Tag Archives: motherhood

Doris Lessing. Mentor or Monster?

The city of Paris introduced me to Doris Lessing when I was twenty years old. I was living there alone and homesick when I wandered into the Shakespeare and Company at 37 Rue de la Bucherie, a croissant’s throw from Notre Dame. It was a glorious place, books lining the walls like wall paper, books lining the floor like walls. I was convinced that if I just stayed quiet enough I could stay all night and not be discovered.

One day I discovered The Golden Notebook. I still remember my eyes devouring the first pages, first propping myself up against a book case, then hunching down and finally just flat out collapsing in comfort to the floor to read what to me was a revelation: a woman’s intimate, psychological life written by a woman, in its intricate, no apologies way.

In the years since I have read many of her books: The Grass is Singing, Briefing for a Descent into Hell,  The Good Terrorist, The Fifth Child and The Memoirs of a Survivor. I worshiped her from afar.

Then one day I read about how she had abandoned her first two children.

It shook me to my core.

Granted, when I read it I had two young children and was hyped up with oxytocin. But I was appalled at her decision to abandon her children for her literary career. As I tried to type out my word count amidst baby bottles and tantrums and the endless chaos of a young family household, I understood her motive. Oh, indeed I did. But I could not condone it. And I certainly couldn’t see past it. From then on, every time I read her books I thought, Well, must be niiiice.

Once my hormones and children were under better control, I reconsidered. After all, even without my ‘gorgeous’ children I knew I would not be so prolific, so erudite, so revolutionary as Doris Lessing. And certainly not on the receiving end of a Nobel Prize. And so I gave her the benefit of non-judgement: something, of course, I owe all people (well most) and began to enjoy her novels again.

Until I read about her attitude toward the women’s liberation movement. ‘The battles have all been won,’ she said, ‘except for equal pay for equal work.’

And I thought Hey! You! You’re pushing it!

Don’t tell me the field has been leveled. Childcare is overwhelmingly done by women, violence is overwhelmingly done to women, poverty is overwhelmingly thrust upon women.

To say otherwise is to abandon the issue.

When I heard she had died yesterday, I felt the passing of a defining literary figure. In more ways than one. We all make our choices. We live with them, we die with them. I owe her respect and yes, admiration.

I like to remember her as one of the commentators did in the Guardian today:

“Very sad to hear of the death of Doris Lessing. I saw her talk at the British Council in Harare in 1995. She was one of the writers I wrote when I was working, through VSO, teaching English in a rural Zimbabwean Secondary School, Chatiza High School near Mutoko. I asked each writer to send a copy of a book which I thought would be inspiring for the students, for the school library . I asked Doris Lessing for a copy of ‘African Laughter’, where she writes about building school libraries in rural schools. She didn’t send me one copy, she sent me a case load of books. And made sure that they were delivered directly to school. An inspirational woman.”

Indeed.

R.I.P Doris Lessing

photo by xjyxjy (flickr)

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Horrible Mother of the Year

I gave away my children’s beloved cats. I know. I have lost the sympathy vote.

I can’t believe it.

Turns out I’m allergic to cats. Swollen eyes, constant cough, head ache.

So this past weekend the two puddy tats went across the street to live with a woman and her two children. I hope they will be a happy.

“I think they’re going to take it better than you,” the woman said kindly as tears leaked from my eyes.

At home, my children sit bereft, emptiness where their Darwin and Snowflake should be.

I fear their loss will be their Rosebud.

I am particularly upset because they were great pets. They gave back. They snuggled and were amusing and entertaining. Yes, their poos stunk to high heaven but they didn’t need to be walked!

So every night for the past two months I have lain awake trying to figure out a way not to be allergic. I have vacuumed constantly, I have taken pills, I have shut doors to my bedroom and office. I have meditated. It’s mind over matter, I told myself. I even bought an air filter.  And still every morning for the past two months I have woken with golf balls for eyes.

Sometimes you just can’t think yourself out of a problem.

And then in a moment of cosmic weirdness, last night I rented the video of CATS. I don’t know why. I had been meaning to show it to my kids and I just did it. And we watched as each character metamorphosed into our departed pets. By the end I was a molten mixture of snot and tears, my children on each side of me patting me on the head.

People say they’ll get over it. Children do. But I have a feeling I won’t. Not so easily. Because I’m old enough to know that it won’t happen again like this, this mixture of two perfect cats, time and space to enjoy them, and mom taking care of business (ie. cleaning the litter box). It was perfect pet heaven and I blew it.

Now I can add to my long list of envies: parents who are not allergic to cats.

T’is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, wrote Tennyson.

But when I look at my children’s sad faces I’m not so sure that’s true.

photo by fragmented (flickr)

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Julie, how could you?

julieYes, the furor over Julie Myerson’s decision to write about her drug-addicted abusive son.

I’m for it.

Mainly because it gets me thinking. Will my son’s Nintendo addiction mutate into skunk addiction?

I’m completely serious, but the way.

I blog about my children but I avoid the less salutary. Like the little accidents someone in my house makes that has me tossing whole packs of underpants into the garbage. Oops, was that too private?

Of course, I don’t have real dirt yet. My kids haven’t hit puberty and its gateway into parent/teenager hell. And I don’t think I would divulge any real horror. That’s why I’m a fiction writer.

But I’m thankful somebody wrote about the dangers of dope. I, for one, will be keeping a very close eye on it all and will not be lenient about its use. So thanks for warning me, Julie.

So is there a greater good being performed by her airing all her family’s laundry? I think yes.

Is it at the kid’s expense? Definitely.

But writers are not nice. We might smile, we might even offer to clean up occasionally. But deep down we are predators. The reason we are so interested in you is that it fuels our need for stories. We are vampires. Every sorry pathological thought of yours, we take note.

Feeling depressed? Tell us all about it.

Not sure what to do about your husband? We’re all ears.

Just lost your sibling in a horrific accident? How awful, we’ll murmur, reaching for the notebook in our bag. Tell us, how exactly did it happen?

Of course, novelists have it easier. We change the names and genders and hair color. And keep on smiling.

photo by Mahyar (flickr)

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Having it All

having-it-allThere was an interesting article in The Times by Zoe Lewis about having it all. She regrets not settling down earlier to have a family. I feel for her. I was lucky. I found love, marriage and viable sperm at the ripe old age of 37.

While I’m not the most patient of mothers, “If you don’t do what I say this minute I’m throwing all your toys out of the window,” I can’t imagine living without my children. They have made me grow up. They have made me, occasionally, put others before myself. They have also placed me at the center of their universe which is not a bad place to be.

My mother once said to me when I seemed to be in no hurry to take marriage or beginning a family seriously, “It’s about time you take your place in society.” It has a quaint Austenian ring to it but it does make you think. And it is true that I have a place in society that is not extended to single childless women or men.

And while I get cranky and desperate for time off from the endless drudgery that is part of motherhood (I dream of a week in a cabin stocked with chocolate and silence) I know by the end of that time I’d be eager to get back if only to toss around a couple of new threats: “If you don’t practice piano this minute, I’m nuking the Nintendo!”

I have a lot. The trick, of course, is remembering that.

photo by loop_oh (flickr)

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Ma Scientists

ma-scientistI read a very interesting if depressing article in the New York Times by Natalie Angier yesterday about how difficult it is to be a woman scientist. Especially a woman scientist who would like to have a family.

According to this article when researchers asked faculty members in the University of California system about family and work issues, nearly 40 percent of the women agreed with the statement, “I had fewer children than I wanted,” compared with less than 20 percent of the men.

When researching my new book Believe Me I spoke to two wonderful women astronomers. Elise Laird at Univeristy of California Observatories and Amy C. Fredericks. They are both brilliant and fully engaged and fascinated by their field. Both are very young and childless so far.

They were very generous with their time and gave me details on how it was to be a woman in astrophysics these days. And I used that information to shape Lucy Delano, the mother who is an astrophysicist in Believe Me as a character.

I would love both my children to be scientists because the mystery is endless. But as Lucy discovers in Believe Me, the work/life balance of a female scientist can be grueling. I hope Elise and Amy’s careers flex enough for them to continue their fascinating work and incorporate the pitter patter of tiny feet should they so wish.

Photo by Suzanna (flickr)

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Lice, baby, lice

liceCan we talk? Our school has a lice problem. Or rather nit problem as they say here. My children keep bringing home nit alert notes from school. The note says if your children have nits keep them home. But that’s ridiculous. They are getting the nits from school. What is this? Paintball? Wham, you’re down. Time to leave the arena?

I do my best, I check regularly. I’ve spent a fortune on treatment. Nothing seems to work. So now I condition and comb so much my children’s hair has lost its will to live. It lies lank and listless against their skulls.

I feel like I’ve done my bit. They go clean to school and yet they come back with hitchhikers clinging to their roots.

So now I jump on them the second they walk through the door. I’ve got a range of combs. White plastic, metal, the superlative Nitty Gritty. I personally like the white ones because the lice show up to my huge satisfaction. I repeatedly comb through my children’s hair, deaf to their screams. And out they come. The little suckers. Actually large suckers. Big massive juveniles with ipods sticking out of their ears. A couple of smug mom types wearing BabyBjorns. And their itty bitty eggs, quaking with potential.

I have become obsessed. I’ve taken to telling my children not to sit too close to others. I’ve taken to hugging them with my head stretched back so far away it’s barely attached to my neck. I’ve taken to leaping on any tiny black spot in my house.

Personally, I think our entire neighborhood needs to be fumigated. But with this credit crunch I just don’t think it’s in the budget.

picture by alvaro tapia hidalgo (flickr)

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R.I.P. Hamlet

rip-hamlet1I feel awful. Hamlet died yesterday. He had Wet Tail. We didn’t notice the gooey tail until the night before. I told Lara I would call the vet first thing in the morning. But in the morning we found him curled up, dead.

We missed all the signs; the excessive pooping, the hunching, though at one point Lara said she heard him groan. Otherwise he seemed fine. He was quite perky. He let Lara hold him for which I’m immensely grateful.

Wet Tail is the result of stress. From leaving mother, living in pet shop, coming home to new owner, being handled…a lot. We loved Hamlet to death. I feel just horrible. I should have protected him.

At least I didn’t have to discuss the bottom line with my children, i.e. the cost analysis of going to a vet and paying £100 to fix a £10 hamster. The thing is, I would have probably done it.

I miss the little guy. I miss stroking his little paws. There is something comforting about a house full of pets. At bedtime I go around the house, tucking sleeping kids back under their covers, filling budgie water bottles, making sure Testtube alien lights are glowing red and until last night, saying good night to Hamlet as he nibbled on his honey/egg treat.

So good bye, Hamlet. I am so sorry. May you rest in peace now.

The budgies on the other hand live on and on and on…

Photo by Special (flickr)

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Procrastination for Dummies

tidy-closet-2Procrastination gets a bad rap but it must be popular because it’s got its own Wikipedia entry. I read somewhere (while I was procrastinating) that a good way to get people to read your blog is to give them tips on how to do something. I wracked my brains on what I could offer and was only able to come up with this.

How To Procrastinate:

1. Surf the net and bump into some very cool blogs. Try Wayne Hodgins’ Off Course On Target: Where unexpected paths lead to great discoveries. The title alone says it all. Topics range from Milk Carton Design to Earth Without People to the Snowflake Effect to Translation Robots. Fascinating stuff. Especially when you’ve got a novel to write.

2. Eat all the chocolate in the house. Start with the Halloween candy you confiscated from your kids until they forgot about it. The cherry filled numbers brought over at Christmas which no one will eat. The Toll House chocolate chips which you bought for the cookies you never got around to making.

3. Do the laundry. Forget to sort out the whites from the brights and spend the rest of the day bleaching.

4. Stress out that your daughter is still having trouble with her knife and fork and buy a book about dyspraxia. Read it and discover that actually she is just lazy.

5. Eat a third lunch.

A modest start but it should get you through the day. Good luck.

Photo above by chrissthegirl (flickr)

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School Run

BennCapon

BennCapon

I’m up again at an ungodly hour. Even if I get very little writing done my sanctimonious level is high enough to choke a frog.

The problem with getting up early though is that by the time I get everyone else up I’m so caffeinated I’m a little scary. The glee I take in tossing everyone from their warm covers is not attractive.

It’s a full hour and a half from the time I get the kids up to when I push them into their classrooms. They don’t have school buses in London so the onus of getting your children to school falls on you. And so the mornings are a marathon.

Get out of bed, now, now, NOW. Eat, don’t whack your sister, leave your brother alone, eat, drink your milk. Aren’t you dressed yet? Brush your teeth, brush your hair. Stop teasing your brother. I don’t care if he started it….Get your coat on, and your gloves, and your scarves. Shoot me. Book bag, violin, swim bag, water bottles. Shoot me again. Get in the car, get in the car, will you get in the CAR! Oh, no, the car is covered in ice. Get the spatula. It’s in the kitchen. Scrape. Scrape. Great, the defrost not working. I can just see if I lean down like this…. Where did that car come from….Oh, there’s the bell, get out of the car, get out of the car, will you get out of the CAR! Hurry hurry. Hi! Hi! Great weekend. Yes, you too. Smile, smile to other mothers, ha ha ha ha ha, threats muttered under breath to kids. Get in the classroom, get in the classroom, will you get in the… And they’re gone.

A sigh of relief.

Free.

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Breastfeeding

By Crispita

By Crispita

All this Facebook ruckus reminds me of my breastfeeding days. When I took a breastfeeding course before the birth of my daughter, I spent most of the time chortling in the back row. The idea that I would ever put a babe to my half-pint breasts was ludicrous. My husband, I’m afraid to say, found it particularly funny. But when I finally did give birth and offered my virgin nipples to my daughter, I wasn’t laughing. And poor Lara squealed with frustration and hunger.

I tried the experts but they all seemed to have memorized the same mantra: drink more liquids and rest. Well, I was drinking enough liquids to flood London Central and hadn’t budged from the couch in so long I had begun color-coordinating my clothes with it.

I had hoped to breast feed for about twelve months (any longer and I worried the kid would walk up to me, grab a breast with a sticky hand and flip it into her mouth like a petrol pump). But I didn’t last past four. The day I finally gave up and switched to bottles, Lara fairly had a party to celebrate.

So when I gave birth to Ben three years later in Singapore (my husband was on sabbatical) I wasn’t in the most optimistic of moods. But I hadn’t bargained on the Chinese and their reliance on cuisine for disaster remedy. The Chinese are real apothecaries when it comes to ingredients, most of which you can either get fresh at the markets or dried and curled obscenely in large clear jars at the Chinese medicine stores. Cooking becomes prescribing. Clogged arteries? Try a tablespoon of black vinegar. Windy? Have a bite of ginger. Nasty complexion? Treat yourself to some dried scallops. I could go on. Sesame oil promotes blood circulation. Fish enriches milk glands. Squid will improve mental energy.

In short, food delivers. It’s an idea most Chinese have taken to heart and they are quite vocal about it. Taxi drivers driving me to my pre-natal check-ups swore by bean curd for a baby’s smooth complexion. One restaurateur warned me away from crab, saying my baby would be born too mischievous. And the teacher at my daughter’s Singaporean nursery declared that an expectant mother should always eat what she craves otherwise her baby would never stop drooling.

So after the first dissatisfied yowl from Ben shook our apartment block, my Chinese neighbors were ready. They gathered around me at our communal playground to peer down at my son’s pinched face. They shook their heads and told me exactly what to eat. Stewed fish maw, they said. Stewed hairy marrow, kidneys stir-fried with wood fungus, pig’s trotters with ginger and vinegar. I see, I said and dashed home to my diet of peanut butter, cheddar cheese and gallons of ice cream. Motherhood had made me do a lot of things I’d never in my most horrific dreams seen myself doing–like giving birth for example–but it was not going to make me eat trotters, pigs’ or otherwise.
Plus, I didn’t believe a word of it.

My neighbors were insistent. One arrived at my doorstep with a bowl of pig trotters floating in a clear soup studded with small red dates. Eat, she urged. Oh, yes, soon, I murmured and placed the gift far in the back of my refrigerator.

Finally, Elena, my Filipina maid (yes, I know, I just lost the sympathy vote, but I don’t have her now. I’m back in London and do my own laundry, cooking, cleaning and baby bottom wiping, thank you very much,) unable to watch my poor child’s distress, decided to cook me a milk producing soup from her village; chicken with green papaya. Her mother drank it and practically drowned her children. “Of course, she had big breasts,” Elena remarked staring at mine, unimpressed.

She went off to shop and returned with arms filled with green papaya and bunches of pepper leaves. She simmered and sprinkled like a witch and then sat me down with a firm “eat.” It tasted rather bland but felt warmly nourishing. I downed two bowls full and sat back skeptically.

The next morning was complete and glorious havoc. My breasts ballooned and opened like taps. They leaked everywhere. My baby gulped and dribbled and then fell back, rolling his eyes upward in ecstasy. I drank that soup on and off for the next four months and never again had any trouble. I ended up breastfeeding for fourteen months. It almost makes me wish I had tried the pig trotters sooner.

Almost.

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