Saturday, March 28, 2009

College

Last week, my mom friend HA and I had grand plans to go to Mommy and Me Yoga together (also known as Try to be Zen and Flexible as Your Children Steal Toys from Each Other and Have Tantrums). This is a goal we had reached successfully the week before, and we ought to have known better than to think it could actually happen two weeks in a row. I woke to find that my toddler was fussy and clingy and suffer-ish (teething?), and just as I emailed her to say that yoga might be in jeopardy, she emailed me to say that yoga was entirely out of the question, as she had been up all night with her insistently wakeful toddler and furthermore had pulled a muscle in her back while dumping out the tub water. I emailed her back with the comforting reminder that one day, both toddlers will leave for college, and then we can go to yoga whenever we want.

I had, of course, been joking when I wrote this, and I am not by any means counting the days until I don't have to take care of my baby anymore. On the whole, however, college holds a significant place in my thinking about the baby. Indeed, immediately after he was born, when my midwife placed him on my chest, still damp and umbilical, I gazed at him through dazed tears and said, "I'm paying for you to go to college, you know." I'm not sure precisely what I meant; after being in labor for three days, I was not really sure of anything anymore, and I flopped helplessly as the Labor and Delivery nurse tsked at me kindly, putting a hospital gown on me (I had torn it off hours before), wiping my armpits with wet wipes, and tying me and the baby securely into a wheelchair to ship me off to the neonatal floor. Thinking about it later, though, I realized that in invoking college, I had my finger on a core truth, which is that until the baby leaves our home to go to college (ideal) or to become a junkie hobo (less ideal but possibly cool), my days - my ability to get to yoga - will be, to one degree or another, dictated by his needs, his health, and his moods.

Many, many women in this country report feelings of having somehow lost their true selves through the processes of pregnancy, birthing, and new motherhood. I know that I am very lucky to feel the opposite way most of the time: I feel as though these experiences have led me to find my true self, and I have truly never felt more comfortable or happier in my own skin. There is no doubt, though, that I also experience regret, frustration, and sadness that I will never - never, ever, never, never - be the same person I was before. While in some ways my world has been opened immeasurably, it has also been closed. My range of choices in everything - when will I go to yoga? what shoes shall I wear? what will I do on Saturday night? - is no longer dependent on my own convenience or desires. Indeed, said convenience and desires are entirely meaningless. It is meaningless that I might want to wear my linen-and-leather peep-toe pumps because they are so Spring-y; it is meaningless that I might want to stay out all night with my husband at some dirty "venue" in Brooklyn, getting drunk on Pabst and not focusing properly on the show; it is meaningless that my back and hips are tight and I need to yoga NOW. It's not that I can never do these things, period. It's just that I can never do them without measured forethought and planning and the cooperation of other people, and I can never do them without careful regard for the consequences, and that's very nearly the same as not being able to do them at all.

People* often try to comfort me by reminding me that things will change as the baby gets older; one day, he will even be able to go places - or stay home - all by himself. The thing is, I have a feeling that by the time the baby is 15, I will no longer want to stay out all night getting drunk in Brooklyn. While I never quite intended it to be so, my time for such things is irrevocably in the past, never to be revisited. More to the point, though, while it is true that the specific details of what I can and can't do will change as the baby gets older, the fundamental mechanics of the situation will not. I am beholden to him, and to any other children we may have; my convenience, my needs, and my goals must necessarily be shaped by theirs. Seen from this point of view, motherhood is a delicately balanced tightrope walk - you must allow your life to be entirely taken over by your children while still maintaining the sense of identity and agency that make it your life. I can barely imagine the person I will be and the life I will have lived by the time my baby - my babies - leave my home; I cannot imagine what it will feel like to start again, one more time, from scratch.

*My husband.

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