Discover more from Nicci’s Notes
Of Tugs and War
And the dual dueling identities of personhood and motherhood
I think he’s asleep. Not that it makes a difference, because he’s sitting on my lap and any movement of mine—to pee, to eat, to grab my computer so I can make something productive out of yet another hijacked work day—would send him into a fit of sick-rage that would be both pitiful and counterproductive and probably end in me getting puked on.
So, instead, I sit cockeyed on the couch, neck twisted at an unnatural angle so I can see around his tiny body, and tap out a news article on my phone using only my left thumb. The earbud in my right ear does its best to compete with Moana, but I keep having to rewind the recording so I can process what I’m supposed to be reporting on. The process takes me three times as long as it would on an ordinary day, but really, what else am I doing?
I had just settled in to work for the day—Tuesday of the first five-day workweek I’ve had in over a year. The shades were open, and the sun shone onto my desk, providing my succulents with some of what they need to keep themselves going. I was reviewing the day’s news article, which I should have published hours before. My morning smoothie and coffee sat full at my right hand on fabric coasters whose printed sayings use the F word liberally.
As I set my hands to the keyboard, my husband stomped down the hall and into the laundry room, yelling that same word.
“What’s wrong?” I said.
He was already halfway back down the hall. “The baby’s* throwing up.”
And here I’ve been ever since, sitting on the couch in the light-starved basement in front of our only TV, remote control at my right hand, watching him out of the corner of my eye. I never got to drink my smoothie.
Every half-hour or so, his face turns green and his belly starts rolling, and I reach down to grab the bowl we use when this kind of thing happens. I support his back and speak in soft tones: “It’s okay, Baby. Mama’s here.” And after, I clean him up and clean the bowl up and clean myself up and settle back in. He leans against me, or climbs on my lap, and we cycle through toddler content and and sip apple juice until his belly starts rolling again.
I feel fine, but he’s sucked me into the sickland time warp nonetheless. I send my team a Slack message to let them know I’m useless today and try catching up on some small but neglected to-do items, ones I can accomplish with just one eye and my left thumb.
Mostly, though, I just sit here and rage.
When my first child was born, I was given a rope with a flag in the middle. Mama-me, who had taken over my entire identity by then, grabbed up the rope and coiled it at her feet, leaving just the barest end sticking out.
My biggest trouble when my girls were younger was getting them to sleep at the right times, keeping the house neat, and being sure we were all fed. I didn’t have a job to lament not getting done. (Never mind that that’s only because my child was so needy I couldn’t return to work.) The pull toward Mama was strong—and that was fine, in those hazy days when I couldn’t put my daughter down to take a shower, or take a poop, or take a phone call.
Back then, I didn’t even realize there was a rope. But as my kids started getting older and I tiptoed (quietly, in the hopes they wouldn’t notice) back into my career, Autonomous-me noticed that loose end and started to pull.
My identity has been engaged in this battle ever since, yanking the flag nearer to one side or the other depending on the season, the age of my children, and what I’m trying to do in my life outside of parenting. But let me tell you, Autonomy has to work a thousand times harder just to keep Mama from yoinking the whole rope onto her side and sending Autonomy to sleep with the fishes. Why does it have to be this hard? I want to be a good mom to my kids, and I want to do the non-Mama things I that bring me pleasure and intellectual stimulation.
But I’m tired, and days like this, I can sense the flag lurching toward Mama, just as clearly as I feel the rope slipping through Autonomy’s white-knuckled grasp.
Days like this, I think to myself that things would be much easier if I just hung up my ambitions for a while, ignored for a decade or two my desire to exist as a separate person from my children.
As Moana’s credits end and Stinky and Dirty start singing about sno-cones, I think of the essay I started two weeks ago and have been trying to finish ever since. About the novel I haven’t touched in nearly a month. About the ads I’m supposed to create each week and the promotion I’m supposed to be doing to sell copies of the book I’ve already published. About the classes I have paid for and not watched. About the workout I promised myself. I think about the piled-up dishes and the full inboxes and the overflowing Safari tabs and the dirty bathrooms, none of which get the attention they need.
Because someone is always calling for Mama.
My inner turmoil would stop cold if I just gave it a rest. If I just stopped trying to work, trying to write, trying to exercise, trying to move forward in the non-Mama areas of my life. Maybe I should accept that now isn’t the right time.
But life is too short, and there’s a lot I want to do. And all of that non-Mama stuff gives me some of what I need to keep myself going.
I stretch to see the slit of light coming in through the basement’s sole window. There will be more light tomorrow, I remind myself, more of the non-Mama things.
For today, then, with Autonomy watching from the corner of one eye, Mama takes over.
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*Yes, we’re aware a 3-year-old is not technically a baby. But as language goes, he will likely always be called “the baby” because he is our last and I can’t not see him as the teensy little squish I gave birth to in this very room, even as he grows into a real human capable of logic and independent thought.