In the place I live are many mothers. The mothers are invisible most of the time because we live in boxes. But twice a day the mothers leave their boxes with their babies and gather in or around the green square in the middle of the blocks of boxes where we live. The blocks of boxes are cheaply made and while the cheap walls keep out the wind, rain, and cold (but not the damp), they cannot keep out the sounds of the mothers and of the mothers’ children. This may be because of the acoustics of the square and the sounds that bounce off the walls of the blocks of boxes. Or maybe it’s because the voices of the mothers have developed superpowers in order to transmit their will to their children and to their husbands. (It may be that there are mothers who are married to other mothers, but there is no evidence of this.) The voices of the mothers’ children also have superpowers. This may be because the line of inheritance from mother to child is strong, but I suspect it is because children are uninhibited. They do not know they share the world with people they cannot see, people who live in the blocks of boxes, and are trying to wrestle with problems that require silence. On rainy days the children of the mothers do not play outside. We are sorry to miss the sun, but we are happy for the quiet.
The mothers do not seem to have anything to do besides taking care of their children. These mothers do not seem to take advantage of the modern world and leave the children with their husbands. Instead, the mothers visit each other. They meet by accident under each other’s windows, or they meet on purpose on the square with their children to talk while their children propel themselves across the cement flags on plastic motorbikes that rake the surface, or run from tree to tree in strict obedience to the rules of a game that they have just invented. The children of the mothers are bad at judging the space between them and so shout when they could use their inside voice.
When the mothers stand beneath our windows, which display neither toys nor books, we are surprised to hear them talking about shoes or holidays when we expected to hear them talking about Spinoza. I am disappointed to think that they leave Spinoza to their husbands, just like our mothers and our mothers’ mothers did.
On the weekends the mothers bring the fathers and they push the babies around in prams. It’s not clear whether they’re going into town, which is a twenty-five minute walk, or to the meadow, which is only an eight-minute walk, and which will provide their children with much more space than the green square in the centre of the blocks of boxes where we live.
The mothers must be tired. Nevertheless, they continue evenly, and without visible disappointment. Any lowered brows are due to the weather, which is unkind, and makes long outings with the babies more difficult. In the evenings, they must want to talk to their husbands, but their husbands have their books and their labs and their seminars to prepare for. They go to dinners with their supervisors and must impress at conferences. They must do this on top of sleeping badly because of the mothers’ children.
One mother, in a white coat, pushes her baby around continually. We do not know whether it is a bad baby and cannot be comforted or whether walking in circles solves a question the mother is asking herself. Maybe she is tired of living in a box. Maybe she is tired of being watched by childless women like me from windows that keep out neither sound nor sight.
There is another mother who, for a while, would leave her sleeping baby in its pram outside in the green square while she went inside. For most of the late winter, the baby slept outside and didn’t notice its abandonment, but one day it woke up and cried with terror. The mother came running to wheel the pram inside and show the baby her face.
From time to time the mothers get help from their mothers, who look like older, wiser, softer versions of themselves. The mothers of the mothers get to help with the babies, but at the end of the day they leave. They don’t live in boxes. They live abroad in houses with their own gardens. It wasn’t always like that, of course. The mothers of mothers once lived in smaller houses. But with the times the way they are, it’s unlikely that many mothers can expect such large houses in their future. The world is changing.