is what I found myself yelling the other day: “I
just want to poop by myself. Why can’t I have five minutes
to poop alone in the bathroom with the door closed?”
three year old, newly-potty trained son begged, “I want to
poop with you. I want to share.”
His blue eyes watered
with tears but underneath they were calm. His manipulation is based
on a rock of assurance that I belong to him, utterly. “Keep
with me for always,” he commands when he wants me to lie with
him as he falls asleep and I’m longing to go downstairs and
pull back into my skin, to belong, for one hour a day, only to myself.
Usually I do stay, because
I know his forever is really just a few more years, as his desire
for connection will become more and more laced with the need to
separate. I stay and I sigh, filled with love for him, but also
with longing for my self, the woman who existed long before he did,
who followed her interests and believed in her right to go to the
bathroom with the door closed.
For me, one the hardest
parts of being a mother is remembering that I’m a human being
too, with a right to my own identity, interests, and complexities
that have nothing to do with Being A Mother. Part of the reason
this is hard to remember is that no one else seems to, either. My
children certainly don’t; my husband, while mouthing words
of encouragement, gets a panicked look on his face whenever I leave
the house, and this despite our sharing childcare almost equally.
Our culture, too, wants
to scrutinize my behaviour under the rubric of motherhood. Look
at the headlines: a man does something, kills someone, saves a life,
and he is called a man in the headlines, not a father. A woman who
mothers does the same thing and she is labelled a mother right up
front. Motherhood replaces self-hood for women in our culture. Mothers
are supposed to be mothers first. Fathers are supposed to be men.
I think that mothers
need to reject the myth that we have little right to ourselves in
the face of our children’s need. Mothers need to say outloud
what we know is true about ourselves as women: That motherhood often
gets in the way That motherhood, despite its joys, can suck the
life out of the woman who mothers. To speak these things does not
make us bad mothers. It makes us real.
We all have our own lists
of how this happens, but we tend to keep them hidden in our mental
closet, tucked in with other relics of guilt and shame.
So here goes, a partial
list of who I am:
I love to drink in bars.
Oversized polished bars, with recessed lighting and a description
of every trendy cocktail printed in a chichi drink menu. Rough,
grainy bars, with a beer tap, some liquor, no apple martinis but
plenty of schnapps and ESPN on the TV. Any bar really, where I can
have a cocktail, conversation and possibly snacks. I love cocktail
hour and a drink with dinner.
I wear shirts that show
off my breasts. I’m 40 and had the enviable problem most of
my life of being skinny. I’ve gained some weight recently,
and a bunch of it went to my breasts. In the past few years I went
from barely a B cup to a full C. They’re deflated, of course—pregnancy
sucked the shape right out of them—but a good bra perks them
right up. Now that I can show them off for the first time in my
life, I do, even when I’m taking my kids to the playground.
My 15 month old daughter
had a mild cold recently and I took her to daycare anyway, in the
snow, even though I was home and not working. I wanted, as I so
often do, to be alone.
Some of the most meaningful
conversations in my life concern the vampires Angel and Spike, and
Buffy’s relationship with each of them.
My house is chronically
messy, occasionally downright filthy and when my daughter eats food
off of the floor I cringe, then shrug my shoulders.
I don’t have window
treatments. I don’t even have curtains. Just the same junky
blinds that were on the windows when we moved into our house 8 months
ago. I’m not even sure what a window treatment is.
I didn’t like breastfeeding.
I do like: cursing, going
to rock concerts, reading, sleeping late, eating junk food, getting
a tan, living at the beach, teaching, writing with the door closed,
shoe shopping, sex. Except for the junk food, I don’t do anywhere
near as much of these as I want to. Because of my children. More
accurately, because of my belief that to be a good mother I need
to give my children a version of me—always available, interested,
and supervising them for developmentally appropriate activities—that
is quite different from what I often want to be doing.
Some of what I’ve
given up comes from maturity. Some from being too tired (and we
know who is causing that). But it seems to me that much of what
I’ve lost in myself comes from false ideas about who a mother
is and what a mother should be. And it is just what those ideas
are, where they come from, and how valid they really are, that I
want to trace over the next few months, in a series of essays I’m
going to write for these pages.
If you have any lists
of who you are that has nothing to do with motherhood, I’d
love to read them.
: mmo :