“If they would all sleep all the time she wouldn’t mind being their mother.” Kate Atkinson.
Do you remember when I wrote the post Pain and I said that I want to be Cheryl Strayed? That I want to “set up a sleeping bag in a tent in her mind and live there, and I don’t even like camping.” Well, ask and you shall receive…sort of. A few days after that a friend told me that Cheryl has a free iTunes podcast called Dear Sugar! What??? Immediately I went to my phone and subscribed, and now when I am washing dishes or doing another mundane, tedious, and brainless activity, I have my head phones in my ears listening to Cheryl give advice in this fabulous series. Now instead of me being in Cheryl’s mind, her voice is directly coming into my ears….she has set up camp in my mind.
The premise of the series is that people write in letters, and she and her advice giving partner Steve Almond answer them. The most recent episode that I listened to was released on December 11th and called “Moms Who Hate Motherhood.” They reviewed two letters from very brave mothers. I will go into a whole motherhood spiel, and yes eventually, tie this into running as well.
Basically, both of the moms said that while they absolutely love their children, they do not actually enjoy motherhood. Not just that they don’t enjoy the diaper changing, meal making, laundry, and other obvious chores that none of us like…. but they don’t enjoy singing nursery songs or doing arts and crafts or playing ring around the rosie. They more than don’t enjoy it; they despise it. One was bold enough to say, “I love her when she’s sleeping; that’s when I love her most.” The other said, “my body is always being stepped on, squished, pulled, yanked, carrying something, being pummeled….there are moments when I have to pull them(her kids) off me like leeches and run to the other room for a hair’s breath of freedom.”
So this podcast got me thinking about our roles and our titles…how we define ourselves. I call myself a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, pediatrician, and a runner. (I’m also a wine lover, reader, margarita enthusiast, shopaholic, Cadbury cream egg fanatic, Kristin Armstrong stalker….but those aren’t really roles but just some of my “interests” in as much as libations and being a stalker can be interests.) And the truth about being a mother is that it is the most important role I have. Yet I also do not enjoy playing board games with my children, taking them to the zoo although I did that thousands of times….I have no interest in volunteering in their classrooms. I signed up to volunteer an hour a week in my son’s first grade classroom for a semester, and I absolutely hated it. That put an end to my school volunteering. Dare I say this….I am actually happy that some of their school holiday performances, class parties, and award ceremonies fall during times that I am already working….because I have no interest in going to watch an hour show of kids singing songs to have my child be in there for 10 minutes of it with his/her voice blended into 30 other child voices.
What are the parts of motherhood that I have most enjoyed? Continuously inhaling their newborn smell as babies…nursing them (yes I know that many of you hate nursing and that is ok…I actually really enjoyed it but was more than ready to be done with it each time after about 9 months.) Now that my children are older, watching my son blossom into a confident teen in his solo performance in the school play when I could actually hear his voice and discover that he can sing; having meaningful conversations about treating everyone equally; reading The Fault In Our Stars at the same time as my son and then going to that movie with him. I’m thrilled to never have to go another kids movie or stand in line at Disney again.
Becoming a mother is what I wanted to be for almost as long as I have any memory. The “what do you want to be when you grow up” question was always answered with be a mother for me. It is the one role that if taken away from me, would probably shatter me. If my husband and I were to divorce one day (not that I think that this is going to happen), I would have a very difficult period and then move on….the role of wife would be taken away and that would be ok. I hopefully have many more years of being a daughter ahead of me, but one day, I won’t be one. It will knock the wind out of me….it will be a loss that I would feel in some way every day for my remaining days, but I would eventually find joy and move on. If for some reason I had to stop being a sister, friend…my life would be much much less fulfilled, but over time I would go on. If I was no longer a pediatrician, I’d do something else. If one day I was not a mother, I would be shattered….I don’t know that there would be a recovery from that. And yet precisely because I am a mother, I needed to become a runner.
All my other roles are symbiotic relationships. I give something to the relationship, and what I get back may be more or less than what I put into it. Someone relies on me in some way, and I give of myself. The most defining and consuming of my roles in which I give, give, give, is being a mother. It is the one that I gave to almost to the point of losing myself. These women in the podcast, they had clearly completely lost themselves. The second one talks about how her body is no longer her own. Just when I had almost lost myself to the point of drowning in this all-encompassing role of mother, I started to run. Being a runner is the only role that I have that is 100% selfish. It is only for myself. It is mine. Yes, you could say that when I run it makes me happy and then makes me a better mother, wife, friend, doctor, etc….so in a way it does give to others, but that’s not why I run. I run because it is only for me. In being a mom on the run, I thought I was running away, but I was really just running back to me.
When I listened to the podcast of these two desperate mothers seeking advice from Cheryl, I thought that these mothers need a role that is 100% for themselves….100% selfish….100% theirs…. the role doesn’t have to be a runner….it could be yogi, painter, writer, musician….it could be anything that is 100% for them….where they can get lost in themselves…where they can take back their mind and body.
If one day I can’t be a runner, I won’t be shattered….I’ll find something else that is just for me…. something that is 100% selfish and allows me to continue to be everything else. Oh, and one more thing. After that post about Cheryl and pain where I wrote that I want to “be Cheryl” and “write like her and give advice like her” a friend of mine made a comment saying, “you DO provide insightful universally appreciated wisdom.” That made me realize that I should watch my language. I wouldn’t want my kids to undervalue themselves or to want to BE someone else. I want them to be inspired and motivated to do better by someone they admire, but not to want to be that person. So I no longer want to be Cheryl. I admire Cheryl. I listen to her podcast and read her words. I am inspired by her. But at the end of the day, my most important role will always be mother; and as a mother, I’m teaching my kids that I don’t want to be someone else, but just the best version of me.
*This post was originally published on 12/22/15.