Monday, 10 June 2013

making an exhibition of ourselves : story of mum

story of mum exhibition
The way identities develop has always been fascinating to me ~ there's the whole nature versus nurture debate, along with all those other elements which have an impact on who we are.  Becoming a parent is a time of great change, perhaps the greatest change over the shortest period of time that most of us will undergo, and as well as being amazing and incredible and awe~inspiring, it can also be terrifying ~ at least it was to me.  Becoming a parent yourself when your experience of being parented was overwhelmingly negative is never going to be easy, and it's only now, when my children are eleven, ten, and nine (well, she's nine tomorrow), that I feel like I'm finally doing it right ~ for a good solid ten minutes every single day!

Over at Story of Mum is an ongoing celebration of motherhood ~ we're so good at spotting the patches we missed, the letters we meant to send, the conversations we didn't get round to, but often rubbish at recognising what we've done fabulously ~ we tend to be the one behind the camera, not the one in focus in front of it . . .  Mums making an exhibition of ourselves is an attempt to redress the balance, to put ourselves in that spotlight, so we can all been seen, heard and valued for who we are, and what we do.  Pippa invited me to host a virtual mini exhibition here at abstractLucas, to accompany the actual exhibition travelling around the world.  By encouraging mums to share their stories through a range of media ~ photography, poetry, writing, video ~ we can celebrate motherhood, in all its variety.

BritMums - Leading the Conversation
Participants are invited to select an item from the existing online exhibition, create an exhibit to add to the collection, and share their thoughts on these as well as their identity in motherhood.  So here it goes . . .

I loved looking through the I'm a mum and ... gallery ~ so many different takes on what we are ... who we are!  These were my absolute favourites, so I'm completely cheating by choosing four when you're only supposed to choose one or perhaps two...well, I guess I'm a mum and a rule breaker!  Here they are :

The lady at the top left somehow gives the impression of being a calm, serene influence ~ head tilted, making eye contact with all of us ~ relaxed, self confident and patient.  Perhaps this is the message she brings, a version of don't sweat the small stuff, or choose your battles carefully ~ she looks like she'd have no trouble being firm when needed, but also excellent at thoroughly spoiling grandchildren.  

The top right picture encapsulates parenthood for me, even without reading the words ~ taking your own photo, compete with a multi~coloured description ~ looks like positive parenting to me!  A sense of humour at the wiping bums and doing up several pairs of shoes before you get to do your own is an important quality I feel ~ even if it is that gallows type humour where you either laugh or cry...or both...

The bottom left picture features books ~ I love books and have been waving them around in front of my small people since ... well, since they were smaller people (and I'm sure I can see some Charlie and Lola in there...)  She has nail varnish on (something that rarely makes it to the top of my to~do list) so presents to me as being organised and confident, and while I have no idea why she self identifies as a bear, I'm big on in~jokes and assume she knows what she means!  I'd love to know though ~ guesses anyone?

The bottom right photo raises the idea of one parent taking on the role of both mum and dad ~ I remember Mr Manley's dread of taking one of our offspring to the local toddler group without me ~ conversations stopped when he was near, and his friendly but nervous chatting was sometimes misinterpreted as a come~on.  I can imagine a man participating in what is still a relatively female dominated sphere can be intimidating at times, but the confidence to challenge the expectations (and, dare I say it, the linguistic bias evident in Story of Mum) indicates he is able to hold his own!

* * * * *

I know I'm supposed to choose one exhibit to highlight, but I read through the various submissions to Memorable Moment of Mum, and was stopped in my tracks by the incredible article by Sarah Waldin.  In it, she shares her experience of post~natal illness with us ~ a heart~rending but matter~of~fact window into her thinking at the time, and how she was able to find her way back to her family.

This is how it begins:

Last Saturday, my youngest child turned 8 years old. One of the most remarkable things about this event each year is that it provides me with a moment of recall and reflection: of a different, tougher time in my life - a time when I barely held on...

... a time when I was in so much pain that taking my life, or leaving my family was the only solution I could see to saving them all.
Thank you Sarah, for letting us in.  Your strength and courage are an inspiration to me, and there are salted tears on my face as I write this.  I spent time there too, in the 3am darkness, in pain but with that frightening clarity of thought about the steps you need to take to protect your family from yourself.  As you point out ~ so many of us have.
* * * * *
And on to my submission . . .

I have a question for you all ~ are there labels out there which you are prepared to accept (or passionately resist)?  Other facets of your life, other parts of who you are, what you do, who you consider yourself to be?

I struggle with some of the labels that get thrown at me ~ check this out for one that I can't stand ~ partly because these might not match up to the way that I see myself, but also partly because I hate the idea that what I am ... who I am ... is so simplistic that it could be summed up in just a few words.  I wonder if that comes from an inherent need to be different, to be special, to be unique ~ no idea who said it, but consider this ~ yes, you're absolutely unique ... just like everybody else ...

Personally, I think it's the vocab and phrasing I find difficult to swallow.  In my mind there's a world of difference between a label and a definition.  While I have, over the years, had many labels ~ some of which I've stuck on myself, others of which have been attached to me by other people, I would not consider them to define me.  I find it empowering to pick and choose labels, like penny sweets in an old~fashioned newsagents ... today I'll be a charades champion ~ Petal and I are the winning team so far; a cook ~ brownies for Brownies and cupcakes for school ~ Petal's birthday;  a blogger, since I'm writing this;  a record keeper, with Smiler's appointment last week to log in his ever expanding file;  a carer, since we're on nosebleed alert complete with a pile of gauze swabs and extra meds;  knitter, as Petal's owl bag is going to be emerging and worked on once she's in bed.  Others are more elemental, including (for me) womanparentloverpartner ~ while these are not necessarily permanent, they are basic in that if they are somehow 'lost' they would shift my perception of myself.

The tricky thing about labels is that, to some extent, as much as we might resist them on an individual basis, they are, or at least can be, useful, like a badge of membership, a shortcut which explains (at least a facet of) your role.  I'm involved with Bristol Parent Carers ~ a group committed to working with parent carers and services (NHS, education, local businesses and so on) to improve our little corner of the world, to try and either level the playing field or else improve  wheelchair access, better lighting, and equalities training for the staff.  By waving the parent carer card, by positively taking ownership of it, BPC have been able to evolve into an organisation whose input is actively sought by the Local Authority and others on various different issues.

Maybe it's to do with choice, and control ~ if as individuals we stick on our own labels and feel able to peel them off as desired, we're okay with that, while in contrast if we are labelled / pigeon~holed / judged / assessed by others, we lose that autonomy, that ability to pick and choose who and what we are.  Perhaps underneath all those labels, all those luggage tags and all the post~it notes, underneath those basic building blocks, those weighty words and ponderous titles ~ perhaps all we really are is ourselves.

What do you think?


  1. What a fab exhibition! I love your selection of images and prose, and your thoughts on these. It's so fascinating to hear what others think about how we name and present ourselves, how our choice of labels are interpreted.

    Also very interesting to hear your thoughts and questions on what it means to choose to carry a label - when they can be useful and when they are not.

    The mum label has become such a huge part of my identity. I struggled to give myself any other for a while. Now, as my kids are 2 and 5, I'm starting to see different facets of myself emerging again - it's scary and exciting.

    Did you take an I'm a mum and a... photo with the words you share above? If so, I'd love to add that to our gallery. If you haven't yet, make one...? x

    1. It's on the to~do list ~ should be able to add it tomorrow! Thanks Pippa!


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