Question of the month
Each month we pose a question about motherhood and making. This question can be used as a provocation or starting point for the framing of the conversation at your local MWM meeting.
Here is a funny thing: despite being the founder of a growing national initiative called Mothers Who Make, I still don’t really know how anyone else does it - how they mother, how they make. It strikes me that this is another parallel between mothering and making – they are both intensely private activities. There are thousands of books that tell me how I should be mothering. There are another thousand that tell me how to make, how to be an artist, how to write my novel. Yet despite all these books, many of which I have gone out and bought, I still do not really know how other mothers mother and other makers make.
With the mothering, I get glimpses: I have done the school pick up and am walking up the stony path that leads away from the school. There are many children running ahead of me. One little boy falls over. His mother rushes up to comfort him. I watch how she lifts him to his feet, how she kneels down, bends her head and puts it against his. I listen in on what she says to soothe him. All the while I feel like I’m spying. Later, in the playground, I watch another mother whose little girl does not want to leave to go home. I listen to the ways the mother tries to persuade her daughter, to the talk of supper, to the countdown she gives her. I give the mum a smile of solidarity and support but she is too busy, and the interaction is too private for this to be received.
Making, of course, is often highly collaborative, depending on the art form within which you are working. Yet there is nonetheless something secret about it, about the goings on in the rehearsal room or the studio, and certainly in the dark of the evening into which everyone goes at the end of their day of making together, the invisible thoughts on the way home, the dreams, the wonderings and worryings.
What to do with Granny?!
1) Do you have a granny in your life, actual or otherwise? An aunt? A godmother? A neighbour? Someone else’s granny? Could you invite her to a MWM meeting? Or just round for tea? Whom do you know that might enjoy this role?
2) Maybe there is no one. No granny or no one you know. Even holding space for the dream of such a role seems worthwhile to me. In my husband’s favourite picture book of all time, How Tom Beat Captain Najork,Tom frees himself from the tyrannical ‘Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong’ and goes off in search of a new aunt. He puts an advert in the newspaper and finds himself “Aunt Bundlejoy Cosysweet.” He tells her, “No greasy bloaters, no mutton…and I do lots of fooling around. Those are my conditions.” What would your advert for a granny be? Write it down. State your conditions. Give her a name. Maybe one day you can be her and, for now, whilst you need her support, you can dream her, make her up – and making, as we know, is a powerful thing.
What sustains you?
Sustainability: it’s a new word invented for our times – first used in the 1970s because so much of what we were and are doing isn’t it, so we needed to start being able to talk about it. The roots of the word are of course much older: sustinere, the Latin word, made from sub (up from below) and tenere (to hold). As with many words to sustain carries paradoxical meanings: both to be nourished and supported by something, as in ‘the food sustained us’ and to endure something, to suffer it, as in ‘she sustained an injury.’ It can refer therefore to the thing that both upholds you, and the thing that drags you down, the thing that keeps you going and the thing that nearly stops you but you manage to keep on anyway. Sounds like motherhood to me. Sounds like making.
Where are all the images of us?
With several millennia of imagery from which to choose, across diverse cultures and continents, from the Virgin Mary to Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, with her latest baby outside the royal palace there are lots of images of motherhood. Images of women engaged in their creative work – a slightly less extensive library of options but still a wealth available, from Hildegard of Bingen to Frida Kahlo.
What do you dream of making?
“One of the strongest links for me between my mothering and my making is that they are both practices. By this I mean nothing glamorous – I mean I have to show up everyday and do them. The emphasis for me will always be on this, on the practice, the process of turning up, of listening, of holding space, for my children, for other mothers and makers, for myself but – “Where’s the ART?!”….. Focussing on practice should not become an excuse to hide away, an avoidance tactic. Putting stuff out there is a critical part of the practice, the process, the unfolding conversation – without it the conversation only circles in on itself, and grows smaller, not wider, richer, deeper. “
What about mating?
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….
Space: mental, emotional, physical. I used to be someone who needed a lot of space - at least that’s what I thought. A room of my own and lots of time alone in it. Whole days, preferably several at a time. However, since becoming a mother six years ago I have had none of this. I feel lucky at present if I get a chance to visit the loo unaccompanied, and invariably, even if I have managed to sneak off unseen, one of my children will come find me or holler to me that they need something urgently when I am still mid-pee. I am still somewhat shocked and perplexed by this, by the contrast between my pre-motherhood identity, as someone who required a great deal of space in order to survive, and the reality of my life with children – days and nights of constant company. I have even managed to dispossess myself of a room in our house – at the moment I sleep in the children’s room so that my son refers to the other bedroom as “Daddy’s” – Mummy doesn’t have, or apparently require, a space of her own.
Motherhood - Before and After: I, Wit and Me Now?
“Getting your body back” is a phrase that is currently targeted at new mothers via adverts and articles detailing fitness regimes, diets, antenatal classes. I have heard it too in anxious exchanges between mothers. I googled it just now and, “10 easy ways to get your pre-baby body back” came straight up. I have a strong response to this. I want to retort loudly, “I don’t need it back - no one has taken my body away! It’s still mine! ” In fact it feels more mine now than it ever has, no longer needing to conform to others’ images of how it ought to look.