Mother’s Day Ramblings

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who have ever mothered anyone.

I spent a good chunk of my morning gardening. Since I live in a rainforest, that mainly involves ruthlessly cutting back and digging up. I don’t do these things often enough, so my garden is basically a jungle. That look is fine in spring, but when the bluebells and poppies are done blooming, it’s just a mass of sorry-looking foliage.

My daughter and I sowed wildflower seeds in “her” corner of the garden. I hope we’ll have better luck with that this year than last, but since I bought the seed packets on a whim at the dollar store I’m pretty dubious. Lest you think that I’m setting myself up as a paragon of motherhood, this charming interlude was shortly followed by an epic shouting match.

That Time Cover

Speaking of paragons of motherhood, my Twitter feed was abuzz about Time‘s “Are You Mom Enough?” cover. I guess once we’ve wrung our hands over kinky fantasies and birth control, parenting choices are the logical next step for link-bait journalism. My gut response was that the image sexualized breastfeeding an older child, and the discussion around it suggests a lot of people saw it the same way. Many people already think that breastfeeding “too long” (whatever that means) has weird sexual overtones, and I felt the image played into that.

The “behind the cover” discussion (in the link above) reinforced my discomfort. Photographer Martin Schoeller says he used “religious images of the Madonna and Child as reference,” but I’ve never seen Jesus standing on a chair. He goes on to say:

“When you think of breast-feeding, you think of mothers holding their children, which was impossible with some of these older kids. . . . I liked the idea of having the kids standing up to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.”

WTF? I breastfed both my kids until just past two. They are big kids. I never found it “impossible” to hold them in my arms. Though the “behind the cover” feature starts by saying these are not “models in pose,” they are posed, and in a way that, by the photographer’s own account, deliberately implies they are doing something weird.

On the other hand, I appreciated online conversations that challenged my feeling that the image sexualized breastfeeding. Was I just responding to the fact that Jamie Lynne Grumet is young, blonde, slim, conventionally lovely and wearing close-fitting clothes? I was bothered by the fact that she pulled down her tank top, exposing her whole breast. I’ve never done that when breastfeeding and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else doing so, either. But my breasts are bigger than hers; I wouldn’t wear a top like that or go braless under it. Maybe pulling it down is perfectly natural for her. Finally, I read (and unfortunately forgot to favorite) a tweet suggesting that the image challenges the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Here’s a sexy, beautiful woman who is also being a mother. Hmm. One reason I love social media: it makes me think.

Wild Things (Farewell, Maurice Sendak)

When I was a kid, we spent a month or so every summer at our cabin in northern Wisconsin. One year, it seemed like it rained every day until about 4:00. My mother was driven to distraction trying to keep us entertained. When it cleared, she’d send us out into the driveway to have a wild rumpus. My sister and I leapt around roaring our terrible roars and gnashing our terrible teeth. The New York Times has a great feature today where various artists express (graphically and in words) their appreciation of the late Maurice Sendak.

The Narrative Byways of Children’s (And Other?) Lit

In the Children’s Books section of today’s Times Book Review, Adam Gopnik reviews a couple of fantasy novels and comments on their narrative strategies:

What makes adult books last is, as with wine, their mix of fruit and acidity, sweetness and tanins; what makes children’s books endure is their sheer density, as with milkshakes. The marriage not only of jokes and non-jokes, but of a fecundity of episodes, of strange storytelling and unexpected lyric corners, supplies for younger readers the satisfying fullness of imagination. What we remember in the classics is their side chapels as much as their altars.

I’m not totally sure I buy (or understand) his metaphor for adult books, but certainly many of my favorite children’s books are full of episodes that don’t necessarily do much except entertain or interest us. Did Anne of Green Gables have to screw up yet again in a funny way? Did the Little House books have to teach us how pigs were slaughtered? Did those episodes advance the plot or develop character?

So much of the genre fiction I read now seems driven by the imperative that every moment in the book do something; otherwise, readers will complain about “slow pacing” and “info-dumping.” And yet, when Heroes & Heartbreakers did a post asking what readers miss most about “old skool” romance, epic wandering plots and detailed historical texture were frequently cited. Surely there’s a balance in there somewhere?

Poetry of My Childhood

Like Book Riot contributor Elizabeth Bastos, I could describe the language of the (Episcopal) Book of Common Prayer as “the poetry of my childhood.” When pressed, I say I still make half-hearted attempts at religious faith because I’ve seen the way real faith has transformed people’s lives. That’s true, but I think the real reason might be that the language of my Episcopal childhood lingers in my subconscious and keeps tugging me back to church to hear those phrases again. My poor children heard things like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “My Song Is Love Unknown” as lullabies because my brain is packed with hymns.

I thought Bastos’ examples were kind of pallid, though. Doesn’t everyone with a vaguely Christian upbringing think “Lord Have Mercy” when confronted by laundry? How about “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table,” a phrase which always led me to picture dogs in a medieval castle? Or “this fragile earth, our island home”? Or “God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine”?

Betty Neels Does BDSM? (skip if you think this joke will offend you)

When my husband saw me reading Betty Neels, he asked if her name is a pun. “Of course not!” I replied. “Betty’s not like that!”

Except, you know, all the power dynamics are kind of there. So, who’s going to write about rich Dutch Doms under the pen name “Betty Kneels?” Also, I think Betty is one of my author Doms. Her books are full of things I think I don’t like, but somehow she pushes my limits and makes me try them, and I end up enjoying myself.

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6 Responses to Mother’s Day Ramblings

  1. Cecilia says:

    I have thoughts on a lot of these topics, but no time to wrangle them into presentable shape. So I’ll just say hell YES Little House needed to teach us how pigs were slaughtered! Also, how to cut ice from a frozen lake and store it. And how Pa cleaned his gun and built that decorative shelf for Ma’s china shepherdess.

    Laura Ingalls Wilder was a genius at that kind of procedural stuff. I don’t know of another author who can make setting the table sound fascinating. (In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura sets the Christmas table with presents on top of the plates, which have been turned upside-down. FASCINATING! And I don’t even know why – her technique is completely invisible to me.)

    Maybe she gets away with it partly because there are enough super-dramatic episodes (the grasshoppers, the time they all got malaria, scary Mrs. Brewster with a knife in the middle of the night) to balance out the quieter episodes. But I’m definitely glad those quieter tangents are there.

    • lizmc2 says:

      Exactly! I *loved* learning all that stuff. I miss those quiet moments and textural detail in a lot of my reading now (I think this is related to complaints about sex taking the place of relationship-building in romance, too).

      Now I understand why your lovers discussed agricultural techniques! It was a big part of why I believed in them being happy ever after. They will never run out of things to talk about.

      • willaful says:

        Yes! I enjoy actually *seeing* the hero & heroine communicate, rather than just being told “They talked about everything…”

        I was inspired to read the Little House books to my son because of my own memories of reading about how maple syrup is gotten from trees and how you rig up a line if there’s a storm and how you dig yourself a spot in the snow if you’re caught in one…

        I tend to dislike episodic books but children’s books do it right.

  2. Barb in Maryland says:

    OMG! ‘Betty Kneels” I love it! And I say this as a true Betty fan and part of the group over at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress, where I go by ‘Betty Barbara’.

    • magdalenb says:

      Thanks, Betty Barbara, for linking me here. (Hi, Liz.)

      Yes, the D/s dynamic is a distant twinkle in Betty Neels romances. (That is her real maiden name, though. Brit Hub 2.1 paid for a copy of Evelyn Jessy Neels’s birth certificate, shown here.)

      I think one of the appeals to her books is the same thing that readers of BDSM can enjoy (which is ironic, given how many of Betty’s fans are people who decry sex scenes in romances generally), namely the hero who works out precisely how to satisfy the heroine’s needs. Of course, Neels’s heroes suffer a bit at the end of the book, but usually not nearly as much as the heroine does, worrying about a wealth of issues not the least of which is whether the hero even cares. (Who else but a Betty Neels hero … or a Dom … would callously keep the inappropriate “fiancée” around just to make the heroine jealous?)

      And, as there’s no hint of what happens behind the bedroom door, well, who’s to say what happens behind the bedroom door? One thing’s for sure: Betty’s heroines definitely get their needs met!

      • lizmc2 says:

        I am glad you Neels fans enjoyed the joke. You’re right Magdalen, the more I think about it, the more I see parallels.

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