If I were Smarter…

I guess if I were smarter, I would’ve started this blog five years ago — and hooked whatever hypothetical readers there might be out there (as of now there aren’t any, since I’m afraid to “unveil” this to friends, much less the world) with the easily-packaged narrative arc of motherhood: the pregnancy; the baby; the sleepless nights; the long haul from childlessness to parenthood; the slow, incremental realization that when, Before Children (B.C.), people (like your mother-in-law) said “boy, your life is going to change,” what they really meant was: “have fun being broken down by the boot camp of parenthood. The screaming drill sargeant, the face shoved in the mud, the complete subjegation of your will in the service of something larger than yourself — all true.”

Or probably if I were REALLY smart, I would’ve started this blog even earlier, while working some mind-numbing job, from which I would’ve then gotten fired because of time spent blogging, a la dooce.com. Oh, the publicity! I would’ve been set for life.

But on the other hand— if I were really smart, maybe I wouldn’t start a blog at all. We all know you should never say anything online that you wouldn’t want the entire world to hear, a caveat that, disregarding the damage following that advice would do to all the hundred million blogs this one keeps company with, makes me realize that I have never said or written anything I want the whole world to hear, not even my grocery list. I mean, think about the whole world: my mother-in-law, previous boyfriends, George Bush, potential employers, people who might one day publish the book I should be writing instead of this blog, the old lady who lives next door, the director of my daughter’s preschool, the C.I.A. Talk about stifling creativity! This may be why much of the writing one finds online more resembles the sort of automatic writing channelled by a medium from dead souls than it does any kind of art. Nothing squelches art like the idea that it has to undergo the scrutiny of the whole world.

All it takes is toggling from one button to another: and then this blog will go from being ether to being something that anyone, including actual strangers or the F.B.I., can read (Is there a file out there somewhere labelled Subversive Mothers? Would it be all that bad if I actually ended up on it, especially since, so far, I haven’t had anything particularly subversive to say?)

I’m not sure if this dilemma is unique to Blogworld, or hits on something about writing in general. You either make the leap and reveal something about yourself, or you don’t.

And you know, I can’t have it both ways. I can’t both fret that no one in the world will ever read this AND simultaneously worry that having written it will someday come back to bite me on the ass. The two are mutally exclusive.

White Noise

Suddenly I have become the parent of a child old enough to attend school. Real school. Where they wear backpacks and have a dress code (all those lovely sundresses bought this summer — not ok). Real school, where the library is called the media center ( —Did you have a media center when you went to school, Mama? — No, it was just called the library then. We didn’t have media!) Real school, which I now realize was not what came before this. Real school — my child is out of my purview for seven hours. She eats lunch in the cafeteria, for God’s sake, and I have no idea if a vegetable has passed between her lips at lunchtime since August 13, the day school started. And there’s not a whole heck of a lot I can do about it: all I can do is hope she’ll make good choices.

Which actually, now that I think about it, is about all I’ll be able to do about anything, from now on. Hope my kids make good choices, and that I’ve given them decent tools to do so. That’s my job — the rest is up to them and whatever higher power you choose to give credit to.

The enormity of this state of affairs has left a number of my colleagues seriously discomforted. (“Colleagues” as in motherhood has become temporarily, or not, at least one of the jobs they hold; “colleagues,” because most of the conversations I have with them resemble the water-cooler trivialities you exchange at work).

Me, even though I have a younger child still at home, I feel free. Or maybe not free, but free-er. Also anxious. This could be my chance to have a couple of adult thoughts long enough for them to actually run their course, without being interrupted by someone under four feet tall who has a question, a need, a desire to watch television, is hungry, thirsty, wants me to wipe their nose, their bottom, wants to tell me what they want to do, what they don’t want to do, what they did, what they didn’t do, or maybe just wants to illustrate their complete and utter control over me by laying their head in their sister’s lap so that said sister will pull her hair and I, the Mother, will then say, in the tone of voice used by mothers for millenia: if you don’t want her to pull your hair, don’t put your head in her lap!

What if, when all that white noise goes away, there’s nothing left? What if those adult thoughts aren’t really worth much? What if…

This is the reason people have more children. Or keep their kids out of preschool longer than most. Yeah, once I mourned the loss of my sense of self but now I’m not so sure — outside of the ugly but comfortable Keen shoes, the bermuda shorts, the dated haircut, in short, outside of being a mom — who that self really is.

Joining the Throng

I don’t know if there’s a timetable somewhere for midlife crises but 42 seems a pretty good age to embark on one. At thirty-one I was jetting around the country to promote a book (although the fact that I was doing this at my own expense and had to take a plane because I lived in another country slightly dilutes the freewheeling and successful image this conjures up). Now I’m forty-two and the only thing I’ve done in the past year or so that can be classified as “writing” is to waste the previous year waxing eloquent in emails sent to the other members of the board of my oldest daughter’s preschool about a variety of subjects that mattered not a whit to a single sane soul in the universe. Because these women also often found themselves deeply concerned about subjects that mattered not a whit to a single soul in the universe, occasionally one would be nice enough to profess admiration for my writing ability, but other than that I think it would be safe to say that my writing career, my avocation, my calling — whatever you want to call it — is pretty much dead in the water. Since it was hardly seaworthy at the best of times (can you say “literary fiction” and “midlist author”?) this is a pretty fucking sad state of affairs.

Perfect reason to embark on a midlife crisis, right? Running out to put a bright red sports car on the Amex has not been a viable means of getting through this period of my life; nor is taking up skydiving. So lately I’ve been asking myself: What would be the 21st century, cutting-edge way to indulge a midlife crisis? (In other words: is there a cool way of being so uncool as to question what the fuck you’re doing with your life?)

The answer of course — is to start a blog. If the cyberworld were an actual physical space, blogs would be the cockroaches that live beneath its floorboards and behind the drywall. There are millions of them. Each one has links to three more just like it. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from the number of blogs in the world is that nobody in America is doing any “work” — we’re all just punching clocks, literal, metaphysical or spiritual, so we can sit down and vomit out our hearts out to our computers.

Or put another way: Blogging is the new knitting! Some of us make lovely cashmere sweaters, others of us, unidentifiable lumps of overly-handled dingy yarn.

So why add my voice to this unholy clamor? We’ll pass over the naive greed that for about .73 seconds made me entertain the idea that writing a blog might actually be a way to make money from writing. (This turns out not to be the case, of course.)

When my oldest daughter was born, I found myself unable to surgically amputate my writer-self from the Mommy I had become, a state of affairs that did absolutely nothing for me but lead me down the primrose path of postpartum depression. In fact, sad refugee from academia that I was, I found myself unable to keep from examining the world in which I found myself as a potential narrative.

How do women write about motherhood? How do they talk about it?

The conclusion I came up with then, and could probably call my manifesto now (except that all you have to do is Google “mother” and “manifesto” to see how overused that concept is) is this:

We all behave as if the choice about how to talk about motherhood is easy, lies either in sentimentality or its inverse, some wry jocularity. I have to believe that the truth is more complicated than that, that it resides elsewhere, spreads and deepens, shifts and shimmers; watery enough to both sustain and drown.

I suppose I’m adding my voice to the calaphony because it still seems laudable, to wade through the bog of motherhood in search of that watery elusive truth. To figure out a way to talk truly about this messy business of mothering, called women’s work for so many millennia.

Besides, I spend most of my life with the under-six set. With who else can I share my observations about the deeper meanings of My Pretty Pony, Dear Reader, but you?