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Get Real by Abby Arnold

An ongoing series of unflinching commentary

February 2004

I Confess

This 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?”

“Mama,” my 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 :

Get Real is an ongoing series of original essays and commentary by Abby Arnold. She is a teacher, writer and the mother of a 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter. She lives with her family in North Carolina.

Feel like getting real? Send your comments to Abby Arnold at getreal@mothersmovement.org

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