Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Mommy Card Phenomenon

My friend sent this link to me the other day along with a request that I write about the Mommy Card phenomenon. Have you heard of these things? The idea is that it's challenging for parents of small children to exchange contact information at, say, the playground or swim lessons or whatever, and that it's even harder to keep track of the names and faces of parents and kids, much less which ones go together and whose number you found in the pocket of your coat. Mommy Cards are basically business cards printed with the names of parent and child (for instance: Jane Doe, John's mom), contact information, and often a photograph of the child for further ease of identification.

I have a problem with two things right off the bat. First of all, I cringe at most uses of the term "mommy." It's just one of my things. I'm fine with accidental cute. The kitten at the pet store yesterday that kept batting at my daughter's pigtail? Purely, intensely, ridiculously cute. But I cannot abide contrived cute. The faux-word "preggers," for instance, is a big problem for me. "Mommy," while somewhat passable when uttered innocently by a small child, makes my skin crawl as soon as adults start applying it to things. 

Mommy Cards. Perhaps I'd be less prone to the immediate eye-roll if they were known as Family Cards, which brings me to problem number two. Since the name specifies that this product is for mothers, it encourages the assumption that fathers have no use for such a tool and thereby perpetuates our culture's dysfunctional overfeminization of parenting.

But if you make it beyond the default terminology of Mommy Cards, there are in fact all sorts of subcategories such as Daddy Cards and Family Cards and Grandparent Cards. So, for the sake of argument, let's just pretend that I renamed this phenomenon and they are hereby all referred to as Family Cards. Do I still cringe at their existence?

Not as much as I once would. Now that I'm a full-time parent, I absolutely understand how these cards are useful. Many parents are eager to socialize with other parents and foster community among families. It's not always possible to scrounge up a pen and paper and exchange contact information while your toddler is running towards the street or throwing a holy fit. It's also true that keeping track of multiple acquaintances and their children can be mind-boggling. 

That was my nonjudgmental, diplomatic, mature response. Did you like it? Because I'll admit that my natural response to Mommy Cards is dismissal tinged with disgust. I like pen and paper and generally carry them with me. I don't give out my contact information nearly enough to warrant a printed card. I choose my friends carefully and don't feel the need to hang out with someone just because our kids are the same age. If we get along well enough to exchange information, I won't need prompts to clarify my impression of you. 

And while those are all actual, personal reasons why I'll never be a Mommy Card carrier, I believe there's a more insidious, sexist juxtaposition at play that makes them an easy target of disdain. The conceit behind Mommy Cards is that they merge elements of business culture and stay-at-home motherhood, but the cutesy name suggests a narrative more along these lines: Someone cute - a mommy - is handing out business cards as if she were a professional, which is simultaneously adorable in its precociousness and pathetic in its pretense. It's a set-up. Even if these cards are a good idea in their purest form, their marketing relies on the stereotype of infantilized stay-at-home "mommy" desperate to participate in the grown-up world despite her lack of professional life. 

I really wish they had caught on as Parent Cards or Family Cards. I still wouldn't use them, but at least there would be one less thing in the world that promotes referencing mothers and motherhood in a manner that should be reserved for children and fuzzy animals. Negotiating the implications and judgments of stay-at-home motherhood is already spectacularly complicated. The last thing I need is to be baited into rolling my eyes at myself.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The One Trimester

I don't particularly enjoy being pregnant. Overall, the experience is a phenomenal one studded with countless awesome moments, but on a daily basis it's a drag. Clumsiness becomes a real threat. Clothing is particularly ill-fitting, uncomfortable, hard to find, and expensive. The ability to multitask might as well be a superpower. Less energy. No whiskey. Moodiness. Unpredictable appetite. No whiskey.

The first trimester is especially rough in its own special ways. I'm not fond of morning sickness, but even worse than relentless nausea is the encouraged fear of early miscarriage and resulting pressure to remain tentative and secretive about one's pregnancy for the first thirteen weeks. Besides being contrary to all joyous instincts, this strategy requires months of white lies and the avoidance of potential support during a particularly physically and emotionally vulnerable time.

I am a tall, skinny person and my body did nothing to conceal my second pregnancy beyond the first eight weeks. People regularly guessed I was four or five months along when I was only two, so I went ahead with an announcement as soon as my doctor confirmed a fetal heartbeat at ten weeks.

When I miscarried a few days into my second trimester, I decided to report the sad news in one big, awful bandage rip of an email rather than suffer the same traumatic conversation over and over again. Also important was my impulse to curate this disclosure instead of abandoning such personal news to gossip and scattershot word of mouth. The correspondences that resulted, like the miscarriage itself, triggered in me wave after wave of sorrow but also delivered an unexpected catharsis and swell of new strength.

It's true that early miscarriage is surprisingly common. It's also true that acting on the initial desire to celebrate a wanted pregnancy can undermine the eventual wish to mourn a lost pregnancy in private. If I'd been able to wipe news of my pregnancy from everyone's memory, thus sparing myself any obligation to disclose and discuss my miscarriage, I imagine I would've gone that route in a second. Still, in the same way that I suffer those first trimester white lies, I'm relieved to have shed what would have been a heavy secret and lonesome sadness in favor of the stories and support I've been offered by so many wise, kindhearted people.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Otherwise Occupied

This blog has never been frequently updated, but my posts have indeed slowed to barely a crawl. It turns out that I'm pregnant once again and, just like last time, baby-growing has leached from me all ability and desire to write. As a result, even the sparse post schedule I had established will likely continue to falter in the months to come.

But I have not abandoned my blog. In fact, I have a few half-written posts that keep hissing at me from offstage, demanding to be finished. And my hazy brain is bound to clear up someday.