Storytelling By Mothers by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan


Today, I watched First They Killed My Father, from director Angelina Jolie shot from the perspective of a five-year-old child experiencing personally the decimation of her family in Cambodia during the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Last night’s selection found me watching Bridget Jones’s Baby directed by Sharon Maguire. These two movies couldn’t be further apart, but here they are together bouncing around in my brain transforming into a blog post for Motherhood Later.

Silence surrounds me: my husband is working and my daughter is away visiting her cousin for two weeks. Sitting in pj’s digesting Jolie’s film, I realize that my pajamas house this artist when I’m without armor, which is often required when I want to absorb my rising thoughts and massage them into coherent written paragraphs.

It’s in these in-between moments of utter aloneness that I find my voice and can pause to connect it to paper. Per the usual sacrifice, I’d like to note that I’m choosing not to go to the laundromat and a set of cascading micro-decisions that began with watching Jolie’s movie this morning will now culminate into how my time is structured for the next few days. As I ponder my words, I realize why I don’t write more.

Often the problem with writing or any other form of artmaking is the time required to actually do it. And the conflict that arises between serving oneself or serving others. In the quest to try something new: I’m going to skip the justifications that I usually add to my posts to quiet the internal voices that whisper “I’m being lazy” as I navigate my choices.

I watched Jolie’s movie because I wanted to feel something and I did. I watched Bridget Jones’s Baby for the same reason. I cried during and at the end of both movies.

After Jolie’s film, I read a few reviews and found that an important point is missing about what makes the film powerful. With these two films I asked myself, “Why stop my day? Why put a total pause on my chores to engage here?”

After a bag of organic sour cream and onion potato chips and a big not-organic glass of chocolate hemp milk I came to this: storytelling—the importance of hearing the fears and cries of children and of mothers.

When I became a mom something was irrevocably changed in me. As this is a blog by and for mothers I am not going to spread myself too thin and be inclusive of fathers. Becoming a mother at 41 years old was beyond my imagining in both the pain and joy of a process that continues with twelve years in. I haven’t done anything else for as long as I have been a mother.

The storytelling that continues to be needed today, now in 2018 is from mothers. Yup, the saggy boob group Hollywood likes to forget. As a society, American culture hates mothers for all the messy, un-sexual ways in which the care of others cannot be measured monetarily.

My feminist soapbox is being dragged across the floor. I can feel the rage my statement evokes in me and I pause myself. I look at the bracelet I’m wearing that I bought myself recently, which has green beads and a dragon charm. The green beads represent the heart chakra and the dragon is about transforming powerful negative energy into powerful positive energy. I have been angry for a long time. Anger is the energy of the warrior that wants to fight to change things. Anger is armor that women wear as they experience all that #MeToo is giving voice to. Anger divides and keeps wounds open.

I would like to do something. I would like to say something different.

The line in Bridget Jones’s Baby that keeps resonating in me happens during a sonogram with 8 weeks left in the pregnancy when the “two fathers” are not present and Bridget’s doctor gives the geriatric mother (how the 43-year-old Bridget is medically labeled) a pep talk. Emma Thompson’s character, the stuffy doctor, says “You don’t really need them you know… You’re absolutely capable of doing this on your own. I did.”

For me, the moment isn’t about not needing fathers, rather it’s a more subtle acknowledgement of the messiness of motherhood and how it actually stands outside of patriarchal ownership of children, resources, appropriate roles for women, and the uncomfortable and uncontrollable timing of babies. It was written by a mom, said by a mom and heard by a soon-to-be mom. That’s a lot of momminess. It’s the storytelling that women need to hear. The alternate view; the other 50% of what the world experiences—albeit in this case a subsection of the world’s women. But it is possible to extrapolate what women have done and continue to do: keep the world’s population going with or without men’s participation.

In First They Killed My Father the nuance of motherhood is very much in the telling of the story. Jolie’s eye as a mother in the director’s chair keeps leading the viewer to the subtle absorption of horror through a child’s perspective. I felt as though I was watching a handbook of how break down society even as motherhood stood quietly fighting off that destruction. So beautifully noted at the end of the movie with a mother giving birth. Hope still lives as babies come into this world no matter the terror reigning there.

The moment when—near the beginning of the movie—the camera focuses on the bright yellow flip-flop sandals once they are removed and taken spoke to me of the small little ways mothers give beauty, which shows up again after the mother has died and Loung is hanging flowers on her makeshift shelter. This connection and resilience comes from the act of mothering. Jolie’s direction gives the story authenticity through all the subtle moments of touching, hugging, and quiet strength shown in the face of the mother. The survival of five children out of seven is a testament to Loung’s mother. And while the memoir may have more depth about the mother, from the child’s perspective “mother” is everything.

Motherhood and the experiences it informs impact us all and is infused in everything whether acknowledged or not.

I keep hoping that the evolution of society will hold a gentle place my daughter: who is smart, strong, and beautiful. That the storytelling of mothers will continue to make everyone aware that all our stories create a mosaic that brings forth our best and messy selves. That sitting in one’s pajamas choosing not to do laundry and write about motherhood instead is as valuable as earning a paycheck. Both are needed.

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