The full title is Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry and, while it came highly recommended from a number of sources, I almost didn’t read it because of the word God in the title. I have a fear of being preached at and being told that God is the answer for everything – although I have no problem reading about people finding comfort or inspiration in their faith. (I also have an irrational fear of moths but make of that what you will.)
This book moved me so much that I am now on the look out for my own second-hand copy so I can re-read it whenever I want. I’ve even thought of breaking it down and writing my own reflections based on her one-word chapter titles (Dailiness, Morning, Peace, Play etc.) so I have my own reflections to look back on. Once again it was a bit of preaching to the converted but it is still nice to hear someone else talk about their version of motherhood and how they came to find a path that works for them. It is also nice to hear about other people who say no to birthday parties, signing their kids up for every available activity and TV.
Choices was one of the chapters I found most thought provoking in which Kenison talks about how nothing really prepared her for being a mother.
When I was a student at Smith College in the 1970s, the theme of my education was how we women would make our mark in the workplace. Although most of my friends and I assumed that we would eventually marry and bear children, I cannot remember a single conversation from those days in which we discussed the role children might play in our lives, or even how we might balance the responsibilities of motherhood with our careers. I suppose that if we thought about it at all, we imagined family life as some kind of adjunct to real life – that is, the lives we would create for ourselves through our careers, travels, continued education, and other worldly adventures. Our role models were out on the front lines, in business, science, and the arts – not at home with the kids. When Jane Pauley visited our campus, we packed the room to hear her speak about her first year on the Today show. Another successful graduate, then the editor of a top women’s magazine, counseled us about the high-stakes world of publishing. There were lectures nearly every week, and they were all by women who were making it in a man’s world. Jill Kerr Conway, our college president, was living proof of what was possible. Although we counted Sylvia Plath and Anne Morrow Lindbergh among our alums, we were proudest of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.
Once upon a time – I suppose – Smith College assumed you would get your education, get married and stay home and raise children. Then the waves of feminism hit and the new goal was to make it in a man’s world. But somewhere between those two things there is a disconnect and it is that disconnect that worries me. There was no point in bringing in speakers to talk to the women about careers and children – the children were just a byproduct of getting married and were somehow supposed to fit into your career but no one really thought about it until after the fact. I think things are changing bit by bit – I suspect some of the speakers who go to Smith College these days talk about how they balance careers and family but it still seems as though the word career always comes first. Do they have speakers who come in and admit to taking 10 years off to stay home and raise the children? Women who don’t have nannies and are doing it themselves? Would anyone go and listen? I know I wouldn’t have when I was in university.
I remember being in grade eight and making a cake for a science project – we had to create a model of a cell out of food. My cell was a flat slab cake with different colour icing for the nucleus, licorice whips for the flagella and other various bits of candy standing in for the cell parts (Smarties were definitely involved). I also brought a knife and napkins so the cake could be eaten after it was marked. My science teacher was shocked and said, “I didn’t know you were so domesticated!” (Apparently that was the first time anyone had made their project edible.) Then it was my turn to be shocked – I baked a cake from a box and she thought I was domesticated? She told me she always thought I was more likely to be a CEO than someone who stays home and bakes cakes. So, did that mean it was wrong to stay home and bake cakes? For a long time I thought I wasn’t meant to have children because that would be domesticated and that was wrong. (However baking cakes for oneself and ones friends always seemed right.) It was all very confusing at the time and the point is that I didn’t grow up in a culture where people talked about having children and what life would be like when I had children. In our house we didn’t even talk about whether or not to go to university – we only talked about which university we would choose. Now my own daughter yells at me when I won’t let her reprimand her little sister because she’s “LEARNING TO BE THE MUMMY!” And sometimes I wonder if she has a point – somewhere she has to “learn to be the mummy” if that is one of the things she wants to do with her life. I think that there were so few role models teaching us (so-called) modern women “how to be the mummy” when we were younger that we are now all over-thinking it – and blogging about it. But at least we are thinking about it which hopefully means that the next generation of mothers are giving it some thought.