#061022: I had no idea how much being a mother was going to change me
I put on the same black leggings that have been hanging over my bathtub for weeks when I woke up this morning. It’s easy to throw them on because they’re right there and I have to get going, even though lately, I have ended up not taking them off until I change into my pajamas before bed. By now, they are covered in dust from the makeup my daughters exploded onto the carpet in their room last night.
I had not bothered to change out of the grey t-shirt I slept in after the clean-up, just put on a navy blue half-zip over it and started to get them ready for school. I have been thinking for days that I’m swimming in this stale soup of myself and I want to get out and yet day after day, stroke after stroke, here I am in the soup.
I think I underestimated how much real estate the label of “mother” was going to occupy on the terrain of my identity. How all-consuming it was going to be.
I think one big risk that comes with motherhood is that of losing yourself, but really of letting yourself believe that you’re no longer important, that in the grand scheme of needs, yours really don’t matter. That you are becoming invisible.
I have only one reference for whether it can be true that a woman could really become invisible — and that is the way I experienced my mom, though to me she was never invisible. But for sure I did feel that she had no needs — or just didn’t care for, or maybe respect, the needs that were her own — that her role in life, her singular raison d’etre was to serve as a springboard for me.
Did she do this on purpose to extend an invitation for me to uncover my agency? To do it with enough confidence but really with safety to know if I fell — no matter how hard, there was always a springboard beneath me? Sometimes I resent her for making me feel so important, for letting me believe that my needs are real.
When I started trying to have kids is when I resented this the most. But back then I don’t think I knew that this is what I resented. For sure, though, I wanted some distance. Distance from her, I thought, but it was really the part of me that is forever connected to her.
Maybe I could not wrap my head around the possibility that the sum of my parts would need to, or worse even want to become so wrapped up in someone else that it would be like I stopped existing.
I could not wrap my head around how a woman could respect herself and also suspend herself. I could not wrap my head around this because it is not what happens.
When my own kids did come after a time, I still didn’t get it — and sometimes today I look back at those days, the earliest ones, and feel a pang of regret that contracts at the center of my chest.
I don’t think I knew I was doing this then, but during those early days, in that avalanche of forthcoming change, I clung for dear life to how I’d come to know myself as a woman independent of her mother. That woman did not yet know what it was to become a mother herself.
She didn’t know because of what I know now: it depended on my dependence.
Sometimes, when I was young, I would look at my mom and watch her when she didn’t know I could see her — laying down on her bed in her limby thin form, reading a magazine while twirling the hair that she used to pull from the nape of her neck, or on the phone with one of her sisters; they would flirt in Farsi that would shift to Italian, then back to Farsi and on; or talking to a checkout clerk at the grocery store about what was included on the coupons that she’d cut out of her magazines and these moments always fascinated me. It was like, here this person has let me believe that she only exists for me, and yet here she is too, existing in daylight, fully formed flesh outside of me.
Those moments terrified me. The visceral helplessness of how much I needed my mom — how much I love my mom — is still sometimes too much to bear. Too much that I want to leave my body — to retreat into my head which is where I go when I’m scared and looking for comfort.
It makes so much sense to me now that I was compelled to become a writer. Somehow intellectualizing fear, or really any feeling that is big enough to seem like it could explode, made them a little bit safer.
Turns out the feelings were always safe, I just had to go deeper to see.
Am I supposed to just let them treat me like a garbage can or punching bag or doormat? Sometimes I put my foot down and my tone gets deep and overwhelming and I think on some level I believe what I’m doing is modeling self-respect. Resurrecting my selfhood to draw a boundary but when I reflect on it later, I feel more like a little boy who is sad but trying to cover it up, acting angry and big.
But responding in like to their every plea, the ones they dart out like rapid fire while I’m making them breakfast and they have no idea that I’m doing all of this for them, that isn’t right either. Keeping quiet, retreating inward in the moments they start to act like assholes — that seems even worse.
What do I wish my own mom did in the fury of her overwhelm? I guess I wish she had more patience — I wish she stayed inside of the same tone of voice, the soft and gentle one I could relate to. I wish she took deeper breaths. That in her voice, she asked me to wait and explained what she was doing. I wish she kissed me when I told her I hoped I could be a better mom than she had been. That she had faith that eventually, I would get it. I wish no matter how explosive it got, she stayed inside of that same tone of voice, she held her feet to the ground like tree trunks, no matter what wind I was swept up in.
Often we got swept up together.
So I learned that she was human, not just a springboard with conditional needs. Only recently did it occur to me though that she never knew how to tell me.
Abie’s been on a work trip since Sunday. I’m not used to sleeping in this bed alone but have to admit I really enjoy it. I have, for the overwhelming most part, been the one between us who travels for work, so my alone time in the quiet of the dark hours has rarely taken place at home.
I can’t believe how much more like mine this life feels when I’m here with it by myself. It is pleasant to find that I like it too, though when I look back, I always did like my life. My issue has so much more been with myself. I’ll never forget a note that I wrote in my phone in 2013 one evening. It was only a question and I found it years later, and still to this day can choke up at the thought. I asked: Can you love your life but hate yourself?
On a podcast I listened to last week, I heard a writer who I’ve been following for about one year define happiness not as being satisfied with what you have but with who you are.
This tiny shift in focus blew my mind. It reminds me of something I heard Janet McDonald say about freedom: “[It] is not nothing left to lose, it’s nothing left to be.”
Until very recently, I had never, or at least very rarely been happy with who I was. I suspect McDonald’s quote is why.
The shape of my life is starting to look more like the one my own mother’s took and I am floored to find I enjoy it. That what I have tried to push away the hardest has turned out to be what I’ve wanted most. To be a mother, a daughter, a partner, a sister, a friend — a woman full to the brim of herself in the complete range of her roles.
There is one moment I’ll never forget from three weeks after they were born. I returned to my bedroom late one night after I’d finished with one of their feeds and I started to cry and Abie asked why and I said I wasn’t ready to go back to work and he laughed because I was not going back — not for at least another 6 weeks. What I think now is that under those tears was a tacit understanding that when those cords were cut, something else tore off inside of me. I remember a thought I had at that moment, that I could cling for dear life to who I had been, or become who was in front of me.
I clung harder than ever before.
Last night I wondered what I would say if today, 24 months to the day since I left my company — after a worldwide pandemic of unprecedented measure, and many more step-downs of an optically similar genus, after one humiliating attempt to explain more than I could, and within a salacious newscycle that seems to have compassion for every kind of woman except just this one kind — someone asked what I have learned.
In the end, it is that I had no idea how much being a mother was going to change me.