The Greatest Role: A Mama’s Rant

As I type this, my toddler is asleep on my lap. He woke up early from naptime, disrupting my writing time, and promptly snuggled up against my 9-month pregnant belly (which, honestly, in its constant state of Braxton-Hicks tightness, can’t be that cozy) and fell back asleep. I’ll admit I played with his sweaty post-nap hair and his face is more than angelic right now. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to type. I’m doing some sort of yoga upper body twist and trying not to breathe too deep while I type on the laptop to the right of my right leg. It’s not easy.

That’s the point of this whole blog, right? The choices made in motherhood are not easy, particularly the ones made in the stage of being mama to babies and tinies. It requires more of us than we can imagine. It requires we lose ourselves in the process.

I’m not saying being a mom requires we forget who we are. But it does ask that we reject many of our self-centered natural longings. For instance, I wish my prego hipbone wasn’t completely uncomfortable right now and that my left foot wasn’t tingling asleep. But I’m giddy that my kid is still sleeping and I have time to write this. I love writing and besides being a mother, it’s what I do.

Monday morning we had a play date with a former neighbor and her son at our favorite park. My friend, who is a working actor, shared with me about how difficult her surprise second pregnancy has been for her lately. (She’s at the end of her first trimester.) She was just feeling like she was back in shape after her 2-year-old’s birth and was ready to get the kind of acting jobs she’s been missing out on for the past 2 ½ years. And now…

What could I say? I reminded her of what I remind myself: this is a short season of life. Our children are beautiful and this time will fly past us and it’s okay to admit that being a mother isn’t enough. We are allowed to long for other things in our lives: work, especially.

However, when I came home from the play date and got my kid to sleep, I was shocked to see a few different articles Monday afternoon smacking around Natalie Portman for her earnest Oscar acceptance speech. In it, she referred to motherhood being her greatest role yet. This post and this article both ask the question, “Is motherhood really Natalie Portman’s greatest role?“ Both take to task a society that loves to expound on how children should be the center of a mother’s life while men are not held to the same expectations.

And here’s what I hated about these posts: KJ Dell’Antonia mocks Portman’s pregnant glow, patronizingly looking forward to the day when Natalie won’t be so quick to define her work and life values so simply. Then, Mary Elizabeth Williams refers to motherhood as “reproduction.” If that’s all it is, I finished my role with August 2 ½ years ago and I’m almost done with mothering T-Rexy before he even has a non-dinosaur name. Williams quotes a fellow twitterer, Lizzie Skurnick, whose response to Portman’s acceptance speech was, “Like, my garbageman could give you your greatest role in life, too, lady.”

I’ve said before that I believe in feminism. I’m proud of my friends who choose to work and raise their children. I’m proud of my whip-smart lawyer best friend who works full days, loves her son and is raising him to see women as capable, tender, and intelligent. What I don’t support is the nasty, better-than-thou-tone I often find in pieces written by feminists who can’t seem to see motherhood as anything other than an abuse against women.

The reason most of the women I know are not quick to align themselves with feminism is because articles like these demean motherhood. News flash to Lizzie Skurnick: when you refer to the reproduction possibilities of your garbage man, you forget that motherhood is not reproduction (just as producing sperm is not fatherhood).

Yes, KJ Dell’Antonia, Natalie may be in the glowing, I’m-about-to-have-a-baby fuzz of her hormones. Sure, she hasn’t yet experienced the struggle of sacrificing everything to raise a child. But that also doesn’t mean she is praising “reproduction” above all else. Stating her belief that raising a child will be her greatest role doesn’t have to mean that she is demeaning her career at the pinnacle of success.

Last week, my husband reminded me (and himself) that he doesn’t want to get to a place in his life where he realizes he’s been successful in his work and has failed as a husband and a father. Some things just matter more because they are about people, about relationships, about life. And the act of creating and loving and molding a human is more important than personal success. Why? Because people are always more important than ideas, theories, and movements. The physical trumps the abstract.

Does that mean I hope Natalie Portman will stop making movies and progressing her career in submission to her role as mother? No. I believe women are far more than baby makers and raisers. And the world needs our minds and our gifts. I just hope that when she’s home with her toddler trying to get her work done, and he falls asleep on her lap, she will be at ease with her belief that he matters more than anything else she can do. Because he’s real, because he’s lasting.

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