I have, for
about ten years now, coveted work in areas where rejection is assumed. I’m an
actor and a writer and a total fucking idiot. If you make things whose value
can be debated or annihilated or worshiped on the Internet and whose necessity
is also not obvious to certain members of the population, you probably
experience the same. And you’re also a fucking idiot. You’re my kind of fucking
idiot. We idiots are propelled by the gamble, the likelihood of no,
but the chance, however infinitesimal, of yes.
spiritually exhausting and also exactly what living with a two-year old is
like. My son is two and doing exactly what two-year olds are apparently
supposed to: saying no. He, like the looming gatekeepers I encounter out in the
grown world every day, says no to every previously unquestioned directive,
suggestion, modest request, EVERY. THING. And he does it with panache. He’s not
just saying no; he’s shouting “I DON’T LIKE THAT!” in response to all pants and
baths. He’s laying out his logic: “I DON’T WANT THAT BECAUSE…[MUMBLED MADE-UP
WORDS THAT OFTEN SOUND LIKE A LONG, LONG
BEAR]”. He’s slick, too. “Let’s sit down for dinner,” I say,
matter of factly, because that’s how the books say you’re supposed to do it.
“No thank you, Mommy,” he replies, demure as he shoves stacks of novels off a
bookshelf. “Oh! That’s so nice, Sly,” I say, disarmed, and then he yells, “You
act nicely!” and I realize it is all a metaphor. He tosses those novels on the
floor the same way the gatekeepers of my grown-up world toss the things I make
on the floor and not because they are monsters. Like my two-year old, for them,
yes does not come easily, nor should
it. But, unlike for my kid, it’s not in the name of their development; it’s in the name of mine.
I know my two-year old is mucking around in a swamp of good developmental shit, from which he shall emerge…stronger? Wiser? Older? Whatever, I know it’s as it should be. And I know all my professional failures are “opportunities for growth” (VOMIT) too, whittling my character and the character of whatever it is I’m working on. Ugh. I KNOW. But good god, it is a fucking slog, a massacre of my tremulous confidence.
As a woman, my first instinct is not to persuade someone to do something they do not want to do. No means no. Move on. Do something else. DON’T PUSH!
I’m talking about not walking naked to the playground; about having a carrot instead of a cupcake the size of my head; about not leaping off the back of the ten-foot tall slide. And I’m talking about making my living, not just some bullshit creative exercise. These are the battles worth fighting, the nos that are worth questioning.
I wonder if Sly feels this way. I wonder if, when he tried for twenty minutes, to vault up onto the kitchen counter to get to the soft cookies, sobbing and screaming, he was also spiritually exhausted. I wonder if he thought, there has to be a better way! Or, she has to see how much I need this! She has to understand I deserve this!
God, I act like he’s the only one saying no, but I’m saying it too. And yes, sure, I know what’s best and I know that cookies are not the answer (most of the time). Oh, but if he only knew how badly I want to be that cookie, to be the thing the bastions of art were trying to scale impossibly tall countertops for.
How do you make yourself impossible
to refuse? How do you fight these battles without actually fighting?
Probably the answer is to keep trying and to listen sometimes; to accept that pants cannot be avoided, but to demand that carrots be accompanied by cookies. Because of course they should.
It sucks when your kid and your job are saying the same annoying thing to you. But maybe everything is a phase, for everybody, not just toddlers. And I can either carry this struggle the way a parent carries a balloon, like it’s a burden. Or I can carry it the way my son does: like it’s a dream. He doesn’t hold on to it too tight, either, delighted when it bops into view, and amazed when, inevitably, it flies away.
shouldn’t have surprised me that I wouldn’t be very good at making mom friends.
I am not particularly good at making friends in general. This is not something I
would’ve said aloud before I had my kid because I’d have been embarrassed. I’m
embarrassed now, but I’m too tired to dwell on it. (This seems to be a large
part of becoming a parent, that you experience the world just as you did
before, your anxieties and fears remain, multiply even, but there is less time
or energy for decorum. So out they billow, like the tail of that mistake of a
shirt you bought last fall when you thought hiding your ass under a long
flapping piece of fabric would be distracting in the right way.)
since puberty, when I lost both the ability to speak at a healthy volume and
the chutzpah to tell other people what to do, my friends have found me, not I
them. This has been a gift – I’ve teetered like a dope on the top of the
seesaw, grounded by women far bolder, louder, and more assured than I.
even if gifts are afforded to me still, in the form of moms I’m lucky to know and to have been found by, I’m hung up these days on the underlying deficiency, the
social paralysis, the unknown thing that keeps me from reaching out, compels me
to say nothing instead of saying all the wrong things.
Every day, I see the other moms at the playground who know each other; I see pictures of gatherings of friends with kids on Instagram and Facebook; and though I have a foot in a couple different lovely mom’s groups, on the rare times when I meet up with them, everybody seems to have a shorthand with another, a lot of things to catch up on, which they do while their children grab each other’s hands and say each other’s names and play in ways that demand a photo be taken. As this is all happening, I watch my child look up from whatever he’s playing with by himself and clock all the connections happening around us. We clock it together. He is too young, I tell myself, to glance over and wither me with his disappointment. But I say it to myself, as though he’s talking to me. You did this, Mom! You haven’t become good friends with these moms AND NOW I’m not good friends with their kids! Look what you’re doing to me, you silent island of a human! They don’t even know my NAME.
If only I could meet a mom and say, “Hey, listen, can you read a couple of my blog entries so you can better understand me and all the feelings I won’t be able to express to you? I have trouble getting real in person and I can already tell you are finding my inadvertent quiet, mannered coldness to be off-putting. I’m really not this nervous or shy! Well, I am, but not after we’ve been friends for six months to a year. By then, I’ll be at least 30% more enjoyable and relaxed! And in two years? I mean, in two years, I might have the guts to do an awkward dance in public upon running into you. I probably won’t do that (I definitely won’t), but I’ll think about it a lot during my approach. I’ll really think about it. That’s something to look forward to, right? Please don’t go! I’m a good listener and I will really think about the things you say to me and if you’re patient, my responses might even be of some interest to you!”
This is not a feasible approach. It is, in fact, a potentially self-destructive approach and one I wouldn’t recommend to anyone (although if it worked, I wouldn’t look back, I’d just fucking go with it).
The thing about all this that makes me lose my breath is that even though sometimes I feel existentially alone, I actually do have friends, friends I’ve known over twenty years and friends I’ve known for less than twelve months, but my son does not yet. Even if I feel like an outsider in the company of others at some moment, every day, I have actual friends who exist, who I can meet for dinner, who I can text or call, whose existence I can, at the very least, remind myself of when my brain is flooded at night with all of that day’s awkward attempts at relating to other humans who have children in their care.
My son might not need friends yet. But he will soon. And I fear that I have passed down to him, either by circumstance or by nature, a future of social ineptitude. I fear that he will, like me, always feel like an outsider, always be hesitant meeting people, smiling hopefully, longingly, along some endless perimeter.
I fear this while knowing that in so many ways, he is not an outsider, he is, as I’ve written here, privileged in ways that make any complaint about some sort of struggle feel petty, even disrespectful.
I don’t want to disrespect struggles far more wearying than mine.
I also don’t want to pretend that I do not wonder, every day, what it is like to have
social confidence to spare. Of course I know that many – if not most –
confident people aren’t necessarily filled to the gills with certainty; it’s
just that their default settings are different from mine. When in doubt, they
thunder or squeal or assert. When in doubt, I watch or squeak or shrug. All this
written, I can remember recent times I’ve betrayed what I’ve said here, times
I’ve surprised myself with effort, times I’ve spoken and not recognized who was
talking because it sounded all right. Very all right. If I fold myself into a
black and white corner this early in the game, I risk doing the same to my son.
I risk doing it to everybody I meet and that is no way to make a friend.
of us are so simple.
I am writing this, watching the wind pick up outside, sending the leaves that are still hanging on into a free fall to the ground. It is unsettling for a minute, like a haunting reminder of the inevitability winter. But it is also so beautiful, it happens every year. The leaves come back. Things feel terrible and strange and impossible and then, in the same moment, they don’t.
I was a picky eater. According to some books, picky eating is evidence that something is terribly wrong. But I think that the person who wrote that simply doesn’t have as discerning and sensitive a palate as I do. I think the person who wrote that is an agreeable tool. I mean, I have to think that. Otherwise, I’d need more therapy than I’m already getting.
So, I understand it when little kids don’t want to eat even the seemingly straightforward foods, like bananas, for example, because bananas are mushy and unnervingly sweet and they never refresh you the way a good piece of fruit should. Are they even actually a fruit? I’ll just say it: I think bananas are best made unrecognizable in bread and smoothies or, better yet, painted into still lifes.
Pickiness, while nothing to be ashamed of, is inconvenient and irritating to authority figures, particularly those who go food shopping. I had become such a figure. And, as it turned out, I was actually hoping he wasn’t like me. Parents talk such shit about picky eaters, they complain about them, they take the rejections personally, they forget how much a plain frozen pea really sucks. By parents, of course, I mean ME. I did these things. I JUST did these things.
I gave Sly hunks of banana to eat when he first started eating hunks of things. And he ate them! And I thought, “You know what? Bananas are pretty great, huh?” I didn’t say it out loud though because I read that you’re not supposed to comment on the food your kid is eating; just let them eat it. So, I just let him eat it. I was being a model mother. I was doing nothing wrong at all. We were buying five bananas a week.
Then Sly stopped eating banana. At first, I thought, “What a stupid food! Thanks for tolerating it as long as you did, kid, but I’m glad we’re done with that bland GARBAGE.” Other babies around us scarfed down hunks of banana like morons. But honestly, I didn’t think they were morons. I was really jealous. The fallen foods were multiplying, among them bananas of varying ripeness, sweet potato, avocado, eggs, toast (TOAST?!), strawberries, and, naturally, peas. (Aside from the toast and strawberries, I would have had nothing to do with any of these foods until late in high school at the earliest.)
A few months later, Sly caught on to how grown-ups eat bananas and he was intrigued. I know he was intrigued because, when he was 10 months old, he stole a banana from an actor named Jimmy at a rehearsal to which I’d brought him. Jimmy was very nice about it. Sly ate almost the whole thing and I don’t think Jimmy had any other snacks. So after the Jimmy debacle, I started peeling bananas and let Sly take bites. He was so proud of himself. Those five minutes he’d spend gingerly eating one of my least favorite foods were filled with joy and wonder for me. I’d equate it to watching your child pop wheelies or crest a wave on a surfboard, but scaled back a bit. This went on for a few weeks.
One day, I offered a banana, Sly took a bite, spit it on the floor and walked away. Either the banana was tainted or he was confused. Or maybe concussed. He must’ve been concussed! I tried again, chasing after him with the non-fruit flapping in my hand. “Do you want to try it again?” I asked, smiling. “It’s really good,” I said, doing the thing that I’d read I wasn’t supposed to do, and also lying. “Look, I’m eating it!” I shouted, and then I took a bite. It was horrible. The banana, my desperation, all the feeding rules I was breaking.
So important had it become to me that my son consume all of the foods he once entertained but now would firmly not that, two days ago on the playground, I gestured to his friend who was eating a mozzarella cheese stick and said, “Sly, do you see Maya eating her cheese?” Sly didn’t see Maya because he was already halfway to the metal horse twenty feet from us. “Neigh, neigh,” he yelled. The horse wasn’t going to make him eat anything. The horse let Sly pet his cold metal side.
I was madly pinballing between what I’d read in books and online about HOW TO FEED YOUR CHILD SUCCESSFULLY AND EASILY AND HEALTHFULLY and what my son actually wanted to eat and my own depths of eating empathy (these depths are, in fact, profound - I didn’t put milk in my cereal until college). Who had I become? I can’t blame Instagram and all the photos of stainless steel lunch box compartments artfully filled with brightly colored fruits and vegetables and rare grains. When you find yourself getting angry at Instagram or Pinterest or parenting blogs, you probably need a nap or snack. You probably, if you are like me, need to fling your phone halfway across the room and forget where it went for several hours.
I swore off lima beans the first time I tasted them, no matter the sauce or the salting. But I’ve always loved broccoli and grapefruits. I’ve even grown to adore marinara sauce, though I once politely asked my friend’s mother to wash it off my pasta before resuming our Golden Girls viewing on her waterbed. If young, picky Katie was here for all this mishegas, I think she’d call me buster and tell me to back off. She’d tell me that I didn’t actually know everything and that she did know some things! She’d ask me to boil water for pasta and make sure we had Parmesan cheese. She’d disappear into my son’s room and I’d overhear him laughing really hard at some old lady voice she was doing, probably making fun of me.
When I look at my son, I can’t connect him not wanting to eat certain foods with him struggling in life in general. Pickiness is, for a lot of kids, just an assertion of independence and a phase. But if, like me, he’s a picky eater for a long time, then may he always have a compatriot in a world that doesn’t give him a break. May that person be me and may I respond to yet another person asking, “Is he a good eater?”, with kindness, good will, and the words, “Who fucking cares?”
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.