Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mother Blogger

First an unrelated vent:

Felicity Huffman used to be on my favorite TVshow, Sports Night. She played a woman who was a role model for the single, corporate gal trying to balance a 70-hour work week with testosterone, back stabbing and three-inch pumps. I guess it is the nature of Hollywood that she had to settle for some willfully banal show now. Whatever.

So Huffman was being interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday. I was watching passively because I had assumed it was going to be the usual “I was not hugged enough as a child” bowel movement of an interview. I groaned loudly when the eternally persnickety semi-journalist Leslie Stahl asked, “Is this the best experience in your life, being a mommy?” Those of us who have children know the condescending half-smile that usually accompanies that question. The standard, obligatory response, of course, is some variation of “Yes. It changed my life. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I’d give it all up…” blah blah blah.

That was what I was excepting from Huffman so I nearly choked on a spoonful of Chunky Monkey when she, visibly irritated, spat back, “No.”

Hello.

Stahl’s face: horror.

Huffman: No. And I resent that question.

Yeeeeeeyawza! Stahl lookslike one of them EPRDF officials when they are confronted with unscripted questions: resentful, confused and totally unable to recover.

Huffman continues.

“Because I think it puts women in an untenable position. Because unless I say to you, ‘Oh, Leslie it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my whole life’ I’m considered a bad mother. And just when I said no, you… [throwing her head back] you went back.”

Stahl tries to recover, thus digging herself in more.

“Well, let me ask it this way. Are you a good mother?”

Dude. S0 not another way of asking “is it the best experience of your life”. But why am I defending Huffman?

Huffman: I don’t know if I am a good mother.

Stahl tries on an ersatz clinical psychologist approach.

Stahl: You’re not there enough…? Or… you’re not patient enough?

Huffaman: Yeah.. No, I’m there enough. I don’t know if I am patient enough. I don’t know if I am teaching them the right things…”

Oh, yeah. Sister went there.

Motherhood is not the most beautiful thing I have done in my life. Rather, it has been the most uncertain, destabilizing entity to hit my life. All of a sudden my confidence plummeted, I lost my footing, I was filled with doubt and dread about being responsible for the wellbeing of another living, breathing human being. I spent countless nights debating and rattling sabers with my husband about morality, discipline, logic and latitude—and I can guarantee you no part of it was beautiful. I’ve agonized over what a complete basket case I’d be if I lost a child. Parenthood made me be what I had always resented: vulnerable, bourgeois and the champion of everything status quo. I started to fight to quell the rebel in me and gut check that part of me which made questioning authority prerequisite for fun. Alas now I was the authority. Parenthood turns you into a horrible cliché.

The first day I went back to work after having my son was honestly one of the worse days of my life. I hated feeling guilty for wanting to have a career, and believe me there is no lack of culture to make you feel like a bad mother: not wanting to stay home with the precious gift God gave you, not wanting to car pool with spoiled rug rats with entitlement issues, not wanting to set up insipid play dates, not wanting to have my kid tested for every new mutation of ADD, not wanting to be in the Mother-Son dance committee ... trust me, I've been on the hit list of every waif, neurotic, socialite housewife up and down the Gold Coast. You think standing up to Meles Zenawi is bad? Try standing up to entrenched, dipped-in-PTA parents. Ugh.

Being a mother tore through my Teflon shield of infallibility and I’ve spent many hours agonizing about the gargantuan responsibility I took on without really knowing whether I was equipped with the right DNA to handle it.

Parents who fawn over parenthood are either new parents who have not been slapped with reality, or closet drunks who need sip on sum'sum to cope with being slapped with reality.

I am not always sure I am a good mother. There, I said it. But that uncertainty is what makes me want to try harder. Motherhood might have made me obsess about imaginary germs, but it also got me to think about someone other than my narcissistic, yuppie self. The same pictures of Ethiopian mothers holding their emaciated kid now sears more deeply into my soul. And every time, every time I see a picture of a mother holding a portrait of her dead child, I am temporarily paralyzed by fear.

But being is a mother is why I am the most unlikely, unqualified political un-pundit there is. For the first time in my life I have started to think and write from my heart instead of my brain. I don’t know yet if that’s good. Politics is no longer remote and static. The business of law is no longer a business. I know too much about the environment, airline security, grocery shopping… practically every perspective I thought was a constant in my life has been slightly altered post-kid, and believe me I have an LMK (low maintenance kid). I can’t imaging what a raging bitch I would be if I had a fussy one.

I rage against the machine in Ethiopia because I want a better Ethiopia for my children. I want them to know that my generation at least tried to speak out against tyranny and that we cared about their legacy. I am resigned to the fact that our role should be to stop the hemorrhaging- the hemorrhaging of good will, honor, hard work and hope.

I don’t know if I am a good mother. I don’t know if being a mommy is the best thing that has happened to me. I know though that I want to make my world better.

I told you. Parenthood turns you into a horrible cliché.

I guess politics has to wait until the next blog.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how you can translate this to your non amharic readers, wonqette, but my aunt is famous for saying "lij wusha yaregal." (direct translation is: having a child makes you a dog." draw your own conclusions.) i found myself bribing a clerk at a private school in addis in hopes that my daughter's file won't get "lost." i felt so debased. fatherhood/parenthood is like living in a time bomb: the slightest wrong move and you've detonated another psycho bomb on the world.

enjoyed your frankness. especially welcome from an ethiopian woman.

3:39 PM, January 17, 2006  
Anonymous mazi said...

Wonq,

Yeah-- but them looking up at you with complete trust... it makes the angst worthwhile.

I like you best when you write like a chick - brain vs. head. It's not mutually exclusive.

4:10 PM, January 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen! Ditto. Makes you respect moms with multiples or kids that are not LMKs.

4:51 PM, January 17, 2006  
Anonymous not genet zewdie said...

ish been a while since i dug up my femenazi card, but... "enjoyed your frankness. especially welcome from an ethiopian woman. whazzat all about.

if you thought you get contempt because you don't want to do mother/son dance, imagine the scorn a woman who says she doesn't WANT kids gets. be'seme abbbbbbbbbb. it's like you killed bambi.

5:04 PM, January 17, 2006  
Blogger EthiopianPolitics said...

Were you offended by my last comment?.......how so??

7:47 PM, January 17, 2006  
Anonymous ye filwiha said...

Dear Wonki -- "For the first time in my life I have started to think and write from my heart instead of my brain. I don’t know yet if that’s good." for what it's worth - from a guy who also wants to make his country better, from a guy who is, by and large, against the status quo of "societal values" if there is such a thing, from a guy who sometimes doubts whether his IQ is a three-digit figure or not - what you write is as good as they come - if Michela Wrong can write about Africa and Ana Marie Cox can write a novel, your blog entries are only the promise of what you could do!
P.S. NGZ -- calm down hon.. calm down.. it's OK!!

6:22 AM, January 18, 2006  
Anonymous not anonymous said...

Doktoor Gondy,

I don’t remember the exact wording of your first comment (now yanked), but it sure was incongruous, perhaps even insensitive, coming like it did on the heels of an entire blog filled with introspective soul-searching about motherhood and all that sort of “soft” stuff.

If you saw things thru Wonq’s eyes for just a fleeting moment, you’d see the error of your ways. Here’s a woman bearing her soul to you line after line after line, and the most you could say about it was that Huffman was ugly in some inane movie that ain’t nobody has never seen?

This is not about taking up for the Wonq. I’m sure the woman is perfectly capable of speaking in her own defense.

What this is about is how too much PhD-edjycation can sometimes cause the mind to take a detour from the essence of the matter. Kinda like counting the zaff but missing the CHaka. The blog, dear DoktorE, was not about some Huffman!

11:11 AM, January 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The title of this beautiful piece glares "Mother blogger". It makes me wonder whether a woman with child is a mother first and then Ethiopian or whatever.

All said beautifully, if it is possible, would you rather not lived that wusha yemiyaderg moment and be a human (in all sense of the term) with no child?

4:40 PM, January 18, 2006  
Blogger Yeluno said...

I have always said raising our two boys is the hardest job my wife and I will ever do in our lifetime, but hey, there will never, ever, be anything that will be as fulfilling and gratifying as being parents to our little boys in our lifetime, either. That is the damn truth.

6:04 AM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger Tobian said...

My father used to tutor us in math when we were really young. Now he was used to teaching at a university level and his impatience was always getting the better of him with us. God forbid if we ever messed up in front of him ... he'd have this indignant look on his face as if to say, "Did I really give birth to this ... being?". He'll proceed to lecture, iju iyeteweraCHe, his voice rising with every world. Regardless of how the lecture went, it would always end with "Qoy 'stee ... 5 Ahiya'na 5 beg demiresh indaet 7 Feres alegn tiyalesh?"

The comment "It makes me wonder whether a woman with child is a mother first and then Ethiopian or whatever. " by anonymous reminded me of my father's lectures. Fiyel wedih, qizimzim wedia. You're adding donkeys and sheep here. What's one got to do with the other? You can't add, subtract and order being and Ethiopian and a parent.

One's just a Ethiopian parent. Yup, juxtaposed. Just like that.

7:11 PM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger enaseb said...

i have no clue who this Huffman character is but i got much respect for her gut-wrenching honesty (my favorite kind).

raising mine has been the most challenging experience of my life. i gather there are many reasons as to why this is so. the most glaring one is that parenting chips away at the notions of who we always "thought" we were and introduces us to who we really are. my daughter is the best teacher i have ever had. how i entered this school and what i intended to major in is slightly irrelevant. i am greatful to be learning who i really am. in turn, i can only hope to do as minimal damage as possible while she ushers me through this inadvertent learning.

12:30 AM, January 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tobian thintank,
The comment was thrown at the very first comment which wonders how an ethiopian woman uttered these frank testimony. This was the reason I asked whether nationality, culture etc. comes before parenthood.

3:54 AM, January 20, 2006  
Blogger sokari said...

I am with you on this - having kids is great but there is hell of a price to pay - loss of confidence (are they going to die everyime they sneeze) guilt, ability to be rational, to think, to communicate outside of "child speak" the list goes on. As for giving birth that definately is over rated - nothing irks me more than women going on about how wonderful giving birth is - all that pain and mess - horrible. Hey but I love my kids anyway.

9:16 AM, January 20, 2006  
Blogger EthiopianPolitics said...

:) beg your pardon...was only commenting on stuff I knew....motherhood.....unfortunately, not one of them.
But from the way z ladies ganged up on a brother....looks like Mrs. Wonq is well on her way to becoming our own Oprah (at least on the blogosphere).....or is it Tyra now?

10:15 AM, January 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay Okay, mama blogger. What is next? invitation to your household!?

You know, you once inspired me to write to Jeffrey Sachs after his "revanchists" comment. I read your blog one late Friday night and wrote to him. To my surprise, he replied to me the very next morning...I felt like I did something in just alerting him to wake up and guage his unflinching support for Meles. I did hope he would STFU. Apparently not, as you dissected his recent comment in Niarobi. But I still believe pointing out the flaw in that line of thinking should be our focus...

10:40 AM, January 20, 2006  
Anonymous Inde Hewan said...

I'm being a Johnny-come-lately to this string of comments, as I just read the Mama blog. Wonqit's just grown by several more cm's in my eyes. Not only a sterling political blogger with a golden touch for language, but one of the (few?) upfront frank Ethiopian sisters ... heck, one of the few upfront frank sisters!

The number of broken necks I had to see when people (with high education, in the 21st century, in urban places) fell straight off their sockets whenever I respond "Not at all, really" to the famous "So when are you going to have children?" question that greets every young Ethiopian woman has more often than not given me the one-removed feeling of whether I am really of a different species than the rest of the human creation. So this blog (though not about the 'whether' question) was still like a breeze of fresh air ... and yes, especially as it comes from an Ethiopian woman!

12:23 AM, January 22, 2006  
Anonymous Martin said...

Good Job! :)

2:40 AM, June 11, 2008  
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