May 12, 2013

We Aren’t All Mothers

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I discovered Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s writing when I was 18.  Her Diaries and Letters from the years 1922-1945 were beginning to come out in print and I read all five volumes. (Bring Me a Unicorn, Hour of Gold Hour of Lead, Locked Rooms and Open Doors, The Flower and the Nettle, War Within and Without.) I read her eight other books.  (North to the Orient, Listen, the Wind, The Wave of the Future The Steep Ascent, The Unicorn and Others Poems, Dearly Beloved, Gift From the Sea, and Earthshine.) I read every magazine article of hers I could find, many of them on micro-fiche or only available through inter-library loan.  

I was a confused and depressed young woman reading the works of a confused and depressed young woman who seemed to think and feel much like I did, and who showed me a way to process my reflections and to record my impressions of life.  I learned, like her, to think with a pen in my hand and to go through the day knowing I would write about it at its close. I began my own journal as I prefer to call them, and continue to write in it to this day.

Over the years I have had numerous Bouts of Lindbergh when I have re-read her entire oeuvre.  I’ve been on what I call my Prurient Lindbergh Tours:   A private tour of Next Day Hill, the Morrow home in New Jersey which is now a school.  I rented a car purely to find the home from which the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped, now also a school. I walked right in and nosed around waiting for someone to throw me out, which no one did.  The Lindberghs have been a weird little obsession of mine.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a gifted writer, but not so gifted that any of us might have heard of her except that her husband could call up Harcourt-Brace and ask them to read her manuscripts.  She was married to arguably the most famous man of the 20th century.  When I was 18, I swooned over her references to “C.,” Charles A. Lindbergh.  But as I re-read the diaries and letters at later periods in my life, I got impatient with the hero-worship.  After I finally pulled through my own adolescence at about age 49, I recognized her as stuck in a paradigm familiar to most women of my mother’s generation.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh was unable to see herself –at least up until age 40 when the fifth volume ended– as a person of value apart from being a wife and mother. As a result she masochistically tried to conform to her husband’s control and definition of her.

I was wildly excited when I noticed that a sixth volume, Against Wind and Tide, Letters and Journals 1947-1986, had come out posthumously. (AML died in 2001 at the age of 94).  I knew from reading her several biographies that Anne Morrow Lindbergh had learned to stand up to her husband, had gone through psycho-analysis and had had extra-marital love affairs. Here would be the writings of a mature woman who had finally come into her own.

The book wasn’t like that.  She sounded happier and more confident than in the previous volumes but there was so much left out that she doesn’t come across as psychologically believable.  It’s not surprising, I suppose, given that she wasn’t the one editing the book,  The editors were several of her own children who, God knows, have their own agendas and axes, whether conscious of them or not.

But here was the worst paragraph –for me– in the entire book:

“Women write for different reasons than men (That is, true women—who fufill women’s roles as well as write—not masculine women who are in another category.) There is a creative urge in men which I think is not as strong as in women who, after all, satisfy that in having children.  It seems to me that true women often write out of an excess of the mother instinct in them.”

After all her reflecting and thinking, after everything she went through with a husband who today would probably be diagnosed and medicated, after psycho-analysis, for God sake, this is her conclusion?  It sinks me without a trace.  It’s paragraphs like this that give idols a bad name.  It took me a day or two to consider that Anne Morrow Lindbergh was merely a person who came as far as she came in her life and whose writing influenced me.

It’s Mother’s Day.  I’m happy for my friends who are mothers.  Me, I love to write, to paint, to sing, and to teach.  I believe that the last time I checked I was still a woman.  To those of us who aren’t by strict definition mothers, we aren’t just “another category.”  We are women who give life in incalculable ways.

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