Iron Age

Last weekend, my husband and I watched The Iron Lady.  We’d seen previews for it and were intrigued.  We wanted to see Meryl Streep taking names and kicking butts, which ironically I’d never thought Margaret Thatcher had done.  While she was in office, I was too young to know more about her role in history than her name and position.  It never occurred to me the struggles she’d encounter not only as prime minister, but also as a woman fulfilling that role.  Now, as a grown woman watching this cinematic portrayal of her rise to power and its aftermath, I was angry and heartbroken.

It starts off optimistically enough.  I thrilled in her preemptive speech to her future husband before she accepted his proposal.  She would not bow to society’s ideas of what a woman, wife, and mother should be.  And he agreed!  She would be free to do as she desired with his freely and happily given support.

Then we see Ms. Thatcher as a hard-faced deserter as her children cry at the window as she heads to Parliament, shoving toy cars in the glove compartment on the way.  We see her daughter jealous of her own spotlight being stolen.  We see her husband questioning her devotion to her family in favor of ambition.


Why must a woman be vilified if she desires success outside the realm of motherhood?  Even more so if she harbors such desires in the midst of motherhood.  Yes, there are only twenty-four hours in a day.  Yes, there is always the threat of feeling as if she’s failed on both fronts.  Yes, children demand an inordinate amount of growing, coaxing, and coddling.  She needs to prepare a person ready to face the challenges of the next generation.  But what about the challenges of her own?  Why does motherhood take her out of the equation in facing and solving those? 


Why is there a prevailing thought that a woman must subvert her own self in order to grow the ones that came out of her?


Even with all her success, Margaret Thatcher couldn’t completely change the direction of that stiff wind – at least in this film.

In the speech to her future husband, the young Margaret Thatcher said she did not want to be trapped in the kitchen, hands in the dishwater.  The film ends with her doing just that.  I couldn’t help but think that plunging her hands into that water washed away all merit attached to her ambitious acts.  It called them all into question.  Had she made the wrong decisions?  Set the wrong priorities as a woman, wife, mother?  All joy that she’d excelled in at least the public half of her life was stolen by my doubt that she felt she should have chosen the private half instead.

It shouldn’t be a choice.  Or at least not a mutually exclusive one.

Iron is malleable – especially when it’s heated inordinately – which is a good thing because it looks like society will continue to rake women over the coals for the unforeseeable future.

A Rock to Remember

Last week, I was forced to go to the beach.

I was cranky.  I was tired.  It was a holiday and all three kids were home, but my husband was working.  I still had tons of tedious tasks to do to get settled in the new house.

My parents said, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go for a walk.

I walked from the breach way to the border of this same beach with my parents when I was a girl.  It was like coming full-circle treading it this day with my own children a short distance from the place I now call home.

The girls dove straight into rock hunting with my mother.  I didn’t even have to chase my three year-old out of the waves, as she plopped down in one spot and proceeded to sift and stack.  I sat down, too, and gave myself over to the sound of the rocks chattering against each other in the surf.

My other home was a short walk from a small inlet on Narragansett Bay.  It was a lovely spot and we were fortunate to live so close to it (though we didn’t make the trek nearly enough).  But it had nothing of the raw power and expansiveness of this beach, the open ocean.  I am not used to the mass amounts of rocks, perfectly pounded and rounded by the constant tumbling of the sea.  The smooth spheres of granite, mica, and other minerals I should remember from science class and Rhode Island history.  Their shapes were so alluring to me, beckoning me to pick them up, roll them in my hands.

And so I did.  I sat just apart from my daughter’s sifting and sorting and felt the weight in my hands.  The cool heaviness, the sun-soaked pressure.  I searched for the one that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.  Then I spun it round and round, the smooth surface soothing me in a way that didn’t seem needed, but became suddenly essential.

I felt my hackles lowering, my blood slowing in my veins, my body decompressing, my soul expanding.  I was running, running, running so quickly, so constantly, that I didn’t even know how wound up I was.  I didn’t know how much I needed the salve of the sea.

I recalled a stretch of preteen fall days when a friend and I rode our bikes to the sand flats with our notebooks and sketchpads.  I was so disappointed that I was caught without a notebook when the muse was so apparently calling to me, when an epiphany was beating me over the head with a smoothly-shaped rock.  I hoped beyond hope that I could bottle this feeling and bring it home with me.  It’s been diluted over the last week, but I did bring some rocks home with me as reminders.  I picked out some beautifully speckled, striated, spotted ones that I stacked into cairns in my garden.  I selected two larger ones to use as worry rocks, prayer stones, literal talismans to ground me; I planned to give one to my husband so he could benefit from my lesson, too.

As I kneaded these rocks in my hands, I thought of the many manifestations of humanity’s need for physical reminders of the spiritual side of life, of our souls.  Kachina dolls, worry dolls, worry stones, chime balls, stress balls, rocks perched on gravestones, relics . . . there are so many examples.  But they all begin at their basest level with a bit of the natural world.  There is a reason humans turn to nature to reset their moods, their demeanors, their selves.  While I cannot put my finger on it, there is something about it that resonates in our souls.  I’ll just have to wrap my hand around those rocks each time I forget.

Shut the Front Door

I now know why my grandmother used to shoo her children outside – and lock the door. Her kids, of course, would object.  According to family lore, my two aunts would hover on the landing of their third-floor apartment waiting for her to let them back in.  My father, the only boy, would wander outside to find his friends.  In any event, it didn’t seem that any amount of begging or pleading would alter my grandmother’s decision or when she deemed it acceptable to return home.

I always appreciated this story and found it quite humorous (my grandmother had that certain amount of pluck that allowed her to get away with it), but now I can fully relate.

Last Tuesday was gorgeous; the last day in January, yet feeling more like a fine day in spring.  When I was able to bring my scraps to the compost bin in my shirtsleeves and not freeze, I went back in for the recyclables and lingered outside for a moment.  Angela abandoned the last of her lunch and joined me.  Encouraged by the weather, we began a joint effort to rid the yard of broken-off branches from winter windstorms.  A few minutes later, Julia, who had heretofore been deeply involved in a serious reenactment of Cars 2 in miniature, wandered out as well.

I tidied twigs.  Julia decided to play school.  Angela followed along.  If I had planned an afternoon outside, it couldn’t have gone any better.  The thing was, I hadn’t planned an afternoon outside.  Angela’s naptime was in ten minutes.  That meant Julia’s quiet time in ten minutes.  And Mommy’s chance for ‘me’ time.

“Ok, a few more minutes and then we’re going in,” I warned.  To which both girls objected, of course.

After wrestling Angela inside and into a new diaper while Julia bopped alongside the changing table telling me her plans for playtime, I realized resistance was futile.  If they were so invested in playing outside, maybe that was my best chance at uninterrupted work time.  This is why assumptions are so dangerous.

With the girls safely ensconced in the fenced backyard, I stationed myself by the window that looked directly onto their play area with my papers.  Maybe five minutes passed before I heard the first plaintive call by the door.  Once that issue was resolved, another five minutes passed before I heard the squeak of the screen door.  Then the stomp of feet.  The desperate plea for some indoor toy that was absolutely essential for their play outside.  Then a cry.  Another squeak.  A snack.

I could feel my blood pressure going up with each interruption.

“In or out,” I bellowed.

For kids who not so long ago were completely invested in playing outside, their actions were certainly not showing it.  Then Big Sister got home from school and a third set of feet beat a path back and forth.

“My God,” I thought.  “Now I know where Grandma got her motivation.”

Any mother knows it’s easier to get things done when there are no children under foot.  Unfortunately, society and culture have changed just enough that it’s no longer acceptable to boot our kids out the door for the day and welcome them home for dinner.  It’s no longer safe for our kids to play unsupervised in the open areas around our homes.  It’s no longer acceptable or expected for them to fill their own time with their own imaginings; we’re supposed to do it for them.

Not only does this culture shift take accountability and creativity away from our children, it makes the job of a mother a hell of a lot harder.

Now, please understand me, I’m not advocating for mothers across the world to lock their children out of the house.  It just seems to me that while the tension and tenderness between mothers and children is the same as in previous generations, the expected goals and duties of mothers have swelled with no subtractions from our job descriptions.

Kind of makes one want to lock the door and hide.  But, like my grandmother, I will always open my door to my children and welcome them in with open arms – even if I let them sit on the landing for a little while first.

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