On Motherhood, Turning 35, and Repositioning Myself in the World

As I rounded the corner on my 35th birthday, one of my friends asked me what my birthday resolution was. On the fly, I told her that I wanted to concentrate more on my career. “I’ve been focused on Hugo, sometimes I feel like I *am* Hugo,” I told her. “I need refocus on my work.”

I could pass a whole day just watching Hugo and thinking about what he must be experiencing. Every day, I can see new connections forming in his mind, and his constant state of euphoria as he marvels at his new discoveries and capabilities is magnetic. What does it feel like to figure out what the word “rhyme” means? When he plays pretend with his dolls and trucks, does he imagine that they are really sentient -- is it a suspension of disbelief, or true belief? When he rides his tricycle and says “I’m going so FASTER! I’m getting so STRONGER!” I can feel the rush of speed myself, and the pride in legs that can move faster and push farther.

The negative experiences are also shared, and can be heartbreaking. When Hugo said “___ pushed me. I don’t want to go to school today,” his sadness and hurt feelings made my stomach drop, too.

That part of parenthood is a gift -- you get to experience life again, this time with memory and the wisdom of lived years. But his growth is his own... it’s not mine. If I’m merging into his experience, my identity begins to disappear into his, too.

There’s also the intoxication of the presentness of being a child. Hugo’s life is in the now, and I remember how zen-like I felt when I entered into the immediacy of infant care. It was a relief to just do what was required at any given moment, and the rhythms of the day almost became a moving meditation that was so unlike the delayed gratification, uncertainty, and stress of adult life.

The flip side of the zen-like ongoingness is the mundanity of domestic tasks. The cooking, the laundry, and the diapering take up so much time and are so physical; can abstractions and adult ideas appear in a mind that is often occupied by an ordinary domesticity?

The resolution question opened up something that has been nagging at me. When he was a baby, I felt like his shepherd--he needed someone to introduce him to the world. But now that he’s 2, he has more control over his experiences. He doesn’t need me to be his shepherd in the same way anymore.

So now that I’ve had a little more time to think about my goal, I would expand it: my desire for my 35th year is not to disappear. I don’t want to disappear into motherhood, and to slowly erase myself from the larger world. I don’t want to disappear into the ongoingness of being a child, to live in a world without reflections and plans. I want to maintain connections with the larger world, to create things that other individuals can interact with, to work towards goals, and to have experiences that are my own, not just vicarious.

I can see that it may take a conscious effort to retrain myself, to separate slightly from him so that I can regain my identity.

I have hours in the day that are my own, articles to write and a book to work on, but I feel like my attention is often with Hugo even when I’m not with him. It’s like my mind is so used to following him, those pathways are so well-worn, that I will need to forcefully put him out of my mind to enter into autonomy.

But are mothers ever autonomous? Are your children always a part of you? One of my wise friends, who has four children, said that for her, that mental separation became easier with each subsequent child. The reasons why are still mysterious to me, but I believe it, and I’ve seen that with other friends... as soon as a second child comes, the mother springs back into herself. Maybe the impossibility of being with all of them at all times liberates you to return to yourself.

Shilpi Paul2 Comments