Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Out and About

I had a doctor's appointment the other day, and was able to leave Aoife with a friend and go without my children while Liam was at school.
As many of you mothers may know, even those who cherish every moment spent with babe in arms, there is something also to be cherished about time to ones self, about moments of quiet where thoughts can wander and decisions can be made on a dime.

And so it was that, while I drove through town on the way home from my brief appointment, I was passing my absolute favorite coffee shop, which happened to have the 15-minute free parking spot in front of it available. So what was I to do? Logically I pulled into the spot, and it was with some glee that I realized that, without two or three children to unbuckle and buckle and carry and distract and appease, this foray into the coffee shop would probably take less than one minute and would bring me such pleasure. So into the shop I sauntered, ordering a decaf to go and a chocolate croissant, and as I waited I noticed a woman nearby whom I had been friends with when Liam was a baby.
"No kids!" she exclaimed, which is of course the first thing that springs to mind when mothers see one another childless, particularly someone like me who usually has not only my own children, but several others as well. I laughed and told her of my quick appointment and the free parking spot. I admired her new daughter, whom I had not yet seen, and we exchanged brief updates about our five year old sons who were both at school. Then she looked down at my coat, which is a pure white, quilted jacket (truly is the most impractical thing for a mom to wear, but I received it as a gift and get almost a bigger kick out of the fact that it is something that is oh-so-pretty but nothing I would ever purchase for myself).
"My goodness!" the woman exclaimed. "No kids and a white coat! Are you sure you're really a mom?" Her eyes twinkled, and she laughed.

The bottom dropped out of my stomach. It was my greatest fear, inspired by a year of walking around feeling nothing but my motherhood and having nothing to show for it. When Liam was a baby, I would go nowhere without him. Part of this was the obvious reason that I wanted to have him with me, but the other reason was that I need him there to seal my identity-- see this child? I am a mother, proven and steadfast. My child is here in my arms, he is nursing, he cries only for me, he is mine. I am a mother. As my second living child graced this earth I felt the same posessiveness over having both the children with me, needing both to have them within my sight at all times but also to have the evidence of my fruitfulness available for everyone to see. They were my badge of personhood, I was indefinable without them even though the very person who had made me a mother was no longer here.

And so here I was, delightedly in a cafe, ordering a delicious snack in my impractical white coat, and I didn't look like a mom. I looked like some thirty something lawyer off on a coffee break, maybe childless, maybe kids shelved off in daycare somewhere while I pursued my own dreams. What was this, this innocuous comment to squelch my own joy in being alone?

I had arrived here once again, at this struggle between joy and pain. At the cafe, I struggled to take a deep breath and laugh along with the woman, I took my coffee and croissant and drove as fast as I could to hold Aoife in my arms again. She smelled delicious and played so contentedly with me for the next number of hours. I settled into that rhythm of joy, but I couldn't forget how I reacted to the comment. It also demonstrated for me once again how my perspective hears the words of others completely differently than the words may have been intended.

I have felt such success in the past few years, such pride in myself for having reached a place where I can both be a babylost mother, who parents in a way that is intentional and an obvious outcome of my loss, and also a normal mother, who is entitled to feelings such as being overwhelmed, wanting time to herself, and the desire to pursue my own creative endeavors. For my first three years of active motherhood I was beyond satisfied to leave myself behind in exchange for my living children, but in the past few years it has made me happy to re-discover myself, and it feels like a sign of growth and progress for me to be able to once again derive some pleasure in being by myself and doing the things that I once enjoyed (like getting a coffee and a croissant). But despite this progress, I am still a babylost mother at my very core, and it is only reasonable that these moments of normality might sometimes be overswept by those more innate emotions that come from the very middle of my person.

It never goes away.


Birdies Mama said...


This is such a great post, and speaks so much to my great fear of when one day I decide that it's OK for me to be away from Holdyn for a very short time. I also relate so much to wanting him with me ALWAYS, to show that YES I am a mother! It was so very hard to show this to strangers on the street after Birdie died, or I could have gone up to people and said, see this pendant, see the beautiful baby on it? That's my daughter, she died, but I am still her mama...

Now Holdyn is my "badge", my truth, the reality that I am a Mama.

Does this make sense?

Hope's Mama said...

This is why I still hate being out and about now. I mean I have to, I can't avoid it, but I hate looking like a nobody. Not like a mother. You wear your white coat and sip your coffee Carol - none of it matters - we all know what a fabulous mother you are to all three of your kids, whether they are all physically with you or not.

Ya Chun said...

it sucks that someone ruined your brief respite from duty. that knife still gets twisted about, eh?

Cara said...

Carol - this resonates, big time.

Even now, when J and I get out to lunch alone - the reacion is always, "no kids??".

The define us, don't they.

Gretchen said...

So true. Casual comments like this can throw me into a tailspin too. Does anyone notice?

Heather said...

What a post, Carol. That was very thought provoking.