Most years, Mother's Day has meant work — book tours or academic conferences in faraway cities. It was the only consistent day of the year when a maternal feminist author like me could get a well-paying gig. I almost never spent the day with my kids. I called my mother and grandmother as an afterthought. I was more interested in the politics of parenting than in cards or phone calls.
This year I refused work commitments because I didn't know what my caregiving role with my mom would call for. She was at home in hospice. And dying is such a nonlinear task.
But now my mother (and all my grandmothers) are dead. I suppose I could have traveled.
Back when Mother's Day only meant (paid) work and readings, we wrote and talked about the thanklessness of caregiving; the difference between the experience of motherhood and the normative violence of the institution; the isolation and cultural exclusions.
It was like Adrienne Rich said: “The worker can unionize, go out on strike; mothers are divided from each other in homes, tied to their children by compassionate bonds; our wildcat strikes have most often taken the form of physical or mental breakdown.”
I haven’t seen many people in the past couple of years. Haven’t written much, either. With one kid in college, another in preschool, and my mom in hospice, I haven’t produced much evidence of a life of the mind.
"I want to be the female Bukowski, the female Burroughs," zinester China Martens wrote in The Future Generation, "but instead I’m just the female."
"Seems like the role of eldercare is always left to the gay in the family," my comic-making friend Annie Murphy said when she found me here in Santa Fe trying to take care of my mom. "I always thought it was because the gay didn't have kids, but that's obviously not the case for you."
Just the female.
Next week I'll fly to Los Angeles to hang out with my daughter after she has surgery. I'll make her some Thai soup.
I remember what the graphic novelist Katherine Arnoldi told Girl-Mom editor Allison Crews just a few weeks before Allison died: That if we were going to be mothers and writers, we would need long lives. That seemed to me like such a strange thing for Katherine to say at the time--Allison and I had always wanted to do everything all at once.
The last time I saw China Martens, we ate a lot. We cooked. My chef friend Deena cooked for us. We made longer-lasting things, too--strung words into zines and photos into narratives--but then we cooked more and we ate.
When my mom died last month, Deena came over and started roasting chiles for mole sauce. It would take three days. My son, Maxito, stirred and learned to strain (“We like this part, we don’t like that part”). I posted pictures on Facebook and China commented: "I love all of you people and how you know how to live; what to do; get together; cook."
I don't think I know how to live yet, but I know what she means: You walk through all these fires. Then you get together, cook. You pretend you can stretch across your estrangements and take care of each other.
And somehow in that the romance of being the female Bukowski, the female Burroughs, begins to fade.
Just being the female is not so bad.
But I understand now why Katherine said we’ll need long lives.
Because this caring for each other thing takes a lot of time. And there’s other work to do, too.
Tom Ka Gai
The Thai soup recipe Deena found for me doesn’t take long once you’ve got your ingredients together. (It’d be pretty easy to veganize it, too.)
Start by mincing the lower portion of a lemongrass stalk. (Hang on to the upper stalk for the soup pot).
Now set 6 cups of good chicken stock over high-medium and bring that to a boil.
Add a cup or two of fresh or roasted chicken or turkey and a cup of sliced shitake mushrooms.
Add all the lemongrass, too, plus 4 kaffir lime leaves and a couple of fresh chilies, minced (or a ½ teaspoon of dried chili). Boil that for 5-8 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked.
Now turn the heat down to medium and add a thumb-size piece of galangal or ginger, 1/2 a can of coconut milk, two tablespoons of fish sauce, and any extra vegetables you want—maybe a sliced red pepper. Stir and simmer that for a couple of minutes.
Now add a couple of tablespoons of lime juice, and a teaspoon of brown sugar.
If it’s not spicy enough, add more chili. If it’s not salty enough, add more fish sauce. If it’s not creamy enough, add more coconut milk.
Finally, have a handful of fresh coriander leaves, a handful of fresh basil leaves, and a few sliced green onions to sprinkle over your soup before you serve it up.