One of the worst things about being a mother is how, on many days, I don’t feel like a mother at all. I can hardly comprehend that a child, my child, sleeps in a room just down the hall. I hear about mothers who say “the umbilical cord is never cut,” (my own mother being the prime reciter of that quote) and they describe such strong feelings of attachment that they spend every non-mothering moment still thinking about their kid. But for me, some days, I really don’t feel like a mother at all.
Sometimes my daughter seems to me a puppet and I’m just a puppeteer, not only in the ways I am a control freak, having to put the toys away every night and searching for hours to find the last piece of the puzzle, but a puppeteer who is detached, like she’s a marionette and I’m just a handler, not a mother. I’m sad on these days, when I have the “I’m faking it” feeling, when I don’t feel gushing love in my heart at every turn, when I am so damn annoyed and grumpy that she woke up again a 5:30 a.m., even though she slept “through the night,” from about ten p.m. the night before and even though the sleeping thing is so much better than earlier in her life. But, as a mother and a nut who knows she shouldn’t compare kids, I compare my daughter to the neighbor kid behind us who sleeps twelve straight hours, consistently, since her sixth month of life. My baby still thinks her job is to test, every day, my flexibility in the face of not knowing what comes next. And then, I feel sad that I want my daughter to sleep and not interact with me, that I just want to be alone.
Most of my detachment disorder comes from my ambition disorder – the fact that I am a writer and want to be a paid writer. Really, I’m a poor teacher who makes a meager, meager pay, and now that I am also mother, any free time to write is sucked up by taking care of this precious, sweet, so much lovelier than anything I’ve ever written, little person. But sometimes, I need hours and hours of time alone to just feel myself again, to feel in my body, to gain some sort of conscious contact with a higher power or at least my higher self that doesn’t want to clobber my young daughter for yet again getting into the CD case and throwing every damn one of them like a Frisbee across the room. Certainly, my need for time alone to just feel okay in the world is some kind personality defect, that I need to sit for hours in front of a blank screen or piece of paper just to feel human again.
Most days, as a mother, I can forget my need to write, my need to play around in the world of words. And some days I don’t feel ambition nagging at me like a puppy. And some days, I don’t care at all that I don’t get any exercise besides hoisting my daughter around, let alone breathe in fresh air or eat a healthy meal. Most days, I am quite present with my daughter, hugging and kissing and laughing with her, playing with her, inventing new games, like “sculpture making,” with all of her already old toys, even though some are just a few weeks old from her birthday. But then, some days, like today – is it the rain or the 5:30 a.m. wake up call or the fact that I’m alone again in this mother thing, with no other mommies nor my partner nearby? – finds me crawling in my skin, and wanting a stiff drink at 11:06 in the morning, and wanting to run out of my house screaming in the rain, leaving my poor daughter to fend for herself.
Last night, the part-time neighbors came over for a nice dinner. I had whipped up an elk stew, they brought a salad. Their daughter ate the squash I had cooked, mine wouldn’t eat one bite. Later when the girls were playing, their daughter was mad because mine was holding one of the eight hundred toys she wanted to play with and so their girl started crying a fussy little whine. “Fake crying,” the neighbor-mother said. The girl was communicating she wasn’t happy, was discontent. Those feelings were real. But perhaps the mom was right, the crying part was fake. Yet, I could relate to that little two year old. I want to fake cry so many days, when I feel like Fake Mommy. Or when I have thoughts like this: “I’m just a wannabe writer whose fate is to learn to be an ordinary good mother, good wife, good woman,” or “my life will never amount to anything other than this mundane simple life.” Yet, on my sober, clear, happy days, I know that life to be the only life that matters.
The problem is that this Fake Mommy feeling is fed by Ambitious Writer. I tell my daughter often, “you can be whatever you want to be,” but how could I say that and yet not reach for my own dreams? This world is not here to hand us a living, and while my own writing career has had a few tiny breaks, nothing earth shattering or big enough to even realistically tell people, as I do, “I’m a writer,” as in someone who really gets paid for writing. But I have to keep striving in order to show my daughter that striving is how dreams happen, not usually by luck or faith, but by work and focus, and doing whatever we have to do in the face of Fake Mommy days or rain or cold or insanity of whatever sort. I’m grateful for getting to write at all today. I pray for my daughter’s spirit, to feel authentic in her own skin, to feel alive and true and whole on almost every day of the week.