It baffles me really; this motherhood thing. We give birth to these all-consuming spawn and then spend countless hours consoling them at night, changing their stinky nappies, nursing them, feeding them, training them and dressing them. They shout at us and wake us and pee on us and spit-up on us and in their teens, temporarily hate us. It’s a completely unequal relationship. In fact, if kids were spouses rather than spawn, our friends would advise us to dump their asses ASAP.
But we can't. We simply adore them. We love them with a massive chunk of our hearts. We think about them when they're not around and check on them while they're sleeping (often forfeiting our own sleep,) to make sure they're still breathing and okay. We cry tears of joy when something goes well for them or when they make progress of some kind: first word, first steps, first recognisable-stick-figure-drawing.
If you are, like me, a stay-at-home-mom, you will understand the many dichotomies that surround this job. One does tend to fluctuate between happiest of happies to crappiest of crappies from hour to hour. Like I have written before, kids are our greatest joys but also our greatest frustrations.
My three year old is just starting to talk back. She isn’t precocious yet, but when I reprimand her, as I did yesterday, for being impolite, she tells me, “I’m not rude, I'm just shy.” Cheeky and smart, she is. But I know the day is just around the corner when she will simply say, “I am not.” And when that fateful day arrives, I will battle with the impending sense of ungratefulness that erupts from my sprog; especially after all I have done for her.
Which is the point really: all I have done for her. And all I will continue doing for her, her sister and any future siblings that may arrive for as long as I live.
So what have I done for her, exactly? Well, for starters, I gave up a job. I have a brain; a pretty good brain with a Masters Degree and yet I spend my days answering the thousands of why’s of toddlerdom and watching Disney Junior. One might counter that argument by asking if I want to go back to working as a university lecturer, or an English teacher, and the answer is a resounding NO. Never. But the level of putrefaction is tangible on some days. Who am I kidding? Its tangible on many, many days.
Then of course, I gave up my social life. I was really having fun when I fell pregnant with first born. We, (my girlfriends and I,) spent long hours out clubbing and dancing and partying like there was no tomorrow, or as it turns out, as if there were no kids. We were a tight group of hot chicks having a blast. Needless to say, since I fell pregnant first, I was the one to stop the shenanigans first. Many of them are still partying up a storm almost four years later, and some of my ‘tight’ friends have yet to meet my daughters. I traded in one version of sleepless nights for a whole different kind and somehow, I feel more exhausted now, even though I was burning far more calories dancing all night. Perhaps I should do some shooters when baby wakes me for a cuddle at three am? That way, it would still feel like a party? Maybe then my friends would want to come too? In this case, I have to admit, I miss a good dance-a-thon now and then.
My menu has substantially changed. Where once, we ate exotic and spicy foods made with expensive and acquired-taste ingredients, now we eat Shepherd’s Pie, sausages and chips, and stews most nights. I’ve stopped feeling proud for mastering home made gnocchi, and rather feel as though I have achieved something when my children eat a spaghetti sauce containing six or seven vegetables, concealed in a blur of tomato. Whereas we used to eat in front of the tv at around seven-thirty, we now dine, as a family of four at the table, around six pm, (or even earlier if we can.) We used to drink wine with almost every dinner, now we simply can't because toddler wants what we’ve got, thus we all drink water in fancy glasses. It is simply a thing we do, I guess. Mixing with others, however, turns into a rather awkward situation because we’re ready to eat off our own arms by seven pm and following on from that, ready for bed by nine.
Oh that’s another thing. Late night television is a thing of the past. You’re either too exhausted to bother, or you feel like something ‘lightheardted’ after a taxing day, so opt for some Disney Junior. And music. Gone are the ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics’ cds and gone are the lewd MTV-type tracks; you find yourself listening to more and more country, nursery-rhymes and classics. It’s a downward spiral from there. As your children get older, DVD box-sets of Sex And the City get moved to a ‘naughty cupboard,’ moms naughty toys get moved to a locked drawer and original portraits of African women with full bosoms are replaced with prints of family photographs or worse, (and in some families the one and the same,) wild animals.
Gosh, your wardrobe has also undergone a personality change. While nursing all tops need to be easy access and leaking-boobs/spit-up proof. When dealing with toddlers, all outfits should be grubby-hands/snotty-nose/messy-mouth resistant. Gone are the days of pale greys and crisp white. Heck, gone are the days of awkward high heels.
And speaking of personality, what happened to yours? Now all you talk about is the house, the house keeping, the kids, the kid-keeping and food. Oh you may throw in some interesting information you caught at a mom’s group meeting or share something fascinating that happened on the Ellen show. But aside from that, you’ve become that person the smart people avoid at cocktail parties.
You used to once, enjoy the solace of a slab of chocolate, or a cup of hot tea, or a crap in private… those days are gone. Where once you could answer your own phone or go for a leisurely grocery shop, browsing for specials as you go; now you are thinking of inventive new bribes to keep your toddler in the trolley and you customise ring tones so that when you do get a call and its not your mother, you answer it first.
Your reading list is forever altered: The Contented Baby and Bringing Up Girls replaces your usual chic-lit or high-drama novel. Not that you actually have time to read a whole book. Pinterest will never be about your choice of clothing or make-up or what your dream home will be, you’re pinning birthday parties and holiday crafts and ideas for clever ways to hide kids toys. If you are ever fortunate enough to be able to listen to the radio instead of the latest Disney CD, and a good song does come on, you will need to be happy to listen to it without adjusting the volume which makes singing along almost impossible. Completing a conversation becomes a luxury. Showering alone and undisturbed becomes a luxury. Choosing your own shoes becomes a luxury. Quickies with your spouse are so rare they may as well be taxidermied and sent to the local Natural History Museum. You need to wear a safety belt because you must practise what you preach and for that matter, you stop picking your nose, picking at scabs and cussing. Or at least you try. At the end of the day – when the kids are finally in bed and your duty is done for at least a few hours, you will wonder what happened during the day that made you so exhausted.
Nothing unusual. You’re just a mom.
Your love and pride in your family will always make you look back on the days before kids and wonder what you did with all your time then. You won’t, for a second, or certainly not more than a second, wish them gone or wish that things were different. There’s not much that can convince a mother, (or father, for that matter,) that sacrifices made for our children aren’t worth it.
But once in a blue moon, you will have a hankering for the days of yore, when you were free and able to flit from salon to store with the radio blaring and your seatbelt unbuckled. You’ll find an outlet for this yearning in the form of a hair appointment, or a massage, or a pedicure, a girl’s night out with other moms (this, in particular, is a master feat to accomplish,) or a coffee with a single girl friend. You’ll have it all planned and lined up. Outfit, timing, child-care, child snacks and emergency numbers on speed dial.
God help you. That’s the day the kids will be mysteriously ill. Or the maid/nanny/babysitter will cancel due to unforeseen circumstances. Or the day the power will be out and the salon closes temporarily, right over your slot that was booked over a month in advance. That will be the day that there is no-one available to collect your kids from school, or a notice sent out that your children need to be collected early for mid-term break; slap bang in the middle of your massage. You will be all dolled up for the girls night out and your baby will be asleep, but when you go to check all is okay, her fever has spiked and she promptly pukes on your pretty outfit.
And despite the fact that these irrefutable laws will leave you feeling utterly gutted and extremely short-changed, when you break down in tears and look for consolation or sympathy, there will be none. People will simply put it that it’s the life of a mom. Or my personal favourite, it’s just this season of life. They will offer to help you in small ways that seem huge on the surface but simply shrink when placed against what you perceive to be an insurmountable task. And besides, you don’t want the help when it’s forced; it should flow naturally from those who know how much you do.
Apparently, the greatest sacrifice a mother makes is that of self. The problem is, when we lose this sense of self, we deprive our children of all that we could offer. As a mother of two daughters, I have written often about my role as a role model to them – intellectually, physical health, morally. Even though you may meet with those awesome responses: Why would you need a break? You don’t work! Or You can do what you want any time you want, it’s not like you have a boss to answer to. Or, it’s only a season… it is so important to make time for you.
Last year, for my birthday, I pledged to spend one hour a day on myself. I haven’t been able to do this every day. In fact, most days, I've failed horribly at meeting this resolution. But I have prioritised the idea of ‘me time’ and sometimes really fought for it. As my birthday approaches again, I am renewing the pledge for my daily time out. It’s something we should all do; take some time to pray, to pamper, to ponder and to pander to whims. It will be something that benefits your children as much as it benefits you; and if you think of it as something you’ve got to do for them, you might be more likely to stick to it.