Three dates, in close succession; three emotional responses. Let me explain…
Sunday 10th March; Mother’s Day (here in the UK at least).
I am always wary about elevating the status of motherhood too much. Yes, it is a complex, challenging and important role. Yes, society is depending on us to do a good job. But, if we put mums on a pedestal, two things happen. One, the many women in our society who have chosen not to be mothers, or the many more who would have dearly liked to be, but can’t be, are left feeling seriously excluded. I know, I used to be one of them. And two, in a climate that is, frankly, tough enough to parent in, a day that further shines the spotlight on the role, serves only to impose impossible expectations on to each and every one of us.
Via the marvel that is my twitter feed I have today read some strikingly diverse responses to the dawning of Mothering Sunday. I sat in bed with my laptop awaiting my special-cup-of-tea-in-bed, and first read this piece by the marvellous glosswatch; in it, she laments the lack of radicalism attached to this annual ritual. Mother’s Day doesn’t bring about change or improvement in her view, and ultimately, it just lines the pockets of restaurant chains, florists and chocolate manufacturers.
I really liked her piece, and, as I do so often at the moment, I wondered at the level of my naivety that had led me to never really question the value of the occasion. I’m just so bloody grateful that I get to be a recipient of handmade cards and presents-that-daddy-helped-me-buy, that my thoughts don’t take on anything approaching a more sophisticated perspective. But that’s what I love about my exposure to the blogosphere; from now on, my view will be broader.
Friday 8th March; International Women’s Day
Shining the best light we can on the UK, I’d say that we are now, and always have been, pioneers, founders, radicals, activists and trailblazers, in so many ways. At times this has got us into humanitarian hot water. Colonialism and the excesses of the slave trade weren’t highlights, let’s face it. But, I do feel the British have inspired moments of facilitating fundamental changes in the way that the world does what it does. Case in point? Emeline Pankhurst. By any telling of her story, including Disney’s sugary Mary Poppins re-telling, the suffragette movement had a profound impact on the view women have held of themselves ever since. Danny Boyle was right to make a place for her descendants in the opening ceremony, especially as last summer’s games were the first time women have represented every single national team attending. On our tiny island, feminism has been allowed to flourish via a democratic sensibility that, though imperfect, has moved over and made room for us.
So, what is it with International Women’s Day? Why is it such a non-event here? It seemed such a journalistic afterthought. Given the support for the Million Women Rise march in London on Saturday, or the mooted changes to the way sexual offences are investigated and managed by the judicial process, or even this report today that revisits Annie Oakley’s 1970s explorations of women’s lot at home and at work, all is not completely resolved economically, sexually, domestically or socially between women and men, clearly. And yet here is a global movement, a national public holiday in many countries, that drifts past with very little mention here in good old, supposedly feminist, blighty. Hmmm. I can at least report that the 65 or so women, myself included, who spent the day at Tots100’s Blog Summit had a collective sense of doing something appropriate to mark the occasion.
All this polemic and call to action is in sharp contrast to the feelings raised by another significant date in my own personal timeline this week….
Wednesday 6th March; my father’s birthday
I haven’t spoken to my father in over ten years. He is aware of the bare bones of my current life. He knows that I am a married mum with two children. He knows I live in Devon, just 90 minutes drive from him. But that is about it. He has no knowledge of the journey I have made from our last encounter, via divorce, career change, marriage, infertility, childlessness and surprise motherhood, to now. Last time we were in the same room, I was buying a flat for myself, having separated from my then husband, and dealing with redundancy. He came to help me do some carpentry in my new place, but found it difficult to concentrate for more than half an hour at a time without stopping for a spliff and some self-indulgent, woe-is-me, navel gazing. I asked if we could crack on for a bit longer. He chose to walk out.
After two decades of trying to persuade him of the value of being present in my life (we haven’t lived together since I was 18 months old), I reached this key moment, in my 31st year, and thought, ‘Bugger it, that is enough’. I can’t say that I miss him – how do I really know what there is of him to miss? – but his 65th birthday this week, just like those that have come before, undermines my equilibrium for a few days. Here am I, trying to teach my kids the value of family, of persistence, of tolerance, of forgiveness, and yet I choose not to bother with one of my parents. I’m uneasy about the message this will send to our kids, once they are old enough to grasp it. Am I contradicting my own otherwise carefully thought through parenting principles?
I never find an answer this question. I can still feel very angry with him, and yet most of the time he just really isn’t on my radar. In practice, if I need fatherly support or advice, I go to my father-in-law. But my dad’s birthday always has me wrestling internally… and probably always will.