By Jennifer Baumgardner and Judy Blume
Dear Judy Blume,
Ever since I was a five-year-old lugging my baby sister around in a laundry basket, hollering, “Make way for the queen!” I knew that someday I would be a mother. Children were so precious. I loved to smell their skin and feel the weight of their warm little bodies slumping against my puny chest as I rocked them to sleep. A committed baby-sitter from the age of eight, by the time I hit high school I took care of the two kids down the block so regularly that it was me - not their parents - who took them to the movies, dentist, and day care. I was the one who brushed their hair and grocery-shopped for them.
Now I’m twenty-six. I look around my studio apartment that I’ve struggled to attain. It’s overflowing with the gadgets that prove I exist: phone, Filofax, and laptop with modem. In between meetings and late meals, amid the lists of people I have to call and notes to myself to remember to brush my own hair and grocery shop, I sometimes wonder where a child would fit into this schedule, into this apartment, into my aspirations. Or, rather, because I know that a baby simply takes, and there would be no tucking the child into the margins, what I now call “life,” and “work” would become marginal. I have to ask myself what am I willing to give up?
I want to believe that I can create both a family and express myself, and so I find myself with a million questions. How did you do it, Judy? When I interviewed you for Ms., you told me that in order to write, to create, you had to protect yourself from critical voices. What about children’s relentless little voices telling you the same story over and over and the prospect of never having privacy not even in the bathroom? Was someone there (like your partner) to help with the children when you were writing? Perhaps having a child forces you to become very focused and, hopefully, creative when you do have an hour or so to write. But then again, I can think of a couple of great writers I admire who dropped out of sight after having children. Sigh.
My questions encompass the age-old motherhood problem: fear of screwing up the kids versus the fear of losing oneself. It’s fitting, of course, that you’re the foremother I’m addressing. I’ve had a relationship with you (one-sided) since I was eight and read Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing laughing like a lunatic, sunk in my lime green bean bag. I then read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret like it was the Talmud before blowing my mind with Forever and Wifey. In a way, you were a surrogate parent to my generation.
And a liberal parent, at that. My mother recently reminded me of a car trip we took when I was about nine years old. I was in the back seat, totally absorbed in Forever, your novel about a teenage girl and her first lover. After I piped up with “What does ‘I’m coming, I’m coming,’ mean?” Mom admitted she felt taken aback that I was learning about orgasms (at least at that age) from you. Did you ever face hostility from parents who felt you were encroaching on their territory? Conversely did your children ever feel exposed having a mother who wrote so intimately about puberty sex, and involuntary erections? Where do writing about it and living with it meet?
On the topic of rhetoric versus reality I’ve been wondering lately whether feminist parents really feel differently than “conservative” parents about their kids being gay or having an abortion, or even having sex. My parents talked to us about sex and birth control freely yet it was also clear that they thought high school was too young to be doing it. So ........ we didn’t tell them. My mother tells me it’s not easy hearing that your own kids are having sex, nor, I suppose, is it easy to have a queer child. Since I came out about being, for lack of a better word, bisexual, my parents have struggled to understand my life even as they support it. And they have felt guilty about their ambivalence because, intellectually and philosophically, they aren’t homophobic. I know that I’ll make mistakes with my children. I know that no matter how hard I try to protect them from disappointment and pain, there will come a day when my child will feel betrayed by me. Still, even if the emotions of parenting aren’t any easier, I’m thankful to second-wave feminists like you who have lessened the pressure to procreate and who have made feminism and motherhood mutually