My husband and I had children 100 percent on purpose. We felt ready, so I figured it would be easy, effortless. But motherhood isn’t necessarily a natural skill; sometimes it’s learned through practice, deep discomfort, and lots (and lots and lots) of failure. I thought motherhood would simply be part of my already existing life; that children would integrate seamlessly into my friendships, goals, and routine. I’m learning that for some moms, it does. For some moms, it comes so much easier (or at least, it seems to), and they don’t become total flakes and hermits.
My youngest child is now two years old, and I feel as though I’m coming out of a two-year coma.
It’s like tasting chocolate, or seeing the ocean for the first time. I still feel every bit as much of a failure as the day I became “Mom.” It was a severe oversight on the part of management to let this happen. Honestly, I don’t have what it takes. (Nobody does). This job is impossible. It is non-stop, the benchmark for “greatness” keeps moving, and my kids’ needs change almost daily. I can’t possibly adapt fast enough. (Nobody can).
I’ve learned, finally, that it’s not about reaching some exact point at which you’ve made it, you’re good enough, and you’re a success. It’s about getting up every day and doing the job anyway, even on my worst days, when I’m one step away from Michael Jackson-holding-my-baby-off-a-balcony status. Motherhood feels a bit like being dropped into the ocean when you’ve only experienced wave pools. I tread water, and as I almost reach the surface to catch a breath of fresh air, another wave hits and I’m pummeled back to the ocean floor.
So, contrary to my recent Facebook posts, I do not actually believe that raising kids is exactly like owning dogs.
For one thing, I don’t “own” my children – they own me. Just visit my ramshackle pigsty of a house on any given day, witness the ear-piercing shrieks and wild toddler stampedes, and you’ll know who’s really in charge. And although, yes, that was indeed me four years ago loudly declaring to a cluster of friends that my husband and I were so ready for kids because our dog, Charlie, was well behaved (meaning that we were obviously amazing parent material), I’ve since discovered the false logic in that argument (and I sincerely thank my friends who were parents at the time for not slugging me right in the face).
In an effort to be kind and conversational, I’ll allow you to relate your stories about your dog’s latest bout of diarrhea to my son’s dustup with Influenza A. I’ll sit there with a smile pasted on my face while you compare your puppy to my newborn human baby. I understand. I used to make the same comparisons, and lots of aspects are indeed similar – my child poops in the grass at the park, fetches tennis balls, and eats the same food every day. But, I’m not technically allowed to leave my child unattended for hours at a time, and if my dog were (God forbid) hit by a car, I’d be extremely sad… but nowhere near as sad as I’d be if my child were hit by a car. Y’know?
And adopting a dog doesn’t typically affect your friendships in the same way that birthing a child does. I left a lot of friends behind in my efforts to become something resembling a good mom. My husband and I had to sequester ourselves so we could figure out how to fabricate a family with these two tiny strangers. We had to mourn over the loss of our pre-parent sparkle. And freedom. And focus. And money. And intimacy. And clean cars.
I understand that building a friendship requires a concerted balance of back-and-forth, and in the midst of popping out babies and dealing with the aftermath, I dropped my end of the rope. It must have left some folks confused, and probably more than a bit offended, and for that, I’m truly sorry. Please know, you did nothing wrong, and that during the last three years, a “like” from me on Facebook was my way of saying “Hey! How’s it going? I’m still alive! I miss you!” It really was the best I could do.
Because becoming a mom felt sort of like dying.
It wasn’t the experience I expected, I didn’t meet the challenge with quite the gusto I’d hoped, and I’ve been floundering ever since. See, for me, having a baby wasn’t like getting married, or switching jobs, or even moving cross-country. It obliterated the core of who I was, and I spent the last three years trying to put the pieces back into place. The problem is, most of them don’t fit anymore, so I had to MacGuyver some self-confidence and identity using duct tape and glitter.
So, I’m not “me” anymore. Not the “me” you used to know. I’m a different blend of beliefs, a new composite of odd materials. I don’t have the resources to be Old Me, because all of my time and energy go to two little beings needing someone to keep them from pushing each other down the stairs, or eating poisonous lawn mushrooms. And after that, my husband gets what’s left over – the hour or two before or after the kids are awake, the hours when we’re most tired, drained, and irritable.
I have these weighty obligations now. I have obligations to my kids, to my partner, and also to myself – an obligation to utilize any extra energy and time wisely, in a way that will boost my fragile spirits, and build my dwindling confidence. Now, more than ever, I need folks around me who believe I can do this, who want the best for me and my partner, who support wholeheartedly the vision I carry for my future. Because sometimes, especially these days, that vision blurs beyond recognition, and I need women around me who remind me of my potential, and point me in the right direction.
Now, more than ever, I need to choose my community wisely.
Maybe that makes me an asshole. Or, maybe it just makes me human. I tried my best these last three years, I really did. I couldn’t make time for everyone, and if you’re on the Dropped List, I apologize. It certainly wasn’t intentional. I didn’t realize I’d drop off the face of the earth when I had children. I didn’t realize that the only people I’d be friends with were those who rabidly pursued ME – who refused to take “no” for an answer, and pushed past my initial discomfort at having people around. I needed that. You know who you are, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. You kept me alive.
My kids remind me every day that life is short, and I’m far from perfect (so you definitely don’t need to remind me). I’m going to make mistakes on my personal road to Paradise. Heck, maybe this article is one of them… But, see, now that I’m finally feeling something closer to alive, I’m acutely aware of what I need to maintain strength – the mental and emotional support, connection, and positivity that will see me through this shit show. And I’m actively seeking to find it.
If it’s true that we’re the product of our five closest gal pals (and in reality, I only have time for maaaybe two of them), then shouldn’t I be more choosy about my companions? Shouldn’t we all? It’s come to my attention that I may have neglected some folks during my bumpy takeoff into motherhood, leaving behind a pile of hurt feelings in my wake.
But people, I say this with love: I wasn’t thinking about you.
I was thinking about ME, and how I’d keep a living, breathing person alive. I was thinking about when I’d ever feel rested again (the answer is, apparently, when I’m dead), when I’d have time to connect with my husband, wondering when we’d ever feel “normal” again. I was thinking about my family, and the future we’re building together, and worrying every second of every day that I was fucking it up.
The day my first child arrived, my priorities changed. My focus and energy belong, first and foremost, to my family. My obligations are to them, and to myself, and quite frankly my dears, I don’t owe you anything. I will take responsibility for the hurt I’ve caused – believe me, for that I AM truly sorry – but it’s time to move on.
I don’t have time for shit talking, judgment, negativity, or drama. I get enough of that from my three-year-old. From here on out, I’m choosing to be kind to myself, to resist this infernal urge to please everyone, and I’m spending my time and energy on folks who see the real me, and who love and support me anyway; women who expect big things from me, but who don’t insist on being my central focus.
After all, we each have our own shit to worry about. And I’m too busy scrounging for more duct tape and glitter.