After you’ve been a parent for a while, you begin to take the fact that your children are in the world for granted. It’s as if they’ve always been here. Every once in a while you have a flashback to when they were born, or to life before motherhood, and at those moments you marvel at your transformation.
That’s right: your transformation. We’re used to talking about motherhood in terms of the changes our children go through, but the truth is it is our own changes that we struggle with the most. How did I get here? is a common refrain of all mothers. You even begin to forget what you were like before you had children.
You may have never intended to have children or felt particularly maternal. And yet suddenly—and it does seem to happen suddenly, despite nine months of incubating your child inside you—you find yourself turned inside out (in more ways than one). Your perspective changes. You may feel joy, you may feel terror, but whatever you feel, it is completely different from anything you’ve felt before.
I had my first child right before I turned 22. By the time I was 28, I had four. I became totally defined by that fact. Everywhere I went, I had four “appendages.” Everything I did, or wanted to do, became filtered by how it would affect my children.
To give you an idea of what motherhood can do to you, I need to make it clear that all I’ve ever wanted to do was write. And yet, in the key years of my children’s childhoods, I didn’t even keep a journal. Oh, I tried. But there was always something that required my mother “hat” instead of my writer “hat.” I wrote some, even had some things published, but it was never to the degree that I had envisioned it would be before I had children.
Did I resent that? Sometimes. But most of the time I was so wrapped up in the experience of being a mother, I didn’t have the time or the inclination to write about it. And even when I did write, I found that all I cared to write about had something to do with motherhood. No longer did my entire existence revolve around me. Now it was revolving around what these little beings were doing to me. I was a different person and sometimes I didn’t even recognize myself.
Children make you do things that you would have never thought possible when you were childless. Answering questions about your private parts, teaching your children how to clean theirs, (not to mention trying to figure out what to call them), trying to reason with a two-year-old (or a teenager), routinely cleaning up pee, poop and vomit, pretending to be the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, and keeping the pretense up even after you’re pretty sure your children have figured out the truth, soldiering on when you’re so exhausted you could drop, trying to be fair about who gets to ride “shotgun,” robbing your child’s piggy bank for lunch money, resigning yourself to never ever being alone again.
It does get better. Your children get potty-trained, they start school, they help around the house (if you threaten them enough), they start earning their own money, they learn to drive. They move on.
We do, too, if we’re lucky. But we never stop being mothers.