All of the important messages of speaking out impacted me at last night’s Golden Globes, but there was a line in Oprah’s speech that resonated with me the most. And in a different way. Really, just a fragment of a line.
She said, “In 1982, Sidney (Poitier) received the Cecil B. DeMille award right here at the Golden Globes and it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award.”
Something there spoke to me unexpectedly in my new year of trying to be brave. I mean, I don’t think I’ll be winning any awards in the near future, but what I do know is that “at this moment, there are some little girls watching.” In my case, one little girl. My 10 year old daughter, Ollie.
This time, this divorce, as hard as it is on me, is having an effect on my kids. I can’t tell fully yet what it is, but I know it has to be. None of us can suddenly be thrust into this and be able to make sense of it, especially not my kids. Their dad moves out and their parents no longer speak. I think that’s enough for gravity to let go of all of us and let us float off into outerspace.
What I realized, though, is that she is looking at me and looking to me. Watching me, to see how I recoil from this. I’m her compass. She’s looking at me to show her the way. And she’ll follow. Every tear I shed affects her. Every time she catches me lingering in bed a little too long scares her. Every reaction I have everyday informs her on how to feel.
So I have to fight. Not even for me. For her. So that if, when she grows up, some man does this to her, she’ll have a map on how to get herself back. She won’t define herself by the love of a man or the pain that he can cause. She won’t allow her self-worth to be compromised by staying with someone who is indifferent to it. She’ll look back at this time and remember watching me fight my way back to earth and she’ll know to do the same.
Right now, the most important little girl is watching me. I’ll be composed on the outside and I’ll be clawing my way back on the inside because someday I want her to want to be like me. And that can’t happen if she watches me disappear.
If you’re struggling in a way that threatens your survival – put up a fight. I don’t mean struggling to make ends meet. I mean if you feel yourself spinning out to space. If you can see your whole self disappearing – fight like your life depends on it. Because there’s someone who needs you to come back. And they’re watching.
This is a cardboard box. It came to my house this past Saturday around 12:30 p.m. I get all kinds of boxes delivered here. Boxes of swim equipment for my son. Boxes of pool parts for my husband. Boxes of clothes for my daughter. But I’ve never received a box like this. This 6 inch square, corrugated cardboard box held my motherf*cking dream come true.
We all grow up dreaming that we want to be one thing or do another when we’re older. Things that maybe seem impractical once the confines of reality set in – time, bills, kids. Things we decide we aren’t smart enough or skilled enough or matched properly for. And we let go of those dreams to do what sustains us. That’s life. It happens.
I realized my dream in 1993 when my brother died and my life cracked open. I was 16 and began to write to fill in that chasm of pain. I went on to college for my writing degree, concentrating in poetry, and believe it or not, I wasn’t half bad. I loved it but, you might have heard, poetry doesn’t pay the bills. After college, I began a career in the advertising arm of publishing. Got married. Had kids. Eventually, my dream of writing was left behind so that I could do what moms do – help my family follow their own motherf*cking dreams.
I became a SAHM and started a small business where I work alone. I began to feel extremely depressed – isolated and unfulfilled. All my life I’d questioned my intelligence and that insecurity had taken some major hits in the last few years. I realized I had to go back to my dream if I wanted to try to save myself to be any good for anyone else. So on October 18, 2016, I started The Mother Octopus. And let me tell you something. A lot really can happen in a year.
Last February, I began to make memes for my Instagram and Facebook accounts as part of my blog’s presence and quickly realized that I loved making them. I was good at making them. I’ve continued writing and have had some great response to my blog, including one post that went viral. I started to feel proud of myself. I started to think that maybe I could do this.
I began following a lot of other writers, mom bloggers and meme makers, I noticed many of them in Scary Mommy t-shirts. Lots of them were either staff writers or contributors at Scary Mommy. So very early on, I made becoming a Scary Mommy contributor and getting that t-shirt a goal for myself. I saw that t-shirt as a major rite of passage, validation that I could do this. And on Saturday, around 12:30 p.m., that t-shirt arrived at my house in the 6 inch square cardboard box above. I have an author page at ScaryMommy.com and I have a job making memes for them. My motherf*cking dream is now my reality.
For many years I felt like what I had to say wasn’t important. My dreams of being a wife and mom had been realized and now my job was to keep my head above water and so that everyone else could realize their dreams. I bring my daughter to piano lessons because I believe that is what she’s meant to do. I bring my son to swim practice because I believe that is what he’s meant to do. What I’m learning is that in order to be a better mom and wife, I have to strive for what validates me. I’m no good if I’m not nurturing my own desire to succeed in what I believe I’m meant to do.
So, if you have a dream that you’ve buried in the back story of your life, under the chaos of schedules and clutter of other obligations, DIG IT OUT. You’re going to come to a point in your life when everyone else’s dream is coming true and there won’t be time left for yours. If you dream of going back to school so you can change careers, go back. If you dream of starting your own business so you have more time for your family, start it. Whatever it is, DO IT. NOW. Your 6 inch square cardboard box is out there and your motherf*cking dream is waiting inside of it.
This is my daughter Olivia brushing her friend Ellie’s hair. I took this photo when my family was visiting my best friend Nichole’s family last spring. Ellie is Nichole’s daughter. The girls didn’t know it at the time, and they still don’t, but it was the weekend they became best friends.
It was Saturday morning and I’d slept in the kids’ room with all 4 kids in case mine woke up during the night. The kids got up early and headed downstairs to play. I heard some husband voices down there, so I continued to doze, a little wine soaked from the night before. A while later I woke up to the sound of the girls chatting in Nichole’s large closet, attached to the kid’s bedroom. The door was cracked enough so I could see Olivia brushing Ellie’s hair. I quickly got out of bed and crept in to snap a few pictures before they could protest.
A little background. Nichole and I come from a long line of best friends. Our grandmothers were neighbors and close friends, so our fathers had always been close. When Nichole was born 6 months after me, our best friend destiny was sealed. That was 40 years ago.
Now, the 5-hour distance between my Long Island home and Nichole’s Syracuse home makes it difficult for us to get together as much as we’d like. We had a great weekend with them and our kids cried when it was time to say goodbye. On the car ride back to Long Island, going through the photos on my phone, I came across the hair brushing pictures. All bleary-eyed and probably recovering from the night before, I’d forgotten I took those.
An Instagram fan, I quickly added a few filters to it and posted it to my FB page. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I looked at the picture again and got chills, suddenly remembering the last time Nichole had brushed my hair. The morning after my brother died. The day she became my sister.
It was July 8, 1993. She and I were 16. My brother J.P. had died suddenly the day before from cardiac arrest following a bout of heatstroke. He was 19. Nichole slept in my bed with me and woke up next to me with the confirmation that the day before hadn’t been a nightmare like I hoped. That morning I went to the funeral home with my parents, somehow thinking they could use my support. I didn’t last long and I ended up on the front steps of the funeral home in the hot summer sun waiting for my aunt to pick me up.
Getting back to the house, Nichole was still there. I played Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd on repeat because my brother used to play it. I sat on the floor dazed and she sat behind me and brushed my long brown hair while the music blared. Because the days that followed were such a blur, I hadn’t thought of that moment in 24 years. What seemed like a small gesture at the time now reveals itself to me as the moment she stepped into her rightful role as my heart’s mender and still now, my heart’s protector.
I’m not writing this to rehash the feelings of that awful time. I’m writing this because when I looked back at the picture of Olivia brushing Ellie’s hair, it struck me that what Nichole and I share, our girls have begun to share. It was a strange and beautiful feeling. They’re 10 and 7. Their 3-year age difference was palpable until that weekend when I took this picture and they became inseparable.
I remembered Nichole’s grandmother telling me stories about my own grandmother. I wondered how many times they’d laughed together or consoled each other or stood together in front of a mirror while they prepared for a night out with our grandfathers. I wondered if they’d had any idea that something as simple as their friendship would become so much more for Nichole and I and now for our kids. I wonder how happy they’d be to see their granddaughters and their great granddaughters sharing the same bond they shared almost 80 years earlier.
This picture is the culmination of 40 years of laughter, tears, firsts, lasts, fights, failures and triumphs I shared with Nichole. I realized our daughters will have that together now. That’s the legacy we’ve passed on to them.
When I look back at the picture of Olivia brushing Ellie’s hair, I hope one day our girls will realize that they’re so much more than “fourth generation besties”. I hope they’ll understand that sometimes the best kind of family is the kind you find outside your bloodlines. It’s the family that somehow becomes your family through the opening and rending of your hearts and the experience of shared joy. It’s the family we make for ourselves.
This is me in a dress I have no business wearing. It’s not the first time I’ve worn it and it won’t be the last time. I know it’s not flattering but I don’t want you to say, “OMG, YOU LOOK GREAT!” I don’t want you to say, “GOOD FOR YOU!” I want you to know why I’m wearing a dress I have no business wearing.
I took this picture two days ago. I was one and a half proseccos deep during a girl’s weekend with my best friend and we were on our way to a nice dinner. Someone could say that I look a little pregnant in it, because of, you know, that part sticking out in the front. I do look a little pregnant. That’s fine. Once upon a time I grew two babies in that part sticking out in the front, but I assure you, now it’s just where I keep my cheeseburgers and sauvignon blanc.
I bought this dress for a trip my husband and I took in July. When I tried it on I knew the dress wasn’t made for my 5’2″ body, 160 lb. body, but I felt great in it. I don’t know why. I just did. I’m not known to wear form-fitting clothes. At all. But I wanted it, so I bought it. And I was proud of myself for it.
The truth is, I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been, other than when I was pregnant. Another truth is that I’ve always struggled with my weight and if you’ve ever struggled with your weight, you know it’s not a physical struggle. It’s about how you see yourself and how you speak to yourself in your mind. After 40 years of telling myself I have no business wearing things I want to wear, I’ve decided to change the subject. I’ve decided to start being kind to myself.
I’m a work from home mom. I make my own schedule. I could spend 2 hours a day at the gym if I wanted to. I could run from here to Manhattan and back if I set my mind to it. The thing is, my mind is elsewhere. Right now I’m in the business of keeping my shit together. I’m in the business of raising loving children. I’m in the business of maintaining healthy friendships. I’m in the business of having a happy marriage.
For 40 years I’ve stood in the mirror and compared how I look to how I THINK I should look. And it’s exhausting. Now, in an ugly world where I have so many other, more important things to worry about, I’m hitting that red decline button when the self-doubt calls start pouring it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to be in the business of loving myself. It’s as simple as that.
I’m not saying I’m giving up. I’ll still try to get healthy, here and there. I’m just taking a break from beating myself up. I’m muting the negative things I say to myself, because as it turns out, I care way more about my own comments than anyone else’s.
So here’s the thing. If I can put on a dress I have no business wearing to go out with my husband or to go to a fancy dinner at a nice restaurant with my best friend because it makes me feel good, you can too. And if I’m putting this picture on my Facebook page for 15,000 people to see, well then you can certainly wear a dress you have no business wearing to a BBQ this weekend. If the hard part is talking yourself into it, tell yourself life’s too short to worry about things you have no business wearing.
When I was laid off from my publishing job in Manhattan in 2010, I was ready for a change. The soul-crushing daily 3 hour round trip commute from Long Island to the city, usually with a passed out fat guy’s elbow jammed into my boob, took up too much time away from my family. I was prepared to find a job closer to home but as the gods would have it, I didn’t go back to work outside of my house. Now, 6 and a half years later, I realize I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I started my career in magazine publishing before I finished college. I’d had a 6-credit internship at UsWeekly to close out my writing degree and 3 weeks into it, they hired me. I worked for Wenner Media, who also publishes Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal, for the better part of the next 11 years. I loved my job, but that commute was a killer, to say the least. The day I was laid off, I was shocked and elated.
About a year before my layoff, I’d started making custom photo mats for friends as wedding and baby shower gifts. Nine days after I was laid off I opened my Etsy shop, KJ Frames, and I’ve been home, alone, making frames in my basement office, ever since.
Before we get too far, I need to clarify that I AM NOT COMPLAINING. I’M EXPLAINING. This is MY experience. I’m not saying everyone’s experience is the same. In fact, well-adjusted individuals might find their experience to be the exact opposite of mine. I know many of you would switch places with me in a heartbeat and, while I have my struggles, I know how lucky I am.
NO ONE CARES HOW I LOOK
Yea, this is amazing. I don’t have to jump out of bed and into the shower. I don’t really have to look presentable at all. The moms at the bus stop don’t care how I look and I can tell you from experience that the employees at Michael’s, Staples and Stop & Shop sure as shit don’t GAF. I’m living la vida leggings. The problem here is that if you start to go too long without caring about your personal appearance, you basically revert back to being a college student in a dorm again. If I want to go to Taco Bell in my pajamas at 3 pm for a Meximelt, I’mma go. And is that really how adults behave? Is it, you guys?
I love her. We vibe. She’s always there for me. All day, everyday. Keeping my food cold and delicious, just as she promised when we brought her home from P.C. Richard. We spend A LOT of time together each day. This is great for someone who has healthy eating habits, but that’s not me. NOT. ME. All of my dirty little food secrets are safe with her. This means that in the past 6 years, because I can’t control myself, I’ve gained around 20 lbs. Could I do something about this? SURE. Do I want to? NOT LOOKING THAT WAY.
That’s right. Another vice. Lock me up. I like to imbibe. This was no problem when I was a respectable member of society, but now my life as a shut-in allows me to have a higher frequency of nights in with the ladies. Being my own boss means I make my own work schedule and since my only other real responsibilities involve getting my kids out the door in the morning, there will be wine. Oh yes. There will be wine. Add that to my eating issues, tack on about 10 more lbs. and order those leggings in the next size up.
I’M THE BOSS
Sure, I own my own business. It allows maximum flexibility and supplemental income, both of which are AMAZING. The problem is that I’m my own IT person, printer repairman and accountant now. I’m unqualified in all of these areas of expertise, which makes my job more interesting. Add to this the fact that I used to work in a bustling office with rock stars and celebrities waltzing through all the time while I got to enjoy being part of a team and my own personal success. Now I work alone in a tiny basement office wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask, dodging spiders and talking to myself. BIG DIFFERENCE.
FROM RICHES TO RAGS
I went from being the breadwinner to feeling like a financial drain on our family. Yes my business brings in extra income, but I’m no Joy Mangano. There are no Miracle Mop patents being applied for here. Obviously, what’s my husband’s is OURS but it weighs on me that I’m not contributing like I used to. Not that we were ever rolling in it, but the occasional lunch time visit to Anthropologie for a bag or a sweater has been replaced by scouring the clearance rack at T.J. Maxx. (No offense T.J. Maxx. I love you super hard.)
TIME IS ON MY SIDE
The number one thing I’ve gained, and really all that matters, is time. Time with my kids. Time with my husband. Time to create and decide what my next career will be. Time to be braless and eat peanut butter from the jar with Hershey’s syrup. Being able to make my kids their lunches and having time to get them on the bus every day. Being able to spend time in their classrooms. Having time to make dinner and shuttle kids to piano and soccer and lacrosse without roping other families in or having to pay a sitter to help. Knowing that time like this is not afforded to everyone, I do know its value even though I look like Zach Galifinakis waking up in the first Hangover movie each day.
Now that I’ve lived on both sides of the working mom/stay at home mom fence, I’ve learned that there’s a trade off either way. Your ability to be a good mom isn’t determined by your decision to work or your decision to stay home. The only thing that really matters is that your kids are safe and loved and your wine refrigerator is stocked.
Remember when your mother used to say “OH MY GOD! If you say MOM again, I’m changing my name!” Well, now you know why and you feel awful about it too, don’t you? That whole, One Day I Hope You Have A Kid Who Acts Like You curse must be the real deal because the barrage of “MOMs” I get hit with each morning before 9:20 a.m. is enough to put any sane person into a mental institution.
My husband leaves for work around 6:40 each morning. He comes over to give me a kiss or pat me on the butt before he takes off. Sometimes we have this conversation:
Him: “Bye, babe”
Me: “NO. Where are you going?!”
Me: “DON’T LEAVE ME HERE ALONE WITH THEM!”
My 9 year old daughter (sometimes known as The Girl One) is an early riser. She’s always up before my husband leaves. ALWAYS. My son (The Boy One) would sleep in a little if she’d let him but she likes everyone to partake in the splendour that is morn. When I hear their dad close the front door, it’s GAME ON.
The Girl One calls up from downstairs: “Mom. Mom. MOM! Mom come cook breakfast!” She can reach the bananas and I’ve seen her pour cereal and milk into a bowl before. She’s even used the toaster. Swear to God. But still, she wants MOM to do it. Fine.
Me: “BLERGGG. I’m coming!”
I head downstairs and into the fray. The breakfast bustle gets underway and I begin the morning countdown to bus time like Ted Allen on an episode of CHOPPED. “27 minutes left on the clock, guys! Don’t forget to pack your backpack! Homework, lunch, flute, permission slip! Let’s do this, people!”
So now, because I’ve prompted her (anywhere from 5-25 times), The Girl One is headed to the shower. This is only after she begs me to come into the bathroom to stay with her for the duration of her cleanse. I guess she becomes hysterically blind after she eats her waffle and can’t see me cleaning up breakfast, making lunches, packing up homework, feeding the cat and letting the dog in & out the back door every 48 seconds. I say I’ll be in when I’m finished doing X, Y and Z but as soon as the water turns on…
The Girl One: “Mom, come on. Mom. Mom come on. Mom, are you coming? Are you done yet? I can hear you outside the door. Mom. Mom?”
I KNOW YOU’RE ANNOYED JUST READING THIS AND SHE’S NOT EVEN YOUR KID.
I’m like the Muhammad Ali of moms when it comes to shower time. Somehow, I bob and weave my way out of this hornet’s nest each morning and I make my way to the basement to begin “selecting the children’s outfits”.
Let’s all stop for a moment and have a hearty chuckle at the concept of “selecting the children’s outfits”. It sounds so civilized when in fact, picking out clothes in my house each morning is like trying to disarm an explosive with the clock ticking down from 60 seconds. The pants that make too much noise? ARE YOU INSANE? The socks that feel weird? WHY TEMPT FATE? The shirt with the owl on it? HAVE WE FORGOTTEN LAST THURSDAY? One wrong move and your morning detonates. SHRAPNEL EVERYWHERE. No survivors.
While I’m in The Laundry Room Hurt Locker, The Boy One starts calling down from the living room. He hasn’t looked away from the TV in 30 minutes so he has no idea where I am and no intention of trying to find me. Why do that when he can just scream his goddamn head off for 10 minutes?
The Boy One: “Mom!”
The Boy One: “Maaaahhhh-aaaahhhmmmm!”
Me: “YEA! I’m downst-”
The Boy One: “MMMOOMMMM!”
Me: “OMG WHAT!?!?!?! I’M IN THE FREAKING BASEMENT!!!!!”
This is when I snap. The rapid-fire-without-a-chance-to-answer-“MOM” makes me levitate, and not in a cute Mary Poppins type way. I’m like Mary Poppins’ bitchy cousin who dropped out of high school to follow her boyfriend’s band across the country and then he slept with her best friend and now she has to work at the home for wayward children instead of working for a nice family and singing songs about sugar and crap.
We do this pretty much every day. By the time I get both of those animals to the bus I feel like a bull rider who couldn’t hold on for 8 seconds. But the crazy part is that even when I feel like a wild-eyed Mommy Dearest on the inside, I kiss those kids on their faces and look them in their beautiful eyes and tell them I love them. And I mean it. The morning’s transgressions already forgiven and forgotten. My kids must’ve pumped unconditional love to me through the umbilical cord because they’re the only ones who love me even remotely the same way. I don’t think I had that ability before they were born. It allows me to block out whatever ridiculous things they do so the love can bubble up and I can do the only job I really have to do, which is to love them.
After last week’s post, I received this text from a friend:
Apart from making me a little emotional, it reminded me of a conversation my sister-in-law and mother-in-law had once. My SIL was saying that her kids just make her nuts all the time and she was always feeling wound up and that she never remembered my MIL being like that when she was young. My MIL laughed and assured us that there were MANY times like that, but MY SIL didn’t remember them because overall, she had a happy childhood.
The loving, the laughing, the yelling, the kisses, the fighting, the worry, the hugs, the chaos, the parenting wins and losses. Those are the ingredients that make a family and every family has its’ own recipe. There are no hard and fast rules. A cake batter may have a few lumps in it, but even with a few lumps, a well-made cake is still pretty delicious. My kids may yell my name 74 times a morning but I just have to remember, that’s the exact number of “MOMs” it takes to make a morning in our house. Some mornings I may not handle it like Princess Diana, but if I end each morning and each night with a hug, a kiss and an “I Love You”, we might just get this cake baked after all.
Last Monday morning, a 6-year-old girl roasted me at the bus stop.
It was 8:15 a.m and I repeat, ON A MONDAY. My kids and I crossed the street from our house and waited at the end of our neighbor’s driveway for her crew to meet us for the trip to the corner. My neighbor came out with 3 little girls, my attacker (let’s call her Elizabeth) included. I smiled and said “Hey guys!” as they joined us on the street.
Elizabeth isn’t from the neighborhood. My neighbor babysits her little sister (whom we’ll call Elizabeth’s sister) and every now and then she comes along for the walk. This made her sick burn even more ruthless, a scud missile to the heart.
Elizabeth’s outfit stood out to me on this crisp, autumn morning. I’m not one to judge a kid’s clothes because, let’s be honest, reasoning with a 6-year-old about their outfit is as useful as a feather fork, but I was kind of digging her look. She had on a royal blue shirt, a pair of navy retro style gym shorts (you know the ones, with the white piping), a pair of white tube socks pulled up to just below her knee and sneakers. I thought, “You go girl! It’s not 100% working but you’re rocking it and I like that about you.” I was happy for her, and convinced she was a free-thinker, I gave her a mental high-five. On we walked.
The bus stop crowd made our normal early a.m. small talk. The bus came, we blew kisses to the older kids as they rode away and we turned to walk back to our homes. It was me, my son (also 6), my neighbor, Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s sister. I looked down to my right to see Elizabeth smiling up at me, a face like a jack-o-lantern with 3 or 4 teeth missing. So cute. “Hey you!” I said. She made direct eye contact with me, grinned sweetly and then…she daggered me.
“You have a sleepy face, ” she said. I’D BEEN UP FOR 2 HOURS. I politely laughed, in my head thinking “SHOTS FIRED! WE HAVE SHOTS FIRED!”
What I would’ve said if it was one of MY kids was something along the lines of, “UUUHH, YA THINK? Well, maybe if you weren’t wedged up my buttcrack last night and if your sister hadn’t decided to hold a U.N. Sleep Summit in her underwear at 2:30 a.m., lecturing me on how UNJUST it is that you get to sleep between Daddy and I and how her brother gets WHATEVER he wants, YEA, maybe I’d have more of a Brooke Shields Blue Lagoon thing going on right now.”
Of course, I couldn’t say THAT. She was someone else’s baby. What I WANTED to say to her was, “Listen, kid-dressed-up-like-a-Harlem-Globetrotter-from-1982, it’s Monday morning. I MAY or MAY NOT HAVE had way too much wine to drink on Saturday and I MAY or MAY NOT still be hung over. You want to ask questions? Halloween’s not for another 2 weeks, so how come you’re dressed like a hipster on her way to a kickball game in a Williamsburg park? Does Tootie from The Facts of Life know you stole her gym clothes? How about you lay off the judgement and stick to eating your own boogers? OKAY, PAW PATROL?!”
Of course, I couldn’t say THAT either. I probably had Cheez-it crumbs in my hair and (most likely) no bra on and in my fragile state, I was NOT taking a chance on her launching another bomb at me. So I just mustered up the 1/2 ounce of dignity I had left, giggled and looked down at her cute, toothless face and said, “Yea, that’s just my normal face.” She just kept smiling and globe trotted her way down the street.
It’s fine. Elizabeth’s right. I’m exhausted. In her defense, I’m sure I looked like a Nick Nolte mugshot. Sleeping soundly is a thing of the past. It’s an occupational hazard of motherhood. It’s like musical beds in our house every night. We give in to our kids’ nocturnal demands because, at this point, we just want everyone to sleep. Still, no woman nearing 40 likes to be told she looks tired, even if it’s from a toothless kid in Danny Zuko’s track outfit from Grease.
When my daughter was born in 2007, I remember boasting to one of the men I worked with, a father to two teenage girls at the time, that there was NO WAY MY KID would EVER sleep in our bed. He’s a lovable, no BS Italian guy from Brooklyn. He looked at me and said, “What the f&ck is the matter with you? Don’t you know that kid’s not going to give a crap about you in about 15 years? LET HER SLEEP IN YOUR BED IF SHE WANTS.”
As new moms, we think we’ll stick to all of the pre-conceived parenting plans we made BEFORE SHIT GOT REAL. No red dye 40. ORGANIC EVERYTHING. No high fructose corn syrup. And 10 minutes later we’re like:
I guess it’s hard to admit we want to give up on some of the things we swore by once the rubber really hits the road. But this is one new mom promise I’m going back on. I’ll play along in a round of midnight musical beds or scooch over to make room for a beautiful little monster if I need to. So what if it means a crappy night’s sleep? A kid’s size 11 foot up my butt at 2:30 a.m. will just be a sweet memory someday, even though now it makes me look like a swamp creature at the bus stop.
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.