Yesterday, I loved my body. I meant it when I said I didn’t care about its’ shape. I believed him when he told me I was beautiful. But today I am plotting ways to contain it: lotions to bring back smoothness, squats to lift and firm, green smoothies for everything else. Tomorrow I will eat a pint of ice cream and maybe love myself again. The next day, who knows?
We are huddled together in bed, my whole family, as the sun rises up over the hills and streams into the window. I am showing the kids my lines; the lines I have from carrying them. “These ones here, are yours,” I tell my daughter, pointing to the empty rivers below my belly button, nearly nine years old. Higher, and to each side, my son’s position is etched into my skin. It delights them to see proof of their beginnings, running their fingers along the lines that run like rivers on their original map.
The marks my third baby left are pink, my belly still soft from holding her. It is a softness that billows when they touch it, as if inside, it still holds oceans. This is what it feels like to be a woman in this moment of my life: a brief celebration of vulnerability and then a return to the tedium of perfection; a perfection unattained and yet, somehow, expected?
We are blissful hostages on new-baby-island, my husband and I, only this third time we are even more at ease. We accept the things beyond our control. We have moments that feel like falling. We celebrate and sleep deeply when they are finally, all three of them, in bed. But the grace I have allowed myself with each new baby doesn’t last. Soon I am back to measuring myself in all the ways that we do: Why can I not manage to fold the laundry and make the dinner and pick up and drop off and soothe and nurse and also attend to the real emotional needs of my children–the kind that make them grow into good, healthy, content humans? Why can I not also find time for “self care”, as in a shower? And now that I’m thirty eight years old (I planned to have my children before age thirty five, but plans, hah!) I also feel the pressure of making the most of life, of finally finishing that novel, and the menacing fear that is my body, with all its potential deceptions underneath: its aging, its march towards death.
I am afraid. Not all the time, but sometimes. My body is a symptom, and I can google it.
Yesterday, I read an article in a reputable newspaper about motherhood and feminism that bothered me. The author, a mother herself, tried to make the case that motherhood is not a job, and that being a mother is not selfless, but selfish. I spent the rest of the day making counter arguments, quietly, and to myself.
True, I am grateful and humbled and overturned by love. But what am I? Am I the cook we have not hired, and the nanny that does not come, and the house cleaner that we dream of? Am I the psychologist and nutritionist and chauffeur? Am I less or am I more? I can assure you I do all these jobs with mediocrity, and that I share most jobs with a husband who folds and follows a recipe better than I ever will. So what am I? Do I matter?
A friend asks me “What do you do all day?” “Hah,” I laugh. Ha ha ha. I want to tell you how I got here: how I refused to cook when I was a girl and took up the role when I became a wife; how a wedding was not something I dreamt of and yet I was married at 25; how I felt little desire to mother until I had children of my own; how I chose to “stay home” with my children and have “accomplished” very little society would deem worthwhile. Am I less because I have chosen a small life?
On days when I find myself struggling to count; when I put on a white top and bother to wash the night away; on days when a soft boiled egg is a dangerous choice; on those days when I feel, despite chaos all around, like the loneliest person in the world; on days when the kids don’t like me; on days when I put them in the car just for the break provided by seat belts; these days like all the others are hard and yet cherished. The babies that have been born from my body–whole and alive and flesh, as they are, do not belong to me. And the only song I can sing is I am blessed, I am blessed, I am blessed.