It happens so quickly, doesn’t it? One minute you’re an independent person with autonomy over your own thoughts and ideals and future and body…and then you have a baby. The moment I held my firstborn child I immediately ceased being Mary Susan and instantly became “Maggie’s Mom.”
And it makes sense. I mean, we’re responsible for keeping these little animals alive, right? Like, their wellbeing has to be a priority. Obviously. And their care is going to require putting other, more self-focused things on hold. Obviously. And they come from our bodies. Like, we grew them in our wombs. That’s intense. So obviously these little gremlins are going to take over our whole hearts and minds and worlds and thoughts and wishes and dreams and marriages and souls and all of a sudden we’re lost. We mothers are lost.
And part of that is good. I don’t know if I really, truly understood sacrificial love before I had my children. Marriage came close, but for me the lesson was nailed home by my kids. (Okay, time out. Let me take a moment to clarify that I certainly don’t believe that people without children don’t experience the depth of love that parents do. That’s simply not true or fair. People are called to so many different and beautiful vocations; children are not always part of the plan and it certainly doesn’t mean that childless people/couples don’t experience the richness of self sacrifice. They experience sacrificial love in a myriad of other ways, many of which I will never endure. This is just me speaking from my perspective. Okay, time in.)
But kids, my kids, have drawn me out of myself. They’ve shown me that I can endure so much less sleep than I thought. And I’ve learned the joy that comes from focusing on someone else and truly being happy because they are happy, not because I got anything out of it. I’ve been stretched and pulled and torn apart (literally and figuratively) over and over and over again. And I’m so grateful for that.
Where am I? Where is Mary Susan in this mess of flooded bathrooms and muddy socks and that Catboy action figure that is always underfoot no matter how many times I pick it up? What happened to that girl who used to be spontaneous and silly? When did I become more worried about tetanus than jumping barefoot in puddles? When did I become un-fun?
Now, I know that I’m highly self-critical and lean toward the melodramatic. I also know that I wouldn’t trade this opportunity to shepherd my four little souls for any amount of spontaneity or uninterrupted conversation, green as those things seem from this side of the fence.
So, how does mama get her groove back? How do I find myself, the real essence of who I am that so frequently gets squelched in favor of more “responsible” or “motherly” decisions?
Honestly, I think part of it is just chilling the eff out. Just because we’re “supposed” to do certain things or behave certain ways as mothers doesn’t mean we have to. Not every cultural norm is a requirement. I know it’s been said before, but it’s so hard to live the truth that I get to make my own rules. I struggle with a desperate desire to meet expectations, for everyone to like me, to be happy with me, and to approve of my choices. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty subjective and fickle rubric our culture is running with and there will never be a way for me to ace the test. It’s just not realistic…nor would I ever be truly satisfied, am I right?
So maybe I find myself in relaxing, in pausing to consider whether I parent or behave a certain way because I feel like I’m obligated to or because my heart tells me it’s right. When I excuse myself from the “supposed to’s” I find this incredible opportunity to say yes…to my kids, my husband, my friends, myself. Yes, you can play in the rain. Yes, I will take the number of your therapist because I know I need to, Yes, I will find someone to watch the kids so we can go bowling. Yes, I will buy these sparkly tennis shoes just because I want them. Yes.
I’m also free to say no. No, I won’t be able to volunteer/bake/whatever this time. No, I won’t feel guilty for just* sending the paper valentine cards to school without a clever craft or treat bag. No, I won’t be able to read you one more chapter because I really need to go drink wine now. No.
Sometimes finding/reclaiming/reinventing ourselves is something we have to fight for. No one is going to force me to value myself or make myself a priority. So sometimes the yes is to letting someone watch my kids even though I feel like a burden. Sometimes I have to let others bless me and to be grateful that I have people who care even when it makes me a little uncomfortable. Sometimes the no is an honest answer to the question of how I’m doing. No, I’m not doing great this week; can we talk?
I also think it’s incredibly important to remember that life isn’t a movie. Rediscovering the essence of ourselves isn’t an overnight thing. We don’t get a montage with a sweet soundtrack and just magically turn out alright on the other side. We get little snippets, tiny opportunities, minuscule moments to squeeze the hell out of. So maybe finding me looks more like writing while I’m simultaneously (albeit unsuccessfully) making bedtime happen. Maybe finding me looks like declaring “office hours” at home once in a blue moon so I can return emails and finally finish elementary school applications. Maybe finding me looks like buying nail polish or sparkly shoes that remind me to let myself be fun. It’s the little things that add up, right?
And let me be clear: I don’t want to be the girl I was. Parts of her, parts of those phases and times will always be treasured, but I definitely don’t want to go back. And I definitely don’t want to wish my life away and squander the days when I do have chums who want to jump barefoot in puddles (and possibly get tetanus). I think that Jodi Hills quote really sums it up: “She wasn’t where she had been. She wasn’t where she was going…but she was on her way.”
I hope you’re on your way, friends. I hope you’re finding you in the midst of the drudgery of daily life, whatever that life looks like right now. Mommin’ ain’t easy. If you’re feeling lost and invisible, less like a person and more like a means to an end, if you’re drowning in the socks and spit up and constant state of being over-touched, I see you. I know you’re the whole world to your little humans and that that is sometimes suffocating. I know you wouldn’t trade them for the world, but sometimes you dream of just walking away for some damn silence for once. I know that you always wanted a large family and you’re so happy you’ve been blessed with your tiny army, but you just miss being able to complete a task uninterrupted. I know you tried desperately over and over and over again and endured so much loss and pain for this child who you really want to smack right now because he dumped the dog water…again. I see you.
One yes, one no, one day at a time, okay mamas? Let’s keep plugging away and digging deep and I’m certain we’ll find better versions of ourselves within and because of all this. Because one thing I haven’t lost is my dogged sense of optimism.