Here’s a secret:
I am, basically, the same person that I was before I had a kid. I am still just as selfish. I am still just as petty, as cruel, as small minded. I am still wondering what the fuck am I going to be when I grow up.
Maybe you’re not. Maybe parenthood was a revelation, a small but complete revolution in the halls of your psyche. But me? I’m still Arwyn. Everything I did before, I still do. Everything I was bad at before, I still fail to do. My house is still a mess, clutter is still the default state of my house and mind, I still alternate between concocting plans to take over the world and barely clinging to the skin of sanity trying to simply survive each day.
Because motherhood isn’t a magic cure. I didn’t have a baby and suddenly wake up a morning person, minivan in the drive way, clothes picked out, and lunch already packed. I wasn’t that person before I had a kid, and I’m not her now. I don’t think I ever will be her, and some days I’m really ok with that.
We have this idea that when a woman birth/adopt/partner with a parent, she becomes A Mother. And we have all kinds of idealized notions of what A Mother looks like and acts like and accomplishes in a single day. But the truth is — my truth is, at least, though I suspect you’ll find it true of others as well — that it doesn’t work that way. I may have, eventually, over time, become mom to my kid, but that transformation into A Mother I was supposed to undergo never came.
I have changed, because change is inevitable. My life has changed — if for no other reason than now I’m trying to keep two humans alive through the day instead of just one — but the habits and patterns of my life largely haven’t. And the me-underneath-all is still here, still as bewildered and confused and scared and cocky and self-centered as ever, wondering when someone will notice that the transformation never occurred, waiting for The Mother to come save me and do things properly.
And that’s the thing: she’s never coming. I don’t think she ever came for my mom, either, and isn’t that a terrifying thought to the part of me still two years old, who remembers climbing into my mother’s lap like I was ascending into heaven, being granted audience with Love Herself and welcomed unreservedly thereby.
Because The Mother is a myth, and all those women we assign to her pedestal are rather more like me than they are like the Perfection Incarnate whose face I stared into. Even after adolescence, even after seeing my mom’s imperfections, her bad habits, her failures and shortcomings, her encroaching crows feet and lengthening greys, even after fighting with her over issues both substantial and trivial, I never lost the idea that she was A Mother. And when I look at myself and my motherhood and find it lacking in any significant capitalizations, I feel I have failed.
But the failure isn’t in me — it’s in a Hallmark society that puts the capitals there to start with. The problem is a culture that puts women-with-children on unattainable pedestals. The problem is the group-think that says women with children are somehow fundamentally different from (and better morally though inferior intellectually to) women without children.
The truth is — we’re not.
We never become A Mother except in the eyes of our children; we muddle along, muttering prayers and curses under our breath and hoping we don’t fuck things up too badly, and our children (though we fuck them up inevitably, though not usually irreparably) are the ones who see us as angels (or devils), as Love (or Hate) Incarnate, as significant capitalizations. Whether we do well by them or earn our disownments, some part of them sees us always through the eyes of a two year old, capitalized, Their Mother.
One day they’ll grow up, and they might have kids (or they might not) and wait for their selves to be improved, their parenthood made profound — and then they might realize that Their Mother was only ever a person, struggling to fill up the enormous space they had assigned to her.
The truth is, all mothers are only this: only you (whether you have kids or not), only me. Only gloriously imperfect, entirely human, completely lacking in capitals.
Terrifying. And wonderful.
Happy mothers’ day.