Motherhood

Angela Garbes reclaims realistic motherhood

Angela Garbes reclaims realistic motherhood

The real work of motherhood (i.e., kissing sores; knowing how to orange, not white, mac and cheese; washing and drying and folding and putting away endless loads of laundry) takes up much less space in our collective imagination than the static imagery of motherhood. Social media would have us believe that motherhood is free from messy realities. Instead, it’s a nap on a gingham picnic blanket, a stroll through a strawberry field, a pregnant figure at sunset.

Sounds good, right? Except when it leaves us feeling raged, gassy, ​​and exhausted.

At least we have Angela Garbesincluding the latest book, Essential Workexamines the collective power of mothering and questions how individuals can both fight for systemic change (such as affordable, quality child care, paid family leave, and comprehensive maternal health care ) and demand acts of mothering in our own lives. Garbes does not dilute the difficulties and complexities of mothering; rather, in Essential Workit “offers a space to imagine the tasks that often seem overwhelming and laborious as opportunities to create meaning and – it is the dream – to contribute to positive social change.”

What planted the seed for Essential Work?

I actually had a collection of essays on indentured bodies, which I spent two years virtually unable to write. And then I wrote an article for The Cut examining what happens if women and mothers disappear from professional and public life for a year or more because of the pandemic.

And when the play went viral, I felt like, Oh, here are all the bad things I’ve been dealing with personally and privately for the better part of a year, and it turns out I’m not the only one.. This is the book I want to write. Essential Labr is not specific to the pandemic, but it is about care work and mothering and how we devalue that.

It makes sense that your initial book concept was about bodies. There’s so much corporeity in both like a mother and Essential Work.

I have always been interested in embodiment, bodily reality and physical pleasure. I have a background as a food writer, so I’ve always been interested in the sensual experience of eating.

That explains why I’m so hungry after reading your work! In Essential Work, you delineate the difference between our Western cultural preoccupation with idealized maternal identity and the active work of mothering and caring. How much do you think focusing on the mother as an identity marker versus the work of mothering has impacted the shit up of the institution of motherhood in America?

A little softball question! I just had a conversation with someone about a trial on beauty by Tressie McMillan Cottom in her book Thick. And this woman was explaining that when she says, “Oh, I’m not a good mother,” people always say, “No, no, you’re a wonderful mother. But she was talking about “good motherhood” in the context of Tressie’s essay, which I quote in Essential Work. In the essay, Tressie basically says, When I say I’m not attractive or beautiful, it’s not that I don’t think I am.. It’s that I’m far from that traditional ideal of beauty in white patriarchal American culture. There is a standard of motherhood in American culture, and I always knew I would never live up to it. And I’m not saying that in a way that, like, oh it makes me sad. No. It’s liberating.

No one will ever meet these standards. Not even the richest white women. And so there’s a part of me that argues in this book that rather than holding ourselves to a standard, wouldn’t it be freer to be the people we are?

I was thinking about your book yesterday while changing my toddler’s diaper – how this highly skilled job requires very specific knowledge of singing a song about strawberries that will distract him from fidgeting so he doesn’t don’t get pissed off everywhere. And then after I changed it, it ran away, and I had this brief moment of satisfaction because I made another human being more comfortable. And finding empowerment in this type of work can be so tricky, because capitalism really encourages us to seek value in other ways. It’s much easier to go to Instagram and buy some sort of diaper balm that doubles as a mom-fluencer’s face highlighter, click “buy now”, experience a dopamine hit and trick yourself into thinking you’ve done something for yourself, for your maternal well-being.

I recently reread Lydia Kiesling The golden state, which is a damn good book. And there’s a part where a character does something for her child and she feels this intense grief. Because at that time, everything revolves around the mother and the child and this unique moment in their lives. And it will go away.

So I think, yes, it’s a highly skilled workforce, but the workforce doesn’t stay the same. The child doesn’t stay the same, does it? It’s an ever-evolving skill set. And that kind of satisfaction and expertise is deeply private, and so it’s really hard to express to someone. And there is also grief, sadness and loss that is involved in this work. And we’re not really good at holding those feelings back.

In terms of a capitalist patriarchal society, the joy and value of care work and motherhood cannot be measured. It cannot be refurbished. It cannot be quantified. And so there is no way to validate it. It is therefore the work of knowing internally that it is important. Because you can’t look for external validation. I feel sad saying this, but you just won’t understand, will you?

In the book, you distinguish between the cult of self-optimization that plagues white mother culture and the collective community advocacy in which black, indigenous, and other marginalized activists have engaged for centuries. How to achieve a breakthrough in white feminist thought? Like, for example, how can we convince white feminist mothers to stop focusing only on their child eating the most local, non-toxic vegetables and instead focus on ensuring that all children have access to safe and nutritious?

There’s the nuclear family, you know, with everyone looking for number 1, wanting what’s best for their own family, the privatization of what’s good. It helps me to remember that the ideal of the nuclear family, although very powerful and pervasive, is relatively new in the history of the world. Western culture has done a great job eliminating other ways of communal living from the historical record, hasn’t it? But you wouldn’t have to go back more than four or five generations to find examples of community care.

Even I can get caught up in obsessing over what’s best for my child. But I think it’s about reinventing and talking about how we define what’s best. And what better should be the best for everybodyespecially those most in need of support.

And when we talk about feminist history, let’s not just talk about Betty Friedan. I want to talk about Johnnie Tillmon. I want us to talk about National Social Rights Organization. I want us to talk about Silvia Federici salary for housework. I want people to read Dani McClain understand that all the good things that parents enjoy have come from the activism of black women. Like school meals, right? We all benefit from these things.

I hoped that the pandemic would take us out of the illusion that we can save ourselves individually. We can not. And I fear that all the anger felt by women and mothers at the start of the pandemic, especially affluent white women, began to fade once schools reopened. Or when people could rehire nannies and send their kids back to daycare. These problems predate the pandemic and they will survive the pandemic. But none of us will forget how hard it was, will we?

Your book has given me hope, energy, and sustain. I wonder what works of art or media related to motherhood inspire you so much?

The lost girl destroyed me in a very beautiful way. And I always come back to At Dani McClain’s book We live for the usto remind that no matter how deeply personal motherhood and mothering can be, we can always find insights into current issues from social movements in history. by Alice Neel diverse and sometimes disturbing portraits of mothering, Johnnie Tillmon’s 1972 essayWellness is a women’s issueby Sarah Ruhl 100 essays I don’t have time to write and Smile (she writes about the tension between motherhood and creativity, but also transparently shows how they are of equal importance and influence in her life), and everything Carvell Wallace writing about parenthood.

Can we now talk about the chapter on sex?

We are not talking about sex in marriage and in a long-term relationship after the children. Spoiler alert: Children are the result of sex! But we are not talking about mothers as sexual beings. And I want my daughters to understand how their bodies work and understand pleasure and their right to it sooner than I do.

I also don’t read a lot of stories about mothers’ sexuality, Filipino women’s sexuality, or women of color’s sexuality. Most people who talk about sex are, like, my sex life is great. Or my sex life is non-existent. But there’s a big area in between where I’ve spent most of my life. Sex can be mediocre to momentarily transcendent to superficial. This is what my sex life is like, and I feel like I’m not alone.

Monogamy in general is so heavy, and the whole way of looking at sex makes us all feel bad in one way or another.

This is another area where we are expected to be ambitious leaders who succeed and dominate. Be powerful like a man. I’m still trying to figure out my true sexuality. And that’s another part of the ongoing project to accept where I am instead of trying to live up to an ideal.