Saturday, April 7, 2007

On Parenting

At the end of White Oleander, both the book and the movie (which I recently re-read and saw, respectively), Ingrid Magnussen admits to her daughter Astrid that when Astrid was a toddler, Ingrid left her with a neighbor for a year, “give or take a few months.” She confesses what a relief it was to be free,

To go to the bathroom by myself. To take a nap in the afternoon. To
make love all day long if I wanted, and walk on the beach, and not have
to think, where’s Astrid? What’s Astrid doing? What’s she going to get
into? And not having you on me all the time, Mommy Mommy Mommy,
clinging to me, like a spider…

Ingrid tells Astrid that she felt like a hostage. Astrid retorts, “That’s what babies are like.”

Fitch commented in an interview:

A child will take up 100 percent of you if you let them. It’s only
natural for them to want that, to try for that. So motherhood’s a dance
between individual needs and the needs of your child…Ingrid’s failing
is that she had a child but refused to dance with her.

When Janet Fitch originally wrote the short story that was the genesis for the novel, Ingrid was the protagonist. Everyone hated her, thought she was a monster, said you couldn’t possibly tell the story through her eyes, no-one wanted to empathize with her as the main character. And so the book took shape as Astrid’s story.

It’s a great book. And a lot of bad stuff happens to Astrid in a series of foster homes. But even after reading about the shooting and the foster-mother’s suicide and the blowing juvenile delinquents for weed and the eventual growing to adulthood without her mother, when Astrid confronts Ingrid at the end of the book, I think, well, yeah, no wonder Ingrid needed some time alone. She’s an artist.

I think it’s worthwhile to do reprehensible things for the sake of making art. That’s why art must be good, why we cannot settle for average in our work. It must be worthy of the time spent cheating on the spouse, avoiding the friends, half-heartedly grading the students’ papers, ignoring the crying child kicking at the locked door of the room of one’s own.

I suspect I will not be a very good parent.

In fact, I strongly suspect I’m not really fit to be a parent – I’d rather make great art than a great person (I think). I also don’t believe in an ideal childhood, and I actually hope I can settle for average in that field instead of frustrating myself by reaching for the unattainable. Everyone I know is, to some extent, fucked up by their parents. Not that they were beaten with coat hangers or burned with curling irons or molested in the kitchen while the rest of the family sat down to Sunday dinner, but that no matter how much love we receive, it’s never the amount we desire. The yearnings of unfulfilled desire are what make us discover and seek and create, in an effort to attain the recognition and love we feel we deserve. Survivors are a lot more interesting than the protected, and probably contribute a lot more to the world.

If you like who you are, you have to be okay with what you’ve come from. Bad times make us tough. We know we can survive. And if we’re inclined to making art, they give us subjects for our work.

My mother is a lovely woman. Pleasant, pretty, nurturing, handy around the house, cooked lovely meals, made some of the kids’ clothes, mostly a stay-at-home mom. But it’s my dad about whom I blog…


Al Laddin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A. Reader, Esq. said...

There's a point in life where we all realize growing up doesn't come with a users manual.

And that, for better or worse, parents are just people. By the cosmic luck of the draw these people ended up being our parents.

They're not infallible, they can be wrong sometimes, and that parenting didn't come with a users manual.

You'll really notice this as they get older and more elderly.

Not sure I buy the argument about "reprehensible" in art. Some people are just plain ole "obnoxious" and lack good judgment (no one ever called Picasso reprehensible). No beer for them.

A. Reader, Esq.

Tom Paine said...

Parenting is a process you go through, and you do your best. I can say I did my best, and made many mistakes. I'm making sure the next generation of shrinks has three patients who can give them work.

dexplorer said...

Mandy said--

I suspect I will not be a very good parent.

In fact, I strongly suspect I’m not really fit to be a parent – I’d rather make great art than a great person (I think).

So do I. And I celebrate you for it. There are a lot of mothers out there. Who needs another bad one?

Middle moving to high end sex mad artist harlot adventuresses, who write of that life powerfully and compellingly, and who might just be excellent artists in other areas as well (she here in question shares so little of that with us, alas), are far, far rarer.

I also don’t think you should have children, because I don’t think it will increase your net overall happiness. Anyone who says “I strongly suspect I’m not really fit to be a parent” shouldn’t become one in my view. Particularly when becoming one will also at least for quite a while cause her art to suffer and the sexually highly adventurous lifestyle she enjoys so much to greatly diminish as well.

Do I know you well enough to say I don’t think you should go the motherhood route? Of course not. But I’ve read all of your blog, which is of course not all sides of you but is a very forthright one indeed. Maybe nobody really knows you well enough to say something like that. But we all need feedback, maybe even some we won’t like. Though I certainly DO like you Mandy. Very, very much.

Are you sure you even want kids Mandy? Or is it your husband that does?

Having kids would inevitably cut down on your extracurricular activities, pure fun or also paid, that mean so much to you and are a core part of your being it seems, at least for quite a while. Without the paid extracurricular bank you’ve been lately enjoying and which has allowed you to spend more time on the writing sides of your arts, but with many more expenses, and with MUCH more filling both your and your husband’s time, your art will also inevitably suffer for quite a while, even while you yourself give your infant far less attention than most mothers do.

It might be different if you two could afford full time live in help. Or if you don’t mind those things so much and want to move on. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I also don’t believe in an ideal childhood, and I actually hope I can settle for average in that field instead of frustrating myself by reaching for the unattainable.

I agree that Americans in general worry too much about this. It’s pretty unique in the world. On the other hand, we do give kids less maternal attention than most countries in the world and like it or not, with rare exceptions fathers just don’t give nearly the same quality of attention particularly to infants and toddlers as mothers or even unrelated but long term female nursemaids or other care givers do, studies show.

Survivors [of neglectful parenting] are a lot more interesting than the protected, and probably contribute a lot more to the world.

That’s simply wrong Mandy, however much you want to believe it. You’re focused on the arts. If you have kids they probably won’t become or remain artists able to support themselves that way or willing to remain artists despite not living decently. Most kids don’t. And besides, it’s a great romantic fallacy that most not to mention nearly all artists of all kinds had survivor type childhoods. It is now and has been since the late 19th century European romantic period part of a great and enduring romantic myth that that is so, and certainly it’s sometimes so, but hardly predominantly. Show me any scientific study consensus that supports your thesis. Instead those that had even somewhat messed up childhoods like to emphasize that since it’s long been fashionable for artists to do so. Those that can’t find anything to exaggerate, which is rare, or don’t want to, keep shut, for the most part. Now it is often the case that artists are more moody and introspective than average. That probably does correlate with certain kinds of art making. A lot of that is genetic.

Have you considered that your husband might be subtly or not subtly pushing hard for children now in part because a while back, what a year or two ago, you told him you can’t be completely monogamous and haven't been, he knows how high your sex drive is, and now he sees how much you’re gone, even more than before, and he knows of your other phone, and so on, and he doesn’t want to think about it much, but does so anyway and more so subconsciously?

You've said he's never been ok with it, much less enjoys any part of it (as a few men do), he simply doesn't want to lose you. He also knows as everyone does who’s at all immersed in American culture and watches our movies and other shows on occasion, that the vast majority of mothers with young children have a greatly lowered sex drive. Is there any more common wisdom than that? (Yeah of course there are always exceptions which proves nothing.) Have you considered whether he thinks motherhood is the best way, maybe the only way, of reigning you in, or even keeping you around longer term from here, 12 years and counting, even on a don’t tell me about it “cheating” basis? I'm talking about what he might think and fear subconsciously and consciously, even if you are in fact fully committed to the marriage as you’ve said and I have no reason to doubt, given your husband’s acceptance.

Musns said...

Parenting is one of those life changing things that most people don't realize until it is too late. I have 4 (agess 11 to not quite 2) and after this 4th child, I realized I hate the lack of privacy, the fact I have to have sex with the door locked while a child is banging on it yelling mommy, mommy, mommy....(if I want to have semi-spontaneous sex) - no wonder in the movies, those couples only had Sat night sex and that was it.

I hate having children walk into the bathroom while I'm in the shower, sitting on the toilet or putting my make up on.

I hate the fact my house is a disaster at ALL times - the kitchen is never clean, the living room is always covered with toys and crumbs from kids eating in there, the dining room table is always sticky, the bedrooms are always covered with toys and clothing (dirty & clean).

And I'm not even starting on the commitments that happen as the kids get older - baseball for one is bad enough, what the hell will it be like when I've got 4 in a sport at the same time.