Last week, via Facebook and a stunning 1981 Lego ad, I had the pleasure of introducing a friend to Blue Milk. The friend, a mom of two young daughters, thanked me for the link, said there are a lot of things on that site that I’ve been wanting to read. Then she posted to her own Facebook page this passage from Toni Morrison, which is item #6 on from Blue Milk’s About Feminist Mothers page:

There was something so valuable about what happened when one became a mother. For me it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me….Liberating because the demands that children make are not the demands of a normal ‘other.’ The children’s demands on me were things that nobody ever asked me to do. To be a good manager. To have a sense of humor. To deliver something that somebody could use. And they were not interested in all the things that other people were interested in, like what I was wearing or if I were sensual…. Somehow all of the baggage that I had accumulated as a person about what was valuable just fell away. I could not only be me -– whatever that was -– but somebody actually needed me to be that. . . . If you listen to [your children], somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things, and deliver a better self, one that you like. The person that was in me that I liked best was the one my children seemed to want.

And then half a dozen female friends posted swoony comments full of gratitude and affirmation of the truth of these words.

And I …

don’t get it. Do you? I suspect that you do, since my friend V and a flock of her mom friends seem to see in it the crystal-clear reflection of their own experience. But I don’t get it. Transformed by the demands of my children into a person I like better? Freed from baggage and vanity? Maybe I am lucky and was free from these things already. Maybe I’m so far from conventionally pretty or visibly sensual that I have skipped the part of life’s muddle that that entails. Maybe I am so weak that even the magic of motherhood couldn’t free me from the thrall of vanity and poor priorities. Maybe my early experience of motherhood was so marred by the complicated mix of depression and loneliness and failure that this transformation was impossible. Whatever the reason, I know that this change did not happen to me.

And. And. The change that Toni Morrison is talking about seems suspiciously like the promises about motherhood that are hanging in the air everywhere anyway, the promises that I think of as false. That motherhood is our nature. That we will find our real selves here. That being mothers makes us better people.

I do appreciate the both/and of Blue Milk’s list. The Toni Morrison passage conveys a sense of magic that tangles with the harder truths in a way that seems both complicated and right.

But it is a magic that I do not feel.

I chew on all this, and I sit in the circle with other moms who are weepy and lovey just at the prospect of a newborn, and who say to each other “soak up as much of this wonderful time as you can,” and it brings to mind my teenaged affair with the clunkiest poem I’ve ever loved.

I wish you could meet my children: they are brilliant, beautiful, hilarious characters, and wonderful people to be in a family with. There is no question about my love for them. I will write this every time now, especially now that May can read. I love them. Each of them is incomparable. There is no question about that.

But why should I feel so different from the rest of you about what it is to be their mother? At one time, I would have asked this out of self-pity, a kind of what the fuck is wrong with me cry. Now I ask it with deep, detached curiosity. Why does it seem like Toni Morrison, my friend V, and a half dozen of her closest friends, and probably all of you, too, are talking, when you talk about being a mother, about a whole different thing than I have ever felt? Or am I reading her wrong? Or … what?

I sense that understanding this would unknot something important.


4 thoughts on “Impercipient

  1. That doesn’t resonate with me, either. Especially the bit about clothes and sensuality. Nobody has ever cared about my clothes or sensuality, including me.

    I feel like what my children need from me is the same as with everybody else, plus body care. You know, patience, thoughtfulness, support, good cheer, knowledge.

    And liberating? Um, no. Hahaha!

    But sure, my best self is also what’s best for my kids. If only I could be that person all the time!

  2. Oh, Eva. Thank you. Mwah.

    Ok, so a less self-centered way of asking these questions … why exactly are we so very different in this way? I don’t expect all moms, or all educated American writer moms, etc., to be the same, but I am so curious about what accounts for this massive difference in experience. Is it all about how much you cared about cute and sexy before you had your child?

  3. I don’t get it either. If anything, it felt like having kids stripped me of everything about myself that I liked. I truly felt like my life as I knew it was over. I got over that feeling, but I’ve never been one to get swoony over babies. I enjoy parenthood more the older my kids get, when it feels like we all get to have a life instead of mine being devoted to them.

  4. Another person here for whom that quote did not ring true. You may be onto something about the difference in response being linked to differences in your pre-baby sense of self.

    Personally, having my first baby broke my life into a bunch of little pieces, and it took me about a year to get it put back together again in a way that made me feel happy and whole.

    But then, I WAS a manager, responsible for delivering things people used, before I had a baby. So for me, early motherhood was a time when someone asked me not to ever put her down or eat, go to the bathroom, or shower when I wanted to. The seemingly endless need for me- physically, emotionally- was shocking to me, and I think that is what was so disorienting about motherhood. The realization that while I was the most important thing in the world to this little creature, she didn’t give a rat’s ass about what I needed/wanted. And that was how it was supposed to be.

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