Archive | July, 2014

Motherhood Above All?

29 Jul

This piece was first published in this month’s issue of India Currents magazine. Weigh in–I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Amidst all the chatter and marketing gimmicks that make up Mother’s Day celebrations, I came across a quote by Ralph Lauren, which said, “My wife Ricky has accomplished so much in her life, but being a mother has always come first.” In this seemingly simple sentence, a globally-renowned fashion icon and figure of our times placed a giant emphasis on motherhood, simultaneously outranking his spouse’s other accomplishments as a human being. He is hardly alone in this declaration of priorities, with millions of women around the globe asserting it is the most important thing they will ever do.

Fair enough. The sheer physical metamorphosis a woman undergoes when producing a child, followed by a transformed-for-life sleep cycle, relentless emotional and mental demands, and a heart permanently bumping around on a leash is enough to make the toughest soldier wimp out. To anyone who goes through it, I have no argument if they believe it is the most crucial role of their life. If that is what they choose to be defined by, more power to them. I, too, believe it will be among the most critical things I do in my years on earth (but not the only one!)

What fascinates me is how—and more specifically, why—entire cultures feed into this belief and generate narratives to support it to the extent of passively punishing those who don’t conform. I struggle with understanding exactly why we as a society—nay, societies across the planet—endorse this prominence of motherhood to the point where any other achievement—whether it be the Nobel prize or Prime Ministership or the rescuing of trafficked children—is deemed relatively less significant. (Case in point, Hilary Clinton recently stating that Grandmother is the most important title she—U.S. Secretary of State and past presidential candidate—will have.)

First, a home truth: Not all mothers are created equal. Their circumstances are not equal. The extent and manner in which they engage in caregiving and nurturing and the rearing of little human beings is far from equal. Yes, there are certain sentiments mothers are definitely more predisposed to than other categories of the human race. Still, speaking of the experience in absolute terms does nobody any favors (except perhaps the slackers who are happy to scurry under the umbrella—and as a therapist for socially disturbed and abused children, I’ve met more than my fair share of those).

Why does society put such absolute emphasis on motherhood? Because of its significance in shaping the future or because it serves a distinct purpose to do so? Would our social structure be threatened if women one day believed other tasks were more important or satisfying? Does the unabashed promotion of mothers as the more important parent serve a social purpose?

It behooves us to consider who society is made of: men and women. Parents and non-parents. Those who value their work (whatever it may be) and others who get by just because they have to do it. Given the ratio of men to women on the planet, it is only natural that mothers do not form a majority of the world’s population. However, by virtue of the nature of their job, every creature has one—as it has a father. But do we hear of fatherhood being the most important job a man will ever do? He has a company to run, that ladder to shimmy up, and no one thinks badly of him for leaving a colicky baby to finalize a deal. Have we as a society decided fatherhood is not Life Position #1 because it doesn’t serve us to do so? Are those global profit margins we’re sneaking a look at? Industries, incomes, and other concepts that fade into the background when the parent in question is female?

As products of social conditioning who may or may not question this narrative, we need to check if we’re merely being pumped up to serve a social purpose—especially if our hearts are not in it. As much as I believe that parenthood—not just motherhood—is a joyous, rewarding experience for many people, equally, it is not for everyone. Unfortunately, the strength of this all-encompassing motherhood narrative does not account for individual differences and choices. It does not count the woman who feels her role as an international development expert is more important. It scoffs at those who would rather follow a map than a trail of diapers. It disallows space for reflection and questioning, for you must be a really selfish person for thinking you could be complete without a person emerging from your body.

In and of itself, this smothering social story is polarizing and inconsiderate of variations in personalities, ambition, and temperament. It allows no debate on whether a person may actually be a better human being without producing one. It gathers all their life’s work—no matter how significant or exceptional—and hangs it in unfavorable balance to human beings who have utilized their uterus. And in doing so, this overarching myth fails us.

In far too many cultures around the world even today, Jane Austen, Frida Kahlo, Noor Inayat Khan, Emily Bronte, Florence Nightingale, Ellen Degeneres, Anne Frank, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor, and Mother Teresa would have questionable social standing for failing to fulfill their proscribed social role. I will repeat: It is not for us to diss motherhood. If a woman believes that is her only destiny, then she deserves (and definitely requires) all the support she can get. Equally, it is not for us to glorify motherhood to such extremes that we look askance at those who prefer another life mission—whether by choice or circumstance. May we find it in us to applaud their work, vision, and contribution to the planet with the same gusto we reserve for the parents of bonny, chubby-cheeked, dimple-elbowed, fat-toed, three-toothed little folk.

I will be a parent in the future. And already, I know the shift in attitude that will occur by those not closest to me. Finally, I will fit the mold. And once satisfied that I’m propped safely on that pedestal, they will walk off into the distance, looking for other matrons to idolize. And from that vantage point, I will throw darts of doubt in their direction, hoping my aim is not amiss.

 

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A Month of Milestones

15 Jul

I’ve been terribly remiss about blogging (as is apparent, how clever of me to point it out!) and am going to blame it squarely on eustress: good stress caused by positive life changes, in this case a new job, a visit from family, travel, several celebrations, and the contradictory urge to romance my couch and see no one but my Boy.
With that long-winded excuse out of the way, let’s collectively acknowledge some fun milestones in this, the best of months:

  • July 1: A bloggy birthday! Wisdom Wears Neon Pyjamas turned 6 and I did nothing but blow my blog a kiss. Finally, I understand all those couples who have to halt a moment and calculate how many years they’ve been married. The ones whose limbs are extensions of each other and those who think in twos. Not-so-Little Blogette and I, we’re at that comfortable juncture. I love her like an old shoe. She knows I’ll be back. I’ve been coming back for 8 and a half years. But in the meanwhile, there are sparkly heels to be tried. Oh, and speaking of heels…..
You likey?

You likey?

  • July 7: On this day in 1994, a girl tapped my shoulder as I sat on a class bench in front of her. “Excuse me, are you OJ?” she asked. “No, I’m Janice!” I replied huffily, knowing full well that she knew my name. What didn’t penetrate my thick skull was that she was trying to start a conversation. A lesser mortal would’ve run for the hills. She, she came back, and for the last 20 years has been my dearest friend, soul sister, and rock of Gibraltar (no connection to the one I couldn’t visit!) Her name means “Jewel of the World” and my lord, how she has shone me through my darkest hours. We now know why we weren’t given sisters: having each other, a birth sister would be a mere appendage.
  • July 9: Daddy blew out a ring of candles on a cake brought by SOMEBODY ELSE. HMPH. That’s right, snatch cake-sending rights away from your first-born now. That dethroned monarch business just never ends. But my Daddy, he had a birthday, and oh how the world is wealthier because his goodness dwells in it! (Still throwing that corner tantrum, though. )
  • July 25: SO excited about this upcoming birthday, not only because hell-0, it’s a BIRTHDAY, what’s not to be excited about, but also because it is another important milestone. Champagne and cake all around! Would it be terribly inappropriate to wear a huge party hat, get one of those tooter horns and be my very own one-woman parade? No?! See, this is why I love you guys. :mrgreen:
Here, make do with the cake our SIL baked on July 4

Here, make do with the cake our SIL baked on July 4th

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In Other News…
When the Boy’s brother got married last year, I heard a strange word for the first time: “co-sister”. Apparently, in the south of India, this term denotes women married to brothers. Being a similar combination of un-Southern and irreverent, my sister-in-law (the one of cake fame above) and I cracked up over the term, came up with instagram hashtags for it, invented a co-sister ghetto sign, and even harmonized “Hey sister, co-sister” (Lady Marmalade). Can you tell I love her? Will I be forever banned from kanjeevarams and mallige for this? *beats chest at the thought of no more bisibele bhaath in her life and eyes some Angus divinity in its place*

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My 18-month-old niece called me this morning. She is currently visiting family in Texas, saw her mother’s phone lying around, found my contact on it, dialed, and chirped “Hi OJ Mami!” When my uterus finally un-puddles itself from the floor, I can’t wait to watch her in mid-toddlerhood-almost-preteen action.

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We’ve been taking visiting friends and family to this Gujarati thali place that serves the most amazing shrikhand and khichdi, among other delicacies, but I won’t be going back for a bit, because the last time I had 5 helpings of khichdi and they started looking at me funny and avoiding my gaze and I’m mortified that I might have eaten them out of business. This redness of face isn’t rosacea, my friends, it’s ignominy.

How do you solve a problem like more khichdi?

How do you turn a seventh helping down?

How do you walk away from yummy khichdeeeeeeee?

Ignore the glutton, she’s just being a clown.

 

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Swimming: I’ve been the resident hippo lately, breast-stroking gently through cool, turquoise waters on these warm summer days while our American neighbors wear toddler-sized swimwear, chug beers, burn themselves to a crisp, toss their hair and pose, and do everything but swim. Most puzzling, this behavior.

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Books: Sindh: Stories From a Vanished Homeland, by Saaz Aggarwal, and To Marry An English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD Wallace. Both recommended for history buffs, albeit very different eras and geographies.

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Heard in the OJ-Boy home:
Me: I think I’m getting food-averse. I don’t think I’m so interested in it anymore.
The Boy: Good. Now we can buy a house next year.

How large can I make the font for HMPH??? 😡

Adios, my friends, pardon my future busybeeness, although I will put up a recently-published article before the month is out and would love to hear your thoughts!