Tag Archives: identity

How is This Not a Non-Issue Already?

It’s July 3, which means it is also three days after the end of Pride Month (recognized both informally since Stonewall [42nd anniversary on June 28th, folks!]  and, for the last decade or so, in about as official a capacity as exists). And I messed up.

Instead of bringing the kids to the area Pride parade and festival last weekend, as was our original intention, my husband and I sent them away for a few days’ vacation at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Why? I was exhausted. I had to start a 16-hour shift at work later that afternoon. The money for gas and parking and food vendor concessions hadn’t been figured into our already-tight budget. Plus, I’m just gonna say it: the Pride festival makes me grumpy. It’s gotten bogged down with corporate-shilling-in-the-guise-of-goodwill; with political niceties and empty appeasements and pandering. (Dykes on Bikes do temper this harumph-ing, though. A little).

But the sum total of all these roadblocks doesn’t result in me being willing to let myself off the hook.


I’ve mentioned here on Pax (Ro)mama that I live in a small town in Western Wisconsin, the nearest major metropolitan area to which is the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. I grew up in a more middling community, an hour’s drive east of my current digs, that was located just a smidge outside the “Minnesconsin” subsumption radius, and had a fairly distinct civic identity.

Since college, I’ve been gradually creeping eastward: first to the cute riverside commuter city where I did my undergraduate degree, and then, thanks to the real estate bubble at the end of the last decade that rendered all other options unaffordable, to the  to the tiny village where my family has reluctantly put down shallow roots for three-years-and-counting.

Weirdly, the paths my husband’s and my professional lives have taken have had an inverse relationship with our homesteadin’ direction. My primary job is at a branch of a State agency in one of a handful of non-suburban, self-contained communities directly outlying the Twin Cities metro; and my husband works for a non-profit headquartered in an ethnically diverse and economically disadvantaged neighborhood in St. Paul.

For me, going home at the end of the work day often feels less like returning to my sanctuary than returning to my cell. I mean, it would conclusively feel this way were it not for the fact that I’m living in a age that affords me 24/7 access to an incomprehensible volume of information from the (relative) comfort of my own home. The internet also allows me to connect with others whose backgrounds, interests, challenges, and self-defined cultures are similar to or at an incredible remove from my own: freely, and at any hour of the day or night. It’s an incredible lifeline for taciturn, socially anxious and situationally isolated people like me.

But I’m an adult. I can make, with few limitations, choices about what information I seek out, what types of entertainment I consume and participate in, and with whom I associate. My kids, who are four and two, don’t have that luxury. Not just them: all young, pre-literate children. They still have to, by and large, accept what is handed to them; and what is handed to them subsequently becomes the foundation of their worldview. I wrote about the ridic level of psychic tension this has caused me — perhaps with greater hopefulness at the time — here.

It’s not all bad. In fact, because of the unfortunate reality that, in the U.S., kids are a cash cow of a demographic, if we want to rail against simple uniformity, we don’t really have to lift a finger. (Ni Hao) Kai Lan and Dora and the grand dame of them all, Sesame Street, have our backs (and our wallets). It’s clear to me that there has been a concerted movement, amongst children’s entertainment taste makers, to diversify offerings. Regardless of whether this is simply the result of revenue-motivated lip service, I think most people would agree that it is a step in the right direction.

There’s at least one big exception to the general trend, though, and it’s making me increasingly livid. Few in the field, or parents of the children that partake of this entertainment, seem to care much about heterosexism, homophobia, or cis essentialism. And even when they do, people tread lightly: myself, I’m sinkingly realizing, included.


Some context:

When I was in high school, I had a lot of queer friends. Like, a lot (proportionally speaking). In my free time, I watched VHS tapes of Derek Jarman and Gregg Araki movies from the only  (miniscule, independent) video rental place that shelved them, and borrowed Sarah Schulman books on inter-library loan. I tend to play my cards pretty close to the chest; so people who meet me as an adult — and ohmygod especially those who have only known me as a “mom” — are either unaware of my nearly-20-year-deep history as an unlikely stakeholder in the LGBTQ-what-have-you (we’ll talk about acronym-pain another time) movement , or suspect I’m working some angle but can’t quite isolate my motives.

The real story is … there is no story. And I think that’s what paints me as a curiosity for some, and has made me question, on many occasions, whether my support is even appropriate or desired.

By way of quasi-explanation, then, here’s where I’m coming from:

  • I identify as, and probably read as, a straight, cisgender woman; but I’m not wrapped up in this identity. Nor anyone else’s identity. Whether a person wants to firmly stake their claim in an incredibly specific way , or stays pretty flexible: it matters not one whit. I should also mention that I’ve been partnered with a cis man for 12 years.
  • I never had an epiphanic moment that guided me to “embrace teh Gay.” There’s no pat narrative. Many similarly-inclined heteros are like, “[Such-and-such close friend or family member] came out, and so I dedicated myself to the cause on their behalf.” I got nothin’. Except …
  • I’ve always been alienated from the (broadly-defined) Mainstream for reasons difficult to pin down, and have endured truly cruel, baseless bullying. So my empathy barometer is sensitive. I’m also culturally Catholic; my extended family is — frequently in practice, but universally in a philosophical sense — social-justice oriented and knee-jerk moderate-liberal. Is this the recipe that yields a straight, Midwestern girl who is fluent in the oeuvre of David Wojnarowicz, though? Eh.
  • And, no, I didn’t and don’t have any “sexually non-threatening gay male quasi-boyfriend” fantasies, or a desire to seem outre and rebellious, or a hope to be praised for my “progressive” attitude, or an anthropological sense of curiosity.

Lots of people and events and writings and works of art have informed, modified, and refined my attitudes. But, fundamentally, I continue to be motivated by the queasiness I feel when I think about queer youth — especially those who are still largely invisible, in rural areas or conservative, religious enclaves — trying to eke out a life without knowing whether their subsistence needs will be met, or if they will be safe from physical, emotional, and psychological harm, should anyone correctly speculate about their identity. For all the internet’s powers of connection-beyond-borders (be they geographical or cultural), in this case it may be (1) giving some vulnerable kids a false sense of security; and (2) allowing adults to feel all “mission accomplished” when the work is, in fact, not finished.


Ergo, when I became a parent, I knew I was being presented with a new opportunity to set things right in my own, small way. After all, the only anti-queer argument that appears to be given any non-fringe-legitimacy these days is, to quote Helen Lovejoy, “Won’t someone think of the children?!”

It’s a total strawman, of course, because clearly the people putting it out there don’t universally “think of the children” (with regard to educational opportunities, health care access, adequate nutrition, safe housing, et cetera).

Yet, somehow, we still allow it to retain trump card status.

Well, screw that, I thought. I’m a person with children. I want them to know that they can love and partner with whomever they choose, and so can everyone else. (I have had to break it to my four-year-old that marrying Grandma isn’t a possibility).

It’s recently dawned on me, though, that non-exclusivity isn’t the same as inclusivity, particularly if we’re dealing with a child’s developing consciousness. When I wrote about the call for accepting (traditionally) gender-normative behavior while still promoting gender-diverse parenting practices, I suggested,

If taste indoctrination is what is raising hackles, shouldn’t counter-indoctrination be viewed with an equally jaundiced eye?

The always-amazing and oft-cited Arwyn (my bloggy hero!) from Raising My Boychick responded,

While there’s a very big and important difference between anticonformism and nonconformism …, the cultural indoctrination around gender (among other things) is so very strong that to a certain extent, we need to lean far the other way just to make a difference in the overall trajectory of our children’s lives — and in part because we unconsciously, will we or nil we, aim them toward the gender typical ourselves.

Point well taken.  And, when I applied the lesson to my so-called efforts to ensure that my kids’ outlook didn’t have a heteronormative “default” (without exotifying or othering queerness [okay, so that sounds like an oxymoron]), it was apparent that I had set the bar way too low.

Unfortunately, I also learned that there were relatively few resources to help me raise it.


This is where living in a small town really complicates matters. As does, I guess, the fact that both my husband and I have (multiple) outside-the-home jobs, which means that the kids are with non-family caregivers for much of their day. (Although I hardly need an excuse to induce further guilt, there).  Due to Stuart’s and MaryAlice’s homogeneous surroundings, diversity awareness is something that has to be actively facilitated: and facilitated in a way that doesn’t favor the lens of the Dominant. (E.g. A children’s book about a Hindu family celebrating Diwali would be preferable to a story about a white, Christian kid going to his neighbors’ house to participate in their Diwali celebration and learn about the holiday).

As I mentioned earlier, this is now a breeze — requiring little-to-no effort — when it comes to fostering an understanding of differences in ethnicity, religion, ability, and socioeconomic privilege. But look for child-aimed literary, cinematic, and, most especially, television representations of  queer people and it’s largely … tumbleweeds.

Perhaps even more so because of the caveat that’s always at the front of my mind. I demand that these representations be unspectacular.

There are a handful of good children’s books (I am not aware of any widely available movies or television shows for preschool and early-elementary school-aged kids, although I do harbor suspicions about Victor and Pedro on Clifford the Big Red Dog), like King and King and 10,000 Dresses , that address non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities in an Issue du Jour way (and, I should add, with the hetero/cis parents portrayed as kind of assholish); or, like Daddy, Papa, and Me and Mommy, Mama and Me , that talk about families with same-sex parents. But I’ve been hard pressed to find titles where these factors are totally incidental to the “real” story. The one in our pretty extensive home library that most closely fits the bill is And Tango Makes Three. Which is about penguins.

(By the way, if you want to have an idea of what sort of conversations make me prickly-slash-hysterical, check out any of the unfavorable reviews for the aforementioned books).

In 2005, the PBS children’s animated/live-action hybrid television show Postcards From Buster (about a globe-trotting, anthropomorphized cartoon rabbit who meets kids and learns about their lives) notoriously attempted just the sort of casual approach to LGBT inclusivity that I advocate. And everything went kablooey.

In an episode called “Sugartime!”, Buster learned about … (gasp!) maple syrup harvesting and sugaring in Vermont. Some of the real kids featured on the episode had parents who were lesbians. Witness the horror.

PBS decided not to distribute “Sugartime!” to its member stations; in fact, the then-Secretary of Education sent out a missive warning against airing it, later explaining, “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode.”

We took Stuart to a maple-tapping demonstration last March. Should we be expecting a visit from Child Protective Services?


The conclusion I’ve drawn from all this ruminating is that, unless I want to awkwardly use my friends and their lives as object lessons for Stuart and MaryAlice (Um, no. Besides being inappropriately entitled, going  that route would also mean I’d need to leave my house more frequently [snerk]), the Pride festival is pretty much all there is for us. A less-than-perfect, once-a-year event, an hour’s drive away.

That. Is. Pathetic.

See, while I know the statistical likelihood is that my kids are (or will be) straight and cisgender, they are also my stand-ins for all the other children their age who aren’t. My ultimate vision is not that, in ten years or so, Stuart and MaryAlice and/or their peers won’t have any qualms about coming out to their parents, relatives and loved ones, but that the idea of coming out at all will be anachronistic. No one will care anymore, one way or the (/an) other. The kids will moon over stupid celebrities and shuffle through awkward proto-dates and openly sulk about unrequited crushes. And the parents will furrow their brows about more important things. That’s my hope.

But.

The chance to realize this wish may be quickly evaporating for today’s children, as our adult-governed culture of fear is allowed to continue to use the supposed “best interest of youth” as a smokescreen. It’s more than discouraging; and, try as I might, I can’t buoy my optimism by thinking, Well, maybe my grandchildren’s generation, then. Just 30 more years, and then  — then things will really be different. Forever, this time.

Because how many kids are we going to needlessly lose in those intervening years? And, when the sea change finally does come, how will I answer the question, “What took you so long?”

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And Another thing!

… or, “Why the Valentine Episode Touched a Particular Nerve”:

Almost everyone who knows me well enough to meet — or at least be aware of — my kids eventually hears the anecdote about how Stuart, my four-year-old, was “supposed to be a girl.” 

What happened isn’t all that uncommon. The technician administering my level 2 ultrasound had a little difficulty compelling cooperation from the 20-week fetus (imagine!). When he was finally able to achieve a view that allowed him to determine (“with 99.9 percent certainty”) the baby’s sex … well, Stuart must have been feeling a mite demure.

“See those three lines?” the technician asked. “That means it’s a girl!”

To this day, I have no idea what those three lines were; I only know that they weren’t labia. Because, when Stuart James (neé “Vivian Lucille”) was born, in the words of our midwife, “I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute: that’s a scrotum’!”

My husband, looking mildly surprised ("mildly") at the arrival of our baby BOY.

After we managed to convince my parents-in-law, who weren’t present for the birth, that, no, we were not, in fact, joking (this wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for Cullen, by the way. When we were discharging from the hospital, a nurse’s aide asked him if Stuart was his first baby. Cullen responded, without missing a beat, “The first that I know of!” while prompting her to give him a high-five. She looked kind of uncomfortable), we quickly got used to the idea of having a boy. Frankly, new parenthood was such a shock to the system that I couldn’t really think clearly enough to differentiate between boy, girl, and small wombat.


The questions we got the most, both then and when I retell the tale today, were, “What about the baby’s room? Did you have all kinds of pink clothes already?”

In response to the first point: Stuart didn’t have a room. Not a room of his own, at least. (Negative points to me for not cultivating a Virginia Woolf baby?). We were living in a one bedroom apartment at the time. He did have a crib and mobile and junk (I was gung-ho about bed-sharing; Cullen, uh-uh), and my main concern, with that arrangement, was how we could integrate it into our existing room decor. Fascist, I know. Baby Stu had a poster from Blue Velvet hanging above his changing table for the first six months of his life.

As for his clothes, though? Ooohhhh, the pinkspolsion.  “Rose” to “ballet slipper” to “Pepto Bismol” and every shade in between. All perfectly acceptable garments from perfectly well-meaning friends and relatives: nothing that we’d dismiss out of hand for a child, regardless of sex.  Not ones to turn up our noses at the thoughtfulness of others, and facing the very practical issue of needing to clothe our newborn … Stuart just wore the “girl” clothes.

What you can't see in this photo are his pink, scallop-edged socks with the word "Princess" on the cuff. Those really made the ensemble.

When I would show acquaintances pictures of Stuart in get-ups like the one above, or have to correct strangers in the grocery store who assumed he was a girl (most of the time, I didn’t bother. But I was often cornered into showing my hand when faced with the question, “What’s her name?”), I heard nary a disapproving word. I did hear a lot of, “Oh don’t worry, he still looks very handsome.  Wearing pink doesn’t mean that he’ll be gay!”

First of all, score one for Team Pointing Out the Obvious. You mean the color of clothing a child wears before he or she even has a sense of object permanence has no known correlation to their adult sexual orientation? Tell me more!

The main thing that continues to irk me about receiving “reassurances” like this is the 800-pound-gorilla-of-an-insinuation. It is the insinuation that I would be concerned if my child was gay (not to even broach the topic of how I’d feel if my boy-who-was-supposed-to-be-a-girl started articulating that he actually was a girl). As my husband has mentioned, we might be concerned about how he would fare in a world that is not currently readily accepting of people who don’t identify as heterosexual or cisgender. But concerned to the point that we would actively interrupt or steer the formation of our child’s identity? Not on your life!


I was recently directed to the seemingly prescient post “My Sons Are Gender Conformists” at Blogging While the Baby Isn’t Looking.  Heather’s sons, as you can probably gather from the title of the post, are currently into stuff that traditionally skews “masculine.” But she writes, astutely,

If and when this masculine phase comes to an end and they decide to start wearing body glitter and cute skirts, I’m okay with that, too! And not just because it would probably be a phase, not just because it probably wouldn’t mean anything, and definitely not because I think that would be super freakin’ cool, but because even if it DID mean they were gay or transgender, those are not bad things to be.

Moreover, comments like, “It probably doesn’t mean anything [… with regard to sexual orientation or gender],” betray such a narrow comprehension of sexual orientation and gender and the confluence — or complete diffraction — of these and myriad developmental activities.

 It’s why (and I know this will be an unpopular stance to take) I’m even somewhat cautious about efforts like the Born This Way blog. While the stated objective (“a photo/essay project for gay adults (of all genders) to submit childhood pictures and stories (roughly ages 2 to 12), reflecting memories & early beginnings of their innate LGBTQ selves”) is a beautiful one, and so many of the photos and essays are extremely poignant, humorous, and otherwise moving … I wonder if it is, even just a little bit, furthering the idea of a one-to-one equation and unintentionally delegitimizing a host of other narrative voices. 

(I need to take a moment for digression, here, and stress that I am not, not, not suggesting a corrolary movement: like “Born Straight” or what-have-you. Let’s just get that cooptative silliness out of the way).

What I would like is for me to tell about the “ultrasound follies” with Stuart and have it received with a wry chuckle and no additional commentary. Or for it to act as a springboard for a real conversation about this very topic: people’s deeply-ingrained ideas (including my own, certainly!) about sex and gender and just what those impute. Because, uh, clearly I’m not at all opposed to that!

Maybe, just to be contrarian, I will start reminding parents of infants who are dressed in ways we perceive as normative for that child’s sex, “You know, that doesn’t mean that your baby will be straight and cisgender.”

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Tinkerbell Valentine of Much Consternation

It was Valentine’s Day this past Monday and, on Tuesday, Stuart’s preschool did a card exchange. Both Stuart and MaryAlice (who is only two, and lacks a “social circle” save the rather de facto one composed of her daycare chums) chose their own Valentines: store-bought, because  inspiration and patience for making homemade cards were in short supply.  Stuart’s Valentines were dinosaur-themed, and MaryAlice’s featured Tinkerbell.

(Let me take a moment to stress that both Stuart and MaryAlice are fans of the 2009 cinematic triumph  Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure . Far from being a Disney apologist, I will say that, if this movie is any indication of the thrust of the character’s recent rebranding (deviating from the original character of 1953’s problematic-for-a-whole-host-of reasons Peter Pan), today’s Tinkerbell and her Pixie Hollow friends seem to be rather benign spokestoons for a highly-glossed treatment of animism. Animism with lots of sparkly bits and sassy costumes. They even seem to have dispensed with a gendered division of labor. Tink herself is a mechanic-slash-inventor in this incarnation. So … pillorying averted? Nonetheless, I definitely acknowledge that the target demographic for this arm of the Disney pantheon is girly-girly-girls).

Anyway, when it came time for Stuart to select individual  Valentines for each of his classmates at preschool, he had two themes to choose from. We sat down with the teacher-provided list of the five girls and two other boys in Stuart’s class.

And then, it happened:

“I know!” Stuart exclaimed. “We can give the dinosaur Valentines to the boys, and the Tinkerbell Valentines to the girls!”


Well, I knew the day would come sooner or later — especially taking into account the amount of time Stuart spends outside the home, with peers and older children. And the fact that he’s kind of a media-head. We don’t have TV. I mean, we have a TV: just no broadcast television. But we do make use of inter-library loan to acquire DVDs, and, because both my husband and I are huge cinemaphiles (I’m an adjunct film studies lecturer, too), we have a pretty impressive movie collection, which includes a healthy number of children’s titles. Plus, there are fewer checks on Stuart and MaryAlice’s viewing habits when they’re at their grandparents’ house. Or visiting friends … . You get the picture. They ain’t cloistered. 

I’m not in denial. I know  Stuart has osmotically absorbed some binary-oriented thinking when it comes to gender. After all, my husband and I haven’t engaged in a Pop-level offensive to screen these messages. (If you don’t feel like following the link, I’ll mention that Pop is a Swedish child whose parents did not disclose hir sex [not hir “gender,” as claimed by the article’s title] to others).  This was just the first time I heard Stuart isolate “masculine” and “feminine” so clearly.


Remember how I said my resolve was too ground-down (read: I was too lazy) for homemade Valentines? The same applies to making ev-er-y-thing a teachable moment. I envy the parents who can do it.  But, most of the time, I stick with a broad definition of “negligibly important.” I did, however, decide to turn the Tinkerbell Valentine of Much Consternation incident into an object lesson in … well, why dinosaurs and fairies aren’t inherently aligned with boys or girls.  And, guess what? It turned out to be no big.

“Say, Stuart,” I replied. “I bet there a lot of boys who love Tinkerbell.  And I’m a girl who happens to think dinosaurs are so cool. Think about what your friends like. We should pick out a very special Valentine for each of them.”

Then I painstakingly made my way through the list of names (okay, the “pains” I “took” weren’t that great. There are only eight kids in his class, after all), reading them aloud. Stuart carefully reviewed the avaiable designs, holding each friend’s name in his head and trying to find its perfect complement in an image of a lurching t-rex or coterie of fairies tiptoeing through the tulips.

Of the five girls, two were given dinosaur cards, and three Tinkerbell cards. Both boys got dinosaurs.


You might think I’d be disappointed that my little didactic exercise produced results not too dissimilar from Stuart’s original intention. But, working with him on his project, I could tell that the path he took to get there was much more well-considered. He didn’t just chuck a few dinosaurs into the girls’ mix to appease me, either. He actually thought about his friends as people — which is the precise point that mandating an expectation-reversing “dinosaurs for girls, Tinkerbell for boys” would have missed.

Ours isn’t a household that promotes a wholesale squelching of all things pink or blue. When the kids were infants, sure: we took a decidedly a-gendered tack. Now, though, instead of trying to neutralize gender by limiting their options, we find ourselves reminding Stuart and MaryAlice of the limitless possibilities when it comes to investigating their interests and aptitudes: dinosaurs to fairies, baseball to ballet.

What’s so amazing (and relieving) for me to discover is that, with their minds being as permeable as they are, it seems just as easy to counter the messages of compulsorily gendered, rigidly segregated preferences and behaviors as it is for the kids to become passively indoctrinated in the first place. Good news! I don’t need to adapt the works of Judith Butler for the pre-K set, and enforce a strict dress code with entirely muted-earth-tone pallette garments. I don’t need to be hyper-vigilant, raising them in some kind of house-sized Skinner box. And I don’t  need to shame them for mirroring the dominant tropes of “gender-normative” behavior. If I just remind them, once in a while, that their horizons are endless … they will be.

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Rearranging My Bookshelf: An Introduction

My husband and I are in the process of liquidating a huge portion of our home library “holdings” (too haphazard to even be considered a collection) via the secondhand sales arm of a well-known, online retailer. Everything is priced so that we’ll net at least a dollar per item after seller’s fees and shipping costs are factored in. But, although making a little money is a good side-effect of this effort, it isn’t the driving force behind the decision.

Basically, we have too much stuff. Books sit on shelves, unread or unviewed for years, simply because they’re like proud, little testaments to the complexity of my personal tastes, the diversity of my background. For example, I’m parting with a lot of the source material for major critical essays and research papers I did in grad school. The De-Moralization of Society stays (good old Gertrude Himmelfarb. I may not agree with you on much, but thanks for the unwitting help with my thesis!), as do The Other Victorians and Armstrong’s Victorian Poetry. And I’m keeping the majority of the referenced literature (except in the case of duplicate copies. Anyone need a spare Cranford ?). Plus way more Adelaide Anne Procter than any non-academic should ever have, really.

In other words, you can still look at our bookshelves and say, “Here resides a person who enjoys parsing the socio-historical implications of Victoriana. To an absurd degree.” But I have come to terms with not needing  to woo any (theoretical) potential friends with a heap of impressive-sounding (or provocative-sounding: au revoir, Straight Sex) titles. No. One. Cares.


In part, too, I’ve kept all of it for as long as I have because I want to remind myself that my interests were once, well, “interesting” (at least according to my somewhat oddly calibrated fascination barometer). A lot of my hobbies and pastimes have  had to be sublimated  in order to let parenting take the front seat for the time-being. I can usually accept that as a value neutral Fact.

Nonetheless … I guess I have this nagging worry that this acceptance means I’ll be discovered as one of Those Moms.

What moms? Well, that’s the thing about Those Moms. Their demographic profile  is very fluid, chameleon-like, insidious . They simultaneously serve as the objects of self-congratulatory derision and, more shamefully, as totems of our feared incompetence.  They were a near-constant spectre, haunting my every parenting-and-child-related decision’  in the beginning.  The first incarnation of Those Moms for me was, in fact, a prenatal one: Those Moms-to-be, if you will.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, there was a lot of talk about Those Moms: usually in the form of a rationalization for my “great undoing” (as feared my decision to parent would be universally viewed).  I’d try to adopt a kind of apathetic tone: “Yeah.  So, I’m going to have a kid (shrug). But don’t worry. I’m not going to be one of Those Moms.”  Then I would quickly change the focus of the conversation to something mildly transgressive or intellectual or as far afield of placentas and fluid retention and swaddling and breastfeeding as I could get.

It’s depressing that I was hooked into these “masking behaviors” so early on. After all, even the IRS acknowledges that having a child is a Major Life Event.  I should have felt like I was at liberty to celebrate and fixate as much as I wanted. But I think I can pinpoint where my inhibitions kicked in.

Among  the first non-family-members I told about my pregnancy was a close friend: my best friend in high school and college. One of the official witnesses at my wedding. Although our paths had diverged over the years, we were still friendly in the sometimes-disappointingly-cursory way that adults living in different cities, working in different fields, and pursuing different goals are. This situational stuff had definitely muted the intensity of our friendship. Still, I wasn’t expecting to be dropped like so much dead weight upon disclosing the existence of my then-kumquat-sized fetus.

“I didn’t even think Amanda wanted kids,” she warily confided to a mutual acquaintance. It seemed I was being cowed by my husband; trying to “keep up with the Jonses” (two of my other friends had recently given birth); drinking the status quo Kool-aid.

In retrospect, though, I’m pretty sure that she was projecting her fears – of being abandoned; of being unable to relate by dint of her childfree status; of being conscripted as a babysitter more often than called for movie dates – onto Those Moms, too, believing that Those Moms were soon to include me among their ranks.

The reputation of Those Moms had wheedled its way into my life and summarily skewered what had been one of my most enduring relationships. I imagined that, in my friend’s eyes, Those Moms were unfun. Baby-obsessed. Entitled. Shallow. They let their “true selves” be obscured by a tiny little parasite and never really recovered.  So I resolved not to fit that definition.

Or at least pretend that I didn’t.


In light of all this, I would like to do a lot of flag-waving for the “Those Moms as Strawmen” theory. However, I am starting to think that they at least take root from a kernel of truth. I mean, look at my book-purge project. Why is Blues Legacies and Black Feminism en route to Tallahassee, Florida while A Child’s Work remains on the shelf?  Similarly, when was the last time I went for dinner and drinks at a restaurant that did not offer apple juice in plastic cups with bendy straws? How often have I visited the adult women’s section at a department (or, let’s face it, big box) store before combing through the children’s sales racks? And, most tellingly, why am I not more indignant about any of this?

Am I really one of Those Moms?

A better question may be, “Why are Those Moms vilified in the first place?” In my case, is being (subjectively) boring and homebody-ish and, uh, not suitably invested in esoteric  feminist texts an accusation to fear?

Decidedly, no.  I’m not crying over the loss of cachet. Because I was never “cool” to begin with, but, moreso, because I know it isn’t a forever thing .

Which means that my kids’ childhoods aren’t, either.

That does make me a little misty-eyed: for sentimental reasons (“I can’t imagine them not being my babies !”) , yes. And for the realization of how common, yet how unacknowledged, this tension seems to be: how women are expected to be and not-be one of Those Moms, turning on a dime from hour to hour, relationship to relationship, and life-stage to life-stage.


So, with that said, back to the bookshelf:

Much of the thinking I’ve done about my parenting experience thus far has been about integrating worlds that are traditionally — and sometimes fiercely — separate, about needing to justify my choices in one sphere to denizens of another in order to maintain sufficient traction in either.

The bookshelf-as-Public-Self metaphor actually works well for me in expressing the possibilities and limitations of  reconciling competing facets of the person other people see as Me. On this bookshelf, Hubert Selby, Jr.’s The Demon can easily occupy a spot next to Francesca Lia Block’s motherhood memoir Guarding the Moon, though the cognitive dissonance may give librarians heartburn, and perplex people browsing for like titles. But it is, nonetheless, possible for the structure to simultaneously house books on an array of subjects, and for volumes to be added and switched out at will or as necessity demands. I can push the book of vintage erotic photography back into a remote corner and obscure it with a vegan cupcake book or the OED when we have more prudish house guests. I control what topics are afforded a greater percentage of the space, and which books are displayed prominently, at eye-level.

However, there is only so much room on the shelf. Priorities have to be established and evaluated regularly; some books may have to be boxed up in the short term (a how-to guide for beginning organic, raised bed gardeners),  or even donated to charity (2004’s  Lonely Planet: Puerto Rico). While his does change the tone, the flavor, of the books in aggregate, it does not nullify their diversity.


Yet it’s hard to think of many other circumstances shared by such a huge number of people as motherhood that are seen as opaquely coloring the entire character of a person. Of obviating, even, other elements of our experience. Have a baby and you’re an instant archetype.

Pushing back against the idea of mothers as a lumpen class is complicated, especially because the group identity we’ve been handed truly does have collective social stakes, which are simply part and parcel to being the parent of a child. When the additional layer-of-complexity that is fighting among our supposedly uniform ranks (the original inspiration for this blog) is factored in … well, it’s no wonder that I feel simultaneously stuck and untethered. When I was pregnant, despite the creeping dread, I half-convinced myself I could avoid all of it  — could eschew the reach of Those Moms and with my blase attitude, my frantic hat-switching, my everything-to-everyone intentions.

In the first few weeks after my son’s birth, I had to admit, to myself, that this highly compartmentalized duality wasn’t tenable. Now, I am working on admitting it more publicly: not defeatedly, but as a (very meek and tentative) rallying cry.

I am writing toward the possibility of a paradigm shift. I am making peace with a card catalogue that’s cryptic and in-flux.

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