I find myself in an unusual position today. I’m attending a Mother’s Day barbeque where the men will be cooking for the women. The attendees include Adventure Junkie, his mother and father, his sister and her husband (and their daughters), and the husband-wife neighbors from across the street (who also have daughters). I will be the only female adult in attendance who is not a mother.
This brought up the question of whether I should help cook for the occasion—honor the mothers in attendance (because I am not one), or shamefully enjoy the fruits of male labor in the sisterhood of mothers, as a person who is capable of becoming one.
Adventure Junkie’s mother said, “Of course you don’t have to cook. You’re Page’s mom.” I appreciated the sentiment, that the care I bestow on my greyhound can be compared to the rigors of raising children. But, there is something about having a dog that I can’t correlate with being, or wanting to be, a mother.
Caroline Knapp describes the criticism she faced when she got a dog in her memoir Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs:
“Dog love, popular wisdom suggests, should be limited love. Let on the depth of your true feelings about a dog—how attached you are, how vital the relationship feels—and you risk being accused of any number of neuroses: you’re displacing human love onto the animal, which is perverse; you’re anthropomorphizing, which is naïve and unsophisticated; you’re sublimating your unconscious wish for a baby or a spouse or a family into the dog, which is sad and pathetic.“
Knapp goes on to refute these popular assumptions by saying a human’s relationship with a dog is “…about attachment that’s mutual and unambiguous and exceptionally private, and it’s about a kind of connection that’s virtually unknowable in human relationships because it’s essentially wordless.”
A day to celebrate and appreciate the biological bond between a child and their mother hardly seems to apply to me, a woman with an affectionate and nonhuman connection with her dog.
The next line of reasoning to justify my place on the “mom” team at the barbeque would be that I am a mother to my novel. I am birthing a book.
This is an argument I have always felt conflicted about. On the one hand, I recognize the emotional investment I put into my characters and acknowledge that sometimes I slip into forgetting that they are not real people. I created them. On the other hand, Caroline Knapp’s observation about using a dog to sublimate an unconscious wish for a baby applies to this topic as well. I do not write novels because I secretly want a baby. I write novels because I have an overactive imagination.
Ursula K. Le Guin, in her essay “The Fisherwoman’s Daughter,” from the collection Creators on Creating, grapples with the “either-books-or-babies doctrine” and suggests it is ludicrous. She believes the doctrine false.
“And I hear that falseness when a Dorothy Richardson tells us that other women can have children but nobody else can write her books. As if ‘other women’ could have had her children—as if books came from the uterus!”
To call myself a mother of my work feels equally icky to calling myself the mother of my dog. I am a mother to no one and no thing.
So, what will I do at today’s Mother’s Day barbeque?
I’ll enjoy the festivities—offer my help to the fathers, and kid around with the mothers as they poke fun at the fathers who really do need help cooking. At the end of the night, I’ll return to my desk. My dog will lie next to me on the expensive bed that I didn’t have any qualms purchasing, and I will write the novel. And when the novel is done, it will not have come from my uterus, it will have come from my brain. It will not belong to me or be any derivative of offspring. It will belong to the world.