Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Three Witches and a Carnival

So, I returned to The Bitch in the House and found three little things that amused me a good bit. First, from Elissa Schappell’s disturbing and interesting essay about what it feels like to really lose your temper at your children, this bit of dialogue:
’You’re writing about anger?’ my mother says with surprise.
‘Well—yes… About, you know, my anger and how can you teach your kids to express anger constructively, when you yourself never learned how to.’
‘What do you mean?’ she says. ‘You weren’t an angry child.’
This lovely maternal moment seems so typical to me. It put me in mind of the kind of exchange Deborah Tannen seems to be studying in her new book on mother-daughter conversations. Tannen’s interviewer (behind the Times firewall, sorry) zeroes in on apparent criticism of daughter’s appearances and Tannen rightly, academically, jumps in to correct the presumption, saying,”The mother feels she's caring. The daughter feels criticized. They are both right.” As someone who has known, thanks to my peerless mother, that there is a spot, exactly in the back of my head that remains perpetually uncombed, unkempt, I love these little moments of mild friction between mothers and adult daughters.

Second, Laurie Abraham’s lovely comment about her daughter: “There is no one in my life whom I’ve ever been so grateful to escape and so grateful to see.”

And finally, I loved Kristin van Ogtrop’s telling juxaposition between work and home:
“Here are a few things people have said about me at the office:
  • You’re unflappable
  • Are you ever in a bad mood?
  • You command respect as soon as you walk into a room
Here are things people—OK, the members of my family—have said about me at home:
  • Mommy is always grumpy.
  • ….
  • You’re too mean to live in this house and I want you to go back to work for the rest of your life!

This last one is my favorite. It’s also the saddest, because it captures such a painful truth: too often I’m a better mother at work than I am at home. Of course, at work,…no one charges into my office, hands outstretched, to smear peanut butter all over my skirt.”

As a magazine editor, she has her share of high-strung young people--writers, editors--weeping in her office, but the peanut butter smearing is, happily, something most of us avoid in those blessed hours at work. Thank goodness. Van Ogtop’s essay, “Attila the Honey I’m Home,” is good and funny and smart. It’s also one of the few to put her own situation into context, mentioning Arlie Hochschild’s 1997 Time Bind. That context—the work of a prominent sociologist (up there with Juliet Schor as one of the top in this field) on the work-family bind for women—is still pretty thin, but it’s a relief to see one of the younger contributors thinking of herself as part of a class of women struggling with a structural problem.

For a richer array of feminist thinking than this post—or this book—provides, hop over to Mind the Gap for the new Carnival of Feminists!

No comments: