Tuesday, April 08, 2008

But that's not what I meant, not at all

I met my friend B for lunch yesterday, and we caught up on the various goings-on in our families. Her youngest daughter is just months older than Munchkin, and we used to do mother-baby yoga together. We try to keep in touch, but she's incorporated her husband's three prior children into their family home and working full time and I'm working and moving and and and. It was nice to see her, nice to sit and dish and share photos. We were talking about how we wished we could get together more, socialize more. "You should really meet my friend J," she exclaimed, "We could all hang out together! She's so much like you, she's a professional and she's really cynical about everything and is always talking about giving her kids away and how cranky she is."


Do I come across like I resent motherhood? When I was pregnant, and obsessively describing everything for Pynchon, he asked how bad it was: "You're always complaining about how your back hurts and your feet are swollen and you're so weepy, you must really hate being pregnant."


No, no, no. That's not what I meant, not what I mean, at all. I actually really loved being pregnant (except the last three weeks. No one likes being nine months pregnant. But even then, it's very exciting to be so near to becoming a mom, to meeting your baby. I remember being very impatient, but also feeling very happy and very special). Every day I catch myself being grateful for my baby, my little girl, my giant Munchkin: she hugs me, she makes me laugh, she sees the world with new eyes and shares her wonder with me.

I'm terribly afraid I've made myself misunderstood.

Once, when I was in my mid-twenties, I was driving with my mom, a long road trip to the ancestral cottage in Northern Ontario. Having given the matter some thought, I asked her that, if she were born in 1973 instead of 1944, would she have chosen to have kids? I thought not: her first husband, my dad, was a philanderer and a drinker and having the kids was part of an attempted domestication strategy. My mom is a very independent, quiet person, who values her career and likes to do her own thing. She was married five years before choosing to become pregnant with me: if she had to do it again, I thought maybe she wouldn't.

It's not like my mom was not a great, great mom to have as a child: she was. Full of hugs and songs and mother-daughter trips to others cities, on the train, to museums and festivals and parks. Matching homemade outfits for my sister and I, careful hairdos and carefully cleaned faces. She took a lot of pride in us and worked hard to provide us a home and a life together. But did she enjoy it? I wasn't sure, then. Mom also often shooed us out of the kitchen in the post-work, pre-dinner rush. She shushed us away from her ankles when she wanted to read the paper. She retreated to her room after supper to work on her university courses for her upgrades. She got annoyed by the exuberance and volume of our play.

Mom answered my question quickly and in the affirmative: of the tragedy of her first marriage, she was most happy to have, as she said, 'my two precious girls.' She enjoyed watching us grow into people, that crazy amazing process of physical and mental and emotional growth. She loved taking us places with her, dressing us up, seeing us smile. I was surprised.

And now? Here I am wondering how B and Pynchon can imagine me to be anything but thrilled with my life, and the tables have turned. You know what? I do complain a lot. I don't know why, but I can't seem to help it. I'm a literary critic and prone in any case to overanalysis, and overanalysis has never been confused with pure, in-the-moment joy of experience. I'm not like that, I guess. I don't hesitate to tell people that Munchkin was a pretty severe trial as Miss Baby, what with the no-sleeping and the several months of constant yelling or constant marching around the house in the sling. I didn't like the yelling or the marching or the no-sleeping. But I did love breast-feeding, I loved her tiny hands and her big blue eyes. I loved her giant cloth diapers and her bony little bum. I loved her gummy smile and her raised eyebrows. As a toddler, she's much easier. Do I like tantrums? No. Do I like her current mommy-mommy-mommy phase where, if she could, she would suck the very life out of my? Well, I don't like it for 10 hours in a row. Do I want to get up at 2:30 for "Hug! Bottle! Hug! Bottle!"? No, but then, I really really need my sleep. But I love her beyond anything I might ever have imagined. She brings me joy inestimable. More simply, I like having her around all the time, this no-longer-new member of our family, grabbing me by the hand and dragging me to the living room to play 'circle time.' I melt when she wraps up her Pinky Pig in her doudou and tells it sternly to "be quiet a go-a-sleep now, Pinky Pig, wake up a-morning!".

I was overjoyed to become pregnant. I revelled in that process of growing my daughter inside me. I was amazed at her birth, and forged into motherhood in the crucible of her infancy. Every day she wraps herself a little more around my heart and I can't imagine life without her, though, I must admit, I can very easily imagine a couple of hours without her, and fairly often.

I look around my house, at the pull-up tucked into my duvet cover, at the mangled board book in the middle of the entryway, at the little plastic duck wedged into the tub drain, at the 'thermometers' (pens) hidden in strange places all over and my heart is glad: what energy my Munchkin brings to life, to my life. Yes, I complain and yes, I'm honest about not being cheerful about everything all the time. But I'm happy, happier, really and well and truly, than I've ever been. I chose and I choose this family. I guess I just wanted to put that out there, for the record, because maybe I don't say it enough.

My baby girl, my sweetiepooper, my Munchkin, my joy.


Beck said...

This made me burst right into tears.
(and also? My mom is a teacher TOO and - AND! - she upgraded to a BA while I was growing up. And the whole Northern Ontario thing. It's like we're twins, with you being the twin with a brain.)

kittenpie said...

WEll, the whole business can, let's be honest, be draining. I feel it myself sometimes - how I lvoe my girl to bits, but sometimes, I know I'm being irritable instead of appreciating her, and I hope it's not her bigger impression of my mothering. I try to change it, to capture more of the moments I love, but it's been tough these last couple of motnhs. I feel the sun coming out is helping, though, I really do.

Anonymous said...

It is sooooo much easier to complain, isn't it? I complain to people about my kids because I don't want to be one of those annoying "My child is amazing. More amazing than any other child in the world now or in the past or in the future. Well, maybe not the future because my future grandbabies are going to be fantastic, too. More fantastic than your future grandbabies as your child is a dullard compared to the unadulterated genius being that I squeezed out my yoohoo!" type mothers. So I complain -- it is some fucked up version of self-deprecation.

Mimi said...

KP: yeah, I'm conscious of how Munchkin might be building memories of what feels like a lot of irritation on my part, but it's not how I feel, deep down.

AD: oh yeah, totally! Self-deprecation.

cinnamon gurl said...

I can't imagine life without her, though, I must admit, I can very easily imagine a couple of hours without her, and fairly often.

Pure brilliance...

As for your impression of your mom's experience of motherhood... I'm going to have to have a good long think on that.

Bea said...

I think the way we talk about parenting is related to the way we talk (or don't talk) about marriage. There are those who complain bitterly about their spouse because they are deeply unhappy and need to vent. Then there are those who NEVER complain about their spouse because they are deeply unhappy and the only thing holding them together is their refusal to admit it.

Then there are the people who speak glowingly about their spouse because they're so blissfully married. And then (finally) there are the people who complain about their spouse as a kind of code, where the real meaning is something like, "I'm so happy that I'm concerned I'm becoming a bit obnoxious, so why don't I complain for awhile about things like people who open the new cereal box before the old one is empty."

Guess which one I am.

nomotherearth said...

I so totally get this I don't even begin to know what to say except: YES! Can we start a club or something? I started my blog, in part, because I couldn't stand all the moms around me who were saying "I'm just loving every minute of it! S/he's such an angel!!" (Insert crazy smile here.)

Cloud said...

This was a great post. I think one of the mind-bending things about parenthood is how you can love it and hate it at the same time. I love Pumpkin more than I can say, and I honestly love being her Mom. But... I hate the 3 a.m. wake-ups (even though I love nursing her when she wakes up) and I hate how I can't just sit down after a hard day, have a beer, and unwind. It is one of those things that is hard to explain. I struggle to explain why I love being a Mom to people who only see how tired I am sometimes. They can't see inside my heart and see how it feels when she crawls towards me with a big smile when I show up at day care, or when she puts her head on my shoulder, snuggles in, and gives me a big hug. And I have yet to find the words to describe it- so all they are left with is that being a mom is tiring and hard work, but worth it in some indescribable way.

Jenifer said...

Mimi you just nailed it pure and simple. I can easily imagine a few hours without my girls and don't have a problem saying it. I probably complain more than I should too, but that in no way diminishes my love for them or their sacred place in my life.

I am their mother and for what is worth- life is good. Life could find me time for a latte and pedicure once in a while, but you know what I mean.

So many of my favourite ladies have commented on this great post and you know just listening to them and you makes me smile.

the new girl said...

I think that sometimes the complaining is (at least for me) looking for some commiseration.

I kind of feel like OF COURSE you know I love my kid, OF COURSE you know I'm happy about being a mom (in the big picture) now let me tell you what a FOOKING HAARIBLE night we had.

Something like that.

Amy U. said...

In the short time since we have met, I have never found that you seem to resent motherhood. Honestly, in fact, many of your posts stand out as being the exact opposite.


Omaha Mama said...

First off - oh the pigtails! So cute, cute, cute.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way - you. If you were my friend here, and you were telling me this here, I'd give you a hug and tell you through tears that I think you're great.

The analysis thing, it can make us sound negative. But I've never gotten only that from you. When I think of you, I picture all of the walks you take, the Starbucks, the professor thing, the moving thing, I never think of negative things. Or even of resentment. I often find your posts full of reflection and gratitude. And smartypants thinkiness.

Don't fret.

Your Munchkin knows.
Oh - She knows. That's all that matters.

(BTW - love the blue coffee cup picture!)

Patti said...

I don't know you, except here - but I probably wouldn't bother to read your blog if it was negative and complaining. I don't think it is at all! Ergo (do you like my use of that word?) YOU are not negative or complaining.

Kyla said...

Yes! Me, too.

But Mimi? I've never read your posts and thought of you as negative. Not at all.

I must now fly to Canada and steal kisses from your scrumptious girl. She is just so adorable.

Dawn said...

Oh, Mimi. How I love the way you write. You always say the things that are in my heart in a way I can never quite capture or don't think of saying. But when you say it, it resonates so deeply within my heart.

Again, another beautiful post.

I worry that I come across as a mean mom who doesn't enjoy motherhood when really I do. Very much.

But I miss the freedom that comes of not having kids sometimes too. I miss the sleep. And the quiet. But I wouldn't trade my kids for any of it. Of course not. Who would?

Thanks for writing all that I'm thinking and feeling when I don't know how.

By the way, you only come across as someone who loves her husband and daughter more than anything in the world. A brilliant, intelligent woman who has a rich and full life and is able to communicate her feelings honestly in all of their various hues.

Bon said...

i never thought you didn't love it, for what that's worth. but i too have been misunderstood, especially in person, by people who just don't get my discourse. i'm analytic, i'm into detail, i'm sarcastic. i gush directly to Oscar but not so well about him, not in person, not in my social circles which are mostly not child-centered because i'm sensitive to how irritating that can be to others. and i'm whiny. :) but i love it, and you wrote it beautifully. and i think your friend may simply have been fastening on to a few of your more colourful anecdotes and, in a way, saying "this person tells great stories too." maybe?

anyway, it was good to hear, this post that maybe you don't say enough but that comes through, i think, to my ears, in all you say.