Lonely Motherhood

I’m sitting on the couch leaning on a pillow
with my crossed feet up taking up as much couch as I can
because I can
only during this sliver of time after bedtime
before I succumb to complete exhaustion

I already fell asleep at 6:30
leaned back against the couch and nodded off
trying in vain to read ScienceNews twelve hours into the day
with the kids bouncing chasing laughing right there
I hit my wall
That was three and a half hours ago

Hubby clocked out sometime during teeth brushing and stories
leaned back against the couch and nodded off
leaving me the evening shift
I urged him to bed selfishly
to protect my sleep later
lest he make his way upstairs at three a.m.
as he’s wont to do

Teeth brushing and stories was followed by dish washing
and putting food away, wiping down counters, picking up
Pouring myself a glass of wine
getting a soft chocolate cookie down from the high cupboard
centering it on my favorite small round black dessert plate
Laptop pillow crossed feet, sigh
try to breathe

I’m not making this next part up:
Footsteps on the stairs
Can’t sleep someone turned the hall light off scared
Resigned I get up silently
reach out my hand and we head slowly back up for another tuck in
and I try to start over

I don’t even want the wine
or the cookie
My body isn’t asking for them and they won’t satisfy what I do need
but they are symbolic
of taking a break of treating myself, of choreographing a moment
If I’m not careful
I’ll end up fat and diabetic (but still unfulfilled) from years of overdoing it on the symbols

I need sleep
But I also desperately crave being alone
Motherhood has cruelly pitted these two needs against each other

To make it worse
I also desperately crave connection
but there are only so many hours in the day, so you have to let something go
(plus Hubby already clocked out)

I sat there and googled “lonely motherhood”
and was not surprised to find pages of hits
Dozens of blog posts, of course, but also newspaper features and even a scientific article
Plenty to assure me that I’m not alone, ha ha

Reading some of it felt better than the cookie, which I ate anyway
crumbs and all
and every last drop of the wine
because they were something

Then I googled “lonely fatherhood” and basically it’s not even a thing
not surprised

Apparently though, there are millions of lonely mothers
all trapped by their sleeping children
late at night in their houses
craving connection and alone time and sleep
forced into compromising on all three
in the final minutes of the day  


Two Ninety Nine

what if it were my real job?
then would it be okay that they mindlessly eat breakfast during the second hour
of Tom & Jerry?
while I sit here nourishing myself on waffles and the laptop
surely, I can justify the $2.99 download
if it’s childcare for work

what about for unpaid work?
to read to eat my breakfast in peace?
for pursuing a passion?
multiply the corresponding level of guilt, divide by the amount of energy you have
raise to the power of what else is on your plate today
factor in cultural expectations
(well, your own impossible expectations of yourself, I mean)
and consider the iTunes bill so far this month
and how many hours have they played outside
well, there’s even more to it-this set of formulas I use to determine whether it’s okay

I couldn’t possibly explain it all to you right now
how quickly I run through the calculations while I slowly stir sugar into my coffee
and contemplate my next (immediate) move

open the laptop and push away the guilt
and that nagging question about the passion
(do I have enough?)
(how do I know?)
(really, is it okay or not, would somebody please tell me, this is the unknown in my equation still, to pay for childcare, to justify the expense, to plug them in or drop them off ignore forget
be someone without them
for a passion?
or only for work?
paid work, right?)

it’s only $2.99
only one morning
only my life

three bites in she’s insisting to be on my lap
dragging cut up bananas and tangled hair and her attention away from the screen
setting her plate between me and the laptop
going back for her napkin buys me another few lines
a short moment to switch gears
recalculating my next (immediate) move

The Difference

I looked her up online
she’s a real one
looking for clues to the how
how can she do it?
with three?
there’s a picture of her desk online
it’s just a slightly messy desk on hardwood floor in the middle of the house with evidence of
kid stuff all around
not a special office hideaway retreat space dedicated quiet clean
a lot like my desk, house, hardwood floors
kid stuff all around
so I have no excuse

well, there’s the MFA and the job teaching writing
and the long list of what’s been published already
that I lack
but we’re the same age, hair color, freckles busy distracted
the other one also had the degree professional official resume publications
plus unique upbringing, memoir worthy
and blonde
but then I found out about her by sitting across from her
at a training
because some of the work we do is the same, actually
with the same qualifications
but I’m not blonde or memoir worthy, so, there’s that
and they started a long time ago and focused on this more and some other excuses
wait, I have them here somewhere

they claim, they all claim, when I look them all up
the real ones
in my search for the clues to the how
to fight self-doubt and -loathing and fear and all the things I’m feeling
so that’s the same
and makes them seem not so special after all
but then what is the difference?
is it just the doing it?

I fear I don’t care enough
just an A minus B plus kind of care
like I always was in writing classes
just enough to want to write the first time but, oh, the editing
yeah I know how important it is blah blah
I’ve told my students that, insisted upon it myself
but the editing is
a judgment
and boring like practicing piano
and living up to someone else’s standards of what it is supposed to be

maybe it’s all about the editing
committing to worrying about someone else’s standards of what it is supposed to be
that’s my sticking point
or maybe it’s the not worrying about someone else’s standards of what it is supposed to be
it could be that, the confidence

or is it just the doing it?



SCENE: Drying off Turtle after his shower, rubbing the towel on his wet hair.

Me:  You are soooo cute!  [smothering with kisses] But I would still love you even if you were ugly!

Turtle: No you wouldn't!

Me: Yes I would! (because I don't want him to think that my love is contingent upon his good looks godforbid something happen and he becomes disfigured and worries that I won't love him anymore yes I actually thought that in that moment that's just how my crazy mom brain works) 

Turtle: No, you wouldn't because I would be mean to you and hurt your feelings!

Me: Oh... you mean you would be acting ugly?

Turtle: Yeah, [giving me the duh! look] that's what ugly is, Mom.  Acting ugly, being not nice.

Me: Right... [taken aback]

He genuinely wasn't getting that when I said "ugly" I meant ugly in appearance.  His operating definition of ugly is totally different.  (And is probably the good early childhood development teacher definition of ugly that has been instilled to him at circle time over the years, because we've never really particularly talked about any kind of ugly together.)

Which made me really reflect on my focus on looks when I said ugly.

I hope he can hang onto his definition and remain oblivious to the concept of physical ugliness for as long as possible.

It's really lovely to have a son who is not ugly (by his definition).


The Myth of the Put Together Mom

I can't tell you how many times I am out and about and see these really put together moms that make me feel so frazzled and frumpy.  You know the ones.  Standing in line at Starbucks in their freshly washed form-fitting black yoga pants and cute colorful top with coordinated earrings, silky recently trimmed hair pulled back into an easy pony, stylish purse over their arm, spring in their step, trendy diaper bag hanging off of spotless sporty stroller with GapKids ad baby cutely smiling and flirting with all the customers while well-behaved, well-dressed grade school siblings stand sweetly by, smug smiles of satisfaction on the moms' well-rested moisturized faces as they contemplate another perfect day of exercise, orderly organic picnic in the park playdate, working on that novel while the kids nap, and whipping up a gourmet dinner followed by relaxing with wine while the eldest kid reads to the others at bedtime, kisses for all, and a grown up evening of sophisticated talk and sex before 8 hours of sleep on Egyptian cotton 1200 thread count sheets.

Who are these people?!  And why do they have to exist? They only serve to highlight my ratty hair long overdue for color and cut, postpartum belly stuffed into ill fitting pants, stained loose tee with fresh baby snot on the shoulders, exasperating unwashed children with bed heads, and constantly overwhelmed feeling of having more to do than I will ever get done combined with inadequacy and guilt over my staggering (to my pre-mom self) lack of efficiency and productivity each day.

So, the other day I was getting ready in the morning.  The kids, who happened to be freshly bathed and have cute, clean outfits on, were happily entertaining each other in the living room.  I had time to brush my hair and find a nice outfit that fit well.  The eldest helped me pack the diaper bag and car for our outing.  We decided to hit Starbucks before hitting the road.  The baby smiled sweetly out of my arms and flirted with people in line.  Her brother selected his organic chocolate milk, got napkins for all of us, saved us a table and enthusiastically greeted a neighbor we know.  Little sister cheerfully ate her Cheerios while dancing endearingly around our table.  I think I had a little smile on my face as I felt well-rested and happy contemplating the fun day we had in store.

Suddenly, it hit me.  Here I was probably looking pretty well put together in the eyes of some poor other mom who walked in and was feeling frazzled, frumpy, and overwhelmed.  Oh no!  The last thing I wanted to do was induce those same feelings of inadequacy and frustration in someone else.

I think we need some kind of symbol.  A little pin we can wear that signifies "Oh, don't worry!  I'm an exhausted and overwhelmed mom, too.  We're in this together!  I just happen to be having a one out of a hundred morning here.  And it won't last, I assure you.  A few hours from now these well coiffed kids will be melting down and these yoga pants will be ripped and I'll snap at somebody.  The baby won't go down for her nap and we'll all end up eating McDonalds for dinner and putting the kids to bed too late without baths before falling asleep on the couch without finishing those emails I was supposed to send by the morning."

I thought about how when I see those seemingly well put together moms, it could be that it's their one in a hundred morning that I'm just catching a few minutes of and I shouldn't compare myself to them and assume they've got things under control any more than I do, right?  I mean, probably that's the case.  Well, hopefully.

See, that's where the pin would help.