From April 2016

MotherShould? Book Club: Let’s Talk about The Mare

We’ve been chomping at the bit to discuss Mary Gaitskill’s novel The Mare in our inaugural book club discussion and have put together questions and resources to deepen our understanding of the novel as well as our understanding of women who have made child-related choices different than our own. Take a look, and please respond to the questions in the comments or on our FaceBook page.

Discussion Questions

1.Why do you think having Velvet in her life provokes Ginger to start “talking to women for the first time”?

2.Paul’s ex-wife tells Ginger that taking in a Fresh Air Fund kid is “an easy way to play at being a parent” and this stings. This seems like an intentional slight and a judgment of Ginger’s childlessness. Have you ever received, perpetrated, or overheard such a mommy micro-aggression?

3.Ginger feels some shame for her eagerness to nurture Velvet. Why would a woman feel shame for wanting to nurture someone?

4.How does horse trainer Pat’s relationship with Velvet complicate and/or add perspective to Ginger’s relationship with Velvet?

5.How do you feel about Ginger’s decision to disregard Silvia’s directive not to let Velvet ride horses?

6.How is this decision complicated by our nation’s history of white people deciding what’s better for children of color (such as taking Native American kids from their homes and putting them in schools to strip them of their “savage” ways)?

7.Paul has a sort of clichéd midlife-crisis affair with a younger woman. Is taking in Velvet portrayed as a childless woman’s version of a midlife crisis?

8. Near the end of the novel, Ginger says: “I can’t even be her pretend mother. I give in. I agree. I’m over. It is what it is. But I can still get her on that fucking horse. I can help her win.” What do you make of these statements in the context of the entire novel?

9.Gaitskill is known for taking on taboo subjects such as prostitution and addiction. What do you think is taboo about The Mare?

Resources

NY Times Sunday Magazine article “Mary Gaitskill and the Life Unseen” by Parul Sehgal

Slate book review by Elliot Holt

NPR’s Fresh Air review by Maureen Corrigan

The Drunken Odyssey podcast Episode 193: interview with Mary Gaitskill, Gaitskill reading, and discussion with MotherShould? co-editor Beverly Army Williams

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Friends from First Grade: One Was Always Certain about Kids, the Other Was Not

In this week’s post I interview my friend since first grade about her desire to have children.

My friend Jill and I are a female odd couple: she is a suburban-living Republican* who devotes the time she’s not at work to carting her boys to every sport ever invented, with a special focus on sports that require you to wake up before sunrise and stand in the cold.

I am a Democrat who leans socialist and lives  in the woods in a town without a single stop light or gas station. I don’t watch sports on TV or in stadiums, on fields, or at rinks.

Jill is great with numbers and budgeting; I prefer words and glaze over whenever anyone talks about money.

She is blonde; I am brunette.

She always wanted kids; I never really did.

We’ve been friends since first grade and our friendship was cemented when her family moved across the street from mine when we were 8 years old, and since we want to stay friends, we’ve never sat down to better understand each other’s political beliefs, but we recently started talking about our different stances toward procreating. She has been following this website with great wonder because she is drawn in by the perspectives of women who don’t want kids or who are uncertain because these perspectives are so foreign to her.

In talking with her and her husband recently about her certainty, I heard a story I’d never heard before: after she got engaged, but before she got married she tried to convince her fiance to get pregnant immediately and not wait until after they got married. He refused; their honeymoon plans involved a cruise to Alaska and he didn’t want to be honeymooning with a woman miserable with morning sickness.

Jill got married at 30 so she had plenty of time to get pregnant. So, why was she in such a rush? I sat down with Jill this week in her home and asked her a few questions to get to the bottom of her maternal drive:

CS: When did you know you wanted kids?

Jill: I don’t remember a moment; I’ve just always wanted kids. I knew I wanted a lot of kids but I only had two. The turning point for me was when Brett, my cousin, was born; he is seventeen now. I went up to visit in New Hampshire when he was born. I  stopped going out and I started  driving the two hours there for the weekend. Part of it was that my aunt wanted help, but I started choosing to go there. I was 25 or 26 at the time, when I started going there once or twice a month as opposed to going out.

As soon as Brett came, I knew wanted that.

CS: Why do you think it is that you always wanted kids?

Jill: I have a brother who is ten years younger than I am so essentially I was an only child. I would go to my grandmother’s and all my cousins and aunts and uncles lived so close together, and I would go there and I was part of something. There was always something going on. There was always someone to talk to. And, we would just never sit around, but when I was home I was alone. I like being around people. Even now I don’t like to be alone.

CS: What about the fact that your brother IS so much younger than you, and it was almost like having kids? Or at least you got to see what having kids was like?

Jill: I didn’t raise him but I understood that it was a lot of work. I moved home at 23 for a year; he was thirteen, and it was his freshman year of high school  and I liked it. I took him to practice every day. I took him to school. I liked being part of his life.

CS: So you have maternal instinct?

Jill: I guess. It doesn’t mean I’m doing it well. I just means I wanted to do it.

CS: So you never doubted your certainty?

Jill: Never. I always thought I would have five kids.

CS: What prevented you from having five?

Jill: Money. I think if money wasn’t an issue, if kids were free, I could’ve talked my husband into more.

CS: Do you think you would’ve been happy with five children?

Jill: I do.

CS: I don’t. Not you. ME. ME. You’ve known me for 36 years, why do you think I was so wishy washy about having kids?

Jill: You know what you want, and you do it and with kids you get tied down and you can’t go for what you want. Say you want a degree. If you had kids fifteen years ago, it would’ve been a lot harder to get a degree.

Everything is harder once you have kids. Like travel. And, I think you have so many more things you want. I’ve always wanted to travel but not as much as I wanted kids. I knew I’d be giving that up and I don’t think you wanted to give up the travel.

CS: I don’t even think I got how much giving up there is. Do you think we grew apart when you had kids?

Jill: I don’t think so. Obviously we didn’t talk as much, but we haven’t lived near each other since we were in sixth grade. We can go a long time without talking and then it’s just normal.

CS: I remember being disappointed and sad that I’d never see you and then I would see you Christmas Eve, and you would have to leave early because you had kids. But now I understand it.

Jill: But we’ve definitely kept in touch. I have other friends that I’ve lost touch with and they HAVE kids. We got wrapped up in our own kids.

CS: Do you feel like it’s harder to stay friends with your friends who don’t have kids?

Jill: I do.

CS: We talk about different things now that we both have kids, don’t we?

Jill: It’s a common bond. You get it more. Until you live it, you don’t get it.

CS: Maybe people wouldn’t have kids if you did get it. You used to tell me that I shouldn’t have kids, why?

Jill: I think I worried motherhood would be too boring for you and you’d regret it.  Having kids would hold you back from everything you knew you wanted and had worked so hard for. I was also afraid you’d change and stories about trips to Nicaragua and Thailand would turn into stories about potty training and milestones.  Hanging out with you was always an adventure and if you had kids I would lose that adventure.  We’ve both changed and visiting you is different than pre-Quinn but it’s an adventure for everyone.  We’ve taken the boys to Disney and on a Caribbean cruise but when asked they say their favorite vacation was swimming and hiking in Becket.  Our adventures are now G rated but sharing them with the all of our boys is just as much fun.

CS: It’s true. I love how wonderful your boys are to Quinn: they play with him even though he can’t keep up [he’s 4 years younger than Jill’s youngest], they (and you) make him gifts, and they look out for him. He loves them so much that he talks about them even when he hasn’t seen them for months, and this makes my heart swell.

*In response to me calling her a Republican, Jill wrote me a text that read: “For the record I am a registered independent and have voted both ways. And you think you are the open minded one. 🙂 But leave Republican, it’s better for the story and I lean that way more as I get older.”

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My Brood is a Bike Team

From the editors: Writer Bridget Crenshaw Mabunga chronicles her transition from childless to childfree and shares how she funnels her nurturing energy into an at-risk youth bike team.

The doctor says if we conceive naturally, “You’d better name the baby Jesus, cause it’ll be a miracle.” We laugh, an authentic response to a good joke. I don’t feel the bruised ribs until later.

No IVF: I don’t want to shoot myself in the ass, nor do I want to see myself hopped up on hormones. Even for the chance to feel it flip inside my belly. No Donor: I cannot find anyone good enough in the pages and pages of bios though there’re plenty with straight black hair, sepia skin, smarts like his. I can’t find one because the only one I want is sitting next to me. He holds my hand as I search and feels more disposable with each click. No Adoption: I peruse sites and blogs languishing over all I’ve got to learn, all I’ve got to earn in order to make one of these unwanted babies mine. Forty thousand and a high risk of drug addiction in utero. I put the computer to sleep.

All my friends get pregnant. My sister first, in fact she announces just after I’ve learned I can’t. Her belly bubbles up expanding every month until I can no longer enter the room. I neglect calls, texts, visits. But I host the shower at my house, fill it with baby blues and ribbon. Family gathers and swoons as she thanks everyone for welcoming her into the world of motherhood. I sink behind my camera.

Each month I wonder, will we get a baby Jesus? If we do, I’m not naming it Jesus. I am not religious, don’t look to a book or a prayer, just wonder if I’ll ponder this same question until my body no longer releases, until after all the petals drop. Boobs swell so heavy, so sore I know this time might be it. My period’s late, so I look for swollen nipples, glowing cheeks, stomach gurgles. This happens so many times I think I might become hysterically pregnant like Percival Everett’s protagonist’s mother, only she actually gave birth.

My mom and his mom envelop me with words: it’s best; you’d never write; your relationship will change, maybe get ruined; you’ll never have time for him. My sister, bouncing on yoga ball, eye bags practically resting on shoulders, sweet crying baby boy thrashing in arms: You’ll be the one to help all of us struggling moms; we’ll appreciate it so much; besides, there’s your writing. And my husband: I’m fine with it; I don’t even want kids, too much responsibility; we can travel, take off whenever we want; besides, we have Maverick. Not one person pressures me to procreate in whatever fashion necessary; in fact, they all seem to think it’s better I don’t. Which makes me worry.

Bellies swell and swaddled babies land in my arms almost weekly, it seems. Friends try IVF, miscarry, try again, succeed. I re-consider, refuse again. Friends get pregnant naturally and miscarry; part of me feels vindicated. They want it more than I, so they try until they succeed. But seeing the struggle keeps them in my corner until they enter the land I never will, the club outside which I’ll always sit waiting until they’re ready to play again.

It takes four years to settle into a regular thought: I’m glad we don’t have kids. This is not an angry thought. It’s an honest one. Too many nights I’m home alone. Who would save me from the tantrums? Too many evenings I settle into the computer, create worlds. Who would put the kid to bed? Sometimes I can barely remember to feed Maverick.

Then, my ten year-old nephew passes away, and my family spends a week in a house together, calling friends, planning the funeral, sleeping on air mattresses, huddling in one room so none has to be alone. After the funeral, Bob and I return to a too-empty home. I see Thomas in my dream; he stands next to my bed, reaches out. I try to go back to work but have to walk out of class during a lesson, tears spilling over. My students give me an air plant and a card. I try not to cry again. When the quiet becomes too much, my husband volunteers us to help with the floundering Sacramento Police Department bike team, which serves teenage racers cold cereal for lunch while the wealthier kids, flanked by parents and well-paid coaches, walk by in matching jerseys eating multilayered sandwiches.

I become the mother of nine all at once. Nine teenagers, all boys but one: the princess my husband had always hoped for. I love the girl like I love the boys; though none seem particularly fond of me. Yet I’m more than fond of them because I know their struggles, recognize their emptiness as familiar. At-risk they call them; help support, mentor, keep active, keep out of gangs, expose to new possibilities. I write these words over and over as I seek money, hope they grant my kids bikes, helmets, socks. The other kids ride $10,000 Specialized; ours ride Frankenstein bikes that break down causing DNF’s and tears.

Sometimes I feel crushed by the gaps: money, poverty, drugs, gangs, holes in shoes. Some days I want to quit because I can never do enough. But then another race looms on the horizon and I rally. I assign duties, quiz them on the big three, tape Goos to handle bars, give pep talks and push-ups. But mostly, I make lunch. I chop and slice and lay out massive quantities of fruit and turkey burgers. I promise turkey tastes just like beef, hide the cookies until they’ve raced and push oranges over extra cheese. They do not seem to care. They barely look me in the eye, ignore me until I stand in front of them.

But when they fall, I’m there. And they do fall; they crash, flip over bikes, slam helmeted-heads into trees, collect rocks in knees, slice arms and fingers. On the way to the hospital, I have to call their mothers.

Yet, every other Sunday throughout the season, I am their mother. I know who’s been to prom; I know who wants to sit next to whom in the van; I know who likes grapes; I know who really wants to finish the race and who’s being too easy on himself—and I call him out.

I also protect them. When she crashed and it came through on the radio, I ran half way around the eight mile course to find her. I didn’t find her, but something told me to turn my head at the exact moment she came racing down the hill through the finish. I saw that green blur and knew she’d recovered, faced her fear.

I cheered him on as he shot down the hill—before the rock. He tumbled over and slammed down, got back up and raced away. I ran to the other side of the course to capture his arrival. Instead, he stumbled off his bike, face sheet-white. I called for a medic, followed him to the tent, patted his leg and pretended not to notice the tears.

Now, I occasionally wonder if by some bizarre chance, I might get a baby Jesus. Mostly, though, I’m thankful I don’t; if I did, I’d no longer have time for the team. Who would notice the slight intonation of an argument about to begin? When they call each other names, who would challenge them to appreciate difference, to work as a team, to be better than they were last week?

Working with these kids has allowed me to nurture in a way I never imagined possible, filling a gap in me and a gap in them. I’ve discovered parenting is more than birthing and raising a child, and that’s gratifying. So to those who continue to ask when, not if, we’ll have kids, I say: Let that miracle baby grace someone else’s nest, for mine is chock full of teenagers.

 

 

BridgetMabungaBridget Mabunga earned an MA in Creative Writing from Sacramento State, where she won a Bazanella award for graduate creative nonfiction, and her work has appeared in Under the Gum Tree and Kartika Review and is included in the 2012-2013 Kartika Review anthology. She’s been a featured reader at True Story, Sacramento and Assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine for over four years. She’s currently a Writing Specialist at UC Davis and recently finished her first novel manuscript.  

Photo credit: Madeloni Photography

 

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Ambivalent and Grieving

From the Editors: We recently received this letter about the complications the writer faces in her ambivalence towards motherhood (what Catherine has coined bambivalence). It evokes so many of the reasons we started MotherShould? that we asked if we could publish it. The writer agreed, but she asked to remain anonymous, in part because of the micro-aggressions she describes in her letter. We were deeply moved by how universal her experiences are among the bambivalent, yet how alone she feels. 

I’m a 41 year married women, who has been with my husband for 20 years and switched from being vehemently childfree to now being ambivalent about motherhood, I am now feeling confused, lonely, and just plain lost. My husband has never been paternal, and I was never particularly maternal, partly due to my own upbringing with an emotionally detached mother and father. My mother died December 2014 from mouth cancer, so I’m going through a very difficult grieving process of sadness and also relief to be free of a toxic mother, but also broken that I will now never have the relationship that most normal mothers have with their daughters. I’m having counseling to cope with this and also to explore my grief and confusion around motherhood ambivalence. I do have three brothers and only one has had a child, so maybe our childhoods have greatly influenced us, but my two childfree brothers are very content, probably because they are male and emotionally different to me.

Over the last 5 years, I have been struggling with my choice, and I just can’t tell if it is a social and pronatilist drive and because I am the only person out of all my friends who does not have children or if hormones are tricking me into that final opportunity to enter motherhood. All of my friends with children have forged new relationships with mothers, and I’m feeling very isolated. The constant photos on Facebook and comments on how their lives meant nothing until they had a baby leave me feeling I don’t know anyone who is like me. Most women who are married at my age have children or are desperate to have them and cannot, which is so sad, and I really do feel for these ladies.

I sometimes feel like a failure for choosing not to be a mother and often beat myself up for throwing away 20 years of my life when I should have raised a family like all of my friends. For me, I feel like I’m suffering in the way that a Gay/Lesbian does when they know they are different but cannot express this for fear of persecution and just not being “normal”.
There is also the fear of regret. I’m clearly peri-menopause at 41 and have been told by several friends over the years that I will regret my childfree choice when I’m 50. Now I’m taking their comments as gospel. One old work colleague told me that I’m not a proper woman until I give birth and this comment is still imprinted in my mind. But I always question: is the fear of regret a reason to take a leap of faith and create a person?

It doesn’t help that my job is very intermittent as a Sports Massage Therapist, so I am wasting time scouring the internet reading blogs, trying to find answers to quell my ambivalence and instead I come across articles like the one written by Kate Spicer in the Daily Mail saying that no women is happy to be childfree and that childfree women are full of remorse and regret. I know I shouldn’t read crap in the Daily Mail and particularly the comments section, but I’m like an addict, drawn to them and believing every word written, even though we all know that people are very brave behind a computer screen and there are of course those internet trolls. Even James O’Brien on LBC Radio has hosted a couple of shows based on the childfree and he thinks that all childfree people are secretly wishing they had children. He of course is a parent. Plus, parents will want to justify their choice to have a family and may also feel that childfree people are missing out on a unique life experience or denigrating their choices, which I am not doing at all.

I can’t even go to social events or family events anymore because I have lost my confidence and hate admitting that I chose not to have children. My husband doesn’t feel the same way at all and just fits in where ever he goes. It’s funny how men never receive comments about not being a parent, yet women have to give reasons.

The last social event I went to was a 40th birthday party two years ago for my bridesmaids who are twins. Their cousin and her husband were at the party, and they have one daughter. He asked me if I had a child, and I was brave enough to say that I don’t want children, and he called me odd. I let his comment hurt me even though I refrained from hurting him with a horrible personal comment. I guess I didn’t want to stoop to the same level and his wife did suffer with severe postnatal depression, hence an only child, but equally her body, her choice.

I think the role of a parent is hugely important and not one to be entered into without due thought and care. I have digested and regurgitated the pros and cons of being a mother versus not, and I cannot seem to find a happy path to follow. I have driven myself into a state of despair, which is zapping my energy and enthusiasm for life. It’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep. I just want my life back and to be free of the turmoil I am putting myself through. Maybe I’m just not into being a mother, but I can’t accept it and others in society seem to have the same issue. Or maybe I do regret my choice and need to deal with that and move forward. I always thought I was very self-aware but alas, seem to to be judging my self-awareness eternally.

I really don’t know if I’m grieving my childfree choice or if I’m grieving not having an identity/purpose in society because I’m not a mother.

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