That time of motherhood is almost behind me when the ear is not one’s own but must always be racked and listening for the child cry, the child call. ~from “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen
I know this sounds terrible, but it’s honest: I’m looking forward to what comes next: the part of parenting when my kids clean up after themselves and help with chores and put themselves to bed and can put toothpaste on their toothbrushes and pull on their own pants and pour a bowl of cereal and even use the remote. I am looking forward to being needed less. I think what a lot of women love about motherhood is constantly being needed, but honestly it’s what I like least. I love being loved, but not being needed.
The startling part of motherhood was that I was the one being depended on all of a sudden. I was no longer being doted on or looked out for. Now it was my responsibility to do that for other helpless people. Me, helpless myself, helping others! People depending on me! It was a lot–still is: today I forced medicine down Holden’s throat and gave him a haircut as he screamed and cried and kicked and punched. Adjustment is not the word because it’s so opposite of what I was used to that it wasn’t like adjusting at all. It was like starting over, reinventing myself to be what someone else needed.
Some days, I can not believe that I’m not a child, but that I have children. I still remember many scenes of childhood with such clarity it’s like I’m there. I remember the emotions with the same intensity. Sometimes I will smell strawberries and cream and remember a dollhouse of this girl I used to play with or I will walk into someone’s house and the layout will be the exact same as a girl on my street. When I see one of those battery-operated cars for toddlers I think of this time when I rode on one, trying to outrace these dogs I was vehemently afraid of. Cozy coupes still make me think of Sarah Beth next door, even though my son has had one for years, that is not what I think of. I am a child still: just a grown, but not grown-up one.
I am the one now who acts, rather than the one the acts are done for. I am no longer the receiver, but now am the giver. I am cooking, cleaning, wiping, bathing, reading, organizing, gifting, driving, rocking, holding, nagging. I am all the gerunds, the ones people need. Today I am needing a warm bath and a hot bowl of soup and some apple cider and some ice cream and someone to tell me to “take a load off, go lay down” or even, “you look terrible, do you feel okay?” but that isn’t the way it is for parents. We do and we do and we do and if we ever don’t we feel guilty and beat ourselves up and make ourselves even more haggard and run-down.
So I will clean the kitchen now and finish my Cyber Monday shopping and be what is expected of me because I am a parent now, not a kid. But it smells like strawberries and cream and I am thinking of a dollhouse or maybe it’s Avon bubble bath, the kind I would use if I was a kid and I was sick and I needed a warm bath. This time of motherhood is almost behind me, and that gives me hope of a time where I’m not needed so much, but still loved with intensity. A time of baths and clean kitchens and not listening for someone to call out and need me. I will slip back into who I was like a coat I just misplaced for a spell and I will take a long whiff of mothballs and smile.