We begin with this: I love my children, above almost everything.
Being "Mommy" or "Mama"* is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the weak. It is not for the self-centered, the one for whom ego is first and foremost. Being a mother requires a relinquishing of Self that would make Buddha proud. Tired, but the child needs feeding? No rest. Sick, but the child needs clean clothing? Laundry it is. Ready for a few moments of quiet, but the child wants to sing? On with the show! Need new shoes but the child needs nappies or clothing or shoes themselves? The soles aren't worn completely through, yet...they'll last a little longer.
There are so many sublime moments of parenting, it's easy to understand how, from the outside, those not in the know would think it's all baby food commercials and Hollywood moments of wonder. It's easy not to see the years of grinding noise, motion, need, want, crying, sleep deprivation, anger, frustration, filth, stink, hunger, and mental exhaustion hidden behind the occasionally vacant gaze and the slightly untidy appearance. Easy to notice the once coiffed hair gone to simpler-to-maintain ponytails or cut short, the slow decline into denim clad easy-to-wash-the-yoghurt-from fashion but not the cause of the slow slide into nonentity.
Being "Mom" means, to so many, that one has lost any claim to one's self-identity. We are, simply and ever, "Mom". We have no name, no spark of our own. For all intents and purposes, we are nothing more than a nurturing machine for our young.
Imagine, then, the guilt a mother feels when she just wants to have a few minutes of her own. Imagine how she feels when she is irritated that, for the thousandth time, her child turns down offers of food only to demand to be fed as soon as Mom sits down to eat. Imagine how she feels when she is sick and needs rest but her kids need caring for. Guilt. Tremendous, weighty guilt. How dare she?
When I see stories of mothers who drown their kids, or leave them in the park or at the store or home alone, or who lock themselves in a room with their computer so they can escape to some fantasy world in the Blue Nowhere, I understand what has happened - the nurture instinct, the loss of self, the lack of sleep, the collapse of the Mother nature. I don't condone it. We know, always, that our children are ours to raise up, that harming or abandoning them is wrong. But...but...it is sometimes easy to see why they would divorce themselves from that Mom drive.
Mothering is work. It is tiresome, relentless, noisome, identity stealing and very often thankless work. It is a riot of hormones unceasingly yo-yoing, running rampant through our bodies and brains and often rocketing us into depression or mania faster than a toddler can find the Oreos. Our bodies become playgrounds for every germ our kids bring home (who says children must be taught to share?), our minds fester with the echoing refrains of countless children's songs, poems, stories, and television theme songs. Our lives are suddenlt open to criticism and comment from any and every person who knows how to do it better. We know how to make bee stings hurt less and kiss boo-boos all better, how to sew favorite blankies back together and mend clothing and hurt feelings. We cook, we clean, we launder, and we bathe. We drive and clothe and nurse and nurture, and through it all we sublimate ourselves, our needs our wants, and no wonder we are greying and softening and quietly becoming blurs in our own minds.
I love my children above almost everything else.
That said, I believe we've gotten it wrong. Society, or at least the culture I was raised in, has gotten it wrong. We should not after all, forget who we are. We should not, after all, have to give up on our own precious Self. There should be time in which we can be people in and of ourselves, not identified by our children but by who we are.
I am a writer, a singer, a photographer, and artist, and a mother. I should not have to give up on any of the former to be the latter. Who thought of that? They should be shown the error of their ways. It is a mistake to give ourselves away for the sake of parenting. Too easy to resent. Too easy to blame. To easy to disintegrate and wonder what happened. Too easy to snap and become the unthinkable. Unnecessary.
I love my children and want to keep loving them. I don't want to become an embittered woman snarling about how she gave up everything for her kids. I want to be the kind of mother who says "I could have given it up, but how would that serve anything but some faded, out of date perception of what mothering is supposed to be? No, I held on to who I am and raised my children to be strong, secure, loving, compassionate, fully realized people, in part because they knew that I loved them enough NOT to let go of who I am and to show them that one may love others and one's self in equal measure."
I have failed to hold onto me, and so I have a long road back, but I realize I need to make the journey. My kids deserve better than the fractured personality I give them. They deserve better than a mother who only wants to escape, who yells at them constantly and who secretly wishes everyone would just shut the hell up for a few minutes so she can think. They deserve better than a mother who wishes they'd leave her alone and feels sucked dry by their constant need. They deserve to feel loved, nurtured wanted, appreciated, and safe. They deserve patience and understanding, things that are in short supply around here. They deserve to know, to feel to their roots, that I love them above almost everything else, even when I say "No, you may NOT have six more cookies for lunch."
*Or Daddy or Papa