Maternal Energy

When I was a kid, my mom favoured the kind of art that you might thing of as “boring museum:” gauzy and romantic, featuring lots of children in straw hats, mothers in white lace dresses, lazy days on a skiff, quiet reading, and naps. The story in these paintings always seemed to be “Aren’t these children well-behaved?” Despite the fact that, as a kid, quiet reading was indeed one of my hobbies, the world of these paintings seemed so blank and uninviting. There were a lot of loving gazes, sleeping infants, soft bodies, frizzy hairdos. The mothers in these painting seemed to be able to shut down bad behaviour with a single finger to the lips; if, you know, it even occurred to these fictional children to misbehave in the first place.

I don’t know what “feeling maternal” is, really, but the women in these painting seemed to embody it. In the same way that Barbie is a terrible role model for anyone with (or aspiring to) a female body, these Romantic mothers were a confusing role model for me as a parent. Where is the resentment? The boredom? The surreptitious eye-roll when the middle one does something tedious, again?

Before I had a baby, someone once told me that they thought of me as “being maternal,” and to be honest, I was offended. I wanted to be edgy, exciting, sexy, dangerous. Being told I was maternal felt like once step away from scrunchies in my hair and crackers in my bra. Maternal, to me, felt soft and edgeless, a bowl of pudding, a slice of angel food cake, safe, secure, predictable. It wasn’t aspirational. It wasn’t commanding.

During my pregnancy, I didn’t feel maternal; I felt gassy, and resentful, and sore. I felt excited and afraid, but I didn’t see myself as having mom-energy.  Even now, when my toddler kicks a place of scrambled eggs onto the floor while I’m trying to cram him into his high chair (pro tip: put the food on the tray after the child is strapped in), and he’s screaming and smacking me in the eye with hands covered in chocolate that I never thought would cross his lips, and I’m cooing, in my best Janet Lansbury voice, “I can hear how frustrated you are at having to sit in the high chair! I can see how upset you are!” and one boob is flopping around inside my shirt because I didn’t bother re-doing my nursing bra an hour ago, and my feet hurt so badly I can barely stand on them any more; and I can still look at my insane child and find it in my heart to laugh, because this is all so deeply silly and I’m not going to die on a hill made of scrambled eggs; even then, I don’t feel like I’ve tapped the galactic keg of motherhood, you know? I feel like I’m one bad sleep away from joining the merchant marines because that seems like it might be more relaxing.

To be honest, the high chair freakouts are a small part of my relationship with NS. For the most part, we’re easy-going together. We enjoy each other’s company a lot. But being a pal isn’t the right energy, either. I still see myself as a steward and a protector, a teacher and a role model. We’re not, like, drinking buddies.

It took a lot time for me to connect with my own sense of maternal-ness. I couldn’t see past my anxiety and jagged edges to those white lace dresses. It felt incorrect. Maybe it’s the fact that, in embracing the “good enough” model of parenting, I’m refusing the feel much mom-guilt for not being perfect. He’s going to have some nicks and dings, both psychic and physical, and it’s all part of the human condition. Not worrying too much about my fuck-ups makes me feel a little bit like a psychopath, to be honest…but it’s also very freeing, and that seems worth the trade-off.

And there are some days that, if I didn’t have a six-inch scar on my belly, I’d be hard-pressed to figure out where he came from. He’s still so new here! I sometimes forget that I’m someone’s mom! When I remember—like, really, really, three-AM-and-I’m-thinking-in-the-dark-remember—I feel this deep sense of terror: what if I fuck it up? And then I do my yogic breathing and my CBT reminders, but it’s in there, that fear. That sense of staring down a long hallway towards a door marked YOUR ADULT CHILD, and not knowing what cracks and splinters (or worse) might rise up before we get there.

All of this is to say, I just don’t know. I have the unflattering shorts of a mother; I have the unwashed hair of a mother; I have the self-deprecating humour of a mother. In my heart of hearts, my maternal identity is complicated: I feel wolfishly protective and helplessly befuddled. I feel lonely and I feel like I number among the stars. I’m irritable, organized, lazy, and anxious. I feel tender, but not nearly tender enough.I’m uncomfortable being someone’s guiding star and yet I’m so fucking stupefied that this (mostly) delightful creature chose me as his mother. I feel like an intern who’s been given the keys to the corporate car but also still has to mop the floors. I feel strung out with fatigue, and 100% confident that if he cries in the night, I’ll be there. I’m not gauze dresses and rowboats; I’m black tank tops and topknots, babywearing and breastfeeding, blueberries I picked up off the floor and put back on his plate, splashing in the bath together, and slopping, chocolate-breath open-mouth toddler kisses. I am not a perfect mother and lord knows if I’m maternal, but I’m here to do the job so the job will get done.

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Kaitlyn Kochany
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Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-area freelance writer and editor. She had her son, NS, in January 2016, and has been trying to sleep and write since then.

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