Not long ago I found myself staring at a splayd-full of food for a good seven seconds or so wondering which child’s mouth to deliver it to before realising that it was for me. If I had to make a film clip to explain what motherhood feels like right now, I’d use this exact scene. As a Christian, I’d always held up self-sacrifice as the high goal towards which I was striving; it struck me recently that in terms of mothering, I feel as though I’ve arrived. I’ve said a thousand ‘no’s to myself and ‘yes’s to my children, to the point where I no longer notice that I’m hungry too, and I get so lost in the feeding of others that I forget to feed myself. I’d thought that self-sacrifice would make me feel righteous and holy; instead I’ve found that it feels exactly as it sounds: like I have sacrificed myself. I have killed me. I’m now a ghost who exists solely to meet the needs of others. A slave ghost. I realise half a day after first hearing my bladder speak up that I’ve been so distracted by the demands of others that I still haven’t peed. Another part of my soul dies when I notice this.
After Moses was born, I became very aware that I’d have to fight to hold onto any of my non-mother identity if I wanted to stay home with him rather than working. People no longer asked about me, they’d ask how Moses was, and how Alan was, and how was Alan’s study going? How much longer did he have to go? Was Moses sleeping okay? How old was he, again? No one wondered about me. I’d started to disappear, even then. This year, before Moses started preschool, I was told, “Oooh, he’ll be there three days?! You won’t know what to do with yourself!” Because, of course, I was no one without him around; I had no interests or desires outside of wiping his bottom and buttering his toast and diffusing his tantrums. (A few years ago, when it was just Mo around, being with him all day was seen as my full-time job. Now, even though I still have Hazel all the time, any time with Mo gone is seen as a holiday. It doesn’t feel like a holiday, though I suppose working one job is easier than working two.)
And this year I’ve had to think, maybe they’re right, maybe I’m no one apart from Mother now. What does that mean? Why does that make me feel sad and lost? I used to have the space to ask myself “How am I? Who am I? What do I like? What do I want?” At this stage of life with two, I don’t. And even if I did make the time to ask myself those questions, after eating and peeing and getting the basic surviving stuff done, I’m not sure how I’d answer them anymore.
I wonder, Do I matter? Hazel is too young to know, Moses is too healthily self-absorbed to care, and Alan can never remember what I was saying before I was interrupted. The response is quiet, but I hear it clearly: No. Not really.