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Confessions of an Unnatural Mother

By Jenan Gray

Adrienne Rich didn’t have twins. Letty Cottin Pogrebin didn’t have to figure out where she was going to find daycare for two infants. This was not in the plans, and this wasn’t at all what I had in mind when I thought about “having it all.”

Ms. Magazine got me pregnant.

To be specific, it’s actually Mary Kay Blakely’s fault, with a little help from Robin Morgan and Letty Cottin Pogrebin. You see, I was an avid reader of Ms. when it started, back in my glory days of boarding school and Sisterhood is Powerful. The young women of the Class of 1977 were told we could do anything, we could be anything, we could have anything... and by golly, we deserved everything.

Pretty heady stuff for a fifteen year old who isn’t quite sure what she wants to be when she grows up. Life was much simpler when the options were limited to Teacher, Nurse, and Mommy. But, being a good little baby feminist, I internalized the message, and made plans to go to law school.

Well... I internalized some message, anyway. Never the one to conform completely, the message I actually absorbed was the one that involved perfect daycare and Baby X, dressed in gender-neutral overalls and sporting the de rigeur bowl haircut. And five years later, having dropped out of college to pursue a theatre internship, and then dropped out of that to pursue something that would actually pay my rent, I got pregnant with that perfect little Baby X.

And her twin sister.


Suddenly, life underwent another transformation. Adrienne Rich didn’t have twins. Letty Cottin Pogrebin didn’t have to figure out where she was going to find daycare for two infants. This was not in the plans, thankyouverymuch, and this wasn’t at all what I had in mind when I thought about “having it all.” And I certainly wasn’t going to look to my own mother for a role model. She’d been a single mom in the early sixties, when Women Had No Choices, and I didn’t have to grow up to be her. Ms. Magazine told me so.

So I reinvented, and Hippie Mommy was born.

My daughters will never know how close one of them came to being named Sky Andromeda. I cloth diapered, grew organic vegetables, and demonstrated for the right to midwife-attended births. I traded Ms. for Mothering, read Ina May Gaskin and Ashleen O’Gaia, and toyed with the idea of joining a commune. I breastfed, of course, then made my own baby food. I painted rainbows and stars on the gender-neutral overalls, and then handed them down to other babies named after colors and trees. I wanted to be a midwife when I grew up, and determined to withstand not only the rigors of nursing school, but the siren song of the medical establishment.

So again, I reinvented.

I became Tired Mommy, juggling Girl Scouts (feminine bonding, doncha know), soccer (so no one could say my girls couldn’t understand teamwork), microbiology classes (it conflicted with School Advisory Council, but what can you do?), and a job as a student nurse (great experience, low pay). I bonded with my girls over homework, and they gained the notoriety of first-graders whose Mom keeps a sheep’s brain in the crisper section. We scrubbed specimen dishes together in the micro lab for extra credit points, and ate cheap fast food afterwards. In return, they developed great immune systems. We moved to student housing; one daughter acquired a great left hook and the other learned to run fast. Playdates were scheduled around study groups. I wrote patient care plans while they slept, and they watched cartoons on the rare occasions that I did.

Nobody told me at the time that insubordinate nursing students grew up to be psychiatric nurses.

The midwife dreams lasted a scant two years, and somehow I found my way into a world of disorders and delusions, Karpmann and Adler and Freud. My children suddenly had a mother who knew about behavior modification, and wasn’t afraid to use it. They spent sixth grade helping to bring pizzas to trauma survivors on the Women’s Mental Health Unit. Their vocabularies grew to include references to “pedantic psychobabble” and “art therapy”. They also learned to get themselves breakfast and off to school unassisted, since I was often working odd hours and their sitter’s chief qualifications were that he worked cheap, was fun to hang out with, and was totally uninterested in girls. As for me ...I had access to leather restraints, and it was totally unrelated to any pretensions of a social life.

But eventually, as happens with girls, mine discovered boys.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered boys, too.

We became a family of four when my daughters began high school. Gone the sorority house atmosphere, gone the days of intense femininity, synchronized mood swings, chick flicks, and dried flowers in baskets in the bathroom. There was mischief afoot, laden with testosterone, and the world once again was changing.

Boy did it change.

As if we hadn’t enough proof that the Divine has a sick sense of humor, we were joined by more twins just as Medicare changes sharply curtailed my ability to bill for my work. I reinvented once again, and became Suburban Mom.

No, I don’t own a van. No Suburban Assault Vehicles grace my driveway. But my wallet holds a PTA membership card, and the words “gymnastics” and “religious ed” have crept onto my schedule. I’ve become fluent in acronyms, flinging NCLB and IEP into conversations with mad abandon. I can tell the difference between Polly Pockets and green army men, barefoot and in the dark. I’ve been to the petting zoo twice in the last six months.

I own scrapbooking supplies.

Heaven help me, I can even tell you what this week’s Happy Meal toy is.

But this, too, is passing. One of the babies in hand-painted overalls has a daughter of her own; her sister has graduated from college. My status as mother and grandmother has led me back to my activist roots, to protests and political rallies and long discussions involving the phrase “blue states”. I’ve rejoined the National Women’s Political Caucus, and Monday I have an appointment to discuss law school.

Maybe Tuesday I’ll handpaint overalls for my granddaughter.

Maybe Wednesday I’ll resubscribe to Ms.

mmo : December 2004

Jenan Gray is a psychiatric nurse-therapist turned college student and at-home mom. In between Boy Scouts and gymnastics she is writing her first novel, a Pagan lesbian political murder mystery.
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