Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stay away from Animal Planet!

You may not even have to read this blog; the title really says it all. Yes, as you've doubtlessly surmised, this entry is about Motherhood. Would you like me to elaborate? You don't have to twist MY arm (you don't even have to grab it firmly.....not even an idle arm-mangling threat will be necessary)! I'm always up for elaboration. Where to begin? How about with the Naked Mole Rat (always a popular starting point).

Our favorite show to watch as a family is called Fooled by Nature (Animal Planet, 7:30 on weeknights where we live). One of the episodes contained a segment on the Naked Mole Rat and the bizarre phenomenon of its single queen fertility dynamic. Apparently, all mole rats are born physiologically fertile; females ovulate, males.....spermulate. It seems like a friendly and pleasurable colony structure. Enter the Mother. In each mole rat colony (and they do live in underground colonies, like ants or bees), one female asserts her dominance over all of the other little mole rats through physical abuse and emotional manipulation (seriously), making all of the other little mole rats, certainly all of the little female ones, too stressed out to procreate. Indeed, her oppressive behavior halts their reproductive capacities entirely; females cease to ovulate....etc.. Here's a little blurb I've cut and pasted from an informational site online devoted to the fertility of mole rats:

The naked mole-rat lives in colonies of between 100-300 animals, but only the 'queen' reproduces, suppressing fertility in both the females and the males around her by bullying them. Dr Faulkes said: "The queen exerts her dominance over the colony by, literally, pushing the other members of the colony around. She "shoves" them to show who's boss. We believe that the stress induced in the lower-ranking animals by this behaviour affects their fertility. There appears to be a total block to puberty in almost all the non-breeding mole-rats so that their hormones are kept down and their reproductive tracts are under-developed. "Currently, we think that the behavioural interactions between the queen and the non-breeders are translated into the suppression of certain fertility hormones (luteinizing and follicle stimulating hormones). In the non-breeding females this has the effect of suppressing the ovulatory cycle, while in the non-breeding males it causes lower testosterone concentrations, and lower numbers of sperm. In most non-breeding males, sperm that are present are non-motile. "The queen also seems to exert control over the breeding males, so that concentrations of their testosterone are suppressed except when she is ready to mate." However, this stress-related block to fertility is reversible. When the queen dies, the other non-breeding, highest ranking females battle it out for dominance, with the winner rapidly becoming reproductively active.

As you can well imagine, this segment catapulted me into the gnarly brier patch of mother-guilt. Could my maternal intensity really cripple my children? Are they, in a sick irony of post-Freudi*n human drama, actually stifled by my diligence and fanatical concern? My head begins to swim as the thorns begin to snag on bits of recollection and realization: there are the violin practices, and how about when I tried to "teach" Olivia to write the letter g (or was it the number 8.....oh my was both!), and Josiah, sweet little Josiah with his inverted pronouns yesterday! But animal planet wasn't through with me yet.

Next came this bit on the Ladybird Spider, who apparently lays a mess of eggs and then nourishes them with hundreds of nutrient-rich blobs secreted throughout her masterpiece web, which she NEVER leaves, in spite of its absolute seclusion from light and interaction with all other spider-amiable species. Finally, since her creepy, translucent brood is still just one meal shy of the strength they will require to make it in the outside world (a world, you recall, that she hasn't seen since she entered the breeding phase of her brief life-cycle), she nestles all zillion of them together beneath her spider body, wraps them in a final, fatal embrace, and they proceed to eat her until she dies. They feed off of her blood and sinews (I'm not actually sure if spiders have sinews, but if they did...). They brutally (and it WAS brutal; I saw it!) consume their still living mother. Here's a little bit that I found online about it:

Once inside her burrow the female never leaves. The male only comes out for a couple of weeks in May, during breeding time. Female ladybird spiders are dedicated to their young, laying up to 80 eggs in a cocoon and nursing them until they hatch in July or August. The mothers feed the young on regurgitated food and then they themselves become a meal for the hungry spiderlings. It takes 3 to 4 years for the spider to reach maturity.

Now for a whirlwind of self-conscious regret and grotesquely overblown isolation. Am I a Ladybird Spider? I have written or read nearly nothing that wasn't assigned to me since I started....breeding. My musical tastes in the last five years have covered the Raffi-Wiggles-Veggietales spectrum (with a little obligatory Mozart thrown in from time to know, for their intellect). Rare, now, are the hours I used to share daily with Amy and Emily, Bob, Van, and Ani. I've managed to retain Rich Mullins and Patty Griffin and have picked up Sara Groves and Mindy Smith, but even so. I begin to feel my lifeblood ebbing and my sinews snapping. Exercise, HA! Showers, surreptitious. Make-up...well, I was never really a big make up wearer, but now I may never have the opportunity to give it a legitimate chance! The "honeymoon" months after Olivia's birth were especially lonesome, with Bob Barker and whatever unsuspecting Mormons that I could hijack as my only adult conversation (and hijack them I did! I had cups of water ready, the door flung wide, and two chairs cleaned off and strategically arranged whenever I spied a pair of well-dressed men toting backpacks and Bibles working our block. My mother used to call time and temperature 83 times a day just to hear a grown-up voice.....I had Price is Right and the Mormons.) They rarely had a chance to stumble through their concern for my spiritual well-being before I began my own copiously-rehearsed Welcome Mormons spiel. And after I was blacklisted by their congregation (having commandeered the afternoons of 4 "elders" over the course of several weeks), I started to keep an eye always peeled for the less recognizable Jehovah's witnesses. I bear no ill will against the Mormon religion as a whole for abandoning me during my darkest days. My husband and I still use the phrase Mormon-nice regularly (as in, she's not just nice, she's Aretha-cool, or Beck-weird, or Mother-Theresa-Good.....see, we're inter-denominational in our hyperbole). They had to do what they had to do. But I was clearly in solipsistic despair.....suffering from what one magazine freelancer called "isolation without solitude," a perfect description.......of the LADYBIRD SPIDER. Would I end up like her, a mere shell of a formerly magnificent, vibrant creature, cannibalized by her beloved?

Perhaps I was just taking this all too personally....(hmmmmmmmm)....

I found comfort.....nay, enlightenment....where we all find it eventually, in the arm-waving admonitions of a flight attendant. As I mulled over the mole rat ladybird spider predicament, I was struck by the memory of the sharp-gesturing, impeccably-groomed stewardess on my recent flight home from visiting my brother and his family. She said, sagaciously,

Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the bag over your own mouth and nose before assisting children.

I realize her direction was lofted toward all hundred or so people riding on Northwest flight whatever that afternoon, but I couldn't help but think that she, my guru, my sensei, meant those words especially for me. I don't have to suffer as a Ladybird Spider or nag and destroy like a Naked Mole Rat; I just have to mother with the very best of all I have to offer, and I cannot mother if I cannot also (occasionally) breathe.

1 comment:

Cindi Clark said...

Clever, descriptive, and thought-provoking...I really enjoyed this. You had me on the edge of my seat just wondering where you were going with your naked mole rats! I believe I know exactly how you feel!

I loved it!