I’ve been thinking a lot. A lot. I’ve been thinking about motherhood and being a mommy and where I belong. When I think that my parents were younger than I am now when they had both me and my sister, I feel slightly reassured that, to some degree, all parents fake it. Because we have no idea what we’re doing. Well, we have some instincts, thank God, but otherwise, you try to love your baby and not lose your mind.
Since becoming a parent 16 months ago, my life has changed. My world, my work, my body, my relationships, all different now. (I’ve an ocean of thoughts about all of these differences, but perhaps for another day.) And certainly the way I’m perceived has changed – I can tell because of how I’ve been treated by people during the stages of my life, which, at this point in my parental mind warp, I can crudely divide into 4 wholly unequal parts: Pre-Parent, Pregnant, Mommying, Mommy Sans Banz*. And I think if I frame these stages through the lens of outside perception**, maybe I can corral a fraction of these thoughts. Or maybe not, but whatevs, here goes.
This is the longest stretch on the timeline, and I have the least to say about it because gurl, I have to save something for the memoirs. Happy child, bright student, messy parental divorce, socially awkward and painfully self-conscious, solo move to the second city. A part of me has always thought that I’m awesome. People probably perceived me as some mess of kind, nerdy, prudish, fun, stuck up, shy, careful.
I was just getting a massage, because my body is a wreck (and whatever, I don’t have to justify myself to you, dude), and I was thinking of what I’d write for Rational Creatures. Ah, yes, the Massage Table, where I get my critical thinking done. And the massage therapist, who incidentally is also a doula, remarked that women, during their first pregnancy, have a glow about them. I replied, Yes, a mix of excitement and terror. I was pregnant with my daughter for most of 2013 and my body was badass and did really well, really took to pregnancy. I could do this over and over, I thought (before I delivered). And once I was pregnant enough to hope people would offer me their seat on the train, people started doing just that. Mostly women, sometimes much older women who, when I protested, would kind of wink at me like, No really, you need it. I was getting sweet seats most every ride. Except for the morning when a young businessy woman limped onto the crowded train car with a medical boot on her foot and I stood my big self up and gave her my seat. And looked around intending to catch the eyes of those lazy jags who made a pregnant lady get up for a limping lady. The shaaaaame, the shaaaaade that was coming their way… No one looked up.
My point being, overall, the reverence I was shown during the last half of those long 9 months was pretty satisfying, and utterly appreciated. I realized at some point later that I’d never have to give up my seat for someone again. I mean, I could, but no one would expect a mother and her young child to surrender their space. That felt like something, like I’d crossed over to another plain of civilian, city living.
Turns out I was right. Riding the bus with a stroller is a hassle, a gamble, and I don’t usually expect it to go smoothly, but the train is comparatively a breeze, especially from where I get on near the end of the line. I also avoid rush hour, which makes a huge difference, but even when it’s crowded, the seas part and we nestle into a standing spot. People hold doors for us. Oh, and we’re elevator people now. We won’t be forever, not much longer, even, but right now, I can’t remember the last time I climbed the stairs up to the el. It comes with its own set of hassles, of course, because the ellys are out of service so frequently, and I’ve been caught atop a platform with a broken elevator and babe/stroller/stuff in tow. But someone always helps me out. People are mostly good, right? The babe and I are usually very well cared for when we’re out.
Mommy Sans Banz
MSB is a weird, gray, uncomfortable area. Okay, sometimes, a joyfully liberating one. But when you’re out in the world without the thing that urges people to recall their manners, you’re back to the pack of anonymous and YEESH, it can be a rough return. The first time I went out without my daughter, just out solo, was to pick up a prescription and probably some more stool softener***. I took the train to Irving and walked the three or so blocks to the pharmacy and back. I felt invisible. No one gave a shit about me. I was an ordinary chick on the sidewalk, like everybody else, just going where she’s going. And I felt like it was impossssible that no one could tell what I’d just been through, was currently going through. It musssst have been written all over my face, or noticeable in my gait, or, HELLO, I look exhausted, duh.
And seriously, I had 32 years of Pre-Parent behind me, I knew how this felt. But after the absolute crush of attention and engagement (welcome or not) that having a big belly and subsequently a tiny person gets you, something felt absent, or wrong.
Mommying Sans Banz has given me so much perspective, though. How many people on the commute every day are parents? The real work starts when they walk in the front door. How many have a sick animal that they’re worried for? Or a healthy one? How many are grieving? Miss a girlfriend. Lonely. Longing. Managing competing calendars or competing part-time jobs. Or, for fuck’s sake, for how many is the world too much?! I wondered – if I had gone through 40 weeks of body oddities, and the blood and gore of childbirth, and months of sleeplessness and sore nipples and general confusion – and somehow maintained the illusion of ‘normal’ – what could the person who just gave the baby and me her seat have experienced****? I don’t know. I think of that more now.
While we’re on the topic of stages, some news. The banz, the husband, and I are striding into yet another new stage this year. This summer, for many many reasons, we’re moving to Pittsburgh, where our families are. And this fall, we’re having another banz. (Maybe that’s two stages.) Whoa. Moving. Pregnant. With a toddler. I’ve never been preg with a toddler before. And I don’t have many friends here who have, either. Certainly we do know theater families with two kids, but only a handful. The sacrifice involved in caring for one, the balance it takes is already incredible. Not that it’s any easier, but it is much more common outside of our tiny world. And for us, to do it with so much geographical distance between us and our families seems impossible.
It’ll be so so different. Bye bye CTA, hello SUV. There’ll be a lot less interaction with strangers, for sure, but hey, maybe I’ll be perceived as a cool city chick, fish out of water type. Ten years in gritty Chicago, walking the mean streets, that’s gotta count for something, right? Nah, probably not. It means a lot to me, anyway.
And whatever I think I understand about myself as an artist, a wife, a mother, a friend, will change all over again. I’m nervous, and I’m sad. There’s no tidy wrap up for this. I’ll miss so much. There will be a lot of new challenges, to say the least. A search for a new artistic family. And a lot of redefining. And some more perspective.
I was in Pittsburgh last week, actually, alone. Listened to music on the plane, which is pretty significant when your last five flights were spent trying to keep a tiny beast pleasant and contained. SLEPT. Saw my family for a spell and got to be Casey for three days. Like, yeah, I FaceTimed with the boy and the banz twice a day. But nobody called me mommy*******. I was just me, in my hometown, visiting my parents and sibs. It didn’t feel foreign, which means to me that Casey is still there. And today, as I sit typing in my ‘day pajamas,’ that feels good.
Alright well, it’s time for lunch. To reheat mac n cheese, cut up a pear, refill a sippy cup, then change a dipe. And think some more*********.
*we sometimes call the babe the beebanz, which is often shortened to the banz. Rhymes with sans. So there you go.
**but to interpret how you’re perceived by someone else, aren’t you adding another layer of perception? Excellent question.
***because having a baby is gross and painful and you need meds to cope and heal. And hopefully you cope and heal.
****might seem a little late in the game to start thinking of others, but pregnancy and parenthood***** make you selfish in a crucial way. But it can be very, very hard to see yourself out of the fog. It can be hard to see yourself into a shower. And I’ve always thought of others, dude, just maybe not like this.
*****hey, and I know I didn’t invent the wheel here with this stuff, there have been at least 7 billion births in the last 100 years******, but I’ll tell you, every single one can feel spectacularly unique.
******that’s a lot to think about, sorry.
******* okay even if I were home, nobody would have called me mommy because babe calls us both daddy********.
********the moment I returned from Pittsburgh, she called me mommy and now I know it’s stuck. Absence makes the vocabulary grow stronger, I suppose.
*********fine, that was kind of tidy.