Through the Looking Glass

My ophthalmologist found a piece of glass in my eye. Glass. I have no idea how it got there, and it was really small, but y’all. Glass. The last broken glass incident in our house occurred approximately five days before my eye started bothering me, but what can I say, I live a dangerous life. This also explained why rubbing my eye made it feel a whole bunch worse instead of better, since I was grinding a tiny glass flake deeper into my eye. The more you know, am I right?

The whole experience taking place just before Mother’s Day had me thinking a lot about how moms are viewed on social media, in popular culture, and in our communities. In recent years there’s been more recognition for what we do, whether we work outside the home or not. Mom is in charge. If you want something done, ask a mom. If you can’t find it, ask Mom. Moms can juggle it all and still have dinner on the table by six. That’s all true, most of the time. But recognition for everything we do, around the clock and without a break in a year, should come with offers to share the load.

There’s a meme I love that shows a hand reaching out for help from a body of water, representing moms handling everything and getting shit done, and another hand extended not to help, but to give her a high five, congratulating Mom on doing absolutely everything herself. Now, in my house I don’t do it all. When the kids wake up in the middle of the night, 95% of the time they wake up my husband instead of me (blessed be the fruit). My husband does a ton of child care because is their favorite and generally nicer and more patient, especially since I’ve started writing more and needing a few minutes here and there without distractions, but in general moms are presented with more of the burden by default.

In two parent homes during the pandemic, women left the workforce more often than men because the kids were home and needed help with virtual school, a task that fell to moms most of the time. If they didn’t leave the work force, they did homeschool and worked from home, and y’all, I don’t know how that’s even possible. Especially in the beginning, where both my kids’ teachers recommended Mom sit next to their kid all day long to help with the computer or cutting or gluing or cleanup or laying out supplies or keeping their fingers off the “unmute” button.

I took two kids to well-visit appointments before I even made an appointment with my eye doctor. No one told me I had to neglect my throbbing eye, but I did, because that’s what moms do. When we have a baby, it’s all “you’re amazing! Great job!” but statistically speaking, one in three women who’ve had a baby underwent MAJOR surgery, with the rest of us having also had fairly traumatic experiences in terms of stitches and hormone fluctuation and the emotional toll of giving birth, so while it’s nice to get the high five, we really need a hand. And I don’t mean coming over to hold our sleeping baby.

I’m always stunned by the women who have babies, come home, and then say “why did no one tell me it would be like that?” No one told them they’d need sewing back together or ice packs, or that they’d shake uncontrollably for hours afterward. No one told me, for example, that I could push so hard with my second child that I’d give myself black eyes and blood would shoot out of my nose.

After you have that baby plopped onto your chest, things change. Everything inside you is working around the clock to keep that baby alive and healthy, and you let yourself fall by the wayside. Everything is magical and life-affirming, until you have a moment alone in the hospital bathroom to clean up, and you realize you feel like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck. Bruises all over, needles sticking out of your arm, throbbing underneath, aches in every joint as your skeleton realigns to compensate for the suddenly missing bowling ball you’ve been carrying around for months.

I let my symptoms go for months after my kids were born. I was exclusively breastfeeding and my kids didn’t like bottles, and I knew if I followed up with my doctors they’d have me do tests that required sedation and skipping feedings, or put me on meds that would stop breastfeeding all together. So I held it together as well as I could and ended up having massive flares and spending days in the hospital after both boys were born.

It’s not that I asked for help and didn’t get it, it’s that I didn’t want to ask because moms can do it all. We can push down our own shit to care for our kids. Until we can’t. The rule that we get the kids sorted with dental visits before we get that tender tooth in our own mouth checked out is self-imposed, but it doesn’t come out of thin air. It comes from the burden we place on moms in the first place, that we’re supposed to be the planners and the organizers and nurses and therapists and cooks and cleaners and laundresses and chauffeurs and tutors and everything else.

We can do it all, but we shouldn’t. We can only do so much in each twenty-four hour day, and the stuff that gets dropped is the stuff for us. Our checkups, our check ins with loved ones who might notice the PPD we’re working to disguise, our five minutes of quiet to mentally recharge. I can’t say enough about the mental load of just being the one who keeps track of the kids’ checkups and who their dentist is and the forms they need for school and the day that project is due and the time the teacher meeting starts.

If someone offers you a high five, grab on and pull until your head is above water.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful moms out there ❤

Absolutely no carnations

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