You have every right to be mad at me. I keep promising “I’ll be right back” and then I bail. In all honesty I have tried. If you could see my screen right now, you’d see two draft posts entitled Exhibitionism and Afterbirth and My Biannual Identity Crisis. The titles pretty much sum up where I was going with those.
[There was also a third unfinished post about my new years resolutions which isn’t even worth mentioning. But since I’m mentioning it, it went something like…1. Call people ‘fam’ more; 2. Be more breathy and Irish when singing because that’s a thing; 3. Re-join the gym.]
[Just kidding about #3.]
But today, the universe forced my hand. I am no longer blogging for the fun of it (read: so that someday Ellen can discover me and buy me a Kia or something). I am blogging out of necessity. I must get this off my chest.
I used to be a pretty calm person. You might even say I was “laid back”. I’d earned the right to wear those giant, slouchy hats, even to fancy places like resonably-priced restaurants featuring free bread. But I lost all that since becoming a mother. Take note all you nulliparous (yes, it’s my favorite word) adventurers out there: all of your chill comes out with the afterbirth.
Motherhood makes me constantly question myself…
I am never doing enough – he is essentially growing up without a mother.
I am doing too much – I am going to turn him into a spoiled brat.
We should be doing more family stuff; at least once a week there should be a baby in a backpack and we should be hiking somewhere and taking photos of it.
But we’re doing too much; the baby is going to have attention problems because we won’t just let him be.
Pick up the baby. Let him self-soothe. Read to the baby. Play with the three-year old. Leave them alone, they’re fine.
And that’s just within the first ten minutes of being home from work…
So it’s “Winter Carnival” in Corner Brook now. Think: snow sculptures and local bands and scrambled eggs in church halls. Yesterday at work, riding my now-normal, motherhood-induced, emotional rollercoaster, I was telling my patient that I might take my three-year old to today’s “Chilli Cook-off” in the park. I asked her if she thought I should (because, also since becoming a mother, I am confident in no decision ever and seek constant validation… Is that ok?).
To which she replied, “Your three-year old? Who are you doing it for – him or you?”
I kept him home from music class and everything. I was being the mom that social media would be proud of. Er, I mean my son. The mother that my son would be proud of. What did I say, social media? What? Heh heh heh…heh heh…ergh…
We bundled up. I knew we would be walking to the park and that it was blustery so I wore the perfect knee-length woolen turtleneck with zero breathability.
Jokes on you, winter – I’m wearing a God-damn pelt that keeps my body at a damp 40°C. Bring it!
M really wasn’t digging the idea of walking to the park in the snow, but this was going to be a mother-son adventure. Bring on the flurries! We’re ready!
By the time we got to the end of our street, I was carrying him. The snow was blowing horizontally, directly into our faces. Navigating the snow-covered sidewalks with an extra 40lbs in my arms suddenly enchanced the tickle of the emerging back sweat I was struggling to ignore. This paired perfectly with the all-consuming itchiness of my aforementioned chin-to-shin afghan.
“Don’t worry”, I told him, with painfully forced pep. “We’re Newfoundlanders. We can handle a little snow! We’re tough”.
“…mommy, we should have taken the car!”
“Pardon, honey?!” I yelled. His small voice was muted by the wind. And by my downfilled parka (over the pelt) into which he buried his face.
“I think I want to go home!”
*sweaty guffaw failing to convey the intended fun-loving nature I was going for* “Oh don’t be silly, we’re almost there! I can see the giant tents!”
I trudged on, just letting myself go with the flow of the sweat as fighting it made me sweat more. At the parking lot of the park, M finally agreed to walk.
“Mommy, I’m cold”.
“Don’t worry sweety, we’ll be nice and cozy in the tent in a minute”.
And for a moment I saw, in his eyes, wonder and, dare I say, excitement (?) as he looked upon the three-peaked tent.
I knew it. This was totally worth it.
We entered the tent. The air smelled delicious. Unfortunately there was not much “air available for breathing”, per se. The place was packed; bodies – adults mostly – shoulder to shoulder, face to back-of-head. I paid my $7 and got my styrofoam bowl and spoon and score card for voting for best chilli.
“Oooooo, this is exciting, huh?” I tried my best to look genuinely thrilled but I’m pretty sure it was 100% prom-face palsy.
Out went his lower lip, down went his eyebrows.
“Mommy, where are all my friends?”
“What do you mean, sweety?” *open-mouthed, prom-face palsy smile* “This is mommy and M day!”
The lip protruded further.
Overwhelmed by the heat and the itch and the back sweat and the overall “life failure”, yet bobbing like an asshole to the music to let M know we’re having fun!!! I tore off my mittens and his.
I was holding two pairs of mittens, my bowl, my spoon and my score card. If he tried to flee right now, I couldn’t even stop him.
It’s too late to turn back. Just start eating chilli.
I stared at the back of two adult heads for what couldn’t have been more than eighteen minutes, tapping my foot and swaying like a goddamn champion (and not a defeatest in the throes of a panic attack), pretending not to notice that M was still pouting, staring at the ground and mumbling, “this is the worst day ever” over and over.
Finally we got to the first chilli vendor who scooped chilli into my bowl.
*painfully over-animated* “Ooooooo, yummy, this looks good, hey M?”
*to the ground*”…just the worst day…”
“Mmmmm, smells good too, wanna try some?”
“You dropped my mitten!”
“Oh, hahahaha” [Get me the fuck out of here], “Silly mommy!” *bending down to get mitten, scalding hand, making a pained “wooooo” sound but trying to pass it off as part of my general zeal for this joyful fucking day!* “Yummyyyy” *shovelling mouthful of chilli into my face, large flap of melted cheese slaps me in the chin and sticks there the way only volcanic hot cheese can; no free hand to remove it*
“I want to go home, mommy”. He’s almost crying now.
Breathing through the second degree (and counting) burns, I can barely hear/see him; I am literally grinding my body into the backside of the person in front of me with someone else breathing into the back of my neck. I just know he’s down there somewhere. And, terrified to drop one of the twenty-seven items in my hands (because, apparently, bringing a purse was not part of bonding day), I move as little as possible, save my top teeth frantically gnawing at my chin, trying to scrape the firey cheese back into my mouth. I was like a petrified beaver.
I can’t even get nearer to him to reassure him; to remind him that, despite how he feels, we are having a great time.
Long story (not so) short, I cut the line and skipped right over to the table where my co-worker was serving his chilli. Thankfully, my sunglasses masked the sweat and tears and self-loathing which now, no doubt, made me look like I was coming off a three-day bender.
“Spicy?” he asked.
“Sure!” I exclaimed with feigned excitement for M’s benefit. I forced a celebratory ear-to-ear grin down to M who was not even looking at me but, rather, still frowning at his feet; still mumbling something about how terrible this was.
“I love cheese!!!” *projecting the excitement and volume of a lottery winner* [Please save me!]
I stood there and ate it “casually”. As if operating a spoon with two pairs of mittens and a score card and a bowl of piping hot, cheesey meat soup is no bigs. As if my three-year old is not being body-checked by blissfully oblivious chilli chuggers and begging me to take him home. As if I’m not wearing Leo’s exact costume from The Revenant inside a Russian steam bath.
I took my time, eating every last bite. And I made myself chew. And I made myself breathe. I could control those things. And I let the waterfall of sweat consume my chest and back. And, for a moment, everything went silent.
And then my bowl was empty and the whir of chilli/carnival mania resurged in full force. I took M’s hand and ran out through the side-exit, gulping in the cold, oxygen-rich air of the outdoors. I gave my score card to a girl I recognized and asked her to cast my vote for me. There was no way I was ever going back in there.
We walked back up the snow-covered hill. M reminded me several times that he is “never going to carnival again”. I felt numb. Defeated. I attempted to give him the “bad attitude” talk but I was done. Spent. Drenched. Exhausted.
[Did I mention I am up all night, every night, nursing his five-month old baby brother? But it’s ok because, great news, according to most older people, “these are the best years” so…there you go! *desperate, borderline-maniacal laugh…but also crying a little*]
Most of the eight-minute walk home was silent on my end. I carried him when the wind hit. He said, “thanks, mommy”.
The walk gave me time to think. What had I expected? A three-year old to enjoy a mostly-adult chilli cook-off? He doesn’t even like chilli! Neither do I, for that matter. Not that much.
My patient asked the right question – who was I doing this for? Not for M. And sure as hell not for me. But rather, I think, for the illusion I (we all?) feel pressured to create; “the family that does things”. The family that goes to chilli cook-offs during winter carnival.
When we got home, after I removed our eighty-five layers of clothing, I went to the playroom where M had, understandably, isolated himself for a moment of silent recovery. I apologized for taking him to a hot, tent with a bunch of grown-ups and told him that it’s ok that he didn’t like it.
And, no joke, he paused for a moment, and then looked at me and said, “I’m sorry I said all those awful things, mommy. That wasn’t very nice. I love you”. He said those exact words.
All he needed was for me to understand. To be real. To stop trying so hard.
I felt so proud. And so fucking glad to be home.
Then I went to the fridge and grabbed a pat-myself-on-the-back beer. At twelve-thirty in the afternoon. Because, well, chilli.