In which Pokey becomes a Master of Regret and encounters Temporary Blindness.
My friend Maya describes how she recently came across a photograph of herself at a party when her daughter was an infant. “I was wearing red pants! Red pants! What was I thinking? Who does that?”
This, dear reader, is the question of the day.
As some of you know, Pokey Mama weaves back and forth between what’s going on today and how Pokey came to be. It’s time to pick up the thread of what happened after she gave birth and got wise to some of the truths of mothering (spoiler alert: it’s not just the lack of sleep).
My daughter was three when my son was born and I was working freelance, trying to jimmy the lock on my time. I missed writing, missed mornings when I could let the world in by increments, chewing on my own thoughts, ideas bubbling up, taking for granted the leisure to consider and discard. And because Pokey is Pokey, I held what I missed more dearly than what I’d gained. I couldn’t stop looking at my new life through the lens of my old life. I raged against the constraints of the new.
Reader, I did not go gently.
I would hear people say (especially older women): Treasure this part of your life, they’re babies for such a short time, it’ll be over before you know it, blah, blah, blah. Well, yes…and no. For me, the early years of mothering were a kind of suspended animation: I could see the cosmos racing away from me outside my spaceship porthole; I knew great stuff was happening out there, I think I even realized, in some tiny dinosaur region of my brain, that I was doing a pretty decent job as a mother, but I couldn’t take it in.
I watched other Moms gaze deeply into the faces of their children as if they would never tire of looking at them, never grow impatient with what I saw as the bland diet of infancy. I did my share of gazing, but at the periphery of my vision my “other life,” my writing, that abandoned child, was out there, standing at the bus stop in the rain, no umbrella, no yellow slicker. I felt guilty for not writing and guilty for wanting time away from my kids to write.
Yes, Pokey was hard herself, but I’m not the only one, am I? Can we ever be good enough mothers? (See Bear, Not Tree for more on that.)
So, here’s Pokey wringing her hands about not writing, longing for that old life, and then it happens: time. Isaac is settled in day care, Maddy in pre-school, glory be! Freedom! But instead of rushing to my desk and letting go of all that had been pressing on me, I found myself walking in circles. I did laundry, shopping, baked, organized closets; all very crucial stuff.
Ever see a dog turning round and round trying to find a spot to settle? That was Pokey, minus the settling.
I had no idea what to write about, or if I could write at all. Some poets use big ideas as their engine: science, philosophy, history, the human condition. Most of my writing—and my first book—had been semi-autobiographical: stories of childhood, coming of age, angst and bad behavior. I hoped that my poems were not just navel-gazing and spoke to the larger world, but even if they did not, there was no question I had to write them. They emanated from my body; their engine, direct experience. I never really questioned whether anyone would care about them. They were my children; I loved them.
But as a mother trying to be a writer I felt completely exposed. I had always resisted the idea that my writing would be pegged as “women’s work.” I wanted to fly outside the boundaries imposed on women by tradition and the canon, resist the labels by which women’s poetry was stamped: domestic, sentimental, minor. Problem was, I saw my life as contracted, diminished, and if I saw it that way, how could I make it interesting to anyone else? For a long while, the answer was— I couldn’t.
Pokey was blocked.
If we look back at our Pokey posts we see how the threads come together: desire for perfection + self doubt + need for approval from “experts” = blindness. For Pokey, this meant waiting for somebody to tell her she was doing a good job, award her that elusive gold star. It meant she couldn’t see herself and her life as it was: different, but not gone. Definitely checkered with boredom and anxiety but also with pleasure and discovery. Imperfect, but real.
And maybe it wasn’t raining at the bus stop. Maybe Pokey’s writing was hunkered down in a warm burrow, dreaming. Maybe she was loving her kids just exactly the right way for them and for her.
I like to imagine that Pokey’s done with all that tortured self-doubt and regret, but it’s an ongoing struggle—the conflict of who I feel myself to be, who I want to be and who society tells me I am or ought to be is powerful medicine. Let’s not pretend that all is roses for Pokey and for women, artists or no, mothers or no. For me, making this blog is a big piece of my resistance. Telling my story in the here and now, looking it in the eye, speaking to you, reader, letting you decide.
Getting here, however, was not an easy road, or a straight one. Red pants were almost certainly worn, and worse. There’s more to tell. Next week (or sometime soon) Pokey Goes to College!