Jul 14, 2014

Un-stereotyping 'motherhood': LTYM Boston, 2014

I'm annoyed by the word Motherhood'.

It's too easily associated with over-simplistic tropes of noble self-sacrifice, loaded with implied superiority and dripping with saccharin sentimentality. The narratives seem reductionist at best, marginalizing at worst. As if you can't be capable of love if you haven't had a child. As if that there truly is no greater joy than parenting. As if the only path to wisdom and empathy tracks through a landscape of dirty diapers and sleepless nights. And by the way, what of the Fathers?

In my calmer moments I understand that all the hyperbole comes from a place of honest anxiety: the need to encapsulate the overwhelming experiences of parenthood into simple, comprehensible chunks. Much like any other major role of responsibility we may hold in our lives, to truly describe the heft and taste and shape of molding a new life, is to try to 'hold a moonbeam in your hand'. Only, not half as pretty and lacking a lilting Rogers and Hammerstein soundtrack.

So when I first heard of the national 'Listen to your mother' event, tagged "Giving motherhood a microphone", I did an internal cringe and external grimace. I browsed a few YouTube videos of past performances with fairly low expectations. To my lasting delight, founder Ann Imig's vision is as far from perpetuating stereotypes as her goals are from fueling trite sentimentality. Most of the LTYM live-readings do tug at heartstrings and many speak of tragedies or moments of overwhelming love, but few are glib. Her producer/directors (shows are staged in 32 cities across the US) undertake a mindful and heart wrenching selection process when auditioning. They think beyond engaging writing style and riveting content and focus on perspectives, especially the untold, less-known ones. So it becomes an en exploration of the untold stories of Motherhood, rather than celebrations of the well-known aspects. Hallmark usually has that part well-covered.

That dreaded 'motherhood' stereotype got nicely disrupted at the inaugural Boston show as, one rainy Saturday afternoon in late April, 14 of us climbed onto the ancient hardwood dais of Old South Church in Copley Square. 200 year old stained glass windows let in filtered light and the cathedral ceilings resounded as we each took turns sharing ourselves with our audience.

I wish I could make everyone hear the 14 diverse speakers, so carefully lined-up. Many of them were topics that NEED to be talked about in public forums: suicide, Autism, gender identity, mental illness, stereotypes, miscarriage. Others were side-splittingly funny takes that were nevertheless moving. I highly recommend watching them all in the order that they are placed here: All talks - LTYM, Boston, 2014

For those with less time (and/or inclination), I'm going to point you to my favorites.

“A roasting pan and the expanded heart”
This lyrical piece  by Cameron Garriepy debunks in the most visceral way that, that deep, rock solid love we often feel for the little people in our lives doesn't HAVE to stem from biology. A published romance novelist, she is also a wonderful blogger who inspires.
This is her talk: The Roasting pan and the expanded heart

And her blog: http://camerondgarriepy.com
Her books: And she has more than one!

“Unspeakable Sacrifice”
This is possibly the hardest piece to listen to and by the same token, the most important one. Angie Chaloux's mother is insane and homeless. Angie talks us through living with her own inability to help as well as the system that’s failing them. She’s an award winning teacher and educator and an amazing person. If you like her talk, you MUST read the post-show reaction piece. It will add another dimension to her quandary.
This is her talk: Unspeakable Sacrifices
Her blog: Its everybodys story

“Because Life was on the list”
Julie Maida's piece is about more than suicide and Hope: it's about us as a society, taking an unflinching look at addict mothers. 'Addict mom' is not necessarily an oxymoron. Mothers come in all shades and shapes and while we do a decent job these days addressing Post Partum Depression (PPD), few know what it's like to walk in an addict's shoes.  Julie allows us a little glimpse. What adds to her heart-rending tale of salvation is the fact that after turning her own life around, she proceeded to transform countless others through a blog (www.sobermommies.com) she founded to help others like her. Through it all, she doesn't lose her sense of humor.
This is her Talk: Because Life was on the list

Her post-show reaction post on her blog summed it up for us all: Our power is not unique

And yes...My talk is up there too.
I've blogged about my feelings about this before: about my sadness that father's don't have a talk yet and my worry about tokenism so I don't think I need say anymore. Except that sharing what I did has since, made friends seek catharsis on issues that they had never dared discuss before and that in itself, makes me glad to have done this.
He's never said much about my LTYM talk and I'd even forgotten that I showed him the Boston Herald with my picture in it. But on Mothers Day he came home with a little booklet they'd made in class that's all about their mother. This is why he thought I was 'special'. And here I was thinking it was my hugs.

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