Friday, June 25, 2010

in style

Cameron Diaz and I were born the same year, she in Long Beach, California, I in Oslo, Norway. We were children in the seventies, went to school in the eighties.

In 1981, Norway's first female prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, was elected. Before serving as prime minister, she had worked as a physician, first at the Directorate of Health (Helsedirektoratet), after that as a doctor in Oslo's public school health service. In 1989, after her third term as prime minister, she was elected Director-General of the World Health Organization. In 2004, the Financial Times listed Brundtland the 4th most influential European over the last 25 years, behind Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher.

"Gro" was also the mother of four and she looked a whole lot like my mom. And she told us that it was "best to be Norwegian."

(Photo of Gro Harlem Brundtland, courtsey nrk)

So though my mom was a stay-at-home mom with some part-time office gigs, I never questioned my opportunity to be just like "Gro" when I grew up; to have a career, and be a mom.

Diaz has another perspective. In InStyle's July issue, she explains, "I grew up in the '80s, when women who were powerful wore men's suits and couldn't have families and were tough as nails. Then in the '90s, women decided, Wait, I want to have kids and a career, I want it all. And now we're discovering in our first decade of the new century that you can't do all of it--not well--all at once. Sometimes you have to pick and choose. And that has to be good enough, having faith that you're doing the best that you can." (183)

Frankly, I am amazed and impressed by Diaz' perspective. I entered motherhood naively thinking I could continue to have a full-fledged career while being a full-fledged (as in fully present and attached) mom.

How wrong I was.

I guess, had I never left Norway, I might have stayed at home the first year of my child's life, on fully paid parental leave (established in 1946, it has grown steadily from 12 weeks in 1946 to 42 weeks, with no salary reduction, by 1993, or 52 weeks with a 20% reduction), and then gone back to work with my child in state subsidized daycare as almost all other moms in Norway do. And then I probably would have returned to a full-time career while perceiving myself a very well-attached and present mom for my child.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

mother said

And then there are books like Mother Said, a tiny collection of poems by American poet Hal Sirowitz. This is the kind of book that just says it all, from mother bashing to mother love, very simply put, in a minimal amount of words. I just read it tonight, translated to Norwegian (Sirowitz is a best-selling poet in Norway; Mother Said and My Therapist Said have been translated by acclaimed Norwegian author Erlend Loe; Mother Said has also been adapted for the stage in Norway and turned into a series of animated cartoons). I would quote something telling from it, but it's in Norwegian, and this blog is in English.


Ever felt like there isn't a whole lot of appreciation in today's society for all the work we moms do? Aside from all the lip service, I mean. 

Well, in Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America, historian Rebecca Jo Plant traces the dwindling of Mother Love and the growth of mother-blaming from the 1920s, with the growth of secularized values and followers of psychoanalysis that questioned the moral status of Mother, through world war II where pin-up girls replaced Mom for serving soldiers abroad, and up until its accumulation (in Plant's account) with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) and second wave modernism. "Mother-blaming" allowed women of Friedan's generation to "signal a rejection of Victorian moral strictures and a commitment to a more secular, psychologically oriented approach to sexuality and the self. It could also be a way of mocking a middlebrow popular culture that seemed hopelessly sentimental, or a means of repudiating nativist patriotism in favor of a more democratic notion of American identity," explains Plant, adding that "for an ambitious young woman like Friedan, it could be a way of conveying a fervent desire for a different kind of life than that which her mother led" (150).

While I can relate with that last bit there in particular, there are some other interesting parts about Plant's book too, like how the quest for painless childbirth changed the way we view (and appreciate) the labor (!) women go through to give birth to children.

To me, the book is marked by being originally written as the dissertation of a Ph.D. candidate in history. It's limited in scope and it nails down its main point repeatedly. I found The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart to be much more enraging and inspiring (blogged about here). But Mom is still worth checking out. Especially if you're interested in the historical nuts and bolts of how "antimaternalist" mother bashing came to replace mother praise.

Friday, June 11, 2010

mixed feelings

Our daughter is turning two on Tuesday, and I'm a mixed bag of emotions for it. On the one hand, I'm wrought into this intense emotional state where images of her right after birth flash by me; that precious little thing that was whisked away from me right away because of some complications during birth (as I suspected, she turned out to be just fine and I'm very bitter and sad about the way the pediatrician who was on call dealt with the situation, but that's a story of its own post and book). Or just a year ago, when she turned one, a plump little girl with a couple of teeth; hugging her I look so fresh and tanned. Now my color is ashen, hair dead, whereas she's this teethy girl, with molars even, tall, even more willful than before, still gleeful, so happy, everyone comments on her big smiles. She loves to run, climb, explore, talk and smile to people, play, play, play. And she's just looking so precious.

(My daughter Lilly and I last year in Greece)
(Lilly and her papa, Leighotn, this summer at the Walker)

While I adore her though, I find my days with her getting so long. Tedious. Boring. We fill our time with play-doh, drawing, reading, changing "baby's" clothes. Changing her cloths. Going outside. Or rather, first she wants to go outside. But does not want clothes on. The after much struggle gets clothes on. Goes outside. Plays in the sandbox. Goes sliding on the neighbor's slide. Runs around all our neibhbors' houses, climbing steps and flowerbeds.

If I'm lucky I get some weeding done in between in our garden.

Then there are playdates, read & play at the library, music & movement classes at the YMCA.
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