Jun 4, 2007

Mothers Wild

I’m not someone who takes it personally that other women look great or are wildly successful, or both. Usually. I recognize that I have made choices in my own life that add up to who I am now, where I am now, and who and where I’m not. A nice neat equation. Art major + didn’t go to grad school + wanted summers free = Art Teacher. Art teacher + 3 kids = stay-at-home mom. Eats whatever I want to eat + doesn’t work out = soft body, low energy but never hungry. Soft body, low energy + 3 kids + no job= sluggish and sleepy and unmotivated (but never hungry).

I’m basically happy and healthy despite some bad habits and general laziness--and am not threatened by other women because I have no regrets and because I can do the math. Good for them. Good for me. Great.

I know women who work hard to look great. I know women who look great without working hard. I know women who’ve fought for powerful jobs, I know women who just put the time in and reaped the rewards more gradually. I know who these women are and I respect them. I’m not them and that’s okay.

But it turns out I don’t do well with surprises. And I’ve been learning lately that when you befriend women who’ve just given birth and then you get to be really close thanks to all the shared experiences--boredom, music classes, sleepless nights, fights with spouses, meltdowns of all varieties--and when all of that squishiness begins to melt away as everyone (mostly everyone) starts to return to being the kind of women they were way back when--way back before the first baby, back when they were who someone fell in love with, back when they were who they were that decided to live in New York, back when they were the sum of a lot of experiences that had nothing to do with being moms--there’s a lot to be surprised about.

And sometimes I feel a little bit betrayed.

It’s like the mom-version of Joker’s Wild all the time now that the kids are getting older. Pull the lever and...Mother, Mother! Wall Street Tycoon! Mother, Mother! Film-maker! Mother, Mother! Pulitzer prize nominated novelist! Mother, Mother! Skinny Fashion Magazine Person!

Soft women I met when all our babes were six weeks old are now hard. Curves chiselled, wobbles whittled. Bodies snapped back--after a three or four year stretch of fleshy momminess--to being strong and athletic.

Me? I’ve always been soft, just couldn’t wait to have babies to justify it. Imagine how at home I felt in the midst of all these new moms! I assumed we were in agreement about satisfying the chocolate cravings that continued for years after the babies were born. I assumed we were serious about being content to continue wearing big ol’ stretchy maternity underwear. I assumed we were all going to throw in the towel on ambition in the face of such newly imbalanceable lives.

When did they all sneak out and work out? When were they eating right in the presence of all those birthday cupcakes? When did they get enough sleep to get back to their computers? Their art studios?

Our conversations, even after two years of friendship, were so now-oriented (diaper brands, weaning theories) even when literary (‘anyone read the New Yorker article on Ferber?’ ‘are stay-at-home moms doing a disservice to their children?’) that in one case I learned a pal and I had very similar (former) professional lives so late in the game it was bizarre. Turned out in addition to stocking the same snacks in our stroller bags and making the same snide comments about other mothers’ inabilities to set limits, we taught art in similar private schools and knew many of the same people.

I’m proud to know these women. Proud to have breastfed alongside them, navigated the nuances of the neighborhood nannies, pondered the politics of playgroup, glued ourselves to each otoher in desperation, but I could have used a heads-up on who they were planning to return to being when all the babies toddled off to school.

Maybe they could have worn nametags with previews of their lives to come. Dancer, size 2 might have been nice. Val shrunk down to nothing, and revealed a passion for modern dance. I didn’t see that coming. Rich party-girl, size 6 might’ve helped. I tried to keep up with Victoria’s lunching-out habit until I realized she was light-years ahead of me financially and nutritionally. Every time she ate a salad I ate a meatloaf sandwich with gravy. I just thought she was uninspired food-wise, didn’t realize it was part of a get-skinny-to-get-back-to-the-clubs plan. Writer/runner, Ballerina/photographer, Sculptor/athlete. Huh? I’m blown away by who these women have become, and equally blown away by my assumption that I’d landed among soul-sisters in a similar stagnate stage of life.

I had no vision of who I’d be after becoming a mom. I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I was awestruck at the thought of being a mom. Being a mom was my happy ending. My Disney wedding. I didn't give much thought to what I'd do afterwards.

I continued to teach until my youngest was two, then walked away from my career to be at home. I thought I was entering a life full of all the vibrant moms I knew. What a fun mom-house we’d all inhabit together! Like Millionaire Acres in the Game of Life. We’d park our little pretend cars in the pretend driveway, have lunch together and worry together and live out our years together.

But as I was walking through the revolving door on the way in, they were all heading out. Back to work, back to writing colonies, back to skinny jeans, back to shopping at Barneys, back to jaunting off to Europe. Back to who they were before I got to know them and thought they were who they seemed to be--sluggish, sleepy, soft and slightly unsatisfied (like me). I hadn’t counted on this.

My entire life was one arrow leading to motherhood. So I landed here and built a cozy nest with all the other moms--we got all snuggled in, all synched up, and in some cases got pregnant second and third times together. And now they reveal that their arrows continue on, pointing above, beyond, pointing out of the mom-nest. I don’t have these arrows. I didn’t really know they existed.

Last weekend I ran into a dad at a Little League game and learned that his wife, my friend Patty, was running the four-mile loop through the park and would meet up with us later. Running through the park? Good for her! Another friend getting back into the groove. Great. Just great.


Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah. I relate. Friends I thought would be long-term "at home" moms are suddenly taking jobs, running marathons, etc. I find myself adding on reasons to justify my choice ("my husband travels a lot," "the youngest kid gets ear infections every three weeks," etc.). Perhaps one day I will attempt a fitness routine, but I'm standing firm on the no-paying-jobs platform.

Anonymous said...

Be satisfied with your decision to just be a mom. Sometimes thats all a person wants out of life. It doesn't make it wrong or right, it just makes it what you want to do. Just like your other friends who want something along with being a mom. Its all personal choices.
However, and this is just my observation, the women I know (and I only know 4 who fit this description of soley being a mom/SAHM) are all depressed/on meds for depression and have issues with weight. Actually, 3 of the 4 are on meds for depression and 4 of 4 have weight issues and multiple children. And 4 of 4 all have been moms longer than any previous jobs and 4 of 4 never had careers. I'm doing the math here and it scares me... I'm a mom and I work full time and work out 3x a week and I feel pretty good. I was always afraid of that "equation" described above, but I think I'm doing ok with my choices.

susan said...

I thoroughly enjoy your blog. You just hit the nail on the head so many times that I laugh out loud and recall my similar experiences. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Regarding the second comment, I'm a work-outside-the-home mom, with weight issues and on depression meds...and only one kid...so it's definitely not just the SAHM's w/multiple kids who have the market cornered on that.
I also knew I wasn't gonna lose the 40 or so pounds I gained in the pregnancy right away, and have watched my buds lose their 'baby weight', while I'm still hauling mine around 3.5 years later (can I still call it "baby weight"?). I guess there are a million ways to feel inadequate! Argh.

Anonymous said...

So which is the one who took Etta to AG place for a round of insults? Lawyer/size 0? Fiction Drama Queen/size 12?

And really, put some effort into maintaining your health or you won't be around long enough to drag your grandbabies around to the thrift shop with you.

Sarah Thompson said...

I subscribe to your blog feed, and I share your stories all the time (parents, grandparents, and non-parents alike). They always hit home, and this one was especially fitting. Thanks for being a strong voice for those of us who don't write/speak our minds as well.

Anonymous said...

very funny, esp. for us sluggish ones. Thanks!