I was in labor with my first child. Contractions, fear, anxiety, and excitement rippled through me. The husband had my suitcase. The bed was made. Our one-bedroom-with-a-den apartment was tidied. I was all ready to go.
Then I saw a sock on the floor. It seemed, in my contracting and anxiety-ridden state, too hard to bend over and pick it up--and I am proud to say it also seemed too niggling a detail about which to bother the husband.
I'll get that when we get home, I thought.
And I went and had the baby. Which, as you can imagine, based what you know of me, was a totally trauma-free experience from which I got out of bed and danced a tarantella within twenty-four hours.
Not so much. But I digress. This is about a sock, not a baby.
Six months later, when I could finally bend again, I picked up a pile of dirty towels and soggy breast pads and discovered, pushed into a corner of the bedroom, that dust-bunny covered sock.
I used to tell that sock story as an analogy for the chaos that having a baby creates in a life. You know, so that something as easy as picking up a sock and putting it in the laundry hamper just gets swept away in those early months. On the way to the hospital, I had the naive idea that I'd actually notice that sock once I had a bobble-headed barracuda gnawing on my boobs day and night, a c-section to heal, and amazing and engulfing surges of thirst and hunger.
Now that I'm older, and I've used up that story--all my friends that are going to have babies have had them-- I've discovered another use for the sock. Another analogy. Because the thing about having babies is that nothing is quite as overwhelming as that first one. You can learn from the first one, and apply what you've learned to the second one.
Life, though, you can't learn from in the same way. Sure, you can learn from it; but usually it's a matter of realizing stuff and then not really having any way to apply it to yourself. So you want to tell other people about it--so they can apply it to their lives, and thank you for your wisdom.
My point, readers, is that it's not just babies that cause you to lose the sock. It's parenthood. Parenthood does it to a lot of people. To women, especially. It's a long-term radical change that sweeps you away from who you were before babies, in a way you don’t suspect it will.
I'm thinking of Eric Fromm and his theory of love--that when you fall in love, you cathect with the person you love. Cathexis is an all-engrossing feeling of being totally bound up with this other person. Cathexis doesn’t last forever. And really, it can't be a permanent condition, because the sense of self dissolves. Which isn't that healthy for a prolonged period. Although it's gratifying for a while.
Parenthood creates a cathexis of sorts between the mother and her offspring. Eventually, once they can wipe their tushies and brush their hair, the boundaries start to resolidify. At least for the children. That's what growing up is about, after all. Becoming yourself.
Which leaves a lot of moms like me feeling undefined and confused. Women tell me they're not sure who they are, that they're not sure what they've accomplished. These are educated women. Women with advanced degrees and theories of child rearing. Women devote prime years to motherhood, forgo capital-P professions, and then find that they don't feel on firm footing with themselves without a professional frame on which to hang their identities. They don't feel successful, because how does success apply to raising 'tweens? How can they feel successful when we measure success by end-product and parenting is a process?
And we start cleaning up a bit, taking inventory, considering values, writing blogs.
And we find, pushed back in a corner somewhere, maybe caught in the rungs of the old Dutalier glider, covered in dust bunnies, a sock.
At least, that’s how it’s been for me. That’s why I blog about success.
This post appeared in a slightly different form on www.unmappedcountry.com.
© Hope A. Perlman 2012