The Mom Admission Nobody Wants to Make

I’ve been in the heart of baby season for a year now — my own firstborn arrived last June, and the calendar has been peppered with the arrivals of various friends’ own first children since that date. I don’t want to say that Zack and I “started something,” but, it’s possible, right? . . . (I kid, I kid. Pun intended.)

The year has brought an onslaught of firsts and in the early months, I found myself bombarding two of my longtime gal pals (and seasoned moms) with daily texts about poop, nursing, rice cereal, poop, fevers, poop, bath time shenanigans, travel solutions, poop, and more poop. (Side note: there aren’t enough resources in the world about the weird stuff that comes out of babies’ bums.) Time and again, I thought: Damn. I’ve got a great mom tribe. I am so lucky.

Before I knew it, I was the one getting texts from new moms, desperate for advice (despite my clear lack of what one might call “expertise”). I guess, at least, there’s something to be said for having gone through the same experiences just months previously, rather than decades earlier like our own moms. So I tried helping the best I could.

Travel during nap times.

Use Aveeno bath products for sensitive skin.

Try Selsen Blue for cradle cap, if it’s really bad. But be careful! That stuff will burn through their eyeballs like acid.

Make your husband go with you to get your child’s vaccines.

Don’t apologize for not letting everyone and their mother hold your child in the heart of flu season.

And then I got a text, a few weeks ago, that was filled with remorse and pleading and probably a bit of shame: Do you sometimes resent your child?

Oh. Oh. This text made me stop in my tracks for a few moments before I fired back —

YES.

Plus some other stuff, meant to reassure my friend that she isn’t a garbage mom (because she’s not) and that she isn’t a weirdo (because she’s not, at least not in this particular sense) and that she isn’t alone (because, let’s get real — she’s definitely not). This was a question I hadn’t been brave enough to ask my own girlfriends in the frustrating, tiresome early months of my own motherhood; in truth, it wasn’t a realization I could even admit to myself. So I knew the courage it took to ask and I knew it was something I wanted to write about later, at the risk of being mom-bashed on social media by friends who don’tevenhavekids and moms who won’t admit the truth to themselves.

Hi. My name’s Renee, and sometimes I resent my kid.

There. I said it.

I find myself experiencing bitterness when I’m run ragged, firing on a few measly hours of sleep and in a state of self loathing because #mombodprobs (which, of course, never keeps me from eating more chocolate . . . ). The resentment grows when he wakes up every night for weeks to cry inconsolably, even though I know the appropriate emotional response should be only compassion. It doubles when my husband lifts weights in the evenings — just steps out of the shop, gets in his car, drives to the weight room, lifts for a couple hours — while I have to fight guilt to ask my mother-in-law to watch Henry for another hour this week so that I can go for a run or meet the girls for a workout. The resentment deepens when I can’t drive three hours to meet a friend who’s passing through Kansas because Henry hates the car and it wouldn’t be fair to drag him all that way and I can’t ask Cindy to watch him again this week. It grows exponentially when we travel to my parents’ house and he screams three of the four hours in the car. It sneaks up on me when we’re with family for the holidays, and everyone wants to go to a movie or out to eat or stay up till 3 playing games and I’ve got to wreck their plans — I’m staying in with Henry — or go to bed at ten, because he’ll be up at midnight, anyway.

I don’t remember the first time I was hit with a wave of nauseating resentment toward Henry, but I know I haven’t experienced the last — and I’m forgiving myself for each of those times and the moments to come, without hesitation. Here’s why:

  • Momming is friggin’ hard work. It’s often thankless, and the constant state of being needed but not appreciated can wear away at a girl.
  • It doesn’t mean I don’t want my kid. I just don’t want him to cry all night, dammit.
  • I’m human, too. I’m selfish, even when I don’t want to be. I can try to repress the feelings as much as I want, but being a mom is a transition and it’s ridiculous to expect my own selfish desires about how I want to spend my time to just fade or disappear — poof! — overnight.
  • The resentment always, always melts away. Usually just as quickly as it’s come.

And here’s the big one: for every moment of bittnerness or childish resentment I feel toward my little guy, there are a thousand moments of boundless adoration, overwhelming love, and sheer joy.

It’s a challenge, admitting this sort of truth to yourself; especially when you tried for so long to become pregnant or when you acknowledge that these feelings are directed toward a helpless, ten-pound squish. These rare moments of bitterness overwhelm me with shame. They make me feel lesser, even though I know I am a good mama. They make me feel embarrassed and unnatural and cruel — and human.

In the past year, I’ve grown to appreciate just how much struggle, devotion, and sacrifice it takes to be a good mother. I’ve seen old friends with new eyes, regretted my years of teenage jackass-ery (sorry, Ma & Dad), and generally come to accept that motherhood demands nothing short of superhero status on a daily basis.

I’ve watched Batman, though, and I know that sometimes, even the best heroes have moments of darkly humiliating weakness.

It’s what makes them human.

Motherhood, No. 2

It is early morning — somewhere between the hours of three and four, when my brain is too fogged with interrupted sleep to comprehend things like time — and you have awakened me with your intermittent cries. Yelps, more like. Between outbursts, a pause of several seconds — long enough for me to think Sure, he’s okay then and sink back onto my pillow before another cry wakes me from my sleep-drunken stupor.

Grumbling, I untangle my legs from the winding vines that the sheets have become overnight: your father doesn’t believe in sleeping like a normal human being (under the covers), so he is forever bringing a blanket to bed and hunkering down in it, pushing the sheets and bedspread to the side or foot of the mattress so that I end up in some sort of twisted pile of bedding that seems intent on strangling me as I sleep. You cry out again — I think you’re probably mostly asleep, the cries are so far apart — and I murmur reassurances that I know you can’t hear as I blindly walk the familiar path from our room to yours.

Your room is awash in the eerie glow of a too-bright nightlight that casts shadows on every wall. The worst is a spidery looking apparition that covers half of the room, mostly over your crib: the ghastly result of light striking your woodland-animals mobile. I secretly shudder at that leggy shadow every night, certain that your cries must have something to do with its looming appearance above your resting place. Can infants fear spiders? I’m sure any child of mine must.

On tiptoes, I lean over the top edge of your crib, my gut — still not recovered from carrying you, seven months later — creased in half by the hard walnut edges smoothed by your father’s shop machines. Shhhhh, shhhhh, shhhhh, Mama’s here — you stop the instant my hands grasp your torso and I lift you gingerly from the confines of your bed. You’re hungry, though, and begin to grizzle feverishly as I carry you to our chair. I brace myself against the shocking chill of polished wood against the backs of my thighs and shoulders. In the dark, your mouth works like that of a little milk zombie: open, shut, open, shut, open shut — until finally, you find what you’re searching for and your eyes fold shut in a mixture of relief and ecstasy.

As you feast, I close my eyes and lean back, wondering who you will become. It is three-something in the morning and I am awake, picturing you twenty years down the road, always with that cheeky grin and creamy, smooth skin. You stroke my hand with your tiny plump palm, occasionally pausing to wrap a finger in your fist, as if to tell me Thank you, Mama or — I like to pretend — I love you most. Not that it’s a competition between your father and me; just, I am your most beloved now, and I will savor that, because later you will have friends and classmates and girlfriends and lovers and I will surely lose the privilege of that most as I drift along in the wake of your expanding horizons.

Looking down at the rounded nub of your nose, I think of my teacher’s son, David, who took his own life a few months ago. Tracing the soft curve of your cheek with my fingertip, I pray. Please let this child grow up to know he is beloved and help him to find fulfillment. And Please always bring him home to me, whole. And Please make him need me always.

You’re through with the midnight snack, your head has lolled back onto my forearm and your mouth is agape, a stream of milk leaking from the corner where your lips meet and trailing down your neck: you are one satisfied little boy. I’m not tired any longer; I’m wide awake with the kind of fervent panic I can only assume all mothers experience at one time or another. It’s a futile panic: you will get older, you will grow up and out, you will leave me for a different life. These are certainties, and though I hate the leaving, I know that it is better than the alternative.

I am not tired anymore, though, so I will hold you a little longer now. I love you, I love you.

I love you.

The City

When we were little, my siblings and I loved trips to Kansas City. As Mom frantically swept through the house like an angry spring tornado, checking for left-out bowls and turned-on lamps and unflushed toilets, we kids stuffed two extra pairs of underwear and socks into our suitcases and yelled haphazardly in the general direction of Mother — MAHHHHM! What’s the weather gonna be like?

I always took great care to pack Copper just so, with his body zipped inside my 101 Dalmatians duffel, and his head free and clear outside (so he could breathe, duh). I also found room for my notebooks and gel pens, something no aspiring writer could travel without.

When beds were fastidiously made and rooms tidied and dishes washed, we lugged our bags to the van and piled them high before quickly jumping into our familiar seats. Meanwhile, Dad would begin his customary honking (at our ecstatic urging), until Mom resurfaced from the house, hollering I’m coming, dammit Mike! He’d turn to us, grinning like a child, and giggle as we gave him the thumbs up.

The drive always felt like Forever: North to Cassoday on a winding road (2 turns constitutes “winding” in Kansas), Northeast to Emporia on the turnpike, past Lawrence with a stop at the Leavenworth rest area, and then straight on toward The City. Often we pulled into Grandma and Grandpa’s drive at nightfall, but I knew the route by heart. Past the church where my parents got married, past the bowling alley, turn left before the jeweler…anticipation mounted with each twist and turn.

The City was exotic and romantic to me — there were streets everywhere, and a Lamar’s Donuts, and beautiful brick houses with squirrels in front yards. I couldn’t fathom having so many neighbors and not knowing anything about them. After all, my other grandparents were our closest neighbors back home, a half mile down the dirt road.

As soon as we pulled into my grandparents’ driveway, the effects of the long ride took an immediate toll. Six individuals, all tired and cramped from hours in an economic but remarkably tight minivan, began the act of Untangling. Pillows and empty bottles and stuffed animals and little brothers–all had to be extricated with precision before we could truly savor our arrival. We would race from the van, numb feet tingling, administer a breathless and impatient kiss to Grandma at the door, and climb over one another to get to a bathroom first. Grandpa, hanging back to let the mad dash settle, would waddle to the freezer in that bowlegged manner of his to set out ice cream (at least three varieties).

And after sugary bowls of butter pecan and what seemed like hours of conversation with The Wheel of Fortune or Notre Dame football playing softly in the background, we’d succumb to exhaustion. After more weary kisses for Grandma and Grandpa (and often, aunts and uncles who came to say hello), we would trudge downstairs to build beds on the floor, never without a fight for the couch (which Jacob always won, naturally). Mom and Dad would tuck us in up to our chins, and I’d lie awake in the dark as long as I could, listening to the soft sounds of a family that loved one another. I’d fight Sleep as I imagined the hundreds of pictures that hung on the walls around the pool table, jolted awake every now and then by a peal of laughter from Mom or the groan of Grandpa’s chair.

The City was good. It was love, and joy, and family, and good.