It was a Friday night, and we were at my parents’ house for dinner. I stood at the stove, stirring the macaroni and cheese for my niece and nephew because at Nana’s house there’s always homemade macaroni and cheese. My mother assembled a salad on the kitchen island behind me; I was turned slightly to accommodate my six-months-pregnant belly, allowing for a conversation of sorts to flow between us. As I melted chunks of Velveeta over elbow macaroni, I told her about the daycare Jon and I toured that day.
“It’s only a mile from my office, so I’ll be able to go over and feed him on my lunch break!” I enthused.
“Mmm, hmm; that’s great,” was her response as she kept halving cherry tomatoes, but I saw her mouth tighten slightly and seized on the nonverbal cue with the well-honed instincts of a daughter who knows how to pick a fight.
“What? What are you thinking?” To this day, I still wonder why she didn’t say “nothing”—why she doesn’t always say “nothing,” come to that—but I suppose the maternal instinct to give advice is just as strong as the daughterly one to refuse it.
“Well, it’s just that … you might change your mind, you know,” she said.
“You mean about going back to work?” I asked.
“Right. I know you—”
“Mama, I’m not going to get into this with you,” I interrupted. She stayed at home with my older brother and me until I was in middle school. I was sure she thought that was what I should do, too, but I wasn’t interested. I liked working. Our budget needed me to keep working. Staying at home wasn’t on the table.
“I was only going to say that you may think you know what you want now,” she said, moving to take the salad through to the dining room. She paused in the doorway and looked me in the eye.
“But when your son is born, you might feel differently. Motherhood changes everything.”
With the ignorance that only belongs to those who don’t know what they don’t know and the kneejerk need to still get in the last word, I mumbled under my breath as she moved out of the room.
“Maybe it changes everything, but it’s not going to change me.”
“Ugh, you’re not gonna start ditching me every weekend to go home for this guy are you?”
My college roommate, Lindsey, took the news that my new boyfriend came with a Nashville zip code hard—we were sophomores at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, three hours east.
Lindsey was the one good thing I brought back with me from an ill-advised, six-month stint in Michigan the year before. I had moved for a boy, but that relationship fizzled as soon as the realities of a Midwestern winter began to set in. The night I broke up with him, I drove to Lindsey’s apartment. She was the only friend I’d made on my own and the only one I could still claim in the breakup aftermath. I explained I was moving back to Tennessee and we both cried.
Three weeks later, while I was trying to find an apartment I could afford on my own, late registering for the spring semester at UT, and spending a great deal more time alone than I really cared to, I got a call from Lindsey.
“Hey, how about I come be your roommate?” she asked. She moved in, we got jobs waitressing at the same restaurant, and took as many classes together as our disparate majors allowed for. Most of our waking hours were spent together—and in college, most of your hours are waking ones. We were inseparable.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like this new guy, Jon. She’d met him and given her best friend seal of approval. But maybe she’d helped me analyze enough conversations and body language and “what do you think he meant by”-s to know. This one was different.
Maybe she could see what I couldn’t.
“What? Of course not!” I said. “I would never ditch you! I’ll be going home like once a month, tops. Nothing’s going to change. Promise.”
Three months in, I had it bad. I’d quit the waitressing gig and was going home every weekend. A year later, Lindsey told me she needed a cheaper rent and moved in with another friend.
In hindsight, I could’ve handled it better, although that’s true of nearly all of my 20-year-old decisions. Sometimes I rationalize what happened because 16 years later I’m married to the boy I used to drive home every weekend for, but I’m also not sure the end justifies the means.
What I do know is this: of all the regrets I hold, the fading of my friendship with Lindsey is one of the biggest.
Nothing’s going to change—seriously? As if I wouldn’t want to spend all my time with him.
As if falling in love doesn’t change everything.
It’s trendy right now to talk about the sacrifices of motherhood. It’s popular to push back against the expectations and decry the “ideal” held up that we all fall short of. We’re told often that we must preserve some sense of ourselves; we’re warned that motherhood is ravenous and will swallow our ambition. I read enough articles and heard enough conversations about leaning in that I walked into motherhood braced for battle. It was going to try and take my identity, everyone said so, and I’d be damned if I let it alter me.
But when my son was born, I didn’t find myself in a fight. I found myself in love.
And I was changed.
Suddenly I understood what my mom was trying to tell me all those times I wouldn’t listen. It’s the same thing my friend Lindsey knew before I knew it myself. Carefully-laid plans and boundaries are all well and good, but they don’t stand a chance against that kind of love. At the same time, I don’t think love equals loss, either.
I didn’t lose myself when I fell in love with Jon. Sure, in those early days I may have lost sight of my priorities as I sought to spend every minute I could with him. But loving him brings out a wholeness in me that didn’t exist before. I am softer and more settled. Because of the love between us, I’d argue I’m more fully myself than I ever could’ve been otherwise.
And loving my children?
If Jon brought me to wholeness, they have split me open. I’ve been pushed past the limits of exhaustion and patience. I have wrestled with who I am and what’s important to me and made the sanity-saving decision to hold all of that loosely so that, when someone says something about all I’ve lost to motherhood I can shake my head and say “oh, but look what I’ve found.”
It’s not motherhood in and of itself that alters us. It’s love.
Words and photo by Jennifer Batchelor.