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Posts Tagged ‘motherhood’

Not Nice

“I was just trying to be nice.”

“I just wanted to be nice.”

“Not nice,” I say to the toddler after he bludgeons his sister with a random toy, “NOT NICE.”

I find myself thinking about “nice” a lot lately, often before recounting a story of something gone terribly awry. Exasperation lingers in my tone. Frustration coats my words. I was just trying to be nice, but things go sideways. They tend to when I start with nice.

I’m not sure why this happens. Maybe, my attempts at niceness appear as sign of a polite weakness. Maybe, nice renders me a pushover, a people-pleaser, who will go out of her way to remain pleasant. Initial friendliness suggests the desire to be agreeable at all costs, even when other people become increasingly unpleasant. Being nice shows that I can be dismissed without much effort or time. Being nice makes me easy to overlook, ignore, and disparage. (more…)

Mother Knows Best: The Politics of White Christian Motherhood

I wrote this essay in March of 2012 for an online religion magazine, but it was never published. One of the editors was afraid that the comparison between the WKKK and Michelle Bachmann was “too dicey.” Just associating Bachmann with the Klan seemed like dangerous territory. The editor had me add a disclaimer about how I wasn’t calling Bachmann a racist or white supremacist, but rather I was just “comparing” their use of Christian motherhood as a political strategy. Even with the disclaimer,  the magazine passed on the article. Now, five years later, we are in a moment in which we can’t dodge the discussions of white supremacy and politics (politicians), so I thought I would publish this essay here at my site. It’s lightly revised with disclaimers and previous hedging about white supremacy removed. 

In 1924, Robbie Gill, the Imperial Commander of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK), gave a speech entitled “American Women” at the annual Klonvocation (Klan speak for convention) of the Ku Klux Klan (1915-1930). She proclaimed:

We women of America love you men of America….We will mother your children, share your sorrows, multiply your joys and assist you to prosper in the way of this world’s good. In return, we expect you to recognize our power for good over your lives, and in the nation….We pledge our power of motherhood to America….Our knees can be the altars of patriotism to them.

For Gill, just as mothers parented children, they could also parent the nation. Maternity functioned as a claim to authority in public spaces, and she let Klansmen know that women as mothers could change the nation for the better. Gill, however, was not satisfied to let men (even Klansmen) dictate national politics and policies. (more…)

Track 18: What Fades Away

What Fades Away

Katherine Anderson Howell

 

The baby was 3 months old.

I wasn’t happy.

***

I spin and spin around the living room. My head feels lopsided, like it does when I’m too tired, or when panic leaves me hollow. The baby is in my arms. The baby laughs. I spin. I bounce the baby. I force a smile, which becomes a slightly more real smile, which becomes a little laugh. “Shake It Out” plays on repeat. Florence Welch and I sing the old platitude,  “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” The baby doesn’t know darkness. He thinks I am sunlight.

(more…)

Sharpening

Every Friday, I stuff folders in my daughter’s first grade classroom. I did not volunteer for this task. No other parents volunteered. The teacher needed someone to do it, so now I do. Part of the reason I agreed is because I was curious about what happens in first grade. While I sort assignments, crafts, and tests into piles for each student, I peer into the classroom to see what’s going on. I sit in the shared office for four teachers and watch the students through an open door. Four or five children sit at each round table. They complete their work at different times. They talk to one another. They watch and listen to the teacher as she calls out each word of the spelling test. A few kids are dreamy like my daughter. Some fidget and tap. Others have energy that cannot be contained by a blue plastic chair and a round table. They stand up and down looking for any excuse to move. More than a few sit perfectly still, waiting to find out what assignment they need to complete next. I fidget more as I watch the stillness. I move when they can’t seem to.

At first, stuffing folders was a chore that I never looked forward to. Friday morning would arrive, and I would wake up and sigh dramatically. Two hours of my morning offered up freely. Two hours that I didn’t get to write, research, or read. Two hours sacrificed on the altar of being a good and engaged mother. Two hours I would never get back. Two hours lost to me each week. Why, I wondered yet again, did I ever agree to this? I choked back irritation and filled the folders anyway. On more than one Friday, I considered backing out, but I managed to convince myself not to.

One Friday in November, or maybe December, my perspective shifted. All the folders were finished. I gulped coffee from my “World’s Okayest Mom” mug and then asked the teacher if there was anything else I could do to help. I asked before I realized what I was asking. “Pencils,” she said firmly, “We need pencils sharpened.”

So, I collected pencils, No. 2 and colored, from each table to sharpen one by one. There’s an electric sharpener in the teachers’ shared office. It sounds like each pencil it sharpens brings it inevitably closer to death. It doesn’t grind as much as gasp. I started to sharpen pencils, and it occurred me that I haven’t really sharpened a pencil since I was in high school. Would I remember how? My high school’s sharpeners were mechanical with a handle that you cranked. I loved that my hands provided the energy for the blades to make my pencils sharp and usable again. I loved the softer sound of grinding. I enjoyed the teacher’s sigh of frustration when I wanted my pencil the sharpest it could be.

I eyed the dying electric sharpener; I don’t trust it. I don’t even like the look of it. I inserted one pencil, then two, and three. Unsurprisingly, it gave up one last gasp. I overheated it. This wouldn’t happen with a mechanical sharpener, I thought as I gave it one last evil glance. (more…)

Exits and entrances

Dearest Liana,

Structure? Yes, I also need structure. Like you, I find myself craving the structure of a classroom. I want someone else to ride herd on my writing process. I want a group of people to read and comment on what I write. I’ll admit that I envy your class on personal essays. I want to take a class. I want to take classes, which is why I applied for an MFA program in December.

I want structure, but I need it too. Currently, my life lacks the firm structure that will keep me on the task of writing. Structureless structure abounds, and I still haven’t got a handle on it yet.

My days have a familiar rhythm that start with getting children ready for school and preschool and wind down when I pick both of them up from the after school program. I’ve tried to map my days to create my own schedule. Kids out, writing starts. Kids in, writing over. I imagined that I would stay at my desk for hours working on assignments, essays, or blog posts. I would leave my desk only for short breaks and refills of coffee. I would write all of the words. All of them. In my imagination, there’s a writer who always writes if not at her trusty laptop, then in her beloved journal or any scrap of paper she could find. She would write and write and write and publish and publish and publish. Always writing and always publishing. The schedule of her own design would allow for only productivity and not much else. There would be no sick days, interruptions, or distractions. She would be a writing machine, and others would likely die of envy from her commitment to her craft. She would be a serious writer. Serious writing would be what she does. (more…)