Remembering Yourself in Motherhood
We are so thrilled to have guest write, Jen Shoop of Magpie sharing her exclusive essay with us—an important reminder for all of us. In that spirit, please grab yourself a coffee or glass of wine, take a respite, and soak up this beautiful piece.
Remembering Yourself in Motherhood
By Jen Shoop
Jen Shoop is the founder and author of Magpie by Jen Shoop, a literary lifestyle publication.
My son was less than an hour old when my mother came into the recovery room to meet him. She wheeled around the corner, her shoulders raised nearly to her ears in pantomimed excitement, wearing an enormous smile on her face. She was making a beeline for the baby, but then she paused, turned on her heel, and said: "I need to see my baby first." She came around to my bed, kissed me, squeezed my hand, tutting over me in the way of all mothers. I will never forget her quick correction -- the way she wanted me, the mother, to be seen and tended-to.
I've remembered it in moments where I feel lost in my own matrescence. I use that word, matrescence, with intention, because, though I am six years into the role, I am still becoming a mother. Some days, I feel purposeful, peaceful, as though I was destined for this. Other days, I see only my own ineptitude, or feel swallowed whole by the emotional whiplash of parenting two young children: I am Jonah in the belly of the whale. I remember calling my brother during the depths of the pandemic, when we were smack dab in the middle of my daughter's threenager-dom, on the verge of tears. I was standing at the end of our long, narrow Manhattan kitchen, the one we couldn't fully illuminate at night because my one-year-old son slept in the small "maid's room" (an architectural vestige of pre-war living) off the butler's pantry, and it had a transom window that let in the kitchen light and would wake my son if we weren't careful. Even that strange lighting quirk felt apposite, metaphorical: I was fumbling through the dark in the service of my children.
That night, I felt erased by the magnitude of my own motherhood, by the intensity of my daughter's moods.
"What am I doing wrong?" I asked my brother. It came out like a plea. (Just tell me!)
"Aw, Jen," he said. "You're not doing anything wrong. You're a good mom. You're a good person."
Him reminding me that I was a person (I didn't have the wherewithal to wonder at my goodness) sent a shockwave through me. He reminded me that I was not a single-track, some kind of conduit for care-giving. It was OK to feel frustrated, to be human. He showed me that I was not entirely measurable by the triumphs and tribulations of that single day of parenting. It brought to mind the way my mother had come to my bedside after my son was born: don't forget yourself, she was telling me.
Of course, I hope it goes without saying that I could not cherish my children, or my role as a mother, more. And there have been far more days of joy than of hand-wringing in narrow, dimly lit kitchens. But I think it is important to pluck ourselves out of our own motherhood every now and then. To see ourselves as full, multi-dimensional women, people who are complex, and fallible, and curious, and passionate, and worth knowing. To not let our motherliness sit as a counterbalance to ourselves. By this I mean that motherhood is a part of me — not another version of me, and also not all of me.
Remembering this -- remembering myself -- in fact makes me a better mother. It gives me perspective, a soft landing or an extra boost of determination, when I need it.
The founder of Buru, Morgan, mentioned to me that, as mothers, we spend so much time getting our children dressed, preening them, but sometimes we forget to dress ourselves. We are behind the scenes, out of the camera frame. Her observation dovetails beautifully with some of my earlier insights. She offers a narrow and clear pathway to "not forget ourselves": take a minute to dress yourself. Remember what you like, what you don't. Consider what feels good on your body, the colors that appeal or repel. It is such a small practice, but it is a concrete, clear pathway to remember yourself.
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