I had occasion recently to think about mothering, and I suddenly zeroed in on the similarity/difference between Conrad’s mom and mine. This may become a book project, but at the moment its energy is flowing in a very personal channel. I had a very painful and difficult experience with my adoptive mother, and only came to know what a rich and nurturing experience being mothered could be when I inherited Margaret, courtesy of Conrad.
Mary Magnuson, who raised me, survived a violent and disturbed childhood and went on to become an independent and successful woman in the difficult world of the vaudeville stage. She made her own way as a performer and resolved to remain independent, until a Chicago businessman became hopelessly smitten and courted her until she melted and married him. Their bond was deep and enduring, and the fact that I witnessed that was a true gift.
Margaret Pitzer, Conrad’s mom, was the middle child in a German farm family, where girls were of a lower order, and she fled the farm as soon as she could. She became a schoolteacher in the classic one-room Midwestern mode, riding her pony through the drifts to light the stove and teach a motley bunch who were mostly bigger than she was. But she and her girlfriend Rose took to driving a flivver to Los Angeles in the summer to be in the land of streetcars and orange groves and lots and lots of dances, and after the third trip, she never came back. A good-looking charmer with wavy hair and good moves charmed her, and she married him. When she became pregnant, he disappeared.
Neither Mary nor Margaret had nurturing mothers, and both had the stunning courage to launch themselves into independent lives. They each found profound love, but one story worked out and the other one didn’t. Margaret’s man was happy with a beautiful and lively woman who could go drinking and dancing with him, but he was forthright in saying that there would be no children. Guess what.
Mary married late but still hoped for a child, and when it didn’t happen, accepted the idea of adoption. I was acquired through a private agreement brokered by a lawyer, and arrived like an UPS parcel into a household that had no experience of child-rearing.
Margaret survived her desertion, fought like a tigress to keep herself and her child alive, and gradually clawed her way into a respectable white-picket-fence bungalow. She let her son know that he was loved and valued, that he had a solid foundation.
Mary did not fare well with leaving her profession, and was not capable of devising a life completely ripped asunder from what had given her autonomy. Love was real, but it didn’t make up for having no compatriots, no way to express her huge comic gifts, and gin filled the gap.
Conrad and I came from these different motherings. Somehow our individual quirks and wounds meshed, and we became our own best friends, above and beyond the realm of being lovers. But our mothering origins are very different, and I am dedicated to exploring what that means.
A friend posted a Facebook lament that a face and voice are haunting our heads every hour of the day. You can no more ignore it than forget that scaly fungus you’ve found between your toes, creeping up the foot. And indeed, that fungus is fed by the can-you-top-this? posts on Facebook. On the other hand, Facebook can be a friend, as long as I restrict myself assiduously, as we did with our kids’ TV-watching.
So today, in the space of twenty minutes, skipping all posts on politics or the consequences of politics, e.g. shootings, etc., I heard of these things happening in the world:
Discovery of a method of bird food storage.
Expunging computer malware.
Offering free tickets to a concert.
Finding a tapas bar in Flagstaff.
A neighbor dying.
A bus ride in Zambia.
A recipe for diabetics.
A poem about senior discounts.
A friend cutting her hair.
Sightseeing in Dallas.
A five-month sublet in Sonoma County.
Three bags of clothes to Goodwill.
Dyeing hair, getting water in ear.
Eating a Kashi GoLean Hemp Crunch Plant-Powered Bar.
A poem by Derek Walcott.
The weather in an unidentified city.
A musician playing a gig.
A bike ride where eagles were seen.
No cute animals today. They must be on vacation, or else Facebook algorithms are putting them down the line in response to snarky comments about FB’s immense triviality.
And yet this quick survey reminds me that this resource is enormously valuable, precisely for its triviality. In fact I think we’re kept sane by triviality. Of course not entirely without the significant, the ecstatic, the tragic, the horrific, the deep intensity—yet all those in modest spurts. We need to be reminded, to remind ourselves, that part of human experience is about methods of storing bird food. And that some human beings, quite a number in fact, are on this Earth neither to embrace us nor kill us, but simply—like us—to wend our way through the days that we have to wend.
There’s no virtue in thinking of the death of the planet while cutting your hair. Better you focus on the haircut—and maybe the intrinsic nuttiness and blessing of such a thing as hair.
Let’s make the most of our trivialities.