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MamaBlogger365 – On Memory and Motherhood by *Dr Mama* Amber Kinser

This post is about memory. About how critical it is to understanding family life, about how “wrong” it is, about how it differs so sharply from family member to family member. I use to put great stock in my recollections of my childhood. I used to recite narratives about what happened and what people said and who was responsible and even why people did what they did, as if I had any access whatsoever to the why’s of other people’s actions, especially as a child. I used to tell these tales with fair confidence. They were true because I remembered them. But I don’t do that so much anymore. Even when I’m explaining moments from my past to my therapist, I usually mention something about a grain of salt and not quite a grain of faith in my recollections. I don’t know if it’s feeling more and more like a grownup, or if it’s my exposure to my own kids’ narratives that occasion me to tell my tales with reservation, but I’m learning that family memories are a peculiar thing.

One of the harsh realities of mothering, I think, is that our children use this peculiarity of memory as a significant guiding force in how they understand who they are and who we are and the choices we made that shaped their lives, even though none of our memories may be particularly “accurate” and few of them in synch with each others’ memories. Our kids remember shared events differently than we do; sometimes these differences are stunningly absolute. And yet their narratives of these events are what will guide their lives; not the “accuracy” of the details or how well their version meshes with ours.

I remember falling asleep exhausted as I read picture books to my daughter, and wondering as I garbled the words in semi-consciousness whether she’d recall that we went through stacks of library books each summer, or that I lost consciousness halfway through them. The answer, as it turns out, is she seems to remember neither. My son mentioned recently that we always say we’re going to get him a bike from his birthday in June and then never do. I reminded him that it is HE who says he wants a bike in April and May practically every year, and then by June he’s decided he wants something else. I suspect that his version of being annually denied the bike is the one that will stick in his narratives. My daughter remembers walking home many times in the dark from karate class while in junior high; she actually walked home once, at dusk. My son says we always say we’re going to go camping and never do. I say we did go camping, him and his sister and me, quite a lot, in fact; but now his two weeks at summer camp knocks out 40% of his summer break given his year-round school, and he’s in no mood for more camping and I’m in no mood for cajoling unwilling participants at the campground, I’ll tell you that.

In a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned one my father’s evening rants, which included storming down the hallway, flicking on the light, shouting “and another thing!” and scolding us about that other thing, to be followed by another thing, and another thing, in sequence. My sister read this post and swears that this script was performed by my mother, not my father, and confirmed this with our other sister. I have distinct memories of fearing my dad’s hallway rants so that’s the recollection that sticks for me, but I don’t make much ado about narrative accuracy any more. I do fear though, the more profound ways in which my children’s narratives of their lives with me implicate me in ways that go beyond picture book and birthday bicycle memories, venture into “you never” and “you always memories,” and move wholly out of synch with the memories I thought I was shaping for them. How our children narrate their lives is an element of mothering over which we finally have no control.

And letting go of the desire for it is one the greatest challenges of motherhood for me.

BIO: Dr. Mama (Amber Kinser) is a writer, feminist mother, professor, and speaker who lives in Tennessee. Check her out on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @DrMamaWit, and see her webpage. Kinser writes for the MamaBlogger365 series each Thursday at the Museum Of Motherhood, Mamapalooza and Mamazina Magazine.

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Photo credit: Antique Garlic by Shari Weinsheimer

MamaBlogger365 – Change, About Me by *Dr Mama* Amber Kinser

There is change about me
flux around me
shifts beneath my feet

Parents get older
daughters move out
sons leave junior high

I busy with details
keep up a momentum of equations
stop myself from stopping to cry

They want to stay in their house
she mourns her old room
he thrills at his turn in it

I think of long-held mortgages
of fathers with Alzheimer’s
of mothers with strokes and Fiestaware

We talk (awkwardly) of new small houses
of downsizing soon-old homes
of purging the hoardings of long adulthood

I think of how I mothered them
of performances, laughter, camping
of busy careers, blended families, short tempers

We talk of new small apartments
of downsizing soon-old rooms
of purging the hoardings of childhood

We marvel at the brink of high school
I remember her pulling away and know
when he does they’ll be no young one for me

The tears they surprise me
the heaviness it slows me
the maternal loneliness it scares me and yet

‘This is the order of things’
I try to find stillness there
I don’t find stillness on shifting ground

BIO: Dr. Mama (Amber Kinser) is a writer, feminist mother, professor, and speaker who lives in Tennessee. Check her out on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @DrMamaWit, and see her webpage. Kinser writes for the MamaBlogger365 series each Thursday at the Museum Of Motherhood, Mamapalooza and Mamazina Magazine.

Support MamaBlogger365 and help the Museum of Motherhood secure a permanent home in 2011!

Photo credit: Which Way? by Mike Coates

MamaBlogger365 – No Mercy by *Dr Mama* Amber Kinser

Photo courtesy of morguefile.comMotherhood is relentless. It just keeps going and going and going. Incessantly. And on some days, that’s a lovely thing. Like days when I’ve been so sucked dry by the demands at work, or the intensity of maintaining partner relationships, or the callous and inexorable neediness of home ownership (don’t make me bring up our new water damage issue, fresh for the month of February —- a little Valentine’s present from the universe to our house; just read my December post “If By ‘Serene’ You Mean…” and add to it images of an upstairs leaking toilet, boxes of waterlogged keepsakes in the basement, and a downstairs guestroom with squishy carpet where my parents will be staying this week (since my house chooses to leak especially when my parents are coming to visit)). Like days when things are tanking but my children make me laugh by teaming up to do their “booty dance” all over me; or one of them sits next to me, in quietude, while we watch a television show; or one wraps me in a sweet embrace that lingers for a moment or two. And they do all of this because I am their mother and they do love their mother. On these days, and there are lots of them, the ways that motherhood is unrelenting can be an oasis in the middle of the spiritually desert-like conditions that surround me. But there are other days. And lots of them, too.

I have vacillated over the years between hoping my children stay tightly connected with me even into their adult lives, and hoping that I’ve taught them well enough to go off and do their own thing and not need me much at all. I’ve thought at times that good mothering means remaining open enough to “let them be who they are” quite separate from me and with the internal fortitude to venture forth without needing my input; and I’ve thought at other times that good mothering means being open enough and accessible enough that my children are inclined to come back to me to pull from my experience and the insight afforded by my vantage point, which has been built up tall and strategic by life years. And of course, mothering with grace and wit means both of these, and more. But sometimes I am surprised at the way it just continues, implacable, as I watch some of the people I am close to work at still parenting their children who are grown. Suddenly I’m curious to know if my own mother feels she’s still mothering me… and if it feels implacable to her….

I wonder if any of us really knows when we start out with small children just how much the demands of parenting never really ends. When my daughter leapt down the stairs at 2 or 3 years old, fully anticipating that I’d know, though my back was turned, that she’d need me to catch her, and I sat there at the end of the stairs (having caught her, miraculously) sobbing at the terror and near-miss of that moment, thinking, how in the hell am I going to keep her alive until she’s 18?!!, I seemed to have no idea, really, that the work doesn’t stop at 18. Now my oldest is 19 so I still don’t really have a sense of where, or if, it “stops” but I do see others pulled without mercy into parenting issues with their adult children, who are simultaneously needing a parent-child relationship and an adult-adult relationship and these are exceedingly complicated contexts for parents to manage simultaneously. And as I’ve written about before, it is so very difficult for children (even as adults) to really, truly see the personhood of their parents, and perhaps especially of their mothers; to see that mothers are people first, and then they are mothers and other roles or identities after that. I see some of the parents around me really struggling with the ways in which motherhood demands continue unabated, even years later, long after they thought their work was “done.” I think this is something that gets missed in the public imagination, and in the texts and images that permeate pop culture, and in the academic literature on family life. I think we’d do well to hear from mothers about the complexities of mothering children who are no longer “children.”

BIO: Dr. Mama (Amber Kinser) is a writer, feminist mother, professor, and speaker who lives in Tennessee. Check her out on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @DrMamaWit, and see her webpage. Kinser writes for the MamaBlogger365 series each Thursday at the Museum Of Motherhood, Mamapalooza and Mamazina Magazine.

Support MamaBlogger365 and help the Museum of Motherhood secure a permanent home in 2011!

MamaBlogger365 – Touchstone by Michelle Kennedy

Although I’ve been sick with the flu for days, when my daughter called and said she was coming home from college for the night, I told her I was thrilled. Her friend was coming too? Great! Now, between you and me, the last thing I really wanted was anyone around. I forced myself to go to work the last few days and I was utterly exhausted. But one lesson my car accident taught me was never to waste the moment, so yes, was my answer, and I truly meant it.

Getting used to a new relationship with a child takes a lot of emotional adjustment. Knowing that my baby will never live full-time with me again took months to get comfortable with. She and I get along so well, it’s rare that we argue, and honestly, we truly enjoy each other’s company. We simply knew how to co-exist peacefully and happily. But she grew up, moved on and I had to either come to terms with it or go insane. I could choose to sit and weep over her childhood photos or accept the fact that my beautiful child was now a beautiful young woman. I choose acceptance, although my heart still wrenches over the choice, on occasion. I find I have to hold back a lot, keep my selfish thoughts to myself and let her find her way in the world.

She came home because she needed her touchstone and she was looking for a little wisdom, some guidance and a whole lot of love. She’s going through a lot and finding that people, and life, are not always as she wishes it could be. I was grateful that she considered me to be a “place” where she could get centered, renewed and ready to go back out and battle the world.  Her hug and kisses when she came in the door, well, they were incredible.

We ate dinner, played a very competitive game of Scrabble and then settled down with tea and ice cream to look through her and her sister’s childhood scrapbook and photos. Of course I saved everything her and her sister made, from macaroni picture frames to school projects. Every year marked in photos, every memory etched in our minds.

We laughed till we cried and so many memories flooded back. One of the best was my daughter’s ad for “Bookstore of Bookmarks.” When she was in third grade, she and her friend Bennett decided to make some money. They advertised bookmarks, drew the designs and offered special deals, such as 5 for only 25 cents. They even created order forms. For address, my daughter wrote “apartment number.” In her mind, everyone must live in an apartment, because at that time, she did. She told me she kept her income derived from this capital adventure in her glue box. I didn’t know she really got any money from it until last night. I also didn’t know how much trouble she had gotten into when the teacher found out what she and Bennett were up to.  Personally, I think it was brilliant. (smile)

I can now look back and not long for the return of those days. I am proud of the children I have gifted to this world and ache with the hope that their futures are as bright and beautiful as they are.

My daughter came home to me for love. I am grateful, beyond words, and I received the same in return. Saying goodbye to her will never, ever be easy, but I will be strong and let her go… because the beautiful thing is, I know now she will always return.

Bio: Michelle Kennedy is a teacher of English, avid nature lover, single mom and writer. Several of her poems and essays have been published and she is actively seeking a publisher for her collection of poetry. She is presently working on a novel and her life story is being considered for publication. Michelle’s passion to write began beyond conscious recollection; it’s like breathing.

Support MamaBlogger365 and help the Museum of Motherhood secure a permanent home in 2011! Send your submissions to MamazinaMagazine@gmail.com.

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