Not Quite Ready to Be Set Free

Posted: January 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Housewife Superhero, Miss Kate, Mom, My Body, My Temple, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 2 Comments »

Yesterday was Kate’s first visit to a dentist. And as we sat in the cheesy Hawaiian-themed waiting room, another mother came in with two older kids. Her daughter immediately flounced to the floor to engage with Paigey. And the mom pulled up a tiny surfboard shaped chair, sat, and smiled down at them.

After a few minutes she looked up at me and said, “Please pardon the loud rumblings from my uterus.” A comment which took me a beat to grock, but then totally slayed me.

Me: “Oh God, I hear you. She’s my baby and she has the same effect on me.”

Her: “Here I am, I’m 43, and I already have three kids. When’m I going to get over this?”

Which brings me to the rhetorical question, just how supremely do women rock?

I love that within three minutes of being in each others’ orbits this total stranger and I are revealing our deep down irrational-but-real want-another-baby cravings. It’s the kind of intimacy that some men who were college roommates and have been playing tennis together every Saturday since the first Bush administration still haven’t achieved.

And her remark is timed perfectly to my just-the-other-night musings. Paige refused to nurse, which had me convinced she was harboring a devastating rife-with-hearing-loss ear infection. (I’ve never understood when mother’s say their kids just stopped wanting to nurse one day, since that’s so not been how my boob-junkie kids roll.)

Paigey was back to her old milk-chugging self a few hours later, but the experience got me thinking as I was a-sway on the ugly Dutalier glider. If I were to suddenly stop breastfeeding, it seems like I’d need to put my body to another practical use. Truly. In much of the past four-and-a-half years I’ve either been gestating or breastfeeding, and odd as it is even for me to realize, it’s set me in a kind of groove I’m not sure how to get out of.

Doing neither of those things seems so, uh, kinda lazy. Or maybe it’s not that so much as just not productive enough.

Years ago when Mark (then I) started seriously obsessing over cooking, we read Michael Ruhlman’s excellent The Making of a Chef–a great first person account of a foodie journalist being thrown into the mix at the hardcore Culinary Institute of America. Aside from food chemistry and knife skills, clean-as-you-go, and never serve anything that you know ain’t right, one of the critical things you learn at cooking school is how to be crazy efficient. If the walk-in’s at the end of the kitchen, you think of all the things you’ll need from there so you can make just one trip. And on the way back to your station you grab the Chinoise or mixing bowls or grater that you’ll need from the drying racks. It’s all piled up in front of you so your arms are breaking and you can barely see, but the other thing that you learn in cooking school is cooking is hard work. That is, it’s physically taxing.

In cramped, fast-paced, and (proverbially and literally) hot restaurant kitchens, running around in circles is for rookies. It’s just not done. It confuses your mind, expends unnecessary energy and ultimately puts you in the weeds. In other words, a quick way to find yourself out on the sidewalk, considering getting an office temp job to pay the rent.

So Ruhlman. He describes how this hyper-efficient planning and intense economy of movement unsurprisingly slipped over into his out-of-the-kitchen time. (Kind of like when I played so much backgammon in college I’d look at a pub booth packed with people as a cluster of pieces–all safe since there wasn’t one sitting out alone. For my brain at least, that was the result of excessive backgammon. Imagine if I’d used that time to study!) So Ruhlman described how one day he realized he was getting ready in the morning in turbo efficient mode. Get socks and shoes and grab car keys and knife case all in one quick sweep of his apartment. Socks and shoes on mechanically fast, grab keys and knife case, and up and off you go. Or something like that.

And so here I am, just three days away from Paige’s first birthday and realizing how this mother thing has managed to wire me in a similar way. Efficient? Yes. Getting kids bathed, diapered, dressed, fed, snacks packed, car toys grabbed, hats, sweaters, shoes that have been already pulled off put back on. All that glamor that you know every mother–including your own back in the day (call her right now and thank her, please) goes through.
But aside from the machinations of kid tendin’, there’s of course the physical connection us mothers have. And whether we’re precious about it and read non-stop about how it all works or not, it just happens. We’re using our bodies to the fullest of their capabilities, like old-school VCRs that–though baffling and unused to their max by most folks–without even reading the manual we’re instinctively able to do the trickiest things to like updating the clocks, and setting them to advance record.

It’s actually weird how mindlessly one can grow a healthy baby.

There are the glossy hair ‘I am woman hear me roar’ pregnancy highs, and the all-my-friends-are-dumb-when-they’re-drunk-and-I’m-sober resentment. Stuff even outsiders can cotton to. But more discreet, and ultimately more powerful, is the latent accustomedness your body seems to develop for being put to these practical maternal uses. So from where I’m standing, at the precipice of not having such a physical Mama task ever again, one might be left feeling somewhat un-tethered. A bit lost.

It’s the place where some woman, no doubt, feel liberated, set free. Back to one’s skinny jeans for good.

But for me, and it seems for the dental office Mama too, it’s a much harder transition. Bittersweet in all the love and intimacy and care that was associated with all those bodily demands, despite how grueling they could sometimes be. There’s an unaddressed expectation, a void that some of us reckon with, when our bodies are suddenly not called into service any more.

Perhaps I’ll have to take up tennis. My mother always played a wicked doubles game. Maybe I can just try to make that do.


2 Comments on “Not Quite Ready to Be Set Free”

  1. 1 kimberly said at 4:51 pm on January 27th, 2009:

    I stumbled upon your blog through some sort of weird google mishap and I’ve gotta say – you’re spectacularly on par with my own weird momma thoughts. I think I might have to bookmark you.

    Oh! And…I’m from Wyoming.

  2. 2 becca said at 11:58 am on January 30th, 2009:

    How do you think I ended up with four kids and STILL haven’t had the tubes tied…

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