Tag Archives: mothering

Kicking Against the Pricks

Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along, accomplishes one’s history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself as it were slurred over. (9)
– D.H Lawrence, Sons and Lovers


In Stephan Zweig’s short story Burning Secret, he writes something along the lines of – there comes a time in every woman’s life when she must decide, is she a mother, or a woman? For me it begs the question- why? Why must we ask ourselves that question? Because society says so? I certainly can not imagine a man having to face this sort of a false dilemma, nor can I deny that there is truth in it. And that is the real pity.

Suddenly, looking at him, the heavy feeling at the mother’s heart melted into passionate grief. She bowed over him, and a few tears shook swiftly out of her very heart.

In Part One of Sons and Lovers, Lawrence carefully chronicles the life of the Morels: a struggling family, a loveless marriage, and the children that come into the world trying to fill the holes in their parent’s lives.

Paul loved to sleep with his mother. Sleep is still most perfect, in spite of hygienists, when shared with a beloved. The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body and soul completely in its healing.

That is a perfectly beautiful description of delicious sleep, when your hand can rest in perfect trust on a body, whether it be: child, friend, or lover. The peace of our souls is found in each other – from the touch of the other, a beloved. Lawrence is such a wonderful writer, his use of colloquialisms, details of meager material objects, and the shared rapture of the glory of nature in the lives of mother and sons gives a clear picture of the family’s daily existence, allowing the deeper significance of the story to fully develop. It is Lawrence’s sensibility and keen sense of the importance of intimacy that is at the center of his novel.

Now, when all her woman’s pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him…

Mrs. Morel, sadly, goes straight to motherhood, her chance to be a woman is never realized and the disappointment just grows. Putting all her passion into being a mother, the decision of whether or not to be a woman too, is moot. With no deep connection to her husband there is just the empty space of desire left. Reading this novel one becomes aware of the limited vocabulary we have to discuss love and passion. Lawrence never suggests incest, and yet the nomenclature of romantic love does. Both romantic intimacy and the intimacy of mothering are physically pleasing and intensely fulfilling, but part of our emotional retardation is to always talk about physical pleasure as only sexual. Breastfeeding is an excellent case in point- physically pleasurable, and fulfilling in an entirely non-sexual way, the fact that breasts provide sexual pleasure as well should not be a source of confusion for people. It’s gotten to the point that people don’t want to see a woman breastfeed because – breast are for sex, and we don’t do that in public – or talk about it.  Lawrence, has no such inhibition, he will leave sensuous terms as they are and dare you to be puerile. Women in Love has been described as homoerotic, if so, Sons and Lovers is incestuous, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is pornographic and you have lost the point altogether.

What Lawrence was really trying to discover was how, how can we deeply connect with one another? In Lady Chatterley’s Lover the sexual connection that is possible between lovers is a sacred thing. But it is deep connections generally that give our lives meaning. Our language cannot scratch the surface of our feelings. The words that we have to describe the love of friendship suffer the same problem in Women in Love as parental love in Sons and Lovers. Even when Lawrence is talking explicitly about sex, he is not talking about sex. His cri de coeur was the sine qua non of intimacy and connection of all kinds. Lawrence takes care to explore the complexities inherent: no matter how wonderful being a mother is- a mother is also a woman. Mrs. Morel’s mothering love in the absence of the woman inside her is a heavy and mournful thing. After all, a son loves his mother passionately, but it is the mother’s job to eventually deflect that passion away from herself and peripherally enjoy the realization of the child’s happy fulfilled life. In a healthy home, this happens naturally. The woman however, has the opposite aim- if she finds passion with another, and if it is returned, that is something she must hold on to, cherish and let bloom. The poverty of our words is frustrating and the word “passion” is sorely overworked.

At the end of Part One, William, the eldest son, is caught up in a relationship that mirrors his parents. Even as his mother attempts to caution him, he feels already morally committed and helpless to do anything other than see it through. She can not give him the inner strength required to rebel against societal expectations. The price is, of course, his soul.

“My boy, remember you’re taking your life in your hands,” said Mrs. Morel. “Nothing is as bad as a marriage that’s a hopeless failure. Mine was bad enough. God knows, and ought to teach you something; but it might have been worse by a long chalk.”

That’s the trouble with morals that go against truth and love, in the end, they are short sighted and punishing for all.


* “Kicking Against the Pricks” is a biblical reference Lawrence uses to mean, “rebelling.”

Trite and True

handle with care

I found this Robin’s egg shell on a walk the other day and carried it home to show my boys.
The jet stream of my pace was a constant threat: I had to hold it in such a way so that I didn’t crush it in an effort to keep it safe or let the force of the air take it from me and smash it mercilessly on the ground by too loose a hold.
This beautiful little shell became a sort of analogy of parenting, relationships to others, to one’s self.
That is until my own reductive peusdo profundity struck me and I just about crushed the thing from laughing. Ah yes, life in an eggshell. Walking on eggshells, a good egg, a rotten egg, you have to break an egg to make an omelette, huevos rancheros…well maybe not that last one, but if you can’t eat philosophy when you’re done with it – what good is it?

Alimentary Algebra

My version of a traditional Sicilian Cassata

My middle son and I attend college together. I kind of forced him to take Intermediate Algebra this term as I wanted to make use of the textbook that I had purchased for myself in the fall. It nearly cost as much as the class. Possibly I love the idea of this more than he does, except as I have recently taken the class, I turn out to be an excellent private tutor for him. We have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We go early to work on homework in the library and then at noon we head to the cafeteria to have lunch together. I am aware that this is a unique and (for me) wonderful way to spend two days a week. I regal him with all of my “don’t do that” moments of math stupidity, but there is always some mental deficiency to rail against on our drive home.

I have to admit to liking Algebra, an arabic word meaning restoration or, my favorite: reunion of broken parts. A method of reduction and balance is one description I read that appeals to my sense of beauty. I derive a childish pleasure out of reducing, eliminating and balancing the equations. My pencil swiftly crossing out and rewriting with abandon.

Although my son and I are a lot alike, I can see that he “gets” the math more than I do. Sometimes when it gets complicated he wants to, and can, understand the why. I’m interested, but am satisfied in being able to simply apply the rules or formula. This is more revealing of my own limitations than anything else. I try to explain to him my feeling for math: It’s like cooking, I expound, anyone can follow a recipe and if they are literate, get a good result. That is my level of math. But I know that there is a higher level- like when you can simulate a recipe in your mouth before you even cook it, when you know that omitting x and adding y will improve the end result. The improvisational aspects that I can grasp in cooking: I am not there mathematically. I am not saying, if I was so inclined, that I could not get there. I’m sure I could, but these things take time. It took me years to learn to cook at the level of letting the ingredients rather than the recipes lead. I’ll probably never be Emilie du Chatelet, but then again, although I make a mean cassata,  I’m not Jacques Torres either. I’m just trying to press up against the edges of my own mediocrity.

The Multidivison of Love

“It’s like he was dropped down from another planet” Augie’s teacher

My son: The Little Prince?

Tis’ the Reason

This year it seems I have escaped the Christmas hysteria. Working in the public school system is like a holiday area 51: occasional slips, but no actual evidence of suspicious activity. I can’t say I mind; I think this year I’d rather sleep through it all. This last weekend my children were looking for a gift and thought it would be a good idea to stop at ABC Carpet in New York on our way out of the city so that my youngest son could see Santa. The older ones had fond memories of the unusually thin primordial man in an appropriately ancient crushed velvet Santa suit that passed out strange trinkets like skulls and little hearts on colored string. When we got there we found a line for Santa that wrapped around the building. I told everyone to go inside and look around, while I waited in the line. My daughter came out a few minutes later having seen the impostor posing as Santa (a stereotypical fat and jolly man) giving out – candycanes. She was outraged and hastened out to spare me the long wait in the cold. Candycanes: really.

Inside the store it was a covet-a-thon. I fantasized about the simple beautiful glass cups stacked in rows across a table: I could see myself carefully drying them and putting them away on my imaginary shelf. I don’t really want any more stuff. I’m traumatized by the accumulation of possessions that have already occurred in my life, but there are a few lovely things I don’t mind thinking about. I have had a perfect bowl in my mind. Something that would suit the granola I make. The size and weight is very important, and in this era of supersize, that perfect object of my fancy is not easily come upon. True, I’m not really looking, but I have it in my head if I stumble across it some day.

The entrance of the store was a confused jumble of people: screaming children recovering from the awkward sit on Santa’s lap, and masses of shoppers. I turned amidst all the shine, glitter and sparkle that is ABC Carpet and there it was: the bowl. It was small, footed, the clay turned to an impossibly thin diameter. Around the circumference 1/2 an inch from the top was a row of embossed dots, ever so delicate,  it was glazed in a semi opaque white allowing some of the reddish clay to peak through intermittently. It was sublime.  I wasn’t going to buy it, but it pleased me to know that some day I might. It exists! I turned it over to see how much it cost. Eighty dollars. A bowl? I searched the sticker for some sign of reality; perhaps it was 4 for eighty? 2 for eighty even, I’d take 2 for eighty…not really. I gently put it down, looked around to see if other shoppers were experiencing sticker shock. Everyone seemed oblivious. I know it’s ABC Carpet, and I have an unfortunate tendency to always pick the simple yet deceptively most expensive item, but come on.

I found my young son and decided to take a guerrilla style photograph of him standing “next to” Santa, I had him stand in such a way as to make it look like he was right next to Santa’s lap even though he was 15 feet away. I wasn’t going to leave empty handed, damn it!

Tails of Fury

There are certain things I cannot abide. Pigtails are one of them. I consider them downright unlucky past the age of 3. I’ve never liked them. However, not immune to involuntary spasms of stupidity  I accidentally put them in my daughter’s hair when she was around the age of 8.

When she was born she didn’t have very much hair. I had heard that if you shaved a newborn’s head the hair would grow in thick. You’d probably be as surprised as I was to find out that the difference between some hair and no hair- is vast. She, being a baby, bore this with forbearance and all the dignity a bald, drooling, toothless infant could possibly be expected to muster. Let me just quickly say that it DOES NOT work. Her hair grew back just as wispy as it had been at the start.

I firmly believe that the daily hair styling sessions she endured with grace were a formative element of her education. Not a big fan of the slatternly look, I usually braided her hair very tightly so that it would stay put. I was particularly keen on the Swedish braid looped around her head or looped braids behind her ears.

But on this day I must have lost my mind; the mental image I have of her at gymnastics class in her little blue leotard still discomfits me. She had gotten into some sort of trouble with the teacher who was dragging her up the row of waiting mothers trying to ascertain whom she belonged to. I felt so bad for her: those stupid pigtails! It was my fault. She cut quite the pathetic figure: hot, sweaty, pudgy, and pissed off. Much to my deep admiration, she refused to point me out. I seriously considered pretending I didn’t know her: spare us both the ignominy. Instead when she finally got to me, our eyes met in solidarity, and I pulled the elastics out of her hair.