Sunday, January 22, 2012
There is, upon arriving home after a long day, the matter that my son wants to check on his guinea pig, Finn, before we head out. Seven-year-olds do not always understand the concept of prior engagements or commitments to be certain places at certain times. They do, however, understand being away from something you love all day and wanting to reconnect with it.
But…my art is on display, so I really need to be there. I also need to do laundry, and so to give my son a few more minutes with Finn, I pull clothes from the dryer (where they have been since last night) and begin folding them. There is also the matter of snacks. My child is hungry and I never know exactly what refreshments will be provided at these artistic functions. I promise to get a snack together as soon as I’m done with the clothes, and he reminds me that Finn also needs a snack.
The reception begins at 6pm and it’s in another town. I did not get home until almost 5, because I stopped off after work for a quick coffee with a friend while my son was taking part in an afterschool program. That brief stop, little more than an hour, is the only ‘grown up’ (as in without child) time I will have for the entire week. I’m used to them being rare, but try to fit them in whenever I can, even if it means putting me behind schedule the rest of the evening. The wonderfully stimulating conversation I had with my friend, which centered primarily on yoga and intentions for the new year, is on my mind as I finish folding clothes, throw a new load in, make the snack for my child, and wash lettuce leaves for Finn. Upstairs, I remind my son to feed his fish and suddenly, randomly remember that, in my haste to get to my coffee date, I forgot to post my lesson plans for next week before leaving work. Dang.
No time to worry about that now. I look down at my clothes. I wore this ensemble to work and have had it on since 6am, but I think it will pass for the reception. It will have to, there simply isn’t time to change. My son’s clothes…eh, no. I take a quick look at my hair and makeup, splash on some patchouli, and grab a new shirt for him. I brush his hair while he’s eating his snack, and change his clothes in the kitchen. We hit the road with perfect timing, and enter the reception fashionably late.
And it’s a wonderful event, full of friends, art, music, good food, better coffee, and laughter. But after an hour, my child is bored, wandering, looking up at me with tired eyes that remind me 7:30 is just a half-hour away from 8pm, his usual bedtime, even on weekends. In addition, he reminds me that it’s Friday, which is our movie night, and we’re supposed to watch Ninja Turtles.
In another life, back when I had the time, freedom, and desire to be petit bourgeois, I’d have stayed at events like this all night. And I’d have more lined up for the next night, and maybe a few speckled throughout the week, and spend hours planning outfits and getting ready. Now…not so much. It isn’t because I have a child, no. The idea that children take from our lives, rather than give, is one that devastates relationships and one I don’t subscribe to. But becoming a mother has changed me, completely, and I like to believe for the better. Because the reality is, everything has it’s time, its place, and it’s occasion to be enjoyed. Would I have liked to spend longer at that reception? A decade ago, yes. But last night, despite the amazing art, wonderful people, and good music, I was actually looking forward to movie night with my son, because I, too, understand being away from something you love all day and wanting to reconnect with it.
A few weeks ago I stumbled across yet another ‘frustrated mother’ essay online, posted on a website that is exists for the purpose of encouraging women, but seems to be turning into just a place for the unhappy to vent. Apparently, there are quite a lot of stay-at-home moms out there who are trying to balance being a stay-at-home mom with pursuing some type of freelance career (usually writing, which seems to be the new hot trend). The feminist in me applauds this as I begin to read the essay. But by the end, the mom in me is just appalled by the writer’s lack of gratitude for what appears to be a pretty cushy life.
Another essay details a woman’s distress over trying to continue her writing career in the midst of parenting two toddlers while her husband works long hours. I’m trying to sympathize, remember what a handful one toddler can be, until she mentions her live-in nanny. Live-in nanny? Really? She is complaining about parenting solo, and yet she has a live-in nanny (which hubby’s long hours obviously pay for). And then another young at-home mom’s essay mulls over long, tedious hours and sleepless night of parenting an infant while watching one’s keyboard get dusty because there simply isn’t enough time to parent the infant, grab sleep when possible, and write. I’m not totally unsympathetic; I remember the days of parenting an infant. I have been there, but here’s the thing: I did all that they are doing, all that parenting , but I did it alone…and while working a full-time, very stressful job outside of the home. And here’s what I’d like to say to these moms who complain without seeming to realize how easy they actually have it: Quit whining.
I have raised my son alone for the last seven years. It was not my intention or desire to, it is just the way it has happened. There was never anyone else in the middle of the night to help tend him, no one to help when he was sick and I was scared, no other parent to lend physical, emotional, or financial support, and certainly no spouse to work long hours so that I might stay at home for the sweet, short duration of my child’s infancy. And unlike many single parents I know, I do not share parenting responsibilities of my child with my own parents. Even if I wanted to, it would be impossible; my mother has a myriad of health issues and my father’s time is consumed in tending to the things that my mother can’t. So I’ve done this – and continue to do it – on my own, wondering what it would have been like for my son and I had things been different, but being grateful, so grateful, always, that I am able to do alone a job that even God intended to be shared by two.
So when I read these venting essays, I’m so stunned by the lack of gratitude these moms seem to have that I can’t even wrap my mind around what they are thinking. Did they not realize that parenting was going consume the majority of their lives? Did they go into motherhood totally delusional about what tending an infant or toddler was like? Did they actually believe a person can tend and infant and simultaneously build a career? But most importantly, don’t they realize that childhood is brief, so brief, and that time for themselves will come again, sooner than they might imagine? In the blink of an eye, afternoons will stretch out endlessly before them, hours and hours to write, paint, do whatever they please without the interruption of ‘Mama’, because their child(ren) have grown wings and taken flight? Don’t they realize how precious these days, these moments, actually are?
And are they not in the least bit grateful to have been afforded in life a partner to raise these children with? One who is intelligent, responsible, and caring enough to spend long days working a job they may not even enjoy in order to support a family which, rare these days, has a mom at home at the helm? I hear the whining loud and clear. What I don’t hear, even once, in their writing is the gratitude.
I’d have given a limb to have not had to take my son to daycare at 8 weeks of age. To not have had to go into work – work! – on an hour of sleep on so many occasions when my baby was still learning the difference between days and nights. To not have counted weekend hours slipping by with tears in my eyes because I knew, come 7am Monday, I’d be turning the babe in my arms over to someone else. It was a searing pain in the heart, this parting, and wasn’t because I wanted to pursue a career. It was because I had to work in order that my child and I could live. There was no one else who was going to do it, no one giving to me the luxury of staying at home or, good heavens, staying at home with a full-time nanny. The light at the end of my tunnel, however, was the fact that, as an educator, I knew that I would always have summer break, winter break, and spring break. These times together, and the knowledge they were coming, got me through those long months of being separated from what I loved most all day.
But the most amazing thing of all is that while I parented alone and worked a full-time job, guess what? I still found time to write. And paint. And learn to knit. And play with my son. And organize art exhibits. And potty train my son. And send out query letters that got answers. And take commissions. And teach my child the alphabet. And make altered clothes out of old clothes so I didn’t have to buy new ones all the time. And have articles published. And teach my son to identify birds by their sounds on long afternoon walks. And get my own column in a magazine. And teach my child to ride a bike and bake bread. And work. Work, work, work…and keep up with bills, the laundry, the house, and still make special events (like movie night and a trip abroad) happen for my child. And plant a garden, and take day trips, and set up an Etsy shop for my art, and do yoga every day, and take my son to swim meets, and work out, and write, and attend art receptions (even if just for an hour), and have fleeting coffees with friends and all day play dates with my son’s friends because that’s just life when you’re a parent. And paint, and knit when I couldn’t paint so I’d still feel creative, and watch my child grow and blossom into an amazing human being, and remember enjoy every minute that I have been blessed to BE…A…MOM.
While I am intensely passionate about my art and very committed to my writing, I know there are at least million artists out there, and a shockingly increasing number of writers popping up every day. But there is only one child that is mine, and he has only one mother. Me. There is, and will never be, a greater calling for me than this. And maybe my experiences in mothering solo have made me, after 7 years, just more unsympathetic to ‘mom whining’ than I’d like to admit. I try not to judge, and to practice love and compassion, but truth is, ingratitude is an attribute I find intolerable. However, a few days ago, I stumbled across a blog by a wonderful young artist-writer-mom, a happy stay-at-homer (they exist! Yaay!) that freelanced in her spare time, not worrying if she wrote every day or even every week, because she knew her husband’s job would pay the bills, and she knew she was blessed to be present for every minute of her young child’s life. WOW. This wise woman, a decade younger than me, basically stated that she “knew her time to pursue her own passions 100% would come back, so she didn’t mind giving her time now to her son because she was so utterly grateful to have the opportunity to be with him full-time in his early life.” I was elevated, thrilled, over-the-moon with her essay. There was a tribe of Mamas like me out there. Kindred Mamas. Grateful Mamas. Happy, creative, child-centered Mamas, who, whether parenting with partners or parenting solo, embraced their blessings, were grateful for every minute with their child(ren), and knew that if you quit whining and practiced gratitude, happiness opened up, even on the difficult days, and you found you simply had more of it than you ever imagined you might.
No one is superwoman, least of all me. I have a high energy level and having practiced martial arts rather intensely in my younger years, I’ve learned a thing or two about discipline that help me accomplish what I have in the midst of what seems like chaos to others. But I also make choices that serve me and my child in the now. And, as the young mother I admire so much wrote in her essay, the thing about the activities I step out of, the events I don’t attend in order to parent, is that they will still be there, still happening, when my son no longer wants to spend his Friday nights with me. It’s like a dance that never ends. I’ll step right back into it when the time comes, like I never left, like the whirlwind days of mothering a young child had never even happened.
Something tells me, however, that I’ll miss those whirlwind days of young childhood much more than I’ve ever missed standing around with groups of fashionably dressed people, sipping wine and making intelligent conversation. I’ll miss movie night, hurried snacks, and quality time with guinea pigs more than I’ve ever missed elegant petit fours with people I only know socially. And so I linger in this time now, stealing creative moments and grown-up coffees with dear friends when I can, but cherishing, always cherishing, the now that I have, this fleeting now I’ve been blessed with. There will not likely be, for me, another time that I will ever be the parent of a young child, but there will be infinite chances to write and make art when he is no longer a young child. This present, this now, is once in a lifetime. I don’t wish it away, heavens no…I snag it, grab, and try to hold on.
It hasn’t been easy every step, and I’ve not always been as grateful as I am now. I’d also not recommend solo parenting as an ideal, no matter how fabulously feministic it might seem. It’s hard, damn hard, but so are diamonds, which society treasure and hold in highest esteem as a token of love. I’ve personally no use for diamonds, but I do hold in highest esteem the role I have as a mother, whether society values it or not. Perhaps there are those who would look at my art or my writing and actually consider it a more worthwhile contribution to the world than my child, and for them, I feel compassion… but for myself, I feel only joy.
Mama-whining? No thank you. I have Mama-gratitude. I’m blessed beyond measure…and lucky me, I’m wise enough to know it.