essays kaddish in two-part harmony

a good enough mother — or not

the ducklingsI’ve been thinking a lot about my parents. Not just my mother’s illness and my father’s death, but also about parenting altogether.  How are we with our pups? How are we with our own children? How are we with the next generation, and the one after that and after that.

The do-we-say-I-love-you post is part of those thoughts about parenting styles. About what’s necessary and what is not.

Bettelheim’s book A Good Enough Parent is based in part on Winnicott’s ‘good-enough mother’ ideas, although in some ways Winnicott is all the more psychoanalytic while Bettelheim (in his impatience) is downright pragmatic about the whole thing.

I realized just yesterday that I’m fairly obsessed with this topic, when, for the umpteenth time I apologized to my son for not playing this-little-piggy with him once when he was about five. And I just can’t get over it.  And he, in his mirth, reminded me of one other time I had blown my responsibilities as supermom.  For some reason, it’s slipping my mind right now, and he’s on a plane to DC at the moment, and I can’t reach him to inquire.  Maybe it’s better that way.

There’s a website called Bad Parenting that almost gave me a heart attack last night.  (Instead, we had an earthquake, which certainly will do). Here I’ve spent the last 26 years berating myself for the this-little-piggy fiasco, and there, on the site, are these photos that I thought just couldn’t be real.  Just couldn’t be.  But I have a feeling they are.

The worst part about it is that these examples of bad parenting are funny. And so now I’m berating myself for experiencing the humor of them as well as my enormous outrage.

Only one photo, however, just broke my heart. At the same time that it didn’t. It evoked so many visceral responses, that my guts (and heart) would not rest until I tracked it down.  Fact or photoshop?

Turned out to be fact.

The original incident was reported in the Shropshire Star and the incident was witnessed and captured on film in Shrewsbury.

I mean, can you imagine?

The third image, that of mama-duck looking back at her seven disappeared children out of eight. It just got to me.  All the mothers of The Disappeared.  That’s where it takes me.  Of course, yes, there’s the stupidity (perhaps) of mama duck here not walking her babies around the potentially lethal grate. There’s the evolutionary advantage of one little duckling smart enough to navigate the cityscape. And therefore, this is a moment to celebrate the survival of one. But look at that mama!

I want to say, well what must she be thinking? Or feeling? And somebody’s just going to tell me that she’s not smart enough to think or feel much at all. But look at her!  Is she wracked with guilt (probably not) or merely curious (probably not that either).

Let’s face it. She wants her babies back. But I’m not sure she feels (not yet, anyway) quite as guilty as I felt over the refusal (once) of a this-little-piggy.

The Shropshire Star rescued me from the agony this picture was causing, by giving, if not the whole story, at least the outcome. I mean, after all, there was someone around to witness and photograph evolution (potentially) at work here.

So. The babies, who were under a week old at the time of the incident, had fallen into a sewer in Hexham Way, Shrewsbury.  They were rescued by Elaine Williams, an animal collection officer for the local RSPCA.

When was this? I have no idea.  Long enough ago that the Shropshire Star no longer has the article linked to its archives.

While the rescue makes me feel a whole lot better and I can relax my over-the-top reaction to this instance of putting one’s babies in harm’s way—when I start putting my brain back in place, I worry that the next generation of urban ducklings are in for some hard times. And when my brain is really settled back in place, I’m a little pissed that the rescue defies evolutionary selection.

My own lesson here turns out to not be about ducks or evolution or bad parenting, or about how well I can parent my one remaining parent in her increasing need.  My own lesson appears to be that I am (much to my surprise) ruled much more by my heart than my head.  And I just can’t look at photos or examples of ‘bad parenting’ without pretty much going to pieces.

Not your issue, maybe. But definitely (it turns out) mine.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

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