Falling

When Naomi Gaines threw her babies into the river, we were shocked. The truth is, her impulse isn't all that rare.

Two days after smothering the baby and a day after telling her mother and a trusted friend what she had done, Amanda's mother checked into a suburban motel room and shot herself. There was some brief talk about whether to prosecute the grandmother and the friend who, as a licensed social worker, was obliged to report instances of suspected child abuse.

The final entry on the website notes that Amanda had "gone to be with Jesus": "Psalms 145:18 'The Lord is close to all who call on Him, yes, to all who call on Him sincerely. He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him. He hears their cries for help and rescues them. The Lord protects all those who love Him."

 

Perfection

Several months ago, I tripped across an online bulletin board where dozens of mothers with small children were raving about someone known as the Fly Lady. A few clicks of the mouse and I learned that Fly Lady is the queen bee of a cyber community that holds as its aim the mastery of housework. All new members are treated to an electronic course in FLYing--that is, conquering the chaos children bring to a house. Most of the sample tips looked like those online exercise and diet programs that are so popular: "Week One, cut out lard and take a five-minute walk around the block..."

One tip in particular stuck in my mind. Every night, without exception, followers were to scrub their kitchen sink to a shine. Fly Lady's reasoning is that everyone has time to do this one thing, and looking at a sparkling sink will make you feel empowered.

The newspapers made something of the fact that when police searched Naomi Gaines's house, the beds were made and toys were tucked on shelves. It's as if we expected to find things as out of order there as they were in her psyche. Chances are that with her two older kids in Chicago, she simply had a chance to pick up at last.

Then again, maybe she had already formulated a plan, and wanted to leave things in order. Maybe she feared that the world--the same one that was too cruel to care for her children in her absence--would pass one last unfriendly judgment on her un-shiny sink and, therefore, her mothering skills.

This seems far-fetched, I know. But remember that mothers are expected to be perfect. So when we fail, we are met with scorn and derision. And when the standard is perfection, well, failure is inevitable.

That's not even the cruelest part of the bargain: The ambivalence that's created when a mother realizes she can't live up to this ideal is supposed to remain as buried as the Dropping Dream. The ambivalent mother, we assume, just isn't trying hard enough. Or, worse, she doesn't really love her kids.

Indeed, if you've made it this far in this story, you will have noticed the number of times I seek to convince you that, Dropping Dream and all, I am a loving mother. I have a whole shelf of books by women who confess to feeling ambivalent about the experience of motherhood, and every single volume is littered with entreaties for readers to believe that the author really loves her kids.

And so I say, fuck you, Fly Lady. Most days I don't have time to clean my sink. But more to the point, God help me if I live to see the day where my self-esteem is tied to the sheen of my porcelain.

 

The Obvious Question

On July 7, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office charged Gaines with second-degree murder and with attempted murder in the second degree. Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner says she does not believe Gaines would succeed with an insanity defense. Gaines's attorney has said nothing, but has asked for more time to formulate a plan. In the meantime, Gaines has been committed to a state hospital for 60 days of observation and evaluation.

Set aside

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