Tuesday, February 18, 2014

'Glitter and Glue': Understanding the value of moms and motherhood

Motherhood sometimes sucks.  Some days I question everything- how I lost my temper when Raina told me I had to do the laundry because her hamper was overflowing (doesn't she understand that I already completed 5 loads of laundry that day and the overflowing was due to her use of 3 towels at bath time?), or how I told Story I didn't have time to read another Ariel book with her on the couch because I needed to answer emails.  Some days I feel inadequate because I don't want to make Valentine's Day treats for my daughter's class or I don't offer to volunteer for the PTO, and I am relieved when my husband takes over after dinner time because I am alone in a room without being bombarded with the shrill, "Mommy, Story's being mean to me!" battle cry from Raina.  Some days just making it through a grocery store run without my four year old melting down feels like a huge accomplishment.  Some days being able to accomplish work, laundry, a healthy dinner (even if Story refuses to touch her broccoli), helping Raina with her flashcards and math worksheets, and playing The Voice with Story before 7pm feels like I am a superhero.

Motherhood also rocks.  When Raina comes downstairs in the morning, even though she is 9 years old, the first thing she wants to do is sit on my lap.  She curls her now gangly limbs into an odd ball, and fits herself neatly on my legs as I read the paper.  Story lights up every day when I pick her up from her Montessori school, so proud to share her work with me.  We sing the songs from "Frozen" as loud as possible in the car as we drive to piano lessons, and after our latest round of 19 inches of snow, we built Olaf and snow forts in the backyard, giggling as Story slid down the sliding board into a huge mound of snow.

Kelly Corrigan gets both sides of motherhood.  When I read her 2008 memoir "The Middle Place" about her bout of breast cancer I cried as she cried through the prospect of not being there for her two little girls.  In her latest memoir "Glitter and Glue" she pays homage to her mother as she recounts her travels to Australia where she worked as a nanny for a family who had recently lost their mother to cancer.  Through her memories of this coming of age time for her, she pieces together her past with her mother who "looked at motherhood as less a joy to be relished than as a job to be done." Corrigan's mother described herself as "the glue" of their family while her gregarious, lacrosse playing, doting father was "the glitter" adding dazzling intensity to her days.

Something about Corrigan's truth telling with bouts of humor and clear details about life and living makes me love her.  Her style isn't academic or breathtaking, but it shows the clear struggles and triumphs of figuring out who we are - as people, mothers, daughters, lovers and wives.  Some critics complain that Corrigan over sentimentalizes or forces parallels between past and present in her latest memoir, but I would argue that nothing is more overly sentimental and sometimes even forced than being a mom and understanding motherhood.  As each chapter draws to a close, Corrigan writes a kernel of truth which isn't something that astounds the reader as much as it gently reminds them of a larger point like, "What is it about a living mother that makes her so hard to see, to feel, to want, to love, to like? What a colossal waste that we can only fully appreciate certain riches- clean clothes, hot showers, good health, mothers - in their absence." The Tanner children will grow up without their mother, and she realizes while she is their nanny (playing the mother role in their lives) the value of her own living mother as she watches their daily rebuilding of a life without their glue.

Any high school student who read Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" could tell you that we need to appreciate the simple things in life because those are what Emily Webb misses most in death - clocks ticking, Mama's sunflowers, hot baths, coffee, and newly ironed dresses.  Emily's big question is "Do any human beings realize life while they live it?" and maybe the answer is that some do - those who write about their lives and try to seek understanding, those who have experienced great suffering, loss, disease, and maybe a few who just greet each day and decide to appreciate and respect and notice all the simple beauty around them.

Kelly Corrigan has suffered, and she writes about what she knows in the face of her suffering, what she has learned from her glittery father and what she has learned from her mother holding things together.  Because that's what moms do, they hold things together.

In this brutal East Coast winter while we all try to hold ourselves together with dignity and dig ourselves out from yet another snowstorm, and we get the agonizing call from the school that yet another 2 hour delay and funky routine is headed our way, we may not always feel like the supermoms that we believe our daughters and sons need.  Some days being a mom really rocks and some days it really sucks, but mothers, as Kelly Corrigan puts it, are the "sole distributors of the strongest currency" our children will ever know: "maternal love." 'Glitter and Glue' felt like an early mother's day card for me, and gave me exactly what I needed during this winter - validation that I am doing everything just the way I need to be doing it.  I am being a mom to my two daughters the best way that I can.  Some days I am the glitter, but more often than not, I am the glue in their lives always holding everyone together.

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