061109 INTRODUCTION to Mother’s 1953 Diary
++ SEARCHING FOR THE TRUTH AMIDST THE LIES ++
I worked on transcribing this 1953 diary until after midnight last night, and woke up this morning feeling probably just like I am ‘supposed’ to feel: guilty, ashamed of myself, grateful, and sure I am ‘making things up’ regarding the meanness of my mother.
How would a sociologist describe the post-WWII American suburban mindset? This diary is describing one family’s experience of giving birth and raising babies and toddlers of the Baby Boom generation. Perhaps it was like nobody really knew who they were or who the world as a whole was after the terrible experiences of that war. A new world was being ‘made up’ as the days, weeks and months passed on without having a clear picture or guide to exactly what had really just happened and what this new world was going to be like.
Many adults in America were sharing in the experience of being on the cusp of a new world. The one they grew up in had changed, leaving them as newly weds and new parents having to look around themselves for images that would shoe them how they were supposed to proceed with their lives after the Great War had ended. Women, who had left their homes to go to work during the war, many for the first time in their lives, were forced to abandon the world of employment and return to their kitchens so that men coming home from overseas could find jobs.
My mother evidently had a vast basis of information, knowledge and experience about living the ideal of a ‘gentile’ life as she lived it in her early childhood and heard about it continually from both her grandmother and her mother as she grew up. Even though any hope of riches vanished from my mother’s family when the stock market crashed in 1929, the underlying beliefs, if not fantasies, of what the ‘good’ life was supposed to be like and of the role that mother’s and wives played in creating some version of this ‘good’ life for their families, remained.
My mother took her own history of understanding a woman’s role in a family into her marriage at a time that powerful forces and influences entered the American mindset (our social, cultural, collective Theory of Mind). Something had to fill the vacuum created in the ongoing experience of being an adult as social change created by the transition from war to post-war happened during the years my parents were first married and began to have their children. I believe that what we now call ‘consumerism’ found its perfect home within this vacuum.
My mother wrote her 1953 diary before the introduction of television into the ‘average’ American home. Yet I believe the image she was ‘acting out’ in her life was already well formed and well informed about how to be and do her job perfectly both within her own mind and within the American collective Theory of Mind. My mother was immersed in this collective ideal of the perfect wife and the perfect mother. Consumerism, as it kicked into high gear, simply fed into this image so women like my mother could do their perfect job more perfectly.
A woman’s job of caring for her family had always in the past required the expenditure of vast amounts of mental and physical resources, time, dedication and stamina. From the introduction of electricity and plumbing into the average home, on through the introduction of refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and all manner of appliances designed and intended to make the job easier, women were fed images of what their perfect selves in their perfect homes taking care of their perfect husbands and children could – and should – actually look like.
It is this conflict between the image of perfection and the reality that went on behinds the scenes that strikes me most profoundly when I consider my mother’s version of my early life as it stands in powerful conflict to my own version. As I read her words I doubt my own reality and assume, as I always did for those first 18 years of my life, that my mother is RIGHT and therefore I am WRONG. Then I shift into the ‘thank you’ mode. Who am I to complain? I had two healthy (?) parents, a roof over my head, even a bedroom. I had toys, books read to me, a yard to play in, clean clothes, good food, a regular schedule, and parents who adored me.
Really? Or was I (and my siblings) anything more than a cut-out stand in for being a real child? What happened to all of ME that did not fit my mother’s perfect picture of what the world should be like? Would she ever write in her diary about THOSE aspects of being the mother of me? No, I know she wouldn’t.
Yet the set-up is that I am supposed to look the other way. I see am supposed to see only the good, as I pretend along with her that everything was always fine, perfect, normal – and only good get better with lots of dreaming, planning, luck, work – and most importantly, the cooperation of all the players on her life’s stage. After all, she had enough props to play her part well. She had her vision of a perfect husband – handsome, educated, employed. She had her version of the perfect family: Boy first. Girl second. And another (hopefully boy though it didn’t really matter if it was a girl because it was the third) baby on the way.
The Great War had ended. America was on the road to more power and riches than anyone could really conceive of though they were taught how to imagine it. Everything would be fine now, if only everyone always did the best they could do at being perfect. And if anything ‘bad’ happened while we were all on this happy march to our glorious futures, we were no doubt told to put THOSE skeletons right into our soon-to-be-overflowing closets and close the door tight. As Dr. James Hillman might say, we were supposed to march onward as the good Christian Soldiers we all were, separating the angel from the devil, the angelic from the demonic so that we could all worship the former and ignore the latter.
In the end we could be so easily fooled that we had accomplished our mission. We could all be perfect now, haven taken any measures necessary to achieve this goal, even if that meant beating the children to make them better, too. After all, the end always justifies the means. Who am I now to question this grand and glorious process?
I would rather ask, “What power does the hidden truth have to change the course of our lives?” To answer this question for myself I take the truth that is within me and read between my mother’s own lines and between her own lies. I will give her the leeway that she might not have KNOWN she was lying to herself and hiding the truth. That does not change the fact that she did.