I was at a conference last weekend, the National Women’s Studies Association conference to be exact and, as always, it was awesome. I was on a panel that talked about personal narrative in Motherhood Studies and we were discussing whether or not such narrative held any radical or transformative potential at the end of the metaphysical day and if so, what kinds. One of the highlights of the conference for me was when I was sitting at the booth for the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement with my good friend Dr. Andrea O’Reilly; a woman walks up to me and said she had a question about mothering and introduced herself as Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (!). Dr. Estes wrote Women Who Run with the Wolves, a wildly popular book and one many women have clung to to find their inner strength and core. Aside from practically leaping out of my seat to grab her hand and tell her how amazing she is and what an honor it was to meet her, it was fun to be reminded that super popular and even amazing people are just regular everyday folks too. When I was having dinner with Andrea, we were talking about family life and she told me that her son didn’t mind reminding her that if it weren’t for him, she probably wouldn’t have a career because she wouldn’t have anything to write about. That she’d have plenty to write about anyway because she has two other daughters notwithstanding, I wondered what my own son would do with this information, with the understanding that without him (and my daughter), I’d certainly not have the career I’ve got; certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog or my books. If it weren’t for my children, I most likely would have a very different professional life.
So I decided to ask him this week what I should blog about. He thought, you may not be surprised to hear, that I should blog about him. He is trying to arrange a date with his girlfriend (at 13 he doesn’t drive) and trying to figure out how do a mall-and-movie gig with her tomorrow. In particular he is making a case that he should not have to go with the family to see the play we were going to see so that he could go on this other escapade. Now the interesting thing about it is that the play is Lysistrata, an ancient Greek play written by Aristphones in the 400s B.C. And it’s a pretty sexy play about women employing sexual power to keep men from going to war. To be exact, women come together in agreement that they will withhold sex from the men until the men stop fighting. The plan works and the men lay down their arms but until then it’s a pretty titillating show (if done right). So I was thinking as I drove home last night about how I am so often caught as a mother insisting on a particular course of action from my kids when the outcome may not be quite the one I thought I was going for. The thought of going to an ancient Greek play, of course, interests him not at all, though I suspect he will find himself quite engaged once it gets rolling. But I may be explaining and contextualizing several of the scenes (maybe not even able to focus and enjoy it much myself). Though maybe I am delusional. Maybe at 13, and having grown up in a household where we talk openly about sexual matters, sometimes to his dismay, he already knows what he needs to know to make sense of a very sexual drama.
Anyway, I have about a day to figure out whether I’m going to call family dibs on his time or help him orchestrate his early teen date. I’m imagining him sitting next to me during the play and me wishing he was at the mall…. I don’t know what choices the director has made in representing women and whether he will be adept at portraying them powerfully, and from a woman-centered perspective rather than a stereotypical one, so I’m a little nervous. I keep thinking about my days as a mother of young children, happily eating their “happy meals” in the backseat of the car as we scurry from one thing to the next and me getting frustrated at how they’re only eating the fries. (This was back before apples slices and mandarin orange cups and juice and other quasi-nutritional options emerged from fast food land.) I remember hearing myself say, “Don’t just eat the fries, you need something with some nutrition—eat the chicken nuggets!” followed by the recognition of the absurdity of that, followed by “Oh nevermind,” followed by a good dose of guilt for serving dinner on the road in the backseat of 1964 Chevy Nova. (I gotta say though, I probably couldn’t have cared less about that part if apples and milk had been part of the equation back then.) I’m seeing parallels here and thinking maybe insisting on chicken nuggets is a lot like insisting on family night at Lysistrata…I’ll let you know how that pans out.