first fig

my candle burns at both ends…

Category: Motherhood

My little sister is a big fan of Def Jam Poetry. Earlier this week she posted a poem on her blogthat literally took my breath away. It was as if the poet had looked into my mind and translated onto the page everything I think, feel, fear about being a mother.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so vulnerable as I did when I read this poem and saw every aspect of myself there. And yet, I saw the beauty and complexity in what I’m endeavoring, in how I’m going about mothering. And I had hope for the first time in a long time that I will not destroy my children in this process. I saw that my questions and silence, ambivalence and depression, fears and devotion are what make me a mother.

And so on this Mother’s Day I share with you, myself.

Apology to My Unborn
i fear that you will never sleep
that like these fingers long and too thin
to hold rings and commitments
you will inherit your mother’s insomnia
her restless spirit
child, i wish I could quiet all your questions
tell you the exact number of stars
show you where the moon goes at sunrise
i wish i could temper your fear of good byes
prove that the earth spins regardless of whether or not you are awake to see it
i wish i could give you one morning worth rising for
I pray that you can close your eyes
see the world through the only thing i have fit to pass down to you
this heart of a dreamer
but i want you stronger sooner
want you kind and brave
want you unafraid to fight
for what you believe and need
want you beautiful and free
i want you nothing like your mother
this girl trembling before each new day
frightened of herself love
this girl who finds the word ‘woman’ a cloak too heavy to don
most days
you deserve someone who carries the moniker like banner
wears it easy like sun in summer
but, child, what can i tell you of peace
when you were probably conceived in a cacophony of questions
still i think of you as possible
can almost smell the breath of god light against you skin
can hear you, softness, eyes closed laughing
real as the beating staccato against my chest
but future, i fear if i
cling too fiercely to your unconditional
that i will bruise you
because i can not hold my breath long enough to shrug off these imperfections
i wonder, if they will make me too nervous to nurse you
leave me unable to find a place where just loving you is enough
child I will begin counting those same stars
and in dreams these arms will hold you
whisper you soft into a still slumber
these hands, small and strong, like your grandmother
will build for you a world of colored things
will pray, palms towards the heaven, for a quiet
without the tumble and chaos of
words and worry
child i pray that you know
that though feared, you are wanted
know how you’ve lived lifetimes in this hollow expansion of breath
know how easy you’ll fit
in my spaces
need you to know this now before time and distances help me
to forget to tell you often enough
i hope that we will not be too much like shadow and brick
voices thrown against walls
these hands are tired of building
and child i hope you will forgive my quiet
those moments when i just can’t find the words to speak
i hope my silences don’t scare you
won’t have you questioning your worth
have you turning towards friends and strangers for comfort
i want you to like me
to know me
to know that there are moments when i will wrestle with moments
that shade my best intentions
moments like now
your mother
lays awake
watching, yet, another morning from the wrong side
practicing slow this breathing that will usher you one day into this world
here, i can, almost conjure up a proper image of you
i still fear that you will never know peace
but i already know i need your laughter
need the gentle curve of your fingers
need your eyes locked on mine
need you here now for balance
but my future,
i will deny you your right to exist
before i pass on this
cracked soul of a storyteller
you deserve more than
this threat of me as your mother
still attempting my own world of colored things
so child, just promise me that you will be, eventually
i need your possibility
like i need a night worth sleeping for
-Bassey Ikpi
(You can see a video of the author performing her poem here.)

The Truth About Pop Music and Feminism

Cross-Posted at the Exponent

This past Saturday, mr. mraynes and I watched High Fidelity for the first time. About fifteen minutes into the movie, the John Cusack character asks, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” This question resonated with me because I have recently been asking myself a similar question:

Am I feminist because I’m discontented, or am I discontented because I’m a feminist?

Since leaving my job, moving to a new state and becoming a stay-at-home mother, I have felt a level of unhappiness that truly surprised me. I expected the transition to be hard but I did not expect to feel so vulnerable all of the time. My self-esteem completely collapsed in the space of two weeks and I am left feeling overwhelmingly helpless. Things are starting to get better, I am settling into a routine and I’m sure that with time, I will even enjoy being at home. But that doesn’t negate the very real fact that changing my fairly progressive lifestyle to a traditional one has wreaked havoc on my emotions, my relationships and my general happiness with life.

My question above is a proverbial chicken and egg question and really one of assigning blame; whose fault is it for my disillusionment with domesticity? The answer may seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Let’s analyze the first part of my question, am I feminist because I’m discontented? This begs the question, what in my life makes me discontented enough to turn to feminism? Well, the lack of quantifiable equality within the church and its’ rhetoric on gender causes me a great deal of pain and frustration. The invisibility of women in scripture, doctrine and bureaucracy is problematic at best. The diminishing of women to certain roles by Mormon culture echoes the objectification of women found in our broader society. We, as Mormons and members of society, should do better. This is why I am a feminist, to document, analyze and hopefully make better the small circles in which I travel.

If we are getting more specific to my life, I hate the inequitable division of domestic labor that mr. mraynes and I have now. Yes, he comes home and does the dishes but it doesn’t equal the multiple times I am on my hands and knees picking up cheerios each day. I hate feeling dependent on my husband to cover my basic needs. If I was to look at our relationship through the lens of academic feminism, the power dynamic in our relationship has changed dramatically. Money is power; before we were both financially contributing to our family, now I rely on the good will of mr. mraynes to see his money as “our money.” My knowledge of feminist theory is what I use to empower myself, it is my safety net in case I ever have to remind mr. mraynes not to be a misogynistic jerk. (I should note that this whole paragraph is horribly unfair to mr. mraynes who, himself, has been the stay-at-home dad and who has been nothing but kind, supportive and an egalitarian angel throughout this transition and our whole marriage.)

This brings me to the second half of my question, am I discontented because I’m a feminist? This is a hard question for me to want to answer honestly. Certainly if I didn’t have the framework of Friedan, Steinem, de Beauvoir, Toscano, it would be harder for me to articulate the gender inequities that I saw in the church, society or my individual life. I guess the question is, would I see them at all if I wasn’t a feminist? I can’t answer this question because I have never not been a feminist. I grew up in an egalitarian home and, although my feminism grew from that point, my expectation from life has always been equality. But in my dark moments (like the one that caused me to vow never to set foot in the Denver Public Library again), I really have to wonder, would I be happier if I always had the expectation of a traditional lifestyle and wanted nothing else? The “grass is always greener” side of me says yes, after all, Seriously So Blessed isn’t parodying nothing.

Does feminism make women happy is another proverbial question, one that has had lots of heated discussion already bestowed upon it. (See here, hereand here for a few examples). This is the conclusion I’ve come to: if feminism makes people unhappy it is because it illuminates all of the nasty parts of reality. It is much nicer to pretend inequality doesn’t exist or to not care if it does because it doesn’t affect you. I understand that this is a personal decision for every woman and man to make and I don’t judge anybody for not wanting to live a life where they see sexism, oppression and abuse all around them. But the truth is, these things do exist and some of us are going to see and speak it even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

In the end, attempts to place blame, whether it be on feminism, the church or leprechauns, are always red herrings. Truth is complex and often it is easier to blame an other than to be comfortable with that complexity. I am currently trying to accept my own truth; yes, I am discontent because I’m a feminist, but also because reality sucks and I am pre-disposed to be melancholy. But I gain nothing by blaming anybody or anything for my unhappiness; all I can do is work hard to find some measure of joy in the place that I am.

Alright, it’s time

So it has been a month. A lot has changed in my life; we have moved states, I am a full time stay at home mother. I now spend my time picking up cheerios instead of sending out memos. I would be lying if I said the transition has been easy. It hasn’t. And I expect the transition will continue to be difficult.

I’m alright with this and I should say that I really love spending the extra time with my children, they are precious beyond words. Right now I am just trying to organize things in my life so that I can maximize the enjoyment that both the children and I get from staying at home. I will keep you updated on this journey.
On a side note, I recently took a survey concerning feminism and its relation to motherhood. You should go take it, it will help out a couple of grad students and provide them with further data.
Click here to participate.

Weekly Anti-Woman Wacko[s]: St. Patrick’s Day Edition

The Irish Times recently published a charming op-ed piece by Newton Emerson entitled, “Working Women Almost Certainly Caused the Credit Crunch.” Here are a few highlights:

The answer to all our problems is staring us in the face…Does the woman
in your life really need a job?…

Of course there will always be a place in the world of business for
exceptional women. Women also have an important role to play in jobs that
are too demeaning for men, like teaching. But the general employment
of women is another matter. Indeed, working women almost certainly caused
the credit crunch by bringing a second income into the average household,
pushing property prices up to unsustainable levels…

It would be ludicrous to suggest that women should be sacked purely to give
men their jobs…In many cases, their jobs should be abolished as well…

While the economic case for fewer women in the workforce is irrefutable, we
should also acknowledge the social advantages. Women make the majority of
spending decisions in Irish households and make almost all of the
purchases. They are far more likely than men to regard shopping as a
leisure activity…In short, women were the driving force behind the greed,
consumerism and materialism…and it was female employment that funded their oestrogen-crazed acquisitiveness.

Pretty funny, huh? No? Well it was supposed to be. Apparently this was a satire piece taking aim at the chauvinist media. The problem was that nobody got it.

The article quickly went viral and set off a firestorm. There was an account of this article being forwarded three hundred times in the space of a couple of hours around one large company that employed most men. Reportedly, these men viewed the article in a positive light.

As you might expect, women were none to happy about this op-ed. Hundreds of women sent in angry letters to the editor only to receive a curt letter back informing them that the piece was satire, along with a suggestion that they develop a sense of humor.

After reading through Newton Emerson’s essay several times, I can see that it is satire, it is bad satire but, satire nonetheless. However, the reason people didn’t get it was because there was no clear target, the piece was just too broad. Satire is not funny if it is overly believable. I picked this piece as an illustration of a weekly wacko because there is no cognitive dissonance in believing that a person could hold this kind of opinion.

Women have historically been blamed for the downfalls of society. We can start with Mother Eve and wind our way through the annals of history to today where working women are blamed for everything from increased juvenile delinquency to childhood obesity. (I heard that one over the pulpit).

So yes, I can understand how this unfunny piece of satire was misunderstood; it hit too close to home to the bullsh*t that working women have to put up with everyday. Is it not enough that working women have to face their own guilt every morning they walk out the door, do we really have to blame them for all of societies ills?

Shame on Mr. Emerson for being a horrible satirist. Shame on the Irish Times for exploiting pervasive and pernicious sexism. And shame on any man or woman who truly thinks that all of society’s problems will be solved the moment we kick women out of the workforce. You are all my weekly wackos.

Mistress of History

Over the past couple of weeks I have felt very little ambition to keep up on this blog. I think this is due to feeling a little burned out with life. I wrote the following post for Exponent and with it, I am re-committing to take charge of my life. So from now on, you can look forward to much more frequent posts at First Fig because if I don’t document my thoughts and experiences, who will?


I once had a boyfriend who told me that women have no history outside of their husbands and children. I was a young history major at the time and was only just discovering where my interests lay but his ignorant remark sparked in me a profound desire to prove him wrong. Needless to say, our relationship did not last much longer but I was left with a new found feminism and a love of women’s history.

Over the next couple of years I would study the lives of Hildegard Von Bingen, Martha Ballard, Alice Paul, Betty Friedan…all women who left a mark on history outside the framework of domesticity. Also around this time I received a copy of my grandfather’s memoir which included his version of the end of my grandparents’ marriage. As I read through this story of my grandfather’s life, I wondered how different my grandmother’s version of their divorce would be. She probably would not have painted herself in the light my grandfather had. Unfortunately, her story is lost to history and what remains of her life is only in the memories of her sons and ex-husband.

By the time I graduated from college, I knew the importance of women’s stories but I also understood that historically, women have had to go to greater lengths to get those stories heard. As an idealistic young feminist, I was determined to create my own history; husband and children might come but I would not allow them to define my life, let alone allow myself to be lost in their history.

What I did not understand as an idealistic young feminist was how easy it is for any woman, feminist or not, to fall into this trap. I fully admit that I have lost some of my resolve. None of us can write our history in advance and so as my life has failed to follow the course I imagined, it has become easy to define myself in terms of my husband and children. It is so easy to proudly talk about my husband, the orchestral conductor who is so smart and so talented.
It is a delight to revel in my beautiful Monster who dances and laughs in and out of my presence or Baby Valkyrie who thrives on my love and brightens my life with her smile. I have re-defined myself in the terms of my family because it is the one thing that I feel truly good at, that I am proud of. Yes, I have a life and a career outside of my home but those things are not as fulfilling as I imagined them to be.

I feel at times that my life is at a standstill, waiting for my husband to finish school and get a job, or for my babies to grow up a little or for me to go back and get my graduate degrees. Often I feel like I am just waiting for my real life to begin. I suppose that we all need times of limbo to help focus ourselves, to make the way forward more clear. But how sad if I allow myself to get stuck here.

And so in honor of Women’s History Month, and in honor of my fore mothers, I resolve once again to make my own history. But this time I make my resolution with a little less naivete, with the understanding that my husband and children are part of my history. Part of my history because I have given so much of myself to them and in return they have given themselves to me. And with this gift I realize that it is up to me to be the mistress of my own history.

The Woman Without a Shadow

cross posted at The Exponent

mr. mraynes and I are opera geeks. I spent the first years of my college career training to be an opera singer; mr. mraynes has spent the majority of his doctoral program immersed in opera scores, learning how to conduct them. Where a lot of couples have a song taken from pop culture, our song was “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde. Every major moment in our relationship is connected to an aria or opera. Dating…Cosi Fan Tutte. Falling in love… “Liebestod” . Engagement…Turandot. Marriage… “Morgen” . Birth of Baby Monster… “Song to the Moon” . Birth of Baby Valkyrie…Brunhilde’s Immolation. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist sharing these moments with you.)

And so it should not have surprised me that the first thing mr. mraynes said to me after getting an IUD was, “Ahh, die frau ohne schatten,” meaning ”the woman without a shadow.” Now for those not familiar with the Strauss opera, Die Frau Ohne Schatten is a fairytale of love blessed through the birth of a child. As lovely as this sounds and despite the absolutely breathtaking music, this opera is a feminist’s nightmare. You see, a woman without a shadow is a woman who can’t have children…making her not a real woman and therefore, not human. Throw in a little domestic violence and the belief that women are chattel and you have three hours of anti-woman fun.

At the beginning of the opera we learn that the Emperor of the Southeastern Islands will be turned to stone unless is wife, the daughter of the King of spirits, becomes human and gains a shadow. Of course, it is hard to feel sorry for the Emperor when we learn that he captured the Empress and believes that she is “for my soul and for my eyes and for my hands and for my heart. She is the booty of all booty without end.” Despite being captured and married against her will, the Empress goes in search of a shadow so her husband won’t be petrified. The Empress and her nurse meet a human woman who resents her life as a domestic slave to her husband and doesn’t want to be a mother because she fears children will further enslave her. Long story short, the nurse convinces the woman to sell her shadow to the Empress. When the woman’s husband finds out, he threatens to kill her because without her shadow, without the ability to bear children, she is useless to him. Luckily for the wife, the Empress refuses the shadow, saying she will not save her husband at the expense of another man’s happiness. This act of self-sacrifice allows the Empress to gain her own shadow. The opera ends with the two couples united and fertile, singing the praises of their humanity.

As a feminist, there is so much in this opera that I find objectionable. I resent the belief that my only value as a woman lies in my ability to bear children. This belief can be found around the world in almost every culture. Historically, women have not been allowed to become fully actualized individuals, not allowed to explore the things that would bring them the most happiness. Instead women are forced into a lifestyle they wouldn’t necessarily choose. For women who can’t have children, there is the feeling of failure on top of the overwhelming sorrow that comes along with infertility. Women who are childless, whether by choice or not, are often seen as dangerous and are at increased risk for emotional and physical violence.
Of course, the pendulum can swing too far the other way as well. In cultures where maternity is glorified, female subordination often goes hand in hand. The idea of the angel in the home, while romantic, only serves to infantilize women and take away their ability to be agents unto themselves. A doll’s house existence is no existence.

Second wave feminists worked hard to give women like me the choice to become mothers and also follow our dreams of self-fulfillment. But socialization dies hard. When mr. mraynesreferred to my shadowless status, I felt guilty. I cried while the IUD was being implanted. Even now, when I think about that small piece of plastic floating around in my uterus I have to fight off the urge to reach inside and yank it out. I admit that I have felt like less of a woman knowing that my fertility is compromised. Intellectually I know this is ridiculous and I am ashamed of myself. I have no right to feel this way. I have two babies and though I have chosen to see them as the crowning achievement of my life, I don’t want my choice perverted by some outdated notion that my worth lies exclusively in the fruitfulness of my womb. Getting an IUD was absolutely the right thing to do; it was right for my marriage, for my children, for our current financial and life situation and for my own state of mind.

And yet…I am haunted by my shadow.

Family Blog

So mr. mraynes decided that we needed a family blog. If you are interested, come and check us out.