BEHIND DOMESTIC LINES

★ ★ ★ ★

LET IT BREAK

By Jami Ingledue

This May cold snap has been brutal.

Over and over again, we cover the lilacs, the strawberries, the new trees we planted, the young asparagus spearing its way hopefully toward the heavens. It feels like insult added to injury. After two months of this shitshow, we finally make it to May, only to be greeted by a Polar Vortex? I don’t know how much more I can take.

I have found myself nearly unable to function these past few days. I want to sleep. All day. I can’t fight the screen-time battles anymore. Three hours of Minecraft? Sure, whatever. I can’t cook one more goddamn meal or clean up the endless crumbs. How can there be so many crumbs?! We all sleep late, because who cares? It doesn’t matter anyway.

So I gave myself permission to hibernate during this last (god willing) cold spell. To cocoon, as my body wants to– to cuddle and watch movies, eat too many cookies, ignore the dishes.

I can’t really change it anyway when my body feels like this. I can drag myself through my day. But no amount of coffee or exercise can really snap me out of it when my body wants to cocoon.

From the outside, cocooning may not seem “productive,” but something is always growing in a cocoon.

Creative types know this. We might have more dark and depressed times than bright, cheerful type A people with their seemingly endless supply of serotonin. We might not “get as much done.” But often in those dark times, things are changing, shifting, growing. Something has to dissolve into a puddle of goo in order to change into something else, something brand new. And so many of us know what it feels like to be a puddle of goo.

In fact, I think we all feel like puddles of goo right now. And I hope we are collectively breaking, dissolving, changing into something new. And what needs to break and dissolve and change is this: motherhood.

We just can’t pretend that this iteration of motherhood is working anymore.

Not that anybody seems to care. Our work has always been invisible, and nobody cares. It’s very convenient to not care, it’s convenient for our work to remain invisible, because then we will keep doing all of the work of raising humans and keeping society going for free, without disrupting our precious capitalism. But we seem to be at a breaking point.

Just a week or so into this “distance learning” nightmare, my body refused to cooperate. I could not get myself to get out the giant packets of boring worksheets for my very active, worksheet-averse 7-year-old boy. I could not get myself to force him to sit for hours and have endless battles and screaming fits. For what? There was certainly not any real learning going on. Just mindless obedience wrapped in endless busywork.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the teachers, or even the school administration. They are scrambling and doing the best they can.

It’s not their fault our labor is invisible.

Every time somebody gave me a “tip” about how to complete the work–just get him to dictate it to you and write it down for him. Have him do just a few problems and then do the rest for him. Just do your best and then stop for the day–I would feel this huge upwelling of anger. I didn’t understand where it was coming from or why, but I knew it was bigger than just irritation or frustration with my particular kid or even my particular school. This was deep down fire anger that was coming from my soul.

Mothers, we are being told, this is all your responsibility, and it was your choice to have kids anyway, so why are you complaining? You must do all the work of filling in any cracks that your kids might fall through, you have to make sure your family is safe and fed and housed and clothed and happy and you also have to earn money and NOW you also have to be in charge of their education. Now you also have to replace educated, experienced teachers and an entire school full of structure and support and staff and facilities and food and people to clean up–and you have to do it for multiple kids, probably while also trying to work yourself from home (which is its own shitshow), while also worrying about how you’re going to feed everyone during a pandemic and if you will still have a job and if you’ll be able to pay the mortgage, oh and don’t forget all the extra work of having everyone in the family HOME all day and all the dirty laundry and dishes and extra meals and mess, oh my god the mess. It’s all on you. By the way all schoolwork sent home is mandatory and will be graded, and you should replicate the school day schedule at home as closely as possible, and don’t forget the separate lists of work for PE and music and art. And don’t miss the daily Zoom meetings that only work half the time!

Moms, there’s nothing wrong with us. This is completely unreasonable and impossible.

Dump it all on the moms! They’ll take care of everything like they always do. Nobody stops to add up the hours in the day and talk about what one human can actually manage. And of course this is a global emergency and it’s hard on everybody. But we are invisible as usual, our work is invisible, sometimes even to our partners.

After a while, I realized that my body was not cooperating anymore and wouldn’t allow me to do the worksheets for a simple reason: because it would not allow me to participate in my own oppression. I am thankful for that.

Let this pandemic break the lies of modern motherhood, once and for all.

Let it break the lie that tells us there is something wrong with us. That if we could just get caught up and stay on top of everything, we would be fine. That if we can’t do this, we are failing.

Let it break the lie that it is up to US to raise our kids, and us alone. The lie that this is normal and how it should be and we should all be able to do this. In reality it’s never been done like this, alone in our boxes without a village–not throughout all of human history.

Let it break the lie that we and we alone are responsible for whether we succeed or fail, that we just need to find those bootstraps and keep going and everything will be fine if we work just a little bit harder.

Let it break the lie that we are all so goddamn independent and don’t need each other.

Let’s stop gaslighting ourselves into believing we are the problem. Jesus, we have internalized the voices of our oppressors so completely that we do the gaslighting for them.

We’ve broken iterations of motherhood before. We marched for the vote. We went to the factories when husbands went off to war. We went to college, went to work, went to Congress, became CEOs. But maybe we should worry less now about breaking glass ceilings and focus on building our own damn house.

Instead of continuing to participate in our own invisibility, maybe we who have already been beautifully broken by motherhood can help light the path through this new brokenness. Maybe we can be the midwives for the birth of a new interdependence.

So let it break. Let it dissolve, and we will turn it into something new. Because that’s what we do.

Jami worked as a librarian for over a decade before choosing to stay home when her son, now 4, was born. She also has a 17-year-old daughter. She makes all-natural soap and body products and sells them through her company, Dancing Bee Farms (dancingbeefarms.net). She lives with her husband, daughter, and son on an acre of land in rural Ohio, where they keep bees, garden, and brew beer.

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