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High School :: Motherhood

There is a picture of me somewhere—I’m not sure who took it or where I’ve seen it, but I have—of me in high school. In it, my hair is wrapped in a pink scarf, I’m wearing a vintage Coca-Cola shirt, and I’m lying on my belly on the hood of a car, propped up on my elbows, chin in my palm, gazing (smirking?) towards the sky. The photo is taken through the windshield, with the rim of the steering wheel a crescent moon in the south quadrant. I’m seventeen, maybe eighteen. I look happy, vigorous, vital. This is, of course, a put-on.

I was kind of a disaster in high school. It was life as one enormous raw nerve ending: I had wild mood swings, fought with my siblings, defied my parents, regularly ditched friends who were nice, hated the assholes who ditched me, lusted after guys who were wrong for me in so many different ways, felt acutely aware of my lack of cool, experimented with my sexuality, over-identified with Margot Tenenbaum, acted very poorly in several awful high school plays, and was not funny, confident, or beautiful enough to get in with “the cool kids” (despite the fact that the friends that I’ve hung onto from this era are, and always have been, definitively amazing). My highs were so high; my lows were so low. I felt alternately in love with the world and like I wanted to burn it to the ground.

In my early 20s, I dulled all these feelings—ugh, feelings— booze and school. With friends who ranged from fairly terrible, to incandescently amazing, to just sort of proximal to my life. With parties and bar nights that lasted all weekend. I went to university and flunked out, twice, finally limping out with a degree that doesn’t really matter. In my late 20s, I tried on a bunch of grown-up suits: non-profit person, writer, Nia dancer, caveman dieter. I did some yoga. I met my husband. I went to Iceland. I did the things that people do. I had my job, my friends, my relationship. Things felt defined, as if I knew who I was and what I stood for in my life.

After the birth of my child, I felt myself falling unexpectedly back into that high-school feeling. As postnatal hormones washed through me endlessly, I felt enormous nostalgia for the girl I had been fifteen years years earlier—a whole half-life ago—who didn’t have the emotional skills to handle all the weird, wonderful, aching change. I thought about that photo a lot. I hated it when I first saw it, back in my teen years, because it showed my plump upper arms and mismatched eyebrows. Now, I love it. I love my know-it-all expression and my confidence. It wasn’t a put-on, not really. It was a slice of myself I rarely get to witness.

This undoing/becoming process is exciting, kind of. If new motherhood is a sort of second puberty, it feels like everything I had assumed about my adult life has come apart, to be remade and renamed in new ways. Assumptions about who I am, and what mattered—things that had been settled for years—were suddenly up for debate. Plus, you know: so many hormones, again. This time around, though, I didn’t dive into a bucket of vodka-sodas to deal with it. Having spent most of my adult years in and out of therapy, I had the coping skills to recognize a wild mood swing, a moment of alienation, a bout of tenderness. I’m by no means perfect at it (if I’m hungry or tired, I won’t admit that; instead, I’ll pick a vicious fight), but this intense ache to become isn’t foreign. It’s sort of welcome, actually: it means I’m doing some growing.

High school me would be mortified at my current life. I’ve never been to Burning Man, I married a respectable and stable man (not, say, a musician/graffiti artist), I haven’t published a novel, and I wear knee-length shorts. I feel an intense desire to return to my home, the place I had started to become myself. Like a bird who comes home to roost, a salmon who swims upstream, I want to return to somewhere I’ve been before to mark this part of my life cycle. I want to feel familiar, comfortable, home. High school me would be mortified at that, too. Part of becoming an adult meant leaving that small town behind, proving to myself that I could make it in Toronto, because that’s where things happened.

Let me tell you something about January with a newborn: you could be in Cape Town, Toronto, Yellowknife, or Tokyo, and those first few weeks are going to look at lot alike. It doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you’ve got some snacks, diapers, and someone to rub your back while you learn how to breastfeed. It especially doesn’t matter if you’re somewhere “cool,” because all of the sudden, the cool things become supplanted by kid things. Cool things will continue to happen, but suddenly, my ability and desire to participate in that scene, at least in the first-person, has decreased dramatically. My knowledge of concert venues and hip brunch spots has been replaced with radar for drop-in centres, libraries, community centres, splash pads, trails, gyms with child care, subway stations with elevators, malls (fucking malls!), cafes with high chairs, parks, playgrounds, and schools. (I read the listings in the local alternative newspaper as a kind of fiction—”Wouldn’t it be nice to see that band?” I ask, as I tuck myself into bed at 9:55.)

Things have echoed, resonated, and become amplified during these two turbulent periods. The desire to have authentic relationships, for example. Friends who get it on a molecular level. The need to pay attention to all the fucking daily minutiae because who knows what future creative project it will inform. The knowledge that my core self is not made of iron, unchanging and unchangeable, but maybe of a thing softer and more malleable. The great yearning to see around the corner to what’s coming next, to picture my life in five or ten years and project a life that I’ll be proud of. When I was a teenager, I thought that this type of life would just appear, a by-product of being into cool things and hanging around cool people. Now, as a dowdy but cool adult, I know that it’s more of a Field of Dreams situation: if you build it, that feeling will come.

Feeling like a teenager and actually being an adult is one of the nicest and funniest parts of this whole new-parent thing. I feel so tender towards my young self, who just didn’t know how to surf the waves that surged inside. And I feel so amused by this youthful renaissance, this unexpected mayhem of identity. I wish I could talk to that girl on the hood of the car, tell her to feel her goddamn feelings, to hang onto the people who mattered, to not be to attached to the idea of “being cool,” because lawd, I didn’t turn out cool. I turned out weird and hot-tempered, funny and beautiful, joyful and irritated (“joyful and irritated” is definitely a working title for the ol’ autobiography). I turned out fine; and, as the last eighteen months have taught me, I haven’t finished turning quite yet.

About the Author

Kaitlyn Kochany
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More about Kaitlyn Kochany

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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