Some parts of motherhood I was prepared for (or at least… expecting; nothing prepares you for the first time you child slices open their finger and bleeds all over the kitchen): the million diaper changes, the up at all hours of the night nights, the playing of peekaboo over and over and over and over again. One friend put it quite well: “Motherhood is a combination of the tedious and the sublime.” So far, mothering Little Lord Fauntleroy has had much more of the sublime than the tedious (bless his little heart).
BUT (there’s always a “but” in these posts) there are things that have surprised me–more than I was expecting (as in: I was expecting to be a little surprised, but not a lot surprised). The biggest has been how doing something you love can at the same time challenge your vision of yourself as an interesting, intelligent, contributing member of society.
As you may have gathered, LLF arrived prematurely. Not dangerously so, but seven weeks–which was enough for a little intubation and a three and a half week Neonatal Intensive Care Unit stay. When we took him home, it was just as the RSV season ramped up so we were sternly admonished to keep him away from everyone (and no one admonishes so sternly as neonatologists). This we did–and being an introvert, spending the first five months of his life taking 7 mile walks with the stroller was no hardship. LLF grew apace, and is now quite sturdy (and like Tom Jones, born to be hanged). Now here comes the surprise.
Given that I do not regret, in any way, the care we gave our little man for the first year of his life (okay, eleven months so far), I am shocked at how hard a hit my self esteem took. I made all the right decisions, I am a good mother, I enjoy (very deeply) being a mother. But what took me aback was the fact that I could do it all right and still feel like I had become invisible, a shadow. I’m not expressing this particularly well, but I want to point out that I didn’t just do what was right in the public-opinion sense. I did what was right for me, specifically in my particular set of circumstances. And yet. And yet.
Somehow, I was surprised that suddenly being cut off from everything I had used to publicly identify myself (as smart, as interesting, as doing something useful) made me feel less… myself. Looking back, I think it’s an obvious problem I was bound to face. I went from teaching undergraduates and pursuing a PhD at a top school to walking a stroller miles and miles a day while drinking tea. And I thought that just because it was right, it was the thing I wanted to be doing at that moment, that it therefore wouldn’t take anything away from me. (okay, stop laughing now, you jerks). But it did. I still don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made since LLF came, but I am surprised.
Now all I have to do is figure out what to say at cocktail parties when the first thing out of someone’s mouth is, “So, what do you do?” (I’m currently leaning towards “Good lord, I’ve no idea!” in tones of great surprise, like I just noticed I should have something to say to this.)