Recto: crazy hip blog mama by Susan Wagner
I’ve been hanging out at Friday Playdate for just over a year now, swilling martinis and admiring my pretty shoes while my children wreak havoc somewhere outside my line of vision. As playdates go, this has been a good one; nothing has been broken and there has been no bloodshed or hurt feelings. More importantly, though, this web site has helped me merge my hip self with my mama self, and has given me an outlet for all the crazy at my house.
Before I became The Mommy, I was an academic, which is just a pretentious term for someone who teaches in a university. More specifically, I was an adjunct, which is another pretentious term for someone who teaches part time in a university and thus has no benefits and no office and no say in departmental policy. But in spite of all that, I loved my life. I spent my days talking about Foucault’s theories of sexuality and the history of the novel and the structure of postmodern narrative. I had the New York Times delivered to my door every single day. I read the book reviews, and then I read the actual books. I taught novels like Schindler’s List and Waterland and The English Patient. I said ‘fuck’ in my lectures, in contextually appropriate ways. I used words like ‘hegemony’ and ‘pedagogy’ and ‘patriarchy’ in everyday conversation. I subscribed to InStyle magazine and had time to read the whole thing. I wore short skirts and funky shoes. I had my hair professionally colored every eight weeks.
But all that time, what I wanted was a baby. It took us a while–not as long as it takes some people, but longer than we expected–to make Henry. And then he was premature, deciding at 34 weeks that he was all done gestating, even though, as Wade told people, he was not yet golden brown on top. He spent ten days in the NICU; when he came home, he had horrible reflux and trouble sleeping and attachment issues. Twenty five months later, I had Charlie, who was full-term and healthy, although by then I had begun to worry about Henry, who seemed somehow off track. The two years after that were grueling, and while I lost the baby weight easily I seemed to have lost my old hip self with it.
So there I was, with a four-year-old who was struggling in school and a two-year-old who wanted to be carried everywhere and a closet full of clothes that were too big and too frumpy. And I still don’t know how it happened, but one day I woke up and realized that I was a Sweatsuit Mommy. I would get up every day, shower, do makeup and hair and jewelry, and then put on my sweats. Yes, sweats! All that work to put on sweats. But not just ANY sweats–the matching Track Suit, with a color-coordinated tank top and athletic shoes that weren’t sturdy enough for any athletic feats more elaborate than pushing a grocery cart. I looked like all the other mommies in the carpool line, which was what I wanted, or thought I wanted. But the more I talked to those other very very nice mommies, the more I realized that I wasn’t like them–they didn’t have to worry about their children running out into traffic or only eating three foods or confusing what was pretend with what was real. They were pleased when George Bush was reelected. They were too busy driving their kids to soccer and gymnastics and Spanish lessons to care who was on this year’s Booker Prize shortlist. And I could tell that they weren’t sure what to make of me either, with my short hair and my own name and my liberal politics.
Eventually, after one too many days sitting in the carpool line reading the New York Times, I realized that what I missed was my mind–I missed thinking and reading and writing, all the things I took for granted when I was teaching. I started reading blogs and then I started writing here and it was a good release, a way to process my days and find the funny in the chaos. Shortly after I started writing, Henry’s teacher asked if we would agree to have him evaluated by the school’s psychologist; we said yes! please! because we knew–we just KNEW–that something wasn’t right. Hearing that someone else had finally recognized what we saw in our son–that he just wasn’t doing what other kids his age were doing, that he just wasn’t fitting in–was a huge relief. I wasn’t a bad parent; there was something else going on. I gave the track suits away and stopped trying to be one of the carpool mommies. Instead, I got out my work clothes–the wool pants and cashmere sweaters I wore to teach–and mixed them up with everyday t-shirts and funky jewelry. And I wrote, more and more, particularly about Henry and his quirkynesses. I thought this merging of the past (my clothes and my reading and writing life) with the present (the testing and the worry and the fears) would make me feel more like my old self.
And I did, to a point; the more I wrote, the less scattered and overwhelmed I felt. But I wasn’t that old self any more; instead, I was the mama, and I was the mama of a child who was unlike any other child I knew. Instead of reading histories of the English novel I was reading about autism and ADHD and behavior modification. Instead of writing about colonialism in the novels of Jane Austen, I wrote about our desperate search for a new school for Henry and our struggles to potty train Charlie. And a funny thing happened: people started to write back, to say that their child was like Henry, that they had been through the same things, that they had this advice or recommended that resource or just wanted me to have their e-mail addresses, in case I needed someone to talk to. It was truly amazing, all these complete strangers reaching out to me, simply because they knew what I was going through and how hard it was.
Without those strangers–who are now my friends, even though I’ve only e-mailed and IM’d with most of them–I would still be searching for some sense of peace and wholeness. Because of them, and because of this web site, I am beginning to feel like a whole thinking person again. I am beginning to feel not like my old, hip academic self, or the crazy mama self that replaced her, but like a crazy hip mama who writes about swilling martinis and wearing pretty shoes.
I had no idea, when I started writing here, that what I would find would be my self. And that this blog would turn into the best playdate ever.
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- March 13, 2006 / 7:25 pm
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