A writer friend comes round. She brings her son, who is the same age as my older daughter. Once we carried these children in our arms; at other times we pushed them in strollers, or led them by the hand. Now he follows his mother in like a pet lion on a leash, a proud, taciturn beast who has consented, temporarily, to be tamed. My daughter has this same aura of the wild about her, as though beneath a veneer of sophistication she is constantly hearing the summons of her native land, somewhere formless and free that still lies inside her and to which at any moment she might return. The manners of adulthood have been recently acquired. There’s no knowing how quickly they could be discarded. She and my friend’s son greet each other in territorial monosyllables. It is as though they are two people from the same distant country who have met here in my sitting room. They’ve met before, often, but you’d never know: Those were old– versions of themselves, like drafts of a novel the author no longer stands by. All the same, I expect them to take themselves off elsewhere, to another room; I expect them to flee the middle-aged climate of the sitting room, but they don’t. They arrange themselves close to us, two lions resting close to the shade of their respective trees, and they watch.
My friend and I have a few years of conversation behind us. We’ve talked about motherhood — we’ve both spent a large part of our time as a single parent — and its relationship to writing. We’ve talked about the problems and pleasures of honoring reality, in life and in art. She has never upheld the shadowless account of parenthood; and perhaps consequently, nor does she now allude to her teenage son as a kind of vandal who has ruined the lovely picture. We talk about our own teenage years, and the hostility of our parents’ generation to any form of disagreement with their children. Any system of authority based on control fears dissidence more than anything else, she says. You two don’t realize how lucky you are, and the lions roll their eyes. What is being controlled, she says, is the story. By disagreeing with it, you create the illusion of victimhood in those who have the capacity to be oppressors. From outside, the dissident is the victim, but the people inside the story can’t attain that distance, for they are defending something whose relationship to truth has somewhere along the line been compromised. I don’t doubt that my parents saw themselves as my hapless victims, as many parents of adolescents do (“You have this lovely child,” a friend of mine said, “and then one day God replaces it with a monster”), but to me at the time such an idea would have been unthinkable. In disagreeing with them, I was merely trying to re-establish a relationship with truth that I thought was lost. I may even have believed that my assertions were helpful, as though we were on a journey somewhere and I was trying to point out that we had taken a wrong turn. And this, I realize, is where the feelings of powerlessness came from: Disagreement only and ever drew reprisal, not for what was said but for the fact alone of saying it, as if I were telling the residents of a Carmelite convent that the building was on fire and was merely criticized for breaking the vow of silence.
From “Raising Teenagers: The mother of all problems” in The New York Times by Rachel Cusk.
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Posted in arguments with your partner, book review, fatherhood, feminism, motherhood, motherhood bliss, motherhood sux, preschoolers, school kids, sex of the icky parental kind, single parenthood, thinking, this moment, writing on January 12, 2015 |
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I was very flattered to be a guest writer for Meanjin this week for their series on writers reading. I was told to be very reflective on my year and.. I was that. Eek.
There’s a small child in the bed with us. I hold the sheet over me and reach down blindly to find clothes on the floor. Under the sheet I slip my underwear and t-shirt back on. So, this is dating now.
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Posted in arguments with your partner, body image, book review, fatherhood, feminism, feminist motherhood, motherhood, motherhood bliss, motherhood sux, sex of the icky parental kind, single parenthood, work and family (im)balance on August 7, 2014 |
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If sex is dangerous territory for memoir writing then it is surpassed only by motherhood. Mothering is so wrapped up in notions of sacrifice that it can scarcely sustain even the mildest critical eye without some controversy. Rachel Cusk, one of my favourites in this field, is completely vilified for her memoir writing. In fact, a scathing review of her latest memoir, Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation won Hatchet Job of the Year. Sometimes the criticism of her motherhood writing is about her taking domestic life too seriously; something that is notably considered “brave” when done by a male author.
But more often it is about Cusk being insufficiently cheerful about domestic life. In depicting herself as a mother in Aftermath, Cusk is devoted to her children but you are still invited to consider her selfish. Cusk describes an argument around shared parenting revealing her own monster. For Cusk to pursue her writing career, her ex-husband had given up his job and become a stay-at-home father. Now that they’re divorcing, Cusk is horrified to discover her rights as a mother aren’t enough to allow her primary care of the children. Cusk was roundly criticised for this moment in the book – oblivious, nasty and domineering.
But you only know this information because Cusk gave it to you. She realises her sense of injustice is perverse. She is exploring a wider point about how ill-equipped early attempts at feminist living are for the emotional bonds of motherhood. She is thinking not just about what the moment means for her but what it means for everyone else, too. If you think she’s selfish because of this anecdote I have to wonder how well you’ve received the gift of confession. Because personal writing, more than anything else is a favour of empathy.
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There are many interesting stories to be told about the experience of being a single parent, not least of which is being a single parent by choice, but the story I am interested in at this time is about suddenly being a single parent – about the transformation from partnered to single. When you go through a serious relationship break-up you are inevitably changed as a person. Some of that change is a kind of growth but much of it is loss, too. What happens when that self-discovery and reinvention is happening within the constraints of being a parent?
I interviewed three thoughtful, joyful friends about becoming single parents.
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Posted in cormac, fatherhood, feminism, feminist motherhood, i like walking, lauca, motherhood, motherhood bliss, pop culture, school kids, single parenthood, slow parenting, work and family (im)balance, your guide to perfect play dates on July 27, 2014 |
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This weekend we had a child to stay for a sleep-over and I am really a bit worn out and I wondered what we could offer in the way of fun things to do at our house. Because I can’t even get movies to play on the TV at the moment. And I don’t have the spare energy to figure it out nor the spare cash to pay someone else to figure it out.
But it was Anne Lamott who said something like you play to your strengths as a parent and this is what I’m good at… pulling unusual ideas out of my arse. So, I remembered an abandoned house I’d noticed on my morning walks and I asked the kids if they wanted to explore a haunted house and … bingo!
Doesn’t it look like something out of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road?
“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”
Back at my home..
I have exceptional taste, yes. I bought the arse tea cosy here.
Last month my father came back to Australia and stayed with me for a week. He was exhausted on the first night and after he went to bed I stayed up and wrote my column at the kitchen table. The next night I was incredibly tired and he stayed up alone for the very sad task of writing his mother’s obituary.
He read that obituary at the funeral the following morning. His writing was beautiful. It was all about how accomplished and yet unappreciated his mother had been for her domestic talents. My column about being accountable one day to my children’s future therapist was published that same day, and in a way, I realised my father and I had both written about feminist motherhood.
Every time I look at my kitchen table now I remember how we both sat and wrote our words there, one night after the other.
A doctor friend collects these little empty bottles from his surgery and gives them to me to use as tiny vases. Morphine and Ketamine can be the name of our hipster home decorating shop.
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Child neglect is filtered through a lens of bias that makes black mothers and poor mothers particularly vulnerable …all the more so when they parent in public space.
“In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.” – Anatole France.
“Mother jailed for letting her daughter run free – at the playground” by Brentin Mock in grist.
For the Harrell family, going to the playground is a luxury. The adults who could afford to be there that day assumed that her mother’s choice was irresponsible. Given the girl is black, they may have assumed worse: Mom’s a crackhead? Prostitute? Whatever the case, the child’s answer, that her mother was at work, was not good enough.
The adult who snitched Harrell out made another assumption: that parenting means around-the-clock supervision of children, and anything less is uncivilized. It’s those kind of gentry values that the creators of city public park systems were trying to avoid. They wanted a safe space accessible to people of all classes and backgrounds to enjoy recreation. Instead, in too many places it’s become a place where black and brown youth are made to feel they don’t belong — and certainly not without supervision.
“We’re arresting poor mothers for our own failures” by Bryce Covert in The Nation.
You’ve probably heard the name Shanesha Taylor at this point. She’s the Arizona mother who was arrested for leaving her children in the car while she went to a job interview. Her story went viral thanks likely to a truly heart-wrenching, tear-stained mugshot. Taylor, who was homeless, says her babysitter flaked on her and she didn’t know what else to do while she went to a job interview for a position that would have significantly improved her family’s financial situation.
“My son has been suspended 5 times. He’s 3″ by Tunette Powell in The Washington Post.
“Stolen Generation survivor had a long journey to love and care” by Martin Hoare in The Age.
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I wrote this column in response to my editor asking me if parents like me, who write, worry about what my children’s future therapist will think about my parenting and articles:
One does not like to dwell on permanent damage inflicted by self on children while one is tending to the work and family juggle. But guilt, like a fear of the dark, is something I have discovered you can’t really afford as a single parent. Anything that must be dealt with alone in the middle of the night should really be rationalised away as a priority. I have stopped fearing parenting mistakes the way I once did.
Possibly that means I make them at double the speed, though I doubt it. My parenting has generally been considered and kind-hearted and it has probably finally acquired something resembling competence. Though notably, I am also not seeking perfectionism in my relationships these days, least of all with my children.
I have begun to see the pursuit of perfectionism as stifling, distancing, a removing of oneself from the messiness of connection. So, it’s not that I don’t make mistakes. I am certain I make many while attempting to avoid others, but it is that I have faith in myself and my children to deal with those mistakes as they become clear. Well, I very nearly have that kind of faith, anyway.
And I interviewed Courtney Adamo, the mother who was banned from Instagram for posting ‘semi-nude’ photos of her toddler in this column.
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