Last week I re-watched most of The Walking Dead to find out exactly how many times I almost flipped a table and stormed out of that relationship. And I noticed something: motherhood.
I mean, I noticed it again. It’s hard to talk about Lori, Carol, Michonne, and now Maggie without thinking about the way that the show constructs motherhood as a concept. (And I’ll get back to that in a future post.)
This time as I was watching I noticed that the thing that Lori was clowned on the most was a thing that could possibly save me as a mother.
Let me digress for a second: the thing I love about my Facebook feed is that it is a finely-tuned Pandora station. Through a complex algorithm (mostly “likes” and unfriending motherfuckers), I get all the goodness delivered to my doorstep. And, like Pandora, some of it is old news.
So when this gem showed up in my feed proclaiming that to continue being creatives, women should stop at one kid, I looked at the date and dismissed it as old news that didn’t affect my life at all.
The thing is, though, that I couldn’t really dismiss it as I looked around at the wee monsters and their associated chaos. So, reluctantly, I revisited the post and had a conversation with other mothers — strangers to me — about the article and the ideas in it. It’s an old article so there were rebuttals and responses.
It might have been easy to think that those internet strangers and I have nothing in common; that their struggles aren’t mine; that my children feed my creativity, but Alice Walker, a favorite of mine, is cited as an example of a successful writer whose career might otherwise have been thwarted if she had more than her one child, her daughter Rebecca. And it stung to read that she thinks that female artists “should have children –- assuming this is of interest to them –- but only one… because with one you can move. With more than one you’re a sitting duck.” Um. I want desperately to be outraged by that, but… I can’t be. So it was heartening to see a rebuttal came from another favorite, Zadie Smith, author and mother of two.
I needed the larger conversation to include Black women and other women of color just like the Facebook conversation I was having did. I needed to see this argument happening between women I admire. Women who don’t agree on whether children sap creative energy or just time.
So back to Lori Grimes. Here’s the way she was mocked and clowned:
Now, if we can juggle the idea that Lori was a bad mother because she didn’t know where Carl was (note that he outlived her) with the adage that “It takes a village to raise a child,” then I’m left feeling conflicted.
Here’s why and here’s what I noticed re-watching the series:
Where them Rick Grimes father memes at?
Judith Grimes may be having a better childhood than my kids. She has a village. Everyone is involved in her caretaking. Oh, we’re escaping from the prison that’s been overrun? Let me just grab this here baby. Oh, we need formula. Let me get on my motorcycle and scour the countryside. Oh, I need to go kill some Wolves; Jessie, can you watch Judith while I unleash the fury?
Yes, my kids aren’t in danger from walkers and Judith isn’t going to any Frozen-themed birthday parties, but I’d still say that Judith is getting the better deal. This is not to say I’m friendless. Despite my curmudgeonly nature, I have a village. BUT. Most of them live out of state. The mothers among them, whether near or far, are in the same boat as me; I know because I’ve asked. “Isolation” is a word that surfaces again and again in these conversations.
David Roberts discusses this in an article where he posits that the way our public spaces (or lack thereof) creates and maintains “the status quo of default isolation.” More to my Judith point, he notes that for most of human history “the tribe, not the nuclear family, was the primary unit.” THAT. That is what Judith has: a semi-nomadic tribe where the responsibility of keeping little asskicker alive is diffused.
It seems important to note, too, that it’s a narcissistic view of parenting to think that you (and maybe your partner) have all the answers and can provide the optimal, well-rounded adult role model(s). You can’t. Other adults not only provide support for the parent, but they make the kid(s) better. Lori wasn’t teaching Carl to fish; Shane was. Carol was teaching the neighborhood kids how to disembowel their enemies with a blade, not their parents.
Now I’m not saying that Lori shouldn’t have mostly know where Carl was, but I am saying that Carol knowing where Sophia was didn’t keep her alive. Michonne, too, knew where Andre was when he was killed. I know exactly where my kids are 99% of the time and that isn’t helping me meet deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise.
What has kept Judith (and Carl in earlier seasons) alive is the group — the surrogacy of the village that I was told I would need to raise a child.
Oprah has famously said that any kids she might have had “They would have ended up on the equivalent of the Oprah show talking about me; because something (in my life) would have had to suffer and it would’ve probably been them.” And that’s some savage, but true, shit. I’m writing right now and that means I’m not playing with my kids.
So if Zadie Smith or Shonda Rhimes say it’s possible, isn’t that in large part because they can afford “help”? If one pays a village, it’s still a village. It’s still what Judith has and what my children and I do not.
What’s more, it seems to be to be a specific sign of assimilation/colonization. The change to group’s social structure is a fundamental and insidious change. That colonization happens in these seemingly small ways that have huge impacts: mental health, creativity, interpersonal relationship strength, caregiver-child bonds, is easy to ignore, to discount, to think of the old(er) way of doing it as quaint or outdated. But support is not a flip phone. A village of women/equals to rely on and to trade not only childcare but solace and support with isn’t an obsolete idea, but it is one that modern life, as structured, makes almost impossible.
Between this lack of social support for parents and their children and the lack of institutional support for families, I’m left wondering if Lori didn’t have it figured out. I mean she managed to be a contributing part of the group, maintain a relationship (sometimes two), and keep a kid alive – and manufacture another. I’m not saying that she was my favorite character ever, I’m not saying that there’s not an argument to be made for the nuclear family (but bet I won’t be making it), and I’m not saying that I want to live in Heinleinian multi-parent commune. What I am saying is this: this article would be longer, but I need to go pick my kids up, so something has to give.