A few evenings ago, I was dead weight on my couch, breastfeeding my toddler, his ever-lengthening body draped over me like a caftan, and I thought, simultaneously: I am a prisoner. I love this.
I was looking at pictures of other people’s babies on Instagram and then I remembered to look at my child and when I did, I got distracted from thinking about the whole unsolvable anxiety of this being a cool moment and also feeling trapped. I said the words on my son’s pajama shirt - “No Way Dude” - and cracked him up for reasons I do not understand. I said it over and over. “No way, dude!” “No way, dude!” “No way, dude!” He kept choking on milk but he didn’t care.
I thought, “This is a happy time.” I thought, “I love seeing you happy.” I thought, “Am I happy?”
DON’T WORRY EVERYONE, I’M FINE, I’M FINE.
I guess what I mean is: is my kid being happy what’s making me happy now? Or is his happiness just something that concerns me because I’m his mother? Is helping this kid be happy an excuse for me to avoid asking myself the happiness question? I hear myself saying to people, “I don’t want my son to be my whole life!” I hear other people agreeing, “You need a life outside this! It’s good, the being away from him, it’s good!”
And it is good! Of course my working, my writing, my being gone for parts of days, is good. I think it is. I don’t know. It’s happening, so I will just try to make it good. I can see, the more I have to leave my kid with somebody else, how easy it is to start madly justifying your choices and criticizing other people’s because you aren’t sure yet about the exact ways in which you will screw up your kid.
There will be a mess of years for me to be confused about whether being content because your kid is content is inevitable or a choice. By the time I figure it out, if I ever do, it will be too late. I said to my friend, who’s also a mom, “His happiness makes me happy. It does.” And this felt like both the most parental thing I’ve ever said and the most embarrassing and the most true and possibly a lie I’m telling myself.
I would like to wean him off the breast, as they say. But I don’t think he would like it. There are other things he doesn’t like and I say, “fuck it, get used to it.” Sometimes, I am matter-of-fact, like, “you SIT in the tub,” and I am so firm, he sits. Or maybe he sits because he has decided to sit. (Mothers will take credit for anything and I can see, being a mother now with a child who teaches himself much more than I teach him, that we deserve far less credit — and less blame — than we’re afforded.) Sometimes, I act indifferent. He bites it on the playground, head crashing into mulch, missing a giant tree root by an inch, and I do not help him up. He is disoriented but focused. He gets up on his own. I think, “We are living our lives, he and I, two free birds!”
But he doesn’t want to eat his food with his hands lately. So I feed it to him. He screams for me after his docile sitting-down bath and I run to him like he’s being attacked and not held kindly by his kind father who doesn’t necessarily want to be kindly relieved by fucking mama, again. I also breastfeed him. That too. I say to myself, “He is not grown up, we do not live separate lives. He is still relatively newly out of my body.”
My friend who is also a mom said that she thought that I’ll do it until I can’t do it anymore.
I can still do it. I am happy (enough) doing it and maybe he sees that and is like, “She’s smiling, it’s fine!” Actually, he probably does not give a shit what it does for me. He is a 2.5 foot tall creature walking as fast as he can, saying words that sometimes cannot be easily translated. He is trying to survive. I am here now, on this couch, so I do what I can do.
Seven years ago, my boyfriend (who, a bunch of years later, became my husband) and I tried to outrun a thunderstorm in Cape May, New Jersey. We couldn’t outrun it, though, so we ran through it and screamed and sang odd songs and laughed a tiny bit and I cried and we hardly stopped because our motel was several miles away and I thought, “I will be struck by lightning in Cape May,” and “This is so cool,” and “I hate this.”
It was raining yesterday and I had no umbrella and there was no danger, but as I fast walked home from the subway, I thought of Cape May and felt electric.
I know I cannot outrun being all wrapped up in my kid. It’s so overwhelming, but only if I think about it. So I will just run. I will spend parts of my days away from him and feel wretched about it, but also, OK, particularly when I’m distracted. So I will distract myself. I will probably have to distract myself until I’m dead, that is probably the magnitude of how parents come to care.
I don’t know. I’m new to this. It all seems insane, but the storm is here, now, so here I go.