New post at the Wooden Box: Coins
“ Who said I moved? It doesn´t matter it was demolished: we still live live in the old house we were born into” ( Quem disse que me mudei? Não importa que a tenham demolido, a gente continua morando na velha casa em que nasceu) – Mario Quintana
What real meaning does a house have in our lives? And what is this house Quintana talks about? Is it the womb? Our parents or what we recall of our childhood? In the last few months I´ve been asking myself this question: why am I moving?
Some months ago, my significant other and I decided to make some improvements to the country house. We wanted to build an extension with three other bedrooms to accommodate guests. And then we realized that it is actually a summer house, and that Summer is really short here in the south of the south. We love that house a lot but…it´s a summer house. It´ll stay as is.
Many things have changed in our lives in the last few years, so we thought that it was time to take another step. Change the city apartment for a city house. Now, we both are not the kind of people who rush into decisions, but that one was taken quickly. I felt excited but still uncomfortable: what is going on with me?
After a lot of thinking, listening, observing, I finally have a clue. This house is actually part of a process that has been going on for some time now, and that could be translated more or less as a reunion with myself. Of course, my husband has his reasons, too. And the kids loved the idea, but for me, it´s that. It´s a part of my soul that is taking form. A fireplace, a backyard, a garden, a hammock, animals.
My beautiful aunt Arminda and I, at three years old, in my house´s backyard, with one of the many turtles my brothers and I had. We also had a couple of chickens and ducks in a small hennery at the back, a cat, a dog, a parrot, and a frog.
Same people “a few” years later. The turtle was not present the moment we took the picture, but I bet it is still alive. 🙂
Many years ago, when we were living in the U.S., my husband and I were invited to a dinner party in a friend´s friend´s apartment. Upon our arrival, after being introduced to the group as “the couple from Brazil I said were coming tonight”, and my husband engaging in conversation with a guy he had met before, the host´s father turns to me and asks, loudly: “Oh, you´re from Brazil! When are you guys going to stop cutting those trees down there?”. Now, that´s a bully, and I´ve never been afraid of bullies, so I answered, calmly: “When you guys stop buying the wood”.
I´m not going to get into details right now about what my thoughts on the Amazon Rainforest are, and how things really work there, but if I could go back in time I wouldn´t have answered anything, I´d just have said something really vague and ignored the guy. Not because I don´t believe in what I said – I do believe that one who has a mahogany table or guitar should not (hypocritically) publicly declare their concern about deforestation – but because it really doesn´t help when we try to find someone else to blame on the problems of the world. And it´s usually the foreigner, or the immigrant, or the minority, or the one who simply looks different than us.
I felt bad after answering that because I knew it was that man who had a problem and I ended up offending and putting the blame on everybody, just like he did. The moment I said “you guys”, I bought into the same stereotype he used to intimidate me. I was no different.
Stereotypes are representations of fear. The fear we have of what we don´t know. The fear we have of leaving our comfort zone and giving other people a chance. The fear we have of finding out that we are not the greatest thing on the universe, after all.
As psychoanalyst Diana Corso says: “no consistent human relationship survives in the aesthetically tacky scenario of romanticism” , and I happen to think that stereotypes are a part of that. With the Romantic movement came a strong nationalism and, consequently, the idea of the “exotic” . The “others” have only two alternatives: they´re either the friendly, subservient sidekick or the criminal. We´ve been thinking like that since the 19th century. It´s about time we changed.
Many of my fellow Brazilians foster the idea that we are misunderstood by the world(very romantic). That “they” (the “others”) believe we only think of soccer and Carnival. Well, taking into account the millions of reals spent in soccer stadiums and Carnival parades, I can´t blame “them” for believing it. But of course, it´s not that. We wouldn´t have done what we did in the last decades if it were so. The problem is the romantic idea that we need to have an image to the world that makes us look good. We keep alternating between the friendly sidekick and the criminal, trapped into a fruitless search for identity that prevents us from maturely deal with our problems. We love to believe the idea that we are not prejudiced, but then we see the world through the lens of stereotypes, just the way we complain the world sees us.
Many people I know think that Americans don´t know anything about Brazil, all British people are distant, cold and extremely formal, all Mexicans are dramatic, all Argentinians are cocky, all French people are romantic etc. Stereotypes that do nothing but draw a circle of fire around ourselves. And in terms of domestic affairs, there´s also the classic “I´m not racist, but…” .
Prejudice, racism and stereotypes all fall into the same category: what we do when we´re afraid. Maybe if we were less afraid of each other, and more realistic about human nature, and nature as a whole, we would be able to evolve into a new way of thinking. We would be able to leave the Romantic Ideal behind with all its preconceptions, fantasies, and impossible to meet expectations, and start a new period of more acceptance. Putting aside some regional, physical, and cultural variations, we´re all the same after all.
This is a beautiful story written in an unusual way and inspired in the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice , by Veronica Schanoes :
I open the local newspaper and there it is: the picture of a woman holding a little boy and the title “Maternal Instinct” . It´s a two page article about mother´s day with an interview with a nurse from the maternity ward in one of the local hospitals. She describes her observations of the relationship between mothers and infants in the days they spend there after delivery.
Honestly, I don´t believe in what is usually called maternal instinct. I believe we humans have survival instincts and that includes not letting our offspring die, by keeping it clean, warm, and fed. What people usually mean by maternal instinct – that every woman is a potential mother in terms of loving a child and helping her/him develop into an independent and autonomous human being – is far from being instinctive. That was actually built in society, when the need to worry exclusively about the basic survival of the young, as we, as a species, did in other times, became less pressing.
When society in the 21st century says that every woman, by instinct, is prepared to be a mother, it is shooting itself in the foot. It is actually telling women that there´s something wrong with them if they´re childless, and they should get themselves a child in order to be happy. Also it is telling young women that motherhood doesn´t need planning, that thanks to instincts everything is going to be all right. It also tells men that they have no business in raising children, since it is a task that is performed by women, by instinct. And finally, it turns motherhood into a nightmare to some women and especially to their children, who many times are completely right when they say or imply: I didn´t ask to be born.
In a world where everything one does can be publicized, being a mother turned into something “cool” as long as you keep doing everything you were doing before you got the baby. A mother who changes her life (what would be more than expected, after all) is “uncool”. Gisele Bundchen returned to the catwalk a few months after she had her baby, with the same body as before her pregnancy, which means she´s probably eating very little and not breastfeeding. Brazilian TV Host Adriane Galisteu tells Caras magazine, referring to her pregnancy and the birth of her son, that “having been a mother was the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me”. Wait a minute. Having been? So that´s it? Pregnancy, childbirth and you´re done? And on, and on the list of celebrities goes. And what´s worse is that in a society of consumers, their behavior/image is a consumer good as much as the clothes they wear. People pay lots of money to IVF clinics for treatments that are physically as well as emotionally painful , and many times done for the wrong reasons. Quite recently ,I read about this very well-off couple from a town nearby who gave birth to triplets and decided to leave one of them for adoption in the hospital, because “ it´s just too much work”. The result is that the three babies were taken from them and are now for adoption.
Mothers are not goddesses, or saints, or even martyrs. Mothers are human beings, which means that things can go very wrong if motherhood turns out to be something they suddenly don´t want to or can´t deal with, because they´re already at a point where there´s no way back. In a 21st century civilized world, there´s no worry about the survival of the species. In fact, there are too many people in the planet. We´re not an endangered species, which gives us some choices. And that should be respected. Women should be respected when they decide not to be mothers.
And if women do decide to be mothers, they should get support so they can enjoy the task they signed up to. Motherhood is about caring, giving and helping. It´s about saying NO, because we love so much, but also about saying YES, because we need to let go. It´s about finding inside ourselves an unselfish part of us who will be happy with being left behind. It´s about giving all the tools and telling all the secret formulas, and then getting out of the way, so our children can grow.
Being a mother is not easy, and it can be really crazy sometimes, but it shouldn´t be emotionally painful and destructive, as is the case with many families so often (dangerously often) nowadays.
Those are some ideas I have about motherhood. I´ve always wanted to be a mother; when I was a child I dreamed of having children. Because of that, I understand that it should be really hard if people don´t want it or are not sure about it, and end up having kids for reasons such as trying to fit in, or please a spouse, or even (and yes, I´ve seen that) because all their girlfriends are doing it. I´d like all women to be able and free to choose. It´d be great for the world.
>An Open Letter to Mr. H.C. Andersen, Author – another post at the Wooden Box, following the Fairy Tale series.