The Great Mother

reflecting on life: stories, wisdom, inspiration, aggravation

Not Quite A Princess Post June 8, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 12:19 pm

I have been promising to get back to this princess stuff for a couple of weeks now, but my thoughts are still quite fluid on this topic.  Why do I cringe at the thought of princess dresses lining my daughter’s closet?  Is something in me triggered by the sparkles and ruffles?  Am I just a snob?  Is it that I tend to shy away from trends that are popular?  Am I simply unrealistic as I imagine my daughter’s early years?  Is this distaste really about consumption?  Is it also about feminisim?  Or is it that I prefer wood to plastic and creative play to television?  Lots of questions, lots of thoughts.

My ugh response is not just for the princess stuff.  Let me be clear that I’m not addressing specific families here, as many of my friends have daughters who enjoy the princess play.  The princess theme is big in stores, on television, and in movies.  So my ugh is really in response to the stuff.  When my son was born, I shied away from anything with a sports theme; particularly, bibs with “Daddy’s Little Quarterback” and the like.  My infant son wore neither camo nor a sports jersey.    Now that my daughter is here, I have avoided the “Daddy’s Little Princess” or “Little Flirt” but wonder what twists and turns are to come.

The first piece of my ugh has to do with the gender lines being not just clearly drawn but narrowly determined.  Boys play sports, cowboys, and trucks while girls play house, princess, and Barbie.  This article gets at some even larger lessons of race and gender images portrayed in popular children’s tv and movies.  My son, now three, does love to play cowboy but also enjoys cooking in his kitchen.  He roars his dinosaurs but also has my original Cabbage Patch Doll to play with.  My daughter will have access to the same variety of toys to spark her imagination.

What I want to avoid, if I have any influence or smarts about me, is the premature, hyper-sexualization that attempts to devour young girls in my culture.  The princess scene, as the stores market it, can give way to the weird world of preschool make-up and wigs; little girls worrying about their figures and already concerned with being sexy.  My fifth grade drug and alcohol awareness class warned of marijuana as the much-to-be-feared gateway drug that was just one weekend’s use away from a heroin addiction.  I think I look at the pink princess alley at Target in the same, overly fearful way; just one stroll down that toy aisle, and my daughter will be sporting a Hannah Montana wig in no time.

So the obvious companion piece to my concerns about the cultural messages of maleness and femaleness is the very real problem of mass consumption.  Clearly, this is a topic that is central in my mind much of the time.   I find fuel for my fire when I hear from good folks like Rev. Billy or when I read of ridiculous items such as the preschool toy in this NPR piece.  To believe that our children are not specifically and intentionally being targeted as consumers is naive and wrong.  While I am not free from the powerful draw and ease of the big box store, and while our house is not free of useless stuff and plastic, branded junk, I hope that I am mindful of my consumption and aware of the power that less consumption might have on the world.  Perhaps the mindfulness will win more often than the consumption does.

For better or for worse, much of this mothering life is coming face-to-face with my own childhood and upbringing.  In the context of this post, I think my childhood has positive lessons to inform my parenting today.  Born in the 70s, my early years were without a VCR (I remember going to rent one at one of the first video stores in town), without cable, and without video games.  The family yard, over an acre, was fenced all around and quickly became the neighborhood hang-out for kickball tournaments, hours of imaginative play in the boxwoods and playhouse, muddy attempts at digging a swimming hole, and hiding places to runaway just across the sidewalk from the back porch.  Toy companies were a little cleaner, Disney just offered up movies without branded fruit chews and band-aids, and dress up came out of my mother’s closet instead of off the shelves of a store.  Now children (at the present typing moment, my son included) are missing out on the joys of being outside.  There’s even a disorder named for it!

My thoughts and efforts and mothering hopes for good preschool years are intimately tied to those memories and tied to my own desire to tune out the messages that our culture bangs into our brains–messages about body image, about gender roles, about perfect home and perfect self.  For today, on this lovely June Monday, I will tune out the drone of the pink sparkle aisle at Target, I will close the PowerBook, turn off the tv, listen to my children’s voices, and enjoy the feel of grass under my feet.  So enough about all this; it’s time to play.

 

A Post To Come May 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 9:47 pm

Just read this AP piece about princess/super hero-mania.  I have lots to say about this but want to think on things for a couple of days before writing.  If you’re following along here at The Great Mother, then please read up and maybe watch the video I suggested last week to join me as I think aloud about consumption, early childhood, and lessons I’m learning.

 

Some Links May 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 3:03 pm

I read this blog post written by a charming fellow in California.  I enjoyed reading his account of Mother’s Day but particularly love the closing sentences about his mother’s touch.  Maybe it’s because I love my boy, maybe it’s because I love my mama, but I am energized by Ryan’s poignant words and the thought of a soon-yet-far-off day when my grown son will remember all the times my hands have cared for him.

I found this video through Mothering Magazine today and want to sit and watch all of it once the kiddos are asleep.  I think often, perhaps too much, about the lessons my son is absorbing about consumption.  This video fuels my fire and should spark good thoughts and conversation in your home, too.

 

Disquiet, Continued May 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 9:52 pm

It’s been almost a month since I wrote of some in-between feelings that have been strong lately; feeling in-between callings, in-between physical homes, in-between identities.  I’m amazed by how much of my experience of motherhood has been this journey of identity–a steady revisiting of who I really am at my core, what makes me deeply happy, what ignites my vocational passions, and the truth that I am (we are) whole without packaged labels of profession.  

I do miss home, the Gulf Coast home in Alabama with pecan trees in the backyard, jumbo lump and Gulf shrimp waiting in the freezer, 19th century house with wide-plank hardwood floors, cheese straws and sweet tea at the ready for unexpected guests, oak trees bowing to meet me over the street whose name my daughter now bears.  That home is in me even if I never get to return.  (Deep breath.)  That home will live in the new home I have created with my husband.  

But oh, oh, oh do I miss my mama.

And I still feel in-between in my vocational identity.  I don’t want that to matter as much, but it’s a nagging that doesn’t go away and that hasn’t gone away since middle school.  I was one of those kids that took church camps really seriously, and summer was always the rededication-recommitment-call-to-full-time-Christian-service time of year.  Maybe my decade of youth ministry has trained my body to anticipate some increased sense of calling or renewal as summer approaches.  For almost twenty years I have felt that my life would be about, to paraphrase Buechner, my passions and the world’s needs meeting.  That is not to say that motherhood isn’t “enough” for me or that witnessing my children’s lives isn’t calling.  I hope and pray that my husband and I have such a home that our children will become partners in caring for a world in need.  

But I still can’t figure out how the passions and words and desire to make change fits with who I am both as a mother and, according to my seminary degree, a Master of Divinity.  It leaves something fidgeting and wrestling in me.  At times I think I need to learn to breathe and move differently, release some of that busyness.  Right now I think this disquiet is a Holy Fidget (did I make that up?!)…a discomfort that precedes some new thing that will make sense of seemingly disparate pieces of my life.  I want to pay attention to the unsettled places in hopes that lessons are hidden there, paths are being carved out.  I want to pay attention in hopes that my mothering ways speak to my vocational longings and that my vocational ways inspire my home.  My disquiet, at its best, may continue this ongoing work of knowing my whole, true self.

 

Something Beautiful May 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 5:36 pm

I will post a “Part 2” soon to my recent here/there thoughts with particular attention to two good responses.  But, for today, I came across a deeply moving tribute that is best appreciated in a still moment: http://www.dayswithmyfather.com; I hope you will make time.

 

In This Place April 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 3:31 pm

I have been home for eight months now without any part-time job or any graduate school requirements. While I’ve had similar windows here and there since the boy’s birth, this is the longest and most free stretch in three years. I still fight the labels of stay-at-home mom and, especially, housewife.  I don’t really think of myself as either, though I know much of the world around me needs those labels so as to quickly identify what I’m doing (those same old, unfortunate tendencies to identify one another by vocation or action rather than presence and character).  

There are many joys in this at-home life: baking with my son, walking through the botanical gardens on a pretty day, picnic lunches on our porch, catching almost every new smile and laugh that our daughter shares, enjoying this old four-square Virginia home, listening to the quiet of the afternoon when both children are sleeping.  But there are times when I just can’t let it be enough.  I’m sure I’ve written about this before, and it’s not unique to mothers, but there are times when I struggle so with being content in this place.  

My latest disquiet sends me looking toward home, Alabama.  I miss home so much right now as a second grandchild will be reintroduced to her grandparents for months and months before remembering who they are.  I miss home as I do things alone that my mother and grandmother would so enjoy doing with me–walking with the kids, gardening, baking, making home.  My days at home still feel alone at times, even though they are centered around these beautiful children.  I find myself thinking, “I could do this anywhere.  Why am I here?”

I am present enough to myself and the moment, I hope, to realize that a couple of things might be at play here.  First, it is so easy to romanticize a place far away from this one (this one being wherever we find ourselves right now).  Second, packing up and running for the quiet of the Gulf Coast does not guarantee that I would be content in that place, either.  

I am also quite comfortable with the language of calling.  When my husband and I began to consider a move to Virginia, there were quiet, steady signs of calling.  I remember feeling sad as we said goodbye, but I do not remember feeling afraid to go.  Even in moments of great homesickness after arriving, I still did not doubt the rightness of the move.  Are my persistent feelings of disquiet signs that a new calling is on the horizon?  Or are these feelings signs that I need to learn to better be in this place?

Motherhood can be very isolating, and I have felt that from the beginning.  Whether at parties (left, once-again, to chase the children while the other grown-ups get to play), in old social circles (when childless friends no longer know how to relate to me and are aghast at my stay-at-home-ness), or even in the battle inside me as I feel the pull and push of desires and identity.  I want to feel at home, content, quieted whether here in this place or there in another.  In many ways, isn’t this life’s work?

 

Exhale Today April 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 3:25 pm

NYT: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/what-is-slow-parenting/

It’s a quick, lovely reminder of what is important and what is foolish.  I love the final paragraph:

Here in London where I live, one father I know lost his job in banking. The result was his two highly-scheduled children got yanked from most of their extracurricular activities. For several weeks he felt like a failure but last Sunday he woke up and realized that the family had a completely free day stretching out before them (instead of the usual manic dash to take the kids to multiple activities) – and he actually felt good about it. “I exhaled and it was like I was letting out a breath that I’d been holding for years,” he told me.

He puts it so well.  As the sunshine pours into my home, as the weekend approaches with promise of planting and playing, as my baby girl and so-big boy rest quietly in their rooms…I feel myself exhaling.  I strive to live a slow life but often find myself holding my breath–literally and figuratively.  I hope to remember for the rest of today, and through the fun weekend days ahead, to savor the moment and exhale well.