I know I am not alone. On Twitter and Facebook I am overwhelmed by the number of articles posted by media outlets that exist to send that very message to moms just like me: You are not alone. Conversations with fellow parents confirm this. We glow in pride, we vent our frustrations. My experience as a parent is not singular. The strength of my love, the depth of my fear and worry, the heat of my anger when they’ve pushed button after button after button, all of these are impossibly average. I am an ordinary mother. I am an extraordinary mother. It is all the same.
I am not an outlier.
Still, I sit in my kitchen and feel as if the world outside of these walls is not meant for me. It is a faraway land; it is a wish. In here, while so many others go off to their paying jobs, I am alone with my offspring. There are three of them, and they are small and lovely and they say “Mom” three times each minute, except the youngest one, who cannot yet speak.
Today I wanted to do something fun, a trip to the splash pad perhaps, to shorten the hours in a long, hot summer day. But first I was going to go to the gym, check the children in with the staff at Child Watch, ride a stationary bike and catch up on a novel. I was going to care for myself, the better to care for them. There were errands to be done, too, as there always are, but my girls like Target. It would have been fine; some mild bribery would have gotten us through. And then bathing suits and water splashing and giggles and glee. Maybe ice cream, if they behaved themselves. I wouldn’t have minded some ice cream.
Instead the baby had an allergic reaction, the fair skin of her back and belly speckled and blotched, her tiny fingernails desperate to erase the itchiness in her scalp. We would leave the house only to fetch diapers and Benadryl. I would text my husband with updates, and he would respond sympathetically when he had a free moment at work. My older two daughters, ages three and five, would complete several behavioral cycles: cooperative play followed by furious arguing followed by incoherent crying followed by snacks. Repeat.
And the whole while I did my mother thing. I held the baby. I administered discipline and Wheat Thins. I watched the dishes pile up in the sink, to be washed as soon as I could put the baby down. I gazed longingly out the window, thinking of bathing suits and water splashing and giggles and glee, all the things that were lacking in here. I felt guilt, that typical motherly guilt, for not being able to Mary Poppins this crappy day into something wonderful. I felt guilt for failing to appreciate the company of these three people I love so dearly, for being lonely despite their precious faces and their games of make-believe.
I thought of the friends in my life, many of them mothers. I thought of calling one of them to commiserate – one of the women, that is, with both the privilege and the desire to choose this life of non-stop togetherness. When I left my full-time teaching job, I knew that this would, in many ways, be harder. I expected that adult conversation would become a rare delicacy, a hunger that could never quite be satisfied. I was not surprised by my level of exhaustion, or even by the realization that my self-worth had come to be defined by the physical state of my home’s interior. I wasn’t naive. I was pregnant with my third child; I made the best decision I knew to make.
In the end, I call no one. I ride out the day in my little box, understanding that countless other women are doing the same. I post a light-hearted cry for help on Facebook and read the responses appreciatively while my children, even the little one, scrub at the panes of glass in our French doors using paper towels soggy with Method glass cleaner. Inexplicably and miraculously, this is an activity they enjoy.
I am lonely, but I am not alone. My husband returns home from work and tells me to go, disappear for a while. He says he doesn’t care if I’m back before the kids go to bed, but I don’t think he means this, so I go for a half-hearted run and get home in time for baths. How many millions of mothers, I wonder, are taking part in this same ritual, in this moment? The slippery dolphin-smooth skin of our naked children, the mildew-filmed toys, the tears when yes, yes, we do have to wash hair. The sun still deceptively high in the sky: ignore it, babies. It’s time for bed.
In my heart I believe the message of solidarity, the image of a wide, welcoming tribe standing strong in mutual support. I just want them to be closer. I just want them to be close enough to touch.
About the Author
Jenny Dunn Pray is a Yankee transplant who lives in Anderson, South Carolina with her husband, three young daughters, and dog, Little Ron Santo. Coffee and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream are her best friends. Keep up with her family’s shenanigans at her blog, Mommy Identity Crisis, or on Twitter and Instagram.