I have been thinking lately about why motherhood is such an isolating experience. I mean, millions of other women all around the world are doing exactly what I am doing- mothering- right at this moment. I have dozens of friends with children, and I would not consider myself to be socially isolated. And yet still, I find myself feeling like an exhausted, poop-smeared island most days of the week. I think to myself, “Does it really matter to anyone else what I am experiencing right now? Do my days matter? Does anyone really care?”
Without a doubt there are networks of parents that get together daily to share time, share stories, and share the burden of raising their small children. But how often does this happen? As a part-time working mom, I find I am much less flexible than I appear to be on paper. By the time I return home from my morning of teaching, it is time for lunch, nap, school dismissal, and then the husband arrives home, ushering in our dinner and evening routines.
Perhaps if I stayed home all morning and lived within walking distance from a group of moms, then I could make it happen. However, that scenario is only operational if our kids are similar ages, and I actually want to spend time with the moms. Or, more likely, they are not put off by my foul language and interest in telling the truth about the darker side of motherhood. Even those lucky enough to enjoy this utopian setup still have obstacles- housework, errands, conflicting nap schedules…We do not live in an era, or a culture, where we are walking distance from our mom, our sisters, and our childhood friends. There is no village.
On Friday, I had one of those days that I was dying to talk about with someone who would understand. My day began with a wretched meltdown-laden drive to school and work. After my first half hour of teaching, my baby was delivered to my classroom, having been ousted from the childcare room for crying too long. Our naptime was off by a good hour, resulting in a late lunch consisting of leftover spaghetti. (We had just had the house cleaned the day before, and I introduced spaghetti into our unsoiled kitchen? What was I thinking?)
Sophie was irreparably smeared head to toe with sauce, and a bath seemed the only appropriate course of action. She stood gleefully slapping the side of the tub in anticipation as I stripped her and removed her diaper. There was, of course, a nugget of poop in there, but I was careful not to contaminate the clean bathroom floor and tossed it into the toilet. I’ll just wash her bottom extra thoroughly in the tub, I thought, plopping her in. After successfully removing the sauce from her face and hair, I considered the best approach for full access to her undercarriage. Gingerly, I draped her over my forearm and observed in slow motion the large turd that was inexplicably entering the tub. It looked like the creation of a Play-doe fun factory, and a split second later my brain caught up with me, informing me that she was shitting in the bathtub. “Jesus, Mary, and Fucking Joseph!” I sputtered, as rogue pieces of poop began to pool around her no longer clean body. I pulled her out, caught the largest offenders in a cup, and decided there was no way to disinfect the tub until later.
Our afternoon was mercifully uneventful, with a failed attempt at a car nap and several boring errands before picking up big sis at school.
In another moment of poor judgment, I had chosen that day, my husband’s one and only monthly commitment- poker night, to host a dinner playdate. I returned home with the two chatting girls and my increasingly fussy toddler, and made a half-ass meal of Annie’s mac and cheese and (burned) corn muffins while my baby wailed and alternately clutched my pants and flung Tupperware to the four corners of the kitchen. By the time our meal was done, it looked like an earthquake had struck. Why do I even bother cooking? I thought with dismay, surveying the mess.
When the girls were in bed for the night, I thought about my day: it had seemed so very important and eventful to me. A morning meltdown, a failed childcare attempt, a lunchtime mess, our first bathtub shit, a playdate, and a kitchen disaster. I again felt flooded with Mommui, that uncomfortable feeling that my life was too tedious for words. And yet, I felt desperately compelled to share my day’s adventures with someone. Conflict rose up within, as again I thought, “Does anyone really care? Do the highs and lows of our days as parents matter to anyone?”
I felt lonely and discouraged. When exactly am I supposed to be spending time with other moms who give a shit about the shit in my bathtub? Perhaps that is why so many of us reach out through social networking: Facebook, webpages for moms, and the enticing sample of humorous parenting blogs all help us to feel more connected and less alone. The internet has helped us find a way to share, even when we are not physically connected to other people. Earlier this year I learned of the delightful and not at all patronizing term, “oversharenting.”
OK, I get it. Some of us go overboard posting pictures of our kids on Facebook, or commit the cardinal social networking sin of disclosing detailed descriptions of their child’s digestive malfunctions. But parents are not the only people guilty of “oversharing” things that may not be of interest to others.
I don’t necessarily need to see self-taken headshots of my old pals from high school at yet another bar.My heart may not sing when I see the 24th picture of your dog doing something cute. (OK, there are some pretty adorable pet photos floating around. The more I think about it, keep ‘em coming.) It does not resonate with me when one of my athletic friends posts about their daily run and whether they felt invigorated, ambivalent, or like a steaming pile of dog poo. But it makes me happy that my friends are sharing the things that are important in their lives. While I may skim over a friend’s detailed account of her child’s soccer game, it is only because my kid sucks at sports and is not currently playing any. Should any of my current or future offspring rise above their abysmal maternal genes and sign up for one, I will likely join the ranks of those who have gone before me, and offer up a play by play with unabashed enthusiasm.
|Kids are cute. Dogs are cute. You can’t argue with that.
Somehow it feels different, more shameful, when moms feel compelled to impart their stories of frustration, boredom, or success. In one of my favorite books ever, When Did I Get Like This?Amy Wilson writes, “The entire topic of motherhood is considered not worth one’s time unless one is a mother, and maybe not even then. Motherhood is still seen as a waste of a smart woman’s mind, as if motherhood were beneath her talents, rather than the job that most requires every ounce of strength and ingenuity that she possesses.” She also laments, “And even I think that mom who uploads thirty-seven photos of her son’s Little League banquet, one at a time, onto the Facebook pages of every she knows, needs to be stopped. She’s making us all look bad.”
Then she makes the compelling point, “But why shouldn’t mothers talk about our lives, even among the childless?”
Perhaps I am particularly sensitive to the amount of time I spend griping about the trials of our day. On my way into work a few days ago, a mom was running late for her two year old’s art class. Her newborn baby was wailing as they frantically pushed the stroller down the hall. I had already dropped my kids off for the morning, and felt self-conscious without them. I offered up a few sympathetic words, and as the woman dropped her oldest child off, she picked up her screaming baby, flustered, and said, “Well, now it’s time to nurse!” I feel you, I thought. As I made my way towards the restroom I ran into another parent, lugging a cumbersome infant carrier and a crying preschooler. “You have to go to school, honey,” she pleaded. “That’s where you get to learn things!” The child sobbed, and I felt as though my heart was breaking. Why do we even do this? I thought. Of course I know the answer to that, as we all do. The payoff is just so great.