25 October 2012

The Good Mother / Bad Mother Thing

The other day, I got up and wandered into the kitchen, as one does. That's where the coffee is, you know? I found the girl there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, "Mommy, I made my lunch!". "Oh," I said, "whaddja make?" She waved various containers at me: "A hot dog bun with butter and cinnamon sugar, two Mallomars, and some apple cider!"

I groaned. On the one hand, initiative! On the other hand, not so healthy! Granted, it's a modest dilemma, as dilemmas go. I assuaged my guilt about the unhealthiness by insisting she take an apple with her, so I didn't feel like the worst mother in the world.

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You know Emily, right?

Emily wrote a book. Emily wrote a book about childhood, her childhood. Emily had an evil stepmother, and Emily's memoir is called Behind the Woodpile.

If you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app for some other smartphone/tablet device, get her book. It's free today, just today. Tomorrow it'll be $7.99 again. Read her book. She wants you to read her book, because, as she says:

I’ve found that every time I speak or write about my childhood, it reaches people who are then able to finally speak about their own childhood abuse.


She's talking about it, to make it easier for others to do so as well.

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You're probably wondering how I got from the buttered hot dog bun and Mallomars to Emily's book. Every day, every week, occasionally, we all think we're bad parents. But Emily, because of her abuse at the hands of her stepmother, has a particularly hard cross to bear. Here's a passage from her book:

     Despite the hours spent reading and the endless conversations about steam trains, I felt like a terrible mother. I also felt all alone. I could not tell anyone what a failure I was, because that would involve acknowledging it to myself. I had entered one of the biggest organizations around – the Terrible Mothers’ Club – but because membership is secret, I had no idea how many other people had joined along with me, or even that I was in the group. The club I had joined has a secret litany that its members chant to themselves so quietly that even they cannot hear.
     “I am not patient enough,” we whisper in secret.
     “I should be gentler,” we grudgingly admit.
     “He needs more consistency,” we desperately chastise ourselves.
     “If I had handled things differently, it would not have escalated into a tantrum,” we secretly suspect. These are the words we hear from inside and try very hard to ignore for fear of their strength.
     And, there are many of us who are Premium Club Members. We have a whole other set of voices, nastier than the first.
     “My childhood has left me unfit to be a mother.”
     “I am repeating the cycle.”
     “He will never know how much I love him.”
     And, the constant refrain, a phrase repeated so continuously that it becomes a hum of white noise we no longer acknowledge: “I am acting just like her.”

In light of that, in light of the literally rotten food her stepmother fed her, in light of the cruelties inflicted upon Emily and her sister, I'm pretty happy that my daughter had the unfettered room and comparative luxury to make herself a hot dog bun with butter and cinnamon sugar and be proud to call it lunch.

11 comments:

Joybells said...

Amen, sister!

Carol Steel 5050 said...

We all do the best we can to do the best we can. Somedays are better than others. It's about learning to survive and evolving beyond where we came from.

The hot dog bun with butter and cinnamon sugar sounds great.

Swistle said...

I get Quite Cranky when I hear people calling themselves bad mothers left and right, as if someone who lets their children eat McNuggets or watch some television is in any way comparable to an ACTUAL bad mother. It makes me feel like people who call themselves bad mothers for those kinds of things are very, very sheltered.

FreshHell said...

Lovely. And sad. I think motherly control is hard to let go of. I said nothing last night when J picked out her outfit (today is picture day) that would have consisted of two nice things that would not have looked nice together but kept a bigger picture view. Why did I care? I don't. She got up this morning and dressed in a perfectly lovely and photo-appropriate dress (with non-matching socks) and no battle had to be fought. A cinnamon sugar hot dog sounds like a perfectly fine lunch for an eight-year-old - esp since it was her choice. Books like Emily's puts "bad" in a different perspective.

Emily said...

Thank you, Maggie. And, um, that lunch doesn't sound so appealing, but, hey, there's no accounting for tastes.

leanne said...

I'm not even sure what to type here, but I find myself incredibly touched by that quote from Emily's book.

De said...

I used to love brown sugar and butter sandwiches as a kid.

I hope all your readers get Emily's book.

kittiesx3 said...

I got the book. I think I need this message both for the past of my own childhood and how I was as a mother. Thank you for posting this.

Jocelyn said...

I generally don't engage in the "Am I a good or bad parent?" line of fruitless questioning, as we are what we are, and labels don't change it.

Then you remind me there are actual BAD parents in the world.

Rima said...

That really puts things in perspective.

If By Yes said...

And don't forget, shutting down her pride in her accomplishment of MAKING her LUNCH wouldn't be great mom material, too. I think you just opted for psychic growth over healthy food, which I think is the absolute right choice.