May Day (may day)

I wrote some new poems about polar bears (they’re short):

The ice up here
I feel my dear
is not as near
as yesteryear

AND

My coat of white
is not so bright
after a fight
with a walrus

Maggie had a Zoom call for science class this week. Her classmates showed up for the call with clay or play-doh and the names of the planets written on cards. I had not seen the note, in one place but not three others where science assignments are posted, that mentioned needing a dough-like substance for one of the day’s activities. Had I seen it, my option would have been to make play-doh, possibly over the weekend, along with homeschooling both of my children, finishing work for a paid contract, dealing with my own grief and stress and emotions as well as that of two children separated from friends and normality (and a husband and an anxious dog).

I ask myself, is this a shortcoming? Am I using the current situation as an excuse to not do things because I’m fundamentally a lazy person? I’m taking the time to write this, shouldn’t I just buck up and make the play-doh instead? We could make some fun family memories: remember when we learned how to make play-doh that time, laughing and putting flour on each others noses in the kitchen while listening to music??

The other parents found the note, read it, and their children showed up, on time, dough and cards prepared. Dave and I are both scientists (well, I have a degree in science though now I write more about goddesses than photosynthesis, much to my partner’s approval and delight). I value science education and it was a thoughtful exercise in terms of learning outcomes. But even had I seen the note I would not have made the play-doh. Maggie signed off of the call early. There may be a hole in her understanding of the relative size of Mars to Neptune. I know that chasm still exists for me.

I’m thinking a lot these days about women and expectations. About the wine mom culture. About feminism and femininity. Who defines these and their purpose and what it all means for me, how I feel, how I behave, what I take on or don’t, how I evaluate and feel evaluated, what I allow myself to do, what I have not allowed.

I’m questioning the script that tells us that a drink is the earned reward at the end of a mind-numbing day. I don’t want a reward for getting through. I want a life that allows room for me to be. I have questions about the script and whether that kind of life is truly possible, or whether ads and self-help and some mythology about freedom are part of keeping us feeling worse because we can’t figure out how to be happy or ‘free’ when the economic realities for most people, the psychological power of marketing, and the deep need for belonging leave almost no room for anything other than what is (hello darkness my old friend).

I know many moms (and sometimes myself) who are reaching for the wine at the end of the day because it’s too much. My kid logged into a class yesterday with a bunch of kids who showed up with homemade play-doh. I am being absolutely sexist and assuming that in at least 90% of cases the mother was the one directing the play-doh to be made. Maybe she didn’t make it, but she was the one who knew it needed making and the one who printed the recipe and the one who put it on the counter and made sure it was made on time. Please forgive me if I have mischaracterized your particular situation. I speak only from my own limited experience.

Yes, there are a lot of amazing things we can do, things that are possible. But trying to do them all is not healthy. At least not for me. I feel like the crazy person in the room looking around at everyone who just made play-doh in the middle of a pandemic so our kids can sit for one hour on a Wednesday and make accurate scale models of the solar system, a rite of passage for all children since Cain and Abel. Probably for some parents the hour of childcare they get while the kid is engaged in a hands-on activity with a valuable learning outcome is worth the time to mix up a quick batch of dough (and wash the dishes). Play-doh does seem like tempting fate though in the midst of a virulent pandemic. The hands, the noses, the surfaces, the breathing… I know it’s just us here but.

I’ve seen a few articles about a new mode of feminism. Women (yes, actual women, I’ve seen pictures of them in colorful, flowing caftans and designer overalls) are foregoing their usual beautification regimens and experimenting with a rash new form of freedom. Short nails and bare lips. A revolution! The way I’ve seen it portrayed suggests that there has been a cultural norm that we have all bought into and now, oh my, how naughty or rebellious we might have roots that show. ROOTS!!!! I’m happy, or neutral, about the fact that some women are experiencing a new way of being that they find appealing or noteworthy. I have no comment on that really. What frustrates me (I guess) is the underlying signal about what normal womanhood is. Normally women care about these things because that’s what a woman is.

I guess what I’m resisting is the marketing around what is feminine. Feminine — to me — is a way of being, not a way of appearing. Feminine is more in how we approach the unknown, how we express vulnerability, our ability to be nurturing, to collaborate. And of course everyone has feminine energy, it is the balance to masculine energy (which we all have as well). I find it so constricting to think that my femininity, my womanliness, be shrunk to the shape of the ends of my fingers (which, for me, are better suited to growing plants and strumming chords than being smoothed and painted).

Apologies for jumping around here. My media feed tells me this is acceptable in a pandemic, there’s a reason it is hard to keep anything in my mind for very long. I can’t remember what it is.

A few things I’ve read lately that I’ve found very interesting:

Why Mommy Drinks (Today’s Parent) by Lauren Ferranti-Ballem

We are living in a Failed State (The Atlantic) by George Packer

Productivity is Not Working (Wired) by Laurie Penny

And in case you are wondering why you are sitting at home, disconnected from the world, the economy crashing around you while people start to talk about herd immunity and have raucous playdates all over town, I thought this was a very useful piece written by an actual epidemiologist about epidemiology.

‘I Promise. I Promise.’ You Can’t Cheat a Pandemic by Jonathan Smith

Yesterday during the time I was not making play-doh I stumbled upon a series of paintings called Hello Masterpiece. When you click the link, make sure that you look through the full group of all the paintings in the series. Mom, you have to click ‘next’ to go through the group of paintings (unless you are looking on your phone). I don’t want to ruin the surprise so I’m not giving hints. It’s worth it. A person’s creative responses to life can be so beautiful, so human.

I will be baking a carrot cake today. It is the third Hole family birthday during the lock-in, my second carrot cake. This one will have the traditional cream cheese frosting. I’ve also experimented with chocolate mousse (fail, added egg yolks too soon and used 100% cacao instead of semi-sweet). We ate it anyway, eggs are too precious these days to be wasted.

In my dream, we all work together to change the story. To celebrate the true beauty of women which is in how they contribute. To stop letting marketing define our values or choices. We connect in strength not in cynicism. We celebrate creativity. We take care of each other. We share more. We use less. We use our brains to come up with helpful rules that lead to a more virtuous loop where more people have what they need, are protected, feel safe. We make deposits into the Earth bank account instead of a steady stream of withdrawals. It’s possible. And we stop buying glow sticks.

Love to you all,

Jennifer

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