Fish or Cut Bait?

One of the hardest things about visiting a place where I used to live is that there is never enough time to see everyone I want to see.  And so I find that when I visit these metropolitan areas, instead of announcing to my friends on Facebook where I will be, I sneak into town instead, letting people know individually that I’ll be there and want to catch up.  My most recent trip to a former city of residence was to Washington, D.C., and I prioritized friends and family with babies I hadn’t met yet.  As a single woman with no children, I understand how unfair this is to my friends who don’t have kids, but I expect to be in DC again later this year, and I try to cut myself the same amount of slack that I cut other people, so I am going to assert my innocence in this matter.

I babysat a twenty-one-month old boy on Friday evening so his parents could go to a special farm table dinner for their anniversary.  I cheered for my 5-year-old nephew at soccer practice and scrimmage and coaxed a smile out of his ill seventeen-month-old sister on Saturday morning.  I met my friend’s seventeen-month-old daughter on Saturday afternoon when I also learned that my friend is pregnant again.  I had breakfast on Sunday with a close friend from law school and her husband and four-year-old, who had to give me many, many injections for the dread disease that she diagnosed in me (she and I also ended up in timeout separately for using bad language).  I had lunch on Sunday afternoon before rushing out to Dulles (scheduling travel into and out of Dulles – HUGE MISTAKE) with a group of women who used to work with me.  Two of them have new children I haven’t met, one is newly engaged, and another one casually admitted that she has a serious boyfriend.

These reunions were bittersweet for me.  I’m older than most of these women by roughly five to ten years.  Measuring by my mother’s yardstick, my friends are ahead of me – good men in their lives, children already there or on the near horizon, “real” lives begun.  My mother’s yardstick doesn’t bother me, because I have my own yardstick, and I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made.  I do feel distance, though.  It’s not the distance that’s created by lagging behind in a race, but the distance you feel when you realize that you might be on a completely different path from your friends.  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” but Frost didn’t mention that sometimes you won’t notice the roads diverging for years, and when you do, you might be overcome with conflicting emotions, especially if you are about to come down with a cold.

I’m so happy for my friends, and I hope that it’s a happiness unmarred by envy.  Truthfully, I’m still trying to process whether that’s true.  It is pure joy to see what great mothers they all are.  I’m not surprised that they’re great mothers, but it’s inspiring to see how calm they are and how easy they make this hard work look.  The weekend made me realize that part of the reason that I’m not a mother is that the universe can sense my ambivalence about motherhood.  I love children and playing with them and watching them find their way in a world that wasn’t built for people their size.  But I worry that I’m not patient enough to do what a parent is supposed to do to keep these tiny people alive and teach them right from wrong.  I worry that I’ll resent the loss of freedom and the ability to jump on a plane to fly to DC and babysit someone else’s child on a whim.  Everyone says the tradeoff is worth it, but I think people underestimate how selfish I can be, and I worry that I won’t think the tradeoff is worth it, and then I feel terrible for my poor, non-existent, completely fabricated in my mind child whose mother is a total bitch.

I got taken down by a cold on Sunday, one of those colds that sweeps your legs out from under you in minutes rather than days.  And because I felt under the weather, I retreated from my friend’s bright and funny and sassy four-year-old daughter when normally, she and I would have been inseparable, fast friends.  I didn’t have the energy to pay her the amount of attention I wanted to, and her intelligence and extraversion overwhelmed me.  I will regret that for years.  There were four other women eager to hear her stories and engage her in interesting and deep discussions about wasp stings and jewelry and the meaning of life, but you can see how this would feed into my concerns about not being selfless enough or bighearted enough to be a good mother.  I am trying to gather enough energy to leave the house to buy Fireball whiskey, Nyquil, and pho to speed my cold’s disappearance; if I had to change a diaper right now, I would burst into tears.

I know that being sick makes me melodramatically emotional.  I read the mommy blogs when people post links on Facebook or Twitter, and I know that everyone is struggling, that nobody is perfect.  But I also know that I’m running out of time to resolve my ambivalence, make peace with the decision, and sally forth with intention, whatever I decide.  I wish it were as easy to do as it is to type.

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4 Responses to Fish or Cut Bait?

  1. Meg says:

    CC, I think you should give yourself more credit. When and if you decide the time is right for you, you will make a GREAT mom! Just think of all of the cool travel stories and adventures you can tell your children…. not to mention the ones you will take them on!

  2. AZ says:

    I want to know what words you taught Elana. Because that’s who I’m guessing you time-outed with.

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