I’ve thought lately a lot about expectations, and I wrote about how motherhood made me feel like I woke up in 1975 (I think I said 1953 actually, but since 1975 was when The Tiger Who Came to Tea was published, and that book sort of horrifies me as much as it does warm my heart, I’ll go with 1975), and since then various memories and thoughts have come to me, of times when I realised there were different expectations placed on me before vs after – my pre-maternal self vs me as a vehicle for life and as someone who was supposed to now hold my shit together..
The expectation that I’ll just do everything the way I’m meant to. Because vagina. That I’ll just do it – I’ll write birthdays in the calendar and remember to do occasion-cards and be emotionally available enough to put aside my raging mind and just smile and deal with everyone else’s emotional deficit first.
The expectation that my kids will negate any desire I have to run wild on my own. Oh I’ve touched on this so much before – so much! But one of the biggest misideas I had about what it would be like to have children was that I would become selfless and joyously self-sacrificing.
The expectation that my emotional intelligence will have grown to accommodate the needs of my kids and I won’t get angry. The thing is, I have a ton of physical energy that needs to be burnt of a lot of the time. So you’d think that’d be great for taking care of children and running around after them and roughousing and so on, right? But the real problem is I don’t have any emotional energy – very little capacity to deal with the emotional stuff. I’m awkward to the core with this. And it was a slight personal disappointment to me to learn that motherhood wasn’t going to be quite the personality transplant I’d hoped for – I wasn’t going to become a better person (if anything, all my character flaws came seeping out) just because I now had to look after other people’s needs.
But the other epiphany (more recent, this one) has been that this balanced character is a great thing. It’s truly wonderful, I think, for children to see adults as all-rounders, humans, selfish, caring, capable, incapable, whole. It’s amazing – parenthood is AMAZING, but not because it made some better, purer version of myself.
The expectation that I’ll censor myself more.
People often ask how does it feel to write something really honest, seemingly open, opinionated, that others will read. Like do I mind writing like an open book (mind the pun, if there is one) and having it all laid out for people to consume? I’m like, first of all, calm down – I’m not Madonna. But seriously, no. No,I don’t mind.
I never wanted to write to a forumla, for other people. Actually I went through a phase of this for a year or so when I realised I knew what people wanted to read, but generally, writing honestly is easier for me. If I wanted to write in a house style or as someone else or whatever, I’d have become a journalist or feature writer.
I write openly because it’s the easy option. And because I do it primarily for myself, and to share. Like documenting. But documenting a part of myself that doesn’t often see the light of day in real life.
Janne Robinson (my favourite bloggerpoetperson of the moment) said in an interview recently that she writes in the same way you spread your legs in the gynecologist’s office. You may feel a little weird doing it at first (actually, while we’re here, I really hate having to do that), but it’s just a process. To the outsider it may seem a very vulnerable action, but actually you have enough trust in the part of yourself that’s coming to the fore to just do it (I’m talking about writing here, by the way).
Having said that, of course there are things I don’t write about – huge swathes of happening and experience that I don’t want to share with anyone. Perhaps just not yet. Perhaps never. That’s human, we don’t give it all to everyone all the time. There’s some stuff that I’m sure would make great content, but there is a responsibility that comes with knowing that – even if you aren’t Madonna – people do read what you produce, and they don’t need to know your whole story. Most of it, in fact, is just for you (as in, me).
But the expectation that being a mother means censoring yourself and filtering how you represent your experiences is of no interest to me.
As Robinson also says, “my part of the conversation is writing a post”. Then I’m done – I’m not responsible for how that’s interpreted or whether or not people think it was appropriate against an arbitrary set of puritanical standards that I’m meant to be meeting because I’m a mother to two children.
Expectation that I’ll settle down and ‘this is it’.
It’s not it. Life is a journey (or a rollercoaster, if you’re a ’90s pop music survivor like me), this isn’t IT. Kids isn’t it. Marriage or long-term partnership isn’t it. It’s significant, sure, but it’s not it. Nothing is it.
An unexpected, unwritten guideline that ‘this is what all of life was leading up to’ seems to happen when one becomes a mother (I almost wrote ‘parent’, but I think this is particularly if not totally most applicable to mothers). Life circumstances are transient – nothing stays the same, and illusion that once motherhood happens you’ve ‘arrived’ is as false as it is damaging. It sets mothers up for a sense of ‘fuck’ if they feel they don’t fit comfortably into this identity, and they feel like they ought to. It can be the same if you get married – the sense that now you’re doing adult life comes, but it’s an illusion.
And with that, I’m off to eat jalapenos straight from the jar with grated cheese on top. Because life doesn’t last forever.