The Mama Politic
"Guess there's something wrong with me
Guess I don't fit in
No one wants to touch it
No one knows where to begin
I've got more than one membership
To more than one club
And I owe my life
To the people that I love"
I pack this bumper sticker around on my aging compact Toyota that reads "Well behaved women rarely make history." I bought it years ago in Provincetown in the height of my "finding myself" years. But after eighteen months with baby, I put it on my car with so much force, it tore. The tear made it feel more like me and the state of my life at that moment.
Now my daughter and I are in—as the mama books say—"the thick of it" and all I can think is "what's up with motherhood?" Did I miss the memo on how to be this slightly off kilter, hanging on by my nursing bra, going at it furious and in love until I've put forth this offspring that is brilliant by default? Don't get me wrong, I love many of those books and before being a mama, I cried through many of them imagining how it would be—but now I just feel left out—standing on the curb trying to find truth in a weathered bumper sticker.
My daughter and I live in the 'hood' because it's affordable and I'm tired of looking at white folk and their SUVs all day. I have a Masters degree, and I'm a teacher who never lets her child be with anyone who's either not a relative or who she doesn't absolutely love. I nursed, I co-sleep, I give, I give, and I give. And holy crap how I love her—when I'm away from her for too long, my womb aches. But before baby, I was this scholar, radical, justice fighter, bisexual, sexually perverse (in a good way), recreational drug user, alcohol consumer, shit stirrer with a really bad temper. And I have to say, all this just didn't disappear with motherhood.
I tried, I really did. I married the baby's father who I had been with for six years, open relationship and all. I stopped all drug use, I stopped all alcohol consumption, I even shut down my anger; anger that seemed to be spewing forth from the world at large in great quantity for my entire life before getting fatally pregnant at 30. I didn't even know how to be pregnant. But I was too tired to care and too sick to be mad. So I did it.
While ambivalently carrying baby, I finished graduate school in New York City while puking in trash cans in subway tunnels. I took her to peace marches through Times Square with her tiny body curled inside of me. But when she arrived, I thought I had to be a certain way. I tried to be one of the moms in the books. I bought stuff. I read to her. I gave myself over to her without thought of consequence and submerged into a depression so deep I didn't even know I was depressed. Then one day, I looked in the rearview mirror at myself watching my child freak out in the back seat and I wondered where I had gone. I looked out the car window and saw the world. It was still there.
I had become this person, who has panic attacks at grocery stores, the sex addict who couldn't even look at her partner's body, a slightly freakish girl who never fit into anyone's mold and here I was marching to the beat of the mama drum—in line to buy the whole load of crap. That day in the car I realized, I didn't have to do it any specific way. In fact, I hated the way I saw it being done. What was I showing my daughter by being suffocated by marriage, by never leaving her side, by cooking, by cleaning, by making things as perfect as possible even though I was killing myself by doing it?
I was at a party for a friend one night where there were more infants and dogs than adults. One of the guests wanted to stay late and had to ask permission from his wife in a pathetically pleading way. One of the mothers asked me if I thought it was alright for her to have another glass of wine. The "man" of the house whose three-month old son was sleeping upstairs came down as someone passed a pipe around. It was passed to him and his eyes lit up like he had just won what was behind door number three and he reached for the pipe. But then he stopped and said, "Oh, I better not; I'm sure I wouldn't be allowed." I was taken aback.
I know it's uncouth and not so politically correct to be a little high and be a, god forbid, parent, but I was saddened by his admission of not being "allowed." I hear this everywhere I go. Who have we become that we must live our lives by what other people deem correct. Who has the blueprint for how we should live our lives as parents, as mothers, as partners, as individual people trying to find a way to exist in this whacked-out world we live in.
How could I tell these people that I cry in front of my child because I want her to know that I feel too? How could I tell anyone that I've had the best orgasms of my life while nursing? How could I tell anyone that I drink, smoke pot, disappear on Sunday afternoons without saying goodbye to my daughter and her father, that I fantasize about having sex and sometimes do with long time friends, acquaintances, and ex-lovers? I don't want to wash dishes for hours every night, give baths at seven in the morning, and grind up food in a $200 blender for the next week's feedings. I want her to know dirt is a good thing, that shoes are overrated, and that taking too long to do something, making mistakes, and not finding the answer will teach you so much more about life.
I want my daughter to grow up seeing her mom be who she is; a tough, tender, strong-willed, sexual, adventurous, experiential, independent, lover of what the world has to offer. I want her to know she can do these same things—be the beat to her own drum. I don't want her to see her mom take crap from her partner so she won't rock the boat or emotionally shut down for the sake of a "storybook" family life. Passion is the ultimate gift from the universe. I want her to see my passions, to see me be full of anger and possibility. I want her to know that I'm not afraid to be the different one, to talk about what scares people, what secrets they harbor, what we all need to hear from each other so we don't just sneak our Xanax with our wine and hum a tune while we load the dishwasher once again.
Michelle Taylor has taught in a New York City public school, at a New York Penitentiary, and at Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently a teacher at a community school in Seattle where she has packed her daughter Autumn-Wilder around in a sling, a backpack, and upside down for the past four years. You can find her other work at Mama Out Loud and The Living Classroom.
Read more of Michelle's Mama Politic column.
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