How about this Mother's Day we all give ourselves a break, pick up Ayelet Waldman's latest book, Bad Mother, put our feet up, eat some chocolate, and pat ourselves on the back that the kids are still alive, we are, too, and that, really, if we think real hard about it, we can probably come up with more good news than bad news.
A woman I barely knew once told me that being a mother was the only job that one was sure to f**k up, and her admonishment has been as true as anything I've ever heard. The fact is that no matter what we do as mothers--whether we follow our own good mothers, whether we rebel against our own bad mothers, whether we read books on parenting or don't, and certainly whether we think we're doing everything right or are sure we're doing everything wrong-- the fact is that somewhere along the way the kids are going to grow up and leave home (until they come back) and every decision we made along the way will amount to just one more decision we made along the way.
I say we cut ourselves some slack. Forget Bruno Bettelheim and the good enough mother. In her new book Bad Mother, attorney, author, wife to noted novelist Michael Chabon and mother of four, Ayelet Waldman, is telling us we can aspire to being not bad mothers and she means it. And not bad is good enough for me.
Although a recent reviewer in Elle magazine calls Waldman a "bogeymama" and a "literary bomb-thrower" the real story is that Waldman is nothing more than a truth teller and the collection of often brilliant, inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking, and mostly right-on-the mark essays that make up Bad Mother should be required reading for anyone who has ever been a mother, aspires to be one, or is married to one.
Hers is the kind of much-need veracity that women who bear children almost never get and desperately need during the child-rearing years, as anyone who has ever become pregnant and longed for a little honesty will tell you.
Soon after my own fortieth birthday I began my own expedition into truth telling, trading in novelistic truth for that of the essay and I have begun to speak and lecture about such truth telling when asked to talk about writing to other writers. Now that I'm in my fifties, that honesty has stood me in good stead. Like Waldman I believe in honesty and so I appreciated her saying, right out in her introduction that "I believe that mothers should tell the truth, even--no, especially--when the truth is difficult." This is crucial, Waldman says, because as she points out, the world is constantly trying to make us feel like bad mothers, even when we try our best to be good ones, and "one of the darkest deepest shames so many of us mothers feel nowadays is our fear that we are Bad Mothers, that we are failing our children and falling far short of our own ideals."
If we can own up to that simple fact, I think, and this is what Waldman writes about, mothering will be a whole lot less guilt-inducing and a whole lot more joyful.
"Most men I've talked to understand that the women in their lives are not interested in sex when they are feeling beleaguered and frustrated, but they don't really get it. The average man can be angry and frustrated with his wife, but still be perfectly happy to fuck her. The anger might even be just the pinch of Spanish fly he needs. Your typical man uses sex to unwind, while the last thing typical woman wants when she's wound up is to have sex. Women--or most women, or some women, or the women I'm talking about, or maybe just women like me--do not find resentment erotic. On the contrary. If I am angry with you, or even just irritated, then the last thing I want to do is give you pleasure. I'll withhold it, even if it means I'm hurting myself, too."
This comes from a woman, mind you, who was booed on the Oprah show for admitting in a New York Times "Modern Love " article that she loves her husband more than her children. You gotta love a woman who gets booed on Oprah.
Mother's Day is just another made-up holiday, but we all do kind of expect that our kids will pay back some of the love and carrying and fetching we have done for them over the years. Maybe they'll even realize we've made huge sacrifices for them. No, that's far too much to ask. The best way to spend Mother's Day this year might be just to kick back and do a little reading and discover that none of us, well, most of us, are no crazier or saner than Ayelet Waldman, who is no crazier or saner than most us. Which is very comforting, I find.
We're all out there struggling to balance our kids and their needs with ourselves and our needs. As much as we love those babies and want the world for them, we need to try and keep a little piece of it for ourselves. Waldman, in her writing, in her truth-telling, in her soul-baring, helps us do that. As we attempt to keep all our many many balls in the air we acknowledge, along with Waldman, that they will drop and drop again and again.
But, as she tells us, "When they fall, all you need to do is pick them up and throw them back up in the air." That advice we can also live with.