In a Slate post What do “bad” moms and slacker dads have to tell us, Ann Hulbert questions the long-term effects (on children) of mommy bloggers gutting their children’s developmental lives on-line. My initial take was: Why criticize other mother writers—I know firsthand how easily one can be shut down by a casually (unintentional even) cruel remark or two. But the useful part of Hulbert’s article was that it prompted me to think about how our children will digest? reject? the psychic grid of so much introspection, self-help, desire to “process” that marks the U.S. parent generation (Sonoma County California, anyway). In a school meeting the other night, one of the Dads said, in response to why our second graders know the term, “sexting”, are using the word “sexy” and kissing in trees...“Look, whether we like it or not, the universe is accelerating...”
In a parallel world, I listen to our new washing machine, which my son informs me, spins at a rate of 450 mph. The ascending whine so accurately mimics take-off that I’m waiting for the stewardess and her oxygen mask demo until I realize again I’m only in a bunk bed waiting for sleep to interrupt my son’s next question (Why do we dream? his answer—It’s like during the day we play and our brain watches and at night our brain plays and we watch it--, much finer than mine—So we keep learning at night) and then he’s escaped again, to witness the silver glint of the spinning drum in the next room.
The sound induces enough anxiety that I miss our 20-year-old washing machine (smelling septic towards the end with our family layers of sand and black dirt settled in its under-barrel) which shook the entire house. A dinner guest made a remark I couldn’t get out of my head every night I ran wash: “I can feel your machine shaking the nails back out of their holes.” I guess better than picturing the walls of the house falling away from our floors is this new sensation of my body gearing up for hyperspace.
Which is where I’d rather be sometimes when I feel I’ve fallen short as a parent. A musician friend mentioned her inability to sit in the audience and enjoy an orchestra as it performs—she can picture the score, hear every wrong note. I feel a similar double awareness—my own childhood memories in the background and my own take on my parents, while in present time I’m attempting to parent well. I’m amazed by how long it can take to see where one fits in one’s family tapestry, and am grateful for the writers putting out their family under-stories, like Alison Bechdel (comic strip artist/writer of Dykes to Watch Out For) in her graphic novel: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I read it cover to cover, lured in by the poetry of some of her chapter titles: In the shadow of young girls in flower, The canary colored caravan of death, The anti-hero’s journey.
Bechdel captures the kind of bald statements parents blurt out (that make themselves feel better but confuse the hell out of their kids). In one scene, when it comes to light he’ll be visiting a psychiatrist (after a brush with the justice department over buying beer for an underage boy), the father says: “I’m bad, not good like you”—just the kind of admission I could see our “tell-all” generation making. I love Bechdel’s distillation of childhood, puberty, and arc into adulthood, her choice of quintessential scenes that impart her parents’ essences, the language she uses: “[My father] really was there all those years, a flesh and blood presence steaming off the wall paper, digging up the dogwoods, polishing the finials, smelling of sawdust and sweat and designer cologne. But I lived as if he were already gone (p. 23).”
I was moved by Bechdel’s intense grappling with her family of origin. I do feel we’re moving through time at an accelerated pace; thus I crave those writers who can slow down long enough to take me into the core of turning points that help me better understand relationships between human beings. I also just finished Blankets, an illustrated novel by Craig Thompson--a first love story, a beautiful weaving of poetry and drawn images that convey the intersection of psyche and physical world. When the young man receives the gift of a handmade quilted blanket from his lover, the lovers speak to one another from inside the various panels of the quilt.
Later as the protagonist watches his young lover sleep, he muses, “I realized that I didn’t want to be ANYWERE else. For once I was MORE THAN CONTENT being where I was. But I couldn’t sleep, so I listened. I heard Raina’s breathing—and beneath that, her heart beating—and beyond that, the gentle murmur of spirits in the room....And the sounds wove into a rhythm of hushed orchestration—spiraling me into slumber (pp. 432-434).” You have to see for yourself the haunting way Thompson braids in the images of snow, panels of quilt, the circles of heart beat, the frost angels working their way across the window panes.
You also have to live long enough to have such perspective on the past, and then, if like Bechdel and Thompson, you are lucky enough to chance upon the perfect medium to tell your tale, you’ve made the world a better place—and inspired in this mother, at least, the belief that my children will safely navigate their way (despite my shortcomings) through the particular story of their childhoods to their own sanctuaries of understanding.
Ann Hulbert’s post: What do “bad” moms and slacker dads have to tell us at: www.slate.com
Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children, a book by Hulbert
Fluency in form: A Survey of the Graphic Memoir, The Missouri Review, Winter 2007 issue (Vol. 30 #4) by Lisa Hoashi a review of Art Spiegelman’s Complete Maus, Marjane Satrapi’s Persopolis: The Story of a Childhood, David B.’s Epileptic, Craig Thompson’s Blankets, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home