A few weeks ago I was talking with some other ladies — mostly young mothers — about, you guessed it, the Twilight series. And when I say I was talking with them, I mean that I was in the room with them as they were talking. Having read only half of one book and seen none of the movies, I had little to add to the discussion. Mostly I was observing the phenomenon, again, and trying not to get too interested. So instead of listening to them talk about the movies/books, I just listened to them talk. And I wondered how on earth they’d had the time to go see New Moon. Twice. In two days. What did they do with their children? Why can’t I find the time to go see a movie? Ever. Of course I remembered that movies just aren’t on my priority list these days — I’d much rather listen/read to movie reviews than actually see one (that way I can say, “Well, it’s not really worth going to see that movie anyway, Mark Kermode says it is mindless drivel . . . . “). But I was still slightly bugged by the fact that these girls were going to see movies and I wasn’t. It took me a while to figure out why I was bothered that they were going to see a movie which does not appeal to me about a book which does not appeal to me (very much). And then I was sad because I realized that it was because I was not invited to go see any movies and, in general, I have had very little “girl time” at all in the past . . . 5 years.
The first few years were no big deal. I’d rather spend my time with Micah anyway. But since the menchildren have started taking up more of my time/energy/brain/life, I’ve started to crave more nights out. More time with my friends. All two of them. I have yet to organize a girls’ night for the 3 of us, and likely won’t have the chance until we get back from our holiday in Ohio, but I came across something the other day that has been helpful for me to think about in the meantime, so I thought I’d share it. Or parts of it. It is by Nora Johnson and was published in a 1961 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. It is called “The Captivity of Marriage,” although it isn’t really about marriage so much as it is about young motherhood. You can read the whole thing here or just the sections I’ve included below.
It starts, “Wives are lonelier now than they ever used to be.” This is because families don’t live as closely as they did in the past. Young couples might move across the ocean or to the Big City to pursue their dreams, rather than stay in their hometowns to take care of Grandma (who would, in turn, take care of their children). She goes on about the challenges that young mothers face because of this development:
“The young college-educated mother with a medium amount of money is the one who reflects all the problems at once. In spite of her hopes for fulfillment through her children and contentment with woman’s great career, she vaguely feels that she is frittering away her days and that a half-defined but important part of her ability is lying about unused; she is guilty about her feeling of futility because of her belief in the magic medicine of love.”
“She strives to improve her home, cook a new dish, do something about her looks, give a dinner party and a children’s birthday party, go to the theater with her husband, catch up on her reading, have coffee with a friend. Her life vacillates between being very organized and completely disorganized, because she has the struggle of all women: to keep the house clean and in repair without being a shrew about people’s messing it up. Because children are natural makers of havoc, she constantly strives to maintain the delicate line of balance.”
“The demands of her family and community cause her to feel, as one woman put it, like a pie with not enough pieces to go around. Depending on whether or not she is gregarious, she longs for time to talk to her friends or time to be alone; I shouls say, the busier she is, the greater her urge to be by herself, to feel unique and separate again. Great numbers of friends are a luxury she can no longer afford; old friends often diminish in importance, which she is sorry about. But there is a limit to her capacity for giving affection, and maintaining old friendships at their original intensity requires an effort she hardly has the energy for.”
Aside from maintaining friendships, I also find it extremely difficult to maintain my sense of self separate from my identity as a mom. Who was I before I was Simon’s mom? Did I even have the chance to find out? Is that a good thing — does it make things easier that I was so young that I hadn’t yet felt the solidity of my identity? Or does it make things harder that I don’t necessarily have something concrete to fall back on when I think maybe I should just go out and get a job already?
And then there is this. This is probably my favorite part:
“The fact is that marriage and motherhood bring forth deeper and more staggering emotions than any experience before marriage. There is nothing soothing or secure about the feeling, familiar to all mothers, of wanting to murder one’s child and really feeling capable of it, and then the next moment dissolving into the deepest love and repentance. There is nothing soothing about the insane annoyance that one can feel at some irritating habit of a loved one, or at loathing the knowledge of what he or she is going to say; one feels trapped by a total ability to see—mystery gone forever [ . . . ].
And it is equally frightening to know suddenly how complete love is and how much one gives to it, to see how little one can really stand when someone in the family is sick, and to know how quickly one can be torn apart by nothing at all. A young mother said the other day, speaking of young mothers in general, “It always amazes me how vulnerable we are and how we, who are supposed to be so responsible, are such preys of our own feelings.” In a family of love, one must become infinitely flexible to withstand the continuous jounce of emotion. This is the muscle that develops, not superefficiency or physical strength, and it is the weariness of this muscle that causes young mothers to want to run away and hide in a solitary place where nothing can jar the heart.”
I love that line, “A solitary place where nothing can jar the heart.” Sigh.
And finally, the solution:
“Young wives, particularly those who feel that their minds are rotting and their backs are aching, should remind themselves that maturity is more than simply accepting one’s present condition and somehow muddling through until things are better. The beginning of wisdom comes with looking at one’s life from the viewpoint of eternity and realizing that the hard years are part and parcel of loving and having children, and that rather than just getting through them, the thing to do is appreciate them. The happiest women are the ones who can do that. No magic is going to happen when this child is out of diapers or that one in school. Things certainly get easier as children get older, but this does not solve the personal problem.”
It was nice to read that and to say, “I actually think that I can do that, and I do do that on a regular basis.” I don’t know how many times a week I say to myself, “This isn’t going to last forever, hallelujah, you’d better enjoy it while you can.” Or, “I don’t have to live my life all at once. There will be plenty of time to __________ when the boys are in school during the day or have gone off to college or no longer need me to spread their peanut butter or fill their sippy cups or hold them every waking moment. And sad is the day when they will no longer need me to spread their peanut butter or fill their sippy cups or hold them every waking moment. Maybe when it happens, I’ll call my friends and we’ll go drown our sorrows in a chick flick and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.