Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Relational Process

I left academia because I worked myself silly, researched myself nearly into the ground. I slept for four hours per night. I was exhausted and not sure how our family would be able to sustain two academics.

But I didn’t leave academia because I didn’t like literary theory. I actually quite liked it. It was one of my focus areas for my M.A. exam.

Lately, while searching for places to submit my writing, I’ve stumbled upon some calls for papers in an area that wasn’t on my radar back when I was getting my Master’s in English: academic writing about mothering. And I’ve got to say, it’ s pretty interesting. But having gained eight years and two kids worth of perspective since I abandoned the proverbial ivory tower, the word play and jargon in this description made me laugh:

While much of Western thought has celebrated the splitting of women’s identity into “mother” or “other”—the perception that women cannot be both—re-thinking mothering from the perspective of “performativity” recognizes the relationality between mother and other. When mothering is conceived of as performative it becomes an active practice de-centering the notion that motherhood is passive and static. Performativity shifts our attention from motherhood as biological, selfless, and existing prior to culture, to a practice that is always incomplete, indeterminable, and vulnerable. A relational understanding of m/othering opens up the possibility of an ethical form of exchange between self and other and allows us to understand the maternal subject as engaged in a relational process which is never complete and which demands reiteration. M/othering as performance contains the potential for a disruption of dominant discourses on maternity and thereby makes room for maternal agency. This re-conceptualization of m/othering refuses to be split, while also remaining ambivalent.

Now that I’ve read it about four times, though—I’ve gotten slower with my advancing age and kid-riled brain—I’m starting to get pulled back in. Really, who can resist such a playful idea: the m/other. I might even submit something. Of course, there’s the little problem of my curriculum vitae. It isn’t exactly impressive. But hey, I’ve been busy. I’ve been engaged in a relational process which is never complete and which demands reiteration. Darn laundry.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Early Morning Run

Luke just found out who his teacher will be for first grade and who else will be in his class. He is pretty excited that four of the boys that he really liked in his class last year will be in his classroom this year. When I listed the four girls from his kindergarten class on this year's class roster, he mentioned that he considers two of them to be his friends.

Then he sighed. A long, deep sigh.

"But McKenzie isn't in my class," he said.

I vaguely remembered that McKenzie was the girl he called his girlfriend last year.

"She is sort of my girlfriend, Mom," he said. "Really."

"Oh, okay," I answered, as nonchalantly as possible.

"I want a girlfriend!" whined Henry.

"You can have one!" said Luke emphatically. "All boys need girlfriends."

"Can Spiderman be my girlfriend?" asked Henry.

“No, Henry. Spiderman is a boy. If you want him for a boyfriend, that means you are a girl,” said Luke.

“Do girls have vaginas?” asked Henry, abruptly.

“Yes,” I said.

“Girls don’t poop out of their butts?” he asked.

A rudimentary anatomy lesson ensued. Rudimentary because during all of this, I was running while pushing them both—over 80 pounds of kid—in the double jogging stroller.

After Henry was a little clearer on waste elimination, he told Luke, “Okay, I’ll have a big girl friend.”

Luke laughed—perhaps envisioning Henry and a giantess—but I told Luke that Henry was probably just thinking of a big girl who was his friend. On our trip, he considered his cousins, 10, 13 and 16, to be “big girls,” and he loved them. They played with him, painted his face, read him books, danced with him.

“No, Henry, you need a GIRLFRIEND,” said Luke.

“What do you mean by girlfriend, Luke?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

“A girl you are friends with?” I asked.

“No, Mom,” he answered, obviously impatient with me.

“A girl you like an extra lot?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “one you might marry.”

“Oh, so the other night when you said that you would never move out of the house, when you said you would live with Mom and Dad forever—that might not be true?” I asked as nonchalantly as possible, lest the excitement in my voice betray me.

“Yah, I guess I might move out some day,” he answered.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

That Luke, He's a Growin'

Luke turned six a couple of weeks ago while we were in Alaska. It was the perfect sort of birthday for him: a two-part celebration, taking the pressure off of any one night. Because we were doing it this way, we talked to him a lot about how he wouldn’t be getting many gifts on either night, and how at the second party, his birthday was only part of the focus. So he was sweet and grateful for his gifts and not too demanding of attention. (Okay, he did demand that my dad design a treasure hunt with a birthday present at the end.) On the day of the birthday itself, we made his favorites for dinner—boxed macaroni and cheese, cheese pizza, and a huge platter of berries, with chocolate cupcakes for dessert. It was just my family and a couple of presents—and the treasure hunt, in the clues of which my dad obligingly included the word poop. Then, a few days later, Craig’s parents had their usual summer “friends and family party,” where we also sang Luke happy birthday, ate cake, and watched Luke open a few more presents from the guests who knew he had recently turned six.

And next week—next week!—Luke starts first grade. Somehow this feels a little scarier to me than Kindergarten. He will be in school until three in the afternoon instead of until 11 am. He will probably have homework. Last night, Luke tearfully asked, “If I am in school all day, and if Daddy puts us to bed, when will I ever see you?” I tried to explain that “full day” school doesn’t mean “all day” school, but he is still anxious about the upcoming year.

But Luke is growing up. He is often calmer. He doesn’t scream and cry as much as he used to. He wants more independence. He climbed a whole mountain when we were in Alaska.

And he has big plans for the future. Last night while we were driving in the car, coming back from a canoe and swimming trip and listening to what the kids refer to as “rock and roll,” Luke said dreamily, “When I grow up I’ll have to get a job. And the job I will get is a player in a rock and roll band.”

Here he paused dramatically, making sure that we were all listening.

“And we will play INAPPROPRIATE MUSIC.”

Oh, yes, he is growing up. Climbing mountains, making plans for the future. He even recently commented on his past writing, noting how “babyish” a story that he wrote a year and a half ago is. At one point, the hero of the story is in big trouble, but then he finds a “radiation poner” which saves him. Luke laughed and laughed, and then said, “When I was four I said crazy stuff.”

This morning he spent an hour in his room, finally emerging with a contraption that he called the “bionitransmogulator.” Boy, good thing Luke is six now so he no longer invents crazy stuff.

I remain hopeful that his imagination will serve him well. The other day we were playing at the park and he wanted me to pretend to be his slave. I said no, that I would pretend to be his servant but not his slave.

“But WHY?” Luke whined.

“Well, Luke, in our country we used to do something very horrible. We made black people slaves and it was so awful, one of the worst things in the history of our country. And so the word slave makes a lot of people think of that,” I responded, thinking, as I talked, that I was saying too much.

Luke thought for a little while. Then he replied, “Okay, Mom. But who were the People of the Black?”

How I hope Luke can continue to invent bionitransmogulators, conquer mountains, imagine worlds in which race doesn’t exist. Happy Birthday, my big six-year-old boy. May it be a year of wild stories and big dreams.