Someone Like You
My Lyft driver arrived in a crew-cab pickup truck. In all the states & all the countries I’ve used this kind of service, this was the first time I’d ever been picked up in anything other than a mid model sedan. Unusual, for me, but maybe not so odd for the middle of Kansas?
When my driver arrived, he smiled broadly & hoisted my carry-on into the back of his cab, then opening the passenger side door for me, he beamed even brighter. So this is how this is gonna go, I thought to myself.
I typically prefer to retreat to the backseat of my Lyft or Uber. Hunkering down, seemingly engrossed in my phone. Not rude, necessarily. I always smile, make eye contact & polite opening conversation just to make sure they’re less likely to murder me & hide my body in the trunk. But in general, I like my paid interactions to be just that. A service. I don’t need to befriend this person, however lovely they may be.
Sitting next to this driver, however, would make my normal routine an impossible feat without making myself look like an even bigger asshole so I succumbed to making polite conversation for the half hour ride. We talked about the area, weather, families, business… as you do. All the normal pleasantries of an awkward first conversation you might have when trapped with a stranger.
On the topic of children, I mentioned I had four. He paused, then looked over to me as if the reality of it had just hit him.
He looked back to the road & then back at me again.
I wouldn’t have expected that!
If I had any amount of money for the times I’ve heard this… it would be a lot. I wouldn’t be a millionaire, as the saying goes, but I’d definitely have enough money to float some kind of quick weekend trip or maybe a new iPhone.
And to be honest, completely honest, I used to love this.
I’d smile, Aww, you’re too kind! I’d gush.
Or.. aww, thank you! I’d say, tilting my head, my inner monologue patting myself on the back. Good for you, darling. You look like a regular human walking the earth. You’re doing it! You’re blending right in & no one would suspect you’ve got any amount of those blood sucking leaches kicking you in the face at 3am because no matter how hard you’ve tried, they just won’t sleep in their own goddamn beds.
I used to carry this sentiment as a badge of honor. A complement from a stranger. Oh motherhood? Yeah, I escaped it. Oh, no. Not the actual motherhood part. Just the part where it leaves you hairless & hideous. Yep, that’s me. Winning at motherhood.
I felt this statement validated me. I seemingly looked great to this stranger. Put together. Hair brushed, teeth clean & matching shoes. Therefore I must be great. My kids are so great, my spouse so great, my life so very wonderful that it leaves me inordinate amounts of time for leisure & travel & self care treatments. Clearly, I look well rested.
But now, this statement irks me. I’d never say that directly to someone, of course. But it does. And the more I think about it, the more irritated I become. I wonder how many times someone has looked at my husband & uttered - 4 kids? You?! No way!!
That number would be zero.
Make no mistake. Motherhood rocked me to my fucking core. It was the earthquake that leveled an entire city. The meteor that took out the dinosaurs. The flood that washed away an entire village. It changed me in a way I was not prepared for & did not handle well. But I’d like to think that after almost 14 years of doing it, I’ve learned a few things.
After my first baby, I was a disaster. I wish there were a better adjective to describe that time but really, there’s no word that could ever be as all encompassing to fully explain the magnitude to which motherhood swept me off my feet.
I was young, I’d gained at least 70 pounds, living without any family in a foreign country. And the hospital had just handed this tiny, squawking creature over to me & sent me home. Like a person walking into an alligator pit with a necklace of raw steaks, all I could think was, certainly, this isn’t going to end well.
My first, infant son was tongue tied but I didn’t know. No one knew. So he cried constantly & I tried to nurse constantly. He became even more hungry & angry. My nipples bleed & lighting bolts of pain flashed through my swollen breasts every time I tried to nurse. I cried about everything. Nothing my husband did was right.
That’s not the way you put on a diaper, you’ll cause his umbilical cord to fall off too soon!
Babies should never go to sleep in a swing! Then they’ll never learn how to go to sleep on their own!
I cried all morning over the decision to give him a pacifier. I was convinced every single decision I made from this point forward could either propel him into a solid, successful future, or ruin him forever, spurning him into years of expensive therapy or a starring role on an episode of Hoarders. And the weight of that rested so heavily on my shoulders.
After several hours of his inconsolable crying, I clutched the pacifier in one hand & the phone receiver in the other, dialed up the nurse line & got connected to, of all things, a young male nurse.
Hi, um… so I just… my baby won’t stop crying & I just need to know if it’s ok to give him a pacifier? I wavered, my voice on the precipice of tears.
Have you tried to feed him, ma’am?
There was no concern. Just cold, medical grade, military-question checklists.
Um, yes. Yeah, I have. I feed him like, every couple of hours but he is still crying so… can I give him the pacifier? I mean.. will it keep him from nursing?
Ma’am, has your milk come in?
Um… yeah… I think so?
Ma’am, are your breasts firm & very full? That’s how you know your milk has come in.
Um… yeah… I mean, if I give him the pacifier, is he going to be ruined? I mean, like, how hard is it to break them of the pacifier?
In my head I envisioned my infant, now 7, screaming at me. Tiny fists rolled into balls, red faced with tear streaked cheeks & a pacifier stuck firmly between his molars, while I pleaded with him - Please son, just take the pacy out before school! Then you can have it back! Please, sweetheart. Be a good boy for mommy!
There was a pause on the other end of the phone.
Yes, ma’am. You can give him the pacifier. It’s ok.
And that was what I needed. In that moment, when I was utterly alone, my son’s future life seemingly hanging in the balance, I just needed one person to tell me yes, it was ok. I wasn’t going to ruin my child.
Having children was the most wonderful, unexpected thing to ever happen to me. Truly, I never planned to have them. I couldn’t see that in my future because for so long I was a child raising myself. But now that I have them, I wonder if they’ll ever truly realize how my heart continues to beat simply because they exist. How my whole body rejoices tenfold in their joys & how my sorrow is magnified a million times when they are sad.
My entire life I was looking for my people. A place to belong. I never realized, it would end up being with them. So when someone remarks with surprise that I have four children, I want to tell them about the disheveled mess they can’t see. The weight I carry constantly. The worry that keeps me up at night. Are they safe, are they making good choices, will they be taken away from me by a mysterious & completely unexplained situation? Because those kinds of things happen & they are the things I worry about. Will they know I’m firm because I love them so? I’m lenient because they’ve demonstrated trust. I don’t want them to do drugs or get in a car with a drunk driver. I want them to always know they can call me any time they are in trouble & I promise not to be mad until they are safely out of harm.
I want to tell people how much I love my teenager. How I feel like I’ve made so many mistakes with him, being my first, but we’re both better for it. We grew up together. How I am so excited watching him grow into a man. How my heart swells when he kisses my cheek goodbye before school & how I also want to strangle him when I’ve asked him for the eighth time - Can you please just do your laundry? And he glares at me with a look that says, Could you please just go off & die? He’s exactly like me, my son. Creative, good at lots of things but yet can’t quite see it for himself. I fear he’ll be just like me & feel as if he’s never good enough at anything. I want him to know he can be the best at anything if he wants it enough.
I want to say just how deep my love is for my daughter. How I didn’t know what a mother daughter relationship should look like so I decided we’d just make it up as we go. How it was hard for me to accept hugs & caresses & hand holding sometimes because I just didn’t know how to reciprocate that love & it killed me but still I did it. How she’s already growing up into the girl I wish I’d been. She’s strong, smart & has the world at her fingertips. She’s fierce & compassionate & full of empathy - all qualities it took me half my life to finally learn. How I know she will probably fall victim to the same fate we all face as women - the inevitable war with our body - but that there couldn’t be more perfection in every atom of her being.
And my middle son. My sensitive soul. He bows his head & fold his hands - Namaste, he says to me. He cried when he saw a dead pigeon being mourned by another. He knew the love he had for his own family & couldn’t fathom another creature being without the one they loved. I want him to know it’s ok to be funny but you don’t have to be funny to get attention. His determination will carry him so far in life. He wouldn’t even walk until he was 19 months old & not because he couldn’t (the specialist told us) but because he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t do anything until it was his decision alone. I want him to know he will have to learn to guard his heart because it’s not possible to carry the world’s burdens on your shoulders. The depth & capacity for compassion & sympathy he demonstrates at such a young age I worry, may break his heart too much.
Finally, my youngest. My baby always. I had so much convinced myself he’d be a girl, that even after they’d placed him in my arms, I was shocked. I knew he’s be my last. They say you know when you’re done. I have almost forgotten how hard I searched for answers to his health problems. He taught me to be an advocate & forge my own path. How to keep looking for answers when none seem to be found & find solutions in things that seem outlandish. I wonder if he’ll realize how hard I worked to make him healthy. How hard I fought against doctors who treated me like another crazy mother. How five years later, you’d never know he was different than any other child. He’s my most resilient. My most capable. He could both ride a bike & make his own lunch at three. Never happy with sitting still, he’s been busy since the day he was born. He taught me patience when he refused hugs & kisses for a couple of years, never wanting to force him to show affection, I waited & waited.
I had an identity crisis after my first son.
I was no longer Trisha who liked shopping & going to the movies. I was a mother.
I didn’t have any hobbies or interests that didn’t involve my baby & the betterment of his rearing.
I wasn’t a wife who spent hours cooking up special meals for her husband.
And that was a painful, fucking place to be.
It took years before I was able to form any kind of identity outside of my own children & those were some lonely, frustrating years. It’s hard to be everything to everyone when it means you’re nothing to yourself. And sometimes, breaking away from that & forming your own independence is even harder. But it’s worth it.