Isn’t technology amazing? I’m still late getting this to you but I’m marveling how I can sit at my computer and plop words and images and banners and links together – something that just a short time ago would have taken days and days and many people cutting and pasting and colouring – and then send it to you with another push of a button. I just ran out, took a photo of these leaves on my phone, ran back, hit a button and a button and there it is! So fresh you should be able to smell the leaves and feel the glorious moisture in the air!
So often it’s hard to measure progress, especially now when it seems change is happening so fast and we’re still of the mindset that we have to keep up. There’s something in this measuring thing that presumes the past was bad and the future will be better. And then there are some people who think the past was glorious but our present and future are destined to be ugly. As I read more mother stories I hold to the idea that it’s our job now to ensure that what was good in the past continues to fill our lives and the lives of our children regardless what happens with technology and change..
What did your mother do or believe that you would like to see continue in the future?Kindness, good food, community, maybe gardens and schools or music? Maybe her life wasn’t a “success” but there are parts of her that were excellent. When we write our mothers’ stories we cast a vote for a future holding the best for humans by humans.
Currency of Choices
It’s often hard to understand the choices people in the past made for their and their family’s welfare. One of the perspectives that needs to be seen is what it might have cost them to make different choices. Most of the time we see cost in terms of money but sometimes people pay in social standing or health or time or daily frustrations.
Brad DeLong, in his book, Slouching Towards Utopia: an economic history of the 20th century, expresses progress in terms of calories.
In 1870, an average unskilled male worker living in London could afford 5,000 calories for himself and his family on his daily wages. That was more than the 3,000 calories he could’ve afforded in 1600, a 66 percent increase — progress, to be sure. But by 2010, the same worker could afford 2.4 million calories a day, a nearly five hundred fold increase.
This is a statistic that keeps rumbling around my brain. Yes, there are people in the world who are starving, and yes, the salary of an unskilled male worker living in London is definitely First World, but the tangible differences here could be extrapolated to the rest of the world. The idea of having “extra” is wealth indeed. More people now can consider or fight for better options when they aren’t close to starving. They can get better educations or stay healthy longer or pause before taking another job. They can decide to travel or have children or not have children. How many of the advances made by women in the 20th century can be attributed to the extra time they had beyond ensuring the survival of their families?
“I don’t get mad at photographs.”
Comic Dave Chapelle said this in an interview when asked to comment on another comic’s work in the 80’s. When I think of photos of me taken in the 80’s I can laugh at the clothes I wore and sigh at the way I styled my hair but I wouldn’t get mad. My clothes and my hair are reflections of the fashion of the day; I know I felt pretty cool in that shirt, and maybe other people thought so too, but I wouldn’t wear it today. The same could be said for ideas, opinions and reflections we made in the past.
In the canceling culture of today, it seems many people are judged as irredeemably worthless by something they said or did in the past. What if we saw these transgressions as photographs that just marked them in time and space?
A woman in a mother’s workshop once said with wonder “If my daughter had written about me 10 years ago, she would have written about a bitter, unkind woman because I was going through stuff then and that’s who I was, especially to her. If she wrote that story now, I like to think her story of me would be kinder because I am not angry like that now.”
How often do we hold on to memories of someone, saying “that’s who she is” when in fact she was wearing the outfit of the times, or having a bad day, or came to know and understand herself better after that “photograph” was taken?
Some women learned how to be good mothers on their second or third child. Some learned motherhood skills when they were in their fifties or eighties and had the opportunity to use new skills and perspectives with their grandchildren or their own daughters or sons who again needed their care. Some never learned the mother-thing but were fabulous at other endevours.
When we can see our mothers as human beings, we not only forgive them; we can start to forgive ourselves for not getting everything “right” all the time. We are all works in process.
Give it a try. Piece together the photographs of your mother that are stored in your brain and see who that whole human being might be.