On one recent morning Noah and I sat on my bed after his bathtime, and I was playing our name game with him. "Who is your brother?" Noah made a "c" with his hand and yelled out "Co-Co!" which is his nickname for his 16-year-old stepbrother Colby, who now also goes by "Coke" and "Colby Doo", bless his heart. "Who is Matthew?" I asked, and Noah thought for a second and responded "Daddeee! Daddeee!" with no small amount of glee in his voice. "Who is Sidney?" Noah made the sign for "cat" and said "Catncatncat." Finally, I asked, "Who is Kate?" Noah concentrated very hard for quite a few seconds, and then said with excitement, "Peow!" I laughed and said "Yes, Katy is a plow, isn't she?" (See Katy and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton, one of Noah's favorite books right now.)
This was both a delightful and sad moment for me. I love the book too, and this plow Katy is one serious go-getter, not unlike myself at times. I also was struck by how I am so totally Mumma-Mommy-Mum now that it's rare for me to ever hear my own name spoken in my home. Even Matthew addresses me as "Mum" a lot of times when Noah isn't even in the room. As I write this, I remember reading in a magazine blurb many months ago that this is a sure sign of impending doom in a marriage. But I digress.
As Noah approaches two years old, and shows his excitement more and more for everything around him, I feel like my own motivation for anything other than him is creeping along like an old camel who has decided she really doesn't need water ever again and she'll just live on whatever she's got stored up in her hump for the REST OF HER LIFE. I am tired of my old mental loops of thinking about how and when and what to do, which personal goal or project to push forward with the minute amount of "free time" I have when Noah naps...How to make it happen for myself, some modicum of my old productivity, doing things for others or myself - that goes beyond getting clean and dressed. I feel today like giving up on all that and just being Mommy. Trying to be anything else often leaves me down and tired, more tired than the regular exhaustion that comes from being a parent. Cosmically tired.
There are days like this when I imagine myself to be the mythological Tityrus. He was chained to a rock for his crimes, while a vulture fed upon his heart and entrails, which were ever renewed as fast as devoured. The doctrine of endless punishment was born and suits me well when I need to see my husband Matthew as the vulture, reaping the benefits of me over and over and over again - me the co-parent, childcare provider (for those times when I know what I'm doing doesn't rise to the level of parenting, but is much more like just keeping Noah alive until someone who can be more responsible comes back to help out), grocery shopper, housekeeper, master organizer... And of course, it's me who's the real vulture, bitterly attacking myself again and again with mean and useless messages, which I really can't be affording to do given that I need to raise this dear boy and don't have a lot of energy for other things, which is the whole point.
My old life is so over. I can't really even pretend sometimes that I have parts of it, and I think that's the way I've been approaching things so far. The endless cultural conversation about mothers doing it all and of course looking good while they do it is a paradigm that is not only unattainable, it seems to me to spell out a formula for not being present with my child, my partner, and myself. On some level, it's absolutely impossible to be responsible for a tiny person's safety and security and to enjoy that little life, and still expect to exercise, celebrate regular intimate moments with my partner, contribute to society, and be socially and politically active, unless I make them part of some new paradigm together. They can't be compartmentalized and ticked off a list.
When I planned my return to work after three months of maternity leave, I proposed to come back at reduced hours, and Noah would be with me on-site. As Matthew helped me strategize how to plan that time and what work to focus on, he said something brilliant: that I could approach it as doing the same job with less time, or I could approach it as a completely new job. This was an incredibly novel and helpful way to think about things, and I know that it applies here. Being a mother, and wanting to get outside in the long overdue warm weather, and moving forward with projects through my consulting business, and oh yes, making time with my husband, they all have to overlap now and have something to do with one another in a big, messy, mudpie sort of way. I can't just barrel through until it's all done, in that Katy snow plow sort of way that I used to do. I have to more intentionally find the counterpoints in the day to being Mommy, Mommy the rock, Mommy the thing that Noah can love or safely rage against or whatever else he needs to do. I have to find Kate in this new place, Kate as my source, Kate as my reference point, this new woman, Kate.