I have in my mind an image of what I used to think mothering looked like. In it, I had on a baby sling and fashionable sunglasses. I’d made my own baby food that I stored in glass jars neatly labeled with dates and flavors. I hung diapers on a clothesline in the sun, in the country. I carried my baby everywhere. She didn’t drink any juice.
This image is fleeting these days even though, it’s what I used to look like.
Nearly seven years in it all looks a little different. Probably a little more real. Or maybe just a different kind of real.
Last night Lucille threw up in my bed. She’d gotten up once and then, the second time she needed to vomit, she couldn’t make it to the bathroom. I sat up, offered her water, cleaned up as best I could, then held her close to me as she fell back asleep.
This is what mothering looks like now.
It’s planning a fifth birthday party and making a cake on Sunday for a party on Monday. It’s going to work midmorning and leaving midafternoon. It’s making it for two important meetings and skipping the one that’s skippable to get home to her.
It’s eating dinner over the trash can in the Portland airport because there aren’t any seats left and I’m starving and there is no way I’m missing this flight because I’m two stores over eating when they say it’s time to board. There is another mother there with me. We balance our food on the edges of the trashcan, eat quesadillas with one hand and charge our iPhones with the other. So we can call and say goodnight. So we can get on the plane and not miss another night without them.
It’s driving across town, eating lunch in my car, so I can volunteer in the classroom, make it for pizza day at the preschool, pick up girls who want their mama at three.
It’s threading the needle, throwing for it, keeping it between the lines always with an eye on the horizon for something that could make it all a little more sane.
Quitting the job? Cutting out the private school? Moving to a new town and starting over?
And it’s constantly checking in with my own ambition. Is that what’s driving this? That thing that lay idle for so long, dormant while they were babies, toddlers, preschoolers? That thing that suddenly is back in my life, something I can’t ignore. But then I wonder was it ever really gone? Or was it just manifesting itself in a different place? Cloth diapers? Homemade baby food? I wonder.
Before I had children I knew what I wanted having a baby to look like. Now, I struggle with what I want having children to look like. Children that go to school and leave me alone all day until I pick them up and ask them about their days.
“What did you do today, mama?” Lucille asks.
“Well, I wrote a grant today to ask someone for money,” I say.
“At the University?” she says.
“Yes, babe, at the University,” I say.
There was a time when I didn’t have a good answer for her. I went to the grocery store. I wrote a story at a local coffee shop. Worthy, yes, but it all felt a little contrived when I would answer as though I was Calvin in an old Calvin & Hobbes cartoon I cut out in college. “I’m significant,” says the bubble over his head as he stares out at a star-filled sky. “Screamed the dust speck.” The last frame, the clencher.
I want to tell them I spend my days doing something amazing. Going to the grocery store didn’t feel amazing and writing grants at the University doesn’t either some days so, now what?
Like Calvin, I’m staring at the sky, a little stumped.