Remember how excited you were as a kid when you got to school and realized there was a substitute sitting at your teacher’s desk? Well, get excited…because you have a sub today! I am pleased as punch to be turning over the blog to Elizabeth Roper, one funny lady and a great writer. Elizabeth and I met at a writer’s group and bonded over occasional pieces of pie and cups of coffee at one of those all night pancake houses likely to be the backdrop of an independent film. How writerly of us. With that said, I present “Under the Arbor”…
I was recently told I was not hot. Ouch. After I dusted off the old ego, I thought “OK. Everyone has different taste.” It was the reason I wasn’t hot. It was because I was…a mom. The implication being that I am somehow held apart from inspiring and having desire because I carried a child. Well, I’ll just hitch up my mom jeans and take my third eye and my hump and schlep on back to the bell tower.
Um hello…I hate to break it to all of you…moms like sex. How the hell do you think we all got pregnant in the first place? Do you think we want to chuck that all in for Sesame Street and dirty diapers? Not on your life. Yes, there are times that I would rather gauge out my own eyes then have another person hanging on me. But most of the time I long to be loved and desired, and yes even thought of as “hot” by random strangers. It’s a nice ego boost, one I shouldn’t have to give up simply because I carried another human for nine months.
I have been sent to The Arbor.
When I was in school, I had to read “Gone With The Wind”. I immediately swooned over the clothes and Rhett, but long after that passed one thing stuck with me. Buried between the battles and fiddle dee dees, there’s a section that describes the entire Southern hierarchy of behavior for a woman from girlhood to dotage. It describes the matrons of the County as being “under the arbor” at social events dressed in tacky clothes and discussing only childrearing and pregnancy related topics. The only plus was you got to eat what you wanted and belch with impunity. When I read this at the tender age of thirteen, I thought this was a fair trade. I mean, my mom and her friends wore tacky clothes and never really talked about much except us kids. She belched, and I never really thought much of it. Besides they were all old and married with children. Their lives were over.
Now that I am much older than thirteen and married with children, I have been relegated to the proverbial arbor against my will. Any social event, I am either chasing after my children or worrying about where they are or what they are doing. My formerly fashionable clothes have been replaced by a uniform of nondescript t-shirts and jeans, which are stained with food, spit up or substances unknown. I am haggard and have given up makeup for any second of extra sleep I can glean. My hair is in a perpetual ponytail and I have roots down to my ears. Every time I start any kind of an exercise routine a child gets sick, so those twenty extra pounds haven’t been ran off yet. It’s a miracle if I get a shower in the morning. I am too tired to even be embarrassed by my sudden lack of hygiene any more. I don’t even try to fight it. I begin to sink under the tide of demands from my children and give into the loss of personhood to motherhood.
Then part of me rebels. I’m the same person I was before the children were born. I like the same things, have the same ambitions. But suddenly, I’m expected to put this all aside and live only for my babies. Don’t get me wrong, I love them. I realize that they must come first because they are my responsibility, but why must I give up everything I am to do that? I talk to my husband he agrees I need time to myself to pursue my own interests. However, I don’t think he understands it’s not as easy as just leaving to go do what I want. Somehow, I am the only person in my toddler’s eyes qualified to get him a cheese stick and put him to bed. The worry something is wrong with them pulls on me with a tangible tug and keeps me from enjoying anything. I know my husband will take good care of them, and is probably more patient than I am, but it is engrained in me that I must be there because they need me. I can’t really define what the need me for that he can’t provide, but I feel it in the raised eyebrows of acquaintances when I finally make a run for it.
It begins in pregnancy when all anyone sees is the enormous belly and forgets there is a person attached to it. Strangers feel they have free reign to rub your stomach and make comments on your weight. Old ladies corner you in elevators and tell you in gynecological detail about their five hundred and seventy-two hour labor. Random people give you parenting advice you neither want or need. You have become just a vessel for a child not an independent person.
You think people will start seeing you again once the baby is born, but they don’t. Anytime you go anywhere, people grab for the baby but greet you as an afterthought. The cult of attachment parenting has made the expectation that a mother should sleep, eat and live attached to the baby. “Baby wearing” is even a new term. You can’t even go to the bathroom in privacy anymore. The baby must come too. Because that is exactly what you need after a million nights of no sleep, to be completely inseparable from your child. By the time the kids are toddlers and older, it is so easy to slip into that shared identity and destroy your own sense of self.
But somehow these expectations don’t follow for dads. Everyone likes to see a dad involved with his children, but it is not a given. A dad who chooses to stay home with his children is praised to the skies. A mom who chooses to stay home with her children is wasting her potential. A dad who chooses to work outside the home is lauded as the breadwinner and applauded for taking care of his family. A mom who chooses to work outside the home is derided for letting others raise her kids. Men say they want independent women, but when they dare to express an opinion contrary to their own they are shocked and want none of it. We’re all feminists on paper. We’re all liberated in theory. But there is a heaping helping of mommy guilt for everyone, no matter what option you choose.
I want to nurture my boys to become healthy happy adults, but I want to be able to nurture myself to keep growing and changing. I want my cake and to eat it too. This must be the stupidest expression in the English language. If you had cake, why the hell wouldn’t you want to eat it? Somehow, that’s not supposed to be in the cards for me. But I see a square of sunlight outside the trees. Perhaps…perhaps, I can make a run for it and escape The Arbor with my personhood and my boys.
By Elizabeth A. Roper
Elizabeth Roper is a computer geek by day and storyteller by night. The stories range from fantasy tales set in the mythical island of Barinth to bedtime stories for her two boys.
Beth lives in Missouri with her true loves, husband Pat and sons Duncan and Connor. She has written numerous short stories, two of which are featured in the Brass, Grease and Gears and Sojourn. Brass, Grease and Gears will be out later this year, while Sojourn is currently available for purchase. http://www.sojournanthology.com/index.php/volume-one