Motherhood is like being placed in a sandwich baggie where your kids press and press the air out on all sides until you’re sealed in together in an airless existence that smells of peanut butter and feet.
I feel like a hunted woman. I love people, but after hours of people, I need the gentle sigh of time to myself. I want to feel a bubble of space around me where people can’t get in and I want to think my own thoughts and let my mind wander into outer space to have adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
But there are no outer space adventures in my mind. Because of the children. They’re everywhere. In the classic words of Garbage, “I think I’m paranoid.” Everywhere I go, these eyes follow my every move.
I sit to work a puzzle. “I want to do it, too!”
I get up to cook dinner. “Can I help?”
I go to the bathroom. “I’m coming with you.”
I clean the house. (crickets)
I catch myself pawing the air begging, “Get off of me!”
She wants to paint my toenails. She wants a snack. She wants to make me see her and see her and see her. He needs a permission slip signed and a dollar for ice cream and she wants to use my blanket, use my water bottle, use my soul.
They want to be with you and on you. You catch yourself using the royal we, like “We had a good day at school, didn’t we?” and “We get to play with moon sand,” and “Our poops are good today.” You have morphed into one giant Uber-Person that does everything together and feels the same feelings and thinks the same thoughts. You vaguely remember that time you won a spelling bee and finished a book and went to college and stuff.
Suffocating on your own life takes time. It sneaks up on you and you don’t see it coming until it’s too late and you’re twitching on the ground.
My daughter greets me with a stream of questions, but today, talking feels impossible. As my father always told me, “I am out of words.”
There’s no air around me anymore. My kids have squeezed all the air out and my current project is finding the space to breathe again. I’m determined to find it. Project: Open the Baggie and Let in Some Air.
I pull my old, neglected sneakers out of the closet, lace them up, and take a walk. I stride down the street into the sunshine. And as I turn to go into the woods, I hear a voice behind me. “Wait!” The sound of Chuck Taylors plodding against the pavement. “Mom! Wait! I want to come with you!”
I dig deep. I stop. Somewhere someone is telling me to savor these moments because childhood is fleeting and I will find that someone and flick her in the face. No. I refuse. I will not savor every moment.
But. I’ll savor the ones I can.
I smile at my daughter and we head down the path together. The silence I was hoping for in my mind is filled with her happy chattering, but I find I don’t mind it. I’ve discovered more air out here on the path in the woods, more room for chattering. My fake smile turns into a real one and we fall into step.
After our walk, she heads home and I stop at the park. “Oh good, the swings are free,” I sigh to myself as I make a beeline. I wipe bird poop off with my hand and plop my butt into the swing. Even years after, pregnancy has left me suspended in a permanent state of seasickness when my feet leave the ground, but I carefully sway up and down pumping my legs and letting my eyes drift to the nothingness on the horizon, trying to ignore the sloshing in my stomach and brain.
I watch a dragonfly take off and flitter into the air. Feel the sunshine on my face. It’s quiet. I breathe and think about my kids. Now that I’m away from them for a minute I remember that I like them. I like them a lot, actually. They’re adorable and hilarious. The way Ana totally understands sarcasm now and can rock a good side-eye stare like a pro. The way Elliott will tell you the entire plot to a book he just read as if it holds the keys to the universe. The way Evie fights so hard for what she knows she can achieve.
The queasiness finally overtakes me and I let the swing slow and my ginormous Hobbit feet scrape the woodchips below. I stare at my legs and breathe. There is so much air. It was there all the time, swirling around me waiting for me to notice and suck it into my lungs. I couldn’t see it through the pile of my children. I feel like I should sing “Colors of the Wind” or something.
I remember that I still have bird poop on my hand, so I walk home and scrub it in the sink. My mind has gotten a taste of freedom and isn’t done wandering. My eyes stride about the room taking it all in.
I pull out ground beef to brown for dinner, wondering if the moms in the future will know what ground beef is or if they’ll just heat food packets with their built in laser beams. Or maybe they’ll go the other way and gnaw on cow’s legs while they stand in fields chomping grass because Grassfed! Beef! Natural!
The ground beef sizzling in the pan shakes my head back to reality. My family is a mess. Motherhood is harder than I thought it would be. But something about the smell of the beef and the feel in my hand of pushing it around the pan with my spoonula grounds me. Ground beef grounds me.
My daughter drags a stool over. “Can I do it with you?” I hand her the spoonula. “I’d love that.” I rub her back while she sloshes meat and fine, I’ll admit it, I savor this moment. I find the air.
Sometimes you’re going to feel like you’re suffocating. Sometimes you’re going to feel like you’ll never breathe again. And sometimes you’re going to take a walk and brown ground beef and feed your kids and realize that maybe the air is all around and it never left.
Maybe I like being with my kids. I wish I could be by myself and let my mind wander into outer space, but for now it’s nice being the center of their universe.