Motherhood = Pain

My friend Miranda has told me that I am the greatest example of maternal fortitude she has ever seen, because once she walked in to see me sleeping on the couch with my two-year-old lying on top of me, repeatedly kicking me in the head, and I refused to wake up.

Well, yeah. I needed that nap. I wasn’t getting up for anything.

It’s something they don’t mention to prospective mothers much, if at all. You get warnings and lots of jovial comments about ‘oh, you’re going to be so tired!’ because sleep deprivation isn’t a form of torture or anything. You get plenty of warnings about labour, like, way more warnings than you ever wanted because no new mother needs to know exactly how many things can go hideously wrong, she’s freaked out enough. Tantrums, baby illnesses, yep, all covered.

You know what nobody ever, ever mentioned to me?

You spend the first few years of your child’s life with them beating you up.

Seriously. First with the babies it’s eye-gouging, hair-yanking and getting that soft little skull slammed into your face repeatedly. (It’s not that soft. Really.) Then they get bigger and learn to punch and kick and flail and bite and all sorts of super fun stuff that you can’t stop them from doing no matter how much you say ‘no’ because they’re toddlers and they have no impulse control and will hit you without thinking it through.

I’ve been kicked and smacked in the face, the teeth, the boob, the stomach, and all sorts of other places. She’s bludgeoned my husband’s testicles so often that we’re starting to wonder if she’s trying to say she doesn’t want a baby sister. And while it’s been on purpose a few times, much more often it’s just a by-product of Random Angry Flailing or attempts to get my attention by someone who doesn’t yet understand the difference between a gentle poke and a ringing slap.

So two things –

One: If you are writing a small child, like two to four, and you’ve never had to handle one? They’re not as helpless as you think. They wriggle like eels, kick like tiny mules, scream like air-raid sirens and are almost as accomplished as cats at escape-artistry. If you want to hold onto a toddler who’s really fighting hard, you want to wrap them in a blanket or put them in a bag or something because suddenly they’ll have eight limbs and no spine and… well, take a very large cat and try to stuff it into a pillow-case. Like that, but with fewer claws and a much stronger punch. And it hurts when they hit you – remember, they’re much stronger for their size than you are!

Two: If you ever wonder why mothers take so much crap from their kids, remember this. I have taken more physical abuse from my daughter in nearly three years than I did during the entirety of a bullying-heavy school experience, and I still adore her and would do anything for her. I suspect some kind of evolutionary fail-safe is involved to the tune of ‘offspring = love, do not murder’ that completely overrides any sense of self-preservation, and I have no reason to believe that it’s going to shut off when she becomes a sullen teenager. Mothers get pretty inured to this stuff is my point, I guess. It’s not any kind of impulse to martyrdom, it really does stop bothering you after a while. So any mother of one or more children (assuming she’s been caring for them herself, not passing them off to a nanny or something) probably isn’t going to collapse sobbing if she gets hit because OMG physical violence is so completely outside her experience.

It’s not. It’s really, really, really not. She can of course collapse sobbing because she got hit really hard in the stomach or because she is being attacked by a scary person or whatever, there are a ton of valid reasons, but she is not a fragile flower who’s never been struck before. So be aware of that.

 

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I Would Make A Terrible Fictional Character

I have hurt myself again. I’m not really sure how – I was just walking along and there was stabbing pain in my ankle again. Hypermobility means that this happens, and I’m mostly used to it.

But it got me thinking, because I narrativize my reality fairly frequently, about how completely unrealistic my life is sometimes, when you define ‘realistic’ as ‘standard’.  I’ve always had a great sympathy for Sailor Moon – her detractors complain about how her klutziness is supposed to be ‘cute’ and isn’t, and it’s always bothered me. When I was younger I loved seeing a character – a heroine, even! – who was just as apocalyptically clumsy as me, and couldn’t walk down a street without falling flat on her face.  And Usagi isn’t just clumsy – she’s gawky and awkward sometimes, has trouble figuring out how to behave like a grownup even as she wants more and more to be one, cries when she’s scared and generally acts like a completely genuine fourteen-year-old girl. I loved her for that, and always will.

I’m relatively fortunate in my search for role-models. I am a white, English-speaking cis-gendered woman, and I have plenty of them to choose from. I’m aware that that makes me relatively lucky, in that I’m actually permitted to exist in popular media. But if I was a fictional character, unless my hypermobility was the subject of a Very Special Episode in which everyone is instructed about my obscure illness via a carefully tailored scenario – maybe by House – I wouldn’t be very plausible. I have trouble convincing people the problem exists even when they can actually talk to me. Add severe anxiety issues and the unrealistically poor memory to the mix, and I’m really quite poorly thought out as a character.

Now I envy the characters in fourth-wall-breaking comics like Real Life, who can complain to their creator about their poor characterization or their story’s internal logic, because I definitely think my narrative could be improved.

Realism in writing isn’t the same thing as ‘like reality’. Reality is all too often dull, repetitive, and sometimes wildly implausible. When I see a novel or a movie lauded for being ‘raw’ and ‘real’, I will automatically pass on it because ‘real’ usually means ‘full of unpleasant people doing stupid things and being just appallingly dull and self-pitying’. A story should be held to a higher standard of narrative plausibility than reality, because reality has no quality control at all, whereas a story should have an editor or a producer or someone whose job it is to say ‘wait, that just makes no sense at all’.

Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to be realistic in writing – realistic characters are the best kind. But consider the suffix. Realistic doesn’t mean real. Wiktionary defines the suffix ‘ic’ as ‘of or pertaining to’. (It kind of startled me that Google had so many suggestions for a search of ‘the suffix ‘ic”, indicating that an awful lot of people had wondered about this) So realistic writing should be ‘of or pertaining to’ that which is real, but not necessarily real real. Reality doesn’t need to make sense, to be logically consistent and plausible. Fiction does. Which is odd, when you think about it, but there it is.

If anyone else has looked at their life or events therein and thought ‘wow, my narrative is really pretty sub-par, I could come up with something way better than this’, I would love to hear about it. Answers guaranteed!

 

Accentuate the Positive

Negative: I have a heel spur that makes even putting my left foot on the ground super-painful, as it has been exacerbated by walking too much in insufficiently padded shoes.

Positive: Iron-clad reason to spend scarce money on new shoes.

Negative: Tired and cross.

Positive: Despite being tired himself, husband made me coffee and is chasing the toddler for me today, because of my sore foot.

Negative: My bread went moldy.

Positive: Because my foot hurts, my husband has offered to not only go shopping for me, but take the tot with him. Precious time alone to play Dragon Age!

Negative: I need to do laundry.

Positive: I only need to put the laundry into the machine – my husband will hang it all out for me.

Negative: I want to go shopping for assorted small things but can’t because my foot hurts.

Positive: Have plenty of uninterrupted time in which to shop online.

Overall, despite or perhaps because of the sore foot, I’m not doing too badly today.

It’s just oozing a little.

So the day before yesterday I was playing in the backyard with my spawn and stepped on a sharp piece of wood (one she always carefully walks around and now I know why). I opened up a nice little gash in my heel. The oozy, bleeding kind. Now, because I was outside with my small child I could not collapse shrieking and cursing because that would have scared her. The husband was sleeping in, having been up late. So I did what I am assured most mothers do, whimpered very quietly,  continued to play with my daughter as if nothing was wrong so she wouldn’t freak out, and waited for the bleeding to stop. It did, I hobbled inside and cleaned it off later, all good.

Which made me think about stoicism as portrayed in fiction. Because I was being stoic. And didn’t faint or get all woozy at the sight of my own blood which I have been known to do. Other people’s is fine with me but I do not care to see my own.

I have noticed that the intensity of a given character’s stoicism is often inversely proportional to the author’s experience of serious injury/danger. If you’ve never had a broken arm, it’s easy to assume that your character can keep fighting while it flops around at his side, because apparently you have no idea how much it hurts. I don’t, either, but I’ve had a partially dislocated collarbone and an exciting assortment of sprains and let me tell you, that hurt enough. I nearly threw up the first time I seriously sprained my ankle. Likewise with testicular injuries. I’m not personally equipped with the things, but my husband assures me that it’s ridiculous how many fictional people can shake off a blow to the harbls. I have seen him reduced to sobbing and vomiting after a single (but mighty) blow from a toddler armed with a wooden train, so I’m willing to take his word for it. Pain is really, really hard to tune out, especially if you have to keep moving around.

 

And blood-loss! Seriously, the amount of blood in the human body is very limited. It bugs me to read about ‘lakes’ and ‘pools’ of blood coming out of someone who’s going to be up and fighting again in ten pages. Or even someone who’s going to survive, because humans can’t spare a lake’s worth, as a rule.  Septicemia, too – infection is far too often ignored, especially in fantasy. If you go swimming in a medieval harbour – or the Brisbane River today – with an open wound, then you’re probably going to die within a few days. Seriously. I once got an infected ear-piercing that was so bad my earlobe tripled in size and I was running a fever. A real fever, from an ear piercing, one of the smallest holes possible in one of the very least crucial parts of your body. If your character is stabbed or gouged or something and just pours some water over it and slaps on a bit of grimy linen, they need to be running a fever within the next couple of days even under the very best circumstances and – back to the subject of stoicism – they’re not going to be going anywhere. A severe infection hurts like hell, you get a fever, and it can kill you extremely dead if you’re not lucky and/or careful.

On the other hand, I personally know someone who has no sense of self-preservation whatsoever and shrugged off being stabbed in the ass with an actual sword as ‘no big deal’ up until the point where the wound went septic. There are people that insanely stoic, but they’re rare and their friends worry about them a lot because they do things like wanting to compete in live-weapon fencing tournaments because ‘most people don’t die, but you have to bring your own medic just in case’. And people do routinely perform incredible feats when injured – parents protecting children is the classic example, but humans can do astonishing things for complete strangers, too. But these tend to be very short-term acts, limited to the life-span of the immediate danger and the adrenaline surge. The hero with the broken arm might fling his fallen friend over his shoulder and carry him to safety, but this isn’t going to take place over several days. Several minutes, sure. Up to an hour, maybe. But even my friend with the butt-wound couldn’t keep it up forever, tough as he is.

I know this post is kind of rambly, it was just something that was on my mind. Realistic portrayal of injuries is hard, when you’ve never had any, I get that, and working from action movies will take you in totally the wrong direction, but try anyway. And remember that any male whose harbles are impacted hard enough is going to be vomiting uncontrollably, no matter how tough he is.