see me


There's this look I often see on moms' faces: a vacant desperation, like we'd be screaming if we were fully awake.

I see it at the playground while she stares into middle distance with her arms crossed and her mouth frowning.

I see it in line at the grocery store, as she rests her chin in her hand, her elbow on the counter, her eyebrows the only parts of her face that looks like they're trying at all, raised over glassy eyes like they're waiting for someone to finish asking a question.

I see it in myself.

Sometimes I come back into my body and become aware of the unhappy set of my mouth, the way it looks like someone pinched the ends of my mouth into a frown like a crescent roll.

I become aware that I'm slumping. I'm two scoops of a woman, all soft, eroded slopes and no bedrock of a spine to cleave to.

It's as if while our minds wander, our faces return to the expressions they made throughout the most disappointing birthday party or the longest, bumpiest, hottest bus ride of our lives.

We look beaten, sad, exhausted, trapped, desperate. We look very, very unhappy.

Today at the park I saw so many moms trapped on that bus. I watched a mother with straight blonde hair, her pregnant belly making a circus tent of her shirt, watching her toddler scoop sand from one pile to the other. She looked up and our eyes met, and I swear I heard this urgent voice in my head. Not an actual voice, but you know how you see a little kid eating ice cream, slurping up the creamy creeks that drip from the frozen peak, and you can practically hear them thinking yummmm. It was like that, except when she looked at me, I heard her say

See me.

I hadn't.

I saw:

a) wicked pregnant
b) blonde blowout
c) mom of toddler

And she looked at me and saw:

a) baby and toddler
b) yoga pants
c) Starbucks

Now she knows who I am, and I know who she is. We know enough about each other to know that she can ask me questions about what it's like to have two, and I can tilt my head and ask her when she's due. We know enough to wave at each other next time. We know each other's outlines, and that's all.

All we'd seen was the blank, white, coloring-book versions of each other.

That's fine, I guess - I mean, Jesus, ain't nobody got time to reveal their scars, dreams, proudest and most shameful moments to everyone they see at the grocery store. I mean, I see a guy in a suit with his tie loosened in the soup aisle and I'm not about to go up to him and be like, "how's your heart, friend? Tell me who you are." And I don't expect him to do the same for me.

I don't need strangers to be interested in my uniqueness.

But I want them to believe it exists.

I have a very strong memory of taking Chicken for a walk with a couple of girlfriends when he was only a few months old. We went to a park, and one of my girlfriends pushed the stroller. The thought crashed over me: Nobody knows I'm his mom. Nobody knows I'm anyone's mom. Nobody knows I'm anything but me. I felt the burden of being a mom grow lighter. Like I could laugh louder or swear harder without feeling like I was trying to prove that moms could laugh and swear.

I feel like once I had a kid strapped to my chest or sitting in my cart, other people, even other moms, stopped thinking that it was possible that I'd been a complete person, an interesting person, a unique creature on this earth, before that child existed.

Why do I feel like this?

I tell the babysitter that I would love to go to a Run the Jewels concert. She double-takes and then says, "wow, that's so cool! Really? That's... No, I'm just surprised."

I overhear a couple of professionals discussing incentive programs and one of them mentions that they've been looking for a book on the subject. I interject and recommend "Drive." They look at me. They look at my stroller. They say, "oh, is it a parenting book?"

No.

Just because I must converse with my children in the language of simplicity does not mean I am simple-minded. Just because you hear me exclaim, with wonder, that "there goes a RED CAR" does not mean that the concept of red cars is, in fact, fucking news to me.

I do not listen to The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Raffi when I am alone in my car.

I am a person. I was not born a mother. I did not cut up my grapes in college. I did not use the words "yucky" and "yummy" at the caterer tasting for my wedding. On Sunday mornings I binged on The Sopranos and The Wire and NO, I did not think they were distasteful or too violent, or fast-forward through the scary parts.

Before Chicken was born I had boyfriends and birthdays amd shitty judgment sometimes on vacation and blackout drunk Mardi Gras parties and dance parties and I gave my number to boys in bars and I wrote poems about death and I acted in plays and I got knots in my stomach and I tried on red pants at Banana Republic and I drank cool green-limey gin cocktails and I woke up with black feet from walking home with my silver shoes dangling like windchimes from my fingers.

Just because we don't have time to color each other in does not mean we're all blank. I was more than mom. I still am. So are you.

I see you.

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