I like to think it was Chaka Kahn that blared over the loudspeaker at my cousin's wedding reception in Cimigiano, Tuscany, two towns over from where our grandmother had entered this world in 1914. I strained to hear my cousin's other 90-year-old grandmother shouting over the music, saying that, not only was she dating, she was writing a book because, "Every time an old person dies, it's like a library is being burned." She told me how she'd raised ten children in Utah -- this ageless woman getting down with 25-year-olds in Tuscany.
I thought about all the women throughout history who had raised ten or more children. Wasn't that a feat at least as astonishing as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, at which I'd gaped only a few days earlier? Where were the female Dante's and Leonardo da Vinci's, the female Shakespeare's and Mozart's? Certainly, there were the Lady Murakami's, the Madame Curie's, the Queen Elizabeth's, but they numbered far fewer than the men to whom countless monuments had been erected, if you'll excuse the term.
It occurred to me that most of history's handmaidens were too busy raising, and often burying, children to invent, compose or write anything that would render them, in the eyes of a patriarchal world, worthy of a museum or monument. And yet, raising children requires, every day, in countless ways, ultimate creativity, artistry, substance, character, ingenuity, inventiveness, flexibility, fluidity, understanding, perseverance, patience, stamina and strength -- all characteristics that have earned great men their places in the hallowed halls of history. Indeed, many of history's greatest superwomen have been super moms, as well - from Cleopatra to Benazir Bhutto, Wangari Maathai, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ingrid Betancourt and Hillary Clinton.
Therefore, I propose an internationally recognized Museum of Motherhood (M.O.M.), based in Washington, D.C. And who better to instate it than a President Barack Obama, raised, as he was, by an extraordinary single mother and by a grandmother who was his household's primary breadwinner? Who better than a man married to a formidable woman? Who better than the father of two daughters? What a formidable legacy for him to leave behind in our nation's capital.
M.O.M.'s very architecture -- preferably employing the genius of a female architect -- could enhance the story of its contents, as does Berlin's Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Liebeskind. Its exhibits could span from pre-homo-sapiens motherhood through the present day and include women who have mothered in non-traditional ways, like Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale and the aforementioned Queen Elizabeth I. It could display representations of mother goddesses and icons from throughout the world and human history. It could show through film, interactive exhibits and the presentation of historic artifacts, how mothers have insured their families' survival in the harshest of conditions. It could exhibit renderings of mothers by the world's greatest artists. And it could highlight how mothers' civic engagement has promoted social change and peace -- the Tiananmen Square Mothers, mothers from Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, Catholic and Protestant mothers from Northern Ireland, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Cindy Sheehan's anti-war movement and so on. Russian mothers fought in World War II and American mothers fight in Iraq today.
Motherhood, in all its dimensions, deserves a tribute, overdue by millennia. Although I volunteered for Obama from the day that he declared his candidacy, I would have been overjoyed to celebrate the election of a first female President of the United States, as well. Indeed, I am not the first to remark that many of Barack Obama's qualities reflect female values -- the ability to listen to people with differing opinions, the ability to weigh all sides of an argument, thoughtfulness, consideration, grace under fire. Obama's election is historic, in part because of his race against Hillary Clinton. Now is the time for an American president to honor the contribution of women to our world.
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