Small Talk: There’s no ‘me’ in motherhood

It’s 10 a.m. on a Saturday, and I am sitting at the kitchen table gulping down a hastily prepared bowl of cereal while my children play just outside the kitchen window.

My neighbor comes to the front door. Since my children have left all the doors wide open, I can just wave her in.

“C’mon in!” I say cheerily. “I can’t get up from the table right now. If my children see me move from this chair, they’ll presume that I have relinquished my tenuous hold on mealtime.”

That is their signal that I am once again free to turn the jump rope, throw the baseball, get out the Playdoh, play a round of Junior Monopoly, build a castle or fetch them something more to eat or drink. 

My friend smiles knowingly.

Despite seven years of sharing the majority of my days and nights with them, my children remain unconvinced that I really need to take time for such frivolities as food consumption, bathroom visits, personal grooming or, heaven forbid, a phone call. They have always viewed any interruption in my attention to them with high annoyance, disdain and distrust. Even when they don’t actually say it, I can read it in their eyes. 

“Oh, sure!” they seem to be thinking. “She says she needs to finish combing her hair, but what is she really doing?”

I try to remind myself just how much importance combing hair carries in their world right now. It is just one of many pointless nuisances inflicted on them by their silly mother. Why anyone would do it voluntarily is beyond their understanding.

I realize I hold the strange duality of being both boss and lackey. Even I am a little baffled about how that is sustained. It isn’t that they don’t understand. I can always get a giggle out of them by responding to their demands with the exaggerated impression of a weary servant. But beneath their chuckle is the thinly disguised attitude “Let her eat cake, but not on my time.”

Funny how no one ever mentioned to me how one must submerge one’s personal needs and schedule to be a mother. Had I heard it in the context of my self-indulgent, non-hormonally bound, pre-child status, I simply wouldn’t have believed it. I know I would have smiled smugly and thought what a sap this woman was to let her children run roughshod over her, demanding such extravagances as three meals a day plus snacks, games, books at bedtime, and being pushed on the swing and merry-go-round. 

My friends with teenagers comfort me with assurances that my children will all too soon discover the joys of excessive hair combing that ties up the bathroom for weeks. And as for needing Mom, well, that will vanish like smoke.

Worst of all, you lose those warm, squishy kisses and flying knee hugs — this servant’s daily bonus that can even banish daydreams of that two-week cruise I sometimes serve up with my cornflakes. 

Jean is busy looking for a place to store her Christmas tree. Enjoy a column from 1993.

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