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.
locked my car keys in my trunk two Sunday nights ago while we were visiting my
parents. It was my son’s bedtime and he was going to fall asleep in the car and
we were going to get home before our own bedtimes. Instead, we waited two hours
for the locksmith and everybody remained calm except for me. To properly
express my regret and apologize for my idiocy, my subconscious thought it best
to spend those two hours marching from the driveway to the porch to the living
room wildly and purposelessly, bursting into tears, refusing water or snacks,
and shouting things like, “I mean, I THINK they’re in the trunk! I DON’T KNOW!”
and “PEOPLE DO THIS, RIGHT?” and then repeatedly miming the trunk slam that
happened seconds before I realized what I’d done.
For your information, these exercises do nothing to better a bummer-but-not-dire situation. Because the thing is that my keys were there, right there, in the trunk and all we needed was someone to get them out. And, after an hour and a half, that someone called from his car and said he was 20-30 minutes away, according to the GPS! When I read about the refugees in Syria, their stories captured maybe most humanely and breathtakingly by Humans of New York, I see that there are no hidden keys and there is no locksmith, there is only horror and bravery and the sort of tenacity many of us will never have to locate inside ourselves.
The day after my own very minor non-crisis, I had the
thought that locking your keys inside the thing that you need the keys for is a
metaphor for the keys to your own LIFE being inside yourself. And, I thought
excitedly, you sometimes have to troubleshoot them out, the way our locksmith
did by changing course halfway through his silent effort and instead of trying
to unlock the door through the window with his bendy rod claw, he used the bendy
rod claw to pop the trunk instead! You
just have to find your locksmith was a sentence I wrote in the notes
section of my phone. It’s so cheesy, so hokey, and for that I’m sorry, but it’s
also true and lately, with my child slowly steeping in the big bad socialized
world and my own self tentatively returning to the great self-involved grown-up
world from whence I came, I am finding it to be helpful.
for example, today, when I dropped Sly off at school, two girls, both a year
older than him who were eating their breakfast in the kitchen, turned to him
and called him the name of another younger boy at school and then a different
boy and then giggled to each other. They knew his name. They were just being
clever and silly but of course I was overtaken by post-traumatic stress from
the entirety of my public school experience and I had to escort myself off the
premises before I started sob-yelling at those girls to BE FUCKING NICE,
GODDAMNIT. It washed over me then, like a case of shingles, the reason why I
was afraid of being pregnant with a girl.
if I gave birth to a mean one? Or worse, what if I gave birth to one like me?
One who had a hard time sticking up for herself, more and more as the years
went on, one whose name other kids might’ve easily pretended not to know? I’m
not saying this mired in self-hate or self-pity. I love where I’ve ended up,
I’ve had a charmed journey, and I really like myself. But dear god, being an
adolescent and teenage girl was a kind of endlessly confusing hell. And I
experienced it buoyed by every advantage. What must it have been like for girls
without the open-armed family at home and the nice house and the white skin?
husband just last night read parts of an article to me about emotional
resilience in children and I get it that we cannot and should not fight our
child’s battles and that this tiny little moment is not even any great battle
and that the world is often not nice and the sooner our kids know it, the
sooner that first early trauma is over, and the sooner other traumas can be
better weathered by these newly inured little people. I have heard all that
responsible parenting talk and I know that my son and I both have to find in
ourselves the good sense to figure shit out on our own. So I am here writing
this down and not yelling at two-year olds to call my son by his proper name
and thereby REALLY traumatizing him forever.
I was on the subway while Sly was at school earlier this week and I was wearing a dress with a flouncy skirt and checkered Vans and I did not feel like a mother. My body felt as light as it ever had. It isn’t that having a kid turns you into some kind of ogre or troll, it’s that kids are so often on you, holding your hand, in your arms, attached to your body like loving/flailing burrs. Or they’re magnetizing you from halfway down the street or from the top of the slide and no matter how laissez-faire you swear you are, you feel their falls, their almost-falls, their propulsion away from you, if they are in your sights. But he was not in my sights. Someone else was bearing the sweet weight of him.
so I was on the N train during the day, dressed for an audition, listening to
First Aid Kit, feeling young and vaguely cool. And then I saw two young actors
reading sides from a script, one in a suit and the other in tall lace up boots
and a lot of denim. I felt so endeared to them, so embarrassed for them,
cringing and proud at the same time, like half-self, half-mother, feeling for
them in all the ways somebody could, that I shrunk into myself like a paper bag
and tried not to stare. Instead, I started writing this.
can only imagine that the bristling vulnerability unlocked in me by two
PRE-pre-school girls will just keep showing itself, rising up like reflux, and
just as unwelcome and uncomfortable. I also imagine that it will get easier for
me, as it will for Sly, but that he will be toughened and I, softened, as I
relive all the uncomfortable memories of thirty years ago from above instead of
on the ground. When I watched “My So-Called Life” a few years as a
soon-to-be-mother, all I wanted was to say to Angela’s mom, Patti, “I am so
sorry I was so mad at you. You poor, caring, loving, overwhelmed human. Your
daughter is being ridiculous and you are doing the best you can.” I should say
this to my own mother. If you’re reading this, Mom (and Dad), which I know you
are, I am sorry I didn’t understand until now. It is hard to be a person and it
is hard to be a mother. But mothers have to be both.
driven only a few blocks down the dark road from my parents’ house in New
Jersey back to Brooklyn when my brother-in-law realized he’d left his apartment
keys at the house. When we pulled back in to the driveway, my mom was there,
running up to the car window, telling us to drive safely, and we were on our
There are locksmiths everywhere, I am sure of this. Sometimes, we are our own locksmiths, or sometimes they are people we love or they are strangers in t-shirts carrying bendy claw rods who appear in the night like gruff saviors or they are little kids with good senses of humor who will indirectly show my little kid that he also needs a sense of humor. Stay close by, locksmiths. I need you. Even when my keys are in my hand, I need you.
My son is at his first full day of what I am calling “school”, but what can better be described as daycare for 18-month olds and up, and I don’t know if what I have to say about what is happening right now adds up to anything definitive or helpful because I am just in it at this moment but I feel that if I don’t write down what being in it is, I will wrongly remember and gloss over things and someday tell friends who are doing similar things that it was hard but it was FINE and it is going to be GREAT. You know what, I’m not sure I’m even writing this down for my friends. I think I am writing it down because I am not sure what else to do with myself right now.
I just got a salad. I’m listening but not actually listening
to a podcast as I write this because I am frantic for chirpy, low-grade
Sly had three days of transition to
daycare/preschool last week: an hour on the first day just feeling out the
space with me there; two hours on the second day – the first hour with me and
the second, without; and two hours without me on the third day. Did you follow
all that? I have explained it several times to people, providing an excess of information
to still the seven baby birds flapping wildly in my chest when anybody wonders
how daycare is going, and I am not sure anybody really needs to know all that.
BUT I NEED TO TELL THEM.
The transition week went well! He
did not cry when I left. He was excited when I came back. I thought, it cannot
be this easy or this good. It can’t continue like this.
I WAS RIGHT! HAHA, I WAS RIGHT! SLY
IS AT HIS FIRST DAY OF PRESCHOOL/DAYCARE AS I WRITE THIS AND IT’S NOT THAT EASY, IT’S HARD, IT’S HORRIBLE,
EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE. GODDAMNIT. I DID NOT WANT TO BE RIGHT. Sly cried when I
left and when we called ten minutes later to check in, he was not crying but he
was not going bananas with joy either.
This morning (or last night or on
Saturday or never, maybe, I don’t remember), my husband and I agreed we would see
how long Sly could go on Monday, letting the teachers tell us how he was doing
and when we should come and get him.
I just paused to take several
aggressive bites of a lentil salad with toast. I just checked my phone to see
if a rescue operation is imminent. I have no messages.
For the past ten days, Sly has half-willingly
given up nursing and his morning nap. My husband and I went to California without
him for three days for a wedding and when we got back, instead of leaping
onto my body and shouting, “Nurse! Nurse” as I assumed he would, he just
nestled his head into my neck for ten minutes, taking breaks to pull back and
look at my face and smile. It was insane. It was maybe one of the best moments
of my life so far. He didn’t ask to breastfeed for a full 24 hours after that.
I took this, and the four day tit break, as my green light to quit. He’s asked
to nurse off and on since that day, a week ago, but he doesn’t try
that hard and I’m not gonna reward half-assed efforts, for anything really, so,
it’s over. It’s over. OH MY GOD BREASTFEEDING IS OVER. If I didn’t think I’d
someday have another kid, maybe I’d be sadder. If I hadn’t already been
half-weaning him for months, maybe I’d be more hormonally rocked. But, I’m not
sad, I’m not rocked, I’m fine. I think – I hope – he is too. This single nap shit
has not been easy, but it’s been necessary because that’s what they do at
school, a single nap, starting at 1, so we have to get on the boat or flounder
forever. We are getting on the boat. We are not on it. We are getting on it.
So we’re transitioning. Some people
say you are always transitioning, with a kid, and to those people I say, OK,
fine, what am I supposed to do with that, just wear a helmet forever? Great.
We, in any case, are in the midst of several transitions and it all feels
normal for part of the day and then very bad later, especially around 5 pm or
sometimes 3 pm or sometimes 10 am.
Since consuming those lentils like
a starved goat, I have continued to behave oddly. I threw on an oversized
sweater coat, in spite of the 80-degree weather, and fast-walked myself into a
full body sweat on my way to the train. I waved at an MTA worker, not because I
thought I knew him but because he seemed kind. Like my 19-month old, I was
trying to survive by endearing myself to anybody in the near vicinity with
authority (all the while wearing what is basically a blanket).
So, my son wasn’t
bananas with joy at daycare. But, really, who goes bananas with joy that
many times a day? I don’t. I go bananas with joy a few times a week, maybe. Maybe. I understand at least some of the
psychology that surrounds a child’s adjustment to being cared for by a
non-relative three days a week. I know that they need time to learn to trust
new people and they cry to express their ache for comfort and to, in a way,
give those new people a chance to comfort them. I know that this is a process. I
hate that word and how clinical it sounds, how mathematical and soulless, but I
know that honoring the process part actually honors the non-mathematical part
of my kid, the human part of him. He is not a machine. Nor am I. Therefore, we must process. Ironic? I’m
not fully in my right mind right now.
When we called again hours later,
he was sleeping. He was sleeping! Among other sleeping children! I knew it
could happen. But I didn’t believe it would. So often in my life, I am
flabbergasted by the fact that things work out. And work out well! But what’s
the point of bracing for disaster with every big wave of change that rises
before us? My kid doesn’t need that kind of white-knuckled rigidity. I watched
Joe Biden’s interview with Stephen Colbert and if there is anything I could hope to impart to my son these days, it’s
Biden’s mother’s words: “Nobody is better than you, but you’re better than
nobody.” This isn’t so much to drum humility into my son, though that’s a
lovely (if exhausting) quality, but to do the opposite: to remind him that he
CAN – and must sometimes – manage the tricky unpleasantries of life! Like the
first nap at daycare. I have faith in him not because he’s special but because,
like so many other children before him, he can do it. He just can. I know he
can. I can too.
It isn’t helpful or fixable, this
anxiety. But maybe it’s necessary. I’m working shit out by trying to contain
those baby birds trapped in my sternum. There goes a bird, every few sentences,
another bird. Another one replaces it, but now we’re only a few hours from pick
up. The minutes move, they do, they move and move and now, here I am writing
again three days later, pretending I can jam into what’s left of the afternoon
much more than is reasonable. Here I am, birdless, all the first day twinges
gone. Here I am three days older. Here I am knowing it’s fine, everything’s
fine. Here I am knowing my son will, in time, quick-moving time, go bananas
with joy at school. And the greatest and most awful part of that is that I
won’t be there to see it.
Off you go, birds. I miss you already.
The other night, before we fell asleep under organic sheets, in our air-conditioned bedroom two floors up in a brownstone in Brooklyn, an apartment we can pay for because, I am realizing, we were born into a profusion of opportunity, Lance and I talked about Twitter. We talked about feeling hopeless about our ability to change our society, ourselves. We talked about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book. Thanks to this book, I am realizing, mortifyingly late, that we have skirted so much of life’s horrors because of a system built by exploitation to advantage us at the expense of those who are not us. Thanks to this accident of birth, I can sit at a cafe pumping Van Morrison from overhead speakers and write a blog about being a mom; I can feel embarrassed by my good fortune; I can feel despair when I read what is happening to women of every race, in this country, in this world; but I can also find the time to get completely distracted by my son, who is of Jewish, English, Irish, Scottish, Dutch heritage, whose skin is pale and whose ancestors were never slaves, and thanks to him, I can shelve the tragedies and take an iPhone video as he shouts, “Hi Bull!” twenty times to the big multi-colored bull in front of PS 282. It never occurred to me before that I can do this because other mothers cannot do this.
Lance said, as we turned out our bedroom lamps, that it isn’t as though the hopeless realities around us haven’t been there all along, it’s just that the social media machine has leveled the bureaucracy of what gets seen and shared and what does not. Depending on who you follow, you can unearth deep wells of injustice in so many places and you will wonder if good actually exists anywhere, if the racism in all of us will ever be washed away, if it can only be managed? You can think of your sleeping child and wonder, for a moment, how you can show him how to be better than you? To acknowledge the injustices done to people of color for centuries in America? To give up unearned privilege? How can you lead by example if you are JUST NOW figuring out the urgency of all of this and are not sure what to do next?
So, aside from favoriting and retweeting, where do I begin? Aside from signing petitions, talking to our friends about how distraught we feel and then moving on to talk about something else, something easier.
I don’t know. I am not an activist (at least not yet). But I have a son and having him has, shamefully, allowed the profusion of humanity-destroying inequality to permeate me more deeply than it has in a while. Not everybody needs a child for this happen. I guess I did.
I have a human new to earth who, however formed his fate already was at birth, will still be spongy for many years to come. When I started writing this piece, I thought, all I want is for him not to fuck the world up. How do I stop him from doing that specifically? How do I raise a human whose demons don’t drive him to assert his authority over people he has no business asserting authority over? Do I have any control over that? Is it foolhardy for me to think I do?
But then I read this speech by Anand Giridharadas and I started reading Between the World and Me and I saw how easy on myself I was being. There is so much to look at, in ourselves and in the world we have built, so much to undo and redo and undo and redo.
Maybe big, societal change is almost impossible.
But maybe I can stop being so willfully blind.
Maybe I can start with this kid, this kid whose nature may be predetermined, but whose habits, whose biases might not be yet.
I know parenting is work and a sizable chunk of it is just me being a person, the kind of person I want my son to look up to, to be inspired by, to assume is just standard in the world.
There is so much more I can do.
When I was 19, I went to the Dominican Republic with Amigos de las Americas and spent 7 weeks in a rural village “helping” people. It was the worst summer of my life. I felt like the worst kind of condescending American, forcing myself into a place where I was neither helpful nor wanted. Also, I had to take baths either in the nearby river or using a cup and bucket of water in an outdoor stall at someone’s house. This could’ve been a beautiful thing for the right person but I was not that person.
Since then, I’ve been wary of group efforts to DO GOOD because there are so often flawed people steering the ship. But that was more than a decade ago. And we are all flawed people. When I was 19, I believed that anyone in charge knew what they were doing. Now that I am in charge in my own way, I see that people in charge do not know what they are doing, they just pretend they do. They take risks, sometimes, on new ideas about which they are unsure, but often, they keep doing things the way things have always been done because that seems like the lesser of two evils. Sometimes they can apologize when they make obvious mistakes, but sometimes they can’t because they don’t know how. Or sometimes apologizing doesn’t even cross their minds. I get it now, that nobody and no organization is pure.
With that in mind, I don’t know where all this leaves me. If I want to model for my son how to be a better contributor to our society, I have to start with myself, but I don’t know where exactly I start, where I fit into the world of helpers and re-thinkers. I do know that wondering infinitely is useless. I do know I have to start somewhere.
For the past week or so, Sly has been saying, “I’m sorry,” over and over at random times and it doesn’t always make sense, why he’s saying it, but sometimes it does, like when he is squeezing his body in between a person and a wall or a table, trying to get through a small space. He must’ve seen or heard us doing the same thing and now he says he’s sorry when he does that. But he says it other times and I can’t figure out why. At first, I hear him say it and I say, “It’s OK, you don’t have to be sorry,” but then he says it again and again and his intonation sounds so genuine, I feel totally moved and struck that something larger is happening outside of me. Somehow, without me teaching it, my son is learning how to to apologize. Whatever he did or didn’t do, whatever he is empathizing with or not empathizing with, the words are there.
This is not nothing. I don’t know what it is and I know it’s not enough, but it’s not nothing.
I’m sorry too. I’m sorry and I want to do better.
This blog post was hugely informed by -
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“The Thriving World, The Wilting World, and You” by Anand Giridharadas at the Aspen Institute’s Action Forum
Here’s something I didn’t know about being a mom before I became one: every mother is POSITIVE that you are judging her.
It’s everywhere, this complete certainty that some superior mom (or jerk) is looking at us and thinking, “What the hell are you doing, you FUCKING IDIOT?” Nearly every mom essay I read, every podcast I listen to, almost every substantial conversation I have with another mom includes at least one moment of anxiety over what other moms must think. Maybe we anticipate all this judgment because we’ve experienced it first-hand or because we catch our own selves making assumptions about moms behind their backs (or to their faces!) or because we’re just DEAD ASS TIRED and, as a result, in a constant state of sleep-deprived paranoia.
Wherever it comes from, I feel it too. And it is such a huge drag.
I re-read some of the blog posts I’ve written here, where I’m questioning myself left and right, struggling to write a declarative sentence, alternately proud and horrified by one thing after another (what my kid is eating, how long I’ve been breastfeeding). You out there could read these blog posts and think, “What a pile of tumbleweeds in the shape of a person! Get an opinion, grown human being!”
See now, here I go, anticipating your judgments! HUGE DRAG.
But it’s also another thing to beat ourselves up about, as moms and as women. And we don’t need more. There’s so much already!
So, the next time I hear myself start to wildly justify some choice I’ve made about my kid (like, that I’m still breastfeeding him or watching him get knocked over by a big kid on the playground or hovering too closely behind him when he’s climbing the steps at said playground or sending him to school three whole days a week in the fall) and then wonder what somebody thinks about me or is gonna hypothetically say to me, I’m not going to berate myself for giving a shit.
What’s the use of a judgment on top of judgment? I’d much rather, in my many moments of super self-awareness, stop for a second to be impressed by my (overwhelming) sensitivity to other people. Like, “Wow, I am really tuned in to what this person may or may not be thinking about me. It’s a lot. It’s probably causing me to seem like a deer in the headlights or a freaked out robot, but I am really feeling their frequency right now. And that is something cool that I can DO!”
When I was 18, I had an eating disorder, which basically involved me not eating enough. My therapist at the time gave me this book with a title I can’t remember that said the first step to getting to a healthier place was to stop berating yourself for not eating. In fact, the book encouraged you to do the opposite, to congratulate yourself on the focus and energy you put into your eating disorder. It sounds so condescending, like telling a toddler who just took apart his complicated sippy cup and poured all of its milky contents onto his own lap, “Look at you! You’re so driven! You’re so committed!” We want to think problems can be solved by calling them PROBLEMS and then shouting them away. But we are delicate creatures. At least I am. I didn’t need one more reason to not like myself.
And I don’t need one more now, as I parent in a jungle filled with other parents. And if caring about what other people think is my eating disorder, then my only hope of recovery, my only hope for a future of (somewhat) impervious parenting, is to care with pride.
Look, I’m constantly awestruck by irreverent moms with big, loud opinions on things of little or MASSIVE importance, moms who clearly love their kids and who don’t seem to care if you know it or not. But if there is space for these mega moms to bulldoze past all the pettiness and niceties, there’s definitely space for me to tiptoe without shame. The parent ecosystem probably depends on the existence of every kind of mom variation in order for us all to survive.
When I was pregnant, I really wanted my future baby to be a boy. I don’t have any brothers, but I always wanted one. And I thought it might be easier to be a boy than a girl. I know my son is not my brother and I also know it might not be easier to be a boy, that it’s hard to just be a person. But I know the hard parts of being a girl. I know the hard parts of being a woman in a world that is not easy on women.
I figured that if I gave birth to a boy, I wouldn’t have to worry about modeling the same kinds of great qualities I’d need to model if I had a daughter. Body-image and self-esteem issues don’t come up with boys, right?? I realize, now that I have an actual human being to care for and not just an idea of one, that nobody is immune to these issues! I also realize that I am the woman my son will know best for a long time. To him, I am WOMAN. And if I don’t figure out how to be a woman who is, above all things, kind to herself, he’ll spend a long time not knowing what a woman who is kind to herself looks like and acts like and sounds like. I want my son to see me as the complicated and flawed person that I am and I also want him to see that I can handle being that person. Maybe it’ll make a tiny impression on him, enough of an impression to remind him one day, when he is feeling shitty about something one of his friends said to him in gym class (OF COURSE IN GYM CLASS), to be kind to himself, to be kind to the women he meets (in gym class and elsewhere) and to accept their complexities, to accept his own, and to love me, not in spite of or for my flaws, but because by being easier on myself, I’ve maybe been easier on him.
It is futile and petty to complain about flying across the country with your 16-month old child because there are much worse things and there are much longer flights and bumpier flights and scarier flights and more delayed flights. And we were so lucky to get to lift off out of this crushing city and cozy up together in an air-conditioned hotel room and, later, in the airy apartment of our long-unvisited friends. We were lucky to have traveled safely, we were lucky to have traveled at all! I’m saying these things not to turn this into a public gratitude journal, but to cushion my forthcoming selfish sentiment: flying with a child who cannot hold an iPad is like sitting in a pit filled with garter snakes. There is no danger. But it is not ideal. It is unideal. Imagine a pit filled with garter snakes. Imagine sitting in that pit — not standing, but sitting. For five and a half hours.
My son is not a garter snake.
He’s much larger than a garter snake and more averse to heat, which makes flying with him slightly more fun and also more tiring. He is constantly trying to get away from me and, at the same time, to be held and comforted and entertained by me. I feel the same about him, on planes and off. The only reason Snakes on a Plane wasn’t Babies on a Plane is because the truth is much scarier, or at least irritating, than fiction.
Flying with a kid is like any other parenting requirement. Everybody has opinions on how to do it properly and none of them will work for your kid or you except one time but that will be a TOTAL FLUKE and it will never work again, which you will shake your head about despondently at Hour 2 of your long flight, grumbling to your husband, “See? Nobody knows! There is no road map. Where are the wipes?”
But flying on a plane with a toddler has to be a metaphor for the stifling elements of motherhood. It HAS to be! Because if it’s not, it is simply a rough time without purpose beyond fast passage. And I want everything to mean something. I want the bad parts of life and of parenting to serve some greater or deeper or at least more hilarious purpose. But what if they don’t? What if they are just among the expected discomforts of the world when you are responsible for a very young person? What if things like these sanity-jostling little episodes of endurance can only ever be appreciated later, when you’re on the ground, when you and your child are free, someplace new or someplace familiar?
Because really, maybe it is neither the plane nor the toddler that is prompting you to wonder why you ever dreaded flying before becoming a parent, when the cabin was your oyster and you could pee and zone the fuck out and lift and drop your tray ANYTIME you wanted; the enemy is your own limited mind. You think you are stuck. But it is only your legs and your bladder and your arms and your hair and your shoulders and your feet that are stuck. Your brain, it can go anywhere, do anything, evacuate the premises entirely. This is true in a deep, spiritual sense, but also, I am joking. EVEN YOUR BRAIN IS NOT FREE. See THIS POST.
The past couple days, I’ve been less anxious than I was when I wrote THIS and I don’t know why, because I am still tired, still not taking care of myself in all the ways I want to. But things feel less hard. I feel less overwhelmed. I am tempted to try to make sense of that, to link it to weaning (which continues) or to the ever-changing hormones in my postpartum brain and body or to working out or not working out or eating some kind of cereal for breakfast or SOMETHING, ANYTHING tangible. But I am not going to do that. Anxiety, my anxiety at least, seems to thrive on creating exhausting logic loops and on employing my brain in their pointless service. I am going to accept the quietness of right now, of my own mind. I am so lucky to be able to even be writing this. So much dumb luck has been afforded me, and for no good reason. I’m lucky to be laughing at my son making fart noises with his mouth and writing all these small things down here and staring into my husband’s eyes and when he asks, “What’re you thinking about?” replying nothing more complicated than “your face” or “I have no idea” and meaning it.
What if the good parts and bad parts of flying and not-flying don’t serve some greater purpose? What if the good parts and bad parts of parenting don’t exist in service to the karmic balance of the universe or our reasons for being here? What if there is nothing to flying and living and being a mother or father except the tricky and complicated, heart-opening, ever-changing way we feel about it? What if that’s it? What if feelings are big, but we are small and we are sometimes OK, even in a narrow cabin, with all these snakes at our side?
The mom blog I was going to post today feels
particularly trivial at this moment, in light of the racially-motivated
mass murder committed in Charleston earlier this week.
I was moved by this piece on taking responsibility for our racism. It’s an articulate reminder that we need to acknowledge, if we are white, that we benefit hugely from the racially-biased structure of our society. If we can open ourselves up to criticism and feedback from people of color on what we can change in ourselves, maybe a lot of things can change.
I’ll be back Monday with a new post.
Weaning is happening. I can’t really say “I am weaning!” or “Sly is weaning!” because my son is as desperate as ever to suck out whatever remains of my milk and I find myself repeatedly discarding my concrete plan to drop feedings in favor of whatever will work in the moment, whether it’s more boob, a graham cracker, seeing a man outside the window (“look, Sly! A man! A man!”), Elmo’s song, bubbles, FaceTime, a penny, another penny, ANOTHER PENNY, ANYTHING. I am not a pillar of weaning certainty. I am more like a robe without a hanger. I am trying hard to find a hanger. But still, the time between nursings is stretching and right after Sly drinks, he almost always asks for water or milk. So it is likely that he is getting as much hydration from my body as I get when I chew a piece of gum. And this weaning that is happening to us, it is probably what’s been massaging my anxiety, like Mickey did for Rocky, stoking the fight in my hormonally wrecked body. Breastfeeding is a wonder and a deeply respectable beverage/food choice for humans who are new to the world, but, for me, letting breastfeeding go is a shit show, much more so than starting it was.
I get it, I see what is going on. I am weaning more than my child. I’m weaning myself. And not just off of breastfeeding and not just off of the sweet physical closeness of the breastfeeding relationship; I’m weaning myself off the the early motherhood high. It feels like the turning point of an adult relationship, when the pheromones drop away and you turn to look at the person you are dating and instead of seeing a god-like dream creature who was born to love and be loved by your perfect self, you see a likable dude wearing a T-shirt. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s that it’s regular. There is no chemical boost to help cement your union. It’s just you and your baby. Or, it’s just you and your partner and your conversations and your familiar holding hands and your bodies finding their way next to each other, particularly at the beginning and the end of the day, pulled not by the hot rush of new-thing hormones, but by love, however you define it, and responsibility and loyalty and the promise of somewhat infinite understanding.
Things are just regular good now, for me. And the regular good is great. But I also have ants under the bookcase and we’re going to be on COBRA insurance for a little while and I don’t know what my future looks like, career-wise, but I’m guessing it will not look at all how it has looked for the past ten years. I am hoping I will be writing a lot, in this career future, but it is all so foggy and freaky at this particular second, like driving up Route 1 in California as the sun is going away, and I cannot look at the beautiful vistas, I can only grip the shit out of the door handle and will us to stay in our little winding lane.
As I said, I am weaning.
Now is probably not the time to berate myself for avoiding the view. Now is the time to stare straight ahead and look at the dried leaves stuck in between the windshield wipers and open the glove compartment and see if there are any fun treasures I forgot I stored there (a lot of questionable mix CDs). These are metaphors but also very effective if you experience acrophobia while being a passenger in a car!
The hardest part of letting go of one phase of motherhood for the next — whatever that is for you, whether it’s the chemical horror show that is weaning or going back to a job outside the house or just some indiscernible change in you or your child that screws up some faint equilibrium — is that we tuck all this in. If I didn’t tell you here, you wouldn’t know. You’d see me on the street and (I HOPE) think, “Wow, that mom is chill.” Because, when I hold my child, I am mostly chill. He is freaking out, so I am chill. He is fast walking to a busy street corner because there had been a dog on that corner a second before and, in a chill manner, I fast walk up to him and scoop his little body close to mine and redirect us home. And instead of writhing wildly the way he does, which is what I’m doing inside, I head back to our apartment with the gait of a proud thoroughbred, a little smile on my face, my eyes toward the sky, not only in an effort to impress my invisible audience, but to not terrify my child. I’m trying not to terrify him. I think it’s mostly working.
The other day, I was grocery shopping at the co-op by myself and a very little boy walked up to me, crying, and said, “Mommy. Mommy.” He took my hand. It was so shocking and moving, I had to take huge breaths so I wouldn’t start crying myself. “You can’t find your Mommy?” I asked. He shook his head. “OK.” I had no idea what to do. “Let’s find her.” A woman standing nearby on a step stool, shelving cheese, had been watching and offered to page the mom on the PA. I thought, this kid is way too little to know his mom’s name, WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO? But he did! He knew her first name! The cheese woman paged her, and the boy and I stood holding hands, and I was crying at that point but pretending it was a reaction to the bright cheese lights and the mom quickly appeared, she’d been so close by, it was funny, even though it wasn’t. The boy totally relaxed and they walked away to get some bread or something. The cheese lady said, “You handled that really well,” and I wanted to run up to her, because my own mother was not there, and hold her hand and say, “Thank you,” and stand there with her waiting to be rescued. Instead, I stood where I was and brushed it off like it was no big deal. I cried the whole way home and have since been trying to teach my son my name with mixed results.
Things are making sense to me now. From the day our kids are born and left with us, we are starting the forever process of weaning them from ourselves and ourselves from them and it is just hard. Fun can be had, great times can be had, but this weaning thing, whether it is from boobs or from our company or from an idea we had about who they were, it is always there, pulling on a hook in the middle of our chests until, I don’t know, until forever.
Here I am, showing up today not because I know what to say, but because I want to be here. I don’t know where else to go. I did not know what to write this week. My husband said, why don’t you write about that, about not knowing what to write about, and I thought, what a fantastic idea, I’m sure people would love to read about the blank hollows of my brain.
But here I am.
The last couple days have eked forward, punctuated by naps, trips to the ATM to pay the babysitter (so I can write), and anxiety, which has blown in like a quiet windstorm in my stomach. Have you had anxiety? YOU HAVE??? TELL ME ABOUT IT!!! IS IT LIKE MINE???
This is what I want to say to every single person I see. I want to ask them if they are having anxiety RIGHT NOW ALSO??? ARE YOU??? HOW DOES IT FEEL TO YOU???
I didn’t realize, until this heinous but otherwise banal week began, that I may actually have had anxiety my entire life. I just called it by other names (can-do spirit, wanting to be liked, nervousness around other humans, the ability to blow small things out of proportion for many days in a row). For years, I’d stayed active enough to distract the anxiety away. But I now live in kid-land. It is great here and beautiful and interesting and there are lots of small pieces of mangled food and swapped consonants, but it is also sometimes the equivalent of climbing into an umbrella stroller. I feel too big for it, sometimes. Sometimes, I can squish and it’s cool, the frame won’t break. Sometimes, though, I cannot squish and I see myself from an outsider’s perspective, too big, too full of adult thoughts and ideas to be riding around like a fool in a tiny folding chair with a basket under my butt.
Visuals like these and anxiety, they are symptoms of sleep deprivation. You cannot hide from sleep deprivation. You cannot hide from 5:30 am toddler wake-ups. You cannot hide from the bursting days, the loveliness of them and the way there are moments when you are watching your child, listening to him repeat somebody’s name, handing him a blueberry that he will pop into his mouth with the digital prowess of a teenage flautist, that the entire earth and your entire self is elsewhere and refreshingly unimportant. There are also moments when all I can think about is myself, particularly when the night has not been good to me, and that is when the anxiety barrels in, kidnapping my confidence and my righteousness and my zest for life.
It is then that I become Blank Hollow Mom. You’ve seen her before. From faraway, she seems to have a certain sense of purpose, bustling down the sidewalk, her kid wrapped close on her chest or babbling happily in a stroller out in front. But then you get closer and you see Blank Hollow Mom’s eyes, that they look empty, like she is wearing empty eye contacts, and you see her mouth and it is a straight line, maybe even a bewildered frown, maybe even an open mouth gape, like a frozen Pompeii person, and you can’t provide comfort, you can’t turn that frown upside down because you can’t find a way in to those scary empty eyes. You think, “Oh Jesus, what happened to HER? She must hate being a mom! Or, maybe she’s always been a miserable person. Maybe she’s the kind of person who does the opposite of light up a room. Or, I guess maybe she just lost something important, like her wallet or her sense of self-worth. If it’s the former, that’s a real hassle, especially calling credit card companies with a kid nearby to throw the self-service menu wildly out of whack. And if it’s the latter, goddamnit, get a grip, woman, you MADE A PERSON, BE FUCKING PROUD OF YOURSELF, OKAY???”
Those aren’t the things you are thinking when I walk by you? OK, well, perhaps my sleep-deprivation induced anxiety has morphed into paranoia laced with low self-esteem.
I took two naps yesterday. I passed out cold as soon as my son konked out in the morning and then I did the same thing again three and a half hours later. You’d have thought we were drugged the way we went down. Mothers of slightly older humans don’t tell new mothers that their sleep may, in fact, not improve as time goes on. Why would you want to scare a a newbie whose body has been changed forever and still hurts for it? You don’t so you lie and say, don’t worry, it’ll get easier.
And, I mean, we all know it does get easier (RIGHT???), but, I am coming to understand, using the small patches of still-effective, non-neurotic brain available to me: you have to work harder to take care of yourself. But you do have to take care of yourself. And if you don’t and you’re still OK, that’s WONDERFUL, but keep it to yourself. People like me will find your nonchalant iconoclasm a threat and will lash out at you for it because people like me are tired and not in their right mind.
I want to be in my right mind, though. So I am going to attempt to revive Blank Hollow Mom. I will start going to bed earlier. I will start saying no to things, like, maybe, a career path that isn’t as meaningful to me anymore and may, in fact, summon stress like a dinner bell does farm children. I will start eating lunches that aren’t composed primarily of muffin crumbs, sardines leftover by my child, hand-torn hunks of counter warmed cheddar cheese, and fistfuls of artificially flavored sunflower seed disks, accompanied by random sips of water from random glasses left around the apartment. I will start saying affirmations to myself daily that are too unabashedly hopeful for me to type here with a straight face. But I will say them, I swear I will. I will put my phone somewhere and forget where that place is.
I will not start smiling at construction workers because they ask me to or humoring people who refer to my child as a ladykiller, but I will start smiling to myself, when I find something funny (like THIS BOOK, the one thing that’s given me giggle fits this week, and I’m not discounting these giggles even though they morphed into five minutes of hysterical sobbing).
I will go to sleep early. This is the hardest, particularly when you’re running a roll call on your daily/long-term failures, but I will sleep. I have to sleep. The answer, the light, the way forward, it all lies in bed, underneath a blanket, its peaceful face still flickering slightly, but its ankles unburdened and its eyes relighting themselves in the dark.
I had this hokey, embarrassing thought the other day — that when I was a kid, the word “like” was to be avoided, that using it in excess made you sound like a moron, but now, my generation of conclusive-sentence avoiders is largely responsible for turning that taboo into the fucking holy grail. We cannot get enough likes! We like! We want to be liked! And we are open about it, shameless even, and, maybe as a result, our talking is littered with likes. And there’s nobody to tell us to stop! Because we are, finally, in charge. We are the parents, the scolders! It’s, like, liberating. And unnerving.
I don’t want to start getting nostalgic this early. I don’t want to croak out things like, “when I was a kid,” cementing my oncoming irrelevance, as well as the likelihood that I will never again wear a pair of on trend pants. I want to not give a shit how people talk. And I kind of don’t. I heard the This American Life piece on vocal fry and found awesome their conclusion that the way we talk is always evolving and if you can’t get on board, you’re old, so shut up.
But I can’t yet make peace with the likes.
The Facebook likes. Some wretched day in the future, my son will create a Facebook profile. He will no longer be frantically trying to put tops on every single item in our apartment or doing impressions of elephants; he will be cropping a photo of himself that he hopes people will find hilarious/hot/intriguing (BARF). This whole thing is freakier to me these days than him mis-stepping his way off playground climbing structures or swallowing a dusty guitar pick. I am not afraid of a lot of things I probably should be afraid of, like bullies or predators or non-child-proofed apartments. I am afraid of him being human. I am afraid of him posting something, anything, an article, a picture of himself, a wry observation about the way shirts fit these days (shirts are going to fit so weirdly in 2030!), and of him waiting for someone to like it. There he will be, an iPhone hooked onto his thumbnail or the top half of his knee or something, his forehead knotted a little, the rest of his face trying to play it cool, as he checks to see if anybody heard him and wants to say so publicly. The idea of this kid waiting to be affirmed by the fascinating hellscape that is social media makes me anxious enough to question why I decided to have a chid at all.
I did not always want to be a mother. My parents graciously provided me with a younger sister to boss around and corral into playing the petite father in the classic American Girl Doll script, “Home Is Where the Heart Is: A Play About Kirsten”, which we performed in our neighbor’s driveway to an audience that was at least a quarter dogs. But then, I became a mother, on purpose, because it felt like there was a baby-shaped space in my life and because a miniature version of my husband sounded fun, interesting, and adorable. Abstract babies are incredible (and flawless and boring)! Real babies are incredible (and terrible and riveting) and I can see how much I did not know was coming because it is very hard to summon feelings for something with whom you have not yet spent a lot of time.
But we’ve done that now, amassed 10,000 hours together, and I anticipate his future approval seeking with the same terror I feel about my own. And, OK, yeah, I’m getting it now, that if I want a future for him that is at least somewhat free of a desire to please, I need to stop trying to please people myself. Crap. Why did I have a kid again? Was it perhaps a masochistic attempt to cultivate at-times overwhelming self-awareness, particularly of my myriad inadequacies? If so, IT WORKED!
Lance and I went out to dinner last Friday for our friend’s birthday and drank wine and had conversations that made us nod a lot in earnest and laugh and we sat outside in a lit up garden space and my arms felt weightless because there was nothing in them. It had been a while since that had happened. We walked through a few neighborhoods to get home and as we approached a quiet part of 6th Avenue, a woman and a man were walking out of an apartment building and his hand was on her elbow and she was taking deliberate steps and her face was focused and blank. There was another woman walking close to them and a third woman came from somewhere in the street, sliding between parked cars to meet the woman and the man, excited, taking the focused woman’s arms gently. The focused woman was in labor. These were her people, holding on to her, at hand to witness things and guard her and be needed. They all wanted to be needed.
The whole scene jammed a golf ball in my throat and we kept walking and I was crying and grinning, idiotically. 15 months ago, I was this woman. Another friend of ours was this woman early in the morning this past Mother’s Day. More and more people I know will be this woman and many more I don’t know will be, too. But until Friday night, I had not seen what the briefly lucid time-outside-time before motherhood actually begins looked like.
I don’t know if there’s a point to my seeing that woman, but I want there to be. I want the point to be that life is happening, heedlessly, away from the crowd of affirmers. The woman and I, we were people wearing spring clothing walking on our legs at night, both of us at the mercy of creatures much smaller than us, and there was no picture or video, except the one in my head. She won’t ever know I liked it. It won’t matter that I did, not to her anyway, because right now, I imagine her arms do not feel weightless. But to me, that image, the one I liked, can matter so much and I can recall it whenever I want and get tears in my eyes and feel the hot buzz of my single glass of wine in my legs and be alive, so luckily alive.
So, in 2030, when my son is nervously tapping away at his fancy hologram thumbnail retina phone, I’ll say to him the things I say to myself, like, “We’re all actually alone, you know, even the cool kids,” and “The internet is horseshit!” and he’ll smile patronizingly, like, “Good try, Mom”. But then I’ll say, “I know it’s a school night and it’s freezing, but let’s go out and get milkshakes or Skittles,” and he will not be able to turn me down because he will like at least one of those options (HE MUST) and he will be too anxious to stay home, twiddling his thumbnail screen. We will take to the streets of Brooklyn and we will see stuff, see people walking their trembling dogs and poorly parking their cars and tripping over patches of ice, all en route somewhere, and we will feel ourselves getting smaller and the world getting bigger and I will still be afraid of my son being human and wanting and waiting, but I will be human too and my humanness will make me impatient for my milkshake, so, instead of worrying, I’ll say, “C’mon, Sly, I’m hungry,” and to the diner we will go.
One evening last week, I made my son sit on a whoopee cushion. I thought he was ready, finally, at fifteen months, and I can tell you why: 1) when I ask him if he just farted, he looks at me and gets a focused, sparkling look in his eyes and tries to fart again. He tries really hard. Sometimes, it works. 2) Before his nap, while I’m singing to him, he makes impressive fart noises on my arms and my shoulders and sometimes, when I’m breastfeeding him before bed, he stops nursing and makes fart noises into my breast. If this horrifies you, you’re reading the wrong mom blog. If it doesn’t, can I ask you — does your kid do this? It’s so sweet and harmless and strange and hilarious. It cracks me up as I cringe, mainly for the benefit of the studio audience in my living room (an enormous stuffed bear wearing a bow; a ring stacker with the face of a smiling, hat-wearing man on top; a very realistic and very tiny plastic dog).
The whoopee cushion seemed like an admirable reroute.
Months ago, when I first showed Sly a whoopee cushion, he was wary of what I’m realizing maybe reminded him of a deflated placenta. He did not want to hold it. He, in fact, veered purposefully away from it. But he was amoebic then! Now, he’s practically ready to do magic tricks. He says things like, “I know!” and “Two!”
The day this went down, Sly found the whoopee cushion in between a couple of old novels in the back of our big bookshelf and, so, thrilled, I blew it up and patted the floor next to me. There was suspicion in that place on his forehead between his eyes. But he walked over. It’s possible he tried to say whoopee. I like to think he didn’t though, because it just makes me feel sad about him not ever wanting to say that word again. He sat down dutifully on the little sack of air and I gave his shoulders a press. I did it like he was riding a bike. Like, off you go kiddo! There was a juicy series of explosions. “Yeah!” Lance and I cheered. You know, the way you do when the thing you were trying to make happen actually happens.
“You did it!” I thought or said, I’m not sure, because that was when my son’s face broke into many different pieces and he was crying very hard and shouting, “Daddy! Daddy!” and walking furiously in his father’s direction, not mine. I looked at the whoopee cushion like, “You fucking piece of shit. You couldn’t have reined it in a little? I am burying you so far behind that bookshelf, we won’t see you again until we MOVE!”
I looked over at my kid in his dad’s arms and tears came to my own eyes. 15 months of trust shattered by a witless piece of rubber.
He likes me again, Sly does, but I feel like sometimes we’re walking barefoot together on cracked open cement, like we’re constantly on the verge of disappointing each other in these tiny, but exhausting little ways that neither of us can help.
Like: Sly often asks us to sing the Hello song, which is a Lance-Invented riff on something we sang at the beginning of his Music for Aardvarks class. It also sounds a little like the start of a verse in the Paul Simon song “Leaves That Are Green”, so one day, I sang him that version. I thought, you will one day love this kind of melancholy music, these existential lyrics, and it is my job, now, to expose you to real music and to all of the feelings, all of the musically-induced High Fidelity feelings. But it’s a really a sad progression. The notes are sad. I felt sad singing it to a hopeful kid in a diaper holding half a waffle. What was I doing?
Like: Sly’s been waking up between 5 and 5:30 am for months, maybe for as long as I’ve known him, which is basically forever. He used to go back to sleep but then he stopped doing that. It’s fine, it’s shitty, there’s no joy in it, you have to scrounge for it, manufacture it; you have to go get bagels as soon as the sun catches up to you and find a playground and chase your kid chasing a bird before you can be OK with a 5 am wake-up. It’s nobody’s fault, I tell myself. But every time I hear him through the wall chirping before the birds do, I feel so defeated. Like, what did I do wrong? I’ve read about all the things you’re supposed to do to prevent this from happening and we do some of them and not others, so, maybe, I wonder, still nestled under my blanket, my husband entirely unaware and breathing shallow sleep breaths next to me, maybe it is my fault.
Then I remember the thing that not many mothers or people tell you but that you have to tell yourself every few hours, every day: most things don’t mean anything. And the things that do are mostly out of your control. And the things that mean something that are in your control you probably don’t have time to figure out or fix. Being a mother, like being a baby, isn’t a series of perfect little steps in perfect order leading to a perfect existence. I don’t know what being a mother or being a baby IS, I just know it’s not THAT. How do I know that it is not that? Well. Um. I don’t. I am just making it up! I am making everything up, as far as being a mother goes! I was born into a long line of women who are open about their lack of authority/certainty but will completely reject any and all unsolicited advice. We are a stubbornly diminutive breed.
I think maybe I am the whoopee cushion. I think maybe I will always be the whoopee cushion. And if that’s so, then may my age old powers someday delight you, my sweet son, and until then, know that I am probably wedged back behind some books, watching, waiting, a soft and potentially hilarious place for you to land when you need me.
Happy Mother’s Day, fellow gasbags.
My husband wrote a book and he has been traveling for the past two and a half weeks and it has been fine and horrible and lovely and numbingly lonely.
I have had help, from my parents, my parents-in-law, my sister and brother-in-law and his brother. Our regular babysitters have come a couple times during the week for a few hours.
The horribleness has not come from the lack of help or from the help not being helpful. Everyone is helpful and loving and encourages me to rest and eat and take some time to myself. Sometimes, I do those things, but there has been work for me and there are meals to be explained and two sets of stairs to tackle, with a toddler either strapped to your chest or in one of your arm’s, a stroller in the other. That is not easy for anybody, especially not people who aren’t used to it. Because everything changes all of the time and my helpers aren’t here five days a week, I am the shepherd. That isn’t a complaint, it just is what it is. OK, maybe it’s a complaint, but I take responsibility. I did this, I had a kid, I know, I know! I am lucky, I know! My husband will eventually come home, I know.
When someone who is usually there, is not, moments get longer, and shorter too.
Like: the time it takes for your child to stop trying to walk up the metal slide before he face-plants. You watch him and you wait and you wait and you wait. He waves away your offers to help him go down the slide. Why would he ease on down when he can claw his way up? He body-plants and there is blood and the time it takes to calm him down feels like forever, but it is not forever. It is not yet 5 o’clock. And there are other slides on this playground. There are also ten year old monkey-bar swingers into which a tiny human can crash. And abandoned bottles of Pepsi to procure and suck on. Whatever. You resign yourself to the sun never ever going down. You navigate the capable crowd for your focused, bumbling wonder boy.
When your person, your partner person, is a person who can see you at your most haggard and naked, your shell-shocked morning face not at all alarming to this person, in fact, that shock often softening into OK-ness BECAUSE of the good humor of that person, their absence is fucking rude. It doesn’t matter why they aren’t there or that it is supporting everybody or that it is wonderful or that you aren’t even jealous, but proud, so proud (it’s a fucking fantastic book, you should get it). That doesn’t matter at 5:30 am or at 5:30 pm. When you are the only one getting up with your kid in the morning and putting that kid to bed at night, not to mention spending many other JOYFUL hours with them, for a certain number of days, you have to push your other person out of your mind entirely and replace them with inane worries or chapters of the book you’re reading. Or lists, compacted like nesting dolls in the open spaces in your mind.
Solo parenting moments are lovelier and more awful because they are all yours. You get to take credit for everything. We FaceTime with my husband and I say, “Sly said this and THIS and he tried to leave the park and he is such a champion.”
I imply, AND YOU MISSED IT.
I imply, I AM THE CHAMPION.
While my husband is gone, I take a photograph of my kid, of me with my kid, smiling. These are the photos I tag and I frame. I should frame a picture of myself sitting on the floor, my back against the couch, wearing an old flannel shirt that was once so pretty and has now been washed into oblivion, a handful of magnetic blocks in my hand, my eyes completely vacant. The caption, or my explanation to a friend commenting on it hanging on the wall beside a framed photo of my beautiful, sun-dappled smiling baby, would be Actual Motherhood. Or Actually OK. Or Leave Me Alone.
And that’s the thing, being left alone is so nice at first. A fingernail’s worth of tears and then we’re doing it, Sly and I, and the day chugs along like an old dusty fan, pleasant, if slightly less effective. First nap, second nap, everything in between, with or without hitches, and we make it to the bath and to his darkened room and I shut the door and he “hellos” himself to sleep while the voices from one of my familiar podcasts chirp from my laptop and everything gets put back together. With no other person to distract me from my metaphorical zombie Japanese rock gardening, the books find their way to their shelves, toys into their basket (we only have one basket, I know, it’s Brooklyn, SORRY), crumbs and untouched peas into the compost, highchair tray into the sink, water running gently over my son’s accidental food oil paintings, dirty clothes that didn’t make it to the hamper in his room mounded on top of the printer, baby carrier wadded up on the window sill, wallet put back together and cash retrieved from under the play kitchen. It’s the most soothing meditation. I am hungry but I will get to eat soon, so soon. There is no one with whom to make a decision, no one to suggest we just order or we just cook. Every single minute is mine to squander and squander it, I might (I WILL), but the thing is that I am trapped here alone in my tower, my perfectly lovely tower, and I get to make up the games and the rules and abandon them whenever I want. I can’t abandon my child. I don’t want to. But this night is mine and the floors are so empty and clean.
It goes downhill from there and it is predictable. I miss my husband because he is the best company in the world for me. Also, I am used to him. And I don’t want to get a babysitter because I’m too tired to go out by myself. Probably that is what I should do. Shit, I really should. I should go out by myself or meet a friend or several friends. I should see a movie. Wouldn’t that be a gorgeous thing, buying a ticket at the counter, fishing in my backpack for Sly’s leftover cheddar bunnies, two and a half hours of world in front of me requiring nothing but my semi-consciousness, maybe not even that? But I feel cheap and beat and, as I’ve said before, I am wont to be reclusive.
Next time, I’ll go to the movies. This time, I will rake away at my sand when the day is over and remember that I am not actually alone. There is someone else in my apartment and for at least half the day, he, like his dad, is very good company.
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.
There are a lot of reasons not to buy clothes. These reasons congeal into giant orange hazard cones when you’ve given birth semi-recently, breastfeed a couple times a day, and/or feel like you are not fully existing inside your own body! I scroll through these reasons every time one of those tailor-made ads pops up on a blog I’m reading, creepily reminding me of my searches for “good price, nice underwear” or “flattering harem pants” or “soft black sweatshirt”.
I’d recently gotten in my head that a soft black sweatshirt was going to potentially change my life for the better. What’s taken me so long, I shouted at myself. Why have I never even owned a soft black sweatshirt? I’d seen a neighborhood mom wearing one recently and a cartoon cloud burst above my head, coating me in the soft rain of realization. Hey hold on, you know what, if I was wearing that, things might actually be OK!
First of all, I’d feel like I was constantly being held in a gentle embrace. Second, I’d look like I knew what I was doing, like I knew who I was — a mom — but the chic, unfussy kind. Like a mom who wakes up in the morning, takes a quick shower, throws on her soft black sweatshirt, and could subsequently be photographed at any moment afterward in a state of supreme calm. When her son turns stone-faced and throws pieces of waffle under the kitchen table like he’s playing Cornhole, this woman is matter-of-fact but amused; when that same son falls to pieces himself, thanks to a delayed afternoon nap, this woman kisses him, turns the volume down on her baby monitor (who am I kidding? she doesn’t even use a monitor!), sips a cup of organic tea and really takes in all the relevant details of an important article in The New York Times about climate change.
I could be this woman, I think. I put the sweatshirt in my online shopping cart. Everything feels really attainable in that moment, like all my ambitions for myself as a human being and a mother and an effective manager of time are actually attainable. I don’t have to feel anxious anymore! I just have to enter my billing and shipping address and credit card information and everything will be not just OK, but beautiful.
Hold up, though.
I’m not a fucking idiot. I see through the seduction before anybody’s pants are unzipped! First of all, I’m going to look like a garbage bag in that sweatshirt. I mean that literally, I will look like a black bag filled with garbage in that soft black sweatshirt because it will undoubtedly be too baggy on my undersized upper body, causing me to look like I’ve stuffed old rags and takeout containers into it, the way you do with a bag of garbage. Secondly, it will be too hot. It’s getting hotter outside by the day, so that warm embrace will turn into the clammy Gumby arm entrapment of the accidental boyfriend you never should’ve started dating in the first place. And so it goes from there. I think about the money that could’ve been better spent on food or a babysitter. I think about my perfectly fine cardigan and the head-sized hole in its left armpit that only adds to its draping charm.
You get it. There are a lot of reasons not to buy clothes. And online shopping has only furthered my manic and crippling indecision. I can buy things for other people, no sweat. I can receive clothing as gifts - what a generous relief! And I can certainly click through ten pages of an extra 30% off sale, filling up carts and abandoning them all over the internet. But, ultimately, a sale only serves as a reminder to me that the best deal is not making a deal at all and instead, slipping on that trusty pair of Old Navy ankle length sweatpants that look better than you’d think. But still pretty bad.
I do not want to join the chorus of beautiful new mothers who have succumbed to the societal expectation that they despise their bodies and must exercise and diet them back to some sort of perfect ideal that actually isn’t. And to be honest, I don’t hate my body. But I don’t feel like I know it. I feel like I’m keeping it at an arm’s length because knowing it would mean accepting that it is different now; that I am different now; that even though my clothes still fit, and though I mostly look like the person I was before I grew a kid inside myself, my brain and my skin and my muscles are altered. For example, my hip bones apparently MOVED to let a baby go through. Did they move back? WHO CAN SAY? (Please don’t say.)
But all these bones and muscles and all this skin, it’s all still working. It’s squatting to pick up a 22 pound toddler and it’s climbing up playground ladders and squeezing down slides and thundering into a pile on the couch at the end of the day with the force of something seven times its size. It deserves the warm embrace of some sort of fabric, I know. But if I buy new clothes for this new body, if I buy nice clothes, clothes to be seen in, then I’m pretty much saying, I like you. I want to do nice things for you. I want you to go out and do fun things, with or without the baby who sleeps in your apartment. I am not afraid of you, body! I am not afraid of how you are not at all familiar to me!
And if I say that, I probably have to mean it.
Or do I?
Maybe I just need to buy a fucking soft sweatshirt. I don’t want to believe that it’s that simple. It probably isn’t. But, come on, Katie, you can always return it. You have to try! You have to live! You have to clean the butter dish! You know what I’m talking about, fellow dubious shoppers, misers, and other reluctantly positive people. Nobody wants to clean a butter dish. Is it even worth it? There will just be more butter! More butter, more breadcrumbs on the butter, more jelly on the crumbs on the butter! Shouldn’t I just let it ride for a few sticks at least before performing this tiresome charade just for the sake of keeping up appearances? But then one evening, when I’m not thinking about it, I’m just talking to my husband as he flosses loudly (yes, you can floss loudly and he does) in the bathroom, the empty butter dish finds its way into my hands and I soap it up and rinse it until it looks fresh off the Crate and Barrel shelf. I put a new stick of butter on top. I put it in the refrigerator in its cozy little butter dish compartment, and for a minute, everything doesn’t just feel attainable. It actually is. I can just wash a butter dish or I can just click PURCHASE or I can just do some jumping jacks in my living room and make my kid laugh and feel the soles of my feet on the cold hardwood floor.
I can see myself in a mirror and, though I won’t know who it is I’m seeing, I can choose not to be alarmed. I can think, hey, I know her! That lady in the weird black sweatshirt, I know her. Or, maybe I don’t. But I want to. Hey lady. What’s up.
I was doing some sort of deep lunge the other day in a yoga class, the kind that makes you feel like you can do anything, even if you have inflexible steel pipe hamstrings and a fear of being upside down like I do, and the music from the yoga teacher’s iPod suddenly got very loud. At least it did for me. She was playing something by Explosions in the Sky. Maybe you heard one of their violently poignant songs on Friday Night Lights? The point is, I heard it and the nostalgia almost tipped me over. And for a minute or two, something great and terrible happened: I re-inhabited the young version of myself, the person I was before I was a mom or a wife or a remotely settled down human being.“Where did I go?” I thought, tears in my eyes, as I reached around for my foot with the wrong hand. I felt lighter, like actually physically unburdened by all my figurative responsibilities, like my baby had been unstrapped from my chest and all my ambitions and anxieties got quiet and everything in my world was small and easy to carry around. It’s not like that’s how it actually was way back when, but, you know, this was a lucid yoga dream.
As I improperly stretched my quadriceps, I existed briefly inside this perfect version of myself — a made-up version that didn’t exist even back when I had no traditional responsibilities —and it was a relief and also very sad.
Motherhood has a knack for, as Sarah Ruhl puts it in her book of essays, obliterating you. But “where did I go?” didn’t feel as much like me looking for my lost self; it felt like me getting sideswiped by your average adult terror: the passage of time. My life had happened. It was happening, yes, but also, a lot of it HAD ALREADY HAPPENED. I was not going to go to yoga class and unfurl my mat quietly and peer around me at the pregnant women and the white-haired women and the imperious woman on a lunch break from her VERY IMPORTANT JOB and wonder, when will I be one of those women? I AM now the woman who maybe some younger version of me is peering at, wondering about. Or maybe no one is looking at me, but either way, I’ve been spending a lot less of my own time peering around. Until Explosions in the Sky punched me in my baby-focused face. It slowed me down, made me notice the way the room smelled like sweat and essential oils, and made me look down at my foot, a foot that was being gently yanked by my wrong hand, the same foot that I’d had at 22, here still and not so ravaged that I didn’t recognize it. I tried not to weep too loudly and not just because I was very close to ripping something out of place in my musculature.
On my way home to my apartment, the out of body business long over, I thought instead about things like, how much frozen fish is too much frozen fish for a 14 month old and how maybe tonight I will call one of the nine people who I’ve avoided calling not because I hate them but because speaking out loud after 7 pm to anyone other than my husband feels like carrying an air conditioner across New York City in July. Whatever happened in that fevered yoga room buried itself from whence it came. Until I started writing this blog post.
My husband and my son are the greatest people I’ve ever met. I like my life. I am lucky. I have people and things that I am so fucking lucky to have. And I find parts of motherhood fascinating — like the way my son lifts up his tent with both hands and goes under to get inside instead of just walking through the open flap — and fulfilling — like when my son says water and I find his cup of water and he takes it with both hands and drinks it. That sounds so tiny, but when it happens, I can’t look away. I feel like he is a genius and I am full of pride. Then he coughs up a bunch of water and I’m still beaming and he’s like, hello, what’s wrong with you?
But then, you know.
I go on Facebook. I mean, I’m posting this blog entry on Facebook, which, like real life, is as wonderful as it is horrible. I see people I kind of know making dreams happen (which often means making lots of money and doing it in an apparently glamorous and public way). I see people I kind of know doing fun things at night, like seeing plays, lots of plays, and performing in comedy shows, lots of comedy shows, because they don’t have a baby or they have a babysitter every night or they are simply a more energetic, can-do parent than I. I see people I kind of know sharing the complexities of their hearts and starting conversations with people they kind of know, ONLINE, and these conversations are profound and beautiful and moving. And I wonder, “what do I do?” What do I have to say? What do I have to show? Everything feels small measured against the breadth of the ever-regenerating news feed.
And yet here I am, writing a mom blog. I am peering around the figurative yoga class of 1 (my kid) and writing about it and wanting you to see me, to peer back at me, to wonder about my life the way I’m wondering about yours. If I am going to be obliterated and if time is going to keep dragging me along with it and surprising me with its speed, then I want to at least know that its happening! I mean, don’t we all want to chronicle where we’re going instead of momentarily getting kidnapped by a romanticized version of our old life, in a day time yoga class, as a gorgeous and emotionally manipulative song compels us to hold our wrong foot?
I need the internet lately. I’m doing a job that no one mails me a check for doing. In spite of reminding myself every day that this job has worth — by winking at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and whispering, “You’re worth it” while my child throws shampoo bottles into the tub next to me — I want you to read this. Wherever I am going, I don’t want to go there alone.
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?”
Most days, I do not need to race out my apartment door. This is cool, for sure, but also terrifying. Once Sly finally murmurs, “Bye bye, Dada,” four times after his Dada has left, I look at the oven clock, shudder, and then say in a goofy voice - to undercut my palpable fear - “Jeez Louise, it’s 7:55! Can you believe it?” If I really go there with the voice, get as Carol Burnett as I’m capable of getting, Sly laughs. Otherwise, he stares at me with pity, yanks apart the Velcro on one of his wooden fruits and flings the pieces onto the hardwood floor.
I see the playroom (/living room/family room/dining room) rug beneath me and all of the books we’ve already read or half-read, the toys with which we’ve sort of played. I see my reflection in the black screen of the TV. I wrap my hair up into a bun and see that my son is holding my hair tie. I think the words, “What do we do now?”
At this time of day, before my son’s first nap, there are no classes or mom’s groups, and the playground feels a country away (and looks like a post-apocalyptic hell-patch), and there isn’t time to get anything substantial done, like chopping dinner vegetables or getting a grip on my purpose in life.
And yet, there is still SO MUCH time.
It all feels very poetic, like the beginning of an indie film about a shy but sometimes funny mother who is finding herself, except that the film would cut away after a few seconds of reflection staring. For me, there is no cut away, just the realization that I have to pee and peeing only takes about a minute and we have so many more minutes to fill.
I’ve always liked the sound of other people’s voices, I just particularly like them when they aren’t addressing me. Listening to someone else’s conversations is a delight and a relief for a person with hermetic tendencies as strong as mine. And as it turns out, motherhood in winter rewards the hermetic! You want to hide from most of humankind for a good portion of your day? You want to stay in for the night starting around 5:30 pm? Have a child! A child will provide a shit ton of reasons to do all these things, and more! These sound like jokes because I’m using exclamation points, but, in fact, I really do find this part of motherhood lovely or at least very tolerable about 75% of time. (More on the remaining 25% of the time in another post.) That said, I don’t want to eavesdrop (if I could choose my superpower, it would be either volume or flight, NOT invisibility, which I mastered 20 years ago during the horror show that was puberty). And therein lies the mutually beneficial beauty of the mom podcast.
I listen not only to the week’s most recent episode. I listen to old episodes that I haven’t heard yet and sometimes to an episode that I HAVE heard before, on purpose. I do this a lot. I repeat listen a lot. I’m mortified to admit this because it highlights an obsessive quality of my personality that I could kind of pretend wasn’t there before I had a kid. But, come on, most mom podcasts are only posted once a week so WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ON THOSE OTHER DAYS?
Every single thing they say is fascinating to me at this moment, in my pitch dark parenting burrow. But it isn’t just the content that’s hooked me, it’s the humanness. The voices of these podcast hosts have become so familiar, I feel the urge to say hi to them every time a show starts in the same sweetly futile way my son says hi to the the least interested, most stone-faced strangers on the street and in our subway car. These other mother’s voices, mothers I don’t ever see in person, populate our two bedroom apartment like friends I’ve invited up. And sometimes the mom guests on a particular week’s episode totally click with the host and it’s magical to witness or it’s like an inside joke and makes me uncomfortable and jealous. Or, the guest doesn’t gel at all with the host and they stumble into these bumpy little impasses and I feel the disconnect, I feel like I have to protect Sly from the disconnect by laughing really loudly at the things the host and guest are saying to demonstrate empathy. In these moments, I say to myself, OK, it’s OK, they’ll find each other again, they’ll get there! But - and this is going to be cheesy, so commence cringing now - I love all of it.
Now, please don’t get worried that this cold weather isolation has turned me into someone whose entire calendar is composed of podcasts. This is (mostly) not the case. I go to an awesome real life mom’s group, I schedule playdates like it’s my job, and I go out with my friends who don’t have kids (or at least, we make plans and sometimes things actually pan out). But none of that stuff can happen at 8 in the morning. And even if it could, it would NOT involve 60 plus minutes of uninterrupted candid back and forth TALKING about the glorious swampland that is taking care of a human to whom you are related.
These days, uninterrupted conversations are nearly impossible to sustain when there’s a baby in the room. The brilliance of the mom podcast is that someone like me, someone who, in spite of her stamina for large hunks of time alone with her kid, needs at least a solid whiff of soulful, funny, odd, and SUSTAINED conversation between two people without having to hire a babysitter or bear the weather or open my heart, in earnest, to the wooden bus driver lady who sits in the front of my son’s wooden play bus. Mothering is lonely, even for introverts. I think listening to a couple of moms talk about their lives, especially the quiet, unseen, quotidian parts of their lives as moms, is a reminder that these moments matter. These moments are kind of everything. And anyone can have them, kid not required. Kids and babies are just great facilitators of small moments because that is their currency. And, this winter especially, I’ve needed help justifying why it is also mine. Maybe soon I won’t need a podcast to do that.
Though I doubt it.
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.