Monday, December 13, 2010

'The children are satellites, beloved but tangential'

In 2005, Ayelet Waldman made several million, I'm guessing, from a well-timed NYT piece about being a Bad Mother (TM) and loving her husband more than her kids. Like, a lot more, it seems.  Shock me shock me shock me with your deviant behavior, Ayelet!

She and another then-hot Bad Mom hit Oprah and the talk show circuit - the antidote for emerging parental helicopters. Her kids were alright, but her sex life was, like, so much better you guys and she felt super guilty about it. But she also celebrated all the bad-motherness all the way to the bank.

I recall reading the piece then and thinking, well, it didn't seem wholly outlandish.  And helicopter parenting sounds crappy. And living every moment for your kids sounds boring and indulgent and a good reason to avoid having kids period.

And then I had a kid.
Do I have a wildly different opinion of her piece now? Yes and no.

I still think helicoptering is bad and indulgent. I now know parenting can be a whole lot of boring sometimes. 

But she's guilty of setting up the same parent strawmen she claims to rally against.  Sex disappears once kids arrvie!  Okay, maybe for a bit, but contrast our "How I lost my baby weight in 2 weeks!" culture with other cultures where that sort of marital activity is simply sidelined for two years in recognition of the toll childbearing and early rearing takes on a woman. Frankly, depending on the day of the week, that thinking sounds downright respectful towards women.  We wouldn't want that, right?  Especially in our brave new faux-equal world of shared breadwinning and housework?

Ayelet seems to value her husband more than her kids primarily because she bonks him and not them. That sounds crass but so does she.

One of the oft-quoted sections of her piece involves her preferring to outlive her children than her husband because, while she'd be super bummed, she can't imgaine/comprehend/bear a workd without her husband.
  I couldn't bear a world without mine either. But biology seemingly demands I protect Fidg's life to a degree I wouldn't exercise for anyone else - husband or self included.

Once again I'm back to this biological aspect for which I was unprepared during pregnancy. That there would be feelings and drives beyond my control.  That I am still an animal, just one with opposable thumbs and a command over fire.

Waldman writes:

And if my children resent having been moons rather than the sun? If they berate me for not having loved them enough? If they call me a bad mother?

I will tell them that I wish for them a love like I have for their father. I will tell them that they are my children, and they deserve both to love and be loved like that. I will tell them to settle for nothing less than what they saw when they looked at me, looking at him.
It's here in the closing paragraphs that I start to feel sad for Waldman. To her, there is marital love and no other love.  While I may someday tell my daughter - after a bad break-up or when she's contemplating an offer of marriage - that she should expect the same kind of love shared by her father and I, I know that love is different than the love I feel for her because she's my daughter not my spouse.

I can relate to Waldman's somewhat retstrained reaction to her daughter's birth and her perplexed reaction to people squealing "aren't you just so in love with her."  It took me awhile to become consciously connected to my daughter.  [I saw consciously because I lack a better word or generally vocabulary for those early days. Biologically, I was immediately connected and concerned with her health and well-being.  That she eat. Grow. Thrive. But I also resented the holy hell out of her demanding feeding schedule. I resented her for existing. Because hormones are a motherfucker and no one told me it might take some time. Or blame the c-section like the granola jerks do.]

Now, however, there's no question that what I feel for her extends beyond love. I love tortilla chips, vacations, and my dog, Patches. I love my parents. I'm in love with my husband. But all those loves are different than the love I feel for my daughter because all of those relationships are different than the one I have with my daughter.

In closing, I'd call Waldman a shallow fool except I doubt she's really anything other than a good writer with fantastic PR sense.  Otherwise, she really is a bad mother.

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