Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Having a "Cool Mom"

                I am an unfortunate example of a girl whose mother has been, and always will be, way cooler than her.
For the majority of my childhood, my mom was a “stay-at-home mom.” 

While I was growing up, she didn’t have a full-time job. But she didn’t fit the mold of a soccer mom, either. While she would never charter me to after school activities ("taxis are cheap in Beijing for a reason"), she would occasionally pick me up at gymnastics class so she, too, could show me up by practicing her back handsprings. She missed my swim meet since she had a photography trip to Burma that week. My mom often went to hear her friend from college, Wayne, DJ at a nearby club. Wayne’s day job also happened to be the Ambassador of Jamaica to Beijing. When I finally reached the age where my friends and I started going out to bars at night, we would have to plan to go to ones where we wouldn’t run into my parents. She went to Adelaide for a Great-White shark dive for her birthday. And in May, she will be running a half-marathon on the Great Wall. All of my friends consider her “cool.” Which of course, makes me cringe. 

Today’s class got me thinking about Woolf’s portrayal of stay-at-home moms and my own mother. Both Mrs. Ramsay and Mrs. Dalloway view their dinner parties as the biggest (and only) ordeal in their lives; Mrs. Brown is deeply unhappy with her suburban life. Since our family moved 7 times throughout 3 countries and 5 cities for my father’s job, many would classify my mom as a “trailing spouse.” When I first heard this term in middle school, I asked her how she felt about having to constantly follow my dad and not pursue a career of her own. Her first answer was that being a mom was her job right now. But she also said that she wasn’t bored, and that she often finds interesting things to “keep her busy.” She does not make dinner; she makes reservations. She plans family vacations to Bangkok instead of Disneyland.

Since then, I have always wondered what she could have accomplished on her own, without the burden of my sister, or me, and without having to follow my father to wherever his new job took us. I wondered what made Mrs. Brown so unhappy and compelled to attempt suicide. Why don’t the dinner parties planned by Mrs. Dalloway fulfill her happiness? And why does Mrs. Ramsay question her life accomplishments at the head of the table? It seems obvious to point to the difference in gender equality during Woolf’s era and modern day, or to say that our lifestyles are more complex now. However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Does my “cool mom” ever feel the way these characters do? Does Angelina Jolie keep adopting to fill some void? Or are these empty feelings just part of being a mother?

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