I mentioned last week about taking Laurie Wagner’s excellent writing class, Telling True Stories, in July. This is a piece that came as a result of that class, using the prompt, “What they don’t tell you about________ is….”
What they don’t tell you about motherhood is that you can never do it right. How you have to fuck up repeatedly, blindly thrashing around in a closet until you find something to try on, see if it fits you and your child, a sweater with two necks, and it has to fit you both well for anyone to be happy. How you can read every book out there by every expert and still you will drown in all that you don’t know. How you will devote yourself, religiously, to finding the best way to parent your child and you never will, because the answer keeps changing. What worked yesterday in that particular set of circumstances will not work even one hour later somedays, and you will flail, with no grace, wondering what you ever did wrong instead of paying attention to what’s in front of you. You will want easy answers, and the best experts out there will offer you exactly zero, though they will be full of advice on what you absolutely should NOT do, which begins to sound like everything after a while. But no one will be able to tell you what you should do, your particular you with your particular child. You cannot study for this test, you cannot try to figure out the answers the teachers are looking for – because in this case, your teachers have no fucking idea what they want, and that’s part of the problem. You’re here to try, with increasing desperation, to help them. Be happy, be content, figure out how to tie their shoes, what they want for snack, how to read, how to beat this game. Everything, in microcosm.
And what they don’t tell you about motherhood is that you can never take your eye off the prize, not for a moment. Not even when you are sleeping. You will have anxiety dreams about leaving your children at home alone, accidentally, when they are 2 and 5. How you beg your husband to please, please, please, drive home so you can check on them and he laughs at you and tries to reassure you that they’re fine (and you know they’re not).
You will feel like you are forever cramming for a final that will never come, or comes at unbelievably inopportune moments – a total full-body meltdown in Target, with every old woman in the universe there to witness your failure, shaking their heads, muttering loudly about how THEY would never stand for that behavior.
You will feel like you’re drowning some days. Not every day. But some days. You will never have a day off from this job ever again. You will get little breaks. But at no time will more than a few hours go by that you do not think about your child, wonder what he’s doing, if he’s okay, even if he’s with the most wonderful people in the safest place in the world.
What they don’t tell you about motherhood, is that sometimes you will want to call in sick, but the best you can hope for is that your spouse will stay home to help out a little so you can rest. This is sort of like hiring a plumber to check the wiring of your car. No matter how committed and amazing your partner is, there is no substitute for you. (But would you really want there to be?)
What they don’t tell you about motherhood is how transformative it is. How you will die a thousand times, from a thousand unintentional and intentional mistakes. How you will always be forgiven. How much you can be loved, unconditionally, even when you do a horrible job. And how you can love someone so purely, so unconditionally, that it hurts to breathe sometimes. There is so much fear in motherhood. The best thing you can do is face it head on, and roar like the mama bear you are in the face of it. Hopefully, your cubs will roar with you, too.