Monday, November 26, 2012

the thinking woman's guide to motherhood

So, today I was in a public speaking training - a very good one, I might add - and a comment was made that caught me totally off-guard, and then got my hackles up - just like my old dog Murphy gets when a kid walks past the house. We were asked to give an impromptu, two-minute speech on a topic of our choice - didn't have to be work-related (although it could be). The primary requirement was that it be something we know a lot about, and it be something we are passionate about. I immediately started tossing around topics in my mind like photography, creativity, environmentalism, and, of course, motherhood. But then came the zinger - the instructor said, "don't talk about childbirth, or motherhood - something intellectual, not sappy". Um - okay. Hmmm.

I looked at my friends across the room - mothers, too - and thought, "I can't let that comment just slide by." After all, we work far too hard as it is to make motherhood and working coexist peacefully. It's no picnic, that's for sure. I asked, "can we talk about how motherhood is intellectual?"

This is not verbatim of course, and I definitely did not deliver this perfectly, without stumbling or misspeaking - but this was the general sentiment:

Even if you are not a parent, you know there are plenty of things about motherhood that are not intellectual. Changing diapers, doing laundry, feeding and bathing children, walking around in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation. These wouldn't necessarily be considered intellectual activities. In fact, it's not uncommon for me to try pretty hard to keep the activities of motherhood separate from my intellectual, professional life. After all, I still have to look and act and sound professional during the day, even when my 15-month-old was headbutting me at 2 AM the night before. 

But motherhood is definitely an intellectual activity. I'm shaping my children's morality, helping them understand the world, showing them the humor in life. And my daughter, who is five, is becoming more and more inquisitive. She is asking all sorts of questions: "How old are you?" "How long is 4 hours?" "How does the car work?" 

Lately, she has been talking about death - about my death, about what will happen to us when I die, about her fears about my death. These are hard questions to answer. What a huge responsibility this is - calming her fears, explaining these difficult facts of life, answering these hard questions. 

If that's not an intellectual activity, then I don't know what is.

Tonight, I reheated some dinner. I chased Oscar around the table, threatening tickles. I gave him a bath and nestled him into bed in his clean, slightly too-big Elmo PJs. Dora and I read three books from her Curious George readers, her doing most of the reading and astounding me with her ability. Then she and I talked about lying - she had tried to tell a little lie at dinner. I told her about the boy who cried wolf, about why it's important to always tell the truth. As I tucked her into bed, we kissed and hugged and said we love each other. And then we blew kisses to each other like we do every night, each of us catching the other's kiss and holding it close to our heart. "Mommy," she whispered, "I took your kiss and put it on my heart. My real heart." That is my girl - smart and beautiful and learning to be empathetic, loving with all of her being, venturing into the world and trying to make sense of it all - all of that done, at least a little bit, with my help and guidance.

Motherhood is many things - sad, funny, challenging, physically draining, emotionally taxing, and, yes, intellectual.

I won't let anyone tell me otherwise.


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