12.18.2006

The Man I've Become

I used to be a dancer.

Not a great dancer, for sure, but good enough to expect front and center placement in high school productions. Good enough to lounge around the performing arts department during free periods in my leotard and flashdance-cut sweatshirt, feeling artsy and vaguely smug. Good enough for a former classmate at last month's reunion to have asked me right off the bat "so are you still dancing?"

"Are you still doing gymnastics?" I shot back.

Just before becoming pregnant with Thalia, I vowed to get back into shape with an intro dance class at my gym. "I hate aerobics," I used to complain, "after dancing for sooooo many years the classes are just sooooo repetitive. Yawn."

What I learned is that after not dancing for sooooo many years, I had no right to cop an attitude. The moves came right back. The body, however, did not.

Okay, I flat out sucked.

Not just sucked for me, but sucked compared with the 200 pound woman on one side of me, and the 60-something grandmother on the other side. My steps were awkward. I forgot to point my toes. I wasn't flexible enough to get my leg up on the low barre - the one I learned on when I was four - and when we sat with our legs straddled during warmup, I think I maxed out at about 30 degrees. My apparently atrophied muscles absolutely refused to cooperate during cross-the-floor tour jetes, landing me nearly on my head at least twice. It was inconceivably frustrating to find myself incapable of doing what I once did so well.

(To say nothing of how my ass looked in sweatpants.)

The very same feeling rushed back to me Friday as Nate packed for his four-day boy trip.

For the past several months, I've worked out of the house more frequently (a request from Nate that I both respect and resent), leaving him to master the day-to-day caretaking responsibilities. And as I watched him haul the overnight bag from the front hall closet to his dresser, I got panicky. It was as if the time away from the house has caused my maternal muscles to shrivel and be replaced with anxiety and doubt. Do I peel the apples first? Which video is she liking these days? How long does she usually nap in the mornings? You mean you didn't prepare four days worth of healthy and nutritious meals and label and color code them by daypart and line them up in the fridge? I'M DOOMED!

Saturday morning, after he left, I did not feel like the same woman who nursed an infant for six months and could have told you in my sleep (and often did) which boob came next. I found myself questioning every decision. Was 9:30 generally when Nate put her down for a nap? Is this the section Nate usually takes her in Barnes and Noble? Does Nate ever give her this many cookies to keep her happy?

It's a strange way to parent, this second-guessing business. It's a strange way for me to live altogether.

And that's when I realized: I felt like the daddy.

I don't mean to insult dads; some of my best friends are dads. But I've read far too many essays ranting about my stupid husband who tried to feed her peanut butter at 3 months. Or my bonehead husband who bought diapers fit for a six year old. Or my idiot husband who was playing video games while she charged towards the light socket with a fork in hand. And now I know why my first instinct is generally "oh, give the guy a break."

Only unlike the stupid husband, I'm the mommy. And mommies are supposed to know whether their babies like parmesan on their pasta or bubbles in their bath. Mommies are supposed to carry an extra pacifier in their purse at all times, and remember to grab a few board books on the way out the door. A mommy isn't supposed to turn to discover her child climbing dangerously out of her stroller after having neglected to buckle her in, just in time for a neighbor mommy to jump in and save the day.

We can't be stupid mommies. We just can't. Forget whatever detriment there might be to our children; our self-esteem can't handle it.

After a not particularly nutritious lunch, Thalia and walked up Atlantic Avenue into the crisp sunshine, past the smell of exotic herbs and hot, fresh falafel escaping from the open door of Sahadis, when a shriek pierced the steady hum of Saturday traffic. A car skidded out and seemed, just for a second, to be headed our way. And without thinking, I thrust Thalia's stroller with unimaginable force into the nearest protected doorway.

The car steadied and drove away. We were fine.

Me, I was better than fine.

The muscles had retained their memory. The instincts were sharp. There was no second-guessing what anyone else would do or not do in that situation. And I was the mommy again.


36 Comments:

Blogger metro mama said...

Once the mommy, always the mommy.

Does this mean I'll eventually stop finding pacifiers in my coat pockets?

12/18/06, 8:34 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

It's amazing and comforting to me to know that maternal instinct is really that strong.
As a first time mother, it's hard to imagine how I will change, how I will become so feircely protective of another human being that you put your own life second.

12/18/06, 9:07 AM  
Blogger kfk said...

And always the mommy. In the end, we always step up to the plate and deliver!

12/18/06, 9:12 AM  
Blogger Lumpyheadsmom said...

I so feel you on this - at least the part about feeling like the substitute caretaker, I always sucked at dancing.

I wonder if it's because I try so hard to maintain my husband's routine when I'm with the baby. Even when they're not necesarily the methods I would choose, I feel obliged to stick with them for consistency's sake. So I end up second-guessing, even when I shouldn't.

Or so I tell myself.

12/18/06, 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think my husband and I both feel a little like this. You know, our "Other Mom" is the perfect one.

-toyfoto

12/18/06, 9:47 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

Like riding a bike, eh? Only more instinctive. I bet by today you know what video she likes and what snack she prefers. It doesn't take long to get back into the swing of things.

12/18/06, 10:06 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Once a mom, always a mom. It becomes a genetic part of us. Whether we have kids to mother or not...

The other day I was with my best friend, who has no kids of his own, and I was scolding him about his pathetic bachelor eating habits.

He just looked at me and said "Yes, Mom."

You just can't escape the mom identity once you've been a mom. Just wait till Nate comes home and you start telling him what Thalia likes.

I'm sure Nate will really appreciate the help.

12/18/06, 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Much More Than A Mom said...

I'm glad to hear it does come back. I'm SO SO SO incredibly freaked out about going back to work in April and letting a babysitter play mommy during the day. Damn mortgage. Damn student loans. If I wasn't educated, I wouldn't have a house or a job to go back to, and sadly, that may be easier.

12/18/06, 11:58 AM  
Blogger Piece of Work said...

MOstly off topic, but I did want to mention: I also asked Lance to work AWAY from home more often. It's really difficult to respect that he is working when I'm home struggling with the kids. It feels like he's just ignoring us when in fact he IS working. Things got much better once he started taking his computer to starbucks instead of the living room.
And-of COURSE you're the mommy. Whether you put parmesan on her pasta or not--and she knows it!

12/18/06, 12:12 PM  
Blogger Oh, The Joys said...

Good work, Mom!

12/18/06, 12:47 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

The day to day stuff is one thing and while it's important in certain ways, him knowing it all is a great thing. But you know the big important things and that's what a great mommy knows....no matter how busy she is.

12/18/06, 1:05 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Thanks for this post. I often feel like this also - as the parent who doesn't know the detail of the routine, and that's almost harder to take than having less time with my boys, sometimes.

It's reassuring to know that I'm not alone.

12/18/06, 1:35 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Do I EVER know that feeling WELL!

Do you even want to know about after #2 (in my experience) or, well, probably not...

Anyway welcome back, even though it was a crazy snap back in situation.

And I'm so jealous you were a *good* dancer. I tried hard for twenty years and hit "you don't suck totally." Although, to this day, dancing remains my most mortifying moment and a great love.

I did take adult dance and was happy to be with others as inept as I.

Now I reserve it for entertaining my children in the privacy of my own home.

12/18/06, 1:46 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Do I EVER know that feeling WELL!

Do you even want to know about after #2 (in my experience) or, well, probably not...

Anyway welcome back, even though it was a crazy snap back in situation.

And I'm so jealous you were a *good* dancer. I tried hard for twenty years and hit "you don't suck totally." Although, to this day, dancing remains my most mortifying moment and a great love.

I did take adult dance and was happy to be with others as inept as I.

Now I reserve it for entertaining my children in the privacy of my own home.

12/18/06, 1:50 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Oh, I hate that feeling - my husband takes care of our 3 month old while I'm at work and I totally feel left out by the time I make it home - blah

12/18/06, 2:10 PM  
Blogger Queen Haline said...

I'm glad to hear that you saved Thalia's life, but in general, it is clear to me that you need to be easier on yourself. Whether it is Nate or a nanny - you are a working mom - and you need people to help you raise your kids. You are not any worse of a mother for not knowing if she goes down at 9:30 or 10. Face it - you can't be everywhere at once.

12/18/06, 2:51 PM  
Blogger J said...

Oh, you rock. It's hard to not be the parent at home, with all of that home knowledge...then again, sometimes it's hard to be the one at home, dealing with everyday stuff like that.

Glad your muscles worked, and you're a mommy again. ;)

12/18/06, 3:08 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I think you just wrote my life and daily thoghts exactly. You have just written it all out so much better than I could have. I've been grappling with the same thing for a very long time. My husband is a SAHD, and when I take over the kids on the weekends, I feel like a fish out of water. I forget to feed my son lunch. I never carry a tissue. Things that literally FLOOR other women when I tell them that (I don't divulge much on the subject anymore for obvious reasons). But I can't help but feel like a bystander watching my life flash by - a life that I created. And having no say in what goes on.

But you're right - all we need is a speeding car coming our way and our motherly instincts kick in. But what a terrible feeling that we lose them on occasion. The life of a working mom is so complicated, I think. Thanks for a great post on this subject. I have so many mixed emotions about it.

12/18/06, 3:31 PM  
Anonymous K said...

oh enlightenment -- sheesh -- enough with the spam.

anyway, when did I miss that you were a ballet dancer?

I just watched an old video of mine with Q --

and I'll tell you what -- here's hoping for muscle memory during labor...

does that transfer?

12/18/06, 4:25 PM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

I was a terrible dancer. I worked really really really hard to be mediocre. So the only thing I've retained is flexibility.

And thanks for the reminder to give the guys a break. They aren't stupid, nor are they even careless. They just aren't always as hyper-aware as most mommies usually are.

12/18/06, 6:25 PM  
Blogger Kyla said...

Mommy muscles never get too atrophied.

12/18/06, 11:21 PM  
Anonymous Kymba said...

Gracious, an experience lik that'll take years off your life.

But mommy that you are, it'll never hurt T. Good catch.

12/18/06, 11:34 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

When I get home from a business trip, I know the feeling. The household is running along smoothly (maybe a little messily) and I step in, trying to figure out how to "help." It's getting better now, as Q gets older and recognizes the special times he has with both mommy and daddy.

12/18/06, 11:45 PM  
Blogger Queso said...

Soul sister, I'm so right there with you. Great post.

12/19/06, 12:39 AM  
Blogger Occidental Girl said...

Good for you, that's so cool.

And um, daypart? I am so down with that word.

12/19/06, 1:14 AM  
Anonymous dorothy said...

My hardest times as a mommy have been when I doubted myself. Don't doubt.

12/19/06, 10:31 AM  
Blogger Rohini said...

I am a working mother too and I just HATE it when anyone knows anything about my son that I don't... be it my husband or the maid. I usually put him to bed at night and he gives no trouble. But the maid puts him down for his afternoon nap during the week but on the weekend, I just can't seem to get him to sleep without a lot of complaining.... it bugs me that she ca do something better than I can

12/19/06, 12:04 PM  
Blogger ECR said...

I can most certainly be a stupid mommy! For me, that's more often than not the case. But I don't think my stupidity is any more detrimental to my daughter's developement than anyone else's, which is what keeps my sanity and self esteem safely in check :) And, yes, you are the mommy: before, now, and forever.

12/19/06, 1:50 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

You ARE the mommy. Mommy instinct never goes away. The moves might get rusty (yogurt first, then fruit? Sippy cup before or after meal? where the fuck do we keep the rectal thermometer?), but the instinct, the deeply-carried rhythm, those stay.

(I empathize totally, having handed over so much responsibility to our nanny since the car accident, which has been life saving, but mommy-morale-dampening. Until last night, or, rather, this morning, in the dark hour of the dawn, when WonderBaby would only rest her tooth-sore cheek upon MY breast, and I felt all the right moves come back to me.)

(Cannot, however, empathize with your dance talent. I am the most talentLESS of dancers, always have been, this despite a childhood wish to be Margot Fonteyn. All the grace of a wounded hippo, have I. But I deal with it.)

12/19/06, 2:18 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

I am going to sympathize with the old dancer in you. I danced from the time I was five right through college. When I tried to take a class again a few years later, my head remembered the steps but my feet just wouldn't comply. It wasn't so much fun anymore. After a few classes I stopped going; I have to get in shape before I try that again!

12/19/06, 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Izzy said...

It's never easy to learn someone elses routine and were you to do what you're doing for a little while, you'd develop your own, equally acceptable way of doing things. I'm loathe to use this expression but really...it's ALL good :)

12/19/06, 9:35 PM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

You da mom!

Those dancing muscles will come back -- they just have to!

Glad the car didn't come crashing your way....

12/19/06, 10:15 PM  
Blogger mad muthas said...

muscle memory and mummy instinct are there - it's just that you can forget it sometimes. well done your for a) going back to dance b) saving the day c) writing one of the best posts it's been my pleasure to read in ages!
x

12/20/06, 4:13 AM  
Blogger Overwhelmed! said...

Liz, this post speaks to me.

Since Oronzo is the stay-at-home parent, I often find myself asking him questions like, "Snuggle Bug goes down for a nap at 1:30 p.m., right?" or "Does he like carrots?"

There are times when I feel so out of place as a mom because I'm not your typical mom. But, like you, I do have those ingrained mommy instints that can never be taken away from me.

Great post!

12/20/06, 2:19 PM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

*sigh of relief.

I'm so glad you can breathe easier now, too.

12/21/06, 4:02 PM  
Blogger MommyWithAttitude said...

You're always the mommy, but I know what you mean (but if it makes you feel any better, I'm always with my kids and I still have people tell me that they're about to fall out of the shopping cart and so on... perhaps I shouldn't brag?).

I'm getting ready (hopefully) to put my kids in daycare for the first time, and I'm really struggling that some other person will be hugging them and feeding them and helping them wash their hands/go potty... And I'm trying to remember that that doesn't diminish what I am to them or what they are to me.

12/25/06, 12:34 PM  

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