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57 weeks | The long-lost luxuries of mothering | no. 0051
Recently I have been taking stock of all the splendors I enjoy as a mother. Especially now that the munchkin is becoming a toddler, the privileges I can claim in my day-to-day existence are really too numerous to list. Still, I will try to give a glimpse of it all. These gems of the mothering experience too often get eclipsed with all the rumors that having children depletes more than it sustains. We mothers have to talk more openly about the magic. There are those sistren among us who will soon be stepping over the threshold and into their own mother-selves. We must help them; we must tell them what’s on the other side. If we don’t, who will?
#1 Cleaning is totally optional.
Those pictures you see in your favorite lifestyle magazine with the mom who is dressed nicely in a flattering two-piece without poop stains, and is stirring a pot of some red-sauced dish in a kitchen that is sparkling–yeah, that’s not really what goes on. We do not put on our good clothes when we’re doing around-the-house work. Can you imagine all the extra laundry moms worldwide would have to do if we put on our Sunday best to wash the dishes and snatch grimy hands off of window sills and door knobs? Please. We make sure to put on our worst threads: overstretched t-shirts, hole-in-the-crotch sweats, busted slippers, old bra–actually that’s no bra, and maybe a robe, but only if it has pockets. We always need pockets. And of course, everything is mismatched.
Our reasoning is simple. Being with children means we’re gonna get dirty for some reason or another 99.999999% of the time. (The other .000001% we are either showering or the kids are napping.) That means we have a dedicated wardrobe of items that are baby/child/mothering proof. And if we’re nursing, then we are definitely not trying to embellish our precious blouses with incidental, milk-stain patterns. But for real, for real, we are not breaking our necks to keep the house spotless. At least once a day I look around at the spoils of the munchkin’s deconstruction work and I wonder, why did I bother folding/sweeping/stacking/tucking anything. Of all his toys, his preferred play zone is anywhere I have organized.
As a mother, I realize, the pressure to keep it all together is a voluntary one. We are taught all our lives to learn how to maintain appearances. The beautiful thing about mothering is that it gives you less room for pretending and posturing. If you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it. And there’s plenty of mommies somewhere nearby who can back you up on that whenever you start feeling self-conscious about not measuring to super-mommy in the magazine. Every 30 seconds a mommy-friend calls another mom and says, “Hey, I’m stopping by in 5 minutes.” And then that mom panics for a second, and says “Oh sorry, the place is a mess!” Then the one on the phone snorts, and says, “Girl, whatever, I gotta use the bathroom. You think I care about dust on a lamp shade? You know what my house looks like?” And then, all is right in the mommyverse again.
#2 You never have to be alone again in the bathroom.
We all know privacy is overrated. Human beings are social creatures, anyway. Who ever really wants to be alone? Even on the toilet, who wants to be left to their own thoughts? Not mommies!
I have lost count how many times the munchkin has come to commune with me during the lavatory festivities. Now that he knows how to close doors, his biggest thrill is to follow me into any room, but particularly the bathroom, and push the door until it can’t go any further. We used to worry that he would smash his fingers, but fortunately for him he’s mastered the art of self-preservation, and– luckily for me– I never have to be by myself when handling nature’s business.
You’d think he’d be content to just be in there with me. But no. The munchkin has to unravel the toilet paper. All of the toilet paper. My expensive, organic, non-bleached bath tissues disappear into his hands, or between his clenched teeth. It occurs to me no one but other moms will understand why there’s a big hole in their tissue when they come to visit. Oh well.
The munchkin destroys my toilet paper with the most beautiful smile and beaming eyes. It would melt my heart if I weren’t counting all the pennies going in the trash. But then, there’s hardly time to think about wasted money when my child is literally in the trash. Yeah, his next preferred activity in the bathroom is to remove all the crumpled, soggy, dusty, torn-up goodies from the trash can and spread them out on the floor as if inspecting them. Once he’s certain that it’s just trash, and that mommy hasn’t thrown away any decent paper for him to chew on, he moves on to lifting and shutting the diaper pail. After he grows dissatisfied with his inability to extract soiled diapers, he fiddles with the cabinet safety lock which refuses to yield. No worries, this just means he has to suck on the knobs until he remembers that there’s a whole tub waiting for him to hurl the soap dish into.
I can see how some folks might be struggling to see the blessing in sharing a small bathroom with a curious toddler. The beauty of these mommy-munchkin sessions– and I say “sessions” because you know, sometimes, it takes us a while– is the lovely reminder that our children are always happiest when they are with us. No matter how funky we are feeling or smelling, our very presence provides the optimal security and sense of peace our children need. As mothers, as parents, we wrestle with fears of inadequacy all the time. We wonder if we are not doing enough, or if we could have done it better, or if that less-than-perfect decision will ruin our baby’s childhood. It’s always reassuring to know that our children are wired to see our greatest goods. Not even for one moment to wipe in peace will they abandon us on the toilet, and risk causing us to despair that we are unwanted. After a while, you understand this is truly a gift. Some people go through their adult lives never experiencing any sort of appreciation for just being who they are. Mommies soak this kind of love up everyday.
#3 You can always be late.
Let me be clear, we’re not trying to be late. We just are. For any number of extremely legitimate circumstances, okay! That said, we moms live inside a liberated relationship with time. Our time is not strictly ordered into past, present, and future. We function with maybe, be there soon, and nevermind, also known as, next time. Basically, we are saying we will navigate the openings that the day offers, and make the most of it. If that means, we’re going to be a few minutes or a few hours, (or a few days!) behind, then that’s just what it is.
Our time is elastic in this way. This is how we mothers have grown to be so generous in taking care of humanity. We are in constant states of adaptation, multitasking, and assemblage of resolutions to meet the needs of the many we love. If we accepted a fixed time as the only time, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. Our clocks do not stop, ever. Things do not happen one at a time. The urgencies of our lives are simultaneous. Something is always pressing. Something is always getting pushed back. We embrace this imperative of our mothering. What little sleep we get, we don’t lose fretting over tardiness.
#4 And then you can leave early.
See above. If confusion persists, ask a mom you trust to explain it to you.
#5 When you sleep there’s feet in your back or your face, or both.
Sleeping with the munchkin is a sweet and comical adventure. There’s nothing like waking to some random body part of his in my stomach, or neck, or shoulders, or head! I’m amazed at his nocturnal gymnastics. Regardless of his position, he can always find his way back to the breast. These nuggets of after hours humor soften the blow that really I have gotten no sleep at all. I’ve spoken with other parents who share the bed with their children, and they too wouldn’t trade the elbowy, knee-filled, hand-clawing wonders for any one night of spacious slumber in a baby-free bed.
The truth is, we love being close to our rapidly blooming little people when they are sleeping. It gives us the illusion that time is slowing down, if only for the night. Do you know we grow the most in our sleep? All mothers know once our children wake up, they will again be different people. A foot in the back, a heel in the face, a head on your eye. Such a small price to pay for the chance to savor the swift and bittersweet passage of mothering in your own hands. One thing that makes every moment of intermittent sleep worth it is when I reach out, place my hands on the munchkin’s belly, and feel the soft rhythm of expansion and release as he breathes gently through the night. It is especially on those most hectic of days when this simple proximity to my sleeping child makes everything better.
#6 You are not obligated to answer any phone calls because everyone will assume you are busy with the baby.
I mean, really though, isn’t this why they invented texting? As a mom, the world’s first assumption is that you are preoccupied with some vital need your children might be having at this very moment. And the average person calling, presumably uncomfortable with being viewed as an insensitive, clueless jerk, is not going to give you any blues about missing their calls. Of course, this is not always the case. As with everything, there are exceptions. We all know somebody who just doesn’t get it. That person who keeps calling but won’t text or leave a message. Um…yeah, but I digress!
The point is, this freedom we have when it comes to communicating through gadgets keeps us from squandering our sacred energy on feelings of guilt or shame that we’ve got 20 missed calls at any given time. Who has time for that anyway? There are so many layered and complicated factors affecting why a mom may or may not pick up that phone. And then, add to this scenario that your toddler with his newfound fascination with your phone has taken to hanging up on everyone, yanking your phone off the charger, grabbing your phone and then setting off to deposit your phone who knows where in your house, but now you can’t find it because it was on vibrate because his little cute self was supposed to be napping!
Like I said, it’s just a lot going on with mommy’s phone. When it doubt, SEND A TEXT!
#7 Forget being late, you can just not show up and won’t nobody be mad at you.
So yeah, not coming is a completely viable option when mothering. Raise your hand if you find yourself rainchecking at least once a whatever. Don’t feel no way about it. It’s not personal. We know. Even if someone calls you to express disappointment over your absence, let them leave a message! Sometimes it’s just too much for us to intelligibly put into words. Why? Because all of our stuff is interconnected! Being here, impacts how we can be there, or finish this, or prepare that. Sometimes the net does not string itself together neatly, and we just have to opt out. That event, this meeting, her party, their cookout. And we know it’s pretty serious if mommy is passing on an occasion to get food that she doesn’t have to cook.
Mothering means choosing. That’s what gives us so much power. We make the choices many are too afraid to make. This is obviously difficult and heartbreaking at times. Having to continuously estimate the potential consequences of how one decision can change the lives of everyone you love widens your heart space. The intricate web of all we do, say, and think is an infinite thing we are weaving. It’s understandable that there will be knots sometimes, snags sometimes, gaps sometimes.
These imperfections may appear to some as failings, but we mothers know better. We know this is what it looks like when you are crafting the art of mothering from scratch. The work is beautiful, and it makes for a beautiful life that for many is a luxury they are too terrified to fully embody. This is why being a mother, with all it’s heartaches and headaches, stresses and dilemmas, still gives to us more than it takes away.
To be continued…
Okay, this was just supposed to be a glimpse. The more I think about it, this could be an enlightening list for people who really just have no idea what it is we do, and for the mothers who are spending their days unaware of the abundance we possess. Ideas are brewing. There will surely be a part two. Until then, mommies everywhere, please go forth and share the good news of what it means to be a mother!
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.