Making Parent Sausage

All of the pregnancy books say that having nightmares about the baby is normal. I haven’t been having them about the baby. But, I’ve been having recurrent nightmares about Spousal Unit. They mostly involve him being emotionally distant or unresponsive while I sob and scream and attempt to get him to “snap out of it.” (FYI – SU is one of the MOST emotionally available men I’ve ever met. He’s anything but distant and unresponsive, but rather snuggly and deeply affectionate. Plus, he tells me like a million times a day how beautiful I am. Yes, all my friends are jealous and there is an extensive waiting list for him just in case I kick it prematurely.) Last night, though, this one took the cake. I dreamed that he and I were, ahem, being intimate, when another woman came into our bedroom, got on the bed with us and told him that he should start beating me. (!!) I thought that the best response to this madness would be just to be submissive, so that he would see how much I loved him. (YUK!) So, I just bowed my head and waited for him to decide what to do. He took a LONG time to decide not to actually beat me. I was relieved, and the woman left the room. But, then in my dream, I started thinking about this – and suddenly got empowered. I mean, why did it take him so long to decide?? So, I left the bed, left the room, and went into the next room where there was a family gathering. I angrily declared to all assembled that I couldn’t believe it took him 15 minutes to decide!!! That that shit should have been absolutely immediate! Then, the woman showed up. I beat her up with a beer bottle and then pushed her down some stairs. I’m glad I got all Buffy on her ass, although perhaps I should have also kicked the dream-Spousal Unit’s ass, too. Regardless of the ultimately powerful outcome, needless to say, I woke up very, very disturbed. (And alone, because SU had to be at the Big Science Thingey at 4 a.m. today).

For the record, there has never, ever been anything even remotely akin to violence in our relationship. It is not an active fear of mine and I am not in danger. And if I were, I wouldn’t be in this relationship. Period. Domestic violence is no joke. If you are in a violent relationship – get out now. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline if you need help: 1800-799-SAFE or go to their website.

So, given all of that, why am I having these dreams? Why is it that this is my fear and not, like most pregnant folk report, that I’ll do some stupid shit like leave the baby on the top of the car and drive away or forget it in the grocery cart and get home before I realize it? I don’t seem to have many fears about the baby (except, of course, its exit strategy). Or at least I’m not worried that I’ll drop it over a cliff or something. Of course, I have had a LOT of experience babysitting for little ones. I mean A LOT. So maybe that accounts for my confidence there. But, then, again, I’ve been with S.U. since 1989, so I’ve got a lot of experience there too. So, why the terror about Spousal Unit turning into something he is not?

When we talked about it this morning, it occurred to us both that what I’m really afraid of is how our lives are going to change after the Gadlet makes its grand entry. Yesterday I picked up and browsed through the “Girlfriend’s Guide to the First Year.” Her previous book on pregnancy had made me laugh out loud in the midst of the nausea, so I thought this one would be good too. Nope. It just scared the bejeezus out of me. It was pretty much all about how life, as you know it, is just simply over when you have a kid. Now, doesn’t that just tap into giant fear #3. If life is over, then, that must mean, oh, I don’t know, DEATH?

So, I guess I’m facing not a literal death (although that has actually occurred to me, too. I know too much women’s history…), but the figurative death of everything that I’m comfortable with – the quiet mornings by myself with a novel and a bowl of cereal, the quiet evenings with us both tapping away on the PowerBooks, the quiet evenings where we eat dinner on the couches while watching a DVD, the quiet mornings where we snuggle our way into wakefulness. (I’m sensing a theme here – I’m afraid of losing the quiet…) I’m worried that I’ll never be blissfully and relaxedly alone again or that S.U. and I will never be alone again. Now, I suppose that in exchange for a Gadlet, I’ll happily give up the quiet cereal/novel breakfasts. But, I’ll regret the DVD diners a bit more.

No, seriously, maybe the way I’ve put it here trivializes the enormity of what I’m thinking about – and that is an identity shift. I’m afraid I will cease to be Stewgad, the married, smart, professor DINK who drives a Subaru and remodels her old house who has 3 novels going at any one time and who cooks and paints and loves to write and swim and see movies. Instead, I’ll be come a Mother. Mom. And, boy, do I not want to do that. Mothers are those insane women screaming in the Target “SIT DOWN NOW” as their multiple children shriek at the top of their lungs. Mothers are those terrifying creatures that drive mini-vans and give a shit about the outcome of children’s soccer games and who give up their own identities in order to serve their children’s needs. I’m afraid I’ll lose myself in this new role – and consequently, just lose myself period. (Wow, I got all weepy just writing this. Maybe I’m onto something. Either that, or its those damn hormones.)

The flip side of this is that I seem to be worried that Spousal Unit is going to become a Father, a Dad. The dude who has to ask every time we get into the car “has everybody gone to the bathroom?” I’m worried that he’s going to become the one who has to kill the bugs and curses as he assembles the Christmas toys and who gets pissed if his newspaper reading is interrupted and if dinner isn’t ready when he gets home from work or if his martini, and pipe, and slippers aren’t at the front door.

OK, maybe I got a little lost in that hybrid 1950-1980 pop cultural image of parents – a strange cross between “Father knows Best” and the mythic “Soccer Mom.” Truth is, I kill a lot of bugs already myself (or, actually, gently escort them into an outdoor environment while shrieking) and that Spousal Unit never reads the newspaper unless it is on-line. We both absolutely refuse to buy a minivan, I don’t care how convenient they are, they’re fucking ugly. (Sorry, guys, but they really are.) And I sure as hell will do everything in my power to not subsume my identity into that of my child’s. (Or even to cultivate a closeness that requires:4+ cell phone calls to Mom a day.)

It is even stranger that I have these fears because this simply wasn’t the model I was raised on. As soon as my brother and I were in school, my mom went back to school to get her B.A., M.A., and then J.D. She was the mom who lobbied for the ERA and had an office in the state capital building (our state was one that passed it. Kick ass, mom!), and then got a job enforcing anti-discrimination laws and policies — not exactly losing her identity in her role as “mother.” Likewise, my dad sewed and quilted and baked bread and took painting classes with me and never, as far as I know, drank martinis or wore slippers. So, why these fears?

Maybe it is that most of our close friends don’t have kids. The close friends that do have kids don’t live near us so we don’t see them parenting on a regular basis. We’re kind of the first (even though we’re ancient in reproductive years). Almost everyone else we know locally with kids is of a different generation. So, I’m kind of feeling like I don’t have many role models. How about it, is it possible to become a parent and still be yourself? To have a baby and to still care a lot about the things that matter to you independent of what may be best for that offspring? Is there hope here?

All I know is that no matter how much some stuff changes, I’m going to just keep believing that some things – like my own sense of myself and Spousal Unit’s emotional availability – won’t. If you know otherwise, please don’t disillusion me. Like that old adage about sausage, I don’t think I really need to know how parents are made. I’ll find out soon enough.

_________

Dissertation Update:

I am a bit behind schedule — I didn’t get much written the past 2 days, but I did do some good thinking work and feel pretty good about it. I’m going to go to the (gasp!) library tomorrow and hope and pray that I don’t have an Advisor Attack!

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5 responses to “Making Parent Sausage

  1. Maybe that is the reason that so many people have kids when they feel their life is unhappy – they want things to change, and don’t care how, they want it NOW.

    Maybe the dreams you think you’re having are actually Gadlet’s dreams…although they do seem a little NC-17 for a baby.

  2. Long-time reader, first-time commenter. This post spoke to me so much, because you’ve touched on the exact things I worry about myself (no kids yet, but probably after I get my PhD). I’m no expert, but I think that you and SU are on the right track– keep talking openly about how you’re feeling. Once the baby comes, you’ll figure things out and hopefully you can continue to make some time for the things you value from your current, pre-baby life. I wish you all the best!

  3. I wrote this really long, rambling comment that was completely incoherent, so I’m just going to delete it. The gist of it is that it is definitely possible to become a parent and still be yourself, but the nature of that “yourself” will certainly change. You can be cool and be a parent (not in the hipster, “grumps” sense of cool, but a real, actual cool in the way you are so cool now).

    You know that cliche where parents say their kids have taught them more than they’ve taught their kids? It used to make no sense at all to me. But it is so, so true. Being a father has meant that I’ve had to face my shit and do a lot of growing up. Which means that I am not “still myself” after having kids, if by “still myself” you mean that I am the person I was before I had kids. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if you asked your mom (who sounds like an absolute kick ass mom, yay her!) she’d say that she went back to school and did all that amazing stuff when you were kids not despite you, but because having you and your brother changed her in ways that allowed her to do those things. Likewise, maybe your dad was able to do those things he wanted to do (sewing and quilting and such) because of what he learned about himself by becoming a father, not despite being a father.

    Your fears make perfect sense and I had many of the same fears, but I think you’ll find that these concerns fall away, to some extent at least, pretty quickly once you have kids. Except fear of driving a minivan. That one is always going to be there, and you are quite right to draw a line in the sand on that score.

  4. Hate to break it to you, but yeah, your fears are not wholly unfounded. (duh — there’s a reason you waited more than a decade to have kids; you’re well aware of the drawbacks.) But let me reassure you that after the Newborn Chaos subsides, and should you opt to become Parents Whose Offspring Have Regular Bedtimes, there will soon come a time (around 6 months?) when the offspring goes (somewhat) happily off to bed, sometimes as early as 6:30! and you can resume your DVD habit. The first time our baby went to bed and we realized we had An Entire Evening to ourselves, we literally did not know what to do with it!

    But yeah, that newborn is gonna take it out of you for a while, especially when your desires to “just sit and read this novel for ten minutes” seem like such a simple request, yet one that said newborn will not honor.

    And as I keep telling you: find some other pregnant people. You’re gonna need ’em as comrades once the baby emerges.

    But you’ll be fine. I promise. Different, yes. But ultimately fine. I’ve got a 13 month old and I still really don’t feel like a Mother, though. Is that strange?

  5. Oh, yeah, histgrad is definitely correct on the newborn stage. Maybe because mine are now 6 & 4, I was responding more to the changes that you can expect once they’re more independent. The first few months are all-encompassing. The challenges of the newborn, barring more difficult children than mine were at least, are not terribly intellectually difficult but they are So Intense That They Obliterate Everything Else. As the kids get older, the parenting becomes more difficult on the level of your own conception of self but much easier in the sense that they do begin to sleep at times, and then eventually there are actually moments in the day where they entertain themselves, sometimes even quietly! And then those moments become a little bit longer. I presume they will get even longer, but we’re not there yet.

    At the age my kids are now, with their temperaments, I can’t exactly choose whatever time I desire to sit down quietly and read a novel, but if I’m a little observant and flexible and not so behind on a million crucial tasks, there are moments where they go off to draw together or to play in the backyard and I really can sit down and read for 15 minutes or half an hour at a time.

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