Thursday, June 11, 2009

No Other Mother (please!)

When I was in high school my mom got homemaker burn-out. Suddenly the house wasn’t all clean and organized, she stayed in bed until we left for school (ostensibly so she could have the one bathroom to herself), I became the default cook, and the laundry room became a black hole. Seriously, you only tossed stuff into that abyss at your own risk, never knowing if or when you’d retrieve it.

And now a confession: Being the heartless, irreverent teenager that I was, I made up a clever song about this new phase of life we were entering, to the tune of "For Unto Us A Child is Born" (and of course coerced my younger siblings to sing along). It went like this:

For unto us an other mother...

Mrs. Mom
She is our mother
We’ve requested
to have another

And the new one will do all the washing and the ironing!

And her name
shall be called
The mighty mom,
The everlasting mother,
The queen of clean.

Of course we were all laughing, even my mom.
We were totally joking around, and yet...

Years later I wrote her a letter. I sat up through the night and wrote to her with tears streaming down my face about how sorry I was for being disrespectful like that; for even hinting that we’d ever think of replacing her.

And what a sting of irony that carries, now that she’s gone.

But something made me think of that song again last week. In an even darker way. I read this book called Coraline. And true to the blurb on the back, it scared me half to death, this children’s fairy tale. I think it’s really written for adults. And the villainness is called the Other Mother. (Yikes! It sends a chill down my spine and a shudder through my shoulders just typing that.)

Whatever possessed me to pick up that book, I’m not exactly sure. If you recall this post, I am terrified of being scared. Almost to the point of phobia. In a nutshell, I believe this wholeheartedly:“God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.” But something about this book intrigued me. (Besides, Orson Scott Card was one of the endorsers, and he seems fairly trustworthy to me.) Honestly, I think the biggest factor in my decision was this interview I remembered between Kimberly and Rebecca Weybright, the creator of Noctober. There, Rebecca gave such an articulate and convincing defense of the whole genre of "dark speculative fiction." She said some things that made so much sense to me, including this nugget: "I find questions infinitely more interesting than answers, and I want to be left asking some provocative ones at the end of a reading experience." So, in the spirit of Kimberly's renowned risk-taking, I dove into a new book, and a new genre.

What I found, despite the frightening images, was a brilliant allegory, and one of the best depictions of evil (and how desperate it is to have us in its clutches) I’ve encountered lately. It shed so much light on being drawn in by curiosity. And even on how addictions can take hold of us, becoming relentless tormentors. It caused me to ask myself a lot of searching questions. It reaffirmed what I said yesterday: Life is worth the scary parts.

Anyway, the girl wanders into a counterfeit house, hauntingly similar to her own, with a seemingly-perfect Other Mother, who offers to play with her, fixes her favorite meals, supplies endless toys and a closet full of dress-up clothes. She looks surprisingly like her real mother. But has black, soul-less, button eyes.

As the story unwinds, the Other Mother becomes uglier, and her intentions more selfish, and her love wholly feigned. She begins to bear no resemblance to the real mother as she desperately reaches out to possess, to use, to control this little girl. And offers to give her — sew on, in fact — a pair of black button eyes.

Coraline realizes she wants nothing to do with this Other Mother, who doesn’t love her at all, despite her declarations to the contrary. She wants her real mother, who is often too busy to play with her and leaves her to explore on her own, who rarely cooks, but who loves her deeply. She wants her real father, who is distracted at work and who experiments with recipes that go awry but who is clearly kind. She wants her own room and her own clothes and her real life, including the boring parts.

And so do I. I never REALLY wanted an Other Mother. (But can you see how a chill gripped me when I read that, and remembered my silly song?) I want a mother with faults and foibles, and maybe even an irritable streak. But someone who is real. Who guides me to selfless truth. Whose love is real. Even now that she's gone.

And I want to be that real too. I want to know and love what is real; to seek "things as they really are." I want to teach my children to appreciate what is real...and to shun the world's counterfeits at all cost.


LisAway said...

Eeek. What a terrible story. I love your thoughts on shunning the counterfeit and embracing the real. That's really neat. Why does the counterfeit have to be so much shinier, sometimes? One of my favorite things about being a mom is teaching my kids to recognize what's real and what's not, and how to appreciate real light, and not just what is sparkly.

Sandy M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luisa Perkins said...

I love that book for those very reasons--but I don't think it's a children's book at all!

I won't see the movie, though.

Apparently, my mother-in-law used to go on strike every once in a while, with no warning. My father-in-law and the four boys would have to muddle through without her, since she was holed up in her room reading (they assumed). She'd come out after a few days and pick up where she'd left off, and no one would really talk about it.

This fascinates me and even sounds tempting once in a while.

Good for you for apologizing to your mom, even though you didn't mean to be hurtful. I think it is only once we are parents ourselves that we realize the enormity of what our parents went through to raise us (even if they were far from perfect).

Kristina P. said...

Sadly, my mom went on strike for the past 13 years. I should probably do some apologizing for my actions, it's just hard!

Melanie J said...

The only reason I haven't commented on this is because I haven't read the post. And the only reason I haven't read the post is because I haven't read Coraline but I plan to get to it eventually. So I'm trying to stay "spoiler" free or whatever. But I still love you!

Kimberly said...

I read that book just a short time ago and the words that come to mind are chilling, disturbing, and thought-provoking. I love how you drew parallels between it and your own life. There is indeed much to be learned by looking and the shadows and remembering the light.

Heather of the EO said...

I love what LisAway said.

Maybe this isn't appropriate, but I'm impressed by your creativity with that naughty song.

And I'm positive your mom always knew how much you loved and appreciated her.

I don't know, books/movies there are Coraline-esque are really hard for me to dive into. I'm still afraid, and I'm sure I'm missing some beautiful messages, but I get the creeps waaaay too easy. I just hope to learn the lessons some other way. :)

(not that I think they're of the devil or something...I'm just a scaredy cat...still.)

Brillig said...

See, what I love is that you chose "For Unto Us a Child is Born" for your new lyrics. I think I made up lyrics once... to Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Even your silliness is classy, lady!

As for the book... well... I confess that I'm a little bit scared to get it for myself. But I loved hearing about it! :-D

I hope my children will read it one day and realize that my flawed mothering is better than perfect mothering, though!

(And why didn't anyone tell me that going on strike was an option?!)

Mrs4444 said...

I have that book but have yet to crack the cover; think I'll put it on the bottom of my stack!

I'm glad you had the opportunity to ask your mom to forgive you. I trust that she did? :)

Sandy M. said...

Reading the post and everyone's comments makes me wonder how prevelant these feelings of needing to go on 'strike' are? I think I have been partly on strike from cooking for a few years now.. (After hours of cooking every day, countless dinner parties and almost constant catering for weddings, etc.) It never really occurred to me that so many other women might be feeling the same.... ? That's sad..

Abby said...

What a scary story! I had a nightmare when I was really little (maybe 5 or 6) that I woke up and went to see my mum but she'd been replaced by an 'Other Mother' - who looked like my mum, but a mean and evil version. I can't tell you how relieved I was to find my real mother waking me up a little later on!

I also saw a kid's movie once called 'Trading Mom' or 'The Mommy Market', in which some kids decide to get rid of their mum, but it's not too morbid! They get 3 chances to pick a new mum at the 'Mommy Market' but they soon realise how much they need their original mum, who really loved them despite her flaws.

From other posts I've read about your mother she sounds wonderful, I think most of us do awful creative things at some stage, I'm also impressed that you did it to the tune of 'For Unto Us A Child is Born'!

Kazzy said...

We all have those moments when we seriously think the mom is greener on the other side. I have encountered little things like that here and there in my own kids. Like your mom, I have tried to laugh them off. LOL

Dedee said...

Ouch. Although I bet your mom was (a little hurt) but laughing at how creative you were. Probably she knew why she was doing what she was doing and knew that you didn't understand.

I think I shall not read that book, although it intrigues me. I struggle with the scare-dy-cat thing, as you know. But now I'm intrigued.

On a side note, why the heck do they write such things for kids?

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Okay, so are you an oldest child? Because that whole making up a song and teaching siblings and leading a family chorus sounds hauntingly familiar to me. I too have my regrets.
Thanks for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Now I need to read this book. And I really hope that one day my children will feel the same way about me as you do about your mother. They have said they'd prefer another mother, but I hope just like you, they realize that they wouldn't have traded me for anyone! Oh, and I also wanted to say that I just watched the season finale of Jer3miah and it was AWESOME! Totally didn't see the paternity thing coming, but it was so great. (For some reason this won't accept my username and password, but this is Melissa from the Howell Herald).

val of the south said...

Wow, what an amazing post.

What a cheeky teen you were - though I do love the cleverness of the song!

Jessica said...

To find what is real . . . in all of it's messiness and glory. That is what I want, too. Isn't it amazing how much pretending goes on? To live an authentic life is so hard and doesn't meet so many expectations. (I did crack up at the song, though!)

L.T. Elliot said...

Your posts are so inspiring to me. What heart you have. Every word is a shining reflection of your soul and something about you just endears to me in the most heart-felt, loving way. Thank you for sharing yourself with me. Thank you for daring to be honest. You don't know how much it means.

InkMom said...

Haven't read Coraline, but love Neil Gaiman.

And love this post. As we struggle to get my husband's student loan payments finished up (done in December! 4 years early!) it has become so much clearer what actually is real and worthwhile and what is not. And most of it -- is not.