Mommification is a slow process. It starts off small, maybe you stop wearing lipstick, or wearing a bra. Perhaps your underpants grow larger and soon you have granny panties that you could heist to your chin. Before you know it you have a bad perm, a beige purse and you are using spit on a napkin to get a smudge off someone else’s face. You are scrubbing toilets, doing dishes, saying stupid things like, “I am not asking you, I am telling you!” and sitting way too long in the bathroom just because it’s a place were you can lock the door.
You look around at other moms and compare yourself. Some of them seem way better at it. Some of them raise their eyebrows and their kids miraculously stop flinging juice, become angelic and play nice. Others are less diplomatic, “Boy, you are in for a world of hurt when we get home.” You pretend that is despicable, what a horrid metaphor, this “world of hurt” some mad mama has conjured. Drop that candy little man or your mom will get mad and take away all your security. But then later your kid acts their real age and you freak out and make loud garbled fuckfuck sounds, which you hope the neighbors do not take out of context. In other words, you hope they are not judging you the way you judged them when you heard the mom yell, “I do not care what you think about it you little brat!” to her kid one hot summer day. You sheepishly climb out every pit you swore you would see ahead of time, before you were even a mama, when you were sitting cross-legged and pregnant and spouting endless I will nevers.
Everyone is poised with some kind of crazy notion of what it means to be a parent and they can not wait to tell you about it. Wow, she does not have sunglasses on, aren’t you worried about eye cancer? If they fall asleep nursing, just take their feet and flick ‘em. A good way to teach them to swim is just throw them right in. Give him a chicken leg to gnaw, it helps their manual dexterity. Bourbon will put that child to sleep! All that huggin’ is gonna make him a mama’s boy! Just let them cry, it works out their lungs. The baby is biting you because apart from regular nursing you need to set aside a special time to worship the boobies. I would love for little Zircon to be a playmate for your kids, but he can only eat organic foods and he is allergic to bees, wheat, dust mites, cat hair, peanuts, dairy, red dye #40 and if you raise your voice he will get hives. And I would feel much more comfortable if you would throw a blanket over your TV, plus you don’t have any G-U-N-S do you? Also, he may not use words like “heck” and “sucks”.
You find yourself paddling down a river of irrelevant math. There are two clean kitchen towels. There are seven diapers left. There is a half-gallon of milk. There are eight loads of laundry. The appointment is at 7:00. The oven goes on three fifty. Gas was twice as much this time. There are four grams of fat in this cookie. The meter reads 2688. You have had 16 ½ minutes to yourself in which you addressed four packages, peed once and ate two bread crusts. You have had no more than five hours of uninterrupted sleep in the past four years. You have produced approximately 300 gallons of breastmilk.
You get all touched out. You always wanted to be a soft place to land, but sometimes you make yourself hard on purpose to dissuade any kid elbows planted with oomph right in the middle of your breast, pudgy fingers smearing your glasses, little limbs vying for room.
You stoop a lot, kneel and clean, getting banana off the couch, stepping on grapes and cheerios, wiping chins and countertops, hardly experiencing even the most remote hint of privacy or deep thought. You can make a bed with a kid jumping on it, change a diaper while they are standing up, match up all seventy five snaps on their convoluted pajamas. You have stopped your kids from running through a window, eating dog poop and touching a hot pan. You have sung all the goofy kids songs you know and listened to endless hours of Little Bear and Blue’s Clues. You have taped things back together, got bad smells out of fabric and had your heart broken by the wrinkle nosed “I hate you Mommy” you swore you would never hear. You have also been chastised by your mother-in-law for chucking common decency and letting your naked toddler run out into the yard without shaming her.
Your friends who do not have children yet see your life as a kind of novelty and make statements like, “You are always home! What do you do all day? Won’t your husband let you work? Don’t you want to work? I wish I had the luxury of staying home all day.”
You are tired and you love your family, but you just want them to sleep, to drift off and snore and throw the blankets around. You need some time alone in the worst kind of way. You go to the window and stand in the dark, and ache. There is a party across the street, laughter, clinking glass, thumping beats of youth and unmapped future. It is September, all the starting over promises have been kept. The new students have flocked to your college town for their first taste of freedom and are now basking in box filled rooms without curtains, underage drinking, friendship, newness. But not you. You have birth and marriage certificates that say a rooted thing can not just start over.
You know that as you stand there, watching some hot young woman in a skintight white tank top and low rider jeans, undulating in the unshaded window. She gyrates and swivels, hair flung out in swirls of longing, she is the wind. She does as she pleases. Where she is the branches, you are the trunk. And then you go lie in the dark, try to arrange your limbs in some kind of comfortable way, try to arrange your thoughts. Failing that you rearrange the living room. You spend your ache on dust and clutter, trying to manage the grace and energy of that vixen, but never making it. At best you look like an outtake of one of those Swiffer Sweeper commercials, with the happy mommy, her dust mop so magic she can not believe how fun it is to clean up after people.
But the corybantic live wire girl dances for hours. She is approached a few times, but always she dances them to the edge of the room, then turns her back on them. She is dancing only for herself. This is a woman unfurling.
You go girl. I mean it, run. You are not ready to stuff all of that back in and pretend it just went away.