WALK A MILE IN
24 October 2002
I don't know if Oprah is in reruns or not, but I happened to catch
part of what was supposedly part 2 of a show that she had done on the things they don't
teach you about motherhood.
This particular show was in response to a previous show where
mothers had dared to come forth and admit that motherhood was not all it was cracked up to
be, and that there were times when they hated being a mother and if they had to do it over
again, they would have done something else.
The debate was heated--and what we were seeing was the "after
the show," which they run on the Internet--but it had apparently been so meaty they
decided to run it as a complete show unto itself (and, if I'm not mistaken, it spawned yet
another show with the debate continuing to rage hot and heavy).
The thing that nobody seemed to realize is that they really were
talking apples and oranges. Until you have walked a mile in someone's shoes--their exact
shoes--you can't possibly know what the experience is like.
You can gush all you want about the wonders and the glory of (pick
your topic -- motherhood? breastfeeding? marathon running? yoga? whatever...) but unless
you can get inside someone's skin, experience the "thing"--whatever it
is--exactly as they experience it, you can't possibly make judgements on what is the
"right" or "wrong" way to feel, or even what is the
"desirable" or "undesirable" way to feel.
Motherhood is a complicated thing. How you react to it depends on
the difficulty of your pregnancy, the state of your hormones, the personality of your
baby, the level of support you have, the other factors going on in your life and much,
To give an example in microcosm, I wanted passionately to be a
mother. And I was thrilled when I discovered I was pregnant with Jeri. It was the perfect
pregnancy. She was--and still is--a fairly quiet thing. I would sometimes have to get into
an uncomfortable position for her to get her to actually move and let me know that she was
still alive in there.
We brought home this pink bundle who for the most part ate on
schedule, enjoyed looking at her surroundings, cried a little, but not too much, and
throughout her life has been pretty easy to get along with (see "Jeri Knows Better") She is, by
nature, a placid, easy-going personality.
Ned, on the other hand, was kicking and punching from the moment
that lima bean of a fetus began to develop arm buds. He would go on to be a pretty good
springboard diver, and I swear he learned all those twists and turns in utero. He burst
into life with an exuberance that never quit. He never did things by halves. When he was
happy, he was the happiest kid in the world. When he was miserable, he was the most
miserable kid in the world ( things haven't changed much with him either). His energy was
exhausting, especially when combined with care of a 16 month old as well.
Then Paul came along and brought a whole different set of problems.
Paul, who wanted to sleep all day and be awake all night (and who grew up to be a rock
singer, who slept all day and partied all night!)
I was still coping fairly well, on good days, when Tom came along.
Tom who was, in his own way, as easy as Jeri had been, but who was the straw that broke
the camel's back. As easygoing a child as Tom was, he was the most difficult for me to fit
into the family--I had run out of arms, laps, patience. I remember being more overwhelmed
when Tom was a baby than with any of the others. I had just reached saturation.
David mirrored Ned, but by now I was going on auto pilot and though
he was a difficult kid in many respects, he was easier to fit into the family.
The point is that my reaction to each of the kids was different,
based on how overloaded I was, and how easy or difficult they were--or any sort of
combination of the two--along with other factors as well.
So to say that I should or should not have had a certain type of
experience or felt a certain type of way is ludicrous. I was very much influenced by my
environment and by circumstances. Did it mean I didn't love the kids? Heck no. I loved
them all with all my heart (still do). But it didn't mean that motherhood was a joy all
the time. It also wasn't horrible all the time. It just was. I suspect that most mothers,
if they examine their reactions will admit that they feel that way.
The problem is that society doesn't let mothers say "this
really sucks" and to have those down times. That only makes the problem worse. When
you're already feeling bad because little Johnny hasn't slept in 3 nights, the laundry is
piled to the ceiling and the in-laws are expected for dinner, somehow you don't feel you
have "permission" to talk about what a rotten time you're having. So it builds
and builds and ultimately, I suspect that the mothers who took the negative side were
expressing the sentiments born of trying to be the perfect mom, the perfect hostess, the
perfect wife (or heck, even an adequate mom, an adequate hostess, an adequate wife). I
suspect they may have had colicky babies or had touches of post partum depression....or
just suffered from sleep deprivation for a couple of years.
By the same token, for those who see motherhood as one rosy day
after another, they either have been nipping at the cooking sherry a bit too much, or they
lucked out in the gene pool and got a family of Jeri's and Tom's (don't take it
personally, Ned--you know I love you!)
It's a shame that we can get so emotionally overwrought trying to
convince someone that there is only one way to experience an event, and that because it
all went just swimmingly for ME, I can't understand why you don't view it through those
rose colored glasses I'm wearing too.
Motherhood, like every major event in our lives--and perhaps even
moreso--is so tied to external forces. No matter how much you adore your kids, everyone is
capable of reaching burnout. For some it is a transient thing; for others it may lead to
lasting resentments. But that doesn't make either feeling wrong or right. They just are.
They just are the way that particular person experienced that particular event in that
particular time period.
One mother on the show put it all very nicely in perspective. She
had lost a baby in childbirth and an older child in an auto accident. She said she had her
bad moments during her mothering years, but she'd give anything to have the chance to have
those moments again.
Right. Very definitely right.
Congratulations to Steve and Jimmy on
this fabulous review from Backstage West!!! Everybody go see this
show--and if you're not in LA, tell your friends who ARE!