I’m touched out today. I have had her wanting to nurse since she woke up this morning, and he has been grabbing my arms and wrapping me around him with the plea “Need you mommy!” even when both my hands are on him. When they haven’t been clinging on me, I’ve been watching them, making sure no one drowns in the pool and responding to “Watch me mommy!” trips up the ladder and down the slide. Right now, I just want to run away. I want to go to a coffeehouse or a bar where no one knows me and order a drink and decompress. There is no distance from them when I am present. Even if I am not physically touching them, my mind is following them through the house, listening to the little sounds they make, their voices and rattles and toy clinks and screams of indignation.
They are no longer part of my body, but they are not far off. At almost a year she doesn’t yet really realize that I am an independent person. That we are two separate bodies, separate minds. That my needs are not her needs. As it should be, says my not-exhausted-and-thinking-of-them mind. The part of my mind that is my own though, is desperate for some space. At not quite three, he is (we think) going through a period of realization that he IS a separate, independent person and it scares him. He is constantly looking for reassurance that “Me mommy’s baby” and that he always will be. He’s figured out how to tell me that he “Need you mommy!” but he can’t yet articulate exactly what he needs. Last night, he was able to tell me “Go out [with] mommy” when I was leaving, and he’s consistent on “cuddle” or ” ‘nuggle me”, but I think that sometimes he needs reassurance and validation, just as we all do.
I need to be able to let down my guard for a while, confidant that someone else will make sure that their needs are taken care of. I need to be able to sleep a full night, no full NIGHTS, for a while, with no one waking me at three am to come and reassure them back into their dreams. I need more than a few hours break that a date night brings.
Sitting here, they are both upstairs and I am alone, so I have a moment with my own thoughts. And it occurs to me that this need is probably feeding into my PMS anxiety attack. Even when I am away from them, they still need me. They depend on me, as does Manly, to make sure that they have food and clothes and health insurance and transportation and security. That need has no distance boundary — it follows me around, a ghost need settling around me when I am still.
The pressure can be, is, crushing if (when) I think about it too much. The responsibility is scary and enormous. I think back to the cliches that we hear when we lament that we can’t have kids — that we should enjoy the freedom, the ability to travel and to take care of our own needs, to sleep in and enjoy our partner’s company. I think all of those laments are honest expressions of longing for personal autonomy and release from the chains of responsibility that children bring with them. They are proxies though — the activities that we are told to relish are not special in themselves, but they represent the ability to be MORE than just a parent, to think about MORE than just the needs of the littlest members of our family. That autonomy, the ability to be reliant on yourself without fear that you are going to let someone else down, that’s gone when you welcome a child into your life. Your needs are subsumed by theirs, your wants and desires secondary to the enormity of their small bodies.
I chose this life. We chose to take on this responsibility to our children. Even if we didn’t consciously realize that we were taking it on, we did. If someone had sat me down beforehand and explained what I would be giving up, I would still have made this choice. But here in the middle of it, the consequences of that decision are — not hard — but wearying to contemplate. I can envision the future, I know that the intensity will peak and then eventually taper off to a more tolerable level, and that keeps me going. But when it comes time for my children to make this choice, I want to remember this and warn them about what it will be like, not whitewashed by the distance of years.