There was the time I tried to exit motherhood, so hell bent on finishing it up, distancing myself from who I’d become as the bearer of children. I was immersed in diapers and shit and dribble, inundated with milestones and firsts and the hot tears of frustration and exhaustion and a joy so intense it sliced through my fingers when I tried to hold on to it, leaving me bleeding and raw and open. Too open. I’m afraid of that, of openness, of vulnerability and the whole truth, nothing but the truth. What if my truth is too much for me? What if it swallows me up, like Jonah’s whale and I have to live in it? Who will buy the milk? Who will drive the girls to soccer? Who will memorize their medical record numbers and get them in for shots on time? Who will kiss them behind their fuzzy ears and stroke their downy arms just because? Who will lay with them at night, making themselves small and slim to make room for their beating hearts, their silky breath in and out?
There is no exit, no way out because motherhood never ends, it just shifts shape. It tightens and tapers. It goes slack then winds itself back up. You cannot turn your back and leave it sitting at the kitchen counter with a bowl of cereal while you go blowdry your hair. You cannot leave it sleeping in the car while you saunter up to the bar and order a G+T, extra lime. There are no exit signs in the theater of motherhood. Even writing that makes me seize up a little – even now when I know I don’t want to go anywhere without my motherhood anymore.
Just when I’d thought I’d found my way beyond motherhood, I tripped right back in, face down on the stage, everyone waiting for me to deliver my lines. A surprise baby, a blessing, an unfulfilled desire finally realized but also startling. Euphoria and fear did a little jig in my heart. Would I resent being cast in that role one more time? Would I resent not having a choice? Yes, and I did. Until…until I realized I could choose. I could own motherhood this time, embrace the unexpected, swallow it up and let it live inside me, be a part of me, instead of taunting me offstage.
Now, in the fifth year of my third child, I am not looking for an out. I am wandering within, following the path of dropped Goldfish from the kitchen to the family room, tripping over left out Legos, wondering where Barbie’s other purple plastic shoe could be. I am rediscovering the perfection of angles as I scan geometry proofs with my 8th grader. I am blanketing my middle girl with hugs and as much understanding as I can muster as she navigates the limbo between tween and teen. I am sending each of my girls out into their world with love and tightly laced sneakers, spinning them out into their own orbits but still within the pull of my gravity. I am spinning out too, locating myself between the trips to Trader Joe’s, the carpools, the homework, the sibling squabbles, the growing pains.
Motherhood shattered me. I know this sounds violent and in some ways it is, especially in the first few weeks and months, even years. It is a realignment, sometimes so sudden and drastic that it feels more of a loss than a gain. In other ways it is a slow breaking down of ambition and perspective, of ferocity and priority. At times I have felt so lost, so unfamiliar to myself. Then there are moments when I am so entirely present in the light of my children, in the comforting weight of motherhood, of knowing. For so long, though, I have not been able to reconcile these states of being, create a space where they can exist side-by-side without chafing. It has taken me almost 14 years to gather up my scattered parts, to begin the work of reemerging whole – different, yes, but whole. It’s not about leaving motherhood behind. It’s about reclaiming all of my pieces – motherhood included – respecting the new, sifting through the old and honoring this next installment of me.