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Monday, August 28, 2023

I Get Knocked Down But I Get Up Again

Originally read for Mamalogues 7/22/23

Back in the late 90's after I had finished working a double shift at a cocktail bar I walked to my little convertible at the top of the parking garage in Santa Monica. It was 1:55 a.m. and I knew that if I waited 5 minutes the gate would go up and I wouldn't have to pay. It was a warm night and could see the ocean from where I was standing.  I took the top down on my car and decided to take my baby doll t-shirt off too.  As soon as the gate went up I was cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in a bra blaring Chumbawamba all the way up to Malibu. I could feel the ocean spray on my skin. When I got tired I made an illegal U-turn and went back down to West LA to my apartment doing my best not to wake my roommate when I closed my door and collapsed into bed. I didn't even wash my face.  I was twenty years old and a wild fun carefree spirit. My friends and I would flash people just for the thrill of it.   I was auditioning during the day and waitressing at night. My goal was to become famous. 
Six years later I vividly remember bringing my newborn son home from the hospital and as I shut the door behind me I had a distinct feeling I was shutting the door on that girl that I was. 
I had begun a trip without any directions and within 7 years we had three more babies.   During this time I received numerous gifts from my sons with the letter "M" on them because they didn't know I had a name other than Mommy.  And to be honest, I had forgotten too. I embodied this role and I referred to myself as Mommy- often in the third person. When I would come home from work I felt like Simba from The Lion King when he finds himself in the valley and the ground shakes and he looks up to see a stampede of Wildebeests careening towards him. My 4 sons would get into fisticuffs to see who could hug me first.  
 Being the one and only girl in my house I had celebrity status.  It was what I had wished for right?  My entire identity was Mommy.  If you looked at my social media you would think it was curated by a publicist to show what a Modern Mommy looks like. 
 As the years went on though, my homecoming looked more like the scene when Simba returns to Pride Rock to find it desolate and carcasses (or dishes and bowls) are everywhere.  I call out Hello hello hello.. only to hear an echo. 
I soon realized that I was no longer the girl my boys wanted to hug most. Our house became frequently visited by more interesting girls.  I was kind of excited about this, at least at first.  Somehow when I had morphed into Mommy my brain had been stunted and I actually felt like I was able to commiserate on these girls' level.  I mean, after all, it wasn't that long ago I was her age. I imagined that when she talked with me in the kitchen she saw a slightly older woman who she wanted to ask advice or talk about how cool I was. Just the fact that I thought that, is a clear indication of how absolutely uncool and out of touch I was.  She saw a mom that she was humoring long enough to establish trust so she could get the hell out of there and be alone with my son.  Upon this realization,  the urge to rescue my boy was primal. Much like I did at the park when the bratty little girl pushed him down the fireman's pole before he was ready and I caught him just before he hit the ground. That girl is probably still recovering from the mommy who growled at her a decade ago.  It turns out a teen boy would rather hit the pavement face first than have his mommy rescue him.

That night I washed my face and as I applied numerous anti-aging serums all over my body I took a long look in the mirror and realized my mommy celebrity status wasn't aging very well.  Think of 90's Brittany Spears and today's Brittany Spears. It is amusing, but what began as hot ended up being a hot mess.

By the time I had four teens my identity of mommy was fading but I was desperately trying to hold on to it.  And although my boys still needed a mom, they were pretty self-sufficient.  When my two older sons left the nest I found myself grasping at anything to keep mommy alive. I realized the hard way that young men do not like being babied and the more I tried the more resentful they became. If I continued to make decisions for them, they would never know that I truly believe that they are capable of making decisions for themselves.   I found that by releasing some of this responsibility, I had more free time. But if I wasn't Mommy then who was I?  
Of all the times I had wished for alone time, now that I had it, it felt uncomfortable.  The woman I was before I had kids was a stranger. And frankly, pretty irresponsible.  
I feel like I'm in the purgatory of womanhood. Wandering around trying to discover what my purpose is.  Along the way, I started believing that my self-worth was only validated by how much I was needed.  I don't even know what I like!  Up until this point, I have been making my own dinner decisions on what other people like to eat. I read books that my book club chooses.  I do workouts that my coach tells me to do.  Netflix tells me what to watch, and Spotify makes my playlists. My hobbies are...Instagram? Oh my God.. Now I understand why ghosts are always women floating around houses, they are trying to find themselves for all eternity! 
Around this time my mom texted me to ask if I wanted to use one of their cars this summer since one of our older sons is home and we could use an extra one.  The Audi TT convertible..
I said yes and rushed to pick it up as soon as possible.   When I sat in the driver's seat I immediately put the top down.  I felt a tinge of excitement when I adjusted the rearview mirror and saw that there was no third-row seat.  I took the long way home in the opposite direction towards Lake Michigan.  As I accelerated I felt the wind in my hair and as the sun kissed my face I remembered what it felt like to be ME.  That girl never left, she just grew up.  She may not flash people anymore, at least not on purpose.  She still loves taking risks. At that moment I was going 5 MPH over the speed limit.  So maybe the years have taught me to be more of a  fun care FULL spirit and less of a carefree one. 
I put on Chumbawumba and as I made a u-turn my spirit felt ignited.   My mom knows that I am capable of making my own decisions. She also intuitively knew that I thought I was stuck but by encouraging me to do something I used to love to do, she showed me that the road was not a dead end, but merely a fork. She knew exactly what she was doing when she gave me the keys to her convertible.  I didn't become a wild woman when I was in California, I was born from one.  She knew that the future path would look different, but it is still beautiful, and there so much more of myself to explore.
The word mommy is a pronoun and the word mother can be a verb.  Even if your children are grown they will never stop needing to be mothered. 
As I pulled into my driveway looking windblown, it hit me, my mom had a red convertible and she would return from a solo drive looking the same way.  She is the original wild woman but as a little girl I only saw her as Mom but she is so much more.  She had a full life before me and is living a full life after me. And I absolutely adore her for it. 
Being a wild woman is not about flashing people. Being a wild woman is returning to your girlhood and becoming all the things you WANTED to be. But you didn't because you were too busy becoming the girl that other people thought you should be.  
Being a wild woman is having the courage to allow your past and present selves to come together and discover the future woman you are becoming without other people's opinions deciding for you. The very best thing I can do to show love for my sons is to show love for myself.
At the end of The Lion King, middle-aged Simba finds himself at a metaphorical dead end and receives a message from his father that solves everything. He says in James Earl Jones voice.... Remember who you are...  Remember who you fuccking are....

The answer is not outside of ourselves, but it is always in us, Sometimes you just need to take your top off and listen to where your soul wants to take you.