My sweet monster baby recently celebrated his 2nd birthday. Two whole years of Gabriel James. The hardest and sweetest and funniest and most stressful years of my life. We had a birthday party for him at my parents’ house. We invited his best pals and our extended family and blew out candles and ate cake and ice cream. The kids ran around the backyard and the adults cleaned up the aftermath of the presents. It was sweet and simple.
Simon and I also celebrated Gabe’s birthday with special family-of-3 time. Went to Gabe’s favorite places, bought him presents along the way, found a vegan bakery for the no-dairy-boy and delighted in his joy over two huge cupcakes. Even sprung for Gabe’s first haircut which seemed to make him feel especially important.
In the short weeks that have passed since my baby’s birthday, and in the days that have passed since Christmas, I’ve been thinking a lot about the great deal of attention (and gifts) my child has received in December. This is right that he should be greatly celebrated, of course! He’s amazing and wonderful and we are so proud of the little boy he is! But I’ve found myself introspective about how little attention I have received by contrast. I’m not terribly upset by this; I’m just aware of it. I don’t know how to say it without sounding whiny or selfish. Maybe that’s the problem. In our culture, when a woman becomes a mother, she is expected to cast off her own identity and value to some degree. We make jokes about how “It’s all about the little tyke now!” and so forth. To some extent, every mother loves this. We are all so proud of our babies, how perfect they are, and our own delight multiplies when others ooze with love for our children. They are the center of our world and it seems right that they be the center of everyone else’s world as well.
But…it’s been two years. Two whole years of Gabriel James. The fawning over him has not stopped and it won’t. I don’t want it to stop. It’s just that two years is a long time to be in a shadow. It’s a long time to be second fiddle. It feels a lot longer when you think about how it’s not going to stop, ever.
Surely I’m not the only mother who feels this way. Before we were mothers, we were people. We had dreams and goals and hobbies and talents. Sometimes it feels like the world forgets that once we put our uteruses to use. Sometimes it feels like I am not allowed to be a mother + XYZ. Sometimes it feels like I am sentenced to a life of supposed great meaning with astonishingly little recognition.
I would just like to send this out into this cosmic void with the prayer that it commingles with the quiet heart-breathings of many other mothers out there: I still dream. Quietly. Privately, mostly. Between sippy cups and diaper changes and fierce battles to buckle a Tasmanian devil into his car seat. Sometimes I still catch a glimmer of her, the woman I used to be. The woman I still am?
There is a fantastic article out there that every mother (and every person who loves a mother) needs to read entitled The Beautiful Catastrophe. If you haven’t read it, go read it. It will make you cry and turn you inside out. It will be your truth because it’s a truth we all share. Consider these excerpts:
“As you watch them there are moments, moments when you remember when you used to run around and visit people and live your life and work and be alone. You remember when your body was just your own and you were thinner and felt contained and like the owner of your boobs and vagina and life. You remember having a couple shots of tequila or maybe a cigarette with some friends, and you did it like it was nothing, never knowing it was somebody who was going to stand like an old friend some day, a thousand miles away.
You were twenty, twenty-three, thirty, thirty-five. You were free and young and somebody else.
We were free and young and somebody else.
But now, we’re mothers.”
“Why didn’t I appreciate my life more, when it was mine? What if I want to leave one day?
I’ll never be able to leave one day, ever.
I’ve been the same woman my whole life. What about her? Where is she? Is she just dead?
Yes, she is just dead.
Does that seem harsh? Well, it is. So is motherhood.
Perhaps we can soften this whole thing by saying our identities are “transformed,” or we are “forever changed,” but the fact of the matter is that the woman you once were is gone, and she will never come back.
And yet, I’m still here. This is still me. I am untouched, unscathed. So maybe I have not died?
If I died, how am I here, nursing and changing and mothering this baby? Who’s doing this work now?
And who is she?”
Renegademama, as the blogger calls herself, does not mince words. She says the women we used to be are DEAD. And damn, that resonates because I feel the truth of it hitting me like a thousand bricks. It’s true, I think to myself, the old Halley is dead. She’s been dead for two years. For two whole years the world has resolved around that perfect child I grew, birthed, and nourished. And in two whole years, there still hasn’t been a funeral for me. Everyone is too busy with Gabe to notice that I’m not here anymore.
(Insert wide-eyed emoji here).
It feels awesome and horrible to write those words. Aren’t I just being dramatic? Didn’t I know mothering involved great sacrifice? Well I’m great at being dramatic, that’s true, but this stuff is true and it’s real and it matters. And actually I didn’t know just how much great sacrifice mothering involved. I knew it in an intellectual way the way every non-parent knows it, which is to say I had no idea what I was talking about. There’s no preparation for the extermination of self that happens when you become a parent. You DO die. In moments, so fast you don’t even know it’s happening, you cease to matter half as much as the precious bundle of colic in your arms. And then you look back, 3 months later, 6 months later, 2 years later, and you think — Where have I been the last 3 months, 6 months, 2 years, — gulp — 10 years? And why has no one been looking for me?
The thing is, I don’t want to be dead. It’s not fair that I should be dead. I have some pretty interesting options and insights and abilities that don’t have anything to do with stain removal or Sandra Boyton books. And I may be at this very moment gestating yet another little person (so by culture’s standards, my “handful” is going up and my value to society is going down), but just as Renegademama reflected, I AM STILL HERE. THIS IS STILL ME.
I still love chocolate. I still love reading and writing (and sometimes resent my beautiful “high-needs” child because he makes it difficult to do these things with any sort of satisfying regularity). I still love seeing movies in THEATERS (what?!?!) and putting on make-up and high heels. I still love wearing bras that don’t have nursing clasps and dresses that are sexy instead of maternal. (My sister wore a perfectly white shirt with a black skirt and the cutest little green cardigan to our family Christmas. She was hesitant to hold Gabe while he was eating a chocolate cupcake because he was making quite a mess. For a second I was annoyed, and then I realized — I was jealous. She gets to stay clean. I still love not having chocolate icing on me — though all my wardrobe is suitable for massacre).
My brain is full of more than nap times and poop tallies (though it certainly tabulates both daily). I have a lot of thoughts about Ferguson and the national conversation regarding race. And I’m not “doing the Ferguson thing,” as some have commented to me, rather I’m trying to do the “love your neighbor thing” and the “practice what you preach thing.” I’m hoping to get involved with a monthly discussion group in my area to learn more about what I do not know. I still want to contribute to the world at large.
Oh right, I’m still a wife. That’s a cluster if there ever was one: mothering + marriage? At the same time? You’ve got to be joking. Well clearly God has a sense of humor because I’m just one of millions trying to do both simultaneously. I have good days and really bad days. I’m reading this awesome Tim Keller book that is blowing my mind. I’m realizing that selfishness is the enemy, and we’re both quite selfish, and it takes a lot of grace for two selfish people to keep choosing love. (I can write that a lot better than I can do it).
I still work. I help bring babies into the world at the Birth & Wellness Center in O’Fallon, MO (essentially labor & delivery nursing but not in a hospital setting). It’s challenging and rewarding and sometimes I still cry when the baby FINALLY comes out! It’s really hard to do while pregnant because I am hungry all the time and the physical labor of helping with natural birth is no joke. Oh, and there’s that whole missing sleep thing 🙂
And I still think about writing and maybe even as a career choice. I want to write about Jesus in a way that is attractive to a broad audience. And original. And true. And maybe say “shit” a couple of times in the Jesus writings because I definitely say “shit” a few times in the Jesus life (I refuse to clarify “few”). I have all these thoughts and ideas about religion (blah, yuck, gross, gag me), and about Jesus (this person I know, because of some words he wrote, and because when I mumble at night he listens, who helps me, on the rare occasions I am not too proud to let him). I kind of want to be Anne Lamott but I’m not quite that cool. But I have a life of messy intersections with faith and family and life (picture six-car pile up) and I think about word-vomiting some amateur novel out of it.
So yes I am still here. It’s been two years since anyone asked about me first. “How are you?” used to be mundane, now it’s refreshing. I do still breathe and feel and desire and hope. I am not ALL mommy, ALL the time. At least I don’t want to be.
But then, of course…I am. It’s not a choice I get to make. I am THE mother and I am the only one he has. His one mother, me. That precious life-giving boy renews and tatters my soul every day. He needs me at 7AM and 2PM and sometimes at 4AM. I am everything to that boy and it’s a blessing and a curse. I won’t tell you I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because dammit, there are days that I would. I’m a mother and a great one. I was made for this work. But I cannot run away; I cannot escape. Mama-ville is where I live. I just want to go on vacation sometimes.
Tomorrow will come. And it will start with “nee-nees” (nursing) and snuggles and be followed by a much-protested diaper change. I will discover toys in the trash can or in the bathtub. My kitchen utensils will end up in the living room, and more chocolate smoothie will dot my rug. There will be tantrums and tears, and there will be kisses and reconciliation. If I find him less than adorable, screen time may be employed at some point. And I will make myself a hot chocolate and breathe peace while the little man sings along with Anna and Elsa.
And I will ponder the atrocity of police brutality and brutality against police. I will read seven pages of Tim Keller and rethink the fight I had with my husband. I’ll wonder when I’ll next have cause to break out some mascara (or maybe just try to remember the last time I showered. Or shaved my legs…now that’ll take some math). I might think about writing and the stirrings of my soul. A prayer may be offered up, even if only “Oh God, get me to bedtime.” And then I will go sit on the couch next to that sweet boy, the sweetest ever, who everyone always asks about first, and I won’t be able to blame anyone for the Gabe-stars in their eyes. Because he is phenomenal. He’s the best thing I have ever made and raising him is the best thing I do.
The totality of it all chokes me sometimes. Some days I’m swimming and some days I’m drowning. The ocean is captivating though the tide can be ominous. I just need to be known as woman and mama. To not go missing, to not be dead. To tell you I’m still here and that my heart still beats for a great number of things. To assure you I believe yours does too.