Monday, May 16, 2016

The revolution will be digitized.

I was 17 and hated kids when I got a job as a playground attendant. Eventually, both my work ethic and my biological instincts evolved. The latter took 18 years. I named him Zion on the day he was born. 

That was four years ago. This year on Mother's Day, my father wrote a note in my card, as he does for every holiday where a card is appropriate. I imagine brief, ordinary compliments grace the white space of most cards. Not mine. My dad is the poet laureate of greeting card greetings. On this first Sunday of May, 2016, in handwriting that looks like the child of geometry and kitchen knives, Dad told me, among blessings and expressions of love, You are a conscientious mother. Unlike the fleeting glory left by flattery of the physical, a deep compliment of the inner self remains deep.

I am eight months and four days into my second go at motherhood and six weeks shy of my first anniversary (ever) of cohabitation. Mother of two boys and all-intents-and-purposes wife, that's me. Rewind five years and I would've scoffed at the mere notion of it. Somewhere amidst managing two 37-pound weight gains, two unplanned guttings (aka birth by cesarean), breastfeeding, breast pumping, poop patrolling, single parenting, life partnering, dinner cooking, and domestic engineering of 1,500 square feet, my past labels have rolled up around the edges and lost their adhesive. I remember five-years-ago me: hard-body runner, Sunday bruncher, fierce freelancer, coffeehouse klatcher, pit bull collector. Especially on days when my sleepless baby has left me in dire exhaustion, I mourn her.

What my conscientious father didn't realize as he crowned me a conscientious mother is this: The selflessness of a mother must be accompanied by self-preservation. That is my truth, at least. It is a goal unmet, and daily I ponder how to attain it. Daily, I also wonder how many mothers feel the same or how many don't or how many find it shameful to harbor such an urge. My thoughts turn to my own mother as she was raising me and my older brother.

Fourteen years ago, a Polaroid from my childhood became part of my college senior thesis in a poem I titled Us, 1979. My mother sat cross-legged and held me on her bed, looking straight into the camera with her eyes of ocean glass and cherry-stained hair, straight as truth. Was she fulfilled, my autumn mother, cradling her winter child with the unfinished face which will grow to resemble hers: hint of cheekbone, crooked bottom teeth. 

If I found out that my Polaroid-preserved mother had longed for more, I wouldn't resent her. I would empathize with the dichotomy of desire she probably faced back then. Mothers are bequeathed a legacy of prescriptive orders. We are instructed to love every minute of it, even when many of those minutes involve a lack of rest that borders on inhumane. We are pressed to wear frenzied like a badge of honor. We are given guilt trips when we say we'd like a break.

If we dare speak up, we are ungrateful.

Before becoming a mother, I thought I knew one thing about being a mother. It turned out to be true: To be the mother she wants to be, a mother needs more than motherhood. She needs a separate sense of self. She needs the freedom to both embrace and resist cultural expectations. That is my truth, at least.

Three years ago, when I was still a single mother living with my parents and struggling to regain my livelihood, I applied for a job as a copywriter at a radio station. The interviewer, an aging head of programming, asked if motherhood would get in the way of my job performance. I'm nearly certain this was illegal. As I occasionally do, and usually regret it, I held my tongue in order to continue the discussion. What I should've said: Yes, motherhood will affect my job. Deeply, and often. I will decide how I feel about it, which will range from exasperated to ambivalent to joyful, and I will not justify any of it to you. Just like you don't justify to me why you have a ponytail that looks like you hacked it off the ass of an emaciated mule. Bitten tongue or not, "radio copywriter" is not on my resume. 

Yesterday was the Sunday after Mother's Day. My oldest son was visiting his grandparents and my baby was somehow napping despite sheets of blazing sunlight sneaking into my bedroom through three oversized windows dressed only in white wooden blinds. My boyfriend with the textbook sexy mouth grinned as he watched me typing and asked if I was blogging about how awesome he is. Now I am. I have a thoughtful, selfless, smokin' hot partner. Still, at times I have visions of growing horns and escorting him to the pits of Hell, but then I remember I haven't chosen to leave as I'm free to do, so I must want to keep him. I'm told this is normal.

I've experienced pregnancy as a single woman and with a devoted partner. The outcome of my personal social experiment is not surprising, at least not to me: The expectations of a mother are all encompassing, no matter what. Last week, my hair stylist jokingly told me the feminists screwed us by fighting for our right to have it all. Now here we are, having it all, and we don't even get the chance to pee in peace. What that theory is missing is the fact that even if we didn't have it all, we'd never get to pee alone. Motherhood is unfathomable love and immeasurable responsibility. Why should we fear our feelings about it? We can love our children to the deepest abyss of our souls and yet have days where we wish we could run away. We can have moments where our children are so precious that it's hard not to nibble on a chubby chin or a button nose (what? don't you?) and yet an hour later we will collapse in tears over the unfairness of our role. We can be dedicated to giving our kids attention, education, healthy meals, and memorable activities and then despair over having to scrounge for leftover minutes to meet our own needs. 

As mothers, we often hear about our grandmothers who worked from dawn till dusk to care for the family. Grandma never complained or needed a day off, we're told. We are told these things by women who followed Grandma's footsteps of self-effacement. Each time I hear tales of strong-as-steel women past, I wonder: Did anyone ever ask Grandma if she wanted more? Did anyone ever tell Grandma that her individuality mattered? That it was okay to feel overwhelmed? That it was okay to ask for a break?

We are not ungrateful for venting. We are not weak for wanting a break. We are not warriors or superhuman. We love our children beyond the bounds of language. Stop telling us we can't love ourselves too. 
I was 38 and new to commitment when I chose the role of life partner and mom of two. As I've learned, motherhood is evolution. It's revolution too. Raise your fists, moms.

 
                                                                           

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