Still ambivalent after all these years

Simon and Garfunkel sang that, didn’t they? Before the crazy version, there was being stuck between a rock and a sheer-faced cliff? Thought so.

Since the inception of this blog, I have wrestled publicly with the dilemma that I love my child and rather dislike parenting. Love, love, love the kid. Don’t get me wrong or send angry emails. Love the child. Dislike the job. It’s not a popular riff, and it’s not often said, so I feel like I’m talking to a (rather horrified) brick wall when I explain to people who ask, that I’m experiencing a range of emotions about being a breeder (ooops, there’s my problem right there, because Americans know the correct answers are “Fine” to “How are you?” and “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done” to “How do you like being a Mom?” regardless of how you feel. But I always forget that social rule and actually hear, process, and answer questions as they’re posed. Silly, poorly socialized me.)

So when someone the other day asked if I was excited about the new baby, my initial response was typical for me, caught between the headlights of social expectations and my still unabashed tendency toward truth:

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Don’t make me say the obvious: of courseyes and nosort ofI think soabsolutely…blink blink blink. Here’s the thing, at least for me. The dive into parenthood, at least the first time, is like asking a solitary, heliophilic (lover of sunshine, not bleeder, though that might work, too), claustrophic acrophobe (nasty fear of heights…bear with me) to live the remainder of their life as a bat.

YES, there are beautiful sights to take in while you’re flying. Glorious smells and sounds and vistas unknown to humans. At…uhem…night. In the sky. Kind of high. Admittedly, there is awesome fruit to be had. A thousand times, yes, I love mangoes. Back at home, though, my small, cramped cave is filled with lots of smelly others who insist I hang upside down from the ceiling and avoid the sun. So admitting having mixed feelings seems less revolutionary than honest and, well, mandatory.

The whole foreign country/alien planet thing I’ve heard from other moms about the upending shock of plunging from independence and coherence into the unblinking and rapid-fire world of parenting implies that the surroundings have changed. Nay. Same place. I’m just living upside down. At night. By new rules with new people whom I simply don’t get. Their way is totally right for them, and it makes sense, and it’s quite lovely. But it’s godawful uncomfortable for me.

And the thought of doing it again really, really soon means less shock and more…upside down, claustrophobic, ceiling-clinging, guano-filled days. I know where to find the fun, but I don’t know how to escape when the not-so-fun threatens to overwhelm. Because you know what? (And I risk being a bit overdramatic here, but I defy you to prove me wrong….) there is no escape.

[Maybe that’s why our culture makes such a big deal about bats. It’s not the three out of, like 400 species of otherwise frugivorous bats who drink blood. It’s the fact that we know, deep down, that I’m totally awesome at similies and metaphors, and that a lot of us are living, at once by choice and against our will, in caves filled with other upside down mammals.]

So I’m learning and I’m flying and I’m having copious amounts of fun. But home isn’t home…it’s claustrophobic and smelly. And going outside is different and new and overwhelming. That sense of displacement, of not just where did I go? but where did the world go? is a little disconcerting.

Once or twice. AND twice.

Consider that next time I just stare at you and blink blink. Blink.


27 thoughts on “Still ambivalent after all these years

  1. I realize saying you’re less than thrilled with the whole mom gig isn’t always popular in the world at large, but do you really find that among your friends and blog readers? I’m pretty much with you in what you’ve said, and my home that was once my place of peace and solitude and CLEAN is now an uninviting, loud, barfy mess that I am not always that keen to get back to. But, most of my friends feel the same way (although somehow they seem to keep their houses cleaner), which at least allows me to be honest.

    People tell me that when your youngest reaches some variable age (4, 6, 25), life gets a lot easier and you can enjoy having kids a bit more because you actually have some time back to yourself to keep your own individual world afloat. I really hope so, because if I look objectively at what my life has become (much as I adore and even appreciate my beautiful children and all that), it’s pretty amazingly shitty.

  2. BRILLIANTLY said! And apt timing, too, as my husband and I are discussing when best to start thinking about baby number two. Just thinking about it fills me with simultaneous joy (all this love, AGAIN?) and fear (or maybe horror is the right word…)

    LOVE your work!

  3. You know what I love about you? You aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. While many women are avoiding the blink, blink, blink and parroting the politically correct response you are here – telling exactly how you feel, how you’re conflicted, saying everything others are too afraid to say. I think that makes you an amazing mom.

  4. And THIS is why I’m reading blogs right now instead of making dinner! I’ve been concerned this week that my students will think I’m sending them not-so-secret messages that they should not get married and have children. We’ve been reading these stories about women that have a rather “feminist” perspective and I cosign a little too excitedly when they respond that some people think motherhood means you should shrivel up and die. But they are so young and having so much fun that it gets hard sometimes for me not to crave their youth and fun-having. I feel like I should warn them or something, but I DO love my children and LOVE being their mother. But it IS a suck job sometimes.
    Thanks for affirming my thoughts!

  5. ” I love my kid, but dislike my job”….I feel like that somedays. Don’t throw a cyber shoe at me but I’m pretty happy with my oldest….2 isn’t as bad as I had feared. That being said I was going to whoop his butt this am for whinning and crying and hitting and kicking me. What am I saying two sucks!!

    I can aleady tell that my littlest, who is but a mere 8 months old, is going to be trouble. Way more than hs brother…

    So maybe this time……I won’t say because I don’t want to jinx it for you…but maybe???

  6. I applaud both your honesty and your eloquence.

    People don’t talk about ambivalence, I think, not because no-one else feels it, but because everyone does. But we don’t talk about it, because we’re too afraid of it. It’s not neat and it doesn’t lend itself to simple aphorisms.

    I think when you’re talking about biggies where you’re trading one life for another (marriage, parenting), ambivalence is inevitable. It doesn’t mean you’re making the wrong decision or that you don’t like your choice. It just means…life is complicated. (Ooh, deep, man.)

  7. I now know I’d be friends with you if we met. I feel like I’m always surrounded by moms who ADORED being pregnant (I hated every second of the 39 weeks I was “with child”) and moms who stay at home with their kids and can’t imagine it any other way. I get weird looks All The Time when I am honest about how I feel when it comes to being a mom. I LOVE LOVE my kids, really, I do but the mom thing, sometimes, really sucks.

    Great post – love the bat metaphor. Love.

  8. Pregnancy sucks. New motherhood blows. But I am volunteering to come out and dance with Hazelnut to Lyle Lovett and make you something delicious. Tell me when you want me. I am there, although hubs has made me promise not to inhale. Because everyone knows that if you smell a fresh baby, you are toast.

    Adore you, friend.

  9. Hi
    Beautifully written and honest. How many more people feel like that but can’t or won’t say it? It’s what makes us all different. Whose to say when your children are older that you’ll have a completely different relationship as well.
    Not everyone enjoys sleepless nights, changing nappies, toddler tantrums etc…good on you for admitting it.

  10. I think I’ve told you this before, but it is precisely because of your honest ambivalence about parenting that I became a regular reader of yours.

    I love the Critter. He’s a wonderful little fellow, and thus far I seem to have avoided breaking him. But I unambiguously detest a large part of what parenting involves. Perhaps I am congenitally self-centered, but being forced to put aside my physical fitness, intellectual development and social life because I have a small person who screams periodically for no clear reason is a major, major drag. Being at the beck and call of an incredibly demanding Person-in-training is hard, generally thankless, and pretty much no fun for a lot of the time.

    So here, at least, you have what appear to be a sizeable number of people who understand the blink blink blink. I certainly understand the blink blink blink. It’s what I do when people ask about how parenting is going, and I make the mistake of remembering how nice it was when I could go running when I wanted. Or ever.

  11. This post and every comment are music to my ears. Honestly its like coming OUT of the cave to hear other people talk about this openly. For me I absolutely adored being pregnant and would almost do it again just for the pregnancy! And I had twins! But that is no reason to have a baby, especially when I yearn for those moments when I am driving away from my house for an art opening, or a protest, or anything without my kids. Horrid me! I have been enjoying our moments together more and more, but so much of it is trying, challenging, fear producing, annoying.

    A few weeks after I had my babies I called my friend Grace and cried to her that I just wasn’t ‘enjoying’ them and she just laughed at me and said I was doing an excellent job just surviving the whole thing without cracking up. I focused on doing that and got along a little better afterwards.

    Thank you for making me feel like less of a freak and geek. How I adore my babies, how I yearn for them. But wowza they kick my ass.

    • Bloginsong, every single minute I can’t bear I get through thinking, “at least he’s not twins!” I can’t imagine. The love is way intense, but the kick in the ass is quite shocking. And incessant.
      Evenshine, I feel every one of those blinks. ;-)

  12. Kate, I hear the same variable “it gets better” age. From what I’ve seen of humans in training, the 25-year mark seems the most plausible. And most depressing.
    Kylie, I guess it’s biologically very important for them to be adorable and nice smelling when they’re new. If we gave birth to 3 year olds, the species would die out.
    Jane, I hope the honesty makes me a good mom, but I’m starting to get more worried about being a good ME, since the mom part has become 132% and I think she either ate or firebombed the human Me.
    Steel Magnolia, I feel the same way about friends and family who are all a-glow and a-twitter about marriage and babies. I want to explain that babies are lovely but there’s a whole job that comes with them…and then I remember no warning is sufficient, so why bother?
    Jen, call me when you get the oldest to four. I thought two was manageable, if tough. Three is absolutely untenable. And I hear four is worse. It’s not until they’re like seven that the insanity is manageable. Then a few years later they hit puberty and two starts to look like a dream.
    Falling, I guess you’re right. “I love my kid but hate my job” doesn’t sell on T-shirts. But when I post something wonderful and supportive and glowing about my life and my delightful child, traffic soars and people link with wild abandon. When I complain of mixed feelings they turn away in droves. It’s like talking about religion and politics at your grandparents’ house.
    Becca, I run like I’m on fire when I encounter people who adore every moment of this. They are either insane, lying, or have miraculously perfect children, and I’m not interested in any of that.
    Ah, Nova. Thank you. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying children. I just don’t enjoy 15 hours a day of being the servant.
    Kitch, I could kiss you. Tell Hubs I won’t wash the baby and will let those little milk curdles live in its neck folds for at least two weeks before you arrive.
    Dan, do you remember leaving the house when it was just you and a set of keys? Or actually stretching after a run instead of attending to 20 helpless-human needs? Do you actually remember reading until you felt like stopping instead of until someone cried or until you passed out from exhaustion? Do you remember preparing and eating a meal at your own pace? Do you remember eating when you’re hungry and watching a movie when you feel like it and not having to drop the whole world on a dime because it’s time to start the two-hour dinner-to-bedtime routine? Do you?
    Those were the days.

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  14. Nap, you’re a write, shouldn’t you come up with some passive-aggressive, funny but not after you ponder it for a while (but only the smart people will) answer to are you excited about the baby question that you have on hand every time some one asks that or some other stupid ass question.

    At least the second time around, you’ll enjoy the hospital stay more because you can send the baby to the nurses to take as long a shower as you want and you’ll be able to sleep in your bed without being snuggled by a barnacle and with any luck your hospital will serve half way decent food to you.

    Hang in there, Nap, because they keep promising me (and I assume you too) that we’ll miss these days one day. Probably when we forget all the day to day crap.

  15. Well, I was on and off dreading my second one when I was pregnant, thinking that it was just going to be another sucky complication to my life. But #2 is awesome compared to #1. Infants are easier than 4-year-olds by far. They’re so predictable! Eat, sleep, poop. The end. But then, you still have the 4-year-old. That’s hard — and, for me, getting harder. He can be an insufferable brat sometimes. (Although, when I compare him with some of the kids from his preschool, he’s not SO bad…)

    But I’m with you — love the kids, hate the job. That’s why I need to work and let other people (daycare!) raise my children. It takes a special person to be able to raise children without anger, impatience, and ambivalence. I’m not that person.

    I do REALLY love babies, though, and at some point after #2 was born (maybe in the first week), I thought it might not be so bad to have a 3rd kiddo. Then I woke up to the reality of having to take two kids out into the world. Thinking of doing that with three? Forget it. There would have to be a huge age gap if it were going to happen, and I’m not having kids when I’m 40. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but at 33, I’m so damn tired, I barely remember my own name.)

    Fortunately, my hubby knows that I really need “me time” or else the entire family will suffer. So I get to go do things alone from time to time. Those are times I live for. It’s so nice being able to go to the store without having to hang onto a sticky hand. Ahh…

    • Faemom, you’re right. I should prep my sassy answer about how this way I can trade in the first, at least. Or that kids eat free restaurants will finally be worth it. Or that on any given day one is bound to be tolerable. Or that I was looking for a good place to lose about 300k to an ungrateful bastard, and a 20-year drain through a second child sounds like more fun that a one-shot loss on Wall Street.
      See how bad I am at this? ;-)

      Fie, I’m laughing about the brat but not as bad as some of the kids at preschool. Totally where I am.
      I think my biggest problem was making all my parenting choices (staying home, deferring dreams, attachment parenting) based on what I know is best for him and totally ignoring what’s best for me. The next one might be in care while I go back to work or finish the PhD. Because I’m not very much good for anyone. Until I see the rest of the parents at preschool, and I know I’m doing just fine. ;-)
      Keep me posted on the 4-year-old plus baby thing, because I need advice and cautionary tales.

  16. I left a comment on this before! Where did it go?

    Trust me, it was celebratory of your awesomeness. And your honesty and your humor and your perceptiveness. And spirited kiddos with spirited mums. And pixie dust.

    Wait. I don’t think there was any pixie dust.

    Stupid Tinkerbell commercials.

    • the magic of the internet, Ink, is that I got the pixie dust even though it might have been a figment of your imagination. And it made my melancholy all sparkly.

  17. My biggest piece of advice (and caution) is thus: keep your eldest’s germs away from your baby. We weren’t careful enough apparently and baby almost died (stopped breathing, had to do CPR and call 911). Then we were in the hospital for four days. So if your eldest has a cold, don’t let him hug and kiss the baby for a while. I never thought anything like a cold could be fatal, but it almost was. Once the baby is somewhat older and stronger (a few months old instead of five weeks) there will not be so much danger.

    • Holy freaking not okay, Fie. Holy crud. I can’t imagine. So sorry you had to go through that. I will sanitize the older child to within an inch of his life. F—ing hell, Fie. F—-ing hell.

  18. “holy freaking not okay” is right. We’re okay now — until the medical bills come. Little brother seems to have a bit of dramatic flair. But older brother can compete. He took a head-first dive off of monkey bars today. He’s okay, but i had at least one heart attack and a near stroke. Kids!!!

  19. I hope you don’t mind a comment from a childless person, but… this post targets two reasons I didn’t have kids. One, that though I actually like children, I was pretty sure I just wasn’t up to the job of raising one. I was honest to myself about that particular limitation, and I think I was right. And secondly, I was terrified of having to spend the rest of my life in that blink-blink-blink mode. The rhetoric of motherhood, as you note, is that it always should be the best and glorious and fulfilling, and I couldn’t imagine that it really was that un-mixed an experience. And because I suspected that it was hard and terrifying and involved surrendering a lot of the independence I worked hard to achieve, it seemed doubly cruel and alienating to me to have to constantly deny that. Indeed, if there were more support for the full range of the motherhood experience — the rewards AND the frustrations — I might have felt better able to face it. Posts like this one are so rare.
    I hope I haven’t offended anyone — I find that discussions of these parenting between the childed and the non-childed often end in hurt feelings, despite everyone’s best intentions. So, if somehow I’ve come across as insensitive, please forgive. I just wanted to express my appreciation of this from a somewhat different set of life experiences and perspectives.

    • Oh, squadrato, this is a totally welcome comment. [And for the record, I’ve seen your posts on other blogs and always felt from your language that you were an ambivalent parent, not an anti-parent. See how well you write the careful language?] I know how frighteningly terrible the back and forth can be between parents and those who are childfree, but I find that intelligent women have more in common with each other than whether they have a used uterus.
      [I love the terms childed and un-childed. So close to chided and unchided.]
      Your two main arguments for remaining childless are exactly the ones that colored our 6 year debate about whether to or whether not to. I wish there were more support for mothers, too, but I also wish there was LOUD, articulate celebration of those who approach a decision this life changing and say, “You know what? I don’t wanna.” It’s a shame how those who don’t want children, or those who only want one are shamed by society and called no end of names. But we are pretty tolerant of those who do a terrible job parenting. Don’t get me started on tax incentives for having kids.
      As circumspect goes, your comment was about as careful as is humanly possible, and I welcome you here any time to make *any* comments you want, even if we have a difference of opinion, and including ‘shut up…you chose to have this sweet little maniac so deal with it.”
      I love a good intellectual debate, and I really am not so wrapped up in any aspect of my life or work or personality that I can’t be somewhat objective. I hope.
      For the record, if you ever get baby lust, just search this blog for “ambivalent.” It should catch most of the posts that will get you back into the “holy crud why isn’t this in the Hallmark section for Mother’s Day?” mode.

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