Monday, July 30, 2012

A Good Mother

I've just returned from a trip back east seeing Will's family. We were going to a Memorial for his mother, Anne "Pete" Baker and along the way stopped to visit his eldest daughter Josina in Minneapolis. Josina calls me one of her mothers.

It was a week to think about mothers, to ponder about what is a good mother -- is there such a thing as a good mother, therefore a bad mother?

I have come to this realization -- self-realization -- because I am a Mom formed by my daughter Maki. Every mother has the choice to be the doting mother, the proud mother, the spoiling mother . . . before they become a mother. Maki taught me that motherhood has nothing to do with any prior thoughts I may have held what a good mother does, what a good mother proudly shares with all her friends about her sons and daughters, how much of her life a mother focuses upon her children, even as they become adults. I say that Maki taught me because the mother I had planned to be was doting and proud and focused on my children. I was ready to support whatever they may want to be. I was completely comfortable to be pleased with average grades and encouraging of passions. As a school teacher for 20 years before becoming a mother there wasn't a "difficult conversation" which could stymie me. Any prejudices I may have harbored had already been taught out of me by my beautiful students. I was ready to be that mother!

And completely without tools for Maki. Every child has needs. And what Maki needed was a mother who was Black and White about everything. She needed a mother who would tell it like it is and not sweeten it up. She needed a mother who could not be maneuvered. She needed a mother who could stand up to perverts even if their attention was craved by my daughter. They all seemed to be sooo nice and attentive and had such nice gifts. She needed a mom who would check every time to see if there were things which belonged to others mixed in with her stuff and coached her to return them each time, a mother with eyes in back of her head, and a mother who never forgot.

Who wants to be that!

We desperately needed help. We found a safe place to go, a little home with a garden, lots of kitties and chickens and puppies and one angry rooster, a lots of places to play without perverts, no serious troubles because you can't steal from a puppy and hurt their feelings. There we were surrounded by four elderly people between 80 and 90, and they being Winnemem Wintu, had seen it all, and they being spiritual actually could read a little girl's mind, and they being elderly did not panic about anything. So mommy could finally have a good rest.

Maki needed a mom who knew Indian Doctors and her mom happened to know three of them and every one of them took her under their wing.

Where was I going with this.

Yes, Good Mothers.

At her Memorial, I heard a lot about Pete Baker as an iconic woman -- artist, life learner, potter, pioneer in 15th century home restorations, mentor, gardener, environmentalist, a woman ahead of her time. My husband wrote on behalf of her grown children, about Pete Baker as Mother, and he read it filled with the pride he had in his mother and his abiding love and understanding for a mother, married at 18, fitting into society, then discovering Simone de Bouvier, discovering underneath the plaster of her inherited home the skeleton of the beautiful 15th century fireplace and firing up the passion and gift she had for restoring old 15th century houses. And she discovered her lifelong love, Bob Baker, builder of wooden boats. In each case she did bring along he flock of five children, until she left with Bob. And then she told them the truth. She loved them and she would always be their mother and she was leaving with Bob. She was honest above all to her children.

At times like this, the children go through difficulties. One's mother stands for so much. So with the seven children Pete had, each grieved her death in their own way.
Some of them felt abandoned in death as they felt when she left with Bob Baker while they moved with their father to England. Some felt loved less because Pete, as she always had with fears, and aches and pains, hid it from them. I believe that she probably hid it from herself, ignoring the signs. Because she was so "out there" with every thing she was passionate about, or believed, the fact that she was silent and died without warning left a bruise.

Her friends who had a life which allowed them to dote, to talk about their children as the focus of their life, to be that kind of mother cannot understand Pete as I probably could not without Maki. But I am Maki's mom. All I can truly say I did successfully was to have hung in there no matter what. In doing so, I earned my adult daughter's affection as her mother and I have this very honest, friendly relationship. She is the person I can express my whole true feelings to. Remarkable. The two of us went through such hell, Maki with her anger and distrust of all human beings, no relationships of any worth and my resentment at never ever being able to be a mom to my liking -- clashing mightily together -- and eventually growing enough to trust each other with our truths like best friends.

I look at Pete Baker and what she gave her children -- wealthy children who do not live a life of privilege which glut our Cable TV Programming in 2012. Every one of her sons and daughters work with their hands, fix their own cars, build things, jerry rig things, have pride in their work, make the best compost if they decide to, do anything they want with confidence without going to college, independent. As for Will, when I met him, lived a life no different from anyone I knew including myself, immigrant, working class, struggling family, my generation being the first to go to college. That freedom from the American caste system is what their mother gave them. This is 2012. They are prepared for life in a way children of their class are not prepared for by following 'the book.' They have less to lose because they want less. Will can build a fire for warmth without matches. He can build shelter. He can live off the grid if he chose. And in this great time of cataclysmic climate change, he is a warrior. He does not need to cling to the American Dream which made his family wealthy and privileged. This is what Pete Baker gave her son -- the permission to be whomever he passionately believed himself to be. Nothing -- not class, color, not fear, not personal history -- nothing can stand in his way.

Long time ago I told Maki that my goal as a mom came down to this, as an older mom who cannot bury my head in the sand because I won't be here for a long time. I want her to have the empowered authority to know with her whole heart that she is able to take care of herself no matter what. She doesn't need anyone to do it for her. She doesn't need to manipulate, lie, steal, and be fearful. I had to say to myself, someone else gets to spoil her -- and I did tell her she spoiled herself enough -- and someone else gets to be the "good mom." But this Mother must believe in her ability to take care of herself even more than she does right now. I believe that she has the ability to do whatever she may want, and the tools I want her to have and which I model for her and which I encourage in her is to rely on herself, not on the backs of others.

I, as a Mom, may have been forced into this condition, but I really don't want it any other way if I really think about it. Pete had no choice but to follow the Time she was born into, a time when women were being born into being free human beings in her class. She could not be tamed into the Fifties when she was made for a timeless time for women, a boundaryless time, a borderless time, a time of creation, a time to respect and honor, in her case as a restoration expert, both ruin and art, the past and freedom. So rest in peace, and hear! hear! Mother Anne "Pete" Baker! I am a mother cut from the same cloth, although awkward about what you do with great class, confidence and panache! Your son and I are proud of you!!

Following, the full text of Will's remembrance of his Mother, Anne "Pete" Baker

Mom Remembered

Delivered at the memorial gathering held in Westport, Massachusetts, July 28, 2012

Hello, I'm Will Doolittle, Pete's eldest child of seven in all. With her first husband, Duncan Doolittle she had me, Harriet, Abby, Elisha and Nicole. With Bob Baker she had Ben and Sarah. Interestingly, Sarah and I have the same birthday, fifteen years apart.

I experienced my mother as an intensely curious and creative person with a keen intellect, for whom every activity was an adventure. On every visit with her I could count on being taken on a mission of discovery in her passion of that moment. She had a deep respect for the natural world and was a passionate advocate for living lightly on the Earth. She spoke against the excesses and destruction caused by greed. And she rarely met a rule that she didn't break, or at least try to.

Abby outlined our Mom's early years, which hint at the person she later became, but, as Mom outlines in her book Collecting Houses, it was our move to a new home in 1957 that was to be the catalyst for a profound change -- for her and for all of us. It had been her grandmother's house, a large rambling mansion that concealed at its heart a pre-revolutionary-war post and beam house.

In that era, my sister Harriet remembers Mom as being really good at getting us involved in creative activities. For example, in local horse shows our family consistently won in the costume category, as Mom would came up with imaginative story ideas and costumes.
It seemed like she always had a project going, like refinishing an old toy chest and painting a beautiful design on it, or taking the paint off of an old door. But the creative focus that changed everything was the house itself.

I remember coming home from school one day to a kitchen with air and surfaces thick with plaster dust. And there was a gaping hole which revealed an ancient cooking fireplace, in a wall which that morning had been neatly plastered over to hide the enormous old lintel and baking oven that someone had considered too old-fashioned.

For us kids this was a time when we came home each day with anticipation of the new discovery that would be waiting as fireplaces and mantlepieces and beams and passageways were released from their 50-year entombment.

But this fire of creative energy was also the flame that burned up her marriage, which began for Mom at age 18, and produced 5 children within 12 years. She began listening to Peter, Paul and Mary, one of their songs being "If I Had a Hammer", and I remember at about age 11 seeing "The Feminine Mystique" by early feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir on her bedside table.

She started a business selling the old floorboards, molding and mantlepieces that she would acquire by various means, not always exactly legal. Often, one or more of us kids provided an innocent cover for her trespass of crumbling old buildings. With crowbar and hammer in hand, she would ease the beautifully handcrafted woodwork off of the walls and into her car to save them from certain decomposition. If anyone questioned what she was doing, she was not above using charm and cluelessness in the service of rescuing old things from oblivion.

So, this new woman my mother was becoming was outgrowing a marriage based on conventional forms and expectations. She and my father divorced and she ended up marrying Bob Baker and continued to solidify the life she had begun.

My sister Sarah notes that Mom was self-taught in every one of the many disicplines and endeavors she took on. Sarah remembers Mom crouched over a pottery kick wheel (she wanted to learn first with a kickwheel, before going to the easier motorized wheel) with a book propped up in front of her, learning to throw pots, through research and trial and error. She had taken up pottery because she wanted to make pieces like the shards she had found in old houses. And she traveled to Egypt and Turkey to study arabic ceramic designs.

Mom developed many interests and skills, some of which you will hear more about this afternoon, but the list includes photography, old boats, historic woodwork, historic preservation, architecture, archeology, carpentry, stone- and brickmasonry, waterpowered mills, drawing (freehand and architectural), pottery, Middle Eastern design, gardening, beekeeping, house and boat painting, computer skills, database development, photoshop, community organizing, writing, dendrochronology, Norman Isham, kayaking, and even studied dogs and their care... and I'm sure I've left out a lot, to which each of you could add something.

While she loved her children, being a Mother was not the focus of our Mom's life, and she didn't allow many people to get close to her. She didn't want to be constricted by anyone's concern for her wellbeing, as I found out when I reacted with horror when she casually told me (at 80 years old) that she had crawled under the house to check on a leaky pipe. When I told her she should at least tell somebody where she was, she got angry and said she didn't want even me to interfere with her activities. And thus she lived, and died, on her own terms.

Our mother was in many ways a woman before her time, who earned respect in many fields through her own efforts, with the power of her intellect and her enthusiasm, as well as her charm and just plain stubbornness.

But I believe she has left a legacy in the many people and places that she has touched with the love she shared, both for the natural things that the Earth gives us, and the beauty we add to those things through our hands and our hearts.

1 comment:

  1. Misa-- My heart goes out to you as fellow mother--and I thank you for giving me new 'handle' on another tool to use in my experiences as mom and grandma: turning my heart on low.....good advice! I know your daughter has received and been molded by much good from you...when she may be conscious of it is of course another story. Treasure the precious moments! My own recent experience: after a couple years of not hearing appreciation or thanks for many caring acts including taking care of my grandbabies, my son came to me in a most precarious moment of his decision-making re his relationship with his sons' mom: he asked for my advice. Yes, the verbal respect and affection I longed for may not have come in a form I expected, but when chips were down for him, he knew who was his best, wisest, and most honest friend!--AND he thanked me for it. So all I can say is the simple platitudes do work: 'keep your heart open' 'walk your path' 'love the ones you're with' 'hang loose''keep believing' and now, 'turn the heart down low'..blessings, Laura O. from 'Jefferson'


"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.