Without question motherhood has dominated every thought, every decision and every feeling I have had for the past 22 years. I am one of those women for whom the biological clock was a rhythmic sonic boom rather than a minuscule “tick.” That’s not to say that I went peaceably into the night of ‘conventional’ motherhood.
I won’t tackle the difficult subject of what ‘conventional’ motherhood is. I suspect there is no such thing. Suffice it to say that I am quite familiar with the antibacterial properties of bleach, and I have hosted my share of formal dinner parties complete with china, crystal and silver, but I am living proof that the American image of motherhood and real motherhood do not always converge. Real motherhood is about love, mentoring, guidance, teaching, transmitting values, protecting and caring…and sometimes laundry, dishes and grocery shopping. Martyrdom is not part of the program.
When daily chores became the basis of my performance evaluation, or rather, when I realized that my intrinsic value as a human being was being measured by whether socks were darned and matched, I knew I had a problem.
Performance of practical household tasks does not define a person’s parenting ability any more than education or wealth. If they did, I’d say my ex-husband was a horrible parent for refusing to move furniture or perpetually failing to repair a broken toilet. Preposterous…right? We never contend that only wealthy people should have children, or that no one with a Bachelor’s degree or below should have a family, so surely my ex will never contend to a judge that he should have custody of my children because I was challenged to get his meals on the table when he arrived home from work, or because I didn’t also earn enough money? Did I miss something?
The key to this curse appeared on the day the house was spotless and dinner was “on time.” The trash can was empty and in it’s proper place, and every other source of daily irritation had been pre-emptively addressed. I was dressed up like June Cleaver in blackface, and every child in the family ran from their room to kiss and hug conquering Hero/Dad as he arrived, triumphant, to the abode. Hero/Dad looked around with an angry stare, prepared to condemn, inhaled to let out a yell….but there was nothing to affix his anger onto. He sort of deflated and grumbled through the evening, seemingly frustrated that whatever blanket condemnation he had already concocted in his mind had not been uttered for that day.
I like the judge who told a conniving husband: “Isn’t it strange that since you no longer want your wife, all of a sudden she can’t do anything right?” Do I get credit for the beauty of the family’s garden with its richly diverse colors and shapes, or for the handcrafted Christmas ornaments, or the school projects I helped with? My ex told a (female) ‘friend’: “The only credit she (me) deserves is for those 4 great children she had.” The ONLY credit?! What..!?
In reality, I am an intelligent, warm, loyal, kind and highly accomplished person, but within my marriage, I was only as good as the burgers I cooked, the kitchen counter I wiped, or the laundry I folded. Everything else about me had to die. Am I bitter? You bet. But bitterness doesn’t define my future.
This post started out on the topic of motherhood. I went off track. The love I have for my 4 children used to spring from the tsunami of love within my marriage. Since that dried up, now I love Donald, Justine, Dominique and Julian in their own right for being the people they have grown to be. Nothing else has changed.