I am a mom. I have a proper name, but I think I forgot it. Even my husband refers to me exclusively as “Mommy.” My day starts with three boys in my bed. I nurse one and try to shush the second so the third can get some extra sleep. I am the guardian of everyone’s happiness.
All day long I wipe, carry, cuddle, feed, nurse. All day long: the same. Bedtime is an hours long struggle. Again, I wipe, carry, cuddle, bounce, nurse.
All I hear are PBS shows and Raffi. All I see are toys and baby gear. I go to the playground and the grocery store, but nowhere else. I look in the mirror and don’t recognize the wan, flabby reflection.
My partner seems to see me the same way. He needs me for clean laundry and an understanding ear for his day’s troubles. Sometimes I feel like I’m his mom too.
I used to have a job, and outfits, and make snappy comebacks that would make everyone in the room laugh.
I need to be more than Mommy. But there’s no room! How do I make room? I’m drowning here.
Dear Mom (oh, how I wish I had something else to call you!),
Let’s start with the clothes and let’s start slow. You have too much laundry to do already. Too many boys to chase after. Too little time. But maybe once a week you could dig out something you haven’t worn in a while. Just once a week. Even if you only wear it for an hour and even if it ends up Pollocked with peanut butter and spit-up, wouldn’t it feel nice to spend a little time in something impractical. Something with lace or buttons. Perhaps even—dare I say it?—a skirt? How about a top that isn’t nursing-friendly? Can you even recall what you look like in a crew neck sweater? It might be fun to see.
Next, a desire. A burning. An idea. Something that is only yours. It sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of sharing these past few years. You’ve been sharing your body, your breasts, your bed. Your time you haven’t even been sharing—you’ve been giving it away whole cloth.
As a mom you sound incredibly ambitious. You have three small kids and very little help at home. Your kids are well-wiped, well-fed, well-cuddled, well-bounced. Where were you channeling that ambition before your kids came along? Perhaps it’s time to think about that thing again. To let smolder, let it haunt you.
Now you have a goal: a song to write, a picture to take, a museum to visit, a fancy dessert to bake. That’s a good start, but you need something else, too: some time. As moms we are fond of saying that we don’t have any time, but that’s a vicious, insidious little lie. We do have time. We have 24 hours each day, the same as everyone else. We don’t have less of anything. The real trouble is, we have more. We have more people to please, more competing priorities. More tasks, more conversations, more goddamn eye contact to make. We’ve divided our days into hours and minutes and seconds and milliseconds until we’re shaving those calendar pages to spider-silk thinness.
Yet, we always have time for the things that are our real priorities. The kids are always fed. Always wiped. Always nursed and bounced and cuddled. It’s time to bump up your order in the line-up. Maybe tomorrow you will be more important than that last load of laundry. Maybe it doesn’t need to be put away tonight. Maybe you can give that half hour to yourself instead.
It would also help to remind your husband that you are not, in fact, his mommy. You are his wife and you’ve got important shit to do. It doesn’t have to be important to anyone but you. If it’s important to you, it’s important. It sounds like you’re both living a lot of life right now and that you don’t have a ton of resources to go around. Sometimes you’re going to have to take the hit. But sometimes he should take it, too. Be the guardian of your own happiness.
I know these sound like small things—too small, perhaps. But I could never do the things the parenting magazines suggested, so I’m not going to recommend them to you. I won’t tell you to get regular massages or to hit the gym three times a week. These things take spare time and energy and money and these are the things you do not have.
But here’s what you do have: a husband who can help you be you again, small thing by small thing; three boys who are getting more independent every day; a mind and soul and body that are wholly and uniquely yours, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
And listen, before you go, we’ve really got to do something about your name. Can you find your purse, under that pile of toy trains and dress-up clothes?
That’s it there, a bit of faux-leather peeking out between Thomas and Percy. Inside is your driver’s license. Inside is a picture of a woman you may recognize. She’s wearing mascara and her hair has been recently trimmed, but she’s you. Or, she was you. You’re older now, tougher, more fierce. Her name is on the license, too. What is it? Read it out loud. Say it into the mirror. Teach it to your children. Ask them, Did you know that Mommy has another name? It’s Alice. Isn’t that a pretty name? It’s my name. Alice.
Aubrey Hirsch is the author of “Why We Never Talk About Sugar.” Her work has appeared widely in print and online. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch