenting as drudgery (although sometimes, yes, it can be boring and difficult). I don’t see my kids as an obstacle to get past so I can get to the real fun, the interesting conversation, the good times. I have a good time with my children. And I like talking about them because they’re really funny and really smart and really cool and I am stunningly blessed to have them in my life.
And it doesn’t hurt me one bit if that means you don’t want to stand next to me at a party. That means more bean dip (and less pompous jerkface) for me.