I wrote this last summer. June 2020. Three months into the strange, isolating ripples of Covid-19 and the political chaos that consumed so many more months than four years adds up to.
It is some sort of magic that we can be so deeply exhausted by, and simultaneously in awe of, the same exact thing.
That I can marvel at the wonder of my child’s smile, laugh, or brilliant conclusion while they actively suck the life out of me day after day. Both physically, and metaphorically, of course, each in their own time – and also all at the same time, sometimes, somehow.
It’s some kind of human species survival mechanism magic that mothers have this power.
I wonder if they, we, all, do.
I assume so, because, well, I suppose I’ve wondered if even “bad” moms have it. Then I remember that even I behold this extra ordinary magic. So perhaps it’s a universal trait of motherhood. I wonder (I certainly don’t remember) if it comes in like milk, just following the child’s arrival, or if it develops in the morning sickness and sleepless nights alongside things like the baby’s eyelashes and toenails.
People consistently reassure me that I’m not a “bad mom,” and honestly, I can see why. I do a lot “right.” And my kids are beautiful and brilliant.
But let’s be very real.
I’m a fucking mess.
I know it.
And my beautiful brilliant offspring do, too.
Sometimes I wonder what I’d have to look like or what others would have to see to validate my self-inflicted label. I live in the days of the internet – Facebook and Instagram the social media tools of choice of my generation. So I’ve seen how people crucify the only unquestionably, universally “bad” moms – those who “snap.”
“I could never.”
But, on my first day of motherhood, I remember thinking, “I get it,” of those “bad” moms, those mothers turned monsters who realize too late that the only escape from motherhood is death.
I concluded through observation a long time ago that I belong more with the monster mothers, the snapped inside or snapped outside ones, than the “I’ll never understand” mothers. For a while I wondered what separated the two groups, and at first it seemed obvious: actions. I quickly realized, however, that it must be thoughts.
Those mothers must’ve never been pushed so far to the edge of themselves that they longed for the sweet relief of one uninterrupted night of sleep by wishing for an accidental death. They must also have never felt like the guilt of such a wish would swallow them absolutely whole.
I wonder then, quite often, what’s wrong with me that I’m in this monster mother group. Especially because in so many ways I am actually a better mother on paper than so many in the other group.
Since my conclusion that the differentiating factor must be thoughts, I’ve even asked some of the other mothers. They seem to think I’m joking, however, and laugh without ever answering my earnest question.
I really do want to know if they’ve ever just been so spent from the kids’ fighting, from the kids talking back and arguing, or the slamming of a door that they’ve longed to just punch them until they couldn’t respond anymore.
I guess I’ll never know if they have those kinds of thoughts.
I’ve certainly spent more time wishing for my own death than theirs.
I’ve been too close to those affected by suicide to ever choose that path, but how it has tempted me.
Once their needs or demands don’t look quite like a tsunami coming to destroy any semblance of identity I ever had, I can see them for what they are: beautiful, brilliant waves of love and light, coming steadily, endlessly, eternally, as the most lovely sight I’ll ever know. Each smile, each eyelash, each rise and fall of breath as they sleep, each laugh, each accomplishment, each vulnerability shared. What endless joy and beauty and comfort comes in these waves.
The difference between a calm moment watching the ocean and the crushing terror of an imminent tsunami seems to boil down to one thing: perspective.
Perhaps all the years of being trained to make myself smaller has worked to warp my vision and even though I’m the same size and the waves vary only slightly, my perspective shifts drastically as I’m torn between two worlds. The one where I’m tiny, like I’m supposed to be – swallowed whole, lost at sea, all my world engulfed – and the one where I’m me, standing on a shore, allowing myself to have needs of equal value to everyone else’s.
Perhaps, if I can break free from the trap of becoming a shrinking woman, my joy can stop being a tsunami death trap and can start being what it was always meant to be: a beautiful day at the beach, where each wave tells a story of power, of hope, of courage, of love. And where the whole ocean reminds you of the sheer magnitude and fleeting magic of one human soul.