Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Motherscribe Interview Series: the 8th interview...

My 8th interview is with Gina. She is 44 and lives in Washington State. She is married, has 4 children, and is a stay-at-home mom. She has a blog called GINAAGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN.

What does the word feminist mean to you? Has the meaning changed over time? The word feminist brings to mind my Great Grandmother. She was a woman ahead of her times and my first impression of what it means to be a feminist. She was a divorced single mother, a union organizer, and a shop foreman in a Chicago factory. Unfortunately she was also a hard drinking, self absorbed woman who sent her daughter to live with any relative or friend who would take her and often forgot to visit. Paired with this personal example are the memories of young feminists from my childhood. Bra burning, angry marches, strident declarations of men as the enemy… did I mention I lived on a college campus from 1966 to 1971? Feminists scared me.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? No, because to me a feminist is someone who is fighting to make women’s rights the most important issue. I believe that people’s rights are diminished when one group fights for the spotlight.

Would others consider you a feminist? I have been called a feminist by people who know that I am not afraid to speak my mind but those who don’t know me well see a pretty traditional stay at home mother.

What was the greatest gift of the women’s movement? Freedom to seek equal education and employment opportunities was the greatest gift.

What was the greatest failure of the women’s movement? Society has devalued the women who chose not to take advantage of those opportunities. Additionally our society has devalued the importance of taking care of children, the sick, and the elderly.

Did your mother work outside the home? Yes, but quite unwillingly. She would have chosen a completely different life for herself.

How did that affect you growing up? It affected so many aspects of my childhood that it has taken me years to sort through it. My Mother had no education and no formal training when she was suddenly a single parent with three little children. She had never planned on being anything other than a Mother but she quickly rose to a position of authority.

What impression did that leave with you about women working outside the home? My mother was good at her job but she wasn’t able to “do it all” so someone had to pick up the slack. I was the eldest and it became my job to do a good portion of the homemaker’s duties. I cooked and cleaned (rather poorly I should add) and supervised my brothers before and after school. That responsibility weighed heavily on me. My impression was that there needed to be an adult in the home and if it wasn’t a parent it would have to be one of the kids.

Did your father respect your mother? No. Not only did he not respect her but he criticized any of my character traits that reminded him of her.

Did your mother respect your father? No, but she tried to stay quiet about it until I was an adult.

Who were your earliest female role models other than your mother?My Grandmother and my Aunts.

What did you dream of being when you were a child? I don’t remember dreaming of being anything other than grown up and on my own.

What do you yearn for? Greater self-confidence.

Was getting married/partnered a conscious goal or focus early on in your adulthood? No, it really wasn’t. I was surprised by my sudden and complete attachment to Bob.

Is there an event(s) that affected you in childhood/adolescence that impacted your identity in a positive or negative way? All sorts of things affected how I grew up but there was one major event that shunted me off of the path that life had put me on and changed my outlook in a major way. I grew up trying to get my fathers attention, and failing. It’s no surprise that as I matured I gravitated toward relationships that weren’t healthy. However, when I was 17 it was discovered that I had a few large ovarian cysts (football sized to be exact) and I needed surgery to remove them. During my recovery from that surgery I was pressured by my boyfriend to resume some activities that I had been told not to engage in. I had a talk with my gynecologist about this and, rather than just giving me information about when those activities could resume, he sat down and really talked to me about what was going on. We talked about relationships and choices and self-worth and he told me I didn’t have to settle for a guy who didn’t care enough to give me time to heal. When I told my boyfriend that he would have to wait six more weeks, because the doctor said so, he broke up with me. I didn’t go out with another guy for over a year and I spent a lot of that year thinking about who I wanted to be. When I started dating again I was a different person.

A few years ago I wrote that doctor, who I hadn’t seen since I was eighteen, and thanked him. He wrote back saying that he remembered me and was pleased to know that he had done the right thing.

Have you ever dieted? Yes, but not obsessively.

Are you happy and/or comfortable with your weight? I am not comfortable with my weight because I know that I’m too heavy to be healthy and I want to be healthy. However, although I would love to weigh a lot less, I don’t hate my body. It’s dependable and strong. I don’t have the aches and pains that seem to afflict so many women my age.

Would you describe yourself as someone with “body issues?” I think I am lucky to have this body even if it isn’t perfect.

How do you feel about the sexualizing of young women in our society? Sexualizing of children, because it’s not just young women anymore, makes me angry. Attracting sexual attention is easy... even earthworms can do it. The societal pressure to be sexy before little bodies are physically ready for sex is wrong and interferes with a natural progression of attachment that would eventually lead to healthy partnerships. Childhood is for figuring out how to get along, who to trust, and learning to form strong friendships. If children are led to believe that sexual attention is the most important thing to focus on they won’t build a sound foundation for adult relationships.

What do you wish your mother had told you about marriage, life, anything…that you didn’t hear from her? What I needed to hear was not something she could have told me… I wish I had known that some people are truly dependable and it’s ok to depend on them. I feel that I have wasted a huge portion of my life hiding in a suit of armor making safe choices rather than trusting those around me.

What role did your father play in your childhood? My Father was pretty uninvolved but I idolized him. He was a full time student and spent most of his time at school or in the lab in the years that he lived with us. To me he was a larger than life character… smarter, younger and handsomer than my friends Fathers.

What was your relationship like with your father? When I was young I was desperate for his attention, as a teen I hated him for denying me that attention, as an adult I have finally come to understand that he is incapable of giving me what I need.

How do you feel about aging? I’m mostly ok with it. I joke a lot about being an old lady but I am not afraid of it. So far the weirdest thing about aging is what I call the Fiddler on the Roof syndrome… every time I turn around one of my kids has grown up.

How do you feel about plastic surgery? I think I’m a little slow in matters of vanity… like 30 years behind. I’m still trying to get into the habit of wearing make-up regularly. I’ll probably get around to thinking about plastic surgery in my 70’s. I would like to have a breast reduction but that has more to do with comfort than vanity.

Did your mother or another caretaker talk to you about sex and what to expect? Nope. Mostly I learned about sex while suffering from insomnia during visits to my Father’s house. His study doubled as my bedroom and he had a variety of illuminating medical texts (because he was in medical school). My mother’s sex talk was “I expect you to be a virgin when you get married.” and she made sure I had very few opportunities to break her rules. Her warning came a little late though.

How was your first sexual experience? Hmm… difficult question. There were actually many experiences, some awful and some enjoyable, prior to my first experience of full intercourse… but that first time was painful and frightening. Looking back I can see that I really wasn’t ready and gave in to pressure.

Is marriage liberating or inhibiting sexually? Finding the right partner liberated me. I didn’t know sex was more than a physical experience until I met Bob. Marrying him just meant that I didn’t have to hide from my mother anymore.

What makes you feel sexy? I feel sexy after spending time doing something physical like gardening or working out.

Do you have the energy/desire for sex at the end of the day? Desire, absolutely. Energy, not always.

What turns you on? Time alone, music, a warm day, snuggling, a nap... I’m actually pretty easy.

What would make your sex life better? More free time.

Why did you decide to be a stay-at-home mom? Our oldest son had behavioral issues from birth. By the time he was two we had been asked to remove him from several daycares. We decided that we had to find a way to be home with him so Bob took a job in South Dakota that allowed him to work from home part of the time. I was able to stop working and stay home full time because the cost of living in South Dakota was so much less than where we were living in California. It was a radical change.

Do you see evidence of “The Mommy Wars” in your everyday life? I don’t see women attacking each other for choosing to work or stay home although I’m sure it exists. I have seen many incidences of women being snobbish about people who choose to do things differently than they do. My current best example is the gymnastics “team moms” at my daughter’s gym. They are very involved in the sport and look down on the parents whose children are not competitive gymnasts. Conversely, those who aren’t “team moms” can get pretty snarky about the over emphasis of competition. Honestly, I think it’s very common for women to gossip and snub one another. It’s a character flaw that I am trying to overcome.

Do you consider it a job? Do you feel that you are valued? I don’t consider it a job. You can take vacations from jobs, you can leave your work and go home at night, you can quit a job that isn’t fulfilling your needs, you can even curse out an abusive boss and storm out of a job without any warning, and they will find someone else to do your job. Motherhood is not a job. It is lifestyle choice, and you never, ever, get to shrug it off and trust that you are replaceable.

Do you feel supported by your partner? Completely. He supports the stay at home Mom and the Woman who occasionally surfaces and stomps around demanding that there must be more from life than cooking, cleaning and taking care of other people. He helps me to dream and then encourages me to reach for those dreams.

Do you feel supported by other women? The problem with having a difficult child is that other women often sit in judgment of you. I think this is often because they are so afraid that their child might end up like yours. Since there are ten years between my oldest and youngest children I had a unique opportunity to see the mommy social scene as two completely different people. (Playgroups, preschool and kindergym aren’t just for the tots after all.) The first time I was the parent with the difficult child and I was very lonely. While the other mommies chatted I was the frazzled woman with finger paint in her hair. I can’t blame them for not warming up to me… my attention was completely focused on keeping my child from painting their children. Ten years later I had three kids in school and number four was a social butterfly who missed her siblings. So, reluctantly, I did the playgroup/ kindergym thing again. But what a different experience it was. I actually made friends, teachers praised my child, and other women asked for my advice. It was profoundly disorienting for awhile. I hadn’t realized how much nicer being a SAHM is when you have the support of other women.

What do you love about being a SAHM? Being here when one of the kids needs a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, a hug, or someone to growl at who won’t growl back. I also love all the messy art projects.

Is there a dark side of being a SAHM? It is very easy to get your self-worth tangled up with your children’s success. As my children sprint toward adulthood I am working on discovering myself.

What was your career before you had children? I was a purchasing agent for an electronics manufacturer.

Has it been hard to let go of that identity? Or you still identify with that role? I don’t think I really identified with that role even when I was working. It was a job. I did it well. But I wanted to write.

If you had a choice to return to work, would you? I did return to work a year ago and it was an interesting experience. I didn’t have any trouble transitioning and I found there were things I really enjoyed about working but I missed my kids, I missed having free time, and I missed having the freedom to sit down and write when the urge hit me.

Do you believe a happy, fulfilled mom is a better mom whether her choice is to work outside the home or to stay at home with her children? Absolutely! We are individuals and there isn’t a single choice that is best for everyone.

Can women do it all? Why doesn’t anyone ever ask if men can do it all? The answer should be the same regardless of gender. I think the definition of “it all” changes with the situation. There are a lot of things that could be done that we can choose to ignore because we are busy. For instance, when I was working I still managed to get the laundry, grocery shopping, and housecleaning done, but if I wanted to write I had to choose to let something slide or go without sleep. It was definitely possible but not much fun. Sometime in that year of working I began to understand that I would rather have fun than have it all.

How old are your children? 19, 15, 13 and 10

What do you want to do differently with your children than what you received from your parents? I want my children to know that I don’t have preset ideas of who they should be. I want them to follow their own dreams and know that I love them for who they are not what they are.

What would you like to carry on that your parents established with you? My Mother loved to surprise us with silliness. She would come home from work on a Friday night and declare that we were having a party and give us ice cream for dinner. She sang crazy songs and dressed up for Halloween. Once she and my Uncle dressed as old people and went to the airport to pick up my Aunt just to make her laugh. She could be so much fun. Although I’m different from my Mom I want my kids to have some silly memories of me too. They love to make fun of my dorky dancing so I’m guessing my grandkids will hear stories of that.

How has having children changed the relationship with your partner? Having children taught me that I could trust him to be there and still trying to make me laugh through the worst times. As the children get older I have learned to appreciate the role of a Father in my daughter’s lives. I am so proud of what a great Dad he is… even when they roll their eyes and act like he’s an idiot.

Do you have dates with your partner? Not really. We are boring homebodies. Our version of date night is kicking the kids out of the family room so we can watch an R rated movie.

Do you have personal “ME” time scheduled every week/every day? I don’t have “me” time scheduled but I do seem to have plenty of it. Since Bob works from home, I feel a little spoiled if I do something just for me during the day but when he travels I goof off a lot.

How do you combat stress? I write, I read, and lately I’ve been doing a lot of craft projects. However, if I’m really stressed I clean things. My middle son calls it “Mom’s stress OCD” and says that he gets nervous if he comes home and the house is super clean because he knows that means I’m upset.

Do you get out regularly with girlfriends? I will occasionally have lunch with a friend but it’s not a regular thing. This is partly because we have moved so often that I don’t have a large social group.

Has it been challenging to retain a separate sense of self from your role as mother & wife? Actually it hasn’t been challenging at all for me to hold on to who I am. The challenging part has been finding time away from being a wife and mother but it’s getting easier as the kids get older.

What do you do to facilitate that? Does your partner help make that happen? If I am absorbed in something my family knows to leave me alone. I don’t usually get grumpy I just sort of check out. They know that I’m not really there and they give up on getting through to me. Bob certainly helps… he doesn’t really have a choice because I may as well be on another planet.

Do you help create personal space for your partner? I try to make sure he is able to do his own thing. He has the advantage of having an office with a door and he will go in there and close the door if he needs to. Also… I have fully supported his right as the Dad to fall asleep while watching a hockey game and know that no one will sneak in and turn on cartoons. (This may seem silly but it’s important to him.)

Does your partner share in household tasks? He has always done his part around the house. He was injured in a car accident last fall and hasn’t been able to cook or clean for the last six months… I really miss his help.

Are you happy and/or fulfilled with your life? Why? I am satisfied and content with most aspects of my life. There is a certain amount of unhappiness and areas that still need attention before I can say I’m fulfilled… but those are primarily problems that I could resolve with some motivation.

How did you think your life would be when you got married? How do you feel now? I had no idea what to expect. I just wanted to live with my best friend and I still feel that way. I don’t know what the future will be but I like who I’m spending it with.

Thank you, Gina.

The Motherscribe Interviews are closed for comments. For more about Gina, please visit her at Ginaagain, and again, and again.

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