When you love your kid, and you wanted your kid, and you had so many people telling you that you shouldn't (have) had a kid alone, it's hard admitting, much less articulating/publicizing the challenges you face being a single, artist, lesbian, mom. I imagine that some of the difficulties are not that different from the working mother who happens to be partnered to some working man or woman, but some days it feels like no one has ever been this tired, or this stressed, or this in need of someone to distract your needy toddler while you shower, or take a dump or just sit and play one mindless round of Candy Crush Saga on the very expensive and very smart phone, on which you have not been able to check one email or text one person all day -- preoccupied as you have been with taking walks or doing laundry and making oatmeal (which your 18-month-old will spit out) or cutting apples (which she will toss at you), or wiping up spill after spill after milky, juicy, poopy spill.
I tip my wilted hat to the women who keep a spotless house in the face of a full day of work at the office and more than one small child in the home. I would like to sit at their feet and beg them to teach me the secret of their super human abilities.
And I should pause from my woe-is-the-life-of-the-single-mama-rant to say I am really enjoying being a mom. I need to say it in anticipation of the new-age-positive-thinking-optimists who will say I am not at peace with the process because I am not channeling my inner Zen or tapping into the vast outer energies that balance planet Earth and its surrounding constellations, or those who will critique my frustrations as regret, or sorrow, or back-pedaling on the decision to have a child outside of a partnership. I. AM. ENJOYING. MOTHERHOOD.
I love the snuggling and the singing and the kisses. I love going to the park and watching her master the monkey bars or the big kid slide. I love the silly faces and the games we make up together. I love reading Click Clack Moo and Goodnight Moon. And there is nothing quite like the squeal of delight she lets out upon my return from a short sojourn elsewhere. I love the look of complete adoration in her eyes when we rise in the morning. (And yes, I know that light of adoration will dim as she ages, perhaps because she will begin to see me more clearly?) I love the kid. The kid loves me. We dig each other's jokes. In these very early days, I get her. She gets me. I wouldn't trade her for anything. She's a keeper.
And I have to confess that this blog has taken me this long to write because I have been afraid of the imagined responses -- the "you shouldn't have had a kid by yourself" comments, or the unspoken criticism/interpretations that my daughter, Zuri, may one day read as some sort of rejection of the ways in which her arrival has changed my life.
It's important that she knows how much I welcome the ways in which her arrival has forced me to grow. I am better at managing time. I am more patient. Kinder. More able to give of myself without measuring how much I get back.
I learned so much in that first year. And though I was severely under-slept and I had to adjust to the business of my time not being MY time, the changes were expected. It was a crazy time, but I knew this period of unbearable fragility and wild mood swings would pass. I read (being on bed rest during pregnancy meant I had plenty of time to read about such things) so I knew enough about new motherhood to know my responses were normal. Anyone who has been near a house with a newborn knows that everyone in that house is at the mercy of the baby's schedule. I expected to be an emotional volcano. It did not surprise me that one minute I would be blubbering tears of joy, the next, sobbing about the lack of positive parental role models in my family; her feet, her perfect little hands, her gurgle could shift a bad day into the best day ever. And I knew I would constantly worry about her safety, her food consumption, her milestones, her teeth, her ears, etc. I knew I only needed to bide my time. I wiped her bum and fretted and woke every two or three hours to breastfeed and spent my lucid moments imagining the days ahead, when things would evolve. I dreamed of sleeping all night and being able to move easily from room to room with the pitter-patter of tiny feet following rhythmically (infer orderly) behind me.
When the day came that she stood upright, put one foot in front the other and kept going the world turned into a giant sea of unpredictable dangers -- the least of which is the toilet bowl, with its standing water full of passive germs, situated so conveniently next to the mildly malevolent roll of toilet paper. Who knew I had so many electrical outlets? Or that the garbage can was not optimally placed in that easily accessible spot just under the kitchen counter? Bookshelves that weren't secured to the wall were fodder for the most terrifying nightmares. Large wooden statues of naked women, brass lamps, the printer, ceramic turtles, the buttons on a plugged-in oscillating fan, which remains a bloody necessity in a home where only one AC unit can be on at a time, otherwise the breaker chips out, leaving us in a pitch black Brooklyn sauna -- everything is a booby trap waiting to chop a finger or crush a limb, or something too brutal to imagine. And that list of possible tragedies only increases with each passing day; every dawn brings epiphanies of how completely my life is given over to this all-consuming task of parenting a toddler. Never mind the discovery of shelves drinking glasses can no longer be resting on, or what jewelry box contained a pair of scissors or a pack of needles, rearranging that stuff is only symbolic of how much my time, my apartment, my way of being, is about keeping her safe and meeting her needs as they arise.
By the end of each day, the kind of frazzled I feel would require hours of therapeutic massaging and a full day of silence to unknot my shoulders, followed by a video montage of all the very good reasons I wanted to be a mom, played out on a big screen with all my favorite foods fed to me by the hand of some lover wearing nothing but...
Alas, instead, I spend my evenings cleaning my apartment, which has been upended by her long day of exploration. I try to get all the crumbs from the rice cakes and the splats of yogurt I missed during the day. I sweep and pick up toys and stack books and wash dishes. I find it is better to do all this at night, when she is not wailing and pulling at my legs. When all of that is done, I quickly check my email, text some of the people who think I have been ignoring them all day, play a bit of Candy Crush before I shower and fall into bed.
The next morning finds me at the very beginning, being nuzzled awake by the softest of faces, my eyelids being pulled apart by the smallest of fingers. The wonderfully musical chime of, "Mama, Mama. Mama! Eyes? Eyes! Eyes, Mama!" ringing in my ears.
I am overwhelmed.
Being the mother of a toddler drags you pendulum from one end of happily satisfied to the other end of unnerved and undone 50 times in any given day. This afternoon finds me weeping on the couch while she naps. I am watching her peacefully sleeping reflection in my silent big screen TV screen. She lays there unconscious, completely trusting in my ability to take care of her, to provide crayons, and a roof and clothes for the upcoming winter. Rightly so, she knows nothing of the taxes I owe the IRS, nor the grossly inflated New York City rent which I am growing increasingly resentful of handing over to a management company run by folks whose stock answer to every query or complaint is, "I can't do nothing about it! I didn't build the building!"
I wonder if I am shortchanging my kid by living in this city. What will I do about school? How will she fare if I cannot afford more than the New York City public schools for her? What will we do about long-term healthcare? Was I stupid to think I could mother a small girl alone in a place like Brooklyn? Am I as clueless about parenting as my mother was when she had me? Does my sitting here bawling my eyes out mean I am not mother material?
I am often unable to tell up from down. The only thing that steadies me when I am on this ledge of self-doubt is the knowledge that women have done this from the beginning of time. I rest my lack of confidence in the plethora of stories of brilliant women who are also not mothering gracefully, but continuing to do the best they can. I think of the many fools who have raised children to become good, strong, productive, brilliant citizens. I am comforted when I conjure the numerous people who have survived traumatic childhoods and are raising well-adjusted happy children. I think of these people, and wipe my runny nose. I take note of her stirring reflection and remind myself that every time she falls she gets up. And that every scrape she wears is rapidly healing. Kids are more resilient than adults care to admit.
She opens her eyes and gets up, looking for me. When I poke my head round so she can see me she smiles and says, "Mama! Noonoo, Mama. Want noonoo! Eat!"
In an instant, I am smiling too. I can't help myself. The warm fuzzy feeling pushes my worries aside. And just like that the hour for brooding is over. It's time to go make my daughter the noodles she has so eloquently requested for lunch.