Spring has sprung at last. The bluebells are out in our garden. The apple tree is in blossom and a pair of wood pigeons that nest there are clearly busy. It is the month of May. The mating season has begun.
Mating. The thing that often, though not always, precedes mothering. A mate: your partner; your other half; your significant other; your wife; your husband; your spouse; your girlfriend; your boyfriend; your man; your woman; your dear one; your queer one; your ex. Have I left yours off the list? Please add them in….
I feel nervous as I sit down to write about this. I have said before that I aim to challenge the ‘professional versus personal’ paradigm around which our lives are organised and via which the personal gets a poor name. But isn’t this theme getting a little toopersonal? It is okay to talk about mothering – it’s personal but valuing it is what I am advocating. It is okay to talk about making – it’s both personal and professional – that’s the point. It straddles both. But your mate? Your partner? Isn’t that a step too far? It feels like a ‘hot spot.’ It is tender, difficult, awkward, and yet it is huge. An elephant in the room, or a father/ mother/ non-binary other, just outside it. All the more reason to brave it. Here goes….
In part I am nervous raising this topic because in doing so I could summon up the image of a group of mothers sitting round having a moan about their men. This is not my aim – quite the opposite in fact. It is also not the only reason why I feel nervous. Inevitably this is where I need to get personal….
I have a husband. I still flinch slightly when I use this term. I like it because I love my husband and I loved our wedding. I want to honour the seriousness of my lifelong commitment to him. I do not like it because of the plethora of assumptions it brings with it about who I am and how my life is organised. It makes me a participant in the ‘proper world’ of marriage and all it brings – for better, for worse. I participate in the ‘properness’ and yet I also identify myself as outside or even against it, certainly not one of its unequivocal proponents.
Back to my husband. We met whilst making. We made a show together. Then another. Then we made a home, and then, a baby. I remember when our son first arrived I did not feel the instant overwhelming maternal love that some describe – the love grew later - but I did feel protective at once, responsible for this raw bundle of life with such palpable needs. This has continued. The children and my care of them – we now have two – are, for me, a given. I cannot not respond to them. If anything this is a confession, not a boast. Judgements aside, I am simply noticing that the children’s place in my day, as part of my time, is unquestionable.
I am in the extremely privileged, and weirdly traditional, position of being, for the most part, supported by my husband financially, which means I have been able to be a full time mother. I love it. I never resent the fact that I do most of the childcare, but I might if I had to give up my creative practice to do so. Along with the children being a given, it has felt essential for me to keep making – the critical quality of this need is the origin of Mothers who Make. So, I HAVE to mother, I HAVE to make – these two take up more than all my time, but what then of my marriage?
Mothers Who Make acknowledges the challenges, as well as the joys, of mothering alongside making, but if I am honest the truly fractious, difficult fault line, or conundrum for me since becoming a mother has not been how to sustain my creative practice, but how to sustain and care for my relationship, for my mate. At night in the tiny window of time after the children are asleep (they go to bed late) I often have a choice: do I see my husband for an hour or do I do some work? At weekends we take it in turns: I give my husband some time to work while I am with the children, then we swap – no time for us. All too often the making and the marriage feel pitted against each other, even though I know that in fact the latter grew out of the former and the two are inextricably connected.
Mothers Who Make meetings and events are adult-centred spaces but the children are welcomed and integrated. Such spaces are rare in our cultural topography yet whilst I am busy broadcasting about these to the world, showing that it is not only possible but good for all of us – adults and children alike – I do not manage it at home. At home we are child-centred and the adults needs are marginalised. We squeeze in our needs around the edge of the children’s or we don’t get them met at all. It is not how I wish it to be, but it is difficult to change. There are several reasons for this, some personal, some to do with the children we happen to have, some connected to our patterns of work - working in the arts our work spills out into every corner of our lives, demanding its own nurturing, and in subtle ways makes it harder for us to assert our adult-connection and ownership of the home space.
Another key reason, not particular to us, is the shortcomings of the nuclear family structure. Within a Mothers who Makemeeting a small community is formed for the duration of the session. Mostly there are more adults than children present in the space, and collectively, sitting in a circle, it is possible to hold the structure of the meeting in place, to keep the space adult-centred even whilst the children interrupt, shout, cry and run around us. With a circle of two, at home, it is harder. I am not saying it is impossible – for some it works, but I believe we need a greater diversity of structures around which we could build our lives. The royal fairy tale goes: man meets woman, they fall in love, marry, settle, have two or more children and live happily ever after. We know it is not real or even necessarily desirable, and yet it is amazing how potent it still remains, how far we compare ourselves against it, so that any other narrative becomes a daring deviation or, worse, a failure.
Whilst the bluebells and the apple tree may be blooming in the sunshine, the carrots that my son planted in one corner are only tiny shoots, barely showing through. Allotment gardeners talk about the month of May, when the winter brassica’s are over and the summer’s first broad bean’s have not yet come in, as ‘the hungry gap.’ There is little or no fresh produce, whilst everything grows. After our initial season of courtship and mating, my husband and I are in ‘the hungry gap’ – we’ve been in it for a while. The children are young and growing but not yet grown, and there is almost no time to feed our relationship. I trust we will come out the other side into a late summer romance, but it is a struggle. I wish we could find another gentler, more joyful way through, not just buckling down and bearing it. We are in the midst of trying, seeing if and how we might house my mother, the indomitable granny, who is as close as we can come to an extended family model, seeing if and how we might be able to reconfigure our home/ work spaces to better meet our needs.
Here then are my month’s questions for you all: what’s your way through? How does it work for you? How does it not? What is blooming? What is struggling to grow? We need a plurality of stories, diverse gardens, a new sustainable ecology, within which to nurture ourselves, our work, our children and our mates be they men, women or queer - they are all dear.