Motherhood, like all good dwellings, comes with a basement, by which I mean a place to store the boxes of things which make us sad (or scared) to look at, or which simply crowd the main floor. We don’t unpack them, for the most part. Instead we appear generally preoccupied, until we remember not to, like when our son says, “Look! I drew you smiling!” as if this were a terrific artistic leap on his part.
What’s in my boxes? If Jon Stewart were ever to interview me on the topic, I would have to come out with the truth up front, or else risk looking like a total idiot when he dug up secret footage of me crying silently like a lunatic as I cleaned up spilled chocolate pudding from the wall and floor for the third time in one afternoon. So I might as well tell everyone now:
What’s in my boxes is resentment. Which I turn, very quickly and very quietly and without much ado, into fear and anxiety and anger, because resentment is not cool in a mom.
An old psychology professor once told our class about a mother whose OCD made her repeatedly go back to the house and check that the stove was off – - about six times before every departure from home. She was terrified that the house would burn down, irrationally obsessed with this disastrous eventuality. This, until therapy uncovered that she had quit dance school to raise her family and somewhere, somewhere deep, wanted them all, well…up in smoke, like her own dreams. The mind is great with metaphor, it appears. Even when it’s twisted like that. Think about your dreams…
This variation on the theme of Freudian displacement theory might help explain why every time one of my kids is exceptionally sweet or wonderful in the morning, I am convinced, somehow, in my anxious mind, that this is the last time I will see him. That I am receiving, in that perfect smile, a gift of goodbye. Why every unexpected and heartfelt ‘I love you,’ for no reason, every spontaneous hug on the way out the door, fills me with dread: Your angel is not coming back, take a mental picture.
Of course, I have a history. I also live in a country where mothers say final goodbyes to children more often than they should. Treasure every moment, we are told in our crazy world. And yet that still doesn’t explain this bizarre refusal to just be happy, serene, aglow in my motherhood.
I’ve hung around enough shrinks to guess it’s really about the boxes: I’m actually terrified of the fact that I’m so very glad to have the house to myself after they leave for the day. So relieved to be alone with my thoughts and my work and the patient sunlight on the double glass doors…
My house is transformed when it is empty, and this notion that some part of me would rather be alone – tinged with resentment as that thought is – fills me with guilt and remorse.
Which – TADA! – my nimble brain immediately converts into fear, anxiety, dread. ‘I’m afraid I’ll lose him’ so much more acceptable for a mom than ‘I feel so free when he’s gone.’
Put that in your cigars and smoke it, girls: We can have it all – family, work and independence – but there is something at our core which will punish us for it.
Am I happy – relieved, thrilled – when I pick them up at 3:30, and they are all intact, although full of sand, paint, ink, and so many, many words? You bet. Am I ready for bedtime at 8:00ish? You bet.
Do I remember to make the most of those evening hours, being with my kids and truly focusing on the real beauty in them, having heeded the kernel of truth – time is fleeting – in my morning anxiety routine?
When the scratching at the basement door is drowned out by laughter and light.
When I get drawn into their dreamy, intelligent eyes before I hear the inevitable whining.
tags: Anxiety, Carpe Diem, freudian displacement, Jon Stewart, kids, Motherhood, OCD, psychology, Resentment
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