Read this yesterday, and it snagged in my consciousness. Both sides speak well and truthfully. I think we have conflated strength and power with their cultural definitions, and it is helpful to step back and rethink. I had trouble posting this, though, and couldn’t get the youtube video to embed properly. The link to the poem’s performance is in there, and definitely worth a watch. It also provides the context for Rarasaur’s essay.
TO THE GIRL WITH THE “SHRINKING” MOTHER–
I listened to your poem last month, for the first time. I know, I’m a little late to the party. Your performance was in April.
It was sent my way via an article that said it explained the plight of women, who sacrifice for men. I’ll be honest. Activism that suggests someone is behind because someone else is ahead bothers me. Feminism along those lines is what makes me reject the label with a ferocity that would surprise most people– given that I am the “breadwinner” of my home, and in most ways live the feminist ideal. This type of activism suffocates me, and angers me, and limits my brothers and sisters alike– and though I didn’t intend to– I listened to that poem without a beginner’s mind. I sought offense, and I found it– even though your poem was great, and your performance was brilliant.
I wrote my own slam poetry response. The first parodied yours. Yours played on the idea that men of age are often significantly larger than their wives. Mine played off the idea that women live longer.
“Men of my family have been shaving away seconds of life, for women, for decades.”
The second poem I wrote was structured like yours as well, but along the way led into the idea that my mother is the strongest person I know.
This made me reassess my reaction to your poem, and create an alternate possibility that I’d like to share with you.
You see, I’m nearly 30, and it was just a smidge over a decade ago that I would have scoffed at the idea of my mother possessing any strength at all.
I could barely look her in the eye for a whole year of my teens. She seemed like such a waste– this stunning, genius of a woman– reduced to a mother with a near broken back, working all the time for other people’s desires. I don’t know if she’s ever slept more than 8 hours in a row. As soon as she gains something, she gives it away– whether it was space, or knowledge, or money. Every time I saw her, I feared the same would happen to me.
I worried that I had been taught to drop my achievements at a moment’s notice– in the name of handcuffs created to hold women back– just because of my mom’s dedication to those same restrictions. I was worried that I was born into a kind of slavery.
And then there was the car accident.
You see, I have 5 brothers and sisters– so not everyone fits in one car. My big brother had the baby seat, so he was following behind us with my baby sister. The rest of us were with my mom. It was a dark night and we were driving back from dropping my father at the airport– down a fast-moving, icy highway. There were black ice warnings out, and I was in the front seat because I could almost always spot the slippery stuff.
It started to snow, in torrents hard enough to push at the car, and then from the side mirror, I saw it. My brother’s car spun out of control and rolled off the road and down a hill. I screamed his name, and my mom– who witnessed the same thing– put her hand out on mine. She sang a song, to keep the kids in the back of the car asleep, and drove steadily on until there was a place to safely stop. There were tears running down her face, but her voice was clear. She parked the car on the side, put me in charge, took off her 2 inch heels, and walked into the dark snowstorm barefoot– bravely towards what could have been the mere bodies of her children.
I’m not sure on the details, but my brother’s car was started again, and pushed up the hill– and both he and my baby sister were fine.
When I saw my mom finally walking back to me, hours later, the sun was coming up– she was soaked through, and covered in dirt and blood. She was holding her children– and a stranger– and she was smiling.
It occurred to me then that a passerbyer might see her as a woman down on her luck, in a position of weakness– but it was the most invulnerable thing I had ever seen. The sort of strength many people never get the chance to witness in a lifetime.
It sounds like you might have blessed by the benefit of an equally dedicated mother.
A dedication to sacrificing is such a brittle concept, and can look a lot like weakness– like late night trips to the fridge for yogurt and wine from a measuring cup– but it is more powerful than words or swords.
I of course do not know your specific situation, but the next time you see her tucked away in a small space, consider the possibility that it is because she doesn’t need much space to live the life of her dreams, and that she has faith in your ability to do something brilliant with the extra room.
And next time you see worn hands, or a tired back, consider the idea that it is because she has made a priority out of carrying those who cannot move forward themselves.
When the people around her seem to grow at the cost of her loss, lookagain. Their expansion is her battle cry. She is victorious through nurture and sacrifice.
It is a power connected to the heart of the universe. A strength that fueled a nun to care for lepers, and prompted a man to share a dream of equality. It echoes through every positive change humans have ever seen, and grows every day under the protection of guardians like our moms.
Does that really sound like shrinking to you? Because to me it sounds like something big enough to expand its way right past the hemmed edges of the galaxy.
I realize now that I wasn’t worried that I would becomemy mother. I was worried that I would never become the sort of person worth the sacrifices she made.
Snaps to you for showing off your power. I hope you know that your mom is right to give to you: you are worthy of all the good this world has to offer. If you can accept that truth, I think you’ll find you’ll stop apologizing for empowerment. Just do good with it.
With love from a big sister born of the same big power,
I probably won’t respond to any comments about feminism, because it’s an issue that goes much deeper than my type of blog– but as always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts as long as you play nice. This post has seen the light of day due to a Daily Post prompt, asking about the post I was most nervous to publish, and what it was like to set it free. I’ll get back to you on that last part of the question depending on how scary my comment section ends up being.
Have you ever driven on black ice? It’s one of my top fears, even before this night.
5 thoughts on “To the girl with the “shrinking” mother–”
SO happy to have stumbled across this – I’m not sure I have a specific view on this issue at all though I very much enjoyed both the slam poetry and this author’s response to it. Coincidentally, today I wrote a poem finally recognising how much my Mum tried to care for me when all I could do as an adolescent was push her away. I think these relationships are way more complicated than we give them credit for and it can take a long passage of time and a huge amount of personal growth and development before we can really understand.
My daughters are three and I love them fiercely. I don’t expect them to understand quite how I love them until they have kids of their own. I’d jump under buses for them I probably wouldn’t do that for my mother but I bet she would for me.
This really made me think . . . I could see my mother fit into the “shrinking mother” of the poetry slam, because she is indeed getting physically smaller with age. I was moved by the story above because my mother, too, has amazing power & presence. You just might not notice it at first glance because she doesn’t feel the need to put it on display. Perhaps women’s power and strength is not always apparent because it often looks and behaves differently than men’s.
I agree that power does not always look the same. Your mother is a rock! She never ceases to amaze me.