We have the book Bread and Jam for Frances. It’s a book I remember loving as a child. A picky-eating badger turns her nose up at her mother’s cooking a few times too many and finds herself eating bread and jam for every meal, until she gets sick of it and decides to try new things. Luckily our girls haven’t been particularly picky, but they seem to enjoy the story, even if to them “bread and jam is just for breakfast.”
Today at the library, I saw some of the other Frances books. I asked the girls if they’d like to try them, and they picked out Bedtime for Frances. In this story, Frances keeps coming out of her room after bedtime, because of tigers, giants, and scary cracks in the ceiling. Her parents are at first bemused and then increasingly frustrated. And then all of a sudden, Frances’s father says that if she comes out again, she’s getting a spanking.
“What’s a spanking?” sweet four-year-old Claire asked. “Well, sometimes parents hit their children on their bottom when they do things they aren’t supposed to do. Kind of like how you sometimes get time outs. We don’t like to hit, so we don’t do that,” her dad explained
I’m thankful my kids have made it to four years old and find it unthinkable that an adult would hit a child, that they’ve made it this far and don’t even know what a spanking is. I wish I could say that I find the idea of hitting my children unthinkable, but the truth is, I have wanted to. Children have their ways of pushing you to the limits of your energy, patience, empathy, and self-restraint. I have been so tired, angry, and frustrated with my children that I wanted to hit them, that I felt that impulse. But that’s what it would have been if I had given in: impulsive, angry, and wrong. It wouldn’t have been about teaching them, it would have been about me lashing out in my anger. The only thing it would have shown them is that I am no more capable of managing my emotions and impulses than they are.
I am not one to say “there but for the Grace of God go I” very often, but this is one of those areas where I really do feel it’s only grace that has kept me from that brink. It’s only the whisper in my ear that tells me to walk away, take a breath, make a different choice, hide in my room if I have to long enough to cool down. Because maybe giving a kid bread and jam for every meal for a while is creative parenting, but bedtime spankings don’t make sense to anyone in my family, even in my tiredest, most rock-bottom moments. Thanks for the reminder, Frances.
*Note: I’m not interested in debating spanking with you. I only presume to know what is best for my family.*
Last weekend we took our first baby-free weekend to visit my sister in Nashville while the girls stayed with their Nonni and Poppi. A good time was had by all.
On the trip, I still had to do some reading for grad school, and this week it was Jorge Borges, an Argentinian writer. His short stories kind of warped my brain a little bit, as they explore themes of infinity, truth vs. fiction, what is truly real, the way fiction influences reality,and other crazy themes. They also feature a lot of labyrinths. At least two of the stories I read featured books, particularly 1001 Nights, influencing reality in strange ways. And then I began to feel the stories themselves were influencing me…..
First, I read a short story in which a man has died of an overdose of a drug called “veronal,” only to realize I had just read a completely unrelated story by a totally different author for another class that featured a woman trying to kill herself with the same drug. Coincidence, or books reading my mind? Then, I read a story about a labyrinth right before we went to check out a corn maze! (You can check out my sister’s post on the subject here.) Verdict on the corn maze: it was maybe 30 minutes too long, but hey, at least it wasn’t infinite! Also: do NOT tell us not to pick corn. Also: thank God we didn’t have a small child with us, because even we were very much DONE by the time we found our way out. And: essentially, any kind of scenic activity for my sister and me becomes an Instagram field trip. We may have even “styled” some cornstalks for better shots.
Also mind-bending was the simultaneous feeling of absolute freedom to be away from the girls, staying up late, having cocktails, sleeping in, and also missing them to pieces at the same time. We squeed over every picture and video Nonni sent of the good times they were having. Overall, it was very needed. We had a blast and came home overjoyed and re-energized to see our girlies.
This week we face a challenge possibly even more mind-stretching than a labyrinth: flying to Denver with TWO BABIES. If you have any tips, I’d love to hear them. Right now my plan is to strap them to us in carriers, and possibly to bake and hand out cookies (and possibly earplugs) to everyone unfortunate enough to sit near us. I know if I were on a plane and saw two people lugging two babies come aboard, I’d seriously be praying “Oh PLEASE let them sit far far away.”
While driving home from school today, I was thinking to myself about all of the stuff I’ve been reading this semester. I’m taking a women’s lit seminar and a “literature of the Americas” seminar (Latin American and Native American) and really enjoying the readings for both, which has stirred up a lot of thoughts. I realized, in a sort of meta way, that I tend to think almost in essay form. I’m not sure if it’s because of all the school I’ve had, or if I like all this school precisely because I’m constantly composing essays in my head, but my musings tend to become thesis statements and paragraphs in my mind. Of course, the problem is, I rarely get a chance to write them down, what with actual assignments to do and something about two babies to take care of….
But, I do have a blog, and I can at least get down these essay embryos and maybe one day return to them and turn them into something if I want.
One of my most striking realizations stems from re-reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin. It’s the story of an 1800s wife and mother experiencing a literal awakening to herself and her place in the world and her realization of her profound unhappiness the more she gets to know herself. When I read this novel for the first time, I believe I was a college freshman. I was 18, and it was a purely academic exercise. Now, I’m reading it nearly 10 years later as a wife and mother, and I’m practically a completely different person reading a completely different book.
Upon first reading, I vaguely remember feeling sad for Edna Pontellier, but I didn’t really understand her in any meaningful way. She wasn’t a very sympathetic character to me, and I found her largely selfish and annoying. She has a live-in nanny, for crying out loud, and she’s supposedly stifled by her role as a mother?! Of course, she’s still a little annoying, with her privileged white girl problems, and I think even Chopin would admit her protagonist is selfish (though how hilarious is it that Edna reads Emerson, perhaps the paragon of selfish male introspection, and he doesn’t get such criticisms). However, now I have a much greater personal window into Edna’s frustrations, even as I realize that maybe it’s precisely because I read The Awakening and other books like it before I became a wife and mother that I largely do not share her pain.
It is precisely because of characters like Edna Pontellier that my greatest fear before becoming a mother was that I would somehow lose myself. Edna argues with the great mother-figure of the book, her friend Adele, about what she would be willing to give up for the sake of her children, baffling Adele with her insistence that while she would give up her life for her children, she would not give up her self. Adele does not understand the difference. And of course, Edna does not understand Adele’s happiness, either, unable to comprehend that a woman who sees almost no distinction between herself and her role as a mother could be truly happy and fulfilled.
The problem for Edna is not that there is something inherently wrong with being a wife and a mother, or that no woman can be fulfilled in those roles, but that not all women are, and for Edna, there were few other options. She is not an Adele Ratignolle, joyfully consumed by her children, but neither is she content to remain a single woman like musician Mademoiselle Reisz. For all her supposed failings as a mother, the Edna we see in the novel is a woman who deeply loves and is very tender with her children. One scene that stands out is her tender rocking of her child to sleep when “the quadroon” is unable to get him to bed. She misses them when they are absent at their grandmother’s house. She would miss them were they not in her life at all.
She is a woman of privilege, even has the much-coveted “room of one’s own” in which to paint, and the childcare to give her time to do so and to think and wander the city as well, and yet she has no meaningful activity outside of her home, and no one in her life who truly understands her. She is a woman who favors the relationship of motherhood but is not well suited to the jobs of motherhood, a distinction made in this very compelling post from Ask Moxie.
Unlike Edna, perhaps because of Edna, I have remained determined to finish my graduate education and continue pursuing my dream of being an English professor. Because of Edna, I know how crucial it is that I get time away from my girls to tend to my other interests, because it makes me a better person and therefore a better mother. Because of Edna, I am grateful for a marriage to a partner who knows me deeply and loves me as a person, not for any prescribed roles I might fill. Unlike Edna, I got to go to college and get to know myself, to become an adult on my own terms before I became a wife and mom, and to discern what it is I want to do with my life and how to define my place in this world. Unlike Edna, I have options.
Somewhere between reading The Awakening for the first time and reading it for the second, I have had many, many awakenings that have made this experience of Edna’s story completely different from my experience the first time around. And in that difference, and in the difference between her life and mine, there is much much gratitude.
The other day, my friend shared a link to a story about dogs who help children learn to read, just by being passive, non-judgmental, non-correcting, patient listeners. When I saw it, my first thought was, maybe my mom wasn’t so crazy after all.
You see, when I was a kid, I was made to read to a pig.
Somehow, my family wound up with an oversized supposed pot-bellied pig someone had bought as a pet, but which outgrew their expectations. The pig came to live with us because we lived outside the city, on four acres, and already had quite a menagerie, including chickens, ducks, a parrot, sometimes other birds, fish, and dogs. At other points in my childhood, we also had a tarantula named Terry, a wounded woodpecker, and a chicken who thought he was a dog (a story I’ll have to tell another time). The pig was named Porky.
At the time, my mom told me that she was worried Porky was lonely. Pigs are very intelligent creatures, and can get a little crazy when they’re not happy (much like me). So my sister and I were dispatched with books and lawn chairs, told to sit outside Porky’s pen and read him stories. Now I’m beginning to suspect it wasn’t so much for Porky’s benefit, but ours.
Personally, I think this bodes well for my future career as an English professor, because I doubt any of my students could possibly be less engaged than a pig.
Porky later displayed a tendency to escape the pen and run amok in the garden, and was eventually turned into sausage. I refused to eat him, though, on the grounds that you just don’t eat someone you’ve shared stories with. I think it’s a good policy, in general.