When I was 12, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I had Jacques Cousteau quotes on my bedroom wall next to my New Kids on the Block posters. I didn’t know who I wanted to marry more – Jon Knight (yea, I was a Jon girl, there were probably 4 of us on earth) or Jacques. There wasn’t any real explanation for my love of the ocean. We lived near Lake Ontario in Northern New York, 30 miles from Canada. There were snow banks, not sand dunes. My best guess is that it had to do with the time my mother took my brother and I to the Museum of Natural History when I was 5 and I was captivated by the hanging blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life.
A few years after our trip to Manhattan when I saw the whale, my brother and I watched the Robin Williams – Shelley Duval version of POPEYE on HBO. The octopus scene became my new obsession. Yes it was yellow with giant menacing eyes, but I was immediately fascinated. My Jacques Cousteau love affair started soon after.
I graduated from high school and moved to South Carolina where I began the Marine Biology program at Coastal Carolina University, however, one semester in I knew science wasn’t going to be my thing. You’ll learn later why, but I’d begun writing in high school. That was my second love and that would be my GO TO. The beginning of my sophomore year, I transferred to a school in Northern NY and began working on my writing degree.
Fast forward 20 years. I’m a mother of two with an ex-career in magazine publishing and I wish I still wrote and I wish I’d stayed in school to be a marine biologist. This means I make my kids watch all kinds of YouTube videos and documentaries about things relating to the sea. Most of you will think, like the octopus in my logo, that this blog is named The Mother Octopus because every mom is a supreme juggler who needs 8 hands. True, but no.
In the last couple years I began feeling the tug of the octopus again, pinning artwork and dreaming of cephalopod tattoos. And just recently, in my musings, I came across this:
“After mating, it’s game over for octopuses. Mating and parenthood are brief affairs for octopuses, who die shortly after. The species practices external fertilization. Multiple males either insert their spermatophores directly into a tubular funnel that the female uses to breathe, or else literally hand her the sperm, which she always accepts with one of her right arm (researchers do not know why). Afterwards, males wander off to die. As for the females, they can lay up to 400,000 eggs, which they obsessively guard and tend to. Prioritizing their motherly duties, females stop eating. But she doesn’t starve to death–rather, when the eggs hatch, the female’s body turns on her. Her body undertakes a cascade of cellular suicide, starting from the optic glands and rippling outward through her tissues and organs until she dies.” – Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian.com
A buzzkill, to say the least, and it struck a chord with me.
I am a mother octopus that kept on living. Some of you probably are too, but afraid to say it out loud.
Please don’t get me wrong. I count my blesssings daily, and like any mom, I’d step in front of a bus for my kids. They make me crazy when they’re with me and the second I’m away from them I worry about them. But when I became a mom, something else in me changed. Accepting the sacrifice was no surprise. Yes, I knew it would be hard work. Something just got lost. My identity became so cloudy that I lost who I was before. I certainly never write anymore (because frankly, this shit is super scary) and in the last few years, working alone, making frames in my basement, I started to feel like so many of the things I was before I was a mom were gone.
To me, the saddest thing about the female octopus is that she doesn’t get to mother her babies. I’m starting to realize that in order to really mother mine, I need to crawl out from under the clutter of our lives and reclaim what’s been lost in the last few years I’ve spent clinging to the rock of my basement business. Feeding my babies, being class mom, making scrapbooks and classroom party snacks, trading in a 6 figure salary to cut craft store coupons. In some ways, I’ve never been happier, and in some ways I’m lost in the deep. Trust me, I belong down here, but I need a fresh perspective to be the mom my kids deserve.
This blog is my attempt to come up for air. To poke my head up like a periscope, get a new view, and take a deep cleansing breath before heading back to work. I hope you’ll stick around for my ascent.