I’m interested in what you might call the domestic.
This interest is both personal (I garden, I make jam, I like to decorate, I got a little obsessed with Marie Kondo a couple years ago) and intellectual (read this). At a terrific conference on motherhood a year ago, I was fascinated by a discussion of how motherhood isn’t all about the domestic noise—or domestic bliss—we think it is, not necessarily about the diaper genie and spitting up and sleep training (I know, I know). No, said the three amazing mother-writers: it’s also about the way time and space and identity close up, spread out, open, and morph when one becomes a mother. Memory fails. Projects go unfinished. Sleep deprivation turns ordinary occurrences into the stuff of magical realism. In other words: motherhood is about the diaper genie and spitting up and sleep training—but very much also about how we relate to those mundane things and still keep our sense of self.
Is this a struggle? That’s an understatement.
Now, dads change too—of course they do—but mothers are frequently hit with a tsunami when their kids are born: a tsunami of love, sure, but also the invasion of a new kind of physicality that isn’t, always, welcome. Your body becomes something other the minute you get pregnant, in service to another human in a way it’s never been before. And this changes women. I know new moms who left academia after their kids were born, who realized they were in the wrong field entirely, moms who hated being mothers, who deeply resented breastfeeding. On the other end of the spectrum are the moms who, before they had kids, swore they would be rigid and scheduled and ended up soft, pliable, co-sleeping and nursing til their kids were three, all in a haze of domestic bliss.
But in some ways, the largest change when one has kids is the way one relates to the space at home. It may be that before having kids you were out every night, and your preferred dinner was takeout. You may have sent your laundry down the street. You may have worked in the evenings. Or slept until nine every day. You may have scarcely been home.
Once kids are on the scene, though, the center shifts drastically.
To the kitchen. The kitchen is like the eye of the hurricane.
I spend so much of my life now on simple food prep, it’s astounding. I’ve always been into cooking and eating well, and I’ve worked a bunch in the food industry, but food prep became something else entirely when I had kids. Sometimes, when I see myself pumping one breast with my left hand while shoving a sandwich into a reusable sandwich bag with the other, while reminding B not to forget the lunchbox of leftovers in the fridge as I pause to lift a bite of cereal into my mouth, I have to laugh just a little. Into a bottle goes the milk, into a lunch bag goes the sandwich, into the backpack goes the grownup lunch, there’s a mad flurry to leave the house—and then it starts all over at dinnertime.
And then there’s the laundry. Oh boy, the laundry.
How one baby can make the laundry multiply four-fold, I don’t get. Granted, we do cloth diapers—most of the time—and that is a labor of love. But even without the dipes, we’re folding and hanging and dryering and putting away all. Day. Long. Perhaps it’s the spit up. Perhaps it’s that the baby’s arrival coincided with L’s penchant for wearing a new pair of pajamas every damn night. Probably it’s about the drool on the sheets and the bibs and the spit-up cloths.
Oh, and the sleeping.
Sometimes, at night, I feel the energy of the four of us in our various corners of the house, like we’re breathing sleepy life into the space between the walls. It’s a funny sensation, one I didn’t have when L was a baby. This past year, at various times we’ve slept in many different configurations:
- Baby S and I in the bed together, nursing all night long. B on the couch. L in the lower bunk is his room.
- Me in the lower bunk, L in the upper, baby in his crib, B in the bed.
- B back on the couch. Baby all by himself in the bedroom, L and I in the lower bunk together.
For three nights? L and S in their room together and B and I in our room together. (Domestic bliss.)
Aaand, since that didn’t work out so well, now B, S, L, and I in our bedroom, L on the floor, while S works it out in the boys’ room.
It’s musical beds around here, people.
Of course it’s easy for all of this—noise—to seem like the end-all-be-all of parenting. But is there still intellectual curiosity to be found, that sense of morphing, that sense that the mundane has become something magical?
Two nights ago, out of nowhere, L, who’s been moody and teenagery of late, said to me out of nowhere, “You’re my family, mom,” and looked at me in this earnest, loving way.
“Do you want to hear a song about that?” I asked, and then I sang him this.
L crying, pressing his earnest little brown-eyed face, his big mop of blondish-brownish tangly hair into my belly.
“I’m so lucky you’re my family, Mom,” he cried, and then I found myself crying too, telling him, “I’m so lucky. How did I get so lucky to have a kid like you?” The two of us there (in the kitchen! Where else?), embracing, loving one another, grateful. Wow.
And then we went and read Harry Potter with B while the baby slept.
Magic? Domestic bliss? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.