The Mother’s Mojo: MIA?

August 20, 2011 at 4:11 am (Uncategorized)

It’s immeasurably cheering to be starting a blog post.

Hold that thought…

Ah, at last. I wrote that one and only line back on the 8th of August, and it’s taken until now to get back to it. But finally, here I am. There you are. Blimey, sorry, it’s been nearly a month since I last posted, a fact that makes me feel very queer and not a little emotional. Writing has always been so wonderfully therapeutic for me that I fear I’m cracking up now I’m having trouble doing any. Well, writing that isn’t freelance writing. Writing like blog writing, diary writing, letter writing and creative writing. Unpaid writing, the writing that is writing for the sheer love of writing. That’s the sort of writing that’s been squeezed out of the picture since I became a mother nearly 9 months ago.

I am just managing to keep up the monthly feature for Varuna, and it is that piece of work that’s singlehandedly keeping me from the brink, so I mean to continue as long as they’ll have me. It’s the regular freelance deadline that manages to straddle both spheres, being both professional writing and something that I love to do. This month’s is on e-publishing and for anyone who’s interested, you can read it here.

I’m writing this post courtesy of my newly negotiated arrangement with Llew. I am officially clawing back some set ‘Me Time’ every Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately the inaugural ‘Me Time’ this past Wednesday was a total non-event, since Master J was having some major settling issues and frankly he needed his mother. It wouldn’t have been fair to leave Llew to deal with it, nor fair to Master J while he was in so much anguish, and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything but worry myself sick even if I had managed to get out the door. Not that leaving is even necessarily part of the plan. I’d be quite happy to sit in bed reading a book or writing a letter on my night off, it’s just that when Master J is hysterical in the next room, it’s not possible to do anything other than gnaw at my bottom lip and time to the second how long it’s been since the last time I ran in to comfort him.

It’s taken me a good long while to insist on this arrangement – longer than it should have given I’ve always known I need time alone. I guess I kept thinking it would happen of its own accord, or that Llew would magically intuit my needs (someone just knocked at the door and my heart PLUNGED – and this from a girl who has always loved the impromptu visit… what’s happened to me?! Thankfully it was just a lady collecting Census forms – happy day!) and cater to them. I didn’t want to have to ask, much less demand regulatory changes to our household, but that’s exactly what it’s come down to because there was no naturally evolving ‘Me Time’ in the offing. Once I lost A, the lady from the corner store, well, that was pretty much it. Llew’s parents are great with helping out when I get a freelance job, and offering occasional date nights, but they have their own lives to lead, and time out for me to do nothing – or at least nothing official or income generating – is a much harder sell. So I finally said to Llew, “Me Time is going to have to come from Us Time, otherwise there’s No Time.”

He and Master J left about a half hour ago, and if you exclude the 30-minute run I had this morning (Llew takes an hour – an imbalance that neatly highlights my overall mismanagement of self-interest and my acute failure to claim anything like equal time for myself), I am blissfully alone for the first time in over a fortnight.

Part of me just wants to go to sleep.

I hate that so much of this experience is flashing past me and I can’t snatch back at will a few amusing memories to share with you now I’ve finally got the chance. Because it is so full of mishap and madness, and Master J is a miniature laugh riot, but the truth is I mostly just feel tired and blank. When I think of Christopher Hitchens’s now notorious piece for Vanity Fair, Why Women Aren’t Funny, I imagine he really meant mothers, because there is something about motherhood that – despite the deeply comedic set-up – threatens to overwhelm even the sturdiest good humour. Exhaustion is a real party pooper, for a start, but it’s more than that.

Motherhood compromises a woman’s autonomy. This phenomenon of the split self simply doesn’t happen to men, so some mothers inevitably begin to nurse a cold nugget of resentment at their divided core. Worrying at this little stone ritualises the loss of selfhood while constantly implicating the other parent, who – ignorant of the potential malignancy of this pulsing ember – continues dancing off to golf (or wherever) encased in a warm glow of well-being. And sometimes it is precisely this happy ignorance that is so enraging.

How could you not know? Can’t you see? Can’t you hear what I’m saying to you? Are you deaf, dumb and blind? How can you fail to realise what’s happening to me, what this is like for me? Why hasn’t it happened to you too? Fuck you!

Conflict is a great ingredient in humour, a frequent onstage guest during any decent comedy hour – and motherhood is nothing if not a study in the conflicted self – but sometimes it’s hard to be hilarious when you’re angry, sad, frustrated, anxious, scared, hungry, tired and bored out of your fucking skull. I love my beautiful boys, my husband and my child, and I am not complaining about what I know is a privileged life – I’m so, so, so lucky, and I count my blessings each and every day – but even so there are days when I struggle. I find myself thinking about other women a lot these days – specifically women in less fortunate circumstances than my own. I have support, I have a roof over my head, I have love and friendship, and I enjoy enormous freedoms that are routinely denied to many mothers around the world… so how are they doing? And in infuriatingly typical ‘mother’ fashion, I tend to hang my head in shame and conclude, “No doubt so much better than me.”

Oh, a small postscript: I’m now officially a Twit: DianaMJenkins. Although I haven’t managed to come to grips with how it all works, learning to use Twitter is my latest tech challenge. Let me know if you’re out there somewhere too.

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13 Comments

  1. David said,

    – but sometimes it’s hard to be hilarious when you’re angry, sad, frustrated, anxious, scared, hungry, tired and bored out of your fucking skull.

    It’s hard to be *anything* when you feel like that…and believe me, you’re not alone. I am friends with many, many women who had children in their thirties, and I think it’s so much harder than it is for younger women…if only because the sense of self is so much more developed…that autonomy, that power, that sense of *you* is a lot harder to sublimate. The tradeoff is much more knowledge about emotional and psychological dynamics, much more wisdom, and usually better resources. But that loss of self is, I think, acutely painful for women who have children a bit later in life. The payoffs, though, which start to come in spades once the child is at a verbal age…they’re well worth the wait. The rewards of all your accumulated experience and knowledge and deep readiness will be exponential. The first three years will kick your ass harder than you ever knew it could be kicked, though. Hang in there!

  2. DoctorDi said,

    I think you’re right about that, David – I think becoming a mother at 38 is a shock of a very different kind to those characterising a young mother’s experience. I’ve just BEEN ME for such a long time that it’s a wrench kissing that individual goodbye, because even when Master J grows up and leaves home, my sense of myself and the facts about me have both changed forever. But I hope it goes without saying that the rewards are already innumerable – he has opened my heart in ways I never imagined. I love him and I am so happy and incredulous that I’m his mum.

    • David said,

      Oh yes, yes — absolutely; you’ve made it very clear that the rewards are immense and rich even while the frustration is hard to get through. I think it’s just that I think this particular type of frustration in the really early years, when the baby has to be the center of its and everyone’s universe (as it should be, and deserves to be, and is meant to be) is even harder on moms who’ve had a chance to really individualize prior to having kids. And the rewards of being a more mature mom are just as seemingly disproportionate when the child is a bit older. I’m really seeing this with my friend Elissa, in particular…she adored her children, but the first two years, in particular, almost drove her over the edge a few times, even while she felt her heart and soul and mind and life opening in ways she had never dreamed possible. It was the best and worst time of her life, I believe. Now that the kids are a little older, all the time she’s had during her adult life to think and plan and get ready and build resources — it’s creating an amazing parenting experience for her, and it’s so much easier now that the children are in a more physically self-sustaining phase.

      • DoctorDi said,

        Yeah, that all sounds about right to me, David, and I appreciate your perspective on Elissa’s trajectory because it does help to look longer tern. I am looking forward particularly to Master J’s learning to talk. Can’t. Wait.

  3. litlove said,

    Well…. I found it just as hard at 25. My experience was exactly as you describe. I really wish I had put my foot down sooner, made space for myself in my life, encouraged my husband to be more hands-on and ditched a great deal of useless guilt. Children get used to anything so long as they are in happy, loving situations. I look back and know I should have scraped together the money to fund more child care, and then my son would have certainly had a happier, less stressed mother in his early years.

    But of course you will find your own way through, Di. Young mothers are so caught up in learning new skills to deal with babies and toddlers that they forget they must also develop new skills (pretty ferocious ones) to deal with their own changing needs. I have every faith in you that you’ll sort this all out with grace.

    • DoctorDi said,

      Well, with our finances in such an uncertain place due to the redundancy, that’s exactly what happened, Litlove – it was decided there was no money for a new arrangement such as the one I had all too briefly with A. So… what? I just don’t get any break at all, then? Yeah. That’s not going to work. You probably also had it hard because your role as a mother came along hot on the heels of your relationship – with nearly 15 years under our belt I do think it’s easier for me to pipe up and say ‘This is bullshit! I need a break!’

  4. Lilian Nattel said,

    Good for you for coming around to insisting. You may find yourself benefiting from even more insistence–and it will get better as J gets bigger.

    • doctordi said,

      I think women generally find it hard insisting, Lilian, don’t you, but it’s funny, isn’t it, because not doing so hardly does anyone any favours. I also think Llew at least responds best to clear direction – ‘I need exercise,’ ‘I need time to write’ – much more than he does vague expressions of dissatisfaction.

  5. Pete said,

    There’s lots I want to say but I’ll start with a yay for Weds nights and Sat afternoons (although I know that it must be sooo difficult to use that time once it’s there. So much energy into making the time and then it’s a struggle to use it.) It’s also reassuring to know that many, many mothers go through the same thing but it’s still damn difficult. L and I tell each other that we are incredibly lucky to have such an easy baby and yet we are barely coping. Some days we are NOT coping at all (and have almost gone over the edge). But this weekend we started to claw it back. I really don’t know how other people do it. So lots of calm reassurance to you and Llew and Master J.

    • doctordi said,

      Exactly, Pete – you don’t have a second to lose when you finally cut a break and that brings its own paralysing pressure! Can’t win! I am so glad Baby F has stayed easy – that’s just fantastic. On reflection it’s odd that of all the many posts I might have written, this is the one that eventuated. In so many ways I am loving this experience, so why did the post focus on the area in which I’m struggling? Perhaps it’s just that I do think some of these things need saying. Out loud. In public.

  6. Samantha said,

    Hi Di,

    Have you read The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart? Litlove reviewed it two years ago and you responded with the following comment:

    “As you know, Litlove, I am not a mother, but I hope to become and yet fear becoming one in about equal measure. I instinctively feel the truth of what you’re saying; I’ve already begun articulating some of my fears and needs to my husband so that there is no veil even pre-conception about what I believe is my right and need to maintain a semblance of self. I am going to print out this post and give it to him to read. And I am going to keep it close in the event of my own status ever changing from childless woman to mother with child.”

    I am currently reading Maushart’s book and find great comfort in it. As a first time mother at the age of nearly 41 (my son is now 4 months old), I can relate to your issues and Maushart’s book addresses them all plus then some. It is initially harder for older mums (30 plus but these days, that is most mums) but it gets easier as the physical aspect of caring for a child becomes more emotional. I would recommend this book to all (first time) mothers.

    I too think about other mothers but those closer to home as the majority of mothers around the world do not lose their sense of autonomy and independence as they never experience such a life to begin with, as neither did our grandmothers. Their lives are/were led in service to others. Our generation and possibly some of our mothers, are unusual in this regard. Our loss is very real, it just isn’t universal for most mothers. Effectively, our old independent selves must die if we are to be reborn as interdependent selves. I haven’t yet managed it and wonder if I ever will!

    I continue to enjoy reading your posts, infrequent as they may be. I often check to see whether you have posted but as a mother with a little one, I understand why they are so infrequent. Rest assured, you are not alone in your thoughts or feelings.

    Warm wishes,

    Samantha

    • DoctorDi said,

      Hi Samantha! So lovely to hear from you – I think of you often and love Jenny’s every update. So glad it’s all going well. Now you mention Litlove’s post and my comment I remember it, but I’d forgotten all about it until now and shall seek out the book at once. I never did print out Litlove’s post for Llew, either, so I’d best be getting on with that too! I am so sorry the posts have been so infrequent these past months, it really does pain me because so many observations and moments are already lost to my suddenly shocking memory, but I really appreciate your continuing to visit me here and share your own experience in all its similarities and differences – what a parallel universe it’s been in some respects.

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