A few years ago I wrote a post called “But what’s it really like to have a baby?” It ended up getting picked up by the Huffington Post (front page) and for 24 hours I was the most equally lauded and hated woman on the planet. Mothers and childless women from across our great country gathered their spatulas and absurdly limited legal knowledge and campaigned (anonymously, online) to have my child removed from me. Why? Because I just didn’t think being a mom was the super greatest time ever. In equal contrast were the others– the mothers and childless women who were relieved to hear a version of the truth that, in some small measure, mirrored their own feelings. The feeling that children, while chock full of charm and adorable (sometimes), are also a full contact, full time sport. There’s no beginning and end to parenting. It’s not just a sacrifice of your vagina and lower abdomen (which becomes a sideshow), but your actual life.
In those two years, my baby has become a toddler. And frankly, my feelings about motherhood haven’t changed much. In the same way that I love cake and hate baking, I love my child, but I really don’t love motherhood. And as hard as it is for some people to reconcile this, or even accept it, I don’t really feel much guilt about it. My journey now has been about how to balance the choice to have a child and catapult myself into a role that neither comes naturally to me, nor gives me much satisfaction, and maintain my sanity as a human being who craves a life less consumed by the unending demands of motherhood.
For many, there’s a simple, vilifying argument. “You chose to have children. Your selfishness is disgusting.” To those people, I say “fuck you.” If you truly believe that our society pays even the slightest of lip service to the reality of motherhood in a modern age, you are naive. We’re still taking a page out of a book that has men bringing home all the bacon, women who were groomed from a young age to become mothers and accept the role that was offered, and zero social media pressure or scrutiny. In a day in age where maternity leave is a luxury, leaving early to pick up a child from daycare causes both personal and professional duress, and the choice between children and a career is only possible if your career affords you incredible flexibility or cash, the “reality” of motherhood has been rewritten, but never published. (For example, on top of childcare, which can run about $1600/month [down from $2400 in Boston], I pay nearly $800/month to have someone pick up my child from daycare because I simply cannot leave work early enough to fetch him. I get home between 7:00/7:30 and begin the one hour sprint through bath, dinner, books, and bed.)
I was chatting with my mother on the phone the other day, relaying the plight of the modern mother– the guilt and balance and dissatisfaction. Thinking she’d have some insight (she did have THREE children), she replied, “I don’t really understand that. I was just so happy.”
Welp, there you have it. Thanks, Mother.
But then I got to thinking about it. When she comes to visit, she relishes all the stuff that makes me want to poke my eyes out. She’s on all fours, pretending she’s a pony, coloring Elsa, watching Mickey Mouse. She thinks letting him pick out ridiculous, mismatched outfits is hilarious and cute. (No. Just no.) She can build Lego towers and knock them down for HOURS. I approach Legos with a mind for building something elaborate. A color-coordinated palace with symmetry and functional exits. To A, that’s sacrilege. We build it high and then we knock it to the ground. Then we repeat that… for the rest of the week. I don’t want to be sitting there thinking about being anywhere else, but that’s what happens.
I hate that on weekends, I look forward to time to recharge, relax, and get things organized, and instead we are held captive by the whims of a 37 inch person. Rain strikes fear into the core of my being. I want to eat at a restaurant, but I’m gripped with anxiety about whether it will be a fun and worthwhile meal or an ill-fated nightmare that leaves me feeling like I wasted $100 and 2 hours of my day. Keep them indoors and they bottle up so much energy you will live to regret your decision for days. Take them outside and they’re hot, cold, hungry, wish you brought the bike and not the scooter, need to pee, don’t like the way the sun is shining, think the slide is too green, the other kids are looking at them, or want to be pushed on the swing. For the rest of the day.
And I fucking hate “mommy friends.” I don’t mean my friends who are mommies. I mean people in the world who are supposed to be my friends because we both have kids. What the fuck kind of sense does that make? I don’t like you, your husband, your politics, or your approach to life, but since we both have children born in 2013, let’s hang out and have some wine. I’D RATHER DO ANYTHING ELSE.
And mostly I hate that I’m always fighting with my husband about nothing. We aren’t even fighting with each other, we’re fighting with the invisible blob that is parenthood. The intangible piece of shit that is blameless and evasive, so you have to yell at your physical spouse. Because obviously the husband deserves to take the entire blame for the fact that I’m wound like a top because my child thinks it’s absurd that we don’t kick people in the tits, I haven’t been able to eat lunch without a chopstick flying at my face since 2013, every dollar we make is assigned to childcare, college funds, savings, mortgage and alcohol, and every time my kid finishes a bag of ANYTHING, he flings the crumbs around the backseat of the car. (WHATTHEFUCKISWRONGWITHYOU?! JUSTPUTTHEBAGDOWNLIKEACIVILIZEDGENTLEMAN!)
I miss energy and free time. I miss the gym. I miss extra cash flow. I miss investing in stupid shit like absurdly expensive sushi and shoes. Because as terrible as that sounds to other people, I love both of those things.
But the very, very worst part is that I know I will miss this. Because as much as I don’t love motherhood, I love him. I love his tiny face and his absurd lexicon. I love watching him learn things and his enthusiasm about damn near everything. I love that he thinks we are the absolutely greatest. (Though frankly he far prefers my husband to me. I’m sure you’re shocked.) I love that he wakes up first thing in the morning and asks if today is the day we get to spend the whole day together (weekends). I even love that he tells his entire swimming class that his Mups’ boobies are falling out of her bathing suit. (They weren’t.)
I know that there will come a time when motherhood does become me. At some point, some age, the winds will shift and motherhood will too. What my child needs and wants will be something I can offer. The sacrifices will become less physical and more emotional. And I’m sure that hindsight, that bastard, will be 20/20. I’ll laugh at what seems like petty, long-ago misery and cry as he walks across a stage or down an aisle.
This idea that we as humans are expected to sacrifice our lives for the lives of others isn’t sustainable. I want for “motherhood” to be a parallel journey to the bigger one that I am on, the journey of life. I don’t want to feel that choosing to have a child means choosing to jump track from continuing to become the person I should be to dedicating everything I have to someone else’s journey. I want to set him up. I want to help him find his path, but I want to stay on mine too. I don’t want to be consumed by motherhood. I just want to be a woman whose journey includes a child.
And I think that should be okay.