I had a baby 13 months ago. I was pregnant with this baby for 39 and a half weeks, in labor for 24 hours, and ultimately pushed the 7.7 pound black-haired human out at St. Luke’s Roosevelt in New York City, my face
and lips puffy from the IV fluids they made me take because I’d been
puking the whole day and night. Since then, I’ve taken care of this baby
(who is really now a toddler). I feed him every day, many times a day,
and I carry him and I smile with him and read to him and put him down
for naps and pick him up when he says my name and laugh at him and
sometimes wonder what to do with him, particularly lately, since his
teeth are begrudgingly and belligerently making an appearance. For
roughly the past two years, I have been what we define as a mother-to-be
and a mother.
During this time, I’ve auditioned for the mom role
in a lot of commercials. I’ve gone in to play the mother of a baby, the
mother of a 4-year old, the mother of a 9-year old and a 4-year old, the
calm and assuring mother, the wry mother, the distracted mother.
I never get the part.
A few of the auditions have felt wonky, particularly ones involving me
speaking in an authoritative, knowing voice to my pre-teen about
homework, but some felt really nice and without affect. Still, I never
get the part. I suspect that this is happening largely because I don’t
look or sound like a mom. I guess I don’t act like a mom either. Even
when I’m acting like a mom because I am actually BEING a mom, EVEN THEN,
I have begun to worry that I don’t seem maternal. And for every mom
part I do not book, my innate mothering abilities feel challenged,
hanging in the balance as my 13-month old child looks at me, I swear,
with the raised eyebrow of one who has just been made wise to an already
laughable charade. A nanny asked me to come over for a play date
recently and when the work-from-home dad greeted us at the door to their
apartment, I pretty much shouted, “Hi, I’m Katie and THIS IS MY SON!”
because I was so worried he — the dad — wouldn’t know. I’m even
starting to wonder if the real reason I’m still breastfeeding is because
I desperately want people to know that this kid is mine and no one is
paying me to watch him (Really. No one is paying me anything).
weird fissure between what I actually am and what I look like is
alarming to me both because my family’s health insurance is contingent
on my booking commercials (TIME IS RUNNING OUT! HELP.) and because I
thought when people said to me motherhood will change you, it meant that
everyone would know that it changed you.
Oh poor you, you might be saying to yourselves. What a laugh riot of a problem! You look too young? Go f*#$ yourself!
Well, I hear you, it’s cool to have the kind of round cheeks that will
keep me looking young until they drop, like lumps of cookie
batter, turning into jowels under which I’ll likely be able to store
half a bag of Skittles. It’s also cool to have the kind of high-lilting
voice that makes Time Warner ask if they can please speak to my parents. But if YOU are wishing you look young the way I do, you are probably the kind of
person whose rich, full-bodied voice and elegant, ageless face and
regular paycheck I covet, most intensely at 5 am,
when anxiety burrows into the ulcer-making part of my stomach.
Look, lots of moms I know go to work five days a week and when they walk
into their job world, they stop thinking about their kid. They stop
being a mom and start being whatever it is that they are outside of
that. They don’t have time to worry about whether or not their
colleagues can tell they’re a parent or not. Maybe they even like their
colleagues not knowing sometimes! I, too, find it exhilarating and
surreal that when I’m walking around the city sans son, no one would
know that I have one (unless I’m leaking breastmilk through my shirt).
I’ve read pieces online in which moms say that motherhood didn’t change them and that they resent the implication that they are different, that they are so-and-so’s mommy now. I’ve read pieces in which moms say that motherhood has completely broken and rebuilt them and that they will never be who they were before and that their lives are so much the better. But I’ve read no articles about moms who FEEL different but apparently don’t LOOK it, sometimes even with the infamous baby in tow. And I’ve certainly read no articles about moms who have become utterly obsessed with this disparity. (That is why I’m writing one.)
nights ago, Lance, my husband, asked me what I was doing. I flicked my
eyes at his like a discovered rodent, sat back in my chair and lifted my
guilty fingers gently up off the keyboard of my computer. There was no
point in making some shit up.
“Googling the mom commercials I didn’t get.”
Instead of telling me what a violently unproductive use of my
baby-is-sleeping time this was, Lance sort of laugh-yelped and then
peered at me the way you do someone who has just ordered a salad at
brunch. The incredulity and disappointment were palpable.
“I just need to see what I’m not doing right!” I shouted.
It occurred to me, not then but later, when I wrote all this down (Lance suggested I document my brief sanity dip), the embarrassing ease of my “predicament”. Because, for example, I do not feel like a man who was born in the body of a woman and has to keep it a secret. No one would hurt me for what they can’t believe is true about me. I go home to my son and, in spite of my self-doubt, he knows who I am, not who I failed to pretend to be in a casting office in Manhattan. The world doesn’t want to shame me; they just don’t want to pay me. So, it’s fine, right? Everything’s fine!!
If I have learned anything about
motherhood in this first year it is that the mother who says to you, “I
made my peace with [INSERT ANYTHING]” is usually lying to herself and to
you. And that’s a completely acceptable coping mechanism! Maybe lying
about peace begets peace the same way seasoned parents say lying down
and closing your eyes while your baby sleeps mimics sleep even if you
don’t actually end up sleeping. But this first entry on my new blog
about being a mom should not be a lie.
I don’t just have anxiety
about looking like the caretaker of a child who is my child and securing
our family’s health insurance - I have anxiety about a lot of things!
And I look forward to sharing it with you here! I look forward to
frequently reminding you and myself that I don’t know what I’m doing. I
look forward to being self-deprecating with you and telling you about
the time (last Wednesday) I handed my son the bottle of nail polish he’d
been sweetly standing on tiptoes to reach and he threw it on the
kitchen floor, broke it open, and proudly returned it to me seconds
later, a variant of “Lacy Not Racy” smeared generously on both his
palms, a shard of glass somewhere in our midst.
I am not looking for a place to tell you all the things I am doing right. This cozy internet echo chamber buried in most people’s search results is a place for me to write about the idiosyncrasies of my own mothering experience. I hope it will not make you want to barf.