A guest post by: Cricket la belle
I had lots of plans when I was 21.
I was going to travel the world, volunteer in the Global south, speak 5 UN languages fluently, and get a graduate degree in international human rights law.
I was going to have a Real Career and make Lots of Money. More importantly, I was going to make a Difference in the World while doing so.
The night before I found out I was pregnant, I was doing tequila shots with old friends in an Irish pub in Midtown Manhattan, sharing my plans to move to Shanghai for a university teaching stint.
I never made it to China.
Ava was born six months later—I hadn’t even graduated from college.
Physically bringing a child into the world was as close to a mystical experience as I have ever had. Love for my tiny muse replaced the youthful, destructive tendencies to party and forge serial relationships with the wrong men—which was how I got pregnant in the first place.
However, the joy of caring for an infant was punctuated with pangs of jealousy as I watched my friends travel, have careers, and live and play in NYC while I wallowed in domesticity in the outer boroughs (not the cool one).
If becoming a mother was an ecstatic experience, it was tempered by an equally powerful dislike of being a wife.
My partner was a good man, but I was too young to appreciate him and I had only begrudgingly accepted to play the role of wife, as a seemingly inescapable consequence of my biology. It didn’t feel like a real choice—it was a socioeconomic reality and I resented it tremendously.
When Ava was an infant I finished my masters in Education and I tried desperately to convince my partner to move abroad. Dubai, Costa Rica, China—there were so many opportunities for my skill set and experience—but he was simply not interested in leaving New York.
He maintained that if I wanted to travel, I was free to do so, but he wasn’t coming and neither was the baby. I was shattered by his provincial attitude. I felt like I was dying inside, stuck, not growing, not living, and I clung desperately to my one and only joy and passion, my child.
One summer I got a gig consulting in bilingual education in Santiago, Chile and I packed my bags for a one-month trip. I left Ava at home with her father and although I was excited to experience South America for the first time, I missed my baby intensely after only three days, and it became clear that I was not going anywhere until she was emancipated.
I never resented motherhood for my inability to find personal fulfillment, even though the tie that bound me to my ill-suited partner was the result of the child we shared together. For me the culprit was feeling suffocated in the marriage relationship and the control it exerted over me. I believed that with the right partner it could have been a totally different experience.
I felt dead, and although my baby was a source of great joy and I found passion projects closer to home, I was filled with a constant feeling of regret, like my youth was slipping away and leaving me nothing, save my baby, to show for it.
As my plans for living a Meaningful Life of Adventure were dashed, I poured myself into my child and our lifestyle, channeling my personal growth into her development.
I thought I was a great mother. I mostly was, I think.
I leaned toward, ok, stood firmly in, the camp of the super crunchy—breastfeeding beyond age two, baby wearing, and of course I had a midwife-attended, un-medicated birth in a non-hospital setting.
However, the truth is that I was having an epic identity crisis and was hitching my ego-driven wagon to a cult of my own creation—mythical motherhood, the fallacious notion that I could subvert my personal ambitions and channel them into motherhood to become self-actualized.
I admit I was a bit snobby and holier than thou. My family would say (and probably did) that I was an overzealous mothering nut.
Fueled by idealism and Internet research, I went to elaborate lengths to shield my precious baby from the evils of—you name it: mainstream media, Big Ag, patriarchy, plastic.
Our stuffed animals were referred to as ‘she’ to ward off the evil impressions of patriarchal language on her innocent subconscious mind.
We ate only raw food and juice.
There were toy sanctions: no plastic, no batteries, no Barbie, nothing from China, no characters. I wrote obnoxious and lengthy letters at holiday and birthday time to remind well-meaning relatives that non-approved gifts would be summarily tossed (and where to buy the pricier wooden toys and Waldorf dolls).
I yelled at my partner when I found his mother applying make-up to my two year old daughter’s face (she was graciously babysitting while I was taking women’s studies courses).
I was tyrannically enlightened.
Resisting the institutionalization of childcare, and determined to preserve my daughter’s creativity, I unschooled her until she was seven years old
Crippling my future self financially, I used higher education as a form of social welfare. To make my lifestyle economically viable, I lived off student loans so I could be a full time mother and pursue passion projects as my schedule and interests allowed.
But my youthful idealism and good intentions reeked of self-righteousness and also of privilege.
Holidays and summer barbeques with my partner’s family gave me anxiety, driving me into micro-depressions where I fantasized about being free—mostly of my partner.
The refuge I had sought worshipping at the alter of mythical motherhood was menacingly threatened by the contempt that welled up in me towards the plastic cutlery, fake whipped cream, and droning of television sets never turned off at my sister-in-law’s house.
Anyone who didn’t mother with the fierce ideology that I did was poking holes in the ill-conceived illusion that motherhood alone would save me from the deep unhappiness I had created all by myself through nothing more than my own choices.
Mythical motherhood was a house of cards.
I judged harshly any parent who used disposable diapers or sent their infant to day care and sought only the company of women whose lifestyles were a perfect mirror image of my own, or an aspirational version of it. I was hopelessly narrow-minded and caught up in the cult of my own superiority.
It’s easy to overlook the mental bondage of mothering dogma when you can justify your choices as environmentally superior, or as a pathway for optimal child development.
But my desire to create the perfect life for her had more to do with compensating for my own perceived failures in life—not having that career, getting knocked up out of wedlock, achieving far less financially than my parents had at my age, feeling dead creatively and professionally.
Out of desperate unhappiness for my lot in life I was driven maniacally to create for her a childhood utopia. Jackie Kennedy’s quote ‘If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much’ became my mantra and I poured all of my creative energies into my child.
We took French classes, ballet, visited farms, museums and libraries on a weekly basis, living life as if it were a never-ending field trip. It was fun, and I learned alongside my young child.
Our lifestyle freed us from negative outside influences, and by ‘outside’ I mean non-sanctioned influences that I feared would pollute the perfect bubble I moved in, a fantasy where my lifestyle choices alone would redeem the mess I had made of my life by becoming a mother at the wrong time, with the wrong man.
The truth is I felt simultaneously inspired and suffocated by motherhood and I sought redemption in orchestrating the most enlightened path I could because the cruelest hand my daughter could be dealt was to end up like me.
Ironically, while motherhood dealt the death blow to the fantasy future I thought I was entitled to, in fact it saved me—if not from partying too much, then from my own ego-driven career plans which in reality were nothing more than the shackles of my parents’ expectations of me, yet to be cast away.
When I could no longer tolerate the slow death of being married ‘unwillingly’, economic reality swiftly turned my commitment to mythical motherhood on it’s head and I crucified the pursuit of motherhood perfection on the cross of my own selfish desire to leave an unsatisfying marriage.
My partner had the house, the job, and the lawyer— and so he also got the child. She swiftly went to school and slowly began to do normal things like eat potato chips and watch bad tv. She was six and I went overnight from being a devoted unschooling mother to being a weekends-only mom.
It was a very dark time. She would never live with me again.
I coped the only way I knew how— by enrolling in another graduate program and making plans to go to Brazil and work with impoverished children in the favelas of Rio. The outcome of the decisions I made during this time resulted in a slightly different version of the story I am telling you now, proving that until you learn from your mistakes, you will be doomed to repeat them.
Fundamentally, I share most of the same mothering values with my younger self, albeit in a far more inclusive and tolerant way. I do not judge the parenting choices of others nor do I get any validation from what we eat, what we watch, or what we wear. My identity is not so single-mindedly bound up in the role of being a mother like it was the first time around.
I no longer cling to the notion that I must insulate my children from the world—I see now that just like us, our children have souls with unique journeys to make and that while as a mother I certainly influence their trajectory, my lifestyle choices are not going to make or break her destiny and future.
Rather, I am thankful for the ability to make choices at all knowing that for many women all over the world, basic human rights go unfulfilled on a daily basis. I have come to accept my life as the sum total of my own choices rather than a cruel drama inflicted upon me.
Most of all, I know the spiritual ecstasy of motherhood is a tonic to the death of the creative potential of the individual—not a death to be mourned, but accepted with grace and navigated with more soul and creativity than I ever have thought possible.
Readers you can find Cricket la belle on Instagram and Tumblr
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