04 February 2008

Are They Reinventing Motherhood (or just giving us a sneak peak into previously private journals)?

Kids? It’s like living with homeless people. They’re cute but they can just chase you around all day long going, “Can I have dollar? I’m missing a shoe! I need a ride!”
- Kathleen Madigan

Motherhood is a confusing performance, like painting for the legally blind, the preoccupied audience of husband and children caught up in their own drama or anomie and chronically unaware of the great effort expended on their behalf.

While philosophers love the idea of humanity, it is mothers who navigate the real mess of it, the humanity of little people who leave in their wake lost shoes and scuffed walls. A woman whose charm, beauty, and intelligence has given her a variety of romantic options suddenly finds herself confined to home with a big-headed creature who, if he could talk, would go on at length about the flavor of the couch.

And about this game of romance. In what other arena does success require one to immediately retire? Imagine Tiger Woods forced to the side lines after winning his first master’s tournament, victory forcing him into retirement, and you get some sense of how disorienting it is for a woman have finally navigated the mine field of love to learn that this part of life is over; from now on, odd and beguiling children are likely to be the sole beneficiaries of their charms.

But in their blogs, these smart mothers may be creating a new kind of motherhood – at the very least they are finally performing before an appreciative audience of other mothers who “get” what they are doing.

While the act of mothering may be basically the same, its context has been transformed in the last few decades. Mothers no longer sit in a web of extended family that play the role of easily available baby sitters and reference points, people who can sit watch against the attacks of insanity. Mothers are often raising children hundreds or thousands of miles away from their own mothers and sisters. Churches are less likely to provide a default community. University education and an excess of reading has created an ideological divide between them and their own family, even if they did live close by, a divide that makes sharing parenting problems and tips awkward at best. Probably at no time have mothers been more isolated, less able to depend on those around them.

Blogging mothers have done two things: they’ve created a network for themselves and they’ve given the rest of us front row seats into a performance that would have otherwise been completely missed. We get the jokes that would have sailed over the heads of their children, the expressions of serious frustrations that preoccupied husbands dismiss as petty, and the profound insights that would have been forgotten by the time they finally got a coffee break with friends, unable to remember what they were so eager to say now that they are forced to socialize distracted by the peripheral parenting that characterizes almost every activity at a particular stage of life.

It might just be that historians and sociologists will eventually conclude that the blogging mothers have created a new kind of motherhood. Meanwhile, the rest of us are beneficiaries of their willingness – perhaps even their eagerness – to perform, at last, before an audience that can’t help but applaud.

If you are looking for examples of this blog genre, here are four I’ve come to enjoy. (And to be clear, these women are mother bloggers in the same way that Bruce Jenner was a javelin-throwing athlete. It is a big part of who they are, but it is by no means all that they write about or all that they are.) All of these women show a lack of pretense, a sort of unfeigned modesty uncalled for when one can write so smartly and with such humor. Theirs has been a reminder to this idea junkie that behind abstract terms like humanity lie real people with runny noses and definite ideas about appropriate wardrobe and menu selections even at the ripe old age of 7.

Kyran Pittman pushes at the boundary of blogging, waffling between writing about the daily drama and at times actually transcending the genre with postings that seem to fall somewhere between short stories and vignettes. She is probably helping to pioneer a new form of literature.

Slouching Mother peels back the wrapper on motherhood in a way that is strangely honest without insistence on showing the scabs. Her stories are at turns provocative and warming, and she makes motherhood seem as beautiful and at times pathological as it must be, and is one of Kyran's fellow pioneers in the creation of a new literary form that might just get studied alongside the short story and novel in a few years.

Chesca has an unfair advantage over other bloggers because she not only writes with self deprecating humor, but could model – and often does for the benefit of her blog reading audience who get to pretend that they are in her living room as they leaf through the family photo album and listen to her whimsical and witty reports that she closes with unpredictable punch lines just often enough to keep readers off balance.

Cce’s brilliant writing is balanced by her rather quaint reading– she comes here most days. (Hello CCE.) Our exchange of comments has become for me a bit like mid-morning tea in which each of us gets to share what’s animated our thoughts and be heard and acknowledged before moving on with our day. I, for one, take comfort in sharing sensibilities with a woman this smart and talented, even if our lives are playing out in opposite corners of the country, in very different phases. And someday I plan to tell people that I was among the first to realize her potential.

For me, these mother bloggers do so much more than entertain. The rest of us get to be beneficiaries of expressions of charm that might have been muttered into the clothing hamper and lost in an earlier time. And I am at a stage of life when I get a little better sense of my own wife’s incredible performance of transforming sofa chewers into university students (sadly, about a decade or two after such awareness might have been of comfort). [And yes, that's my wife and children from about 14 years ago in the above picture. It would be fascinating to be able to read Sandi's blog from that time.]


cce said...

One question...do you still have that sofa, that well gnawed on remnant of days gone by? I'm hoping you'll tell me that once the kids are safely at university I can get that sweet ultra suede number without feeling guilty that I have kicked the symbol of our family-life to the curb.
Thanks for recognizing what we're up to, the writers out there who happen to be Moms and use the blogosphere as outlet and journal and certain documentation of our children's passage to adulthood.I don't have a video camera and now that I blog, I don't feel I need one.
Thanks for the applause and the tea, you've made my day.

Kyran said...

thank you for the high praise. but even more for the vote of confidence in the medium.

i'm going to enjoy checking out the other bloggers whose company I'm keeping here.. :-)

slouching mom said...

This is quite possibly the nicest bit of recognition I've yet received as a blogger. Thank you. And thanks for the hope you've offered me -- that we might be doing something REAL here in the blogosphere, something that has lasting value.

Now if you could only convince the powers that be to PAY us (even a pittance!) for our writing, LOL!

I too will be eager to get to know the two women on this list with whom I'm unfamiliar.

ben said...

"While philosophers love the idea of humanity, it is mothers who navigate the real mess of it, the humanity of little people who leave in their wake lost shoes and scuffed walls."

Awesome. Good stuff, Ron.

exskindiver said...

In the middle of boiling water for Ramen Noodles and serving my daughters pineapple chunks fresh from the can--
I adjust my pajamas at 3:55 pm, feel the warmth from this tribute and plot ways to get Steve to read this post...

Thanks Ron.
You are too kind.

Ron Davison said...

cce, kyran, slouching mom, and chesca,
I'm glad you enjoyed the well deserved praise. (And sm, I'll talk to George about the whole budget thing - apparently he's trying to spend $3.1 billion - it's hard to imagine that he'd even notice a line item for blogging mothers.)

Thanks! Good to see you come by again.

Amanda said...

Two I knew, two I'll go and visit. Thanks for shining a light on this community and for being such a part of it, I've long watched your back and forth with CCE.

Ron Davison said...

Welcome to R World. And I quite enjoyed reading your smart blog.

HRH said...

That was really amazing and you have no idea what an impact comments like that have on moms in the trenches of day to day life. I am so thankful CCE sent us over for a great read. I totally agree with you on the rock star blog moms you listed and am going to check out the one I haven't heard of!

jennifer h said...

Thanks to CCE and to HRH for directing the rest of us here. This was a lovely bit of recognition. You named some wonderful blogs.

Maybe we should unionize? How much do you think we could get per word?

Jordan said...

I think that somebody needs to give a shout-out to all of the moms who are so busy being moms that they don't have time to blog.
So yeah, go moms w/o blogs! you don't have to have a blog to be a rock-star mom!
I'm kinda sad that moms need to resort to cyber-space to find community support (though it's great that they're getting it). this whole phenomenon reminds me of Robert Putnam's book "Bowling Alone"...

JCK said...

What a lovely and articulate post on moms who blog. And just the recognition of all that we do. Thank you!

SM is one of my favorite reads. I'll look forward to reading the other women whom you linked.

I am over here via the generous Holly from June Cleaver Nirvana who linked us both from her post on Blue Moon Salon.

I'll be back!