So I’m going on a trip. Big whoop, right? Well, it is a pretty big whoop. It’s downright whooptastic! You know why it’s a big whoop? Because for the first time since I became pregnant with Rowan, I am going to leave the boys. So . . . math . . . that makes it about 5 years now. And to be honest, I am totally freaking out.
We all make choices when we have kids. It begins with the OBGYN and then really, it never stops. And of course, when you make a choice as a parent, you do so blindly, with only the advice of a few chosen people (or unchosen because let’s face it, people love to tell you how to raise your children) and the occasional book. One choice that we made early on was that we wanted to raise our kids to be serial killers. No, that isn’t true! While Rowan was still an infant we read a Dr. Sears book called The Baby Book, which promoted “attachment parenting,” and felt an instant kinship with the approach that he recommended within all dynamics of a family. Mostly, it was full of things we were doing anyway; how we slept, our approach to food, discipline, and the level of involvement that we felt we wanted with our children. (The only thing that we didn’t do was cloth-diaper the kids, mainly because we couldn’t find enough clarity between the waste of the disposable or the waste of water, and being desert dwellers, we had to strongly consider this.) We coslept and “wore” our boys, and I breast-fed them, as a lot of families do. I have devoted my days and nights to my kids, and although there were moments of intense . . . well, let’s just say not-so-flattering mother moments, I believe that I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’ve worked since my kids were infants, but I’ve never put them in day care, and I consider myself a stay-at home mother. A bold and revolutionary concept, yet just as bold as making the choice to work full time and hire a nanny, or put your child in day care. As hard as it is to be home with the kids, and knowing I wouldn’t have it any other way, I sometimes wonder if it is more of a challenge to continue on a career path that takes you away from your child 40 or more hours a week. I think that there is an assumption that people who choose that route must be cold or unfeeling, but I’ve always felt that emotionally, the challenges of being a working mother are far greater, and it is impossible not to feel the emotions associated with that decision. Unless you’re Hitler, or possibly Satan. Or are they the same person?
I remember watching an episode of Oprah years ago, before having kids, that featured the wife of an author that I liked. Her name was Ayelet Waldman, and she had written a very controversial article about motherhood. She sat on stage next to Oprah and was verbally assaulted by mothers for almost the entire show. Her basic stance was (and still is) that she loves her children but she isn’t in love with her children, she is in love with her husband. And to quote, “It is his face that inspires in me paroxysms of infatuated devotion. If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother. I am in fact a bad mother. I love my husband more than I love my children.” At the time I was watching this verbal stoning, I sincerely felt that I should have been in the audience. I don’t remember hearing a single mother express anything but disdain for her. No one seemed to understand that she wasn’t attacking them, only expressing what I think many mothers feel, but suppress. Everyone seemed to be reacting so defensively and emotionally to her! They were losing their freaking minds! Like, for real!
Then I had kids.
Even now I get her point and respect her for the truly gigantic balls it took to shout it to the world. In fact, I think that her truth is a fantastic albeit dangerous conversation starter. I wish that I could find a way to be as clear in my own life about what being a mother means for me and in some ways I actually have. But for me, motherhood also surprised me and showed me that who I thought I would be is simply not who I actually am. While watching that Oprah, I felt so sure that I would never be the kind of mother who makes her children dependent on her for all things. I had no doubts that my marriage wouldn’t change, that my deep connection to my husband would continue to be the strongest force for me. What a fucking idiot.
Before I knew it, I was flailing in the pool of motherhood. I’m only able to write about it now because I am no longer struggling as I once was, but the struggle was a great one. A flaming ball of poo. In the end, I had to surrender to it (motherhood, not the poo). For example, as I have been writing this, I’ve also had to make a mountain and some snow so that we could have an avalanche come down and crush all the prehistoric beasts in the house. And I’m a huge fan of cuddling, but I shit you not, I have had to cuddle with Luca for a total of at least 2 hours today. It’s that kind of day. I actually can’t sit down to write this because if I do, Luca will demand to sit on my lap, and since this is a laptop . . . well, you see where that’s headed. So, I surrender. And it makes every single thing easier. ( I just changed Luca’s diaper, and the entire time I was doing it, he played the kazoo. How can you not love this kid?)
I can remember about a year and a half ago calling John at work and telling him that if he didn’t come home I was afraid I would hurt the children. I have never hit my boys; I have never put them in a position where they were unsafe. But in that moment, I felt so lost. It is extremely hard for me to put this out there—it leaves me very vulnerable to judgment. But as a friend once said, “Just tell people the truth, and if they judge you for it, it’s their problem. You only have the truth.” And you can judge me if you’d like. It is a part of the human process. I only hope that in the future, when you are struggling, you remember what an asshole you’ve been. Wait! I mean, I only hope that you look back and feel like a horrible troll. No, no. What I really mean is that when you feel lost don’t fucking come to me. There. That’s better.
Where am I in all of this? Some days I really don’t know. Other days I feel like I have been destined for this my entire life. Of course I am not romantically in love with my children but I am utterly devoted to them. At the end of the day, when they are asleep, it is as if I come to after some kind of binge. I sort of have to shake it off, all the touching and comforting, all of the frustration and head butting, all the struggles against my instinct to control and then letting go of it, answering questions like, “what is an embryo?” or “why is my poop brown?”, all the little bursts of free time in which I begin everything and finish nothing, all the messes and clean-ups, the stretching of my imagination so that my kids can actually feel as if a dinosaur is chasing them, the errands run, the dinner cooked, books read over and over and over, the moments in which I hang my head at my total uselessness as a mother, the conversations with the kids that leave me starving for an IV full of inappropriate and intellectually stimulating conversations, the tears and arguments between the boys, the moments that make me want to die with absolute happiness . . . it is endless, but I shake it off. And after about an hour of this, I start to look forward to them waking up.
And now, a trip. I know that I will struggle, yet I yearn to get away. I am probably the luckiest person in the world in that five wonderful women will be joining me. (Little do they know that I may be vomiting out the window as we drive off to Sedona.) I just need to remember what it feels like to be one person in the world. Just one. I want to think complete thoughts and finish sentences. I want to pee with the door shut, please. And I want more than anything to miss my kids.