In younger days, I walked home for lunch sometimes, in the spring, when the skies warmed skin hidden for months, when cherry blossoms would bloom at that cottage on the corner of Henry and Central, coloring the road for days. My memory, likely distorted by time and wistful nostalgia, remembers that little world bright and shiny, like chrome, the oval above me always the bluest color of bird, the leaves that desperate green reaching for the sunlight.
My feet would stumble, tickle, dance their way the 4 blocks home, across the street, through the RC Church, where I’d yell to hear my life echo, down the hill, rolling in the sweet tended lawn, down my street, past Mrs. Tobin’s, past the Schmidt’s and their dog, to my home, white siding and dusty gravel surrounding, like the desert it’s dirt kicked back.
My mother would be there, bathed in sunlight, standing in the kitchen by the curtains her hands sewed, hanging against the bricks my father laid. Smiling, with the light of a star shimmering around her smile.
She was always there. In my memories, my mother was always home. She was never waiting-when I was smallest she took in alterations-some one’s dress pants for a wedding, tucking the waistband of someone dying, adding the lace collar to a shirt judged too immodest. But she was home, covered a thick slice of bread with cheap margarine, fending off my questions with “food-that’s what’s for dinner.” and a pat on the rear. A few years later, she only worked behind the house, in a small flower store.
I’d go to the store after school, sit on a stool as her perfectly manicured nails gently worked random stems and petals into almost works of art. Even while working in a mess, she was immaculate.
But on the days we’d be at home for lunch, I might eat my sandwich and drink my water in front of the T.V. I’d mess with the antenna until finding CBS, and I’d watch Leave it To Beaver.
The simple perfected world shining there. The ironed aprons, the smiling faces. Everyone so content in their black and white world where bad things were paper cuts and lost games. It reflected my life if I squinted, my mother home with us, my father working the long day, home at 5 to read the paper in his chair, carefully selected one Christmas. We were the nuclear family, reflected back at ourselves. Happy.
Except for the fact that it was all a bunch of lies.
I was being abused. My mother would have just found out she likely had cancer. Money was tight. I considered it incredible and an act of fantastic parenting that I had a happy childhood, a blissfully ignorant one. But I don’t know who my mother was. I’ve never known what her dreams were for me, her desires. I’ve never known her needs.
We set our standards by the ancient memories of what 4 or 5 screenwriters decided to show our own mothers, those years ago. Uncomplaining, happy women, whose lives are structured around cooking, cleaning, photo albums, us if we were lucky. Mothers who had no tongue it seemed, who lived lives without desire or angry or peace. Just the vapid smile that cooked pie for Sunday dinner. I grew up around this standard, and watch as it’s replicated now, only it’s online instead of on the television.
There is peace in that vision. A large part of me calls out to it like a starving child to food. It satisfies something, lets me pretend that it would be an easier life. So long as I forget about drunken bridge nights, tranquilizers, and a broiling unhappiness left just under the surface, it remains so. It remains a vision, instead of a reality.
I think of myself a few years ago, searching the internet for something similar to my life at the time, which wasn’t the sun filled kitchen of my mother’s, but a darker place, filled with anger, dissatisfaction, awe, fear, a terrifying fear, and love. A giant cauldron of confusion that I couldn’t settle.
I found scrapbooking tips. I found ways to use tater tots. I found all the June Cleaver I could possibly want, tied up in CSS and advertising, with only positive happy things to say.
I’d switch to the news, and read about desperate parents doing desperate things. I’d read about children homeless in cities, hungry in smaller ones.
I’d search some more, and find scary and nonsensical rants against Unicef and Mr. Clean sponges. But still, with the smiles.
I’d flip back to me, and realize that I still didn’t feel smiley. And dammit, I didn’t want to. I knew then, as I know now, that the perpetual blue sky, the happy smiley face forever? These are figments of a social cluster that wants to believe, desperately so, that if we think it, it will be. These are the strands of a culture that isolates and humiliates mothers. This is a world that makes motherhood, and parenting itself, divisive and ultimately, dangerous.
How long can we suppress who we are? Do we owe it to the world at large to keep it all in, to only show the good stuff, to only say nice things? Why do we, as women, expect other women to fall nicely into our categories, even if they drown inside them?
I, being human, can both love my daughters, and want to sell them to a passing caravan. All at once. As my father has admitted to wanting to do with me, many MANY times during my childhood and adolescence. And my father loves me, fiercely, would pull the moon down for me if only I’d ask.
However, he is a father, and allowed the weakness of reality.
I, being human, and a mother, sometimes wish I could run away, for a day, maybe a week. I fantasize of a little cabin in the woods and writing workshops, good wine, thick vellum paper and heavy black pens. The sound of the wind through trees and the crunch of snow underneath fox paws.
The mistake made by looking at June, or Lucy, or any number of moms currently on the internet is in believe that motherhood should be and IS their identity. I have a full time job, but I don’t identify by that. I’m a mother, a wife, a business analyst, a writer, an artist, a farter, I’m many things, And being many things gives me emotions and beliefs that are as multi faceted as that diamond I was lusting after the other day, the one with the stars trapped in it.
It makes me a full and complex person. It makes the smile on my face when my daughters do something funny or wonderful or so much fuller. It takes me beyond June, and into the world. It makes me real.
We have a responsibility, us mothers. We have the responsibility to be real. To be heard. To lay down foot prints for other new mother’s staring at their kids saying “I don’t like him very much right know” so they will know this is ok. It’s not true that love and puppy dogs will blow out your ass when you give birth. Love grows, slowly, in a heart that’s capable of seeing the darkness for what it is, waving at it, and walking on by.
We have a responsibility to echo each other, to show that admitting your faults is strength, to show that baring the soul, bending down and taking a look, isn’t a bad idea.
We have a responsibility to our children to be real 3 dimensional people, not just caricatures they’ll remember as if in a dream.
We have a responsibility to ourselves, to be the fullest versions of us we can.