Shortly after V was born in May of 2009, I was driving in my car and I heard these lyrics:
“I used to rule the world/Seas would rise when I gave the word./Now in the morning I sleep alone/Sweep the streets I used to own/…One minute I held the key/Next the walls were closed on me/And I discovered my castles stand/On pillars of salt and pillars of sand.”
It’s by Coldplay, which you probably know, and it has nothing to do with becoming a mom, which you can probably ascertain without any advanced poetry analysis. Nevertheless, every time I heard this song, I burst into tears and felt like Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband was singing about my life. I wrote a few posts back that I was reading Heather “Dooce” Armstrong’s memoir “It Sucked and Then I Cried” (unfortunate title, isn’t it?). It got me thinking about the grief that accompanies new motherhood.
Of course there is overwhelming joy, but for me personally, the loss of the person I was before becoming a mother was painful. It still is sometimes. I wasn’t prepared to lose myself the way I did. The woman I was before is gone forever. Even with the best plastic surgeon on the job.
At work a few months ago, one of my coworkers blurted out that I wasn’t fun anymore. It hurt me deeply until I considered the source. Confirmed bachelors don’t typically find married mothers “fun.” Another coworker assured me that the students hadn’t changed, hadn’t gotten meaner during my year of maternity leave. I had changed. I had become more sensitive. “Before you were a mother, you were just too cynical to give a shit if they were mean to you,” she told me.
Odie was sweet enough to clean out my car recently. I have always treated my cars like junk drawers on wheels. It was full of clothing, books, trash, and more trash. Basically, stuff I didn’t want to clutter up the house with. In the glove compartment, he found an envelope of old pictures. They were taken when I was twenty-nine years old, on a trip to Las Vegas I went on with Toxic Best Friend for Toxic Best Friend’s thirtieth birthday. Looking at these photos, I wanted to cry for how good I used to look compared to now. I guess I can get used to that feeling, since I am going to continue to grow older and look older. More than that, though, I grieved for that misspent youth. I cannot imagine taking a weekend in Vegas now. First of all, we can’t waste money like that. Second, V hasn’t spent enough time with anyone to be left overnight without me. Finally, I’d probably rather just stay home and get some rest than party in a casino all night long.
Coming back from my Target trip today, that Coldplay song came on the radio again. I felt almost nostalgic for the intensity of the grief I felt two years ago. A reminder that a bad habit of mine is to think things were so much better “back when…” or they WILL be so much better “as soon as…” The twenty-nine year old WITH EYEBROWS in those pictures that were taken in Vegas felt that her life was empty and meaningless because she was single. She had no idea what a brief time she had left to spend with those thick eyebrows and that smooth neck. She envied that Toxic Best Friend, because even though she, too, was single, she was the kind of woman who couldn’t walk into a room without having to dodge the drool from men’s tongues hanging out.
I wish I could talk to her, my younger self. I’d tell her, “Don’t be sad. Don’t be jealous. In nine years, you’ll be expecting your second daughter with that man at work you’re secretly in love with, and you’ll be wishing you looked as pretty as you do tonight. Have fun. Drink another cocktail. Double-down.”
To which my twenty-nine year-old self would have said, “Bitch, please.”
And I can hear my fifty year-old future self saying, “Stop bitching about your neck. You have NO idea.”