As far back as I can remember, I never wanted kids. I also never wanted to get married. I was going to spend my life free, unattached, and focus on my work as a writer.
But do you know, the work scared me. No, it terrified me. Still does. Good writing needs to come from the gut. But my gut is ugly (or so I think) and I’ve been hiding it for decades.
That never made me happy. I was profoundly miserable for a good deal of my life. Throwing myself at the wrong men, the wrong kinds of excitement, like a drug addict in need of a hit to forget what a mess he’s made of his life.
At some point along the way I met a very decent man who was thoroughly smitten with me. After five weeks of dating, he proposed and I accepted.
That wasn’t the right call. My ugly gut rebelled. It wanted me to pull out. It was howling in protest.
I didn’t listen. I went ahead and got hitched. I was 30 years old, I figured I needed to grow up and settle down. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at some point? Had I not reached that point?
He always wanted children. I didn’t. After a few years, I figured, what the hell, isn’t that what married grown-ups do? Had I not reached that point?
That wasn’t the right call. Don’t get me wrong: I love my three kids beyond words. But after nearly 12 years of mom-hood, I want a break.
No, I need a break.
It has taken me a long time, but I finally achieved a certain level of maturity and the confidence that goes with it. I am more willing now than at any other point in my life to allow myself to be who I am. Ugly gut, warts, and all.
My first big turning point came a couple of years ago, when I told my husband I didn’t want to consider myself married anymore. It wasn’t him. It was me. Clichéd, much? But it was me. Or more accurately, my ugly gut, which would no longer tolerate being ignored.
I don’t hate the man I married; he’s a good guy and a great father. He’s far from perfect, but he hasn’t done anything wrong. I don’t blame him. I blame myself for agreeing to be bound by institutions I was never built for and working so hard at trying to become someone I was not.
I wasn’t attracted to anyone else. My decision to “unmarry” was not inspired by an illicit love affair. I’m quite done throwing myself at the wrong fellows and seeking the wrong kinds of excitement. No, my unmarrying had a lot more to do with getting to know my ugly gut better and use what’s in it to write my stories.
Like this essay. I sure didn’t write it to make me look good. But it is my truth, and I want it to come out because if I continue to leave it inside it will fester and kill me dead. I am not ready to die just yet.
I love my kids. They are beautiful, wonderful people and I delight in helping them grow into the best versions of themselves they can be. I try to be a good mother, but I can’t stand being a mom.
And no, they are not the same thing.
A mother is a life giver. A guide. A mentor. Someone who loves, unconditionally. I read somewhere before I first got pregnant that being a mother meant having your heart walk around on the outside of your body. I was OK with that. Still am.
A mom, on the other hand, is a cross between a maid and a social planner. I have nothing against maids. I admire their ability to put other people’s needs ahead of their own. I could never be that selfless. Just not how I’m built. Social planners are just weird.
Among my failings as a mom: I can’t stand the constant interruptions. The squabbles over nothing. The whining. The messes kids create everywhere they go. I’m tired of nagging, checking homework. I can’t stand school trips or parent-teacher meetings. I never understood why people have play dates. And I hate the person I become when, after being expertly ignored by everyone, I shout like a psychopath to get people’s attention to the fact that yes, of all things, you have to empty the litter box before going to school which you should do sort of nowish considering what time it is and the fact that you cleaning the litter box was the ONE CONDITION I agreed to get a freaking cat.
Many moms I know also hate all one or several aspects of their lives with kids. They bitch, usually after two solid glasses of wine and way too many carbs. Then they go back home and start cleaning and picking up dirty socks again. I can’t. There’s no amount of wine that can make me put up with this, and carbs make me bloat. I desperately need a quiet room of my own, not too far from my kids but physically separated by a street or two, and a door that locks. A space that stays clean and tidy and where nobody is invited. That’s the environment I need to be able to write.
And I do need to write. Starting now. I’ve delayed it far too long. The last time I wrote and published something that came from my gut was 1999. My first book, which my husband never really liked. The work of a young person, he said. Not mature enough.
I was so proud of that book.
For all I know he was right. But I shouldn’t have let his judgment affect me so much. I spent the intervening 18 years trying to be more mature in my writing. I had significant success doing that: I worked as a newspaper columnist for a while, had gigs in radio and national television as a know-it-all pundit. A mature know-it-all pundit. But I hated those gigs. Because I was only speaking from my head and not my gut.
And once again, my gut rebelled. It made me quit those jobs and forced me to take stock of my life. Why hadn’t I done the writing I was meant to do? I came up with an answer that was equal parts true and unpleasant.
Looking back now, I can see clearly how I let myself drift into marriage and motherhood as a way to avoid writing. Because writing scares me. Did I mention I’m terrified of writing from my gut? I’m re-reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (again), but what’s different from all my previous readings of that fantastic manifesto is that this time, I see Resistance for what it is. And I acknowledge it won a big fat round. But it hasn’t won the fight. That’s what I’m planning to do.
I am here to retake my place in the universe. Grow into me. Write my stuff. But I have a problem; I’m caught in daily mom routines that sap my energies.
The constant bickering. The pointless chores. The endless cleaning that never leads to a clean house — not even close. The birthday parties that are louder than a Iron Maiden concert. The toys everywhere. The clothes on the floor, the dead slug in the plastic container behind the doll bed in the cupboard…
I can’t stand it.
My precious space is taken over by mindless trivia. It’s like my days are swallowed by creative anti-matter. A black hole that sucks the best of my energy and wastes it on depressing nothingness.
Yes, you could say I resent this administrative nonsense. I know I’m not supposed to, based on a social convention that assumes you knew this was going to happen and agreed to it when you made those babies.
Well, for the record, I didn’t. I knew about the obvious. I’d seen babies before and knew they needed constant care. But… isn’t it the purpose of all this constant care that at some point the babies grow and require care that is less, how should I put this, less goddamn constant?
I have no idea where I went wrong. In a way it’s immaterial; I am where I am, and I must move forward from there. In the right direction. Towards my gut writing.
I realize it sounds terribly selfish. Maybe it is. But maybe allowing myself to be who I am is my way of being the best mother I can be for the three magnificent human — if terribly messy — beings I spawned.
I want to be a good mother. I just can’t be a mom. I hope my kids will understand.