Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mothers, Literary and Real

Self-discipline as an adult is really difficult.  It seems that there are always roadblocks keeping me from doing the things I want to do.  I'm sure that's true for everyone, particularly for moms.  The nature of the motherhood thing is to put the kids first.  (This is true in my suburban neighborhood todau, but is surely not universally true.)

My daughter was a little mother the instant she found out her first brother was on his way.  She was only four years old.  At daycare, she practiced petting the babies whenever they went for walks on the playground.  She spent her entire outside time walking with the daycare ladies who pushed the buggies holding 4 babes at a time.  She told them all about how she would be a big sister and truly approached it as if the baby would be her baby.  She loved her brother as much as I did. 

Last week, my daughter who is now taller than me by several inches, helped me move our piano. There was a strange vibration behind it.  Anxiety took me over and, for some unknown reason, it didn't seem to me that this could wait, and my daughter joined me in moving the piano.  Apparently in the first attempt to scoot it out, her lower back hurt but she kept moving it and didn't tell me.  She was putting me before herself just as a mother does.  Had I known she were hurt, I would surely have put her first, even above my own anxiety.  We talked about it later.  This quality of self-denial for others is certainly a quality in some men but seems to me to be a quality in women.  I gave her the advice I don't give myself, and told her to put herself first, especially when she's hurt.  I knew myself to be a hypocrit, as my foot is injured from walking on it when I was already in pain, resulting in two stress fractures and nerve inflammation, hurting it worse every day when I pick up my chubs of a baby.  She looked at me and looked down at my foot, knowingly.  "Yeh, I know," was all could say.

Yesterday I decided I would read The Awakening while resting my foot.  Instead, I gave my middle son all of my attention, did suduko to chill out, got a headache from the suduko and spent most of the evening laying miserably in bed watching America's Next Top Model feeling pathetic and very sorry for myself. 

At some point between suduko and very bad television, I did read two short stories, "The Storm" by Kate Chopin and "The White Huron" (or something close to that title) by Jewett (I think).  I read both of these stories in college.  They hit me much differently as an adult.  I wonder if my reading all of these stories in my youth was a waste.  I had no life experience except to be a participant in my very dysfunctional family and could only have read these stories and hundreds of books and novels from that perspective. 

I plan to go to graduate school and am very interested in reading from a women's studies/feminist perspective (the same was true when I was a teenager and young adult) but now moreso looking at views of mothers across history.

White Fang gave a very interesting twist on primordial motherhood when the wolf instinctually refused to hurt the female, presumably from some inate knowledge that the woman was responsible for life and for sexual gratification.  In non-primordial society, women and mothers do not get that instinctual respect, even from other women. 

There is disdain toward Mrs.Middleton in Sense and Sensibility even from Elinor, the female protagonist (who is so full of sense that we are prompted to believe she is the voice of reason).  Mrs. Middleton is subtly and invariably criticized unpardonably and with no empathy whatsoever for loving and doting on her children.  Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Dashwood are dipicted as somewhat stupidly and blindly loving and supporting their daughters.  Ironically, Elinor Dashwood's underlying preoccupation is with marrying Edward and protecting her sister in her hopes of getting married.  Motherhood in this time period is inevitable with marriage.  I am struck with the irony of Elinor's drive to be the thing she criticizes.

In "The Storm," the mother is respected but is not worthy of the respect since she impulsively gets intimate with an ex-boyfriend while her son and husband are presumably in harm's way in a storm.  The son and husband groom themselves for her to please her since they are covered in mud.  The husband shows her this respect.  Her behavior is somewhat primordial, as it was presumably not premeditated on her part.  The woman is in her house when the storm (an obvious metaphor for the storm of sensuality and sexuality she feels suddenly) comes and brings in her ex-boyfriend. She closes up the house, a symbol for the closure of her life as a mother, her lack of freedom since her marriage. 

In "The White Huron," the little girl has no mother figure.  She is a figure of a little natural mother, walking the cow and protecting the white huron.  She experiences unprecidented freedom climbing to the top of the tree looking for the huron for the man who wants to hunt and stuff it.  If she were older, she may have given directions to the huron to the man and likely would not have climbed to the top of the tree.  Other forces of attraction or lack of attraction would likely have played into her actions and perspective.  As a child, the sense of freedom and connection with nature prevailed, and likely changed her life.  We are lead to believe that the climb to the top of the tree, the overwhelming experience of exhilaration and freedom, and the connection she had with the birds flying free, particularly the very rare huron, would affect her choices later in life and may save her from the limits of women in that time period.

After reading these two stories and reflecting on the same themes in the two other books I recently read, I also want to focus on my reading from a second perspective, that of freedom and how society and other factors limit our lives.  That's definitely a theme in all of these stories.  Not just freedom for women, but freedom and the role of fate and God in our freedom.  I am drawn toward the concept of freedom and free will in literature in different historical contexts and in cities versus rural or even more primative areas (like in Jack London's writings).

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