Thoughts on Life

#052022: Home from a work trip

Thoughts on being a mom
by Leandra Medine Cohen
If you buy something, I might earn a commission.

I went to the doctor yesterday for a routine pelvic sonogram and when the practitioner was putting that warm jelly on my stomach I made a joke about how much more fun these appointments are when there is a heart beat to track on the monitor and then we started talking about having kids and she told me about her nieces and nephews and how much she loves them and how great of a mother her sister is and she asked about my kids — how many do I have, what are their names, what are their ages and I noticed how eager I get to strike up conversation with a stranger.

Strangers have no context, they know nothing of us beyond the moments we’re sharing and that gives whatever information slips through the exchange a sort of tender innocence, a tabula rasa, that I find lovely to reflect upon.

Like it takes so much pressure off “bringing your whole self” with you everywhere you go (exhausting, often untenable) and lets you marvel in this one isolated moment, this morsel of your identity. It struck me while we were talking that her limited knowledge expanded my self-understanding of that one morsel she could see.

After I told her that my daughters are four and twins, I thought of how excited they are when I get home or when they get home at the end of the day and we greet each other with so much enthusiasm. And then I said rather reflexively that those moments show me what being unconditionally loved feels like. Like all I have to do to excite my kids is be there when I’m there. You know?

It might sound trite or at least it does to me because my mom used to assemble some version of this sentiment and relay it on occasion even if I never got it and maybe that built up some resistance, a sort conscious rebellion against understanding what I considered the corniness of her platitudes. This rebellion, I am finding, is getting unproductive.

I got home from a work trip last Wednesday. It was the longest one I’d been on in years — 6 nights, two countries, four planes. And I had a great time while I was there and enjoyed the disruption to my routine: I could have quiet mornings and write my way through them, busy afternoons that spilled into nights, with no fear of evading some hold of accountability and when I got home after 6 days, I really liked that too. Although I didn’t realize this immediately.

Last Thursday on the morning after I got home, I went to the kitchen and I started to make a grocery list, and then I thought about what I’d cook for dinner the next night and my kids came in and I gave them breakfast and Abie stayed in bed until I took them to school and I had this moment of thinking to myself: oh God, are we fulfilling the damned archetypes of yore, with the active mother overextending before even 8am clocks in, full to the brim with household ideas. And then there’s the father, who acts like a guest in his own family, staying in bed because he’s tired but really because he knows he’s a stranger, that intimacy occurs where he deposits most of his energy, at work, and that made me mad.

And I know in the past this is exactly when I would have projected. When I’d have gone into my bedroom, arms akimbo, brow furrowed to exclaim in the name of domestic justice that we were not that kind of couple. That I expected his help! That he needed to be there!

But then I was like, wait. I spent the whole of my flight home yesterday fantasizing about this morning — alone at first to take stock and to plan and then with my daughters just us and our breakfast and stories of our time apart. I’d planned to tell him to stay in bed so I could be alone with them and also because he’d spent the previous six days alone with them and he did his fair share of laundry and filled in some of the groceries (one grocery)

and he made them mac and cheese and kept texting me to ask about “the rules” when they’d start to cry or whine or scream and it was funny and kind of heartwarming, a reminder that parenting is deeply intuitive, that the only “rule” is to listen when they erupt. To not make them feel afraid of their own feelings and somehow it’s easier for me to know this, like some version of his self-definition assumes he’s not allowed to be intuitive, that he needs the rules because he doesn’t even have the skill. Which isn’t true at all but this is a digression what I was going to say really is that on Thursday morning, I didn’t need help, or at least that right now, today, in this moment, I didn’t really want it.

You know what I think triggered the fury that I’m glad I let dissipate without first enacting? I think I looked at my life through this one quick feeling that was like slipping into a suit and I loved to be back in the suit; there was a gush of confidence that came over me on that morning and the suit looked a lot like the one my mom used to wear when she was full to the brim of her household ideas and thinking about what to make for dinner and spending breakfast alone with us pouring cereal into my bowl and laughing while she nibbled at her corn muffin and on Thursday when I poured the cereal and laughed, I think I was shocked that I didn’t hate it. That in this one morsel of me, I didn’t hate it at all.