Tag Archives: motherhood

The Little Mommy That Could

Forgive me for a second while I draw out far more introspection and reflection from a children’s book than was probably intended by the author…

We recently received a vintage copy of The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper from a collection of things that Stephen’s mom has been saving for when he had kids of his own.

I love everything about it from the well worn corners, to the “This Book Belongs to: Stepen W” (yes the ‘h’ is really missing) in my husband’s childish handwriting, to the slightly faded, obviously not digitally retouched prints on the pages.

Yesterday when I was reading it to Bean for, oh, about the 30th time that day it seems, I started to reflect on the story as it relates to my own life.

We start off with a happy little engine pulling toys and good food for good boys and girls in a city over the mountain. Unfortunately, the engine breaks down before it reaches the destination.

So the toys try to get other engines passing by to pull their load over the mountain. The first two engines that come along are much too important to be pulling along silly loads like theirs.

But the Shiny New Engine snorted: “I pull you? I am a Passenger Engine. I have just carried a fine big train over the mountain, with more cars than you ever dreamed of. My train had sleeping cars, with comfortable berths; a dining-car where waiters bring whatever hungry people want to eat; and parlor cars in which people sit in soft arm-chairs and look out of big plate-glass windows. I pull the likes of you? Indeed not!” And off he steamed to the roundhouse, where engines live when they are not busy.

But the Big Strong Engine bellowed: “I am a Freight Engine, I have just pulled a big train loaded with big machines over the mountain. These machines print books and newspapers for grown-ups to read. I am a very important engine indeed. I won’t pull the likes of you!” And the Freight Engine puffed off indignantly to the roundhouse.

I feel I must repent. How often I have felt the same as these two engines in regards to my current circumstances and job. “I have a degree. It is all going to waste. I should be doing more important things with my time, mind and energy,” I have said to myself all too often. Important things like freelance writing or furthering my education. Just doing something with my life.

Yesterday when I was filling out doctor’s office paperwork I noticed I felt a little weird, as I always do, about the line asking for “occupation.” What is my occupation? It doesn’t have a fancy title like my husband’s “technical director”. I sheepishly wrote, “at home” on the line next to the question.

I know I am not alone in thinking this way. In fact, I think in some ways I was indoctrinated to this way of thinking. One can blame feminism, Western culture in general, the “need” for two incomes in every household, and probably a lot of other sources. Being at home with children is just not looked upon as being as valuable or successful as say a woman who became a high powered attorney or physician that is researching a cure for cancer.

It wasn’t always this way and in much of the world it isn’t at all this way, mothers and motherhood are valued, sometimes even worshipped. With our increased incomes and ability to buy care for our children, we have decided that this occupation isn’t as worthy as other worldly pursuits. I think this thought is supported by the fact that those we have charged with the care of our children in our place (teachers, nannies and day care workers) are payed some of the most abismal wages.

I was reading some essays the other day on this website and this excerpt sums up the importance of being at home:

A child can learn right from wrong by watching her mother’s actions. Daily life can be difficult, whether the activity is shopping for groceries, interacting with neighbors, dealing with rude salespeople, or responding to a driver who will not stop for pedestrians. There are innumerable situations in which a mother can use her intelligence and other talents to go about the daily task of living. The primary point is that stay-at-home mothering is not a passive occupation. A mother does not sit down all day and play with the children. Every woman has a unique life, and she is busy with myriad things associated with maintaining one’s home and family. In the meantime, mother-child interactions provide dynamic learning experiences. A mother who attempts to make appropriate responses to the challenges in her environment is teaching her child how to think and solve problems.

I am not wasting my life. What I do is important and you other moms out there, what you do is important too, even if it means you’ve had to put your life goals on hold for a few years or change them completely.

Anyway, back to our story. The third engine to come along is old and tired.

But the Rusty Old Engine sighed: “I am so tired. I must rest my weary wheels. I cannot pull even so little a train as yours over the mountain. I can not. I can not. I can not.”

And then finally, a little engine comes along that is used in the train yard for switching out trains. She is not very big, but she agrees to try to take the load over the mountain anyway.

Puff, puff, chug, chug, went the Little Blue Engine. “I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can–I think I can.” Up, up, up. Faster and faster and faster and faster the little engine climbed, until at last they reached the top of the mountain.

“Hurray, hurray,” cried the funny little clown and all the dolls and toys. “The good little boys and girls in the city will be happy because you helped us, kind, Little Blue Engine.”


Filed under Family, Parenting

The Mommy Myth

Most people don’t get (or want) to look at old news footage, but we looked at thirty years of stories relating to motherhood. In the 1970s, with the exception of various welfare reform proposals, there was almost nothing in the network news about motherhood, working mothers, or childcare. And when you go back and watch news footage from 1972, for example, all you see is John Chancellor at NBC in black and white reading the news with no illustrating graphics, or Walter Cronkite sitting in front of a map of the world that one of the Rugrats could have drawn–that’s it.

But by the 1980s, the explosion in the number of working mothers, the desperate need for day care, sci-fi level reproductive technologies, the discovery of how widespread child abuse was–all this was newsworthy. At the same time, the network news shows were becoming more flashy and sensationalistic in their efforts to compete with tabloid TV offerings like A Current Affair and America’s Most Wanted. NBC, for example introduced a story about day care centers in 1984 with a beat-up Raggedy Ann doll lying limp next to a chair with the huge words Child Abuse scrawled next to her in what appeared to be Charles Manson’s handwriting. So stories that were titillating, that could be really tarted up, that were about children and sex, or children and violence–well, they just got more coverage than why Senator Rope-a-Dope refused to vote for decent day care. From the McMartin day-care scandal and missing children to Susan Smith and murdering nannies, the barrage of kids-in-jeopardy, ‘innocence corrupted’ stories made mothers feel they had to guard their kids with the same intensity as the secret service guys watching POTUS.

Having discovered in the summer of 2001 that one missing Congressional intern and some shark attacks could fill the twenty-four-hour news hold, the cable channels the following year gave us the summer of abducted girls (rather than, say, in-depth probes of widespread corporate wrongdoing that robbed millions of people of millions of dollars). Even though FBI figures showed a decline in missing persons and child abductions, such stories were, as Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter put it, ‘inexpensive’ and got ‘boffo ratings.’ It goes without saying that such crimes are horrific and, understandably, bereft parents wanted to use the media to help locate their kidnapped children. But the incessant coverage of the abductions of Samantha Runnion (whose mother, the media repeatedly reminded us, was at work), Elizabeth Smart, Tamara Brooks, Jacqueline Marris, and Danielle van Dam terrified parents across the country all out of proportion to the risks their children faced. (To put things in perspective, in a country of nearly three hundred million people, estimates were that only 115 children were taken by strangers in way that were dangerous to the child.) Unlike mothers in the 1950s, then, we were never to let our children out of our sight at carnivals, shopping malls, or playgrounds, and it was up to us to protect them from failing schools, environmental pollution, molesters, drugs, priests, Alar, the Internet, amusement parks, air bags, jungle gyms, South Park, trampolines, rottweilers, gangs and HBO specials about lap dancers and masturbation clubs. It’s a wonder any women had children and, once they did, ever let them out of their sight.

Then there were the magazines. Beginning in the 1980s, and exploding with a vengeance in the ’90s, celebrity journalism brought us a feature that spread like head lice through women’s magazines, as well as the more recent celebrity and ‘lifestyle’ glossies: the celebrity mom profile. If any media form has played a central role in convincing young women without children that having a baby is akin to ascending to heaven and seeing God, it is the celebrity mom profile. ‘Happiness is having a baby,’ gushed Marie Osmond on a 1983 cover of Good Housekeeping, and Linda Evans, at the peak of her success in Dynasty, added in Ladies Home Journal, ‘All I want is a husband and baby.’ Barbara Mandrell proclaimed, ‘Now my children come first,’ Valerie Harper confessed, ‘I finally have a child to love,’ and Cybill Shepard announced, ‘I’ll have a fourth baby or adopt!’ Assaulting us from every supermarket checkout line and doctor’s or dentist’s offices, celebrity moms like Kathie Lee Gifford, Joan Lunden, Jaclyn Smith, Kirstie Alley, and Christie Brinkley (to name just a few) beamed from the comfy serenity and perfection of their lives as they gave multiple interviews about their ‘miracle babies,’ how much they loved their kids, what an unadulterated joy motherhood was, and about all the things they did with their kids to ensure they would be perfectly normal Nobel laureates by the age of twelve. By the summer of 1999, one of People’s biggest summer stories, featuring the huge cover headlines ‘BOY, OH BOY,” was the birth of Cindy Crawford’s baby. The following summer, under the headline “PREGNANT AT LAST!” we had the pleasure of reading about the sperm motility rate of Celine Dion’s husband, information that some of us, at least, could have lived without. In 2003, Angelina Jolie claimed that her adopted baby ‘saved my life.’ The media message was that celebrity moms work on the set for twelve hours a day, yet somehow manage to do somersaults with their kids in the park, read to them every day, take them out for ice cream whenever they wanted, get up with them at 3:00 a.m., and, of course, buy them toys, animals, and furniture previously reserved for the offspring of the Shah of Iran. These were supposed to be our new role models.

The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it has Undermined Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels

Just some stuff I’m reading right now and contemplating. Good to know other people don’t have it all together. Also this books combines media analysis with continuing cultural norms/beliefs. Kinda something I’m into. I think if I ever went back to work I’d probably want to be a media critic or analyst instead of a journalist. Not sure there is a huge market for that kind of job, but you know, a girl can dream.


Filed under Journalism, Parenting