My own exploration into the ifs, whens, and hows of motherhood have been dominated by thoughts of my own mother who, despite being a complete music-y, artsy, hippy chick weirdo, was a pretty gosh darn good mother. So, I decided to phone her up and ask her for a few of her thoughts on motherhood, non-traditional women, and the meaning of life. Here is what she said:
Katie: When did you decide you wanted to be a mother?
Mama Toni: I probably didn’t decide I wanted to be a mom until, maybe, right before I got married to your dad. I just never thought about it before. I wanted to raise cocker spaniels (Note from Katie: See? Isn’t my mom weird?!).
Katie: What made you start thinking about having children? Was it preparing to get married? Meeting Dad?
Mama Toni: You have to remember that your grandparents were pretty traditional. I guess part of me thought that having children was a way to finally do something they would be proud of. I admit it’s not the best reason to have kids, but it was mine.
Katie: When is the right time to have a child?
Mama Toni: When you want one. If you wait to be “ready” in any way, it will never happen. You will never have enough money, enough time, and enough sanity.
Katie: Were you ever afraid that your identity would be completely defined by being “a mom”?
Mama Toni: Well, I knew that I would never see myself as only a mother. I knew that I would always be a musician, an artist, that those things would always be part of how I defined myself. But I was always afraid that other people would see me only as a mom. That was a real fear.
Katie: How do you feel about your decision to work full time while we (my sister and I) were growing up?
Mama Toni: I would do it all over again. I know I am not going to win any awards for my mothering skills, but I would have been an even shittier mom if I hadn’t worked, if I felt stuck at home with you girls. I know not all women fell this way, and I am lucky that I have a profession that I love. Continuing to work was a way for me to keep the non-mom part of me alive. Like I said before, that was very important to me.
Katie: When I was growing up, most of your friends were childfree, single women. That seems to be opposite of the dominate paradigm that says once women have children they gravitate towards other mothers socially. Why do you think most of your friends did not have children?
Mama Toni: Frankly? I am friends with people whose company I enjoy regardless of their circumstances. Most of the other moms I met, at you girls’ school and such, were really boring people. All they talked about was their kids. I think, probably, because that’s what they thought they were supposed to talk about. I love you girls with all my heart; I love you more than anything in this world, but, honestly, even now you are only good for about 20 minutes as a topic of conversation. It was even less when you were preverbal.
Katie: What would be your advice to other non-traditional women who are parenting?
Mama Toni: Be yourself and keep being yourself, even if other people tell you not to be yourself. Not only is it the best thing you can do for yourself, it is the absolute best thing that you can do for your children. Your children learn from watching you , and authentic people are happy people. Also, don’t isolate your children. We have made parenting a lonely project. It wasn’t meant to be that way. Let your child mingle with the village so to speak. They will gain wisdom from others that you may not have and they will become less afraid on top of it. Fear is a terrible legacy to leave your children.
Katie: Is there anything else you want to say, Mama?
Mama Toni: Sometimes I look at you girls and everything you have accomplished and I think, “Damn, those kids must have had a good mom.” And then I remember: I am your mom. Then I think, “Well, I guess some people succeed despite their mothers.”
Katie: Oh, Mama.
Mama Toni: Just telling the truth, Katie Bear.