Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Glorifying the Invisible Mother

"I never know what to say when people ask me what my hobbies are. I mean, I'm a mom. I enjoy trips to the bathroom alone and silence."

You've probably seen this meme floating around the internet, especially if you're a mother. And it's funny. When you're a mom, especially when your children are small, hobbies seem like the greatest of luxuries. Reading a book? When? While rocking a screaming baby? Traveling? Not when I have to pack diapers and schlep a car seat from continent to continent. Dancing? Ha! Hilarious! I'd have to pay a sitter, and by the time the club opened, I'd be ready to go to bed.

Yep, I've been there. In the trenches, unable to do much other than take care of my kids, go to work, and barely keep myself fed and clothed.

But I never forgot who I was while I was there. The sleepless nights, the unwashed hair, the tears, the hours of taking care of another human being and wondering when I would have time for myself - through it all, Randi was there. Randi, who loves to sit and read for so long she forgets where she is. Randi, who feels most alive on a stage, telling a story to hundreds (or maybe someday thousands) of people. Randi, who's traveled the world, and hopes to get back there again some day. Randi, who - at age 40 - can still shake her groove thing and does, any chance she gets. Randi, who uses writing as therapy. Randi, who feels exhilarated by participating in protests and rallies supporting causes she believes in, and boy, are there lots of causes she believes in.

I got frustrated by how little time I could devote to my passions. I longed for those activities, and when I couldn't do them, fantasized about them regularly. And I knew that one day, my kids would be older and they wouldn't need me as often, and I could begin to pursue the things that make me me again.

Memes like that are meant to be funny - to help us laugh at the 24/7 job that is parenthood. I get that. But let me ask you this - do you see similar memes for fathers?

Would we expect to laugh at how a man loses himself after having a kid? Would we encourage a man to carve out time for himself, maybe "slip into a bubble bath" or "sip wine while reading an Us Weekly?" The idea seems ludicrous. Why?

Because even now, in 2016, we expect women to lose themselves in their job of motherhood, while men are expected to balance their own lives with their new responsibilities.

You know it's true. And we glorify this process. You are a wonderful mom if you haven't showered in 4 days. You're an excellent mother if you forgot to feed yourself lunch while getting food for your offspring. Good for you! You haven't slept more than 3 hours in a row for 2 years! Yes! You're wearing yoga pants with holes in the crotch while your own kids looks smashing.

This is not a judgment of mothers who do any of the above, mind you. In fact, I pulled that list out of my own past behaviors. But I don't think letting go of my self-care made me a better mother. In fact, it was just the opposite.

I found myself resenting motherhood when I pushed Randi to the bottom of the list, constantly adding responsibilities to the top. I felt depressed, unloved, unappreciated. I felt like my entire worth lie in what I could do for others, not in who I was. And that did not make me a better mother.

So, sometimes, when my work day is over, rather than rushing home to see my kids, I hang out an extra 30 minutes at my computer and tap out a blog entry. On the weekends, during Sam's nap, I sometimes neglect the dirty dishes to read a few chapters of my book. We hired a sitter just last week so I could attend a rally protesting a proposed pay freeze for teachers in my area. I'm still looking for a good place to go dancing, and when I find it, I will go and dance until my feet ache.

I know I'm lucky. I'm married to a great guy who gets that parenting is a partnership, who understands that being the gender he is does not entitle him to more time off from parenting than me. I have family who lives close by, and we have enough expendable income (not much, but enough) to hire our wonderful, reliable babysitter when we need her. Being a single parent or coparenting with a less supportive partner would make it harder to make yourself a priority. So I'm grateful that I'm able to take care of myself.

But I've gotten criticized for it. When a former coworker found out that I perform in story slams, she asked me, "How do you have the time for that? With teaching and storytelling, do you EVER see your kids?"

I was so hurt. Of course I see my kids. I see them when I get home every day from work. We play together and read together and eat dinner together. Almost every single night. Our yard doesn't look that great, and our house can be a bit messy, but damn it! I see my kids.

Dave plays in a band. He's played in one band or another ever since I met him 15 years ago. He works and has kids. And, as far as I know, nobody's ever asked him if he has time for his kids. Not once.

So, yes, there may be slightly less quantity in the time my kids get from me. But the quality is multiplied by infinity. I'm more energetic, happier, more engaged. And both my kids - the boy and the girl - are witnessing a woman who takes care of herself, who loves herself and places a priority on her own needs. My hope is that seeing me do that will help them both understand women's worth, and will shape how they act in their future relationships.

I know memes like the one I mentioned are meant to make us laugh. But I think it would be funnier if it said something like this:

"I never know what to say when people ask me what my hobbies are. I mean, I'm a parent. My hobbies were playing tennis and singing karaoke, and maybe when I crawl out of this pile of dirty diapers, I'll get back to them."

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