Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother Resigns, Learns How To Be Selfish - by John Askins

In honor of Mother's Day, I decided to reprint a piece by Detroit Free Press Staff Writer, John Askins, that was originally published on May 10, 1974, about my mother. I posted this on my blog two years ago but I believe it bears repeating.

"Mother's Day is over," the woman said over the telephone. It is the title of an anti-motherhood book, and she knew it was, and she wasn't even calling about Mother's Day, actually; it just sort of worked its way into the conversation.

She called because she wanted equal time on a story the Free Press ran about depression. Why should a man tell women about depression just because he was a doctor and supposedly an expert? she asked. Why couldn't she, as a woman who was sometimes depressed, be an expert, too?

"And what was she depressed about?" she was asked. Motherhood, for one thing.

For her, Mother's Day is over because she has decided to resign her position. Her children and husband are no longer allowed to call her "Mother" or "Margaret;" now she's "magi." With a small "m" because "I'm still a baby." And no last name.

She said she has found a judge who is willing to grant the name change but first she must complete certain legal steps which she was a bit hazy on.

"See, I take one step at a time, and I don't know all the ramifications of what I want to do. But I'm gonna do the first step, which is to type out my paper and then take it back there with the birth certificate and my marriage license to prove I was who I say I was, and to change to who I want to be."

She is 53, or will be in a couple of weeks, and she has six children, the oldest 18, and she has realized for a couple of years that she "resented having to feel responsible for other people's lives." She had thought that being a mother and wife meant doing things for the others; now she decided she was going to do something for herself because it seemed she had lost her identity somewhere along the way.

Over the phone she sounded bright and aggressive and a little squirrelly, but in a nice way. She described herself at one point as "the biggest bitch I know," and she seemed to veer back and forth from patting herself on the back to feeling guilty and wanting reassurance. It hasn't been easy, she said.

"When you say you're gonna be selfish and you're gonna look after yourself it sounds terrible, doesn't it? I have to learn how to be selfish."

She said marriage almost ruined the relationship between "the man I live with" and herself. She is still married to him but feels "psychologically divorced," she said.

"He can do his thing and I can do mine. And in order to do mine, I have had to cut myself away from both my father and the man I married and say, 'I will stand under this one banner: magi.' A four-letter word.

"It sort of evolved, from Margaret to Margie to finally -- there was something in the Bible about the wise men, the gift of the Magi, you know? So I'm playing with words. But it's a technique for me to get out of the lock-step. And it's working. The only people I have trouble with are the driver's license people and where I register to vote."

She tried to get the others to pitch in on the menial work around the house, using cajolery, coercion and money, but when they don't, she just lets the clutter and dirt accumulate, she said, and when it gets too bad she goes out and does "something that makes me feel good."

Mostly that seems to mean going to public meetings and seminars, writing letters and doing other constructive work to correct social problems. One gets the feeling she does this as much for the sense of self-worth it gives as for the sake of the cause itself.

"The thing that's frustrating me," she said, "is that I'm sure I have a talent. If I could just channel it in one direction, I could -- I could carve my name someplace or other."

When Magi made her big announcement to the family about how she was tired of doing all the dirty work, the response was a kind of collective yawn. They didn't believe she was serious, apparently, and they didn't seem to get the point; she has had to make it without their support.

She has had to learn to say no when her inclination was to say yes, and has had to learn to make deals: If I do this for you, what will you do for me? Sometimes when the pressure gets too great, she leaves rather than staying and fighting. She thinks that's cowardly, but at least she's not giving in.

"American women just don't know how to be selfish," she said. "I have to do it consciously, and then it seems kind of contrived, you know?

"But I have to do it, to get out of this lock-step I've been in, because I've followed those patterns for so long, doing the things a good mother should. You know, there's so many 'shoulds' laid on us... and if we try to live according to somebody else's 'shoulds' we get lost and then we start deteriorating and when it's too late we're called senile.

"I don't think I ever really wanted to be in this position, but it was the thing to do. Get married, have children. In retrospect it was stupid, making carbon copies of yourself and feeling like a god but not getting all of the benefits of a god.

"So I finally was able to say I hated these roles. And nobody put me in jail or killed me for saying that, and the kids are still living, they're eating well, they're healthy and strong, we love each other, we hate each other -- young people learn from the whole community, not just one female.

"When I was playing mother, they hated me. Oh sure, they were quiet and obedient, but they hated me. I was taking away some of their options, their right to think and do for themselves because of this terrible desire to do things for them.

"Let them wash their own damn socks. They'll be better off."

And happy Mother's Day.

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Patty Mooney said...

How cool is that! I am going to go pick up that kreative Blogger Award right this minute!