In Minneapolis last summer I picked up a copy of a Chesterton poem that I'd never seen before and I've had it posted in my work space ever since. It is heavily satirical, and I certainly don't take it as "woman's place is in the kitchen" kind of poem, although in its day it may have been taken that way. Chesterton probably meant it more as a subversive attack on what he often called the "myth of progress", but I have it up in my study carrell for a different reason.
I have it here to remind me of that part of my life that is so easy to neglect but is way more important than whatever keeps me at work. Anyway, here it is. I think Chesterton wrote it in his notebook as a kid, but all accounts are that his parents were around for him so I don't think it is a slam against them.
I remember my mother the day that we met
A thing I shall never entirely forget,
And I toy with the fancy that young as I am,
I should know her again if we met in a tram.
But mother is happy in turning a crank
That increases the balance at somebody's bank,
And I am happy that mother is free
From the sinister task of attending to me.
They have brightened our room that is spacious and cool
With diagrams used in the idiot school
And books for the blind that will teach us to see,
But mother is happy for mother is free
For mother is dancing up forty-eight floors
For love of the Leeds international stores
And the flame of that faith might perhaps have grown cold
With the care of a baby of seven weeks old.
But mother is happy in greasing a wheel
For somebody else who is cornering steel
And though our one meeting was not very long
She took the occasion to sing me this song,
'Oh hush thee my baby the time will soon come
When thy sleep will be broken with hooting and hum.
There are handles want turning and turning all day
And knobs to be pressed in the usual way.
Oh hush thee my baby take rest while I croon
For progress comes early and freedom too soon.'
What put it in my head to post this poem was a powerful scene in the film Paris je t'aime where a mother drops her baby off at day care so she can go work a full day as a nanny for someone else. The sadness was gripping. (By the way, I'm not trying to guilt parents for working, and I think each situation is unique, timing wise and otherwise, but I still think there is a valuable point being made here that isn't said enough and I share the poem for the reminder that it offers to me. The lure of "success" can ironically be the very thing that makes us fail at our highest calling.)