My Fresh Hell
Life in Scribbletown.



On Sunday, I made a small discovery. Cece, my children’s author friend, and I were talking in the family room. Our children were scattered here and there throughout the house. Her youngest son, Oscar (nine months old), was sitting and playing with a ball at our feet, and Red was running and climbing on everything, pushing me forward so that she could “check my diaper” for poo, babbling as she rolled around on the floor about “up” and “mama-dada-baby.” Cece laughed in an embarrassed way and said something to the effect of her not being a very good mother. That, for example, she sometimes turns down her hearing aid when the noise of her sons is too much to bear.

She said it apologetically, like she was confessing a sin, and I gazed at Oscar’s happy little face as I commiserated. Charlie, three years old, was pounding away at the cash register in the toy area of the room and Dusty was off hanging out with the men, as is her wont, because she believes that anyone who enters our house is here for her and her only.

I knew exactly what Cece meant but I also knew that it wasn’t true; that she wasn’t a bad mother. We talked about how our second children would be our last – this was it. She’d even gone as far as to have her tubes tied after her C-section last year. She’d decided to have her children close together in order to get all that baby stuff out of the way – the sleeplessness, the diapers, the nursing, the helpless whining, the constant need to be physically present everysingleminute – that sooner, rather than later, she’d have a little breathing room. It would be easier to work on her books, easier to travel with an 8 and 10 year old than an infant and a 3 year old. Soon, this burdensome phase of child rearing would be over.

I understand her pain. And, one of the reasons I spaced my girls out a little more was that I could only take one small child at a time. And barely at that. There are days when I can hardly make myself get up one more time to cater to someone’s whim, fulfill a need that cannot otherwise be fulfilled, wipe a face, fix more goddamn food for a bottomless pit, listen to more chatter chatter ceaseless chatter, clean another food smear off the wall or the floor or a window or my shirt.

Then, in the bathroom, I began to read a review in Brain Child of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, a book that the author of the article admitted never having read until recently. I’ve never read it either but the review of book, of the shocking history of women’s lives that is still (and this is why it is shocking) very much part of the present. In many ways, despite evidence to the contrary, nothing’s changed. I think I know what at least one of the problems might be.

We’ve professionalized motherhood. We now, as women, as equals to men, have the same opportunities, more or less, the same chances at careers. We can craft fulfilling lives for ourselves outside the home. We no longer have to gauge our worth by the cleanliness of our bathtubs or the flakiness of our pie crusts. The job of raising children is so depressing and grueling at times that when we, as a gender, give up (for lack of a better phrase) our jobs and professions for stay-at-home motherhood, we need it to have some meaning above and beyond what it really is. So, we spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out the absolute right way to raise children and pointing fingers at others who do it differently.

Why? Because perhaps it threatens our belief, based on research we’ve done or classes we’ve taken, that our way is the only right way. I’m as guilty of it as the next woman. Because child raising has become OUR JOB. Our only job. We hate it when the boss criticizes our work, when an editor marks up our writing, when a customer sends back a dish we cooked, when an agent rejects our demo, so of course we hate to hear another mother raise her eyebrows at our decision to do things differently.

Our mothers and grandmothers knew a secret that they never admitted to because to do so would make them look bad: raising children can really suck sometimes. Is it no wonder they looked for shortcuts? Drank more than they should? Took drugs to alleviate the never-ending drudgery? Got involved in clubs and volunteerism – things that reminded them that they had functioning brains that were made for more than screaming, “Just eat one more bite! One more! Stop throwing the peas! Stop wasting food! Stop it, my god!”

At least we have a better chance at a different kind of relationship with our husbands. As least now our husbands can share the responsibility of reigning in the brutes, keeping them clean, taking care of the poo explosions, doing dishes, running a load of laundry, taking turns so that only one of you goes crazy at a time.

It’s not any better when you work full-time outside the house because the job still exists no matter what. But, for some reason, now that women have supposed choices, and we choose to have children (as opposed, apparently, to the women in the past who just kind of had children) we’re not allowed to complain about that job the way we’re allowed to complain about any paying job we might have.

Somehow, it’s acceptable to bitch and gripe about co-workers but it’s unacceptable to admit that sometimes we really hate being mothers, that sometimes we just want to run away and have an hour (or more) in which we’re only answerable to ourselves. Where we can inhabit our own psyches and not have a Lego thrown at our glasses from across the room. Where we can have a little breathing room – literally and figuratively.

As I type this, I am being berated by one child who is determined to talk-talk-talk at me despite the fact that I’ve asked more than three times to be left alone for five minutes, who continues to mess up the bed covers and defiantly refuses to leave the room so that I can think. The other one is whining for food in the kitchen, hanging on the refrigerator door handles, as if she hasn’t eaten in a week when she’s actually refused all day to eat anything that isn’t in the bread or white food group. Her food pyramid resembles a one-story rancher. If it ain’t in that box, it ain’t gonna be eaten. She’s snubbed a perfectly good meal of corn, peas, broccoli, chick peas, and leftover cheese pizza for nothing but rice and parmesan cheese – grated not thinly sliced. Now, the older child is singing, “I love Laura Ingalls. I love Laura!” Over and over while she pretends to clean up all the play money she inexplicably threw all over the room.

Part of the problem is that no one has had a nap today.

It’s enough to drive one mad. And it has. Of course I love my children. You may think that I don’t. And that’s my point. Mothers are not allowed to express any feeling but love in reference to their children. They’re not allowed to admit that sometimes they wish they could fire their children for their annoying behavior, their refusal to follow directions, to back-talk, to act greedy and show no remorse for hurting feelings, for being ungodly selfish, for not shutting the hell up. Ever. No.

We aren’t allowed to be human. Because, when we act human we are scolded. So, I’ll just say this: we had a lovely weekend but ohmygod when will it be Monday?



8:11 p.m. ::
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