Monthly Archives: May 2013
Hey Anna! Yeah you, Anna Karenina, lying pale and stricken on the train tracks. You think you’ve got it bad? You think it’s difficult being a woman without honor in Imperial Russia? So they call you improper, scandalous, an insult to decency. So they kick you out of your home, prevent you from seeing your child, shun you at the opera.
Try being a parent in the private school world of 21st century Hong Kong. Try being a parent of the kid who’s been ‘asked to leave’ school because of some stupidly bad, bad decision. And try being a friend of that parent as the whole community weighs in with judgments and recriminations and told-you-so’s.
For months now, I’ve been pondering how to write about this topic. Should I use humor, should I be ‘angry mom’, or should I just lay it all out there and ask you, dear reader: what do you think? And then I watched the recent Anna Karenina and I thought, yeah! There’s the parallel. Mistakes made, but few willing to empathize or forgive. In the world of mothers with too much free time and too many worries about their children’s futures, we talk and talk about other people and their kids, measuring and comparing and ultimately weighing them up as good or bad influences.
Do we believe, as Karenin did, that ‘sin has a price’?
See, here’s the story: A friend’s son is now at boarding school because of a huge mistake he made. There’s no doubt he screwed up. And there’s no doubt he wasn’t the only one involved, but he was the one who got caught. And for that he’s had to face the consequences. This happened a little over a year ago, and seemingly the dust had settled. Or so I thought, until I was approached a few months back by another friend, who expressed her ‘concern’ about our continuing relationship with this family. She said ‘some mothers were talking’, and she thought I should know.
She told me these things, I didn’t know how to respond, and suddenly, like that – poof – my five-year friendship with this concerned woman was history. She hasn’t spoken to me since.
It was an odd, empty feeling. Like falling in your dreams and waking up with a start. Part of me was angry, really angry, that some women – women I didn’t even know – were talking about me, gossiping about my child’s social life! So high school, right? And no doubt 100 times worse for the family in question. Part of me was hurt, for being shunned, for being judged. But another part of me felt confused and unsure and I asked myself: did I really put my child in harm’s way? Are we talking about bad influences here?
It was then that I realized nothing feels worse to a mom than sitting next to another mom who says emphatically, assuredly, with conviction, ‘I would never allow my child to do that!’ When the small voice inside you is responding, ‘Well, actually, I just did.’
Did I dodge a bullet or take one in the back? I’m still not sure.
Some parents are strict, some parents aren’t. One Dad’s idea of youthful experimentation is another Dad’s road to ruin. Some kids rebel at structure, some kids thrive with boundaries. You say Ted’s about a guy and a funny bear, I say it’s a foul-mouthed piece of cr*p. And yet the bottom line is – all things being equal when it comes to money, shelter, education, a stable household – you need a crystal ball to know if you got it right as a parent. Not to be facetious here, but do you think George W. Bush would have been president if there had been camera phones and Facebook when he was in college? The guy partied, hard.
In Hong Kong’s expat community we often become friends with the parents of our kids’ friends. Some relationships last, some end as soon as one family moves on to their next posting. And sometimes we have to decide if loyalty to our friends conflicts with our responsibilities as parents. While our hearts tell us to be Kitty, loving and accepting, our minds (our anxious, parental brains) twist us like Countess Ivanova, critical and disapproving. And we ask ourselves: do we want our kids to see us sticking by our pals in tough times, even if we disagree with the decisions they’re making as parents? We’re not in college anymore. Back then we could live with wild behavior in our friends (we were probably joining in), but it was conduct that we’d never accept in the mother who shares carpool duties with us.
After my encounter with the concerned mothers of HK, I began to imagine myself as Princess Myagkaya (minus the flawless bone structure and pale skin), reaching out to take Anna’s hand at the opera, to show her some kindness. I wondered if the Princess faced any repercussions after her show of support for a fallen woman. I wondered if she ever changed her mind about Anna. Maybe she thought Anna was a bad mom after all. Maybe she knew Anna loved her son dearly, despite the affair. Maybe she thought, I’m sorry Anna’s dead but I could never have allowed my child to have a playdate with her child.
You understand, don’t you?
For this post, I’d like to acknowledge a couple of articles that helped me find my focus:
*Amy Gray is a writer, mom, Australian – a person with good ideas. Find her at: http://peskyfeminist.com/
For the Pitch Perfect generation, from your roller-skating parents:
& booty slap & booty slap & booty slap
This was my Mother’s Day gift to myself – spending (wasting?) hours researching and putting together a playlist of songs about being a Mom. It’s my 60TH blog post – whoa & thanks everyone for reading! And my first playlist on Spotify, which has only recently appeared in Hong Kong. I hope that makes it easy for you to listen to these tunes.
Here’s the Spotify link: Mother’s Day Music. And I’m adding vids for a few songs so you’ll have something to listen to while you’re reading.
I wasn’t looking for songs about how great or awful Mom is. So no need for John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Tupac, Kanye or Snoop Dogg. (Nothing personal, boys) I wanted to find songs that spoke to being a Mom, in all of its colors and shapes. Songs that touched on the range of complex emotions that come with motherhood: passion, ambivalence, confusion, heart break, anger, love, ferociousness.
Each of the singers on my list has children. Loretta Lynn tops the group with six kids. She had three by the time she was 19 and was a grandma by the age of 29. Imagine that!
So thanks again for joining me and read on to find out more about these wonderful tunes:
1. “Thumbelina” by Pretenders / Chrissie Hynde (2 daughters).
This song comes from Learning to Crawl, the Pretenders third full-length album and the first one Hynde made after becoming a Mom and after the deaths of band mates James Honeymoon-Scott and Pete Farndon. The whole album is filled with gorgeous, bittersweet tunes about love and loss. “Thumbelina” is about a cross country journey with a young child, and you can feel the lonely southwestern landscape pass you by as you listen.
2. “Tell Mama” by Etta James (2 sons)
Hard livin’ Etta James once said, “The hours before noon have never interested me.” Right on. In this song she’s either addressing a potential lover or a son – not quite sure. But I love the fierce confidence and the horns.
3. “Mother Stands For Comfort” by Kate Bush (1 son)
Is it inspired by Hitchcock? Or about an abortion? Or maybe it’s about how far we’d go to protect the ones we love. I like the mystery. Bush has also written a lovely song about her son called “Bertie” where she uses Renaissance-era musical instruments. (Are you surprised she’d do that? I thought not.) It’s from the beautiful double album, Aerial, A Sea of Honey, A Sky of Honey.
4. “Hormones” by Tracey Thorn (twin daughters & a son)
Your’s are just kicking in / Mine are just checking out
Count on Thorn to capture motherhood with a mixture of wit and wistfulness. Here she sings about her daughters growing up and hitting puberty while she experiences a life change of her own. I hear her recent memoir is fantastic.
5. “What Makes You Happy” by Liz Phair (1 son)
As you may know, I’m a huge Liz Phair fan, and I challenge anyone to match her first three albums for pop songwriting brilliance. Written before she became a mom, this song is just a wonderful conversation between a mother and her grown daughter, filled with love and hope:
I’m sending you this photograph
I swear this one is gonna last
And all those other bastards were only practice…
6. “One’s On The Way” by Loretta Lynn (6 kids)
God Bless Loretta Lynn. The queen of songs about feckless men and the women stuck at home who are fixing to kick ‘em out.
7. “Love Has Come For You” by Edie Brickell (3 kids) & Steve Martin
Brickell has kept a low profile for the last two decades while raising a family with Paul Simon. But she’s returned this year with a lovely country album where she writes and sings, and Steve Martin plays banjo. So on the bluegrass side of things. This song tells the story of a young girl, in a relationship with a married man, who decides to keep her baby and the lifelong love between (single) mother and son. Martin has said how affected he was by the phrase ‘Love Has Come For You’ with its feeling of hope and its sense of dread. And there are two other songs on the album that tell tragic, often redemptive, stories of mothers. Brickell is a fantastic storyteller – well worth a listen.
8. “Motherless Children” by Roseanne Cash (4 kids)
Not the happiest of songs, obviously. But Cash’s voice is so pained and beautiful, and the spare acoustic guitar so poignant. You feel for those children left behind.
9. “Three Babies” by Sinead O’Connor (4 kids)
Another song with a mysterious meaning – could it be about abortion, miscarriage, abandonment? You never know with the emotional, mercurial O’Connor. What you do know is that it’s about loss:
No longer mad like a horse
I’m still wild but not lost
From the thing that I’ve chosen to be
10 “Little Star” by Madonna (4 kids)
So now let’s move on to something a bit more uplifting: from Ray of Light, Madge’s first album as a Mom. Accompanied by William Orbit’s gorgeous production, she sings a dreamy love song to her daughter. I’ve played this for my girls since they were babies. Celestial.
11. “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” by the Dixie Chicks (7 kids between them)
I’ve always liked this country lullaby because it avoids that treacly greeting card sentiment you hear in so many I-love-my-kid songs. I think it’s because Natalie Maines’ voice stays grounded and strong, not precious. She’s just released her first solo album, called appropriately Mother. It’s a collection of mostly cover tunes, including the famous Pink Floyd song of the title, and I’m just starting to get in to it.
12. “The Sweetest Gift” by the Judds (2 kids each)
When EO was born I started singing to her a lot, especially at night. I’m not a singer at all, but I enjoyed having those moments with her: show tunes, pop songs, “On Top of Spaghetti,” you name it. But what worked really well (because I could remember all the lyrics) was the Judds’ “Mama He’s Crazy”. I sang that to her every time I tucked her in to bed, and she still remembers it. So I’ll finish with this old gospel tune, sung by a mother & daughter, with Emmylou Harris on harmony. About the depths of a mother’s love.
Happy Mother’s Day from therockmom, x
I’m ignoring the laundry hanging out back, the dog hair all over the floor and the dishes in the sink for something far more important – music!
So Amy Adams is currently attached to the long-gestating Janis Joplin film, ‘Get It While You Can’, and of course there are various threads circulating about her casting: good, bad, indifferent? I think Adams is great but I’d love to see a young newcomer in the role, remembering that Janis’ best years were when she was only 24-25 years old. In fact I’ve got a possible candidate right here in lead singer and guitarist, Joan, from the band Little Foot Long Foot.
Here are five reasons why you’ll enjoy this band:
1. Joan’s got a BIG voice and she’s not afraid to use it. Can only imagine what they must be like in concert, but ‘fricking awesome’ comes to mind.
2. They list Sleater-Kinney, Black Keys and Neko Case as influences. In fact, they wrote a song about Neko Case, which sounds great, even though I have no idea what it’s about. I’m not going to list the title here because I think EO has started reading this. Check out their website if you want to know.
3. They called their last album, Oh, Hell.
4. They’re Canadian, and when you think about Canadian music (Bieber, Dion, Twain, B. Adams), you’ve got to give LFLF props for creating so much more than just sucky pop music. Aim high.
5. Their latest video looks straight out of The Midnight Special:
Check ’em out.