The morning is overcast, with a thick broken blanket of clouds. The spots of sky blue that I can see don’t look like they will be there for long. I should be outside, cleaning up my yard, but it’s Saturday morning, and Frost, my beautiful and condensed cat (if you could pick him up you would know instantly what I mean by “condensed”–he’s like three-cats-in-one) has graced my quilt with his royal self. Frost has been aloof with me for months, so I’m sharing my garlic-gouda omelet with him. That’s the scene here.
I’m going to Asheville today with my girlfriends, and I can’t quite express how badly I need this. It’s the wintertime momma blues, or maybe more precisely the wintertime-I-want-to-strangle-my-kids syndrome. I could really use a week at the beach. In fact, this time last year my dear friend W and I had tried to make something like that happen. Did I run out of money? Or did she run out of time? I can’t remember. Anyway, the need is there; I’m uncomfortable, consistently exasperated, as if I’m wearing an itchy turtleneck and I can’t take it off.
Even now I wonder at how I became mother to five kids. I obviously wasn’t thinking about myself when I decided to date J, single dad of three kids. I saw three beautiful, motherless children with shimmery eyes, and a father with unique personality traits. I walked down the path with an open heart. And here I am.
I’m not regretting my choice. I just want to look honestly at the complexity of being a mother, and a mother to five, to boot. Like any mother, I look at my life and realize the work it takes to hold onto your self when you have children. I’ve learned so much, and honed many valuable skills. But I am so often irritated, stressed, quashed.
As I write this, Renee is promenading in my room in a shimmery velvet dress that once belonged to her older sister. She’s pulled her hair back in ponytails, only slightly lopsided, and pinned her bangs back with a showy barrette of bows. Downstairs, my teenagers are planning Rae’s 18th birthday party, which is tonight. McKinley is tooling around with one of those little micro skateboards for your fingers. It’s a relatively peaceful scene. But like a fragile treaty, it can erupt into flames at any moment.
The bickering is one thing. If I’m vigilant I can put an end to it quickly. The thing about being a mother is that I have to be vigilant with so many things, and it seems like my own desires are last on that list. My own identity, as Stephanie, not Mom, gets clouded over. The Mom mask is permanently glued to my face.
I struggle with this. I project onto my husband. I become embroiled in resentment. It’s not pretty, it’s not necessarily fair, but it’s honest. And in the end, the truth is that we all have circumstances that cloud us, masks we don’t know how to take off. We’re all wearing our own versions of the itchy turtleneck sweater. Perhaps if I could just change my stance–from vigilant, spear-in-hand anticipation, to mindfulness, I might discover a greater sense of freedom, a greater sense of Self. Or if I could just get rid of the turtleneck part of the sweater, that would be great. I hate turtlenecks.