I have become “that mother” on Instagram and I hate it as much as you do. Well, almost.
I can’t stop posting pictures of my kids. I realize I’m doing it but I can’t stop. We’re supposed to post interesting things that happen to us. Often the most interesting thing that happens to me is “Hey look at my baby! Isn’t he cute? He’s cute right? Look how cute!”
And I feel better when you agree, because this is what I’ve got right now. This is kind of all I have.
Yeah, I feel a little pathetic, a little lost. I feel a little boring. I wish I had something more interesting to say.
I imagine I’ve been unfollowed by lots and lots of people.
Damn that Janelle can’t stop posting pictures of those fucking kids.
The other day I drove around for 3 and a half hours in retrieval of 3 of my 4 children. The timing was just wrong enough that I had 45-minute intervals between each pick-up, meaning I couldn’t really do anything between stops, so I just sat in parking lots and drove around for 3.5 hours. I nursed the baby in the front seat like 4 times.
By the end, I hated every human in my car, on the road, in the town, and possibly on the planet.
I work in Georgia’s co-op preschool so now I know all her little preschool songs. The other day Mac got home from work and we sang one together, for him. It was a song about a fish getting eaten by a bigger fish and then that one getting eaten by a whale and on and on and there are little hand motions.
WHO THE FUCK IS THIS HUMAN SINGING PRESCHOOL SONGS?
Sing along folks. Here we go.
After preschool Georgia has “resting time” and I call it “resting time.” Who the hell talks like that?
And my sister-in-law told me about a ticket system for screen time and we’re trying it. Each kid has a little ticket jar thing made out of YES YOU GUESSED IT, Mason jars.
I HAD THEM DECORATE MASON JARS, people.
Sometimes I look around at this stay-at-home-mom life and I’m so bored and over it and tired I want to scream out my car window “I’m NOT THE MOTHERFUCKING BUTLERRRRR!”
(But I am.)
Other times I spend a good 15 minutes playing with my baby on his changing table. You take his diaper off and it’s like somebody plugged him into a power outlet. His little arms and legs kick up and down and he squeals and looks at me and I bury my nose in his neck and kiss him until I can’t kiss anymore because I’m worried he’s going to pee on my face. I laugh those loud, free cackles from a place more genuine than any place I’ve ever known.
But no matter how many times I drive kids around and wash diapers and kiss baby rolls and say stupid kid shit and nurse and cook and clean, I never feel like this is all I am. I never feel like I don’t want more. I never feel like there isn’t a “me,” hovering just beneath the surface, going through the motions but also holding on to something else.
Once again I realize: Motherhood is my occupation. It is not my definition.
It will never be my definition.
I did not become some “better version” of myself the second a baby exited my vagina. I did not suddenly morph into the G-rated Janelle model, complete with infinite patience and virtuous speech in soothing tones. My faults did not leave with the placenta. My interests did not transform into an age-appropriate Pinterest craft board. My personality did not fade into a Daniel Tiger theme song.
I stayed me. Well, sort of. A part of me went away, straight-up died, actually. And that was hard enough.
The externalities sure have changed, but the rest? Same. This gets confusing sometimes, because I read things like this and it seems some women BECOME this gig completely, as if who they are, or were, fades into spit-up and non-swear words and their kids become all of it and the end of it and I can’t relate. I used to wonder if that’s how I “should” be doing motherhood. Now I realize that’ just her gig. This is mine.
She says she can’t talk to her single friends anymore because she’s no longer dating. If the day ever comes that I can’t talk to people I love about their lives simply because I’m not currently experiencing the exact thing they are, please shoot me, point-blank, and walk away.
If I ever “don’t know how to not talk about my kids,” or “swear like a 2-year-old” (as opposed to a respectable fucking adult) read me some Hemingway and a touch of Bukowski and kick me in the shins, twice, for I will have reached full douchebag status.
They are my job. They are my family. They are the loves of my whole freaking life.
But I’m still, always, separate. They are not my reason for existence.
There’s a line in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale where a girl looks at her mother and says “I am not your justification for existence.”
I like my music. I like folk and Americana and bluegrass and the Dead. I fucking hate kid music. Every day I get in the car with my coffee to drive 2,000 children to school (well that’s how it feels) and I turn on my music and I often turn it on loud because it makes me feel human, and free for a moment, and it gets me going AND I LIKE IT.
I like hearing live music. We take our kids to festivals even though half the people are high and we drop our kids with people who love them so we can hit bars and clubs and concert halls at night, to dance and dance.
I like to read philosophy and literary theory. I like to read complicated books and ideas about gender studies and queer studies and critical race. I like to talk to scholars about how to teach writing. I don’t get to do this much anymore, but it’s never gone.
I cuss like a motherfucking sailor, but I try not to in front of my kids. I fail.
I like to smoke cigarettes, but only do it when I camp or smoker friends come over. If I weren’t an alcoholic, I’d like to drink whiskey. I like to talk dirty to my husband. I like what sometimes follows.
I love my friends with kids. I love my friends without kids. I love to talk to them about their lives, without kids. I love that they help me with my life with kids.
I write. I’m a writer. I write in my head as I drive. I write in the shower. I write while doing dishes. Half my ideas flow down the drain with the warm milk from dinner cups. It’s okay, but I wish I had more time.
Sometimes my life feels like one giant battle to keep myself alive. Not physically. That’s easy. But mentally, spiritually, psychologically, because so much of the occupation of motherhood not only feels unfulfilling, but in direct opposition to my interests, personality and talents.
It’s kind of hard to write when you’re so tired your eyes are twitching, when you’re insane with irritability.
My days are days of trying to serve my kids, be their mother, help them grow, support the shit out of them, keep a house, govern their education, feed them, bathe them, nurse them and hold them WHILE MAINTAINING A SENSE OF MYSELF.
And I am, right now, 100% a “SAHM.” Stay-at-home-mother.
It’s a job. A hard one. An insane one. A good one.
And yeah, for now I’m that mom on Instagram. The slightly pathetic one on Facebook.
Someday I’ll be something different.
Or maybe not different at all. Surely the externalities will change.
I keep getting torn down, redefined, rebuilt and recrafted into people I’ve never meant to become, never knew existed, maybe don’t even like that much, only to look in the mirror at the end of the day and see the same damn woman staring back at me who’s always been staring back at me.
I tell her hold up, lady. It’s an occupation, not your definition. And you’re doing alright.
I hold my baby on my hip and try to write a few words.
What comes out is this.
And a new photo on Instagram.