Mothering is a ludicrous bid for power at the best of times; in August, it gets twisted. Yesterday, Caroline screamed from the top of the stairs for 45 straight minutes because Henry wouldn’t go outside with her. By the end of it, I was curled up in an air-raid position on the dining room floor, crying and yelling at God to fucking help me with her.
Then Julie called, reminding me that these kinds of scenes often come right before big developmental leaps and even making me giggle a little bit through my tears, so I know God listens (even when I say “fucking” when I’m asking Him for help). That’s a comfort. Still, there was more screaming after that –joyful screaming, indignant screaming, maniacal screaming, I’m-eating-pancakes-for-dinner-and-I-just-totally-love-pancakes! screaming.
They broke my spirit, so today I might take them bra shopping with me. I don’t even need new bras, I just want revenge. See what I’m saying?
We’re supposed to help each other, we’re supposed to keep passing the baton.
Counting today, there are eight full days and one half-day left with all three kids; three full days and three half-days with just two; another two half-days with just one; three and a half days in Saint Louis without any of them. Then school starts and maybe some of my hair will grow back.
Look, I love my babies. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t care how many times they begged for sugar or why they were all screaming (“we’re pretending there’s a storm, Mama”) or when I would be able to pass the baton to other adults with education and experience and new ideas. I’m all out of them at the moment. Confessing that is extremely hard for a proud Mama like me, but that’s precisely why I’m confessing it: it’s hard for all of us and it shouldn’t be. We’re supposed to help each other, we’re supposed to keep passing the baton.
Did you see the Olympic freestyle relay where Michael Phelps won his nineteenth medal? He won it because he’s a phenomenal athlete, but he also won it because the other three phenomenal athletes swimming with him –Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens, and Conor Dwyer– gave him a big, gorgeous lead. By the time he got in the water, it was his to lose. Truthfully, I have never been one for team sports, group projects, or collaborations of any kind. I like working alone in most cases, being in charge of my own destiny.
But motherhood is about being in charge of someone else’s destiny, so letting others give us a big lead makes all kinds of sense. I know so many mamas in my generation –me included– who feel like we’re failing if we can’t solve everything ourselves, do it all to the nth degree. Meals have to be from scratch, made from locally-grown, organic superfoods we grew from heirloom seeds in our urban gardens. Children must be brilliant, empathetic, creative problem-solvers, enriched with music and chess and at least one sport each season. Our homes must be models of beauty and system, cleaned with natural products that smell like obscure flowers and herbs. Fashion is effortless, age-appropriate, stylish but not slavishly trendy. Makeup is natural during the day, smoky at night. Sex is at least twice a week.
Just talking about it makes me angry and tired and I happen to like a lot of these activities (wink wink, nudge nudge). Nobody can pull off every part of this. Nobody was ever supposed to. Even if it were possible (it’s NOT –don’t try), there are these little people we’re raising, not to mention the big ones we see in the mirror every morning and the even bigger ones who sleep on the other side of the bed. There are friends who are drowning in cancer or divorce or depression or all three, aging parents who are suddenly alone, need us more. There are politics to pay attention to, crumbling finances, mold in the basement, a lecherous boss, an incompetent one. There is an ideal we keep missing, a persistent loneliness, a low-grade fever of anger and helplessness, the fear of always falling short.
Jordyn Wieber was heartbroken when she didn’t qualify for the Olympic women’s individual gymnastics competition, but did you see her with her team when they won the first American team gold since 1996? Winning alone would be incredible, I’m sure, but winning together is beautiful. I’m tuned in to that these days, the idea of winning together. I have a daughter with special needs and two other particularly sensitive children. I’m not going to qualify on my own. For a while now, I’ve been heartbroken about that, but I keep watching, over and over again, the way all of these Olympians encouraged each other, comforted each other, celebrated each other. I want that. I have seventeen days to give us a big, gorgeous lead.