I’m in Mama-land, here in Tuscany with Johanna and Francesco, and it’s Full Moon. My heart runneth over. Last night was only semi-sleep, so my mind was free to drift without a pilot. It set sail from the love of daughter and son-in-law and visited a whole lot of my good friends who are mothers. Coming from the midst of all the ghastly gnarl of politics, it was blissful to float and rock on a high tide of love.
Whaddya think? If somehow a whole lot of women could all do this intentionally, at the same time, could we undo some of the shit? I’m only half-joking. That’s all, folks.
I just finished reading a New Yorker article on the current woes of child-protection services—the tangled skein between giving children security against abuse while avoiding the damages wrought by separation of parents and kids. Profoundly depressing, given that the identical article could have been written 40 years ago, when we were intimately involved with these issues.
In 1975, we wrote and staged a play called DESSIE, certainly the most gut-wrenching play we’ve ever made. We hadn’t thought of it as a “message” play—for us it was a gnarly character study—but it came at a time when family violence and child abuse were suddenly headline issues, and we were plunged (while creating other shows) into a 9-year span of touring cross-country, probably 600+ performances, for audiences of social workers, cops, convicted felons, congregations, parent self-help groups, lawyers, and general public coming into the church basement asking, “Is this where the movie is?” Often the post-show discussion was twice as long as the 45 minutes of the play, and we structured it to allow the full range of feelings to be vented. Feedback from performances was heartening: people on all sides of the spectrum actually listened to one another. And several times we heard from people, a year or so later, the ultimate valuation: You made a difference in my life.
Perhaps the only discrepancy between the New Yorker article and our nine years of experience was that in the profile in the article, the caseworker had a caseload of nine or ten, while some workers we met had caseloads of a hundred or more. And I’m certain that various localities have made progress. But overall, the nexus of byzantine structures, adversarial procedures, butt-covering, pathetic ignorance, isolation, poverty, and the pervasive rage that fuels our national character—well, I didn’t really want to write about this. Little point in writing utter bleakness. Except—
Last Saturday morning at the coffee shop, two women with baby carriers were conversing. One infant was 5 weeks old, the other a few weeks older, though older hardly seems the right word. Further advanced? Nearer senility? More cutting-edge? What I caught of their conversation was mainly trade talk about new motherhood. When I’d finished my coffee and writing, I approached, asked how old the kids were, and told the mothers, “Well, have fun. And courage.”
I wanted to say more but didn’t want to be intrusive. More, because for me the act of child-bearing and child-rearing is the most heroic act, both physically and psychologically, that a human being can do. Lots of people do ita pretty well, but the news (not to mention world literature) is rife with those who’ve done it abominably. There are zillions of movies about men in battle, but I can’t think of a single one about a woman in labor.
More people now admit to having serious doubts about “bringing a child into this world.” And yet, with some exceptions, most of us do wish the human race might continue—making at least a few tiny fiddles and farts toward improvement now and then. It’s no dishonor to be childless, whether by choice or by fortune. But I feel an enormous urge to honor those who undertake the damned hard physical work to bear and raise children, and the crazy belief in a livable future.
What more is needed besides my easy words? Our whole damned species pulling together to change the tide. But I want to imagine that something is gained, to a small degree, by two young women comparing notes over coffee.