I moved from New York City to a northern suburb in the ninth month of my first pregnancy. The initial deluge of visitors eager to see the new house and the new baby subsided to a trickle; I was alone with this little alien, whom I loved more fiercely and tenderly than I would have thought possible, but who was a little dictator, mewling and calling whenever my attention was diverted for more than a moment. The nearest town was a mile’s walk all uphill; my driving skills were rudimentary. I felt like a rowboat tied to shore with a small precious cargo, while the big ship sailed.
Rescue first came in the form of a newspaper notice for an organization called The Mothers’ Center. The Mothers’ Center was a cooperative; it organized peer-facilitated discussion groups for mothers while the children were cared for on-premises. I quickly signed up for the beginning group, “Mothers of Babies,’” learned to negotiate the hair-raising drive up to the church where the groups met, and met my first friends in the county, as well as a peer group for my baby.
But the following semester, when I tried to sign up for ‘To Be a Mother, To Be a Person,’ the seasoned mom conducting the registration disapproved. “Your child is just six months old, “ she explained kindly. “You should be taking ‘Topics in Childrearing’ or maybe even ‘Mothers of Toddlers. ‘ You really shouldn’t be up to ‘To Be a Mother, To Be a Person’ until your child’s in pre-school, when she’s three or so.”
I was endlessly interested in my child; I happily monitored her progress, from looking to smiling to vocalizing to mobilizing; I debated and discussed introduction of solids and vaccinations and baby music classes and even laundry detergents with avid attention. But still. “I want to be a person NOW!” I protested.
My family recently started putting our dusty old VHS tapes onto DVD. Videos of us twenty years ago, during the children’s’ early years—it reminded me of the enveloping demands on one’s attention when caring for young children. I remember reacting against it sometimes, desperate to carve out slivers of personal time whenever I could; an art class, a cup of coffee at a table in the sun, even going to work was a savored luxury. In that way, I felt like I was preserving some kind of personhood, which meant a vestige of the person I was before I had children, unformed as she, I, had been.
The poet Mike Ladd makes the point that we all have myriad situational and ideological identities, which we situationally “code-shift” between. With all the roles and requirements we fulfill, it’s inevitable that many of us feel overextended; as if whatever we’re doing, we should be doing something else. Some element of “self” feels lost in the forest of other needs. But in actuality, one’s creative self, the separate, authentic self, not only rises above, but also grows and develops from the roles and experiences we participate in. Art doesn’t exist in spite of motherhood, but in concert with it, nourishing each other.
The writers in this edition of The Mom Egg have experienced these rewards and requirements. This Mom Egg is validation and cautionary tale, critique and praise, privation and joy and not least, humor. May it inspire your selves, and your self.